100 Best: Kanektok
Type of stream: Freestone
Angling methods: Fly, spin
Species: Kings, reds, silvers, pinks, chums, rainbows, grayling, dolly varden
Access: Remote—required float plane
Season: June - September
Supporting Services: King Salmon
Short take: To float it is to love it
Handicapped Access: No
Want to catch a Leopard Rainbow? Head for the Kanektok River in the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge. Though not identified as an official subspecies of Onchronychus mykiss, ‘bows of this relatively short river that flows for about 100 miles from sibling Pegati and Kagati Lakes into Kuskokwim Bay of the Bering Sea seem to be peppered with more and blacker spots than other rainbows found in the lower 48.
A trophy Kanektok rainbow will run about seven pounds and thus are generally smaller than those, for instance, of the Copper River where 10 pounds or better is considered a great fish. Salmon runs tend to be later on this river than others further to the south. Chinook are the first to arrive in July, followed in mid-month by chums and sockeye. Pinks show up at the end of the month on even numbered years, and cohos wrap up the show in August. Dolly Varden and grayling are prevalent in the upper river throughout the season.
Were I headed for the Kanektok, I’d shoot for August and set aside a week or so to float the entire length of the river. Not only would I see it from its youth to full adulthood, but I’d have the very best of its salmon and rainbows. Numerous outfitters will drop land you in its headwater lakes with tents, bear-proof containers for chow, and hard floored rafts you can oar yourself. A few more “C” notes, will bring you a guide who knows the river and who’ll row your raft. Or you can opt to fly or boat into one of several semi-permanent tent camps along the river, and then boat up or down stream to the water of your choosing. Bring two rods: a five weight and a seven or soft eight. To reach the Kanektok, you’ll fly into Dillingham from Anchorage and catch a shuttle into Quinhagak.