June is for fishermen, so get out while the getting is good

June is a great time of the year. Everyone in Alaska seems to find the opportunity to get out on the road — going somewhere, going anywhere. Just get out. Smoke from an unprecedented beginning to fire season has dampened down the brilliant green of June a little, but the southern Interior and Southcentral have yet to be hit badly.

The Denali Highway had a bit of a haze Tuesday and Wednesday this past week. The big mountains, Hayes, Deborah and Hess, weren’t visible. The Maclaren Glacier, Meteor Peak and the guardian summits poked through just fine. Summer started slow in the high country but then has come in a rush. Amphitheater Pass, on the way to Maclaren Valley, is not fully green. The lakes are out and the snow is patchy. The fireweed is already beginning to bloom in the valleys.

Paxson Lake lost ice on June 10. Summit Lake was clear by the 19th, even in the back cove. Paxson Lake had almost no one fishing midweek. That is surprising. In days gone by, one had to take their turn trolling through the better locations. Grassy Flats, Paxson outlet and the creek across from the old Sportsman Lodge always had several boats working before the weeds began to make trolling difficult.

Summit Lake had several boats at the landing this week. The folks I talked to were having excellent success. Lake trout and big whitefish were biting well. I watched a fisherman land a humpback whitefish that was close to five pounds.

Folks who are waiting for salmon will likely have a good shot at them at Chitina. The personal use dipnet fishery opened on June 20, running through the 26th. Quite a number of fishermen took advantage of this opening. By all accounts folks were doing well. The Kenai is not so good. King fishing is presently closed and unless the unexpected occurs, it will stay closed. The good news from the Kenai is that trout fishing is decent to very good. Success with rainbows is dependent on the experience level of the angler. If you don’t know what you are doing — fish next to someone who does. Ask questions. Fishermen like to show off — hence the big fish stories — thus will likely give away some unintended secrets.

A week ago, I had the opportunity to run an open skiff down Lake Iliamna from the east end in Pile Bay all the way to the Kvichak and then down the river to Naknek on Bristol Bay. No one was fishing the lake. People seldom do. Fish tend to congregate at the mouths of creeks and it is difficult to spot fishermen on a lake 100 miles long. The Kvichak River was a different story. There are a number of sportfish lodges on the Kvichak between its head at the village of Igiugig and Levelock, just below the upper tidal effect.

The Kvichak is known for huge rainbows. If your dream is a 15-pound rainbow trout, head to Iliamna drainages. Talarik Creek, the drainage below the proposed Pebble mine, carries trout up to 18 pounds and maybe a few above that. The Kvichak River has rainbows of the same class. The morning I passed through the Flats, just below the the head of the Kvichak, there were 30-plus fishermen in a 5-mile section. Virtually all of the fishermen were guided from various lodges in the area.


Fishing remote areas is not cheap. It is also costly to make a half-dozen trips to the Kenai. If one is after results, fly out remote. Enterprising fishermen can rent a boat from a local guy and go fish where he tells you. You will catch fish. You will have the time of your life. And the tale of a lifetime.

It is easy to catch fish in Alaska. Almost anyone can coax a grayling out of Tangle Lakes or one of the creeks along the Denali Highway. The difference between catching a fish and coaxing a truly big fish out of his home is a different animal altogether. I spent a substantial amount of time on the Ugashik drainage on the Alaska Peninsula, attempting to capture a 3-pound-plus grayling. Luck is not associated with fishing. Science and skill will always prevail over luck and superstition — never did get that big grayling out of Ugashik. However, what was learned on the Peninsula stood in good stead when I returned to my familiar stomping grounds.

I have managed two 3-pound-plus grayling out of Paxson Lake, and a couple more close to that. No, I won’t say where on the lake. The month of June is for fishermen: personal, sport, subsistence and commercial. Everyone has their niche. Leave the yard, take your fishing pole and find yours.

John Schandelmeier

Outdoor opinion columnist John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives with his family near Paxson. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and two-time winner of the Yukon Quest.