Sapsuk River, AK……Coho Nirvana!


For those of you that prefer the short version, here it is: Incredible fishing for 6 straight days with weather to match. River was loaded with thick, girthy fish that were eager to eat a fly. One of the best trips in memory. Now you can stroll to see pics:))

And now…the rest of the story..

Early this spring I was asked by my Brother from Another Mother, Jerry Wang, to join him on his annual trip to the Sapsuk for silvers. His wife Diana could not make it due to personal reasons. I initially said no because leaving in September is too difficult for a number or reasons. The salmon season is in full swing, I take my wife to the CDA convention for a long weekend in San Francisco and it’s a short month as far as work days go. After some arm twisting and serious re-arranging of my work and fishing schedule I decided I should fish with Jerry again. It has been a decade and a half since we fished together on a trip. PLUS my wife suggested I really should go spend time with Jerry….so if the wife says OK, that is a major green light.

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The trip started off on the wrong foot. When we flew into Nelson Lagoon on the Alaskan Peninsula, it was a minus tide. We needed water in the lagoon to ferry to the mouth of the Sapsuk, then transfer to smaller jet boats and then head up to the camp. The water was so low that we high centered the first boat! Not good. The small boats came into the lagoon to “save” us. However, after loading up in those boats, one of the boats traveling at 30pmh, came to an abrupt stop in the middle of the lagoon! Not good. After some unloading and loading and 6 guys pushing the boat to deeper water, we were afloat again and onward to the camp.

We arrived at dinner time and after our meal there was time to fish the camp runs. Jerry and I went to the downstream run and found no silvers. Not good.

After a 6:30am wake up and 7:00am breakfast, Jerry and I shared the boat with Kirk (another annual Sapsuk angler) and headed to Chen’s Bend (named after Glenn Chen, one of the the most influential people in my life when it comes to all things fishing). I immediately hooked a silver that thrashed on the surface angrily. At that moment I hear Jerry yell BEAR!!
I turned around and saw a very large bear on full charge towards me. NOT GOOD. When it saw my face (apparently a face only a mother could love!) it abruptly stopped, turned around and trotted away. We are pretty sure the bear was after the thrashing fish and not me but it still made for great drama.

The rest of the day was “bearless”. Just constant hooking, losing and landing silvers all day long. The rest of the week was basically rinse and repeat of the first day…minus the bear charge.

By the 3rd day the constant hooking of fish on spey was getting a little stale. Could that even be possible!!?? Not really BUT I decided to change things up a bit by using my single hand rod more. Since distance casting was not as easy as with the spey rod, I concentrated on the fish I could see close in. That worked well AND hook up numbers actually went up, if that’s even possible. I was getting more fish casting closer to fish I could see. To me that was more desirable than casting to other other bank with spey and tungsten tips.

On the 4th day after fishing all morning with mainly single hand and some spey, I decided to throw a #5 pink Virbrax on my baitcaster. The Vibrax is as close to a sure thing on every cast as possible. I hooked multiple fish in a very short amount of time and horsed them all in. By doing that I broke the hook off!
Our guide Mike took my rod and showed me if you reel the Vibrax on the surface causing a disturbance or wake, the fish will still jump on it. Sure enough the fish were still boiling and trying to eat the lure. That was so fascinating to me that I took that rod and walked up to the top of the run and did what Mike showed me. For the next 20 minutes I witnessed fish boiling, slashing and mouthing the hookless Vibrax! What a blast! That gave me an idea. I had some 1.5″ Smile Blades with me so I placed one on my leader of my single hand rod with the floating line then a bead then tied my fly on. My fly was too heavy to skim the surface of the water so I tried a weightless fly but that did not have enough weight to submerge the Smile Blade. Jerry had a box of extra flies in my bag so I picked a fly with small dumbell eyes and tried that. That was the ticket! The fly and the Smile Blade rode just under the surface and I got nearly the same results as the hookless Vibrax.
From that event on it changed my fishing preference on the river. I fished just subsurface and saw almost all the grabs. I could see fish come up from the depths to eat the fly. I could see fish accelerate from behind to inhale the fly. I could see fish attack it from the side. Sometimes the fly just disappeared. It was a great way to fish. The bonus was NO SNAGGED FISH! The downside was I had to eventually change out the fly to a non stinger hook because Mike said most of the fish were eating it way too deep and bleeding fish was the result.

 

The last 2 days on the river I spent 80% of the time fishing the Smile Blade set up. It was VERY fulfilling to see almost all the fish grab the fly. I left my remaining Smile Blades with Mike so hopefully someone else can fish that way for some variety.

I have a new respect for silvers. The few silvers I have caught in the past never did fight very hard. These fish have some strength due to their heavier weight and size. Glenn says the Sapsuk fish are bigger because they are in the ocean a few weeks longer than most silver runs. He says they can gain a pound a week feasting in the ocean before going into the river.

The Camp was very clean and maintained. The beds were comfortable and the rooms had diesel heaters. The meals were just OK. Nothing to write home about but the portion size was ginormous. After a long day of fishing, a hot meal was welcomed.

The only real disappointment for me at the camp was the outhouse. I guess I’m getting too urbanized in my old age. Wish I could have shut my sense of smell off during those visits to the loo. I was the only one with that issue at the camp.

Our guides were Trevor Covich and Mike Flynn. Both great guys and guides. I gravitated towards Trevor more because I felt like I knew him from all his YouTube videos I watched before the trip. He is an extremely charismatic, talented and knowledgeable guide. One of the best I’ve had. He can probably do stand up if he ever needed a side job!

So will I go back? Unlikely, due to the timing of the trip. Can’t go back with my boys anytime soon because they are back in school in September. As good as the fishing was, it’s too hard to get away anytime in September. In my retirement years, that will be a different story.

This is a fun fish on a fly rod. I cannot remember when I ever hooked this many good sized fish from start to finish on a trip. It sure helped that the weather was darn near perfect for the entire week. That alone is unheard of half way down the Alaskan Peninsula in mid September.

Glenn told me the Sapsuk River was the best coho fishing on the planet. I don’t have much to compare it to but I believe he speaks the truth.

Footnotes
Our group: Jerry Wang (my mentor and big brother I never had), Mark Won (beach fisherman extraordinaire), Kirk Wolf (great boat buddy on the trip and seemed to be hooked up constantly), Father Mike Coughlin (a true gentleman and good fisherman), Charlie Bunch (told great jokes during meal times).
Booked through Sweetwater Travel
I would have preferred to have my bootfoot waders.
No WiFi service at camp.
Used a Garmin InReach SE for texting home and office.
Bring mosquito netting next time.
Rods used: 9ft 8 weight Winston Jungle, 9ft 10 weight Orvis Helios. Sage One 7126. Sage Deathstar, HMG 2 piece 10-25lb casting rod.
Reels used: Mako 9500, Seamaster Mark III Dual Mode, Waterworks Vanquish V10, Bogdan 150, SA System 3.
Flies that caught fish: Coho Pollos (originated by Glenn Chen) and a generic foam popper

Flies that I experimented with: They all worked.

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