Alaska's famed Bristol Bay drainage is a fly-fishing paradise, where giant leopard-spotted rainbow trout grow to monstrous proportions, propelled by the region's prolific insect life and the presence of one of the last great sockeye salmon runs left on earth. The big trout grow fat on salmon fry, salmon eggs, and, later in the season, decaying salmon flesh — from start to finish, the fly-fishing season in Bristol Bay is fast and furious. Simply put, it's the best place in the world to chase trophy rainbows in their native waters.
And Royal Wolf Lodge, situated in the upper Alagnak River drainage, is perfectly positioned to put anglers on the best reaches of several rivers and streams at any given time. The lodge's daily fly-out program offers anglers unique flexibility, and allows them to see and fish as much of the region as possible. Throw Dolly Varden, Arctic grayling, northern pike and even lake trout into the mix, and the lodge offers appreciable variety for anglers who want to mix it up in the Land of the Midnight Sun.
The first thing anglers will notice about a stay at Royal Wolf Lodge is the sheer amount of fishable water within reach of the lodge's float planes. Options abound. But make no mistake about it. Royal Wolf's bread and butter is putting eager anglers within casting range of giant rainbow trout. No matter where anglers choose to go in the wilds of Bristol Bay, they'll have untold opportunities to tie into trophy fish.
Early in the season, the fishery is somewhat "traditional," meaning the region's big rainbows will be dialed into familiar fly-fishing food sources, like mayflies, caddisflies, stoneflies and even skated mouse patterns. In June, the sockeye fry — the product of the big salmon run the year before — will start to migrate downstream toward the ocean. Out come the streamers and the fry patterns, as the rainbows, Dolly Varden and grayling will start to dial in on the tiny salmon headed for the sea.
Then, sometime in early to mid-July, the next great run of Bristol Bay sockeye salmon will show up, pushing up into the rivers by the millions. From then through the rest of the season, generally, the trout fishery becomes a salmon-centric game. Eggs, beads and bright purple and pink streamers come out of the fly boxes, and the action can be absolutely sick.
Finally, after the migrating fish have done their reproductive duty and started to die off, flesh flies are the name of the game, and offer some of the best streamer fishing for rainbows all season.
LODGING: Guest cabins are simple, yet comfortable, and each is equipped with a full bathroom and a spacious deck. The gorgeous main lodge is the central gathering space and perfectly maintained trails lead from the lodge to each guest cabin. The log-cabin-themed lodge features a full bar, including beer, wine and spirits, an open living area with picture windows that overlook Little Lake and the Bristol Bay wilderness. The dining area is big and open and also features a stunning view of the lake. There's a small gift shop in one corner of the living area for guests wishing to pick up any swag they might like to take home. The grounds are simple, and, other than maintained trails or two-track roads for the lodge's ATVs, they are left in their natural state.
FOOD/DRINK: The food program is strong at Royal Wolf. An on-site chef prepares hearty and delicious meals daily, ranging from fresh meats and seafood to crisp and delicious salads and veggies. Desserts are incredible, and feature everything from freshly baked pastries to more complex dishes, like caramel cheesecake. Breakfasts are served buffet-style and included the usual suspects — eggs, bacon, sausage, pastries, cereals and fresh juice. Lunches are packed daily and usually include a sandwich, a cup of soup, chips and a cookie. A cold beer washes it all down. Daily appetizers and cocktails start at 6 p.m., and dinner is served at 7. You don't want to be late.
CONNECTIVITY: Royal Wolf features dependable and high-speed satellite internet that is centered at the lodge, although guests staying in cabins near the lodge can pick it up, too. There is no cell service in the Bristol Bay wilderness.
Guests at Royal Wolf Lodge will start the first day of their adventure in the Lake and Peninsula Airport in Anchorage, where they'll board a flight to the remote community of Iliamna. The flight over the Alaskan interior is absolutely stunning, and a preview of what the rest of the week is going to look like. Once on the ground in Iliamna, the lodge's bush pilot will meet you and take you to a the marine dock on beautiful Lake Iliamna, where you'll take off in a DeHavilland Beaver and fly to the lodge.
The scenery is even better from the lower altitude, and after about 40 minutes, you'll land on Little Lake and motor up to the dock at Royal Wolf Lodge. From there, the lodge's guides and staff will help you get settled, and you'll enjoy appetizers and cocktails in the beautiful main lodge building. Dinner is served at 6, and you'll enjoy some of the finest cuisine in the Alaskan bush while you enjoy the views of Little Lake and the boreal forest of southwest Alaska's Bristol Bay watershed.
You might be tempted to have another cocktail or two, but be warned. Breakfast starts at 8 a.m., and the guides will be waiting for you at 9 on the beach of Big Lake. Maybe an early first night is the right call.
Royal Wolf does things a bit differently. While most lodges have their guests on the water by 8 a.m., lodge proprietor Nate Morris prefers to give his guests a bit more time. Breakfast is ready at 8, and you'll wader up after you're done eating. Then, you'll take a leisurely walk down the hill to Big Lake, where your float plane — either a venerable DeHavilland Beaver or a maneuverable Helio Courier — will be waiting to take you and your fishing buddy to one of several rainbow trout rivers or streams within short flying distance. Because Royal Wolf is centrally located in the Bristol Bay watershed, no flight is too far to reach for these incredible planes.
The bonus for starting later? Most outfitters will pull their clients from the rivers around 3 p.m in order to get them back to their respective lodges for dinner. When you fish with Royal Wolf, you don't meet your flight back to the lodge until 5 p.m. That means you'll be the last anglers off the water. And, when that first big rainbow nails your streamer, you'll appreciate the extra time on the river.
After shaking the rust off on Day 1, and catching your first legit trophy Alaskan rainbow, it's time to stretch your legs a bit. After a 20-minute flight from Big Lake to a larger lake surrounded by snow-capped Alaskan peaks, you'll follow your guide along a bear trail that tracks along a gorgeous, meandering stream that flows through the black spruce and birch forest. Every time you look at the water, you see nice fish rising to dry flies, but keep walking. About a mile in, your guide stops atop a little bluff and you can see the creek off into the distance — a stunning, small-stream paradise. Small stream, big fish. After catching a couple of two-foot-long rainbows on a Chubby Chernobyl in one pool, you hand your rod to your guide and get the camera out — so you can prove to your buddies back home that this place really exists.
You take your time on Day 3, because the flight to your next destination is all of five minutes long — it's just over the rise from the lodge where your plane will touch down on beautiful tundra lake. Once there'll, you'll hop into a skiff and motor through the lake's outflow into a sweeping, willow-lined Alaskan river. Today, you'll swing streamers and mouse patterns for eager rainbows and, because you're so close to the lake, you might even tie into a beefy lake trout that's moved into the river to eat. This is big water, and when a 20-inch fish grabs your fly, you have to fight both it and the river's rapid current.
It's time to see one of Alaska's true gems — the Brooks River and Brooks Falls at Brooks Camp, a well-known tourist destination and an incredible trout fishery. Every year, when Bristol Bay's sockeye run climbs the rivers of the drainage, the fish entering the Brooks River must leap over Brooks Falls on their way to spawn. And the falls aren't the only obstacle — sometimes as many as a dozen brown bears position themselves at the lip and the base of the falls while they do a little fishing of their own.
If the salmon are in, the Brooks is an egg-pattern fishery, and the action for big rainbows can be nonstop. If you arrive before the salmon do, the river can be a solid dry-fly river. The bonus to early arrival? You can leave the bear-watching to your guide while you fish. If you're there when the sockeyes are there, you need to keep your head on a swivel.
Royal Wolf Lodge is located atop a bluff overlooking a stunning Alaskan stream the guides simply call the "home river." If flows from an expansive lake and meets up with another sizable salmon stream and forms the fabled Alagnak. From there, the river flows directly to the sea. You don't fly to this stretch of water, but it doesn't see a lot of boat traffic from other lodges, so it fishes very well. You'll chase trophy rainbows and, near the river's inflow from the lake, huge lake trout. The giant char can push 35 inches and offer up a stellar flight. Farther downstream, you'll fish places with names like "the trout factory" that guides have bestowed on their favorite haunts. After a return to the lodge for dinner and cocktails, one of the guides might just offer to take you out on Big Lake in search of hungry northern pike. Your answer? Uh, yes.
One of Bristol Bay's most storied rivers, the Alagnak starts when the lodge's home river, the Nonvianuk, meets with the Kukaklek about 10 miles downstream from Royal Wolf Lodge. It's a bit of a boat ride, but the confluence of the two rivers is plenty fishy. Farther down the Alagnak, you'll come to the famous Alagnak braids, where the river spreads out over the tundra, creating some of the most appealing riffles and tailouts an angler can imagine. This is dry-fly country before the salmon arrive, and the rainbows here will gobble up skated mouse patterns with abandon.
You realize, after nearly a week of fantastic trout fishing, that your guide might have saved the best for last.
- Transportation to the lodge Flights from Anchorage to Iliamna and from Iliamna to the lodge
- Lodging Comfortable and spacious accommodations at Royal Wolf Lodge
- Guided fishing Six days of guided jet boat, drift boat, and walk-and-wade fly fishing
- Daily fly-outs Most days, you'll hop aboard a float plane and fly out find the best fishing
- Meals Three delicious chef-prepared meals daily, as well as daily appetizers
- Beverages Hosted cocktails, beer and wine nightly. Feel free to arrive with your favorite spirt to share with fellow guests
- Flies and gear Flies provided on-stream as needed, and any necessary gear, including rods, reels, waders, boots, etc.
- Taxes and fees Borough taxes and fees, and national park user fees. Fishing licenses must be purchased in advance.
Anglers visiting Royal Wolf Lodge will first fly into Anchorage, and then take a cab or a ride service to Lake and Peninsula Airlines — about a 10-minute ride. From there, L&P will fly you and your group to Iliamna, where you'll be met by a Royal Wolf pilot, and board a float plane to the lodge. If your flight to Anchorage arrives after 11 a.m., you'll likely need to come in a day early, and overnight in Anchorage.