Although the title for “tastiest salmon” is heavily contested, here at Saltery Lake Lodge we consider the Sockeye the true champion. Known colloquially as the “Red” salmon, it's named for its deep, vividly red flesh that is as delicious as it is beautiful.
The Sockeye is the strongest salmon, and one of the worthiest adversaries a freshwater angler can encounter. It is renowned for its acrobatic fights, often jumping a dozen or more times over from hooking to landing. And even when it has been brought to hand, it will continue to struggle with enough force to easily frustrate your guide.
The Sockeye run at Saltery is often prodigious, one of the largest on Kodiak Island. The average for the last few seasons has been well over 50,000 Sockeye counted at the AK Fish & Game Weir.
One of the highlights of every season is watching the enormous schools of sea-fresh Sockeye making their initial charge through the shallow tidal sloughs at the foot of Saltery Creek. Driven by instinct and panic, the fish advance towards fresh water in berzerk, stop-and-go sprints, often leaping feet into the air and churning the surface of the water to white froth. The real fireworks start when harbor seals appear on the scene, chasing the salmon at high speeds, flushing them onto the shore and heaving themselves out of the water in pursuit. And as soon as the schools reach the bottleneck of the riverbanks, they are usually so concentrated that it’s difficult not to catch them on every cast.
After their dramatic entrance, the Sockeye fishing remains only marginally more difficult, and the fish barely less energetic – it is not unusual to encounter “pods” of a hundred or more fish concentrated in a twenty-foot stretch of river. During this time, we are often lucky enough to watch mother bears give their newborn cubs their first fishing lessons. If there’s something on the planet more adorable than watching a baby bear futilely chasing salmon, we challenge you to prove it.
The Sockeye run typically starts winding down in beginning of August, but groups of latecomers will continue to arrive periodically for many weeks to come, sometimes well into September. Interestingly, these stragglers are often much more aggressive, and will readily take flies and lures when given the chance.
If you join us for a week of Sockeye fishing, you will probably leave with a sore arm and a persistent grin. We have loved seeing many of our guests return to the river for seconds, thirds, fourths (and even thirteenths!) over the years in pursuit of the fierce, enigmatic Reds.
It is highly recommended that our guests use fly-fishing equipment to catch Sockeye. Due to the unique techniques used to catch Reds, even complete fly-casting novices will have an easier time using a fly rod than conventional fear. If you do not own fly-fishing gear and don’t wish to purchase it for the trip, suitable equipment is available for rental at the lodge.
Rod: 7/8wt, single-handed
Reel: 7/8wt, with good drag
Line: 7/8wt floating
Leader/tippet: 12-20lb straight monofilament (tapered leaders and expensive tippet provide no added benefit)
Flies: Sockeye flies are very easy to tie and should be simple as to not provide too much drag in the current. The best fly is a size 4 or 2 octopus hook with a small tuft of crystal flash or egg yarn tied just behind the eye (see examples above).
Terminal tackle: medium split-shot is necessary to properly suspend the fly in the water column.
NOTE: When Sockeye reach the lake and begin their transformation into their spawning morphology, they become much more aggressive and can be caught fairly easily on both flies and lures at the mouth of Lake Creek.