Written by Adam Cuthriel of Fishhound Expeditions
In addition to a more traditional lodge experience (but perhaps still incomparable, as it’s deluxe in every way despite being exceptionally remote), Fishhound Expeditions offers something fairly unique: multi-day, fly-in, float expeditions into wild Alaska.
The Susitna River is one of the larger river drainages in the state of Alaska. It helps funnel water down to the ocean from many monstrous mountain ranges including Denali and the Alaska Range. The benefit to anglers is that this offers countless clear water tributaries that provide incredible Alaska fishing experiences!
These tributaries boast incredible Rainbow Trout populations with some reaching 30 inches, beautifully finned Arctic Grayling that eagerly take flies and lures, gorgeous Dolly Varden that feast on Salmon Spawn, as well as all 5 species of Pacific Salmon, Kings/Chinooks, Pinks/Humpy’s, Chum/Dog/Tiger, Silver/Coho, and Sockeye/Red. The Sockeye run is smaller than other river systems in Alaska but the other 4 runs are strong particularly the Silvers, Pinks, and Chums.
The tributary fishing spots vary in size from small intimate creeks that one could almost step over, all the way up to large rivers that are more suited to float trip fishing. Fishing typically begins mid-May and runs through mid-October and, just like everything in Alaska, is completely dictated by nature itself! There have been some May’s and October’s wearing tee-shirts while others have been heavily blanketed by snow!
Get Remote on the Susitna Tributaries
Some of the tributaries are remote and only accessible by power boat…while others are extremely remote and accessed only by air travel. Still, many are accessible by the road system and vehicles but Susitna or “Su” tributaries are still the closest fishing to Anchorage that are not “urban” fisheries. Some good spots are as close as 45 minutes from downtown while most are about an hour and fifteen minutes to 2 hours away (close by Alaskan standards!). There are even more spots the farther north one travels. These “tribs” are accessed by the Alaska Parks Highway which runs all the way north to Fairbanks and crosses many rivers that hold fish. There is ample parking along our version of a highway that allows access up and down these rivers. There are also several access roads that can give anglers more access to some of these rivers, while others only have access from the Hwy.
As you can tell, Susitna tribs offer more than just great fishing, they offer great solitude and an incredible back drop to cast a rod in. Unlike some rivers in Alaska where combat fishing is the norm, these tribs tend to keep crowds to a minimum because of how many there are combined with the often remote locations. At the easier accessed spots one can to expect to find other like-minded anglers but if one hikes up or down or has access to a boat then there are many more options for peace, solidarity, and fish. There are also numerous options that have incredible hike in possibilities. If one has the ability and endurance to wade or hike modest distances no crowds and fish with little pressure exists.
Hike-In Fishing Options & Advice
If one chooses hike-in fishing options, then he or she should go prepared. Have some basic knowledge of where you’re going and make sure some one knows your plan and when you will return. In addition to the basic items which one should have such as communication, food, water, and rain gear an individual should consider carrying bear spray or a fire arm if one is properly trained and proficient. Most people from the lower 48 are concerned about bears, but to be fair, on the road system bears are well aware of us and choose to avoid us as much as possible. Whereas moose are much more prevalent and can be more aggressive. Make sure one is loud while traveling up and down river corridors, yell, sing, talk to your self or preferably a fishing buddy to alert any wildlife near by that you are coming. Make your presence known because most animals would rather not confront us.
An added benefit to fishing this area is the ease and access to areas one can camp and enjoy Alaska for multiple days. There are many established campgrounds that can accommodate large RV’s and campers. These larger, established, campgrounds offer power and water hook ups. If one is looking to get away from people, then there are massive amounts of public land which one can tent camp on or utilize smaller campers. There are also many pull-over spots on the highway where one can sleep for an evening on their way to their next destination. Many of these camping locations are right on rivers while others are a short walking distance away.
These drainages offer great opportunities for DIY trips, but just like most systems there are huge advantages to hiring a local fishing guide for a day or two. Hiring a local guide that is accredited will give folks the ability to make the most out of the time they have to fish. Fishing quality can vary greatly from time of year, salmon runs and timings, water/air temperatures, and specific river location. You’ll get into the best angling situation possible by having someone who spends day after day on the water. Even for very experienced anglers, hiring a guide for a float trip or a fly-in trip will give you more access to more river than any individual could ever cover by doing a walk and wade trip.
Guided Fishing with FishHound Expeditions
FishHound Expeditions has been conducting guided operations in the Susitna drainages the last 5 years. However, some of our guides have been fishing these areas the last 10-20 years and have an intimate knowledge of the system and its many rivers and creeks. This experience allows us to offer a variety of trips. We conduct ½ day walk and wade trips, full day walk and wade trips, full day float trips, as well as 1 to 6 day helicopter fly-in fishing trips (this ‘heli-fishing’ is my personal favorite!). The difference between a walk and wade trip versus a float trip is that on a walk and wade trip one’s access to the river and fish is limited by walking ability, parcels of private land, and vehicle access. On some of the smaller creeks walking is the only way they can be accessed which allows for a great nature experience and the ability to stalk fish while walking along the banks. A float trip generally allows more access to the most river and the most fish, plus guests can fish from the boat as they drift down as well as get out in larger holes and runs. The boat also gives access to areas that are too far for people to hike to. Once there, guests get out of the boat and work the river from either the banks or standing in the river. The boat is also a great way to see Alaska and enjoy a beautiful float as well as catch fish. Most of our guests generally opt for the float trip because of ease of access and the experience a float trip gives. We also see a good number of experienced anglers who enjoy suffering a good “bushwhack” to find areas that see very little pressure. Heli-fishing is the best of both worlds; little to no pressure with ease of access!
All seasons on tribs of the Su offer amazing different angling opportunities. From early season mouse fishing for trout and Grayling, mid-season feeding frenzies drifting bead/egg imitations while salmon are laying eggs as their flesh deteriorates providing more food for fish, to late season streamer fishing for aggressive Coho’s and Trout. These different seasons provide a variety of angling opportunities and angling education from mastering a dead drift to a properly swung fly. I’m torn each and every year on what is my favorite. It’s consistently either early season mouse fishing or early fall streamer action. Fortunately for me I am able to experience both and I steer guests generally towards one of these two. All of our trips start in Willow or Talkeetna which is easily accessible from the main hub of Anchorage.
We select different sections of river for our guests based on our experience fishing. As fishing guides, we are tasked with having to fish, A LOT! I know you must feel very sorry for us and the work in which we must do but we will suffer through it to provide the best experiences for our guests and us. Everyone is happier from guests to guides if the fishing is good. Scouting our many locations day after day keeps us keen on what, when, and where it’s happening. Time of year and salmon run timings are some of the factors that play into where and how we fish. This though can vary greatly from one year to the next and by having boots in the water day after day we are current on how each season is different—we look forward to having an opportunity to share our knowledge and experience with you.
Adam Cuthriel is the owner and operator of FishHound Expeditions, located in the town of Willow, Alaska just an hour north of Anchorage…FishHound Expeditions offers heli-fishing day trips as well as 5-10 day fully-guided remote heli-fishing float fishing adventure to Western Alaska for those looking for the ultimate Alaska fishing adventure. There are a variety of options for heli-fishing in Alaska, but what separates FishHound Expeditions is their passion, knowledge, amenities, gear, and continuing exploration with these amazing aircraft. Their gear is handmade or purchased specifically to fit in helicopters, which allows them to bring incredible freshly prepared food, great comfortable camp scenes with cots & pads, separate sleeping tents for clients, and specific cooking/eating shelters, and lots of room for beer/wine.