Anglers struggle to find fish in high water

Jul 23, 2021

Fly fishing season is in full swing in Bristol Bay. Guided groups flocked to the rivers and lakes this summer after a year-long pandemic hiatus. While there may be plenty of tourists, the fish didn’t show last week.

Credit Alaska Wild River Guides

John Jinishian is the owner and lead guide at Alaska Wild River Fishing, which operates out of Dillingham.

Jinishian has guided group trips on the rivers surrounding the bay for seven years. The summer season is packed.  

“We are fully booked up for the season," he said. "We had to turn away over a dozen people for this year and re-book some for next year.”

But lots of fishermen doesn’t mean lots of fish. When Jinishian led his first trip of the season July 11-15, he was surprised.

“The fishing last week was as slow as I've ever seen it on the refuge," Jinishian said. "If we had operated the week prior, we would have had nothing to deal with besides resident species, so the fishing was tough from pretty much anyone's perspective.”

Jinishian thinks the high water contributed to slower fishing, which seems unusual for this time of the year.

“The rivers are acting like they do in the middle of June and it feels like an earlier season fishery rather than the middle of July," he said. "We don't have the same numbers of salmon and Dolly Varden char that are generally in the system.”

Lee Borden, Bristol Bay’s sport fish biologist, said water levels have been high around the bay, which poses a challenge for anglers.

“High water sometimes can affect anglers' success in two ways," said Borden. "It can change the behavior of the fish in that they’ll take refuge in different parts of the river than you would normally expect to find them, so it  makes the fish a little harder to find. And, it can also affect the way you fish them, so the way you present the gear to the fish is altered, because you are pushed up into the weeds.”

Bordon also said the low king runs in the past few years are a concern. Out on the water, Jinishian has seen fewer kings this season.

“We experienced very low numbers of kings last week, not even target-able numbers in the river system, so we are experiencing that," said Jinishian. "But generally you look at the previous runs, and that will indicate what that will be like in 3-5 years um, so it is a little bit surprising to me that we did have low king counts.”

In addition to high waters and low king counts, Jinishian experienced yet another surprise: his group caught a silver on the fly, which is a little early in the summer.

Jinishian will take his second group of the season to fish on the Togiak River in the National Wildlife Refuge, about 80 miles west of Dillingham. Other trips on the books this summer will explore the Goodnews and Kanetok Rivers.

Contact the author at or 907-842-2200.