DeltaTroutForce - the Perfect Combination of Art and Sport

Alaska Rainbow Lodge

It was somewhere on my second of four flights for the day when it truly set in that I was going to Alaska.  Looking out the window from my middle seat, I was not shy in my wanting of the guy in the window seat to lean back so that I could have a better view of the terrain outside.  The steep mountains dropped directly into the dark waters below.  Last minute trips like this usually lead to being stuck in a middle seat but none of that mattered.  Our plane was descending into the Anchorage airport and for the first time in my life, I was about to set foot in Alaska.  I have been very fortunate to do some traveling with a fly rod in hand but somehow had yet to visit “The Last Frontier” and one of fly fishing’s most iconic destinations.  Next up on my itinerary was an hour flight into the appropriately named town of “King Salmon.”  Upon walking off the plane into this Alaskan Metropolis, we were met by representatives of the Alaska Rainbow Lodge.

Alaska Rainbow Lodge, ARL for short, is located in the beautiful Bristol Bay on the banks of the world renowned Kvichak River.  I was traveling on assignment for Tailwaters Travel with my good friend and celebrated photographer, Matt Jones.  From King Salmon we boarded a small float plane, “Beaver,” and were just a quick 30 minute flight from our home for the week.  A soft touchdown into the waters outside the lodge was the first of the many water plane landings I would experience in the next few days.  Idling up to the dock, I am shocked to see that the lodge has three of these Beavers, ready to serve as our mode of transportation for the week.  The thought of having our own personal fishing taxis that fly through the sky really help to set in the uniqueness of the trip I was about to experience.

ARL was built in 1982 by Alaskan Legend Ron Hayes.  Ron was known as one of the top big game hunting guides in the world and became (in)famous for his unconventional techniques using his airplane to aid in the hunting of grizzly bears.  After being convicted of illegally hunting grizzlies, he began to assist the Alaskan Department of Fish and Game in their anti-poaching efforts before building the lodge. After 32 years of running the lodge, Ron sold ARL to a former lodge guide and pilot, Chip Ferguson.  Chip and his wife Amanda, continue to run one of the finest lodges in all of Alaska that offers an all inclusive experience to go along with a top notch fishing program.

It was September so the majority of our fishing was focused on rainbow trout.  These trout behave like a completely different species when compared to classic western trout. They are following the salmon migrations, fattening up on eggs and decaying flesh.  It confuses me how these fish are not considered steelhead as I caught multiple with sea lice on their fins. But that debate in nomenclature is not one I care to get into.  Regardless, Alaskan Rainbows are the most powerful freshwater fish I have ever encountered.  They also average over 20 inches in most rivers with some consistently boasting fish in the 26-30″ range. 

Other target species included silver salmon, dolly varden, and grayling.  We spent one day chasing silvers which was a blast.  We were basically sight fishing large, brightly colored streamers to fish in crystal clear water from a jet boat.  It was an incredibly visual technique, watching multiple large fish veer off the bank to curiously follow your fly.  You could also consistently catch dollies and grayling when targeted.  Besides their beauty and entertainment factor, this was especially gratifying knowing how delicious they were when cooked up for a hot stream side lunch.  The guides of ARL were experienced and went above and beyond in making sure the trip was special, even if that meant routinely gutting, cleaning, and cooking fresh dollies for me because I was so impressed with the flavor of the meat.

All factors of the lodge were extraordinary.  The food, lodging, amenities, all stood out, especially when considering the means they had to go through to get supplies delivered.  My favorite part personally was how well organized they were.  Other than picking where you want to fish the next day, you literally did not need to make any decisions.  Everything is thought out and planned.  Years of experience has allowed for this operation to act as a well oiled machine.

Another factor that really stood out to me was how they prioritized safety.  Grizzly Bears are always around and weather can change almost instantaneously.  ARL only employs the most experienced pilots who never take risks when it comes to weather and visibility.  Beaver planes are perfectly designed for travel in the Alaskan bush and really helped contribute to the success of a fishing program, but the lodge also has jet boats for river access on the days when mother nature will not let your water taxi fly.  This is offers peace of mind particularly when to those traveling with family that unfortunately cannot be offered at all the other Alaskan lodges.

Overall it was an unbelievable trip.  I used to think that I only wanted to travel to salty destinations as I could fish for trout right here in my back yard.  Well that was just silly and honestly the first mistake I have ever made.  I will never forget my first trip to Alaska.  Thankfully a place like Alaska Rainbow Lodge exists and will be able to replicate my experience in future trips as I have already decided I have to go back.  Email me with any questions regarding Alaska travel and joining in on the fun!

All photos credited to and property of Matt Jones and

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