Fishing Admiralty

by Mark Kaelke

Fishing Admiralty
Admiralty Island is place of well-known superlatives. While its brown bear and bald eagle populations garner most of the attention, the freshwater fisheries of the Island bask in a comparative mist of anonymity… and that’s just fine with most of the people who fish there.
As a former fly fishing guide and outfitter based out of Juneau, I have been able to justify more fish-prospecting time on Admiralty than the average angler and was seldom disappointed with the effort. The streams of Admiralty support populations of Dolly Varden Char, cutthroat trout as well as runs of steelhead and all five pacific salmon.
The most unique of the salmon returns to Admiralty are its two runs of king salmon which are the only island-run returns of this species known to exist in southeast Alaska.* Likewise, Admiralty hosts only 2 runs of sockeye salmon. These fish are a very important subsistence food source for rural residents but are also very likely approaching “species of concern” status. Efforts to bolster their numbers on Admiralty are now being considered by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG), US Forest Service, Friends of Admiralty Island and other non-government groups. Populations of pink, chum, and coho salmon on Admiralty remain ample and stable. These species are found in numerous island streams and are the main targets for salmon fishermen and other non-human salmon consumers there.

The char and trout resources of Admiralty have historically, and still do, attract the bulk of angling effort on the island. Dolly Varden Char and cutthroat trout are available throughout the fishing season in both lakes and streams. Peak fishing opportunities for these species occur both in the spring when they gorge on out-migrating salmon fry and again in the late-summer and fall when they feast on eggs furnished by spawning salmon.
Admiralty Island steelhead are enigmatic jewels. Although ADFG has catalogued 14 streams containing steelhead runs of 25-300 fish each, un-documented runs of these fish may also be encountered around the Island. With very short stays in freshwater for the purpose of spawning prior to returning to the sea and their small run-numbers, luck and timing are key to successfully locating Admiralty steelhead.
I have not found fly selection for Admiralty char and trout to be particularly difficult as long as one takes cues from the stage of the salmon life cycle at which they’re fishing and “match the hatch” from there. Streamer patterns that resemble out–migrating fry generally work very well until salmon begin to spawn. From there, fly offerings that mimic a salmon egg(s) and later, salmon flesh, are very productive. If salmon or steelhead is the quarry, bold orange, pink or chartreuse attractor flies on sturdy hooks are usually good bets. Although, I’ve never employed them on Admiralty, spoons and spinners likely work well for all species encounteredthere. Regardless of the tackle you choose, barbless hooks are the way to go for any fish you plan to release.
As you have probably noted, I have been less than forthcoming with names of particular streams and lakes. Aside from the fact I do fear the inevitable retribution of other Admiralty anglers were I to “kiss and tell” about a favored stream, I firmly believe that doing so would short-change the reader on the best aspect of fishing Admiralty. In addition to some great fishing, my scouting trips to the Island have provided me timeless memories. One early morning visit to a tiny estuary yielded the sight of 11 adult bears grazing on grass and sedge like a herd of cattle. Another spring day brought me within a rods-length of a hungry immature eagle that harried me for a half-mile along the stream until he grew bold enough to snatch an almost-caught Dolly from the end of my line. So, the best directions I can give you are to head west from Juneau. The fish are there and finding them in an amazing place like Admiralty is just part of a grander experience.
* King salmon fishing is prohibited on Admiralty and in most fresh waters in southeast Alaska.