Switching to Fall in Alaska

Gray Struznik

The crisp, fall mornings are right around the corner. That also means so are the enormous rainbows dropping out of the labyrinths of ocean-sized lakes in western Alaska. From mid-August until the rivers lock up with ice from Arctic temperatures, anglers have the opportunity to land rainbows people often mistake for steelhead.

Bristol Bay has some of the best rainbow trout fishing on the planet due to the enormous sockeye salmon runs, which are measured in the millions. During warmer fall temperatures, these fish will fight as hard as any steelhead you’ll ever catch. I could go on… and on… but I’ll get to the point. The bigger rivers in western Alaska normally fish like a steelhead river on the Olympic Peninsula; meaning, you'll get an easy wade from time to time, but typically you’re chest-deep with either a grass bank or what we call ‘bear brush’ up against your D-loop, making life hell. I normally have rods in the 11- to 13-foot range in the boat back home in Washington, but in Alaska the ‘switch sticks’ are all you need.

The Sage X 8110-4 (11-foot, 8-weight) is one of the most fun switch rods I’ve cast. I have this rod paired with a RIO Skagit Max Short in 550 or 575 grains and an EVOKE 7/8 reel. The normal sink tip length I throw with this setup is in the 10-foot range. Don’t worry about throwing your Dolly Llama flies, this rod is a worker and will pull any rabbit fly from a solid anchor position and hurtle it towards the opposite bank.

Switching to Fall in Alaska

...these fish will fight as hard as any steelhead you’ll ever catch...

Switching to the shorter rod a few years back, I noticed I was hooking more fish on my hang-down than I would’ve trying to launch casts all day to the opposite shoreline. I also found with these rainbows the size of your sink tip doesn’t really matter; if the fish wants it, the fish will move a long way for it, sometimes even grabbing the swung fly while heading downstream This normally scares my clients so bad, all that’s left is some frayed leader. My point is, why make it harder than it has to be? The Sage team has done their part designing these amazing switch rods. Now go do your part and get to Alaska!

Note: I wrote this with the swing-fisherman in mind. However, with the idea of an all-around outfit for Alaska, this rod paired with an 8-weight RIO Switch Chucker would cover all your basis for big river fishing in western Alaska.

​Gray Struznik is a Sage Ambassador and guide splitting his time between the steelhead waters of Washington's Olympic Peninsula and the trout and salmon waters of Alaska. For more information, see www.opflyfishing.com.