Big Ku Lodge is nestled on a bluff above its namesake river – the Kukaklek – overlooking a spectacular vista of river, lake and sweeping Alaskan wilderness. Built several years ago on
privately-leased Native land within the boundaries of Katmai Preserve (the Branhams
hold the lease rights on over 5,000 acres up and down the Big Ku River and including some
lake shore on Kukaklek Lake, as well) , the lodge could not be more centrally located to
the highest concentrations of trophy trout streams in the state. This isolated outpost
combines the best of all worlds for the serious trout angler – four incredible rivers within
quick and easy boat access, and a home-base that is as comfortable as it is remote. Guests here can walk down and fish the legendary Big Ku River anytime they would li Ver más...ke, before and after their normal fishing day, and it is common to see massive grizzlies wading the river, oblivious to the anglers, focused intently (and with bad intentions) on the legions of spawning sockeye salmon.
A week here is a bit like stepping into a National Geographic special. The Katmai Preserve and adjacent Park play host to some of the most remarkable landscapes in the world. Stepping out the front door of your cabin and turning your head, you will see, in turn, heavily forested mountains, vast expanses of tundra (Alaska’s underfoot Narnia), and everywhere, water.
There are active volcanoes, agate beaches, glaciered mountain ranges, wild blueberry bogs…it is no wonder this area is considered one of Americas most precious and pristine natural resources. And the region’s watersheds, gin-clear and cold, pouring from ancient tarns, harbor some of the largest remaining salmon runs on the planet.
Lurking amidst these millions of spawning sockeye salmon swims the target of most Big Ku Lodge guests, the huge rainbows of the Katmai/Iliamna basin. Averaging 2-6 pounds, with massive specimens over thirty inches landed every year, there is perhaps no better place on earth to target, catch, and release numbers of these magnificent fish. There are both resident river trout, often dark and red-sided, and chrome-bright nomadic lake rainbows that make late season forays into the streams to forage. These rivers are largely scarce of trout food as we think of here in the Lower 48, but nature has provided them a bounty in the form of salmon eggs and decomposing salmon flesh. The time of plenty is short this far north, and the trout feed voraciously, often putting on several pounds in a short 3-month window of opportunity. The implications for the angler are obvious! As well, some of the streams here are also home to brilliantly-colored sea-run Dolly Varden, sail-finned Arctic Grayling, Lake Trout, and Northern Pike. Only a short boat ride from the lodge a shallow tundra lake full of big northern pike lays waiting. And for a few weeks in July, the home river is full of bright, jet-fueled fresh sockeyes, a lot of fun on a fly rod. And all are readily accessible via short boat rides from the lodge, eliminating the necessity of expensive float plane travel, keeping the trip cost to a fraction of the area’s luxurious fly out lodges; the perfect scenario for anglers looking for modest-yet-comfortable wilderness lodging and the regions best possible trophy trout opportunities.
The Branham name has been synonymous with quality fishing and hunting experiences in Bristol Bay for over 50 years. Chris and Linda Branham started their famous Royal Wolf Lodge over 15 years ago with the help of The Fly Shop, and what began as a tent operation in the woods has evolved into one of the most respected trophy trout destinations in the state, built on the integrity, hard work and vision they brought to the project. So it is with the confidence built on all those years of working together with them that we enthusiastically approach the opportunity to help anglers experience their newer sister operation, Big Ku Lodge.
Dolly Varden, Grayling, Trucha de lago, Lucio, Trucha arcoiris, Salmón Sockeye
ON A DAILY BASIS you have many options to choose from, and many are quite close to the lodge. You will get to see beautiful country, and fish for some of the largest trout the area has to offer. You can choose to get up early to virtually assure you’ll be the first on the water, or sleep in, and both start and finish your day later. You can sometimes mix your days, fishing pike in the morning, and trout in the afternoon. Weather, often the bane of fly-out operations, is virtually a non-issue here; morning fog won’t keep you from the water, nor will any but the most severe winds. Even in the worst weather you can always fish the home river, and typically the Little Ku, as well.
At the heart of the Big Ku Lodge boat fishery are the rivers themselves, four jewels that are counted among t Ver más...he finest of what Alaska has to offer in terms of trophy trout. One of the beauties of this small occupancy, boat-to lodge format is the flexibility it allows. While Big Ku Lodge is happy to arrange for fly outs for guests at any time they might so desire – planes and pilots from nearby Royal Wolf Lodge can be deployed with 24-hour notice ($425/person - minimum of two anglers), fishermen can be flown to one of the other blue-ribbon stream. Most will not choose this option, as the boat-to water fishing is as good, or better. Admittedly, special situations arise that might warrant a fly out during the week, none involving more or larger fish. Examples may be flying to the upper American river in early summer, where some days big rainbows suck over-sized dries off the surface for hours each afternoon; or a flight to the upper Funnel, a magical place for massive trout in the late season; or, serious hikers only, a modest flight and hour-long hike to one of several small streams in the region with 2-5 pound trout in mid-season. You will see almost no other anglers during the season. It is a great option to have, but one we suspect will be lightly used.
The Kukaklek River (Big Ku):
Kukaklek River (Big Ku) is located literally a stone's throw from the front porch of the lodge. More importantly, there are miles of river accessible by jet boat, from the outlet of Kukaklek Lake just upstream, down through the tundra plains and eventually into a deep canyon, which marks the downstream boundary of available water. And while a handful of anglers will float from the outlet downstream to the junction of the Nonvianuk - forming the Alagnak River - and on to the eventual termination at the Bering Sea, the vast majority of the Big Ku available from the lodge will see almost no outside angling pressure, save some guests from other lodges who are flown in to wade the outlet section of the river. The lodge's river jet boats can also easily access a large, shallow lake integral to the river, a giant pond that is full of northern pike. These predators are readily caught on brightly-colored streamers (and wire leaders, to mitigate their barracuda-like dentures), but the most exciting method is dragging mouse patterns across the surface…the takes can be quite memorable! Of the four streams, this is the one we most often fish with large streamers for trout, usually swung on 15-foot or shorter sinking tip lines; the tight-line grabs can be quite dramatic, and the average size of fish here impressive. For the dry fly enthusiast, there are also grayling here, though few can ever pull themselves away from the big rainbows! While most fishing here is done wading, there are times of the season, and stretches of river where the guides will fish you from an anchored, or rowed jet sled. Nine foot 6 and 7 weight rods are perfect here, and because of the width of the river and the effectiveness of swung streamers, switch rods and light spey gear are also quite popular. As everywhere in this region, there will be some times of the year when dead drifting egg patterns on floating lines will be particularly deadly.
The Little Ku:
Barely more than a creek, and is accessed via a quick (5-6 minute) boat ride from the lodge to where it dumps its modest flows into Kukaklek Lake. From there anglers will hike upstream, fishing various stretches depending on the time of year. This is fishing in fairly tight quarters, and hooking a 5-pound trout in the small flows is an experience not soon forgotten; not only will you often see the fish before you cast here, but once hooked, the big fish often panic and go airborne, not uncommonly right onto dry land or into overhanging bushes! This is "close fishing" at its best, with the opportunity to hook many big trout in shallow water within 20 feet of your rod tip. Also pouring into the creek during the summer and fall months are beautiful sea run Dolly Varden; visually, imagine 15-22 inch brook trout, in full spawning dress, and you get the picture. These gorgeous fish are almost unbelievably gullible to a dead-drifted egg pattern, and are more than happy to fill in any slow trout periods during the day here. In a normal sockeye salmon escapement year, you will be dumbfounded by the numbers of salmon that ascend this little stream to spawn – it can be quite a visual spectacle. Because of the small size of the stream, nine foot 6 weight rods, floating lines, and dead drifted egg patterns are the de rigueur choice of equipment.
The Moraine River:
Arguably the finest small river trophy trout fishery in the Bristol Bay region. Over the past twenty years more truly enormous, and more astounding numbers of merely big rainbows have been hooked and landed here (as well as lost to overtaxed tackle and anglers) than in just about any other similarly-sized stream in the area. The Moraine is reached by an approximate 30-minute ride in the lodges comfortable “lake boat”, a beautiful big covered, heated inboard jet designed to transport anglers in comfort, regardless of the condition of the lake. Once at the rivers entry point into Kukaklek Lake, guests are transferred into smaller river sleds, which allow them access to miles of the stream’s prime lower reaches. This mid-sized river is fished by wading, and while streamers and even skated mouse patterns can be superb early and late in the season, most of the really big number days here are achieved by dead-drifting egg patterns during the heart of the summer. For those inclined to hit these waters in September, a large flesh fly streamer swung on a sinking tip, or dead-drifted beneath a floating line can be the ticket to a fish of a lifetime. Nine foot 6 and 7 weight rods are standard fare here, though the river is large enough for switch rods and light spey gear to be effective.
A relatively short stream between Kukaklek and Battle Lakes is what many serious trout hunters consider the quintessential trophy rainbow stream; it is modest-sized, generally shallow, with a heavy run of spawning sockeye salmon. Add this all up, and you have a lot of large lake rainbows following the mobile salmon buffet into water that is easily waded, and ideal for sight-fishing to trout that are far larger than what you would normally expect in water this size. It is primarily fished with floating lines and dead-drifted egg patterns, and quite often to sighted trout. When you see one of these big fish suck in your egg in twelve inches of water, and set the hook, you need to be prepared, for you can be guaranteed something dramatic is about to happen. Though the furthest boat ride from the lodge (also in the big lake boat) at about 30-minutes, this is also one of the most intriguing options, as many fly out lodges prefer to avoid it, due to the prevailing wind issues there. The odds are good that on some days, Big Ku Lodge guests may be the only anglers on the water, or at least sharing it with only a small handful of others. Typically, as with the Moraine, guests will be driven across the lake in the comfort of the large lake boat, then transferred to a river skiff to actually enter the river. Again, a 9 foot 6 weight rod is ideal here, though a 7 weight is not really overkill, and there can be days in late season when throwing larger flesh patterns can turn up some huge trout, making the larger rod appealing.
THOUGH NOT A LARGE operation – we find this to be a good thing – Big Ku Lodge is very well built, with well-appointed guest cabins and a cozy main lodge that lets guests spread out in comfort and view the breath-taking local landscape through the many large windows designed into the structure. Anglers are free to come and go from their nearby cabins to the lodge as they please; typically they will be there for breakfast before the fishing day, and again for dinner and on into the evening.
The lodge facilities include a main cabin with living and dining room, full bath and kitchen. The two duplex cabins hold two guests per room, with heat, comfortable beds and full private bathrooms in each room. The lodge easily holds six guests, but in many cases we will allow an integral party of 4 Ver más...anglers to take the entire lodge for themselves.
Meals here are delicious, and prepared fresh daily. Hot and cold breakfasts will be waiting for you each morning; lunches will normally be taken in the field; and dinners are always a special event, preceded by addicting appetizers (and a cold beer or soda) and including well-prepared and presented beef, chicken and fish dishes, shared with a glass of wine where desired. You will not leave here hungry!
For non-anglers, the wilderness surrounding the lodge makes for an amazing backdrop, and it is not unusual to see, from the lodge and on the rivers, brown bears, wolves, moose, caribou and eagles.