A hidden gem on the Middle Kuskokwim
by John Chythlook
Note: This article is reprinted with permission from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s ReelTimes newsletter. Additional species information is also from ADF&G.
Ever thought of fishing a little-traveled river in the middle Kuskokwim River drainage? If so, a trip on the Hoholitna River should near the top of your list.
The Hoholitna River is a tannic, clearwater river that flows 165 miles north from its headwaters in Whitefish Lake in the Nushagak Hills to eventually join the lower Holitna River. There is excellent fishing for Dolly Varden and arctic grayling, as well as large, voracious northern pike in the lower river and sloughs all summer long. King and chum salmon are available late June and July, while coho salmon are present during late August and September. Anglers normally access the lower Hoholitna by chartered boat from the village of Sleetmute. The Hoholitna River is also navigable by prop boat for much of the lower 20 river miles. The river is all Class I, but there are sweepers and log jams, which require some boating skill to avoid.
All the species present are attracted to egg patterns, especially during salmon spawning. Silver and flashy streamers work well below water, and dry flies can be productive during the right conditions. Silver/pink or orange spoons and silver or gold spinners work well for spinning gear, as well as white, pink, and silver jigs. Pike will hit surface lures such as mouse or frog patterns, and are attracted to large rubber fish lures as well. Always use steel leaders for pike fishing. Sheefish are often not too picky, but when they are, a large light-colored spoon or a duck-billed diving lure can be just the ticket.
Access to the Hoholitna River is normally by float plane charter, either through McGrath, Aniak, Bethel, or by charter from Anchorage. There is also scheduled air service to Sleetmute. The river is normally floated, where there are providers of both guided and unguided trips. Outfitted trips are available that include raft or other equipment rental and aircraft charter. There are also some small but comfortable lodges on the river. The float normally takes about 10 days. Bears are common along the river, and floaters should take appropriate cautions.
Fishing begins here May 15 and ends September 15. Check regulations at adfg.alaska.gov.
John Chythlook is a sport fisheries biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for the Kuskokwim River and Kuskokwim Bay area. Born in Dillingham and raised in various places throughout Alaska and Arizona, he has been a sport, commercial, and subsistence fisherman in various forms through a few decades. He currently resides in Fairbanks, with travel to Bethel and the Kuskokwim region during the summer.