KOBUK RIVER -TRIP REPORT
By Moe Witschard – Guide and Photographer
The floats skimmed the surface of Walker Lake as our float plane dropped us off to begin our 9 day Kobuk River expedition. I was here with 3 clients to float the upper 80 miles of the Kobuk in inflatable canoes and to fish ! The upper Kobuk River is well known for its fishery and we came well equipped with 2 rods per person.
Our first day was spent exploring and fishing around Walker Lake. We wandered downstream of the outlet to scout the portage around a 200 yd. stretch of class 4 whitewater in the upper Kobuk canyon, which we would negotiate the following day. The upper Kobuk is a fairly moderate river that is Class 1 and 2 for the most part, but in two canyon sections, it breaks from this pattern and thunders into Class 3 and 4 whitewater for short stretches, all of which can be portaged.
After spending a little over an hour carrying all our gear around the upper Kobuk canyon, the fishing began in earnest. The upper river contains an amazing grayling fishery. We stopped half a dozen times each day to fish and caught dozens of large grayling in the 15-20 in. range. Most of these were released unharmed. We always kept a few for dinner….and we ate fish every night.
As we made our way down the Kobuk, we got into a Chum Salmon run on a major tributary. They were fun to catch, but they were far enough into the spawning process, that we released each one of them. One day we were fishing in a lagoon off of the river and were surprised to come upon a mass of spawning Mountain Whitefish. These fish live after spawning to spawn again the next year. Though the grayling we had been eating every night were delicious, the Mountain Whitefish upped the culinary ante on the trip.
The fishing highpoint came on our final full day on the river. We finally got down into Sheefish country. Sheefish, also known as Inconnu or “Eskimo Tarpon” are incredible fish. They can grow to larger than 40 lbs in the Kobuk River. We fished for them unsuccessfully in 4 different spots that day before we found the “honey hole”. I was the first one casting and on my 3rd cast, it was game on! When my first Sheefish jumped, I felt like someone had photoshopped a giant fish onto the end of my line. When I landed it, it measured 42 in., we estimated between 30 and 35 lbs. We continued to fish the hole for an hour and quit after 10 Sheefish had been caught and released. We kept the smallest one, at 11 lbs. for dinner. We filetted it and I sautéed it butter with just a little salt and pepper so as to preserve the native flavor of the fish. We all agreed, from a culinary standpoint, it was 5 star.
If you are dreaming of a Brooks Range river trip, and moderate whitewater and fishing are your priorities, the Kobuk River fits the bill quite nicely.