Up On Crystal Creek

Up On Crystal Creek

  • By: Jeremy Hatch
  • and A. K. Best

It may have been a moment of irrational exuberance, but never have I horsed in a three-pound trout because I felt it was a nuisance and was slowing me down from catching even bigger fish. Still, here I was doing it. I was racking up many firsts in Alaska and, well, the experience was spoiling me. In a good way.

My wife Alison and I were visiting Crystal Creek Lodge for a combination fishing and wing-shooting trip. Our days fishing were a combination of wade-fishing for silver salmon and native cold-water species such as rainbows, Dolly Varden and Arctic char. One of my personal highlights was sight-fishing for silver salmon running the river, with Dan Michaels (Crystal Creek Lodge owner) coaching my technique and line-strip pace, resulting in a nice 8- or 10-pound silver on a fly rod…the kind of fish that leaves a lasting impression.

In 2006, Crystal Creek Lodge moved from their previous location of 18 years near Dillingham to a new home near the base of the Alaskan Peninsula, just outside of King Salmon next to Katmai National Park. This location offered a vast expanse of wilderness acres, numbering in the millions, to explore, and extended their fishing range.

After a short hour-plus flight from Anchorage, guests are picked up at the King Salmon airport for a 10-minute ride to the lodge. At first sight, the lodge is an impressive Alaskan-style log structure. Inside, guests are greeted with warm smiles from a professional and welcoming staff who never miss a name, need or request. With more than 7,500 square feet of space in the main lodge, there are five suites accommodating 10 anglers. The lodge has a comfortable rustic decor with beautiful wildlife mounts and a massive stone fireplace as the focal point of the Great Room. Two additional lodging suites are located next to the main lodge; these offer space for larger groups or a private location for guests looking for a quiet retreat.

Every evening before dinner the lodge bar opened with time for a cocktail and a few minutes to share stories from the day in the field. Chef Felix would then serve a selection of both fresh Alaskan and more traditional cuisine. Along with a tastefully chosen house wine, dinner never failed to tantalize.

The standard visit to Crystal Creek is a seven-day trip with six days of fishing and/or hunting. Guest can choose to fly out in a Cessna or one of the de Havilland Beavers for the day. From July through September, Alaskan salmon (kings, silvers, pinks, chum and sockeye) are running. Crystal Creek is an Orvis-endorsed lodge and provides fly-fishing outfits, if needed. You can choose to pursue trophy rainbows, Dolly Varden, Arctic char and grayling on Alaska’s world-class rivers like the Moraine or the Naknek. The lodge accesses many remote locations, including overnight camps, offering some incredible trout and salmon fishing that sees more pressure from bears than fisherman. The lodge practices a strict catch-and-release policy on all fish except salmon.

Most of the fishing we experienced was based on running egg patterns in a dead- drift, similar to high-sticking nymphs. As simple as that may seem, a slight change in egg size or color turned off the fish in a split-second. Our guides proved to be invaluable by knowing the stage of the spawn and, of course, tying on additional leader material when a drift tangled under a tree.

Crystal Creek also offers incredible wingshooting opportunities. Hundreds of thousands of acres of prime habitat surround the lodge; let’s just say that willow ptarmigan are plentiful and wingshooters can expect 15 to 20 or more covey rises of three to 30-plus birds daily. During our stay we moved well over 600 birds. Contact Crystal Creek Lodge at (907) 357-3153; www.crystalcreeklodge.com.
Jeremy Hatch