Yakutat Steelhead on the Situk River
Steelhead trout are among the very top of the gamefish list for many coldwater anglers. They aggressively attack fly and lure alike and fight with amazing athleticism and power. They grow to substantial sizes — a 15-pound steelhead in the Situk River is not uncommon; the Alaska state record was caught in 1970 and was an amazing 42 pounds, 3 ounces.
Like Pacific salmon, steelhead are anadromous. They are born in freshwater and head to the ocean to grow, spending most of their lives in the ocean, and returning in either the spring to spawn and return back to the salt chuck, or coming back in the fall to overwinter, spawn and head back to the sea. In general, they live about three years in freshwater before migrating to the sea, and then spend an average of another two years in the saltwater before heading back to the river of their birth to spawn. Some steelhead return to spawn multiple times within their life.
Hooking one of these specimens when it freshly returns to its natal waters after bulking up on saltwater baitfish, and has spent years at sea evading predators and living through the stressors of a high-risk environment, is like latching into a silver bullet. Once on the line, steelhead are anything but predictable. Their aerial fireworks seem to defy gravity, while their ability to change directions at high speeds and flat out race away from you, makes landing them a supreme angling challenge. They combine power, agility, and ferocity in a chrome-encased, streamlined form. Based on these characteristics, steelhead have garnered a cult following, particularly strong on the west coast, and also thriving in pockets where they can be found across the country. Think rainbow trout on steroids.
They live in wild and challenging waters in southeast and southcentral Alaska, as well as populations down the Aleutian Island chain. Hundreds of rivers across Alaska hold populations of steelhead, most of those located in southeast Alaska. By far and away the most productive and prolific steelhead river in Alaska is the Situk River in Yakutat. It averages at least 6,000 returning fish each year.
Yakutat sits in a coastal plain that contains old-growth spruce and hemlock forests interspersed with rivers that flow from mountain to sea. The Situk, as well as several other productive rivers, display the characteristics that make for successful spawning and rearing habitat for fish, namely pools, riffles and runs, with plenty of wood in the river to create current breaks, gravel piles and suitable spawning habitat. The Situk River hosts steelhead and all five species of a salmon, in addition to resident species including rainbow trout and Dolly Varden char. Some rivers in the area also support runs of cutthroat trout.
The Situk originates in Situk Lake and Mountain Lake and runs 18 miles to the Gulf of Alaska. Spring steelhead begin to return to the river in March, and the spring run is generally in full swing by the first week of April. These fish are aggressive and in prime shape as they enter the river in preparation for their spawning duties.
Yakutat Lodge is the perfect location to home base for your Situk River steelhead adventure. Our full-service lodge combines lodging, dining, vehicle rentals, and both guided and DIY drift-boat rentals for steelhead fishermen. We are conveniently located directly across from the airport, so anglers can get off the daily jet service and walk 100 feet to our front door to check in. We offer lodging at the airport facility, in the cabins at our bay-front property, and in the Big House, also located on Monti Bay.
Our guides are intimately familiar with the 13-mile Situk River float, that originates at 9-Mile Bridge and ends at the takeout near the river mouth. They are expert oarsmen and know how to get the lodge drift boats down the narrow, winding, log-filled river. They know the best steelhead-holding water and can give you advanced notice on where to cast. Between having an expert on the oars, and a fishing guide who knows the Situk River, you will catch more steelhead if you use one of our guides.
We also offer DIY packages where you can rent a drift boat and drift the river on your own. For accomplished steelhead anglers who have spent time on the Situk River, then this can be another suitable option. There are also walking trails that give hiking anglers good access to the river, so if you don’t have the time to do the whole 13-mile float, then you can get some casts in by walking in from the mouth or down from 9-Mile Bridge. When landing these truly special fish, handle with care. Use small hooks, with small or no barbs, land fish as quickly as possible, keep them in the water, and take a few quick photos before releasing the fish. These wild steelhead are a precious and coveted gamefish in Alaska and deserve maximum respect and care to keep populations healthy, so learn and implement the best catch-and-release practices.