What a year! 2023 was a time of transition for Tikchik Narrows Lodge. 45 years after he first arrived at Tikchik as a winter caretaker, long-time owner Bud Hodson handed the reins over to myself, Andy Angstman. Many long-term employees remained, and Bud was on-site throughout the summer to assist. Head Guide Adam Franceschini, Lodge Manager Carol Smith, and Chief Pilot Steve Larsen all were on hand to ensure a safe and successful operation. The end result of their efforts was a fantastic season of fishing and fun for our guests.
The first lodge employees arrived at a winter wonderland, with a lingering heavy snowpack and ice-covered lakes. The last patch of snow in the courtyard melted the day our first guests arrived on June 17th. In late May and early June, our fleet of De Havilland Beavers moved thousands of pounds of fuel, food, liquor, and supplies. We noticed right away that the weather was a significant factor in early June with rain, wind, and fog, which affected our flying capability. Typically, June is our nicest month. This trend carried into our fishing season.
As expected, the sockeye salmon run was gangbusters, and the king salmon run was slow. The Nushagak sonar counted 1.77 million sockeye, which was less than 2021 and 2022, but still was the 4th largest run of all-time. In the lake system around the lodge and at the Falls on the Nuyakuk, sockeyes were literally everywhere, and everyone who wanted fillets went home with full fish boxes. The king salmon run topped out at just over 31,000 fish, which was the lowest count on record. Despite the low numbers, our talented guides at our lower Nush camp (Steve King, Summer Santangelo, and Mason Gaier) still put people on some amazing fish. We are grateful for the opportunity to continue to pursue these magnificent salmon.
On the Upper Nush and at Sunset Camp, high water and cold, rainy weather didn’t stop us from some great early season fishing. Josh Hendry and Jace Amberson worked hard and found rainbows, dollies, and grayling for our guests at Sunset, and Emily Rockwell was back as the camp host extraordinaire. Shawn Bond and James Wise mastered the Upper Nush fishery quickly, and when the weather allowed, our guests had many miles of remote river fishing all to themselves.
As we have become accustomed to at Tikchik, the early season char and lake trout fishery was outstanding. Despite a late spring and cold water in the lakes, the resident fish were busting smolt regularly, and our guests benefited. The lakes saved us again and again, as weather hampered our ability to fly out on a normal schedule. There aren’t many lodges in the world where the “backup plan” is a legitimate shot at a 30-inch arctic char!
High water lingered into late July, and the weather pattern stubbornly hung on, but our guides and guests persevered and had fantastic fishing. The Tikchik River produced some beautiful rainbows, and the lake fishing never disappointed us. As the sockeye salmon started spawning in late July and early August, the char fishing got even better, and we lamented the fact that we didn’t have Tikchik Trophy Char pins to hand out… but don’t worry, they are on hand for 2024!
Silver salmon started hitting the Nushagak early this year, and our reliable Silvermine hole fished excellent from the last week of July until the end of August. In addition, our guides on the famous Agulupak (Stephen Johnson, Mason, and Brendan Heselton) worked the beats like true professionals, and produced memorable days for clients right through the end of the season.
Our walk-and-wade fisheries in Wood-Tikchik State Park were phenomenal in 2023. Butch Flick and Will “Tricky” Paul had banner days on our small creeks putting guests on mid-20 inch rainbows, and they handed out Trophy Rainbow pins regularly from mid-July on.
We had quite a few guests interested in bear viewing during the summer, and our flyouts to Brooks Falls did not disappoint. More than a few folks recounted the experience as a highlight of their stay at Tikchik.
Thankfully, the weather stabilized in the latter part of the season. Combined with the spectacular autumn colors, simply flying the countryside in our floatplanes is a true highlight of a week at Tikchik. Often, when guests return from the Togiak via Mirror Bay Pass, they are stunned at the grandiosity of the peaks, glaciers, and hanging valleys, or the sea cliffs near the Kulukak.
As silver salmon flooded into the river systems, we turned our attention west to the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge, and the familiar locations of Kulukak River, lower Togiak, and Kash Creek. All three produced excellent silver salmon fishing through mid-September, and Kash Creek also had abundant dolly varden, rainbows, and grayling. Head guide Adam brought home with dozens of thrilled clients from the Kulukak, which is always an adventure trip.
As usual, the pumpkin char put on a show from late August through the end of the season. Whether right in front of the lodge, at creek mouths around our lake system, or on fly out char hops, every guest had phenomenal char fishing. Resident guides “World-Wide” Will McCabe, John Smolko, and Caleb Hofer all worked the local water and fall-time fly outs to perfection, and it is not hyperbole to suggest that Tikchik may now have the finest char fishery in North America.
As a first-time owner, I was grateful to have such an exceptional crew to work with this season:
Our guide staff is the finest in Alaska. With Adam Franceschini at the helm, they bring a level of dedication and expertise to the guest experience that is unmatched in our industry. Our guides are not truly “seasonal”, as almost all of them guide year-round on their own home water or in far flung areas of the world. Visitors to Tikchik can rest assured that they are receiving the best possible instruction and assistance on every water they fish.
Our pilots, led by Steve Larsen, have many tens of thousands of hours of float plane time and Alaska time, and are consummate professionals in every sense of the word. The priority with our aviation program is guest safety and comfort, and they delivered every day.
Carol Smith, as always, helmed a rock-solid hospitality crew. Carol’s professionalism and excellence is renowned among our guests and crew, and we have been lucky to have her for so many years. The hospitality and kitchen staff produced the level of exceptional service Tikchik guests have come to expect. Behind the scenes, Joel Nelson, Kiezen Wigger, and our ground crew kept the lodge, cabins, generators, boats, and aircraft running beautifully.
I would be remiss not to mention two very important newcomers to Tikchik in 2023. Executive Chef Alex Teague came to us with an impressive array of experience and knocked it out of the park in his first year at the helm. At his recommendation, we brought John Seawood in to bartend. John’s extensive skillset from working as an elite bartender in Chicago was on display all summer, and I’m happy to report that both Alex and John are committed to returning in 2024.
2023 was memorable both for the challenging weather and water conditions, but also for how our guests and crew overcame those challenges and had unbelievable fishing. 2024 will be even better. We are accepting bookings as we speak! Availability goes quickly, so please reach out as soon as possible. Our first week (June 15th) is Family Week, with the second and third paying person in a group getting 50% off and 33% off, respectively. Our first two weeks in 2023 saw our best king salmon fishing, as the kings seem to be running earlier than in the past. Whenever you are able to make the journey north, we want YOU, to experience the “Legend of Tikchik”.
All my best to you and yours as we approach the Holiday Season!