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Will Elliott: WNY trio gets inside angle on Alaska salmon

Why would three area anglers adept at catching trout and salmon from fertile Western New York waters spend thousands to travel to Alaska for a salmon fishing trip?

The Katmai, that’s why.

While walking around guide-trip exhibits at the Western New York Outdoor Expo in Hamburg this past winter, three retired and very active anglers met up with Nelson “Trapper” Young, a registered Alaska and New York State-guide based in Pulaski. Trapper, an expert Salmon River guide, set up a trip for the three friends, Dave Schroeder of Hamburg, Bob Watroba of Elma and Ed “Skeeter” Sloan of Cheektowaga.

Compared with more elaborate trips, the Alagnak Wilderness Camps booking was a modestly priced, easy-access fishing camp on the Alagnak in Katmai National Park.

“The long flight through four time zones was arduous but well worth the trip,” Sloan said after their run to the Bristol Bay area and eventually to King Salmon, a WW II Air Force Base, for a float plane trip into camp.

“The scenery alone was worth it,” Schroeder said of sightings along the river. Sloan at first regretted not being able to get to Brooks Falls some 35 miles from their campsite, a noted location where hordes of bears gather to feed on spawning and dying salmon.

“But we saw all kinds of bear along the Alagnak while we were fishing,” Sloan said of the brown bears that dominated the river at all points where fish gathered.

One feature that drew these fishermen to Trapper’s camp was Nelson Young’s personality, along with his skill.

“Trapper had a story for everything we saw and did every day,” Watroba said of their seven-day stint on the water. “We fished from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day and enjoyed hors d’oeuvres at the end of each day.”

Each evening was spent at base camp; anglers did not have to pack and haul gear from each site. Young includes all fishing gear needed for outings, and his fly-fishing gear is sturdy enough to handle the biggest salmon.

Schroeder said, “We used number 7 and 9 fly rods and we went with Trapper’s fly pattern to catch most of our fish.”

Trapper’s special fly is nothing more than a smaller circle hook with no feathers, hackle, tinsel or other adornments - just a band of red chenille tied around the shank. It worked.

Schroeder was most impressed with this fly, noting that it hooked the biggest fish of the trip, a 50-inch, 45-pound king salmon.

Watroba, an accomplished photographer, got some interesting shots of bears working the waters, and, of course, photos of the many fish he, Sloan and Schroeder caught along the way.

“But the eagles were most impressive,” he said. “We saw them along the way every day.”

Eagles, like bears, gather best around forage areas, and guide Trapper had these anglers on fish throughout the day. He would run anglers up and down the river to access locations, but virtually all of the fishing was done from shore or while walking in waders.

“If no fish were hitting,” Trapper would have them pull lines in 15 minutes, “and we’d be off to another site,” Watroba said of Trapper’s attention to fish movement and feeding activity.

Salmon runs here during their July 28 to August 4 trip were mainly for four of the five major salmon species that run spawning rivers during mid-summer. Sockeye salmon headed the list of catches, with king salmon and chum salmon a close second or third. “The cohos were just starting to move there when we left,” Sloan noted.

Schroeder added that kings were the biggest fish and sockeye were the most colorful, but all catches were a fight from start to finish. They released most fish, but a 50-pound pack of fillets came home with the trio. “At first I didn’t think it was worth bringing home that much fish, but now most of them go on the grill,” Sloan said.

Mid-summer outings such as this have extended daylight hours during the six-week span of spawning run. “We could fish till 11 p.m. and be out there at 4 a.m.,” Sloan said of sunlight. And biting bugs, mainly mosquitoes, are minimal. “We only saw them if you got out early a couple mornings,” Sloan added.

For all three veteran anglers this was a first-time outing that each would like to take again sometime soon. “And the money we spend on this kind of trip is spent entirely in the USA,” Schroeder said.

For detail s on Nelson “Trapper” Young’s Alaska fishing trip options, call him at (315) 298-6655 or go to