Sportfishermen have been coming to Bristol Bay since the 1930s, drawn by rivers clotted with five species of salmon, not to mention grayling, arctic char, and trophy rainbow trout that can reach 30 inches. The scenery's not bad, either. The tundra rolling away from the rivers is populated by every Alaskan critter your lower-48 imagination could dream of: bears, eagles, wolves, caribou, moose. It's a vast and remote place, which means that getting there is tough, and getting around is even tougher. The best way to see the splendor of this ecosystem up close is to stay at one of the network of sportfishing lodges that dot the region. Here are my three favorites: from lux to rustic.
RAPIDS CAMP LODGE: Situated on the famous Naknek River
ALASKA SPORTSMANS LODGE: Since it opened in 1997, this relative newcomer has quickly established itself as one of the premier luxury fishing lodges in Alaska, earning an Orvis endorsement in 2006. Situated on the upper Kvichak River, just south of where it drains out of Iliamna Lake, the lodge's remote location offers solitude. You can fish for trophy rainbows with little competition. The lodge has all the usual perksspacious great room with trophy fish on the wall, well appointed guest cabins, decadent foodbut it is the coupling of such a high level of service with such a remote location that lodge owner Brian Kraft has really succeeded. Kraft, a former pro hockey player, chose the site to maximize the amount of fishing the lodge's 16 weekly guests could access from the front doors of their cabins. And judging by the lodge's popularity and return clientele, he seems to be doing something right. [3-day trips from $3,300; full week $8,175; fishasl.com]
ALASKA TROPHY FISHING SAFARIS: This magical place is one for the purists, for those looking to get a little farther off the beaten track and willing to give up some creature comforts to do so. Not that this remote tent-camp, the lone outpost on the 250-mile Mulchatna River, is uncomfortablefar from it. Guests stay in comfortable 10x12-foot canvas wall tents, equipped with cots and heating stoves and perched on a bluff between river and tundra. There are hot-water showers and a mess tent stocked with tasty food. But fishing, not pampering, is the focus, and owner John Karlin, who's been guiding this pristine stretch of river for 20 years, makes sure his guides know how to get you hooked up with a big one. And though you'll certainly see eagles and other wildlife, you probably won't see many other fishermen. So sure, you'll trade a flush toilet for an outhouse; but if you manage to hook a King salmon and see a caribou swim across the river in front of your boat in the same afternoon, as I did one day, you'll know you got the better end of that deal. [4 day trips from $2,695; 6 day trips $4,395; alaskafishingsafaris.com]