Each year, from early July to the end of September, anglers and wildlife buffs fly into the remote Inupiat village of Kiana, Alaska to catch sheefish in the Kobuk River and view migrating caribou on the way to their southern wintering grounds.
Lorry and Nellie Schuerch, your hosts at Kiana Lodge, provide guided fishing tours and cozy accommodations that include gourmet home-cooked meals. As lifelong residents of the area and tour guides for more than half a century, the Schuerches are experts at showing visitors the best places to take catch fish and view wildlife.
The main attraction for visitors to Kiana Lodge is the rare sheefish, Stenodus leucichthys, that grows up to 55 inches long and may weigh in at 20 to 50 pounds or more. The sheefish is a freshwater whitefish of the salmon family that is found in a few rivers of Alaska and the Yukon and nowhere else in the world. The name for the sheefish used by early settlers was “inconnu,” French for “unknown,” because they considered this strange fish to be a mystery. It continues to be plentiful in the Kobuk due to the females’ production of 100,000 to 400,000 eggs every year or two.
Because the sheefish’s diet consists primarily of smaller fish, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reports that it is most easily caught using a brightly colored or shiny lure that looks like a small fish in distress. The Schuerches report red and white streamers as being a sheefish favorite. Anglers typically use light to medium spin rods, up to 15 pound test, or fly rods with a weighted tip line (Kiana Lodge recommends a nine weight rod with a fast sinking line). Bring your own tackle or use one of the rods available at the lodge.
Sheefish have a flavor similar to that of cod or halibut; the Schuerches are as expert at frying them as they are at locating the best spots to catch them. In addition to sheefish, Kobuk River anglers often hook chum salmon, Arctic char, northern pike and burbot.
Kiana Lodge offers guided fishing tours in its enclosed, heated 20 and 30 foot aluminum river jet boats with inboard engines. All guides are Coast Guard licensed.
Anglers over the age of 16 must purchase a sport fishing license from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Licenses may be purchased online, with prices varying based on the number of days that you plan to fish during your trip:
- Nonresident 1-day license: $20.00
- Nonresident 3-day license: $35.00
- Nonresident 7-day license: $55.00
- Nonresident 14-day license: $80.00
Visitors may purchase and print out sport fishing licenses at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Bag Limits – Fish
Under Alaska state regulations, each Kobuk River angler may harvest up to ten sheefish, chum salmon, Arctic char and northern pike per day. Up to 15 burbot per day are permitted. For Arctic char, only two may be 20 inches or longer.
Summer and fall visitors often witness some of the half-million strong caribou migration as these huge animals traverse the Kobuk River on their annual pilgrimage south. For those who shoot with their cameras only, the Schuerches will guide you to the best viewing spots.
Other Alaskan wildlife frequently photographed by Kiana Lodge visitors include brown and black bears, foxes, wolves and birds including the Arctic tern.
History and Culture
The Kobuk River area of northwestern Alaska provides a treasure trove of history and native culture. Located 30 miles north of the Arctic Circle, the remote banks of the Kobuk have been home to native fishermen, hunters and berry pickers for at least 12,500 years. Take a guided tour of the ruins of the village of Igliqtiqsiugvigruak, 20 miles away, whose inhabitants may have been the ancestors of many of today’s Kiana residents. Archeologists have uncovered the sites of the village’s large homes, connected by underground tunnels, along with the bones of humans and dogs. Just a short walk from the river, Igliqtiqsiugvigruak may have been the regional capital in the late 1700s or early 1800s, before outsiders had made contact with the area’s natives.
Kiana Lodge provides visitors with opportunities to meet with village elders and other local residents to discuss the Inupiat subsistence lifestyle and traditions, as well as the history of the people, passed down via oral tradition. The Kiana Village History Project has enabled local residents to tell their stories in their own words online. Visit them online.
Although Kiana is located in the northern wilds of Alaska, summer temperatures are cool and mild, generally in the 40°F to 60°F range. The record high temperature recorded in Kiana was 87°F. In “the land of the midnight sun,” daylight may last more than 20 hours during the summer months. During the brief nighttime hours, visitors are often treated to a view of the aurora borealis, the multicolored streaks of the Northern Lights.
For mementos of your trip to Kiana, visit the local trading post, where souvenirs, crafts and handmade clothing are available for purchase.
Kiana is located at the confluence of the Kobuk and Squirrel rivers in northwestern Alaska. It is situated 59 miles from Kotzebue, 221 miles from Nome, 387 miles from Fairbanks and 507 miles from Anchorage.
Due to the remoteness of the location, some 300 miles from the nearest paved roads, Kiana is accessible by air or boat only. Most visitors arrive on one of the scheduled daily flights from Kotzebue into Kiana’s Bob Baker Memorial Airport (airport code IAN). According to the native-owned NANA Regional Corporation’s online information, approximate cost of a round-trip ticket is $290 on Era Alaska and $324 on Bering Air. Connecting flights from Kotzebue to Anchorage often cost $350 to $400 or more round-trip on Alaska Airlines.