“I can’t keep the pinks off of it,” I said to my wife Bonnie, as I drifted a fly through a pool filled with hundreds of pink and chum salmon. She sat there on a log cheering me on as I tried to catch one of the chums. The fish I was targeting was surrounded by smaller pink salmon, and I literally had to pull the fly away from them when they tried to grab it.
Finally, one of the chums grabbed the fly, and the next few seconds were crazy. The salmon blew out of the pool and I nearly knocked Bonnie off of the log with the fly rod as I tried to stop it. He finally wore down, and posed for the photo that hangs over my desk at work. This salmon was one of many pinks and chums that we caught that day in Alaska.
Alaska is a place many anglers dream of. There are five different species of salmon, grayling, char and Dolly Varden, rainbows, and northern pike. The trouble is that a trip to one of the fly-in lodges will run over $3,000 for a few days of fishing, but if you plan it right, you can fish on your own for around $100 per person, per day. That’s right — food, lodging, plane fare, for a little over $100 per day!
While fishing on a fly-in trip is the ultimate, great angling is available along the roadways in Alaska. My wife and I have been there twice, touring for 10 days on each trip from a rented pickup with a camper. We’ve traveled across the Kenai Peninsula, rode north to Fairbanks, and have fished for grayling in the tundra creeks along the Denali Highway.
Planning The Trip
A pickup truck with a camper is ideal for two people and doable for three. You can also rent motor homes if there are more in your party, but they are going to cost more. Shop around and find the best price for the rental, and the extras. For example, some rental outfits charge extra to include lawn chairs, grills, or coolers.
Once you have a rental camper lined up, it is important to plan plane flights around the camper rental. The ideal schedule will put you in Alaska in the morning, and then you can pick up the camper and be on your way. Some rental companies will leave a camper open for you if the plane comes in at night, and you can stay overnight in the camper until the next morning when they will get the camper ready to go.
The rental places will also shuttle you to and from the airport.
Careful shopping on the plane tickets will also save money. Internet travel sites such as Priceline.com can save you money, but you may end up with inconvenient travel times.
Before you set off from Anchorage, remember, gas and food are expensive in Alaska, and much more so in the smaller towns along the way. Stock up in Anchorage with everything you need. Shop around for gas, too, as the prices vary quite a bit.
Some airlines will allow a fish box with the luggage, and this is important if you plan on bringing some fish home. It is very expensive to express ship fish home, and the easiest way to take some fish home is to bring it along on the flight.
Timing The Trip
If you would like to fish for a certain species, timing is everything for a trip to Alaska. Most anglers are interested in king salmon. The king run is best from mid-June through July. The streams on the Kenai Peninsula where kings run get crowded during July. If you want more solitude, fish for the other salmon species in the beginning of August.
Sockeyes also run heavily in July. Pinks are a July run, but they have an odd habit of being more plentiful on even numbered years. Chums or “Dog” salmon are available during July and August. Silver salmon are the late bloomers, running heaviest from mid-August through September.
These are general guidelines, and the runs can vary in different river drainages.
The rest of the fish — grayling, char, Dolly Varden, and pike — can be found throughout the fishing season. Rainbows are there year round, but the best fishing for big ‘bows is in June and September after the salmon spawn.
Augmenting The Trip
If you plan well, it is possible to add on to the trip. On the Kenai Peninsula, for example, there are a number of guide services that feature drift trips for trout and salmon. There are similar guided operations on some of the rivers between Anchorage and Fairbanks, too.
For anglers who would like to fly in to remote waters, charter flights are available that can fly you out for a day of fishing.
The Home Stretch
If you have planned well, and are there at the right time, an Alaskan fishing vacation truly is the trip of a lifetime. For anglers willing to go through a little extra effort and get back in away from the crowds, it is possible to have a pool with thousands of salmon in it all to yourself — try and find that anywhere else!
Here are some resources you should check out before heading to Alaska … they are invaluable planning tools.
Flyfishing Alaska — by Anthony J. Route — This book covers in detail, how to catch each of the different types of fish available in Alaska, and also includes pattern lists and tying recipes for patterns that work well there.
The MilePost — Available in nearly any bookstore, the MilePost details what facilities are available at roadsides throughout the state. It includes the locations of restaurants, gas stations, rest areas, grocery stores, and other amenities.
The author says great fishing in Alaska can be had for a little over $100 a day!
The Highway Angler — Gunnar Pedersen — This book details what fishing is available at roadsides throughout the state. The book also compares the relative quality of each stream and pond. It details what species are available in each body of water that can be reached by roadside, and is great for picking where to fish.
For more information on traveling in Alaska, visit www.alaskatravel.com, www.travel.org/alaska.html, www.alaskaone.com, and/or www.alaskanet.com/Tourism/tourism/?tab=.
Alaska Fly Fishers Association — Practical information on fly fishing techniques and fly patterns.
Outdoors Directory for Alaska — Fishing reports, directories of guides and outfitters, articles, and other practical info.
Alaska Division of Tourism, Box 110801, Juneau, AK 99811-0801. 907-465-2010
Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Box 25526, Juneau, AK 99802
Alaska Campground Owners Association, Box 84884-MP, Fairbanks, AK 99708
Alaska Bureau of Land Management, Office of Public Affairs, 222 West Seventh Avenue, Anchorage, AK 99513
Alaska Public Lands Information Center, 605 W. Fourth Avenue, Ste. 105, Anchorage, AK 99501 907-271-2737
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