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Planning Your Alaska Fishing Adventure

Alaska might just be the world’s greatest destination for sportfishing. Its salmon and halibut fisheries are legendary. There aren’t many places you can land a 300-pound halibut in the morning, a 50- to 100-pound salmon in the afternoon, and then do battle with a trophy trout or pike before you call it quits for the night. Still not sure about an Alaska fishing adventure? Here’s some sportfishing records courtesy of Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game to get your juices flowing :

  • Halibut – 459 pounds
  • King Salmon – 97 pounds
  • Ling Cod – 81 pounds
  • Lake Trout – 47 pounds
  • Rainbow Trout – 42 pounds

In case you were wondering, yes, Alaska has monsters.

We’ve left some monsters off the list, but there’s a long list of trophy fish of all types just waiting to be caught. However, big fish are just one of the reasons to book your next fishing adventure in the great state of Alaska.

Reasons For Choosing Alaska For Your Next Fishing Adventure

Simply put, Alaska is huge. It boasts two oceans, several seas, many rivers, and innumerable streams and creeks, all of which are chock full of gamefish. Trying to decide exactly where in this vast state to go is incredibly difficult, even for those of us who have visited before. So here’s a few tips to help you narrow the choices when planning your Alaskan adventure.

TIP #1 – MAKE A LIST

Make a list of the species you want to target. If salmon’s your game, you’ve certainly come to the right place. But salmon are just the tip of the iceberg. Other species on tap include:

  • Northern Pike
  • Sheefish (aka Nelma or Connie, the Tarpon of the North)
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Ling Cod
  • Halibut
  • Steelhead
  • Dolly Varden
  • Arctic Char
  • Chub
  • Grayling
  • Herring
  • Pollock
  • Sculpin
  • Smelt
  • The list goes on. We could be here a while!

Although fishing, in general, tends to have a “size matters” stigma, and there are innumerable big fish (I mean seriously big fish!) in Alaska to satisfy that pursuit, there are also just as many gamefish on the samller side of the equation that are no less exciting to do battle with, especially when fought on light tackle. Hook up with a Brook Trout, Cutthroat Trout or Arctic Grayling on light line and you’d best be on your game, or you’ll get spooled or snapped before you know what hit you.

That mindset also applies to the salmon realm. Many reelerz prefer to focus on king salmon because of their size, but don’t overlook silver salmon; in a pound-for-pound comparison, silvers will give you all you can handle—and more! In fact, their antics are the very reason people love to fish… Endless aerial displays that’ll put Cirque du Soleil acrobats to shame. Breaching akin to miniature great white sharks. Tail-walking shows that will make Pacific salifish envious. And then there’s the explosive strikes… Many Reelerz have been fooled into thinking the fish on the end of their line was twenty or more pounds heavier solely based on how it hit.

Regardless of which species you decide to target, you’re making a great decision. Not a single one will leave you disappointed!

TIP #2 – TIMING IS EVERYTHING

Consulting the calendar is a wise decision before booking your Alaskan fishing adventure. The salmon run occurs at a specific (and consistent) time each year (varying by species) and putting that knowledge to good use will greatly enhance your success rate, not to mention your catch-inspired enjoyment. Other gamefish also have well known run times. So depending on what you want to go after, you should plan your trip accordingly.

TIP #3 – LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

Where you go in Alaska dictates the types of fish you can target. Sure, you can play the “cast and hope” game—and many reelerz actually prefer keeping some mystery in their fishing adventures—but if you’re on the hunt for a specific species, familiarizing yourself with the state’s “gamefish map” will enable you to create a more thorough gameplan. The general “equation” for fishing Alaska is…

Time of Year + Location = Successful Fishing

Think about it. If you visit a river known far and wide for its prolific concentration of king salmon at the WRONG time of the year, it’s likely (heck, more than likely) that the fish simply won’t be there—or at the very least, they will be there in such reduced numbers that catching them will be akin to finding a needle in a haystack.

It does not matter if you go to the most prolific river for king salmon fishing if you go at the wrong time. The fish will not be there or the season will be closed. To successfully fish in Alaska requires that you think about when you will be there and where you will be. From there you can choose to target the fish that are in peak run.

A little planning goes a long, long way—especially when it comes to fishing. And the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has gone out of their way to simplify that process for visiting reelerz. They’ve compiled a highly detailed and extremely accurate fishing calendar that you can consult for just about any location in the great and vast state. There are listings for both saltwater and freshwater fishing run times.

It’s worth noting that Alaska’s fishing territories are generally looked upon as being divided into three distinct sections—Interior, Southeast, and South Central. The vast majority of sportfishing takes place in either the Southeast or South Central regions. However, amazing fishing destinations can also be found in the interior, so don’t be afraid to “stray from the beaten path” if you’re looking for an adventure that’s all your own.

Types of Fishing Adventures

Alaska offers many types of fishing adventures. From spartan do-it-yourself pack trips, to luxury all-inclusive professionally guided trips. One-day ocean charters, to multi-day river excursions. There’s really no wrong way to fish Alaska—it just boils down to personal preference. Here’s a look at some of what this amazing state offers:

Guided Fishing — Ranging from a single day to an entire week or longer, fishing with professional guides takes most (if not all) of the guesswork out of your angling adventure. Local guides know their territories like the backs of their hands. They know where to go, they know when to go, and they know what tackle to use to give your best chance of success for the type or types of fish you are targeting. In some cases, a professional guide can even source permits or arrange access to fish in areas that would be restricted to reelerz fishing without a skilled local chaperone. As you can imagine, rates vary considerably, but expect to pay at least $250/day to enlist the services of a professional guide. And when you consider all that such a pro provides, it’s money well spent—a worthwhile investment in your entertainment.

Unguided Fishing — There are many places where unguided fishing trips are the norm. From the beaches of Baja, to the trout streams of Upstate New York, and even to some of the mose remote parts of Alaska. Some Reelerz simply prefer to forge their own path, choosing to measure the “success” of their trip not by the amount of fish they catch, or the size of fish they catch, but by the totality of their adventure. And going it alone, without assistance or, dare I say it, guidance from a professional guide greatly enhances their trip. Whether you’re packing in all your own gear, or you’re staying at a lodge that provides you with a boat and gear but no professional guide, unguided packages vary from lodge to lodge. And while trips of this nature are primarily reserved for saltwater fishing in the calmer waters of the inside passage, if you’re up to it, you can absolutely challenge any of the freshwater species solo.

Fly-Out Fishing — These adventures are typically guided trips arranged through a lodge, and often with a service that specializes in or only offers fly-out fishing. Basically, flu-out fishing entails a short plane ride to a remote, mostly undisturbed location where you won’t be “crowded” by other Reelerz. The obvious benefit is the opportunity to fish for your targeted species without any pressure from competition. Fly-out fishing is an ideal way to target multiple species on a single trip. Fish one area until you’ve either caught your desired trophy, or until you’re ready to try the next species on your to-catch list. Fly-out trips also allow Reelerz to take advantage of runs that may be occurring elsewhere in the region. Finally, fly-out adventures are ideal for Reelerz who want to engage in multiple fishing disciplines during a single trip, such as fly-fishing for trout in a remote stream known for its trophy Rainbows, bottom fishing for halibut in a secluded cove, and then doing battle with king salmon using conventional light tackle—all while staying at one lodge in the same region.

Fly-In Fishing — Many Alaskan lodges are not accessible by road, leaving boats or planes the only means of reaching them. While this may present a challenge for some, and in many cases adds a bit more cost to your trip, for those Reelerz seeking the ulimate ‘off the beaten path’ fishing adventure, a Fly-In scenario is the way to go.

Saltwater Fishing — Encompassing fishing in the oceans or tidal zones, saltwater fishing in Alaska applies to any of the many ocean-dwelling species (halibut and ling cod, to name a few), as well as those species that can be found in both saltwater and freshwater—namely salmon. If you’re intent on targeting king salmon before they enter the rivers, saltwater fishing is in your immediate future.

Freshwater Fishing — Endless choices in Alaska, encompassing lakes, rivers, streams, tributaries and watersheds. And don’t be fooled by shallow water—monsters lurk everywhere in the 49th state!

Mixed Fishing — For those Reelerz who can’t make up their mind, or if multiple species are desired, a mixed fishing trip is the way to go. Not only will you get the opportunity to try different techniques as you try to land different species of fish in both saltwater and freshwater, you’ll also be rewarded with vastly different visuals of a truly awesome landscape.

Drift Fishing — Unlike shore or river bank fishing, which confines Reelerz to dry land, drift fishing—usually done from a boat, on a lake or in a river—allows you to cover more area in a shorter time, not to mention reach concentrations of fish that even a super-long cast cannot.

Float Trips — I’ve saved the best for last. Float trips might just be the most spectacular type of fishing in all of Alaska, if not the world. You and your guide (or your group and a guide) fly to a remote location, and then float down the river to a pre-arranged pick-up spot. You’ll camp along the river as you go, fish in places that may have never been fished before, and experience the beauty and ruggedness of Alaska the way your ancestors did. Keep in mind, this type of adventure is not for those wanting luxury. If hot showers and foot-massages are your thing, this is not the box to check on your travel brochure. Expect no cell service, no hot water (unless you boil it!), and no soft bedding (unless you forage for leaves and pine boughs). Cots, sleeping bags, and campfire food are part of this package, but if you’re seeking some truly rough’n’tumble memories, this is how you make them.

Considerations

Weather — Weather in Alaska is predictably unpredictable. Expect a wide range of conditions, from soaking rain to oppressive heat; from thick snow to gleaming sunshine—and all in the same day. Clearly I’m exaggerating, but not really. Just expect the unexpected and prepare wisely and you’ll be fine. Dress in layers, so you can pad up or strip down as needed, and make sure you have a waterproof rain parka and at least one extra pair of socks, especially socks (and other clothing) that wicks moisture and dries quickly. Nobody like a moldy Reeler!

Fishing License — Mandatory. If you don’t have one, you don’t fish in Alaska. If you’re flying into one of the major cities (Fairbanks, Anchorage, etc.), you can purchase one locally. Or, you can buy one online from the ADFG. If purchasing online, buy one at least 30 days before you arrive. Another option is to have your guide (if you’re using one) secure your license for you.

Fishing Guides — While using a professional guide or guide service is a matter of personal preference, for those who are considered newbies to the Alaskan fishing scene, if a guide is in your budget, then I’d strongly recommend paying the freight. For such a once-in-a-lifetime trip, why incur any extra stress and risk missing out on opportunities that a knowedgeable local pro will be tuned into? What’s more, if you’re not locked into using your own tackle, using a guide—and allowing the guide to provide the gear—will alleviate any and all stress associated with packing in your own equipment.

Novice Fishermen — Just because Alaska has produced a large number of world record fish doesn’t mean you need to be a pro to fish in Alaska. Quite the contrary. In fact, fishing is a lot like sex—you don’t have to be very good at it to enjoy it. Alaska welcomes Reelerz of all skill levels with open arms. And if your heart is set in taking your angling ability to the next level, many lodges and guides offer courses to improve your skill, be it tying better knots, tying your own flies, or an all-around course on how to improve your chances of landing fish. Bottom line: Don’t let a lack of fishing experience prevent you from choosing Alaska for your next fishing adventure.

Where To Go If You’ve Never Been Fishing In Alaska

Wow. Talk about a tough question to answer. So many choices, you really can’t go wrong with any of them. But if it were me, I’d suggest…

Cooper Landing — Whether you want saltwater or freshwater fishing, you’d be hard-pressed to beat Cooper Landing. The world famous Kenai River runs right past the town; during salmon runs the Kenai is so thick with fish, you’d have to work hard not to hook up! Plus, from an easy-to-reach standpoint, Cooper Landing is a mere two-hour drive from Fairbanks, one of the easier major cities to fly into. And if you’ve decided to fish with a guide, there are plenty of outstanding pros in town to choose from. For those of you looking for some “barn door” action, Homer—“The Halibut Capital of the World”—is only 120 miles away. And Seward, another awesome halibut destination, is less than half that.

Sitka —If saltwater fishing is your primary interest, Sitka should be at the top of your list. If offers many charter services, as well as numerous places to stay and eat. Plus, you can fly directly into Sitka. But freshwater Reelerz should not be so quick to cross Sitka off their list, as there are numerous opportunities for them to get in on the fun, as well.

Kodiak Island — Kodiak Island offers great food and lodging, along with outstanding guided and unguided fishing opportunities in both saltwater and freshwater.

Homer or Seward — While there are many freshwater opportunities, both Homer and Seward are known for their saltwater adventures, particularly those of the monster halibut variety. Numerous top notch guides and charter services will have you experiencing bent rods in no time.

Bottom line: If you like to fish—I mean really like to fish—an Alaskan fishing adventure needs to be on your bucket list. It’s the kind of place that will give youn memories to last a lifetime, and leave you wondering why you didn’t come to visit sooner.

 

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