By Karen Dils
I have been fortunate to fish in this amazing state about 18 different times, mostly on do it yourself trips in a variety of places. If you ever have a chance to go, just DO IT! Even if you catch no fish (which has never happened) it is an amazing environment and you’ll learn to appreciate the conveniences you have here. Flying makes you realize the ruggedness of the place.
Below are a variety of ways to fish and I’m happy to chat with anyone. We’ve done all of them. Many of our trips have been with other TU members which is always fun (Bob Gray, Mike Perry, Keith Krebs, Dan Clegg, Dan Stockton, Steve & Tracy Craig.) These are from “easiest” to “more challenging.” There are tons of online sources of outfitters, guides, and rentals.
There are numerous lodges from $3000 a week to $8000 or more a week, some DIY and most fully guided. Several CPC members have enjoyed the reasonably priced Naknek River Camp (https://naknekrivercamp.com/) near Katmai National Park, not fancy, and it offers big river and small stream fishing and BEAR WATCHING – closely! Some offer fly-outs which are usually extra. Again, make sure they have expertise in the type of fishing you want. We recently did a trip where the big power boats were not well suited for fly anglers (but we still caught fish). Ask about how long a trip it is in the boat before you start fishing, do you stop at different places to fish, are you only “bead” fishing or streamers or nymphs or dries (most likely on grayling), sight fishing, wading at all, wildlife sightings (we saw lots of moose and 3 types of loons on our last trip). Discuss cancellation policies and weather delays, tipping policies and credit card charges. Surprises can damper a trip. Sometimes outfitters will have both spin and fly gear you can use. We’ve found it’s always a good idea to take a spinning rod if you want to increase your chances of catching some kinds of fish. Find out if they’ll freeze and package your fish (the Anchorage airport has a freezer but you can’t be guaranteed to put your fish there if you are overnighting). Outlying lodges/cabins often don’t have freezing capability.
You can take a cruise up (or fly) and then rent a car to explore and fish before flying back as well. There is decent fishing in downtown Anchorage at times and within easy drives from both there and Fairbanks. You can rent campers as well.
Renting a place and doing day trips is a reasonable choice in some places (rental car needed). Getting local detailed advice is the best and most folks are very friendly. Sometimes you can rent a boat or hire a local guide. We’ve had excellent ones and some not good ones (only 2). Make sure they are familiar with the type of fishing you want to do (we had a bait guide for a fly fishing steelhead trip that was NOT good). Ask about how busy that area might be – some areas on the Kenai get slammed when the salmon are running and most are meat fishing for the winter and are using heavy spinning gear in kind of “combat fishing.” Sometimes they cancel sportfishing if the salmon return isn’t good enough so checking with Alaska Fish & Game is good.
There are a both private and public fly-out cabins (https://www.alaska.org/public-use-cabins) to rent for $30-$60/day for usually 4 people). Again you have to consider weather, but we’ve had several nice trips to USFS cabins (bunks, oil or wood stove- info online). Some have boats. Tides need to be considered for fishing and flying. One of our first trips was with Alaska Wilderness Outfitters (http://www.alaskawilderness.com/) to a floating cabin with a boat in Prince William Sound. Some folks take big coolers loaded with food to use on their flights while they are in Alaska and then fill the cooler with fish for the trip back, but we haven’t done that. Make sure you are compatible with your cabin mates, bring ear plugs (for snoring), and headlamps for reading (and maybe visiting the outhouse although when most folks go in summer in rarely gets dark).
Driving up is something we’ve done twice and is worth it if you have the time. Roads are fine now and I recommend going one way on the Alcan and the other on the Cassiar Highway. Explore the less traveled (and unpaved) roads. Canada has great provincial parks and some good fishing as well. It’s about the journey and the Milepost book is a requirement! There are public and private campgrounds and fewer motels.
Float trips on your own into the wilderness take the most planning. In the old days, 40 years ago, we could just take our small raft and gas motor on the plane. Not anymore. You can ship ahead by freight OR rent gear from an outfitter in Fairbanks or Anchorage (easiest and fairly reasonable). Make sure the folks running your rafts are experienced as there are a lot of sweepers to avoid (we’ve hauled our rafts over several). Have paper maps or download maps ahead of time (no cell service most places. Renting a satellite phone might be wise). Always prepare for cold, rain, bears, and take extra rods. We’ve rarely seen bears, but they are around. One tip is to spray ammonia on your raft to disguise fish smells. If you are getting picked up by a float plane, plan for an extra day or 2 of food if weather is bad. Don’t forget the salt (based on experience with other TU members decades ago! Some outfitters will rent you everything for a self-guided trip (Fish and Float https://fishandfloatalaska.com/alaska-fishing-trip-packages/, Bill Betts from Canon City, @$2200). You can also do a commercially guided multi-day float trip ($4900 with Bill but others available). Floating is still my favorite way and we’ve done 4 different rivers there on our own.
For flying, Alaska Airlines has a credit card that gives one person on the same itinerary a $121 trip once a year (not usable the first year you get the card). We’ve done that numerous times, but again you have to plan ahead. We recently used our points to fly to Belize as well on a partner airline. A regular round trip from Denver to Anchorage is roughly $750 depending on when you go. To fly nonstop you usually have a 7 am flight and coming back a midnight. Otherwise you often have to overnight in Seattle or Anchorage depending on connections.
So, if you’ve ever had to desire to see the “Last Frontier,” just DO IT, but do your online/book research first and talk to folks who have been. My husband and I are happy to talk with anyone considering this.