How to Plan A Fishing Trip to Alaska
Seward’s Folly might have seemed like a poor deal in 1867, but Alaska proved to have abundant natural resources of...
Seward’s Folly might have seemed like a poor deal in 1867, but Alaska proved to have abundant natural resources of gold, timber, and oil–and the best fishing on the planet. You can catch all five species of Pacific salmon, 5- to 10-pound rainbow trout, grayling, Arctic char, Dolly Varden, and northern pike in freshwater; steelhead and sea-run cutthroats in the panhandle; and salmon, monster halibut, lingcod, and rockfish in the salt.
Planning an adventure isn’t difficult, and if you do it correctly, it can be a lot of fun. The key is making decisions before you start. Do you want to focus on one species of fish, or many? Do you want to just fish, or also do other things, such as sightsee? Will you travel solo, or with friends or family? Is an inexpensive housekeeping cabin where you do it yourself more your style, or a five-star lodge where you won’t have to lift a finger except to pick up your rod (and fight fish)? Your options are limitless.
The first time I went to Alaska, I set my sights on flyfishing for big rainbow trout from a lodge where I could spend all my time on the water. Lodges didn’t have websites back then (15 years ago), so I talked to outfitters at sportsmen’s shows, gathered brochures, then phoned their references. Eventually, I settled on Wood River Lodge in the Bristol Bay area. The brochure looked inviting, and the references raved about the fishing and accommodations. Located in the remote Tikchik Lakes region, Wood River not only offered trophy rainbow trout fishing within walking distance of the guest cabins but also provided fly-out fishing to nearby waters.
The fishing was great, the cabins and food lived up to expectations, and I did a lot of flying in floatplanes, getting views of incredible scenery, moose, eagles, and innumerable grizzly bears (not a big deal in Alaska, unless it’s your first trip).
Subsequent trips also worked out, because I knew what I wanted to fish for, when, and where I wanted to go. Make these your priorities, then start gathering your gear.
FLYFISHING King salmon (chinooks) require stout fly tackle–9- to 10-weight rods with sinking-tip lines, heavy leaders, and large, gaudy flies. Because the fish aren’t particularly interested in eating once they’re in freshwater (from May to early July), you have to tease or infuriate them into striking. You can buy most of the flies you need on the Orvis website (orvis.com), go to a tackle store in Anchorage before you head out to the bush, or buy them at your lodge. If you are fishing with a guide, he should have everything you need; check ahead of time, though. For silvers and sockeyes in rivers and streams, 8- and 9-weights work fine. Seven-weights are suitable for chums, though I took a bunch on a 6-weight my last time there. And if you’re after pink salmon, a 5-weight is ideal; they’re scrappy fighters but rarely get above 5 or 6 pounds.
Rainbow trout are another story. They grow huge in Alaska: 10-pounders are real possibilities, 5- and 6-pounders almost common, and you have to be prepared. Pack 5-weights with either sink-tip or weight-forward line, plus a 6-weight if you’ll be on a river known for bigger rainbows. Muddler Minnows, Egg Sucking Leeches, and egg patterns will get the job done on ‘bows as well as grayling. Also bring Glo Bug imitations, nymphs in various hues, black Bivisibles, Woolly Worms, and bulky, gaudy flies for roily water conditions.
Northern pike are not why most flyfishermen go to Alaska, but if you want to fish for them, carry an 8-weight, sinking line, and gaudy streamers.
BAITCASTING AND SPINNING Take different rod-and-reel combinations to be prepared for any situation. For rainbows and grayling, go with an ultralight spinning outfit rigged with 4-pound-test line; for salmon, pike, and char, a medium-action spinning or levelwind rig; and for kings, a 7-foot medium-heavy rod and levelwind bait-casting reel filled with 20-pound-test.
Flashy spinners such as Mepps and Rooster Tails will be all you’ll need for rainbows. Pike will take topwater plugs and flashy spinnerbaits, while drift lures such as Spin-N-Glos catch a variety of fish under all conditions. Remember to pack plenty of ball-bearing swivels and weights.
LODGES A week’s stay can cost $5,000 and more, but you’ll have your own cabin, with living room, bedroom(s), and bathroom. The meals, served at a main lodge, will be first-rate. At the better outfitters, a plane or boat will take you to the best fishing every day, and you’ll be accompanied by a guide who will help you find the fish and tell you what to use. This may be the best choice for anglers who have never been to Alaska before. You’ll get a taste of fishing in the state without having to worry about arranging transportation or food.
Consider booking two places for your first trip–four days at one lodge, four at another elsewhere in the state. This way, if the fishing is not up to par at Lodge No. 1, then your trip is not a bust, as the angling action at Lodge No. 2 might be great.
REMOTE FISHING Don’t want to be pampered at a lodge or to stay in close proximity to other guests? A remote fishing adventure is an attractive option. Throughout Alaska there are innumerable air charter services that will take you almost anywhere you want to fish. They’ll help you plan an itinerary and put you onto waters that are fishing well right now. Flexibility is the word: You can book for a day, two days, or a week. Daily trips would leave early in the morning out of a base town such as King Salmon on the Alaska Peninsula, drop you off at a remote stream where you can fish all day, then get you back to your motel for the night. Many of these air services also have spike camps and Quonset huts, where you can stay for one to five days, exploring waters that haven’t been fished all season. Also, you won’t see any other anglers–a far cry from some of the areas in Bristol Bay, where many lodges crowd angling clients into the same well-known hotspots.
RENTAL CABINS If your dream is to go to a remote location and do things on your own, consider renting a U.S. Forest Service cabin. Alaska has two huge national forests: the 17-million-acre Tongass, which covers most of southeast Alaska and contains 120,000 acres of lakes and more than 20,000 miles of streams; and the 6-million-acre Chugach in south-central Alaska, which has 70,000 acres of fishable lakes and 8,000 miles of streams. There are more than 200 Forest Service cabins in these national forests, and they rent for only $25 to $45 a day, sometimes with a boat included. Make sure you book far in advance, as these are popular destinations.
An Alaska Trip Planner: 12 Gateways to Adventure
Listed below are select information sources for lodges, fly-out services, and rental cabins that I have personally used or that have been recommended to me by people I trust. You can also surf the Web, or go to sportsmen’s shows and check out booths representing lodges.
 ALASKA ANGLER Run by well-known Alaskan angler and writer Chris Batin, this advisory service will help you plan your trip in its entirety, or simply provide tips on how to plan your own. There is no greater source for fishing anywhere in the state. ALASKAANGLER.COM
 BOARDWALK LODGE If you want great fishing and a five-star lodge experience, look no further than Boardwalk. Located on Prince of Wales Island, and endorsed by Orvis, Boardwalk is well located for anglers who want to fish salt- and freshwater. With some of the best food in the state, and a killer hot tub that overlooks a salt flat, this is a place you’ve got to try. A four-night stay will run you $4,200. BOARDWALKLODGE.COM
 BROOKS LODGE On the Brooks River in Katmai National Park, this is one of the most unbelievable places I’ve ever been to. The lodge itself is first-rate, comfortable, with great food. But in this case, who cares? It’s got location, location, location. The fishing on the river is unique, with 10-pound rainbows common, and salmon runs occurring on schedule each year. Just keep an eye out for bears because they are all over the place–with many headed up to the falls to do some salmon fishing of their own. You can watch them from the river, giving them their space, or hike to the viewing platform at the falls and admire them from a safe perch. Four-night stays go for $1,765. KATMAILAND.COM/LODGING/BROOKS.HTML
 FOX BAY LODGE Based in King Salmon, Fox Bay has jet boats on the Naknek or will fly you to rivers throughout the area. Take your choice of what you want to fish for–king salmon, huge rainbows, grayling, or Arctic char are all available practically at the lodge’s front door. Three days’ fishing with a guide costs $2,400. FOXBAYLODGE.COM
 ORCA ADVENTURE LODGE Located on the Copper River Delta, on the eastern shore of Prince William Sound, not far from Cordova, Orca also has three “out” lodges–Hidden Cove, Sunshine Point, and Tebay Lakes. All four lodges offer great fishing for trout and salmon. Flyfishing instruction is available, and the main lodge has a stocked fly-tying area if you want to tie your own. Prices range from $450 to more than $1,000 per day, depending on which lodge you go to, where you fish, and how many people are in your party. ORCAADVENTURELODGE.COM
 RAINBOW BAY RESORT I’m headed to Rainbow Bay this summer, so stay tuned for a report. But I met with owner Jerry Pippen, and I’ve got a good feeling about it. With fly-outs to rivers around the Iliamna region, comfortable cabins, and a dinner menu that sounds out of this world, Rainbow Bay looks like it’s got it right. $6,250 for eight days, seven nights. RBRLODGE.COM
 ROD & GUN RESOURCES Booking trips worldwide, this agency has various top-flight lodges to choose from, including the Alaska Wilderness Safari Camp. Described as “an adventure camp for millionaires,” the lodge is on the Alaska Peninsula. Accepting a limited number of guests at a time, Safari Camp serves true gourmet food and offers helicopter service to rivers throughout the region. $4,495 per week, plus $400 for air charter from King Salmon. RODGUNRESOURCES.COM
 SLAB CREEK Run by pilot Kevin Kellogg, and located in King Salmon, this fly-out service makes daily trips into the backcountry, taking you to prime rainbow and salmon fishing. Boats are available on the Naknek River, in case weather prevents flying. $470 per angler per day. SLABCREEKGUIDING.COM
 STEPHAN LAKE LODGE Nestled in the Talkeetnas, Stephan Lake is in an extremely remote and wild area. The rainbow and grayling fishing are superb, the food is excellent, and lodge owner Jim Bailey will keep you entertained with tales of the Alaskan bush from the minute you step into the spacious lodge. Three days, $1,700; five days, $2,200, including round trip from Anchorage. STEPHANLAKELODGE.COM
 U.S. FOREST SERVICE This is one of the best deals in Alaska, if you don’t mind doing things yourself. Cost is $25 to $45 per night, depending on location. RESERVEUSA.COM
 WATERFALL RESORT In southeast Alaska, Waterfall, a former salmon cannery turned into a top-rate lodge, has access to some of the finest saltwater salmon fishing in the state. Guests fly to Ketchikan, then on to Waterfall by floatplane. Fish the salt in state-of-the-art Almar cabin cruisers for monster kings, or try some stream fishing for rainbows and pink salmon just a short hike from the lodge. The food here is awesome, and there’s a great game room and sauna for apres-fishing relaxation. A three-night, four-day stay will run you $3,475. WATERFALLRESORT.COM
 WOOD RIVER LODGE The first place this author ever fished in Alaska, a floatplane ride out of Dillingham, Wood River Lodge is on the banks of the Agulowak River, designated by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game as the state’s most productive rainbow water. Comfortable waterfront cabins are all a very short walk from the main lodge. Maximum number of guests is 16. Rates are competitive. WOODRIVERLODGE.COM –JAY CASSELL