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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Planning your Dream Alaskan Vacation

If you’re like most fishermen and women, you’ve probably always dreamed about taking a fishing trip to Alaska. You imagine yourself wading through the clear mountain streams chasing rainbows or taking a charter trip to catch giant barn door sized halibut. Maybe you would prefer casting into giant schools of bright red sockeye salmon or floating a river in pursuit of the next world record king salmon. Originally I assumed a trip like this would involve a remote location that was a huge investment in time, and well, let’s not forget about money. However I found an Alaskan vacation was easier than I ever imagined. You can actually do all of these things with a flight to Anchorage and a 52 mile drive to Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula.

In the heart of Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula lies the famed Kenai River. The Kenai River is home to many world class fishing opportunities. The sockeye or “red” salmon enter the Kenai River in two runs starting in mid May and continuing through August. The sockeye salmon fishery is the most popular fishery in Alaska because it is easily accessible to any angler wearing waders. The rainbow trout of the Kenai River are residents and can be pursued from April to October throughout the upper and middle stretches of river. These fish are known to reach magnum proportions of 30” plus. The Kenai was also home to nine of the top ten largest king salmon ever hooked. Anglers flock to the Kenai every summer in hopes of beating the current world record of 97 pounds 4 ounces. 
The Russian River is located in the town of Cooper Landing and is one of the first towns you will encounter on your pilgrimage. The stretch from the Kenai and Russian River confluence up to the Russian River falls offers a great area to wade and fish. A ferry brings anglers across the Kenai where they can choose to fish the confluence or travel upstream on the Russian. It is here that the term combat fishing was born. Anglers from all over the world flock to the area to intercept migrating sockeye salmon. While the area is not a destination for solitude, it does provide for some fantastic fishing. Pods of sockeye salmon can even be seen making their way into the Russian. Where you find big numbers of salmon you will also find bears. Last year my wife and I had a sow brown bear and cubs pop out right behind us while fishing the Russian. We quickly surrendered our hot spot to mama and the cubs, and were left alone downstream the rest of the afternoon. I would highly recommend a can of bear spray in this area.

 The area downstream from the Russian River confluence to Skilak Lake is known as the Kenai River National Wildlife Refuge. This stretch provides some of the best fishing for resident rainbow trout and dolly varden. Anglers have a few areas that can be accessed from the highway to wade and fish. Many guides also offer drift boat trips through this section. The section just above Skilak Lake is known as the canyon. This section takes you through the most beautiful remote section of the river. It is home to many white water runs and also those magnum sized rainbows that you’ve been dreaming about.

A short drive will take you to the town of Soldotna which offers restaurants, laundry facilities, tackle shops and all the other conveniences of the lower 48. The city also offers many areas to access the middle Kenai River. After learning a simple bottom bouncing technique, you will be ready to hook your first sockeye salmon. Remember to use a heavy diameter line because these fish know how to use the swift current of the Kenai to their advantage. Pound for pound these fish fight harder than any fish this guy has ever hooked. If you go too light the first drag burning run from one of these rockets may leave you standing there with a dumb look on your face. Several public campgrounds in town offer camping safely outside of bear country. Soldotna is also the place you will likely meet your captain if you plan on taking a king salmon charter.

            The coastal towns of Seward and Homer are the most popular ports for halibut charters. Some charters will also offer multi species trips which include ling cod, rockfish and salt water salmon. On your voyage out to the halibut grounds you will pass glaciers, see bald eagles and may catch a glimpse of sea otters, puffins and even whales.  

Alaska has many regulations in place to protect this phenomenal fishery. Regulations exist that limit hook size, use of bait, and where fish can be cleaned just to name a few. To prevent the spread of invasive species, Alaska has a ban of felt sole wading boots that’s new for the 2012 season. I wear Korkers wading boots that have an interchangeable sole and allow me to easily switch my felt soles to a rubber sole for Alaska. I would suggest you grab a copy of the regulations upon arrival.

Hopefully you will decide that your dream Alaskan vacation is more achievable than you ever imagined. I can smell the halibut fillets on the grill already!
Map Courtesy of: Kenai Peninsula Bed and Breakfast Association:

By: Garett Svir
Photography By: Kim Svir

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