Story by Troy Letherman
Alaska is unique, so it only makes sense that the state’s largest city is one of a kind as well.
A thriving urban center home to more than a quarter of a million people, with the requisite dining, shopping,
entertainment and other cosmopolitan highlights one would expect for a city of that size, Anchorage also offers locals and visitors alike the opportunity to step into a myriad of wilderness experiences without ever leaving town. Depending on the season, you can hike, bike or ski to incredible vistas, take in a concert or museum tour, wet a line for salmon or resident species such as trout or char, and then enjoy dinner at a five-star restaurant—all in the same day. For those with an itch to venture farther afield, day-trip options abound, from flightseeing Denali to fishing fly-outs that will land you on remote rivers and lakes. A short drive north on the Glenn and Parks highways puts you within casting range of dozens of streams and even more lakes, while winding south along the Seward Highway, traversing stunning Turnagain Arm, opens up manifold more angling options.
In Anchorage, combining the incentives of a luxury vacation with all the thrills of a true angling adventure is perfectly easy. Mix in all the sightseeing and cultural activities the area offers and you have the family trip of a lifetime.
Flowing Waters in Anchorage
Meandering peacefully within sight of the Downtown Saturday Market and a range of high-rise hotels, Ship Creek is the most well-known fishing hole in Anchorage. A true urban fishery, the creek runs right through the downtown area and offers consistent king salmon action in June, with hordes of chrome-bright silvers pouring in every August. To add to the angling excitement, and possibly your trip budget, Ship Creek is home to the Ship Creek Slam’n Salm’n Derby each summer (the derby runs from June 10 to June 16 in 2016). With divisions for visitors and kids, not to mention specially-tagged fish, you don’t need to reel in the big one to land great prizes.
For visitors to Anchorage in particular, the best way to get started fishing Ship Creek is to first stop in at The Bait Shack, which is conveniently located on the north bank of the stream, right near the best of the action. Here anglers can get outfitted with everything they need to take on Ship Creek salmon, including your Alaska fishing license, rental rod and reel, hip boots and terminal gear. Common terminal gear for Ship Creek Chinook includes cured roe, Yakima Bait Spin-N-Glos and Blue Fox Vibrax and Pixees.
Another good option is to visit the Anchorage Sportsman’s Warehouse at 8681 Old Seward Hwy where the knowledgeable staff can outfit you with everything you need for fishing Ship Creek, as well as other Anchorage area waterways. It is also wise to visit the two main Anchorage fly shops: Mossy’s Fly Shop on Dimond Blvd. and Mountain View Sports at their new location near Lowe’s in South Anchorage. Mike at Mossy’s is a wealth of information as well as Tom and Dan at Mountain View Sports.
Ship Creek produces king salmon to 40 pounds in late May through early July, with the average fish weighing in near the 20-pound mark. Dustin Slinker, owner of The Bait Shack, shared that the Chinook angling has continued to improve with more and bigger fish being caught every year. In 2015 he recorded eight Chinook over 40 pounds, with the largest weighing-in at 47 pounds. The increased angling success can be attributed to the stocking efforts of the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery, which was completed in June 2011.
In August, if the silver fishing is slow on Ship Creek, just head a few miles south to Campbell Creek in midtown. Flowing from the Chugach Mountains that rim the city to Cook Inlet, Campbell Creek is an ideal urban fishery, and for those living in or visiting Anchorage, it is a great opportunity for both resident and anadromous species. The creek flows though residential areas, crosses under roads via enormous culverts and winds through business districts, but it also moves through Anchorage’s parks, greenbelts and alongside trails in more forested areas. The stream is stocked with rainbow trout and Dolly Varden, as well as thousands of salmon fingerlings each year, and there are two popular fishing platforms that make for a nice place to begin. One is at the northwest corner of Arctic and Dimond boulevards and the other is at the end of Piper Street, just south of Tudor Road.
Campbell Creek also offers a special, kids-only king salmon day each June, While the silvers and rainbows are the prime targets for adults, kids under 15 years of age can target kings on the last Saturday and Sunday in June. The youth-only king fishery is open between Dimond Boulevard and the Old Seward Highway between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. on these days, and the kids won’t need to purchase a fishing license to take part.Incredible scenery is present right in Anchorage, but a short flight can take you to places more amazing than you can imagine. © Trail Ridge Air Inc.
Within the Anchorage city limits are some very fishable lakes that present wonderful angling opportunities for those looking for a little stillwater action. From remote lakes in Chugach State Park to small neighborhood bodies of water in city parks, nearly 30 Anchorage lakes are stocked by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and many of these are accessible via an interconnected trail system that is tailor-made for walking, jogging, biking or wintertime skiing.
ADF&G stocks the lakes seasonally with rainbow trout, as well as Chinook salmon, Arctic char and grayling. Some of the more popular stocked lakes include Delong Lake, Jewel Lake and Sand Lake, all in south Anchorage off of Jewel Lake Road. Campbell Point Lake, located in Kincaid Park near an extensive trail system, also offers anglers the chance to chase coho salmon, rainbow trout and char. Anglers can employ a range of techniques from retrieving or trolling spinners and spoons to fishing bait (shrimp or single salmon eggs work well) under a bobber or near the bottom, as well as casting and retrieving both dry and wet flies.
No matter the time of year, from ice-out in the spring through the warm sunshine of summer and even across the long, dark days of winter, the Anchorage lakes provide a calm and peaceful atmosphere right in the heart of the city.
The fishing is good in both wild lakes and stocked lakes from ice-out (usually early May) until freeze-up (usually late October or early November). Most southcentral Alaska lakes offer very limited bank access, making a watercraft such as a float tube, canoe or boat necessary for the best chance of success.
Beyond the fantastic angling around Anchorage in the summer, you can enjoy a wonderful day on the hard water, enjoying the immense ice-fishing potential of all the city’s stocked lakes. As an added boon to winter anglers, we’ve noticed that the increased efforts of the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery is positively affecting the size and amount of catchable stocked fish.
A day-trip for fly-in fishing is a must-do activity—and puts you on some truly exceptional wilderness streams teeming with fresh fish. Whether flying into the southcentral Alaska interior, perhaps to a pike fishing lake or for salmon on Lake Creek, or taking the short hop across Cook Inlet to fish the remote streams of the inlet’s western shores, Anchorage offers several choices when it comes to flightseeing and fly-in fishing.
“There are many great fly-out fishing day trips one can experience leaving from Anchorage,” explained Todd Rust of Rust’s Flying Service. “Included among them are Lake Creek and Alexander Creek, which provide the opportunity to get away from the crowds and catch a range of different species in an incredible setting.”
A landmark Alaska business, Rust’s Flying Service has been in operation since 1963. Rust’s offers a wide variety of flightseeing and fly-in trips, with planes offering all window seats, headset intercom systems and pilot narration throughout the flight. Fly-in fishing is available for both day trips and lodge visits, with prices starting at $95 per person for 30-minute local tours and going on up to $425 per person for guided fishing trips.Tour Anchorage and the surounding areas in the most unique way, by helicopter, with Tanalian Aviatoin. © Tanalian Aviation
Another recommended option is Regal Air, which offers flightseeing tours to Denali as well as some of the glaciers and volcanoes of the area. Travelers may also select from a range of fly-in fishing adventures, eco-tours and bear-viewing options; there’s even an Iditarod Tour on offer for those visiting in the winter.
Trail Ridge Air is another Fish Alaska magazine favorite and provides flights to Alexander Lake, Lake Creek as well as bear viewing at Brooks Falls, sight-seeing tours of glaciers and Denali including one option that involves a tour of the remote wilderness Proenneke’s Cabin. They also fly cargo to cabins and remote homes and provide drop off and pick up service for a range of float trips and lodges.
Tanalian Aviation is another good option that offers a unique experience by providing wilderness tours by helicopter. Offering year-round flights, options include a 30-minute tour called “Mountains and Missles”, a 15-minute winter-night tour called “City of Lights”, an hour tour to Eagle Glacier or a 90-minute tour where you land on Knik Glacier. For the truly adventurous, they also offer a helicopter flight training program. Packages can be custom designed to include fishing and a range of activities.
One of the best ways to see the beauty of Alaska is by just getting in a car and driving. We recommend renting from ABC Motorhome & Car Rentals or Midnight Sun Car and Van Rental. From Anchorage, one can choose to drive either north or south for a wide range of day-trips. Heading north on the Glenn Highway (an official scenic byway), there are several lakes and rivers that have excellent fishing opportunities. Eagle River/Chugiak, located just 15 minutes north of Anchorage and part of the greater Anchorage bowl, is home to Fire Lake, Beach Lake and Mirror Lake, which are each stocked yearly with trout and have public access areas off the Glenn and Old Glenn highways. Mirror Lake has a very nice picnic area and boat ramp.
Just past Mirror Lake at mile 26 of the Glenn Highway is Eklutna. This area is an original Native Alaskan village. Tourists can visit the Russian Orthodox church here and see the traditional spirit houses of the Alaska Natives. Nearby Eklutna Lake, the largest in Chugach State Park, is a beautiful area with a good trail system for hiking and a well-maintained campground for those wanting to overnight. The lake contains rainbow trout and Dolly Varden. A bit farther down the highway, take the Old Glenn Highway exit and drive to mile 3.6 to the Eklutna Tailrace Fishery. Open for fishing year-round, the Tailrace is stocked seasonally with silvers and kings. Fishing takes place on a small area below the Eklutna Power Plant. King salmon run through here from May-July and silvers can be found from July-late September.
Continuing north, nestled near the towns of Palmer and Wasilla, lie over 90 productive lakes containing rainbows, grayling, landlocked salmon, Dolly Varden and Arctic char. For the most part these rich, relatively shallow lakes do not see abundant pressure, so the chances are high visitors will experience a relaxing day on the water—while catching plenty of fish. These Mat-Su Valley lakes offer exceptional access, right off the road and many within minutes of each other and the towns of Palmer and Wasilla. Anglers can explore lakes with easy drive-to access and full boat launches and campgrounds, or conversely, visit more remote waters such as Canoe Lake, which requires a short hike. A number of lakes in the area feature management plans detailing “quiet hours,” motor- and jet-ski restrictions, further enhancing the quality of the outdoor experience.
Pike fishing on Alexander Lake is a very cool day trip experience with a short flight out of Lake Hood. Both locals and tourists like to take this trip. © Trail Ridge Air Inc.
Some of the larger, more heavily-fished stocked lakes have several species of fish present, while others are only stocked with one species. Considering the size of the Mat-Su Valley, the number of lakes stocked by ADF&G and the number of fish species stocked, anglers have abundant opportunities to find just what they’re looking for.
Most Mat-Su valley stocked lakes are road-accessible and some can produce rainbows up to 30 inches, with carryover trout in the mid-to-upper teens and lower 20-inch range not uncommon. Stop in at 3 Rivers Fly and Tackle in Wasilla for the latest information.
Heading south from Anchorage, you can enjoy the panoramic vistas of Turnagain Arm as the highway winds along, view wildlife, particularly Dall sheep, and even catch a glimpse of a glacier. Bird Creek is located roughly 27 miles south of Anchorage and gets a good run of chrome-bright, excellent-eating hatchery silvers. The daily limit is three silvers at Bird Creek and access is easy, with a huge parking area right off the highway. The silvers begin to arrive in early July and numbers typically build until the fishery opens on July 14, peaking towards the very end of the month and into early August. In Bird Creek, silvers are usually suckers for cured salmon-egg clusters fished under a bobber.
Additionally, Bird Creek pink salmon from 2- to 5 pounds are plentiful in even-numbered years. They can be caught readily on spinners in sizes 3 to 5, spoons from 2/5 to 2/3 ounce, or pink jigs fished under a bobber.Several remote float trips originate with a short flight from Anchorage. © Regal Air
Driving farther down the peninsula takes you to areas such as Hope—known for the Resurrection Creek pink salmon fishery—and on to the world-famous fishing grounds of the Kenai Peninsula. The Whittier Tunnel is an interesting stopping point along the way, as it’s the longest tunnel through a mountain in North America.
Things to Do: Shopping, Sights & Additional Attractions
As far as things to do besides fishing, Anchorage again presents more than might be expected. Summer weekends bring the Downtown Market, located on Third and E streets, with Alaskan gifts and artwork, fresh produce and outstanding food vendors all on offer. This outdoor event runs every Saturday and Sunday from May to September from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Anchorage’s Town Square Park is another must-see attraction. Sitting next to the Performing Arts Center, the square has a beautiful water fountain and garden and each summer it plays host to an assortment of community events, including the “Live After Five” free music shows and the “Wild Salmon on Parade” sculptures that are displayed throughout the downtown area.
For those who want to enjoy arts and culture, the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center brings Alaska history alive. Located at 625 C St. and open from 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. daily from May to September, the museum has an ongoing exhibit of historical artifacts from Alaska Native culture, as well as contemporary Native art. Similarly, the Alaska Native Heritage Center, located off the Muldoon exit at 8800 Heritage Drive, is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from mid-May through mid-September, and features ongoing exhibits that highlight Alaska’s Native history and lifestyles. Visitors can get a taste of Alaska’s aviation history at the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum at 4721 Aircraft Drive (next door to Rust’s Flying Service). The museum opened back in 1988 and pays homage to the pioneers of Alaska’s flying past. And finally, to explore even more of Alaska’s history, the Alaska Railroad Depot is home to the historic Alaska Railroad. Built in 1942, the depot displays various old photos from years past, as well as an antique train engine and gift shop. This is still a working depot, with trains running from Anchorage to various stops across Alaska.
Among the most significant events in Anchorage is the famous Fur Rendezvous winter festival, known locally as the Fur Rondy, or just “Rondy,” and a significant part of Anchorage’s history and tradition. Since 1935, Rondy has proudly represented the pioneering spirit of Alaskans, offering wild and wacky fun for all ages. The 2016 Rondy runs February 26 through March 6. Other local events include the Anchorage Mayor’s Marathon and Summer Solstice Festival. The 2016 Anchorage Boat Show will take place at the Sullivan Arena from March 3-6 and The Great Alaska Sportsman Show will be held at the Sullivan Arena from March 31 through April 3.
Whether you’re planning to head deeper into bush Alaska or simply stay in town for the duration of your visit, the downtown area of Anchorage is a great base because of the wide range of hotels, bed and breakfasts, and restaurants available.
For fine-dining, some local favorites include Kincaid Grill, located at 6700 Jewel Lake Road not far from the airport. The Kincaid Grill’s slogan is “Fine Dining without the Attitude” and they live up to it. Executive Chef Drew Johnson and staff consistently create exquisite gourmet cuisine with fresh seafood, specialty meats and game, plus handcrafted desserts for their patrons in a relaxed atmosphere. They offer one of the best dining experiences in Anchorage.
If Alaska seafood is what you crave then make a trip downtown to Ship Creek and visit Bridge Seafood at 221 W Ship Creek Avenue. While they do offer a couple of steak and chicken entrées, their focus is wild Alaska seafood. From king crab legs to king salmon, and every halibut, rockfish and seafood chowder in between, this is the go-to for incredible local seafood.
Club Paris Restaurant at 417 W 5th Avenue is best known for their 4-inch-thick filet mignon and they have a bountiful menu of fresh seafood as well. This is a great local restaurant where you can get satisfying surf-and-turf. Another option for diners wishing to enjoy a great meal while watching the floatplanes take off and land at Lake Hood is the Flying Machine Restaurant in The Lakefront Anchorage at 4800 Spenard Road. Try the Kodiak Crab and Shrimp Omelet or the Alaskan Seafood Benedict for breakfast, or the Halibut Filet and King Crab Cake for dinner. A big bonus is you can stay at The Lakefront and take daily fly-out fishing trips right from their dock, returning for a great dinner each night.
Two other highlights near Lake Hood and Ted Stevens International Airport are Pipers Restaurant at 3450 Aviation Avenue and Gwennie’s Old Alaska Restaurant at 4333 Spenard Road near the airport. On nice summer days, diners at Pipers can enjoy the patio that overlooks Lake Hood, while Gwennie’s is not only a fantastic eatery, but it’s also a famous Alaskan landmark. Try the reindeer sausage omelet or Reindeer Philly sandwich for a taste of real Alaska.
Additional Fish Alaska Anchorage favorites include Suite 100, Chepos, Gallo’s and Glacier Brewhouse.
If you are heading north, make sure to stop at the Noisy Goose in Palmer. They serve hearty homestyle meals for hungry fishermen and hunters.
Whether you’re visiting Anchorage from out of state or just out of town, you can be sure to find exactly what you’re looking for in the city’s range of hotels.
Of course, location can be a determining factor—close to downtown and all the shopping and restaurants? Close to Lake Hood or the airport, where the Coast International Inn, Millennium Hotels The Lakefront Anchorage and Alex Hotel and Suites are located, making it more than convenient to catch that flight home or early-morning hop to your lodge in western Alaska? Or maybe something in between, such as the Aspen Suites Hotel Anchorage, TownePlace Suites Marriot or Best Western Golden Lion, all of which offer a more midtown location just minutes from either the airport or downtown.
How about mountain views? Ocean views? Views of the floatplanes taking off and landing at Lake Hood?
Perhaps other amenities are critical—this is Alaska, after all, so it’s more than likely that freezer space for storing your catch is just as important as WiFi. Or maybe you are just looking for a hotel with a real taste of Alaska on display, such as the rich displays of animals indigenous to Alaska arrayed in the lobby of The Lakefront Anchorage, where one can see mounts of everything from polar, brown and black bears to moose, caribou and king salmon.
No matter your budget or needs, however, it shouldn’t take long to find the perfect spot to lay your head for a night, three or ten in Anchorage.
In sum, it’s certainly not difficult to see why extending your stay in Anchorage should be a part of every traveler’s plans. Alaska’s largest city is a diverse, dynamic urban center stuffed full of things to do and see, and whether you’re headed off to points beyond or simply settling into the city for the duration of your stay, Anchorage surely won’t disappoint. Put it at the top of your list for 2016 and see for yourself.
Troy Letherman is editor of Fish Alaska.