by Troy Letherman
Alaska angling vacations are as unique as all the different people who take them, with itineraries drawn from a range of preferences and predilections, each eventually tailored to the timing of the run, the types of water one wants to fish and of course, how one wants to get there.
For the mobile type, those of us who like to see a lot of different water and not be tied to a particular stretch of river, or who aren’t up for a lodge-and-floatplane excursion, the southcentral Alaska road system presents an astounding array of angling options, from plumbing the depths for halibut and lingcod to back-bouncing a ten-foot slot for chromer kings—and everything in between. The best part is if a stream is blown out, the fish aren’t in or the seas are rough, you can just pick up and move a few hours down the road, oftentimes finding conditions completely changed—to the angler’s benefit.
And if traveling and fishing by road is indeed your intention, one of our favorite means of getting it done is by RV. Whether from Alaska and fishing relatively local or arriving by plane or cruise ship from points around the globe, motoring the road-system fisheries by RV offers anglers unequaled opportunity to capitalize on the whims of Mother Nature, cashing in on one fishery when the run is hot and then maybe moving down the road to catch high tide at the next spot. Renting an RV is also cheaper than a hotel-and-rental-car combo and can easily provide the same sort of comfort, while putting your stream of choice literally just steps from your door.
Once you decide that the RV is the way to go, the only thing left to figure is where to set up fish camp, and when. Following are our favorite roadside RV destinations.
Drive north on the Glenn Highway from Anchorage, through Palmer, and then hang a right at Glennallen, turning onto the Richardson Highway; cruise past Copper Center and the turbulent salmon fishery where the Copper and Klutina rivers connect, perhaps taking an afternoon to cast for sockeye along the way. Then let one of the most scenic byways in Alaska take over from there.
The drive to Valdez is undeniably gorgeous, flanked at points by picturesque views of the Pipeline and all along its route by the stunning peaks and valleys of the Chugach Range. While driving the Richardson towards Valdez, there are several opportunities to cast in flowing water—and nearly all of the scenery is postcard-worthy. First is the Tonsina River and then the Little Tonsina, one of the better roadside Dolly fisheries in the region. Between miles 43 and 50, the Richardson Highway parallels the Tiekel River, and despite the fact that the Tiekel isn’t a very productive stream (it’s blocked from the Copper River by a waterfall, which adversely affects the stream’s potential biomass), it is one of the most beautiful creeks in southcentral Alaska, offering small but pretty Dollies as well as a number of great places to pull-in and relax for the night. There are plenty of camp-worthy lake settings along the way as well, including Worthington, Blueberry and Thompson in particular, while just before arriving in Valdez anglers can drop in for some action on the Lowe River. Closed to salmon fishing, the Lowe does offer some seasonally strong fishing for Dollies, especially anywhere its several clearwater tributaries meet the mainstem.
The real thrill is arriving in Valdez itself. Set deep into the surrounding mountains, pushed against Port Valdez—a natural fjord reaching inland about 11 miles from Prince William Sound—the town at first glance looks like something out of Switzerland. There’s the oil connection, of course, and it’s one of Alaska’s busiest winter destinations, with a burgeoning heli-skiing industry for the more extreme sort, but Valdez is a fish town at heart. Just a few miles from downtown Valdez, back up the Richardson Highway, one finds Dayville Road, a 5.8-mile paved side road (with bike trail) that leads to shoreside camping, picnicking, fishing and scenic views along Port Valdez at Allison Point. The salmon—millions of pinks and silvers—are drawn here by the Solomon Gulch Hatchery. Even during the good tides of August and early September, when the runs are peaking, there is room to move about and cast, and with the bay, the mountains and the city of Valdez presenting a quite impressive backdrop.
To get serious about fishing in Valdez, though, one must head to the city docks and get out on the salt, where anglers can enjoy everything from half-day to multi-day adventures offered from the fleet of saltwater charters that operate from town. Halibut, lingcod, rockfish, salmon sharks and salmon, salmon, salmon—pick a captain, register for the derby and then at the end of the day, drop your catch by Fish Central (www.fishcentral.net) to have it processed and kept frozen while you continue your stay. Speaking of which…we fully recommend mooring the RV to one of the many spots available to rent at Eagle’s Rest RV Park (www.eaglesrestrv.com). Located at 139 East Pioneer Drive right in the heart of Valdez, it’s one of our favorite campgrounds in the entire state, and owners Jeff and Laura Saxe provide such a great service and have created such an exceptional family atmosphere that many of the fellow campers you’ll encounter are repeat customers, coming back to Eagle’s Rest and Valdez year after year.
For RV travelers heading south from Anchorage, the road will eventually take you to only one place, as the Sterling Highway wends down the lower Kenai Peninsula towards its eventually terminus in the town of Homer. First, however, at approximately mile 117.5, just beyond the chalky waters of the Kasilof River, passersby will cross paths with those headed for Clam Gulch and buckets of razors dug on the minus tides. The highway continues to skirt the bluff overlooking Cook Inlet, and in the summer the roadside meadows are resplendent with patches of blooming fireweed and wild geraniums, lupine and Jacob’s ladder, prickly roses occasionally peeking from the edges of the coastal forest to add a final flourish to the vibrant display. Across the water, mounts Iliamna, Redoubt and Spurr define the western horizon. In the village of Ninilchik, the Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord Chapel, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is still in use today by area members of the Russian Orthodox faith. The Ninilchik River winds through town. Deep Creek is barely a mile away. The Anchor River just beyond that—and all three offer a range of fishing options depending on the time of year, from sea-run Dolly Varden to steelhead and multiple species of Pacific salmon. There are numerous camping options along the way for RV travelers, including several campgrounds at the various beaches and streams, and then…arrival in Homer.
Nestled among rolling hills overlooking Kachemak Bay, the seaside community of Homer offers a breathtaking view of the surrounding mountains, glaciers and bay, as well as serving as the gateway to a world of outdoor adventure. Often described as the Halibut Fishing Capital of the World, Homer might be the last place a road-bound southcentral Alaska angler can end up, but it should be one of the first places we think of when planning the next trip.
In Homer, halibut is king, and one of the largest charter fleets in Alaska operates out of the port bound for more remote areas of the bay and lower Cook Inlet. Kachemak Bay is ideal for small craft, as well as larger sport-fishing vessels, and it’s typically only a short run from the boat-launch facilities at Homer Harbor to the south side, where the majority of the good angling takes place.
There are plenty of campgrounds and public-use sites for RV travelers to utilize for the night—even right on the Spit, a long, narrow finger of land jutting four and a half miles into Kachemak Bay—and in the morning, a full-, half- or multi-day charter to the fishing grounds is the way to go. One of our definite favorites is Bob’s Trophy Charters, owned by Dave and Diane Morris for more than two decades now. The charter fleet at Bob’s consists of Nauti-Lady, a 50-foot Delta, Huntress, a 30-foot Chris Craft Trophy Sport Fish, and Tuff Stuff, a 35-foot Bertram. Additional options we endorse include both Silver Fox Charters (www.silverfoxcharters.com) and North Country Halibut Charters (www.northcountrycharters.com). Any of the above will put you on the fish—and in Homer, much of the allure comes from the variety on offer. From year-round king fishing, which peaks in June and July, to silvers, lingcod and rockfish and the ever-present halibut, it’s more than worth a few days of any RV excursion to dock at the end of the road. Don’t forget your derby tickets.
It’s inarguable to consider the Sterling-Soldotna-Kenai area as anything but the hub of southcentral Alaska’s road-system fishing activity. Much of that, of course, has to do with the mighty Kenai River.
Bustling and vibrant throughout the Alaska summer, when the salmon pour in from the coast, and then sleepy and comfortable by late August, when the silvers start to nose into the big river and the native trout and Dollies begin queuing up for the salmon spawn, this area is Southcentral’s one-stop fishing shop. You feel it long before ascending the last Sterling Highway hill and you notice it in every store, restaurant or brewpub, where waders are always considered appropriate attire. It gets to the point you’re nearly surprised to see a truck that’s not dragging a boat trailer along.
The area is certainly motorhome-friendly as well, with campgrounds strung out along the river from its beginnings in turquoise Kenai Lake, all the way to its mouth near the town of Kenai. Our personal favorite is the campground at Bing’s Landing, which is not only pretty but sits right at the heart of the middle river, making access simple to either the upper river trout (all year long) and sockeye (June and July) or the middle and lower river salmon (kings begin to return in late May and the first run peaks in June, with the second run growing throughout July; coho begin to return in August and continue through the first half of September). For sure, the summer months of June and July are the busiest in this area, and you’ll need to both plan ahead and remain flexible to use the more popular riverside campgrounds. As the season progresses and turns towards autumn, there is much more opportunity for RV travelers to find space—both for camping and when on the water.
Clearly one of the more beautiful ports in Alaska—making it one of the most beautiful in the world—Seward offers a unique and certainly special option for motorhome anglers, and that’s camping at RV space right on the beach, overlooking gorgeous Resurrection Bay. Otherwise, the seaside town is quaint and charming and a popular getaway for Alaskans and tourists alike. Perched at the head of Resurrection Bay, the port is well known for its good saltwater angling opportunities, its great sightseeing for marine mammals and attractions like the Sealife Center, making it an ideal stop to lock into your next angling itinerary.
Anglers visiting Seward can check in at the boat harbor and find a number of charter options—our preferred operator is Glacier Fishing Charters (www.glacierfishing.com).
The coho, which begin to build in the bay and within Prince William Sound in early August, aren’t the only species on offer for anglers heading out from Seward. In fact, there is reliably good fishing from May on, with saltwater boats also targeting halibut, lingcod, yelloweye and other rockfish species. The later you go in the summer, though, the better the fishing should be.
Often overshadowed by Alaska’s famous coastal fisheries, the Interior doesn’t get enough attention within the sport-fishing world, and while the coastal areas admittedly generate some of the world’s best fishing, Alaska’s Interior—in particular the area around Fairbanks—has some fine fishing adventures on offer as well. The area is also perfect for the RV traveler, with plenty of road and several beautiful campgrounds to choose from. Visitors can drive north from Anchorage and take in all the incredible scenery (perhaps stopping at the Parks Highway fisheries of the Susitna basin for a cast or twenty along the way). This scenery obviously includes Denali, North America’s tallest peak.
Once in Fairbanks, the Chena is the river. Beginning as a tiny trickle deep in the northern wilderness, the river gains in stature as it flows by Chena Hot Springs and widens even more as it nears town, shooting through downtown Fairbanks before finally emptying into the Tanana River, which also offers both camping and fishing options for visitors.
From the Chena’s headwaters to Nordale Bridge, the upper river presents a characteristic remote fishing experience, with clear water and a spectacular grayling fishery—not to mention solidtude—the primary draws. The north fork of the Chena and the mainstem serve as primary spawning grounds for Chena River salmon, and fishing (and the weather) is best from June through August.
Another option for anglers fishing near Fairbanks is the Chena Lakes Recreational Area. The main attraction is the 260-acre Chena Lake, which houses a variety of fish species, most there courtesy of an Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) stocking program that has deposited rainbow trout, silver salmon and Arctic char in the lake. There is a campground right there at the lake, and there is even a section of the Chena River flowing nearby. This section of the recreation area is known as River Park, and it too includes shoreline fishing and a number of modern amenities such as a boat ramp capable of handling sizeable motorboats.
A little farther from town, anglers can camp and fish either the Delta Clearwater River, the largest spring-fed tributary of the Tanana, for silvers, or fish Nenana River clearwater tributaries for king, chum or silver salmon. Trophy grayling can also be found in many of the tributaries, along with the same remote wilderness experience one finds at most Fairbanks-area fisheries.
Troy Letherman is Editor of Fish Alaska and Hunt Alaska magazines.