By Dr. Wally Balcerzak
When you are in the planning stages, prior to booking a stay at Anglers’ Lodge for your Alaskan fishing adventure, you may feel overwhelmed. “So many trips- so little time” may be what goes through your mind. When we planned our trip in 2017 that’s what I was thinking.
Anglers Lodge is ideally located on the Kenai Peninsula, right on the bank of the famous Kenai River. From there a wide range of day trips are available. Your party can select from some of the many and varied fishing adventures available to those who visit the great state of Alaska. Staff will assist each party in the selection and planning process. The trips available include salt water fishing for halibut, bottom fish and salmon- either going out of Homer or Seward. Then there’s the mighty Kenai River itself, an unbelievable fishery. Depending on the timing of your trip the primary target of your fishing efforts will be king salmon or silver (coho) salmon. However, while fishing the Kenai save some energy for the sockeye salmon that are most available in mid to late July. The Kenai River also has a substantial run of pink salmon on alternate years, which can be great action on a fly rod. There are resident rainbows that can be targeted once the salmon begin spawning and these fish grow to gigantic proportions. Dolly Varden are also present throughout the river.
Besides the Kenai, the Kasilof River is another available day trip where good success is likely fishing for king salmon. Instead of trolling, the primary method on the Kenai, non-motorized drift boats are used on the Kasilof River. This results in a more leisurely fishing experience. An optional fly-out trip is available, which consists of a float plane ride to the west side of Cook Inlet, where either sockeye or silver salmon are the quarry. You will be dropped off with your guide and motor in a small boat to your fishing spot, and you fish from the boat with fly or spinning gear. The boat gives you a sense of security as you will be fishing near shore and at a spot where bears like to fish too!
So as you can see, there are numerous opportunities for wonderful fishing experiences and more than likely any choices you make will be lots of fun and very satisfying. Based on the time you have available for fishing and possible budgetary constraints, I recommend at least four days for fishing while at the lodge. If you can stay longer by all means do so. When making your plan, be sure to include at least one day for salt water fishing, and at least one or two days on the Kenai. Additional days can be planned for the Kasilof River and a fly-out trip if desired. Let’s review some of these options below.
Your saltwater trip can either start in Homer, AK or Seward, AK. Both ports offer the conveniences you might expect and beautiful scenery during your voyage. I really like the ride from Seward out of Resurrection Bay. Either way you will experience saltwater fishing Alaskan style. Halibut are the prime quarry but other bottom fish and silver salmon are also often available to increase your fishing pleasure and your bounty.
The Kenai River is most famous for its king salmon. These Kenai kings often stay in the ocean longer than kings spawned in other rivers, which helps to account for the fact that the Kenai kings are far and away the largest of all kings when they return to spawn. In fact, the world record hook and line caught king, a 97+ pounder, was caught many years ago on the Kenai, and the mounted fish is on display nearby in the Soldotna Visitors’ Center, located in Soldotna right where the highway crosses the river. But kings are not the only targeted species on the Kenai. The sockeye runs on the Kenai are often fantastic, in terms of the numbers and size of the sockeye. The second run fish are usually more available to anglers on the lower river. The fish in the first run head straight to the Russian River, where they concentrate and tend to attract a more concentrated band of anglers in pursuit. The second run of fish are headed to various other locations and tend to be available all along the river for extended time periods. So it’s wise to spend some time and effort targeting these fish when they are available. In fact as Anglers Lodge is situated on the Kenai you can often hook up with sockeye in the evening in front of the lodge, even if you fished elsewhere during the day. The saying is “sockeye is the fillet mignon of salmon” and most folks agree with this claim.
Besides kings and sockeye, the Kenai River is also world famous for coho or silver salmon which arrive at the end of the king and sockeye runs. These great fighting fish are also excellent table fare. They can be sought with either fly or conventional gear. On even-numbered years the Kenai has a run of pink salmon. While less known for table quality these fish are excellent fighters and willing biters. They are great fun when fought on a fly rod.
Last but by no means least, are the Kenai River resident rainbows. These fish thrive and gorge themselves on the loose salmon eggs that are ubiquitous during spawning time. These fish can exceed ten pounds and despite their huge size are often pursued with fly tackle using egg imitations. So there are many options, many adventures when planning to fish on the mighty Kenai River. If planning to fish the Kenai for the first time you will probably want to fish at least two days trolling for kings and /or fishing for sockeye. In later summer or early fall the trip might include fishing silver salmon and those giant rainbows.
When making those plans to visit Anglers Lodge be sure to include at least one day for drift boat fishing for kings on the nearby Kasilof River. This is an amazing fishery! Even though a popular destination during the height of the king salmon run, this river offers the peacefulness of floating the river and taking in the beauty and quiet of a drift boat fishing experience. While floating down the river you might catch sight of moose, deer and various other critters. Periodically your guide will position and anchor the boat in a prime spot to intercept the fresh kings as they migrate up the river. The take and the battle are memorable and often the fish is chrome bright, so fresh it still has sea lice on its tail. It’s become a favorite experience for many folks, so don’t miss it.
If you have never flown in a float plane, here’s your chance. The plane takes off from a small lake near the lodge and flies to the other side of the Cook inlet. These planes fly low so you can get a good view of the surrounding sights, such as a bird’s eye view of the lower Kenai River where it enters the Cook Inlet. When you reach the other side you will land near a small boat you will use to get to your fishing destination, perhaps a creek entering the Cook Inlet. Often the water at the mouth of the stream is clear and you can see the fish as they prepare to enter the rapids or jump the falls and ascend the creek. There may be other parties there too as these spots are well known to the guides, but it’s a festive atmosphere and the fishing can be good. Often bears visit the spot too, so you might hear a command from your guide, “If the bear goes in the water, DO NOT CAST YOUR LINE!” Use your imagination and you’ll immediately know why. On the return flight the pilot may give you an up-close and personal view of a glacier, an amazing sight!
During our 2017 trip we decided to fish kings on the Kenai, fish halibut in the ocean out of Seward, drift boat fish for kings on the Kasilof, and take a flight on a float plane to fish for sockeye and view bears on the west side of Cook Inlet at Wolverine Creek. We saw bears, both black and brown; eye candy of a special type, often more compelling than the fish!
Some days if we had time and energy we also shore fished for sockeye. We had much success on each day trip and accumulated lots of salmon and halibut to bring home for delicious eating throughout the year. So each day trip was rewarding in terms of memorable experiences but also in terms of harvest. Our party consisted of my wife Rita and me, along with our son Luke and his wife Kristin. It was Kristin’s first time in Alaska and it was Luke’s second trip and second time at Anglers. Rita and I return to fish the Kenai every year and have for almost 20 years, often just fishing for sockeye. But over the years we’ve visited Anglers Lodge on many occasions and this trip was just as rewarding and satisfying as previous trips. The accommodations are special. In our case they included a private room with a king-sized bed for each couple. The rooms were comfortable and included a private bath. The food was great and plentiful, often consisting of fresh seafood.
For more information and to book a stay at Anglers, contact Julie or Mark Burner at 907-262-1747 or www.alaskanfishing.com