Cordova. No Roads. No Problem
Blog Post by Troy Buzalsky
If you are looking to push the “Easy Button” for an Alaska adventure, Cordova might not make the top of the list, but its remoteness, beauty and myriad angling opportunities are enough to make a little logistical difficulty worth the effort. And now is the time to start planning.
Located on the east side of Prince William Sound near the mouth of the Copper River, Cordova prides itself as an isolated town accessed only by boat or plane. In fact, the slogan “No Roads, No Problem” is visible throughout the community on T-shirts, bumper stickers and other souvenirs. The remote nature of Cordova adds to its character as much as it does the angling experience. The town supports just over 2,000 residents and its primary economy caters to the commercial fishing industry.
Our journey to Cordova was almost by accident...literally the final leg of an Alaska lodge adventure. When planning our lodge experience, we had the opportunity to fly into either Valdez or Cordova. From both locations the lodge was a 30-minute floatplane trip and each offered ample air-taxi options. After a little research, we selected Cordova as the jumping-off point, primarily because of its reputation for late-August silvers.
The first part of our trip was lodge-based, so little planning was required, but our Cordova extension took some research. Our first dilemma was lodging. August is the peak fishing season in Cordova, so many of the highly recommended bed-and-breakfast outfits were booked solid. Since we were tourists, we contacted the Cordova Chamber of Commerce, who offered great insight to the town as well as providing plenty of information on area lodging options.
After several phone calls we booked at The Reluctant Fisherman Hotel, perfect for a short, angling-based stay. The Reluctant Fisherman offers affordable cooler space, a free continental breakfast and also has an attached restaurant, which makes other meal-planning easy. It is centrally located, offering spectacular bay-front views.
Next on the list was a rental car, and in a town like Cordova, the choices are limited. However, securing a car was no problem through Chinook Auto Rental, conveniently located in the airport’s parking lot. Coincidently, the rental car company also serves as the shuttle service. Sleep, meals and rental car all secured, the rest was just carefully thought-out packing.
Upon arrival to Mud Hole Smith Airport there was disappointment in the air, as the Copper River Highway near the Million Dollar Bridge suffered a slide, and according to the talk in the town, much of the remote fishing access was blocked. As we traveled along the Copper Highway towards downtown Cordova, we drove past “Seven Mile,” the name given to the bridge that crosses Ibeck Creek at mile marker seven. The roadway was packed with vehicles lining both sides of the bridge. With a crowd like that you would have thought Beyoncé herself was fishing creekside in nothing but waders. As we drove, we witnessed no fewer than five fish being landed above and below the bridge...not bad, but there were several hundred anglers lined up wherever they could find room to cast.
While in town we continued to question folks about fishing opportunities, and the answers were all the same:
“The fishing has not been very good.”
“The best fishing is at Seven Mile Bridge.”
“Be careful, there are bears everywhere!”
“The fish are not in yet.”
To make a long story short, we shortened our Cordova stay and extended our lodge stay, all predicated on the fact that we did not want to get stuck fishing at Seven Mile Bridge for five days straight with 500 of our closest friends!
After a successful adventure at Ravencroft Lodge, we flew back to Cordova via Alaskan Wilderness Air. Once landing on the picturistic Eyak Lake, we called our shuttle service and hustled to The Reluctant Fisherman. Check-in was painless, and once our fish boxes were loaded into the walk-in freezer, we donned our waders and hit the Copper River Highway. We stopped, looked and took in as much as we could around the Eyak River, the Alaganik Slough and then finally Ibeck Creek. My brother and I decided to explore the area, hiking upstream in search of a little elbow room. It took little time to shake the crowds, and within minutes we were wetting a line, forgetting about the anglers lined up at the bridge and not even thinking about the possibility of encountering a bear.
Although packed with eight different rods and reels, I selected my go-to 9-foot G Loomis GL2 1082S rod and Shimano 2500 Stradic MgFA lined with 14-pound Berkley Crystal Fireline. Most anglers were using either spinners or eggs under a float, so we decided to cast plugs, something we figured the fish had not yet seen; plus, let’s face it, nothing draws a strike faster from these ocean-fresh silver bullets than a darting and dancing plug. The plugs were dressed out with single Gamakatsu siwash hooks, which offer excellent hookup capability plus ease-of-release.
Within minutes it was “Fish on!” with my brother tied into an acrobatic platinum pig. The next cast presented my turn, nailing a healthy hen hell-bent to find her spawning grounds. Night came fast, and with little more than an hour of fishing we managed ten spectacular Copper River Delta silvers, all safely released. The walk out was dark, and yes, we started to think about bears.
Once back to the hotel we slogged through the hallway in our waders, knowing that in Cordova this is expected behavior. We dined at the Reluctant Fisherman, enjoying an excellent fresh seafood dinner, a cold beverage or two of our liking, and a relaxing view of the backlit harbor.
Morning came quickly and so did a new weather system. We grabbed our Rivers West raingear, a lightly-packed tackle bag, a touch of continental breakfast and hit the road back to Seven Mile.
This time instead of going up the river, we thought we’d try downstream, targeting fish that had not yet seen the crowds. The water downstream did not seem quite as fishy, but finally we found a split in the creek where an angler was just leaving. This proved to be good for us, and bad for him, because the next four hours we had what you could call a “silver slaughter,” catching fish after fish, having double after double and not even thinking about the rain, or the bears. Because we planned poorly for the entire day, we would have to give up our spot to take a quick lunch break. Once back from lunch we walked to the hole again, only to see an angler just leaving. Good for us, bad for him, as the bite was on once more.
We walked out after a heavy rainfall, and just before nightfall, again thinking of bears for the first time that day. When we entered the bridge zone we witnessed something we had yet to see, empty water; there was nobody fishing the bridge, so we thought we’d give it a try. Cast one...Fish on! Cast two...Fish on! Cast three... Fish on! Now we knew why the bridge is such a popular fishery.
Our final day of fishing brought a new twist, as the night prior the commercial fishermen also were allowed to net, and we had no idea what this meant to our modest creek. Planning a little better, we brought lunch plus a few beverages of choice so we wouldn’t have to leave a hot bite. Again we arrived early and it looked like we were the only anglers fishing downstream. We claimed our spot and started casting. Nothing. Okay, we can be patient, we thought; sometimes it takes more than a few casts to catch a fish, even in Alaska.
We continued to strike out. In fact, fishing was so slow my brother rigged a little trout setup and managed a feisty Dolly Varden for his efforts. “Wow, what a difference a day makes,” he mumbled.
With the arrival of the incoming tide, though, we noticed a V-wake moving steadily upstream, “Here they come,” my brother shouted as he quickly geared back up for battle. The arrival of the incoming tide not only brought in the fresh fish, but also a hot bite. In no time at all we were no longer fishing, we were catching...Cordova style.
At day’s end we figured an average of ten fish an hour, which includes counting in our slow start. Again we trekked out at dusk, weaving ourselves through the thick vegetation and trail system when suddenly we heard a ruckus along the riverbank. We took a peek...a big black bear looking for an evening meal, though she seemed as surprised to see us as we were to see her. I cautiously grabbed a quick photo and let her continue to enjoy Ibeck Creek, too.
The conclusion of our Alaska adventure was bittersweet. Bitter in the fact that we were leaving some of the best fishing we had ever experienced, yet sweet in the fact that we had spent 10 days in Alaska, the first seven at Ravencroft Lodge, the next three in Cordova, and the overall experience was beyond excellent. In fact, you might say it was epic. Yes, more time in Cordova would have been nice, but then again, I would not have given up a day of our Ravencroft experience.
I guess my wife better brace herself, because next year a 10-day adventure just might not be enough time to truly experience Alaska at its best.