Article by Jody Ellis-Knapp
A fishing vacation in Alaska is every angler’s dream. Rushing rivers, leaping salmon and clear mountain air are just a few of the things one might envision. But there is another side to fishing vacations in Alaska—chiggers and mosquitoes that are big enough to carry you away. Smoke-filled campsites and freezing cold nights. Bears nosing their way into your tent for some cuddling. Even the hardiest fisherman might think twice about bringing the family along on such an adventure, especially if that family isn’t in love with the great outdoors in quite the same way.
Yet in Alaska, it is perfectly easy to enjoy the comforts of home alongside an outdoor experience. There are few places in existence today that combine an urban lifestyle with the wonders of nature, where one can drive or fly a very short distance and find themselves in the heart of the wilderness. The southcentral city of Anchorage is one of those places, offering a surprisingly cosmopolitan atmosphere while being literally minutes from some of the best fishing imaginable.
Anchorage is home to 250,000 or more of the roughly 700,000 people living in the state, making it Alaska’s largest city. There are not only many fishing opportunities within Anchorage, there are a myriad of choices in both driving and flying day-trips out of town. Taking a day to catch that killer king salmon and then enjoying dinner at a five star restaurant combines the ease of a luxury vacation with the excitement of an angling adventure. Add in all the sightseeing and activities the Anchorage area offers and you have the family vacation of a lifetime.
The most well-known fishing hole in Anchorage is Ship Creek. Running through the downtown area, this might seem an unlikely place to catch salmon, but it is actually a popular spot for both tourists and locals. Ship Creek is home to the Ship Creek “Slam’n Salm’n” Derby each summer, of which proceeds benefit local Anchorage charities. The 2007 King Derby kicked off on June 8 and ran through June 17, with the Silver Derby starting on August 3 and running through August 12.
The downtown area of Anchorage is a great base because there are a wide range of hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts, many of which are within walking distance of Ship Creek and local sightseeing. Some of the best fine-dining to be found in the city are downtown, with cuisine representing cultures from around the globe.
As far as things to do besides fishing, downtown has enough fun activities to keep your dance card full. Weekends bring the Anchorage Market, located on Third and E St., with Alaskan gifts and artwork, fresh produce and outstanding food vendors. This outdoor event runs every Saturday and Sunday from May to September from 10am-6pm. Anchorage’s Town Square is another must-see. The park sits right next to the Performing Arts Center and has a beautiful water fountain and garden. Each summer Town Square hosts an assortment of community events, including the “Live After Five” free music show, with local musicians performing from 5-8pm every Friday from June 1 to July 27. Peratovich Park on Fourth and E also has free live music on Monday and Wednesday afternoons, 12-1pm, from June-August. While strolling downtown, check out the “Wild Salmon on Parade” sculptures that are displayed throughout the area. This artistic event is in its fifth year, with local artists creating salmon sculptures that “swim” around town. Walking maps of the Salmon on Parade can be found at various downtown locations or on their website.
For those who want to enjoy arts and culture, the Anchorage Museum of History and Art brings Alaska history alive. Located at 121 W. Seventh Avenue and open from 9am-6pm daily from May to September, the museum has an ongoing exhibit of historical artifacts from Native culture, as well as contemporary Native art. Their children’s gallery will open June 17, showcasing work from Washington D.C. artist John Kirchner with his exhibit “Out of the Ordinary”.
To explore 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 gone by, 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. There are many packages available in the summer, from trips up north to Denali and south to Seward.
Speaking of gift shops, downtown Anchorage provides visitors with an almost endless selection of shopping choices. Finding just the right souvenir or special gift is easy here, and there is something for every taste. The Alaska Mint, located at 429 W Fourth Avenue is one of the more unique shops in the downtown area. Open daily to the public in the summer for self-guided tours and shopping, they have specialty medallions to commemorate the Iditarod and Fur Rendezvous, as well as gold coin jewelry and other Alaska items.
Lakes and other Anchorage Area Sights
If you are seeking trout fishing, Anchorage has some of the best stocked lakes around. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game stocks the lakes seasonally with rainbow trout, as well as Chinook salmon and Arctic char. Plans for 2007 include stocking over 50,000 rainbow trout in five local lakes, giving anglers excellent fishing opportunities. While most of the fish stocked in Anchorage lakes are of legal size, the majority of fisherman choose to catch and release (73% of fish caught in stocked lakes in 2005 were released).
Stocked lakes include Delong Lake, Jewel Lake and Sand Lake, all in south Anchorage off Jewel Lake Road. Taku Campbell lake has been stocked in years past but is on hold as of now because of a concern with the pike population eating the trout, and Cheney Lake in east Anchorage also has a pike problem that has put stocking on hold. Campbell Creek in south Anchorage also gets stocked yearly with trout and is very accessible as it flows through many local park areas.
When you get tired of trout fishing, there are plenty of other fun things to do around Anchorage. The Alaska Zoo is located off O’Malley Road and is open from 10am-9pm all summer. View Alaska wildlife in captivity, and more exotic species such as Amur Tigers, Snow Leopards and Anchorage’s own beloved African elephant, Maggie. Also on O’Malley Road is a fun stop for kids of all ages—Anchorage’s only indoor water park, H2Oasis. Boasting a “Master Blaster” water slide, wave pool and kiddie pool area, this is a great way to spend an afternoon with the family.
Still looking for that perfect souvenir or gift? Check out the Alaska Fur Exchange in midtown. Situated on the corner of Tudor and Old Seward, this specialty shop caters to those seeking unusual Alaska items. Alaska Fur Exchange carries the largest selection of authentic furs in Alaska, with bulk fur available as well as fur mittens and hats, slippers and ruffs. They sell many hand-made Alaska gifts, from carvings and woven baskets to Native dolls. Owner Geri Gillespie says “Shopping in our store is like being able to shop in a museum.” Hours of operation are from 10am-6pm Monday-Saturday with extended hours on Sundays in the summer months.
Driving in Anchorage
One of the best ways to see the beauty of Alaska is just getting in a car and driving. From Anchorage, one can choose to drive either north or south for a wide range of day-fishing trips. Heading north on the Glenn Highway (an official scenic byway), there are several lakes and rivers that have excellent fishing opportunities. The township of 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. All of these lakes are 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 is a beautiful area with a good trail system for hiking and a well-maintained campground for those wanting to overnight.
A bit further 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 and into early October.
On your way back into Anchorage, stop in at the Alaska Native Heritage Center, which is located off the Muldoon exit at 8800 Heritage Drive. The center is open daily from 9am-5pm from mid-May to mid-September, with admission ranging from $15.95-23.50 for non-residents. They have ongoing exhibits and shows that highlight Alaska’s native history and lifestyles.
If you want to head south from Anchorage, the southern peninsula of Alaska has renowned fishing areas that regularly give out trophy-size fish. Driving the Seward highway isn’t just about fishing. You will be able to enjoy the panoramic vistas of Turnagain Arm as the highway winds along, see wildlife and even catch a glimpse of a glacier. Bird Creek is located roughly 27 miles south of Anchorage and will be clogged with avid anglers most of the season. Wear your hip boots as this is a muddy area, but there are plenty of salmon for all. Silvers peak in late July to early August, and Bird Creek often gets a decent run of pinks.
Driving farther down the peninsula takes you to areas such as Hope for pinks and the Russian River for sockeye and silvers. The Whittier Tunnel is another interesting stopping point. This is the longest tunnel through a mountain in North America. Whittier offers day cruises and fishing charters throughout the summer. You can also continue all the way to Seward or Homer (roughly 3 and 4 hours driving respectively) for a halibut charter.
Fly-in Fishing from Anchorage
While one does not have to leave the Anchorage bowl for exceptional fishing experiences, sometimes a day-trip for fly-in fishing can be a fun diversion. Anchorage offers several choices when it comes to flightseeing and fly-in fishing. Lake Hood, just off Spenard Road in south Anchorage, is where a large portion of local air taxis are located.
Trail Ridge Air is located at 3961 Floatplane Drive. A locally owned and operated air-taxi service, they have been flying people to their favorite destinations for over 20 years. They offer flightseeing packages that can take you on local tours and out into the Alaska bush for bear viewing, as well as both guided and unguided day-fishing trips. Prices start at $125 per person for flightseeing and $185 per person for unguided day fishing.
Another fly-in choice is Rust’s Flying Service. A landmark Alaska business, they have 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. Prices start at $95 per person for 30-minute local tours and $425 per person for guided fishing trips.
While exploring flying options on Lake Hood, get a taste of Alaska’s aviation history at the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum at 4721 Aircraft Drive (next door to Rust’s). The museum opened back in 1988 and pays homage to the pioneers of Alaska’s flying past. They have classic aircraft for viewing, including a 1928 Stearman and a 1928 Fairchild, as well as a gift shop for aviation buffs. One of their special events this summer includes their annual Great Alaskan Salmon Bake and Fly By on July 28. Vintage aircraft fly overhead while attendees enjoy an all-you-can-eat buffet with salmon, burgers, hot dogs, salads and desserts. There is silent auction with prizes of hotel rooms, aviation art and flight gift certificates as well as live music and book-signings by local authors. Marketing Director Shari Hart says this is a very popular occasion for visitors and locals alike. Hours for the show are from 11am-4pm. Regular summer hours are daily from 9am-5pm.
Anchorage as your fishing base camp is the perfect way to enjoy Alaska with the amenities of a major city at your fingertips. Bring your spouse, bring the kids, or even bring grandma. They will find this fishing vacation to be like no other trip, a relaxing experience that will appeal to everyone, while still giving you a freezer full of fish in the end.
This article originally appeared in the July 2007 issue of Fish Alaska.