Fishing opportunities during an Anchorage layover
If you’re traveling to Alaska for work or play this summer, you’re most likely traveling through the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, surrounded by the Chugach Mountains to the east and Cook Inlet to the north, west and south. It’s a beautiful airport with nice restaurants and shopping options. But instead of strolling around the airport or sitting in a hotel room waiting for your next flight, wouldn’t you rather be fishing? I thought so.
Here’s what you need to know if you would rather catch fish than catch up on sleep while in Anchorage. You may even decide to schedule an extra day on each end of your trip to sample the local water.
A 15-minute drive or Uber ride through Anchorage will land you on the banks of Ship Creek, a popular urban fishery in the heart of downtown Anchorage.
Ship Creek has a run of hatchery Chinook (king) salmon in early summer, followed by a run of coho (silver) salmon to wrap up the season. Chum and pink salmon are also present.
The banks of Ship Creek, also known as “The Ditch,” are made of glacier silt the consistency of think mud. Anglers should wear hip boots or waders and be prepared to fish alongside many other anglers of varying skill levels and gear types. Check out The Bait Shack on Ship Creek for gear rentals and everything else you need to cast a line in The Ditch.
Another option in Anchorage is to walk the banks of Campbell Creek, scouting for trout and salmon (Campbell Creek has special regulations; be sure to look at them here before fishing). This small, clear-water creek drains from the Chugach Mountains and meanders its way through the city, emptying into Cook Inlet. There are numerous access points scatted though the city, some less than 10 minutes from the airport. A glance at Google Maps will show you the parks and greenbelts, walking trails, and roads that surround the creek and provide access to this hidden gem. Check out more articles about the city’s urban fishery here.
If you have access to a vehicle, another great option from July through August is to drive about 19 miles south of the airport on the scenic Seward Highway to the mouth of Bird Creek. The drive in itself is spectacular, with awesome views of Turnagain Arm and local wildlife. Like Ship Creek, the banks of Bird Creek are glacier silt and water levels in the designated fishing area are heavily influenced by the tide in Cook Inlet’s Turnagain Arm. Time it right though and this is a great spot for salmon (coho, pink and chum). You’ll want to bring waders or hip boots to help navigate the mud.
If you have the time, continue down the Seward highway and through Turnagain Pass to the quaint town of Cooper Landing. The two-hour drive will put you at the fabled confluence of the Russian and Kenai rivers on the Kenai Peninsula. This confluence is known for shoulder to shoulder fishing, often called combat fishing, during the peak of the sockeye salmon run. At the confluence, anglers can target sockeye and coho salmon, rainbow trout, and Dolly Varden char. Anglers can also take a ferry across the turquoise waters of the Kenai River and walk up the Russian River, a small, clear stream with excellent sight-fishing for salmon and rainbow trout. For anglers wanting to target rainbow trout and Dolly Varden, Quartz Creek, a lesser-known fishery outside Cooper Landing, has easy access and is a good option for those looking for a little more solitude. More articles about fishing on the Kenai Peninsula can be found here.
A number of fishing opportunities are available to anglers wanting to drive north of Anchorage. A 40-mile drive along the Glenn and Old Glenn highways (look left for views of Denali) will land an angler at the Eklutna Tailrace. The turquoise water of this hatchery-supported fishery flows into the Knik River. Anglers typically use spinners or bait to target Chinook and coho salmon in the Tailrace’s slow-moving current. When the fish are in, expect to see plenty of local anglers looking for fish to fill their freezers for the upcoming winter (it’s -27º F as I write this).
Another option north of Anchorage is to head up the Parks Highway to target salmon, rainbow trout, and grayling in the Susitna River Valley. The town of Willow, the official start for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, is a 90-minute drive from the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. Willow Creek, a clear-water creek with headwaters in the Talkeetna Mountains, is a small tributary of the Susitna River and has Chinook, coho, pink, and chum salmon runs and resident rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, and grayling. Willow Creek can be fished at its confluence with the Susitna River and where the creek flows under the Parks Highway. Click here for more information about fishing north of Anchorage.
One of my favorite clients is a pilot for a major airline that flies in and out of the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and is also a passionate fly angler. His route has him landing in Anchorage around 6 PM. He rents a car, grabs dinner, and heads to his Anchorage hotel to get some sleep before getting up at 3:30 AM to meet me at Willow Creek at 5:30 AM. He stays on Central time so getting up early isn’t a problem. We’ll float and fish Willow Creek in a raft for six hours, leaving him just enough time for the drive back to Anchorage to pilot his flight out that evening. This is just an example of how with a little bit of planning, anglers visiting the 49th state can sample the local fisheries around Anchorage.
Remember to always review the fishing regulations and emergency orders (in-season changes to published fishing regulations) before heading out to fish.
Ben Rowell lives in Wasilla, Alaska and is a flyfishing guide in the Susitna Valley. He can be reached through his website here.