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Fishing in Alaska

by Steve Van Ert

Fishing Alaskan River Banks

I have dreamed of spending time in the Alaskan wilderness for the last decade. One of my best friends had lived in Palmer for several years and his stories of fishing the myriad of local lakes and rivers kept my imagination running at full speed. But that is all it had been; a dream. My plans to drive up during my summer break were always side-tracked somehow.


2013 has been a year of adventures though and I was to finally get my trip up to the Kenai Peninsula. We had nine days to explore so we flew up early on Monday, July 29. Our plans were to spend a few hours in Anchorage and then head to a friend’s house where we would spend several days, in Palmer. Our plans were pretty free after that. I had reservations at a B&B in Anchor Point for two nights, which is about ten miles from Homer and one night in Seward. Aside from ice climbing one day and kayaking for part of another day, my plan was to fish several rivers on my own.

The Eklutna Tailrace

Just outside of Palmer is an area known as the Eklutna Tailrace. It is located at Mile 3.6 on the Old Glenn Highway and is a short canal (about ¼ mile) that offers spawning salmon much needed relief from the mineral dense waters of the enormous, glacier-fed Knik River. Salmon move into the canal for a brief rest and cleaning of gills before continuing their arduous journey.
 

The tailrace is a terminal fishery of stocked Silver and King Salmon fry. It can’t be considered a pristine fishing experience, but it is far removed from the urban areas of Anchorage and the growing communities of the Mat-Su valley. At times the crowds get pretty thick and may continue to grow during the King Salmon season as the fishery matures. The ADFG plans to continue to improve and develop the area around the tailrace. (Fishing the Eklutna Tailrace)

The Tailrace is popular amongst locals. While I had no luck, I watched several anglers pull in some nice Silvers. I was told that while the numbers seemed to be down in the past few years, it was early and they felt it would be a good year.

My first Salmon


Did I forget to mention that I had never caught a single salmon, ever?  I began fishing somewhere around the age of 4 and I have even been in the Pacific, out of Crescent City, specifically fishing for salmon. I don’t know how I managed to never take advantage of the many rivers of northern California or southern Oregon for salmon. I have caught steelhead and hundreds of trout from at least fifty different waterways. Yet, it wasn’t until my second day of fishing in Alaska that I was able to land my first salmon.

Little Su

Tuesday morning I drove out to the Little Susitna Access Point, located about 45 minutes out of Wasilla. I carried a medium-light 2-piece Shakespeare rod with a 5-bearing reel loaded with 8Lb test and a collection of Blue fox #3, 4 and 5 spinners of different color combinations.  I wore zippered pants and tennis shoes as I waded in fairly warm water no deeper than my thighs. Casting was done to the cut away bank in between the boats moving up and down river. After an hour, and replacing two spinners, the first Silver hit. It was a great battle! She was in and out of the water while travelling up and down the stream. After about ten minutes though, I landed a bright, beautiful 12 pounder.

A couple of hours later I decided to make one last effort downstream a little further before calling it a day. I had landed my first Silver and a Pink already so I felt good about getting back. I was on the wrong side of the bank and using equipment that was too light. But when the Silvers are running it is hard to go wrong. It was just my second cast when, BAM! My second Silver was on. This one also gave me an incredible fight. I walked away with 29Lbs of fish and a memory of my first salmon that I’ll never forget.

Our friend had a smoker so I immediately went to work. Alaskan candy; what a treat! I went back to the Tailrace Wednesday but had no luck again.

Long Days

With the sun not setting until after 11PM, I had plenty of time for exploring. I took several trips around the Palmer area, exploring the vast wilderness areas. We hiked and drove on numerous gravel roads, stopping to fish small streams here and there. Most of the fishing ended up with catching small Dolly Varden.  On Thursday we spent the day climbing glacier ice walls. Micah Guides provided us with an amazing all day adventure for a very reasonable cost.  After being outfitted with boots, harnesses, picks, gloves, helmets and crampons, we were escorted to the Matanuska Glacier. The day was filled with breath-taking sights, amazing climbs and tons of fun.  No climbing experience is needed and you don’t need to be Superman to enjoy this great adventure.

Headed to Homer

I made another trek back to the Lil Su Friday where after more than five hours, I ended up hooking 3 Silvers and a couple more Pinks. I couldn’t keep the Silvers on long enough to bring in and I let the Pinks go.  I returned to Palmer empty handed, with the exception of having finally seen a moose, with her calf, along the bank of the river. We packed up and headed west early the next morning.

The first stop was at a spot along Hope Highway called “Grandpa’s Hole”.  It was an easy trail down to the river and I was alone. I hooked half dozen Pinks within thirty minutes. Half were literally hooked; along the dorsal and tail fins! I released all of them and we headed out toward Sodotna.

The Kenai
Driving along the Kenai is quite a spectacle; there are fishermen lined up along the bank, almost shoulder to shoulder in every strategic hole. I had no desire to be part of that and so we continued into Sodotna. As you enter Soldotna there is a bridge crossing the grand, swift, emerald-gray Kenai River. We pulled into the Visitor Center which is immediately on the right side of the far end of the bridge. I went down where I could fish on the right side of the bridge with my treble hook spinners. I caught a 10inch Dolly Varden and then watched Fred, a retired Army vet pull up a Red. I spoke with him for a little and he gave me directions for a few holes down the road.

We stopped for short visits at a couple more spots, without any luck, before heading to Anchor Point where we would spend the next couple of nights.



Anchor Point and Homer

Kathy Toms is an Account/Tax consultant who has an incredible house perched along an ocean side cliff. She greeted us that evening and introduced us to her friends. We had a great visit before retiring for the night. We stayed in her downstairs B&B which was incredibly set up with all the amenities, including our own private bathroom at a cost of only $75/night. Her boyfriend invited me to join him and another guest on an early morning trip to the Anchor River just a few miles away.  5:30AM came early but I was excited to be part of this locally guided tour. We caught quite a few Pinks but the Silvers weren’t running strong yet. We also saw a handful of Kings that were out of season. I went out again the next morning and, again, I caught quite a few Pinks but the Silvers were just starting to be seen that morning at the very mouth of the river. On my way back to the parking lot I was treated with the sight of an eagle along the river’s edge, eating. While exploring the breath-takingly beautiful area around Homer, we also saw more eagles and moose.



Seward

Our last stop was to be Seward for 24 hours before heading back to Anchorage. The trip to Seward from Homer requires back-tracking through Soldotna, so I decided to fish along the catwalks below the Visitor’s Center. The challenge was that in order to fish that side of the bridge I needed to have single hook spinners, which would not have been a problem if I had a way to cut off my treble hooks. I didn’t so I ran across the street to Ken’s Alaskan Tackle shop where I was able to talk Ken into cutting off a couple treble hooks for me. I spent a couple of hours there hoping to have the same luck a couple of other locals were having but that just wasn’t to be and we headed once again to Seward.

We checked into our hut at Miller’s Landing late that afternoon. We decided to just hang out around town and then kayak in Resurrection Bay the next day. Our cabin was $75 for the night. It included a bed, wood stove and small refrigerator.  To say the least, it was a significant drop down from the last couple of nights, yet it was comfortable.  Our excursion into Resurrection Bay consisted of a 30 minute covered water taxi ride out to Humpy Cove. We and our guide, Ken from Colorado, were dropped off on a remote beach. The weather was, to say the least, nasty. It was cold (about 52°) and raining, but not very heavily. I made the mistake of not using the rudder on the kayak and struggled for the first half of the journey. It became abundantly clear why the cove is called “Humpy Cove”. There were thousands of Pinks, also known as “Humpys” or “Dog Fish”. At the end of the cove is a spectacular waterfall where I was able to catch a “Humpy” with my hand.  We paddled past a host of jelly fish and jumping Silvers before finally getting back to our pick up spot. I was quite surprised to see that our water taxi for the ride home was “Salty”, an open bow 24 footer that was about to deliver the full-blown Alaskan experience to us. I really wish I would have bought waterproof pants to go along with my waterproof jacket!

Departure

We survived though and were soon on our way back to Anchorage. We stayed in a hostel for $50 ($25/person). It was a very comfortable 4 hour stay before returning to the airport. Our flight returned us to Medford before noon. The sky was dark with smoke and it was 92°. I was missing Alaska already. During the whole return flight I was already planning my return. I think I’ll take about three weeks to drive up with a couple of buddies next time and plan on being there mid August when the Silvers should be running everywhere. Until then I continue to plan and wait for the next great adventure life brings.