Mom found some nice rainbows…
We continue our series from Bryan Whiting on his family’s fishing trips to Alaska West, with his thoughts on making your decision of when and where to go.
When can I go?
If your boss, your spouse, your work or circumstance determines when you can go, don’t be concerned because from the last week of May through September there is always some species of salmon available. Your dates will determine when you go and what species you will catch.
What do I want to catch?
If you can determine your schedule, the species on which you wish to focus will determine when you go. Please refer to the World Class Remote Fishing section of the Alaska West web page for specific guidelines as to when each species is available.
Do I want quantity or size?
Even though less of an issue in Alaska than most Rocky Mountain rivers, the quantity and size of each species varies. The question becomes do I want to catch 40 ten pound silver salmon or ten 30 pound king salmon; do I want to catch 40 rainbows or have a chance to catch one over 30”?
How many days can I be gone?
Even though Alaska is expensive, the cost to stay another day or four will never be as expensive or as time consuming as the plane ride to get there. So carve out every day you can. In my opinion one ten day trip every other year will be more fulfilling let alone cheaper, than two five days trips every year. One way to carve a little time is to fly at night which leaves daytime hours for fishing.
What do I wish to see or do besides fish?
Once you are in Alaska you might as well see and experience as much as you can. It will only be accentuated by these other activities. We love to fish from dawn to dusk and I know these activities not only benefited our experience but helped us fulfill our personal need. A few of the other things you can do:
– go to a real commercial fishing town such as Cordova
– go to a native village
– see a glacier up close whether by hiking, boat or plane
– go to Saturday market in Anchorage
– explore the Kenai peninsula, its cities, its old Russian buildings, churches
– make the scenic drive to Valdez which sits amidst mountains which look like Switzerland and see the oil pipeline
– go to an Alaska Baseball League game in Anchorage where it will be 9 or 10 at night and there is no need to turn on the lights at the field
– hike to Russian River Falls (2.5 miles) where literally thousands of sockeyes will be leaping into the falls. If you fish the Russian out to the Kenai River you will catch rainbows and you will see bears catching sockeyes.
– go to Lake Hood in Anchorage and watch the float planes take off
– go to Turnagain Bay (on the way to Kenai) and watch the enormous tides
– go to the old mining town of Hope, on the Kenai and pan for gold (also a great spot for Pink Salmon)
– take a boat out on the ocean and look for whales, seals, otters
– go to museums, Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anc
– Walk the Tony Knowles Coast Trail in Anchorage
– Visit the Alaska Zoo
– See the Musk Ox Farm in Palmer
Do I want to catch fresh salmon?
If you do, you have no choice but to fish within 10-12 miles of the ocean. Fresh salmon fight more, taste better and freeze better. 20 or more miles upriver the salmon are turning color, are spawning, dying or dead. A lot of the fight has gone out of them and they are only edible to bears. Even nearly dead salmon fight – it’s just a matter of degree. If you want to take fish home, freezing a decomposing salmon not only doesn’t work, it isn’t too appetizing. The Alaska West camp is 6 miles from the ocean. In taking fish home, you must also consider how this is going to happen: will my guide/camp do it freeze it, is it flying with my luggage, am I going to pay to ship it there, who is home to get it etc.
How many hours do I want to fish each day?
Every guide, lodge, camp or float will individually have what they consider to be a full day. Remember time on the water fishing is what counts. You can only catch fish when your line is in the water as opposed to traveling in a plane or boat. This can range from five hours to 10+ hours. Some camps/lodges also have fishing by them so you literally can fish until dark, which in Alaska can be all night. Other places don’t have fishing by them so once you are back at the camp/lodge, you are done for the day. Alaska West has you on the water from 8am to 6pm. The camp is literally 10 feet from the river so you can fish as long as your arm will last.
What degree of “roughing it” would I enjoy?
Alaska offers everything from lodges which rival the fanciest resorts (in comfort and cost) to a sleeping bag on a gravel bar as well as everything in between. Even if we could have afforded it, a fancy lodge and Alaska was an oxymoron. On the other hand, a week in a wet sleeping bag wasn’t it either. For us, Alaska West’s tent lodge with its Weatherport tents was perfect. Refer to the Comfortable, Casual Accommodations section on the web page.
Would I rather see a lot of country, fishing different rivers or become familiar with a 30 mile section?
Daily flyouts from a lodge will maximize both the country you see and the number of rivers you can experience. The downside is the enormous cost and fishing time lost due to flying or bad weather. A tent lodge with jet boats will facilitate familiarity with a specific area. At Alaska West, we enjoyed learning every bend and the name of every gravel bar in 30 miles of the Kanketok. The jet boats not only got us there quickly but were fun..
How much isolation and seclusion do I desire?
This is, do you want a lot of people fishing where you are? Do you even want to see other people? Some of your remote rivers can be quite crowded because there are planes from many 20 different lodges flying into that location every day. There can be someone in every bend of the river. Some rivers and lakes have a lodge or camp every mile and seeing/hearing their planes and boats occurs all day long. Other places you will be the only people within a hundred miles. Some camps/lodges take 40+ people each week. Others will have less than 20. The Kanektok typically doesn’t have planes flying in because it is too small. The people you see will be from Alaska West or the native Eskimo village.
How do I find a quality guide?
Most of your lodges, tent camps, float trips do a great job of selecting guides, because they know their reputation is a function of their guides’ ability. A quality guide never makes outlandish promises, will ask you numerous questions to determine your needs, and should have a pleasant personality. A good guide is not only competent but has fun. They should laugh with you and be enthusiastic even though this is their everyday work. One guide, Matt, we had at Alaska West not only had the boys into fish all day, but built a fire under a rock overhang after a rainstorm, cooked a salmon on the coals for lunch, had a rock skipping contest, had them climbing trees looking for big rainbows and had a contest to see which boy could catch the first silver salmon blindfolded. This is a professional guide who realizes there is more to being a guide than saying “there’s a fish”.
How do I know my lodge/camp is reputable and actually has quality fishing and provides a quality experience?
Obviously on our first trip with Alaska West I felt somewhat comfortable with them, but I still was very concerned about the trip. After all we had gone through to make the decision, after saving all the money, would we really have our “trip of a lifetime.” What if the fishing wasn’t that great, what if the camp or the food wasn’t good, what if the guides were jerks and the experience was more disappointing than memorable? When we were waiting for the American Airlines plane from Anchorage to Bethel to board, 16 of the 22 passengers were heading to Alaska West. In conversation, I soon learned that the three of us were the only ones who were not return customers. My relief was palpable.