The title of this blog post pretty much says it all: The state of Alaska is great for many reasons like its size, beauty, resources, birds, animals and fish. The fishing is what originally attracted me to this great state, but it is the combination of all the before-mentioned that have kept me going back annually.
I remember watching television shows when I was young and the yearning I would have to visit Alaska while watching the adventures of others. I would say to myself that someday I should make that trip. Well, life and time move on and I graduated from high school and then college and then got married, and the trip just did not materialize. Then one day in 1996, I got a call from my good college friend, Bill Malan, and he invited me to go on a trip with him and some business associates of his. He said that this group of guys goes to Alaska every year, and they know what they are doing. I had many excuses not to go, and again, the trip did not develop for me.
Bill returned from Alaska at the end of July and told me how wonderful Alaska is, and that a guy who loves to fish as much as I do has to make this journey. I said, “Maybe someday,” and I would be interested if he goes again. Bill called me in December and said there was a group going again and invited me along. Bill and I talked for months and I continued to procrastinate with excuses about time off of work, the cost, how busy I was, etc.
Finally, Bill had enough and called me and said he was sending me a first-class, round-trip ticket and he was not going to cancel it, so either I go on the trip or the ticket would be wasted. At this prompting, I talked to my wife, Linda, and explained that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. She graciously gave me her blessing to go on this trip, and thus, my 15-year romance with Alaska began and continues to this day.
The next two years, Bill and I continued to go with this same group of guys, but realized the trip could be run more efficiently and fairly. You see, Bill and I were the late comers to the group and we did not exactly get the best lodging conditions or fishing locations. We started to take side trips on our own. The first time we broke from the group, we did a fly-in to Lake Iliamna. This was an incredible flight, and the fishing was fantastic. We also spent several days in Homer.
The following year, we again broke from the group and spent three days at Guth Lodge on Lake Iliamna. It was amazing how this lodge was run so efficiently in the middle of nowhere. To get to the lodge you needed to fly to Pedro Bay, take a four-wheel drive vehicle to the other end of the island to catch a boat, and then take about an hour boat ride to the lodge.
Now, imagine conducting a fishing camp for 20 people when you do not have any public water, electric or stores. They created their own hydro electric to power the well and the lodge. Remember, you have to boat, drive and fly just to get a light bulb. The organization required was incredible.
The experiences we encountered while breaking off on our own showed us that without a doubt, the trip we were taking could be improved upon. We decided to embark on putting together our own group and diligently started to look for a lodge that would meet our needs. Bill is very savvy on the computer and found the perfect place that was located on the Kenai River in the town of Soldotna. It had a dock that we could fish from, and from this location we could go on various adventures. In July 2000, we had our first group of 14 people go on this trip, and we have been going strong ever since.
The trip has been tweaked over the years, and we are now in a different lodge than when we first started. We originally had a house that was divided into an upstairs apartment and a downstairs apartment. This was a great location and we hated to relocate, but the owner continually raised the price and became more and more unreasonable. It got to the point where it was either we find another location, or the Alaska trip was done. We had looked for other locations in the past, but we could never find a location that could meet all our needs.
It is very important that you have ample dock space to fish for the sockeye salmon. We needed a place that could accommodate 12 to 15 people, and we needed the second week in July, which was typically the peak of the sockeye run. Well, in God’s providence, the sockeye run began to show up later and later, and we decided we wanted to shift to the third week in July. We were ahead of the curve on this decision, so it actually opened up a week at a lodge that we had looked at years before. When we originally looked at the lodge, it met all of our requirements with the exception that it was always booked the second week of July. When we switched our week, the lodge became open and we have been staying there ever since.
This year, we were in Alaska from July 15 through 22, and God blessed us with another great trip. The sockeye started to get into the Kenai River heavy on the 17th, which worked perfectly for us. We arrived in Anchorage on the 15th, and we spent the first night there. The following day, we started our journey by driving to our lodge on the Kenai Peninsula in the town of Soldotna. We got the guys set up in their cabins -- we put three people in each cabin -- and while they were settling in, we got our fishing gear from storage. That day was not very productive for sockeye, but the guys did manage to catch a few. We have gear there for our group to use, and when they are not on specific trips, they can fish for sockeye salmon off our dock.
On Sunday we had our lingcod/halibut combination trip out of Homer. This trip is very demanding, as we have a 1.75-hour drive to the boat, a 4-hour boat ride to the cod grounds, then we attempt to catch our limit of cod and halibut, and then we have the return trip. This trip was very successful as we limited out on both our cod and halibut, and we had several cod over 50 pounds. The report is that the cod taste so good that it is worth the long trip.
Monday, we had two groups of four go on a Kenai River trout float trip. This trip was also very successful, as they boated approximately 60 trout up to 8 pounds.
Tuesday, we went to Seward on our silver salmon/halibut trip. This trip was also very successful, as we caught our limit of 45 silvers in the ocean and 30 halibut. Then we started working on our limit of silvers in the bay and we got an additional 37 before we ran out of time.
Wednesday, we had two groups of four go on a Kenai River power boat king trip. The guide picked our first group up on our dock at 5:45 a.m., and then brought them back and picked up our second group at noon. The first group had several hookups but only boated one small 25-pound king salmon. The second group had several hookups but did not boat any. This was probably the worst king trip we have had since Bill and I started with our own group. They said the second run of kings was very below average this year.
Thursday, we had a group of six go on a Halibut trip out of Deep Creek. This was another successful trip, as we caught our limit, and it yielded approximately 150 pounds of halibut fillets.
Friday was our last day in Soldotna, and no one fished as we had plenty of meat and the guys were tired. We checked out of the lodge at 11 a.m. and headed to the fish processing plant where we sort, box, weigh and band our boxes before we load them on the U-Haul.
Once the fish were loaded, we then headed back to Anchorage where our first group flew out around 8 p.m. This year, we had a large contingent from Pennsylvania, but we also had folks from Alabama, Utah and California. We had 15 people, and we brought back approximately 1,700 pounds of lingcod, halibut, silver salmon and sockeye fillets. This was an above average trip with the best weather we have ever had. It was clear and in the high 60s each day, and it was in the high 40s at night.
Alaska Trip Planning Tips
I have learned over the years that the easiest way to have a poor fishing trip is to have unrealistic expectations. When booking a fishing trip to Alaska, it is critical that you develop a relationship with your guide or outfitter and that you check references. Make sure you have a clear understanding of what you can expect on each adventure.
Remember, fish spawns occur for different species at various times throughout the year. I would request recent historical data from your guide on when the species you are targeting has been running. I think the previous three years’ records should be sufficient. Even with all the advanced planning you will be doing, you may miss the peak of the run, and that is why we always book ocean trips to make sure we have some meat to bring home.
Ocean fishing for halibut, lingcod, etc. can be very demanding. I suggest you get a description and picture of the boat you will be using. Also ask what gear you will be using and the depth you will be fishing. This year out of Deep Creek, we used 4-pound sinkers and we fished in 225 feet of water. You may be an “Old Salt Dog” and have never gotten seasick, but I encourage you to take medication as a precautionary measure.
This year, we had a 4-hour run to the lingcod grounds, and then we anchored and fished for hours before returning to the dock. Having a safe and comfortable boat is crucial, as the weather can be cold, rainy and downright nasty even in the summer months. When we fish out of Seward, we are on a 46-foot, custom-built boat by Modutech Marine, and when we fish out of Homer we are on a 50-foot, custom-built boat built by Delta Marine Industries.
Fly-in excursions can be wonderful or a major pain. These trips create an entirely new set of challenges that I do not have time to discuss. However, again the same rule should apply to develop a relationship with your outfitter and check references.
I am the owner of Koinonia Guide Service in Carlisle, Penn., and I am willing to try to answer any questions you may have. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can learn about us at www.koinoniafishingguides.com. Please support our troops, take a child fishing and protect our environment.
Written by Rod Bates