Fly fishing in Alaska will spoil you. So many fish. Hungry ones. Large, powerful ones. Wild ones. So many rivers. Clean rivers. So much wildlife. So few people. It’s hard to fish in Alaska, and not look at your home waters the same way again. It’s hard not to look at them like something is missing. Fly fishing in Alaska is simply just that good.
Fly fishing in Alaska can also be intimidating though. Travel can be long and expensive. Fly fishing styles and techniques can be very different. It’s a BIG state, and understanding where to go, and when, can be a puzzle most don’t have the time to figure out. Fishing with wild bears in close proximity can be unnerving.
So, where do you begin?
I hear that question a lot, and my answer is usually the same. Do you first trip off the road system, and if you can, go with a guide or lodge that has a lot of options in both species and water types. One such lodge, and the only Orvis Endorsed Lodge on the famous Kenai Peninsula, is Tower Rock Lodge.
The Kenai is world renowned for oversized fish (even by Alaska standards), massive salmon runs, powerful trout and dolly varden char, and Tower Rock is located right in the heart of it. Flights into Anchorage are relatively easy from the Lower 48 (I always connect in Chicago), and within just a few hours you can be driving one of the most scenic drives in the world on the Seward Highway, and fishing at the lodge by the afternoon/evening of the day you fly. If you just can’t want to try some fishing on your own on the way, go ahead and stop at Quartz Creek, the Russian, or Upper Kenai. Once at the lodge, all sections of the Kenai River are within easy access, as well as various small streams, or even fly outs to more remote destinations. They’ll know what species are available, where they are, and what they’re eating.
Driving the Seward Highway is where Dad and I found ourselves last September. Having just finished a self guided caribou hunt, we had some extra days in our schedule and time to fish. Dad had enough of tent life. A quick call to Tower Rock, and we found ourselves settling into our cabin, cold beverages in hand.
With only a few days left in our schedule, we wanted to mix it up a bit. We decided to spend our first day on the Middle Kenai – a section of river that I’d fished on previous trips, but a first for Dad. It’s a big section of river, where a drift boat is really needed to fish effectively. It’s home to huge trout in the late season, that have already spent a good portion of the summer getting fat on salmon eggs. In 2007, I landed that elusive ‘ 30″ Rainbow’ on this stretch of river. This was a big pink salmon run year, and they were thick on the Middle, packing the trout in with them.
The biomass created by thousands of spawning salmon and they’re dead, decaying bodies is pretty amazing, and it draws in the big trout and char that we were after. We picked up a number of char during the float and smaller trout, then planted ourselves on a promising gravel bar for a shore lunch of fresh char and grilled sausages, served on our Orion 65.
After lunch, we continued working that gravel bar, switching patterns and keying in on what the trout really wanted. I waded down deeper and off the bar a bit, right into a main flow of eggs coming off of an eddy line. They were so thick, they were easy to see rolling along the river bottom (you can see them in the video at the end of this story). As I let a cast drift and swing all the way through, a sudden stop and big boil let me know a hefty trout was on the line. Bingo. A few screaming runs and jumps later, and our guide Mark had a hefty Kenai trout in his net.
After fish like that, the rest of the day was just icing on the cake. By evening we were back at the lodge, settling down for an incredible lamb shank dinner, and making plans for Day 2.
For Day 2 we decided to go a fly out for silver salmon. Float planes are a common mode of travel in Alaska, a unique experience in an of themselves, and one I highly recommend given an opportunity.
In typical Alaskan soggy, rainy weather, we set out seeking silvers, my favorite salmon species on a fly rod. The run was just starting for silvers, but there were sockeye salmon ending their spawn, and where there’s sockeye, there’s brown bears. Fishing with bears is part of fishing in Alaska, and a rewarding one. You are fishing in their refrigerator, get used to it. Be aware of your surrounding and show them respect, and you’ll get along just fine. They are incredible creatures, and memorable fishing companions.
Day 3, our last day, was set aside for some ‘power trouting’ on the Lower Kenai with ‘The Specialist’ guide, D-Money. The Lower has a different feel than the Upper or Middle Kenai, with more homes along the banks in some places, but very high trout numbers. One of the best ways to fish for them is to ‘power’ up the river, and drift beads back down below the salmon spawning beds. It’s fun, and a very effective way of getting a large number of large trout to the net.
Evening was spent around the campfire back at the lodge, telling fish stories, bear stories, and lost GoPro stories (or I’d have more photos from Day 3).
That’s a quick taste of the fly fishing opportunities in Alaska, and just some of what Tower Rock Lodge has to offer. Check out their website for more info. Trout, salmon, char, bears, good food, good guides, good company – it doesn’t get much easier than that.
For a video of our stay, click here.