Why Cooper Landing, Alaska
Approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes south of Anchorage on the Sterling Highway, you will look to your left and be stunned to find the most amazingly brilliant blue-green lake you've ever seen in your life. This is how you know you have arrived in Cooper Landing, a small mountain town of about 300 permanent residents on the Kenai Peninsula.
An extremely popular vacation, fishing and recreation destination, the Kenai Peninsula offers something for everyone. Visitors can enjoy ocean fishing, sightseeing expeditions, glacier tours and whale-watching within the Peninsula's many historic towns such as Hope, Seward, Kenai, Kasilof, Homer, Sterling, Soldotna, Anchor Point, Whittier and Girdwood. Cooper Landing is central to all of these, which makes it the perfect "home base" for your Alaskan adventure.
The Kenai Peninsula - Don't Overlook Cooper Landing
While often seen as a waypoint on the drive to some of the aforementioned locations further south on the Peninsula, Cooper Landing has more than meets the eye and a charm that will draw you in almost immediately. If you ask most people how they ended up living or doing business in Cooper Landing, AK, you'd probably get a lot of similar answers: chasing wild rainbow trout and salmon, the serene mountain setting and the close-knit community. For Ryan Szescila, the owner of two riverside vacation rental properties in town (The River House and The Bear Den), it was work that brought him here in the 90s. "I passed through Cooper Landing enroute to Homer and made a U-turn shortly after Jim's Landing just to be sure this was where I was going to retire." Brad Kirr, owner of Alaska Kenai Fishing For Fun, who ended up here chasing rainbow trout, says he loves Cooper Landing because, "It's nestled cozy in the Chugach mountains with the most breathtaking river flowing through the valley. Just spectacular!"
I personally happened to find my way to Cooper Landing through fishing and eventually guiding. I arrived in Cooper Landing for an impromptu fishing trip with my brother 3 years ago, and I knew I had found the place I wanted to call home. I've spent the past 2 seasons guiding on the Kenai Peninsula and have been working as a carpenter during the winter months.
2017 will be the first season for my new venture: Cooper Landing Fishing Guide, LLC, and I couldn't picture a more perfect location to share great experiences with visitors. For someone who didn't grow up in Alaska, I had this romantic picture in my head of what Alaska would be like. Alaska has far-exceeded my expectations, and honestly, Cooper Landing is situated perfectly for those looking to visit and sample a variety of experiences for which Alaska is world-famous.
You'll be hard-pressed to find a place as unique and conveniently located as Cooper Landing, with so much to see and do just a short walk or car ride away. World-class rainbow trout and salmon fishing on both the Kenai and Russian Rivers, an impressively beautiful mountain setting, a multitude of breathtaking hikes with amazing views, a robust wildlife population including bears, eagles and moose, plenty of vacation rentals, hotels and camping options, a local community of dedicated fishing guides and just about every modern amenity a person could need while vacationing here. For Kayce James, owner of Kenai Riverdog, a local raft guiding service, her advice to visitors is to "hike a local trail up a mountain, or at least hike to a good vantage point of the lake and river, to take it all in. The community is very supportive, friendly and the scenery is hard to beat! Most days I feel like I lucked out getting paid to have so much fun with my groups on the river."
Plenty of Activites to Choose From
With it's proximity to the Kenai and Russian Rivers, fishing is a big part of the Cooper Landing experience for many visitors, but if fishing isn't your cup of tea, or you're looking to round-out your trip, horseback riding with Alaska Horsemen Trail Adventures, mountain biking, kayaking with the girls at Kenai Kayak Co., scenic rafting with Kenai Riverdog, sight-seeing within the Chugach National Forest or Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and hiking the Russian River Falls are all great options.
When you're looking to unwind after a full day of chasing fish or exploring the backcountry, several restaurants with great food and live music are usually hopping. Most notably, the Kingfisher Roadhouse, The Sunrise Inn, Gwin's Lodge, The Princess Lodge and Sackett's Kenai Grill all tout exceptional food, wine and beer selections and live music.
Where to Stay in Cooper Landing?
The best part of the Cooper Landing experience for vacationers is that there are so many different ways to stay and play here. Whether you enjoy roughing it in a tent or are looking for a 5-star resort or something in between, the only limit to your imagination is how fast things book around here. Some vacation rentals are completely booked by late January and last-minute attempts to reserve are not recommended.
As far as accommodations go, several campgrounds in the area are available, including Quartz Creek, Crescent Creek, Cooper Creek, The Russian River and Sportsman's Landing (Russian River Ferry Crossing). If you're looking for something rustic, but not as primitive as camping, a multitude of cabin rentals are available as well. Gwin's Lodge, Alaska Troutfitters, Eagle Landing, Riverhaven and Cooper Landing Fish Camp offer very affordable and comfortable cabin options. If you're looking for vacation homes, Riverhaven, Alaska Troutfitters, The River House and The Bear Den are all nicely situated and can host larger families and groups.
For your everyday needs (or if you forgot to pack some essentials), there's no doubt that either Wildman's or the Cooper Landing Grocery Store will have what you're looking for. Wildman's is a very well-known hot spot for vacationers, locals and those just passing through. Wildman's has everything from coffee, to hot food, to hot showers, to laundry service and pretty much everything but fuel and the kitchen sink.
But for most, fishing is key, and whether you're a hardcore angler or just coming to Alaska to vacation and casually fish, the fish you're likely to encounter in Cooper Landing are world-class. On any given cast, the fish of a lifetime could be on the other end of your line. Rainbow Trout and Dolly Varden are abundant in a customary catch-and-release fishery, huge runs of Sockeye Salmon are constantly migrating, King Salmon, though not targeted in this stretch of river, can be seen breaching the surface as they go through the rigors of their spawning ritual and silver salmon aggressively take swung or stripped flies in the fall.
Fly Fishing the Kenai & Russian Rivers
Both the Kenai and Russian Rivers are great places to try a variety of fly fishing techniques. Effective dry fly fishing and nymphing can be accomplished prior to the sockeye spawn which happens in late-August. Swinging flies with either a single hand rod or two-hander can be effective in the early summer and later in the fall. For truly adventurous fly anglers, some mousing, Czech nymphing and skating dry flies can be challenging, but add to the exciting possibilities of effective fish catching techniques. The most popular fly fishing technique on the Kenai involves dead drifting both egg patterns and flesh fly patterns as salmon eggs and flesh are present in the river systems in nearly 365 days a year.
For the do-it-yourself angler, several access points are available; however, finding spots to wade can be difficult depending on the depth and flow of the main Kenai River. If you're fishing for Sockeye Salmon, the most well-known access is the Russian River Ferry Crossing at Sportsman's Landing. Though you'll be fishing with dozens of other anglers, the Sockeye Salmon fishery is a "meat fishery" and very popular. The Russian River offers tremendous access, but can be very slippery, so be sure to wear cleats. Do remember that felt-soled wading boots are illegal in Alaska. The Russian is home to a large population of rainbow trout eager to take dry flies, swung flies and of course egg and flesh patterns.
The best advice I can give fishermen new to fishing in Alaska, is to pay very close attention to fishing regulations in the stretches of water you're looking to fish. Also, be on the lookout for regulations that can change daily through Emergency Orders. The best resource for up-to-date fishing information can be found on the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's website. Based on "escapement goals" fishing for salmon is heavily regulated, so knowing and understanding the daily limits and possession laws is critical.
For most first-time anglers/visitors I would recommend hiring a guide. Hiring a fishing guide in Cooper Landing has many benefits. If you are just looking for a casual fishing experience in Alaska, a guided trip will not only give you access to much of the river that is impossible to reach on foot, you also float through arguably the most scenic and pristine water on the entire Kenai River. Even advanced anglers will see many benefits to hiring a guide. Local knowledge is critical during tougher fishing conditions and during the "fringe" times when fish aren't as willing. Most advanced anglers enjoy the access and personalized care that guides offer. Even fishing with a guide on the Russian River has nothing but upside. As stated earlier, wading the Russian can be very tricky. Though access is easily obtained, navigating the river and fishing it effectively can be achieved with the help of an experienced guide.
I am confident that both first-time visitors and seasoned Alaska aficionados will find their perfect vacation here. There's no doubt I'm a bit partial to Cooper Landing and the Kenai Peninsula, but there is a reason why I've chosen it as my home and the location of my business. Once you have experienced Cooper Landing for yourself, you too will find that glacial blue-green water haunting your dreams until you make it back the next time.