My Alaskan Fishing Trip
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Posted by Adam Cuthriell on

For anglers seeking a freshwater fishing trip Alaska is at the top of most anglers’ bucket list of fishing trips to check off. However, if one has started to research this it can be a bottomless rabbit hole of information, adds, guides, and lodges as freshwater fishing options are essentially never ending in the land of the midnight sun. One could literally spend many lifetimes here and never fish it all. This can be daunting for an angler trying to plan a trip. I have lived in Alaska. for a decade, guided the whole time, and have owned my outfit FishHound Expeditions for 8 years as of next summer and I still learn of new places to chase fish all the time! This factor is truly incredible as I suffer from the affliction "what's around the next bend" as many of us do! In addition to so many places and trip options such as wade, float, road accessed, fly in trips, or a lodge. Also, the methods in what and how we fish up here can vary greatly to how a lot of angler's fish in the lower 48. The best way to navigate these issues as well as maximizing the time, effort, and money of a trip to Alaska is to hire a local, experienced, qualified guide.

As far as road accessed fisheries such as the Alaska Parks Highway, Kenai Peninsula, Kodiak Island (road system), and parts of the south-east angling opportunities are abundant and accessed with relative ease. These systems provide lots of opportunities for trout, salmon, lake trout, char/dolly’s, pike, burbot, and grayling. Renting a vehicle or small RV is highly recommended as each of these fisheries have many different rivers and lakes that can be fished within a couple/few hours drive of each other. In these areas there are several important reasons for hiring a guide for at least a trip or 2 before going out on your own. A handful years ago I was out guiding and saw a group of fly fisherman 2 days in a row. They had good gear, good casts, and basically looked the part of competent fly anglers. As I was saying good bye to my clients after 2 days of great fishing, I mean great fishing! I saw the group walking out heading back to their vehicle and asked how they did thinking their experience would coincide with ours. Wrong! In 2 days of fishing the 2 guys had only touched a couple fish! Again, these guys looked and were competent fly fisherman. Being surprised I asked what they were fishing? They showed me their set ups which were suited to trout that ate bugs similar to what most fly fisherman use in areas like the Rocky Mountain west. These 2 anglers were here during the first big egg drop of the year. The Kings and Chums. The egg drop refers to when the aforementioned salmon are laying their eggs. When this happens the peruviol dinner bell is being rang! To imitate this “hatch” we fish beads pegged above a bare hook. The 2 anglers had never seen or heard of this method as it was not widely circulated in the lower 48 in “bug” fisheries at that time. I happened to have an availability for the 2 anglers the next day. I showed them how to rig the "bead" set up as well as reading water for where salmon are the food source and not aquatic insects. As mentioned, these guys could fish and once they had the right food source and the understanding of where trout hold in these situations, we absolutely crushed big bows, dolly’s, and grayling! I also explained the differences of bead selection and how during this time it’s the Alaskan version of matching the hatch. I also told them a couple spots on another river that they should fish before heading back to the lower 48. About a week later I received an email from one of the guys and in it was not only appreciation of guiding them and teaching them our different methods but a picture of a beautiful 27 inch leopard bow that he had caught at the area I told him to check out! In the email he stated that that never would have happened if he hadn’t hired a guide for day and learned a new method of fly fishing. Not to sound cliché or corny but these moments in guiding and this lifestyle are a large part of why I've been a guide for 20 years. This particular example of hiring a guide occurred on the Alaska Parks Highway River Systems.

The Kenai Peninsula is an incredible road accessed fishery and is home to incredible salmon runs and some of the largest rainbows in the state. It is a system that has a variety of access and means to fish it. The upper stretch of the Kenai River known as the Upper Kenai has areas where a bank fisherman can drive and fish. One of these examples is the Russian River. This is also an area where “combat fishing” was coined, great Sockeye Salmon runs can be found here as well as a lot of other fisherman. In order to "get away" from this one needs a boat and the ability to operate one. If this is in your wheelhouse there are places to rent drift boats in the area. If not, another reason to hire a guide and be properly taught "lining" or "flossing" to get your limit of Sockeye. That could be a whole other article in itself! The other sections of the Kenai River are known as the Middle Kenai and the Lower Kenai. For time's sake as well as the focus being trout and salmon fishing we will just address the "middle" section. The middle is home to some of the largest trout in the state and the best way to access them with is what we locals refer to as a “sled” aka a power boat to most of the lower 48. To operate these boats safely guides have to have the appropriate licensing through the Coast Guard. Having a good guide safely operate these craft and get you in the right spot will maximize your time here and away from the shoulder to shoulder action that occurs elsewhere in this river system. Just to be clear even when hiring a guide and a power boat you will have competition from other guides and anglers on the Kenai. If you have dreams of crystal clear water, fish where you can walk across their backs, and no crowds you should definitely consider hiring a guide for a fly out trip…

Fly out trips in my opinion are the quintessential essence of Alaska. Doing a remote fly out trip whether it be to a lodge, a single day fly out, helicopter fly-out or a multi-day float fishing trip is what most anglers think of when dreaming of Alaska. Don’t get me wrong the road accessed fisheries across the state are incredible but it becomes a whole new ball game when one utilizes a plane or a helicopter. Unlike most of the lower 48 where one can hike, backpack, or utilize old mining/logging roads to get away from other anglers trying to do so here in Alaska is a little tougher. Our forests are dense, I mean really dense! Bush whacking would put it very mildly. Now, there are a few hidden gems that guides and locals are aware of, again a benefit to hiring a guide but most of our rivers are only accessible by air. There are many choices and options for anglers wanting to do this based on what one’s bank account can bare. From blue collar to owning a yacht there are fly out options for almost all incomes. Visitors considering this need to first determine what they’re trying to get out of their trip up here. Are you trying to fill a freezer with wild delicious salmon? Catch a 30-inch Trophy Rainbow? Catch a multitude of species? Or an experience of solitude accompanied only by Alaska and your friends and family? Once an angler decides these questions a local guide can get you paired up for the right type of fly out trip.

Alaska is home to many different species of freshwater fish but some are more coveted and popular than others. For salmon the top species are Kings (Chinook) for their size and power, Reds (Sockeye) for numbers and tastiness, and Silvers (Coho) for their savageness. Catching a King Salmon whether it be done on conventional tackle or a fly is something special and you should do it now! Wild King Salmon runs across the state have been declining for a number of reasons and because of this many wild runs have switched to catch and release only. I completely support this; I want my 17 month old daughter to one day feel the power of these remarkable fish. Sockeye are still prolific and fill many freezers across my state. This specific salmon employs many a fishing guide here. Silvers are also still prolific and my favorite salmon to fish for as they are generally extremely aggressive! Whether you’re throwing conventional tackle or a fly their strike is sheer anger! Because these species are so popular one needs to plan ahead to secure a guided trip or even plan well ahead if you’re trying to do a DIY trip. I do feel compelled to mention the other 2 generally less desired species from a guide’s perspective. Dog (Chum) are big, aggressive, and plentiful. Catching these beasts when they first arrive is something we all look forward to each season. And lastly the Pinks…if you are coming up with kids this is the time of year to be here as their sheer numbers can choke our river systems and turn fishing into catching! Providing lots of action and engagement for future anglers.

Our resident species such as Rainbow Trout, Arctic Grayling, Arctic Char & Dolly Varden are also the dreams of many fishers. I have countless clients that could care less about salmon and only want to focus on these species as they thrive in our cold-water river systems. Fishing for these species is generally good all season long and beyond great at others. From mid-June on is prime time till temps start to get cold at the end of September/first part of October. In our rivers systems these fish are all native and truly wild for these are their home waters. Wild native fish in Alaska are in a league of their own, especially our bows'. It always puts a smile on my face when I have a client who has experience fishing and ties into what we consider a smaller fish, around 16 inches with 10-15 pound line and a stout rod and then continue to get their but kicked by the fish! I calmly look at them and say "wait till you see what the big ones do…" Que up watching their jaw hit the water.

Harvesting salmon to take back home is slightly more complicated than just throwing them in a cooler and driving back home as getting here usually involves a plane flight or 2. It still can be done pretty easily though with the proper preparedness. Some outfitters/guide services include this in their trip fee. And you should ask this question to your potential guide if harvesting is a main goal. If they don’t offer this don’t worry, you have a couple options. There are air line approved fish boxes made just for this and they can be easily purchased throughout Alaska. One can purchase these boxes and then check it as a one of your checked bags. Putting the fish frozen and on dry ice will help get them back in good condition. A second option is taking your fish to one of the many fish and game processors that are here in Alaska. These processors can smoke, can, or freeze your salmon and ship it to you. A 3rd option is to just practice catch and release principles or just eat the salmon you can while you are here and let the rest go to produce more fish for future generations.

When Choosing a Guide - Important Questions to Ask Before Booking a Trip

  • What’s included in the price? Such as gear, drinks, lunch? Parking/shuttle fees? Some guides include some or all of these while others don’t. Knowing these facts well before the trip is super important.
  • What should you the client bring? Sunglasses and a rain jacket are a must here as is a fishing license and the appropriate one such as adding a King stamp if necessary.
  • Cancelation/rescheduling policy? This is a crazy world and things can change quickly. Knowing where your outfitter stands as far as a partial refund or rolling over trips to another season is paramount these days.

Questions like these and any other you may have should really be answered in person over the phone then followed up by an email. Talking directly to the outfitter will give you an idea of the person you’re choosing. If an outfitter doesn’t call you back in a reasonable amount of time you may want to look elsewhere. Proper and timely communication even if its an automatic generated email stating they’re out of town or leaving you a voicemail and they will reach back out to you later ensures your choosing an established outfit. Let’s face it we all have lives outside and things happen but outfitting IS a business and should be treated with such regard.

We are all sadly aware of the new world in which has been created and we all need to adapt to this while trying to live our lives. And with regard to fishing in Alaska it is different than it was a few years ago. With travel to Canada being limited and international travel also being impacted Alaska has become even more of a desirable travel destination. I know many outfitters and other business owners in the field of tourism and every single one was booked far beyond any year prior. Many of us added boats, guides, and gear to expand for the increased demand but still could not keep up with the demand of last-minute bookings. Yes, some visitors got lucky with last minute trips but many, many more got told there was no availability. Alaska has always been a huge destination but the demand last season and next season is far beyond years prior not just for fishing and guides but for everything. Rental cars, flights, lodging, restaurants everything is way more limited and desired than it was pre-Covid. So, if you are thinking about it, think quickly and lock in your trip before it’s gone your future self will thank your present self!

Guided Fishing Day & Overnight Trips with FishHound Expeditions

Float Fishing Trip with FishHound Expeditions
Float Fishing Trip with FishHound Expeditions

FishHound Expeditions is a guide owned and guide operated family business. We call Alaska home year-round and are constantly seeking out new trips and locations for ourselves and our guests. While always improving our current trip offerings. We are brutally honest and transparent when it comes to fishing and if we’re not the right fit for the experience you’re looking for I do my best to point you in the right direction. We offer a variety of trips for almost every angler visiting Alaska. Whether you’re looking for a half day road accessed trip, a single day float, single and multi-day fly out trips, remote multi-day wilderness float trips, even a lodge trip for chasing steelhead in Kodiak…FishHound has the experience, equipment, and guides to get you into the best fishing Alaska has to offer. We provide almost everything at no additional charge, we strive to make your trip to Alaska as seamless and easy as possible.

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About the Author: Adam Cuthriell

Owner of FishHound Expeditions. His wife Kathryn Cuthriell helps him out at FishHound Expeditions as well as their dogs Hatch, Rado, and Pike. They fish, live, and guide in Alaska year-round. When not guiding on the rivers they guide ice fishing on Alaska's numerous lakes. Originally from Colorado, he began guiding at the age of 19 while receiving a degree in Outdoor Recreation Leadership. Adam is also a current state of Alaska EMT.

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