This post will hopefully allow someone to take that dream trip to Alaska in hopes of catching that monster Rainbow Trout or a huge King Salmon. I took a week long trip to Alaska in June, 2005 on a limited budget and had the time of my life. My dad and I have many priceless memories from the trip and would do it all again tomorrow if given the chance.
After arriving in Anchorage we headed south towards the Alaska TroutFitters located in Cooper Landing, where we had booked a fishing trip weeks earlier. On our way to Coopers Landing we stopped at the Sportsman’s Warehouse to see what the local fisherman had to say about the current fishing conditions (Checked the board). Stopping at the Sportsman's Warehouse is a great way to find all the hotspots and action for the local area. You might as well pick up any tackle that you just can't find at home and also pick up a fishing license and any specialty stamps (i.e. King Stamp) if needed.
On the way south to Cooper Landing we stopped in Portage to view a giant glacier on the side of a mountain. The view was awesome! Around the area there were a couple of small ponds and we stopped just long enough to make a few casts where we caught a few small Rainbow Trout on mep spinners. A good note here is to mention that using treble hooks or barbed hooks is not a good idea in Alaska. Most waters do not permit trebles and barbs so take my advice and either buy tackle that doesn't have them or cut them off with a pair of pliers.
After giving up on the ponds in Portage we continued on toward Coopers Landing and the Kenei River. The drive south was amazing with snow tipped mountains and clear blue skies. Just before arriving in Coopers Landing, we came across Quartz Creek where a man and his son had just finished fishing. We stopped and talked to them about their trip and they told us about catching four Dolly Varden and a few Rainbows. We took note and decided to try our luck later in the week since it was already about 11:00 pm. Maybe a mile down the road was Coopers Landing and the TroutFitters Lodge. We were both exhausted from our journey and the fact that we had been up for about 20+ hours. We went to bed anxiously awaiting the next day and our chance to catch a trophy rainbow and some Sockeye (Red) Salmon.
We awoke at 5:00 am and got some biscuits and gravy for breakfast. We then met up with a fellow named Greg from California who was also waiting for the same trip with the TroutFitters. Our guide Billy Colliette arrived right on time and we headed out toward the Kenei River at 6:00 am. The four of us headed out in a drift boat on the beautiful aqua water of the Kenei. We traveled a very short distance down stream where Billy took us to the river bank and showed us how to snag us a Red. Dad had the first shot at a Red but barely got a feel of the fish before the hook came out. My turn came next as I set the hook nice Red. I had never experienced anything like it. After setting the hook it was as if an explosion went off as the fish ripped down stream tearing line off my fly reel. The fish took a few leaps out of the water before becoming tired and getting netted by Billy. I caught 3 more Reds within the next 2 hours with the biggest being about 6 pounds. Dad then hooked up with the biggest of all the Reds caught that day and had a fight of a lifetime. His fish tore off more line than all of my fish combined and put on a show in the maybe 2 feet of water near the bank.
The excitement of the Reds was over about as fast as it started and we headed down stream to try our luck at some trophy Rainbows. While Billy was teaching us how we should approach the Bows, I hooked up with the biggest Rainbow of my life. The fish probably weighed 6 pounds and was about 20 inches in length and fatter than any trout I had ever seen. We went to the river bank to release the fish and get a picture. While holding the fish for a picture, he came to life and slipped from my grip before I could have any evidence of my trophy catch. After getting in the boat my stomach felt sick due to not getting my picture and knowing that I probably wouldn’t ever catch another trout like that again in my life.
Dad then hooked up with a few Bow’s but they were not very large in size. Greg landed a couple of Bow’s too but still nothing to write home about. While Billy was pointing out a good hole to Dad and Greg I received a strike and set the hook on what felt like a log. Line immediately started ripping off my fly reel. After what seemed like a lifetime the fish surfaced and I thought I possibly had another Red. To my amazement, and everyone else in the boat, it was a gigantic Rainbow that was double the size of my first catch. I hung on while the fish ran up and down stream and circles around the boat. Billy pulled the boat to the river bank in order to get him in the net. Luckily the fish tired out and I successfully landed a 28 inch rainbow that was estimated to be about 10 pounds. I was amazed at how excited Billy was over the fish. I thought that with him being a guide he might see more fish of this caliber but the expression on his face made me even more excited. I did get my picture with the hog this time and the fish was successfully returned to the water for another lucky fisherman to enjoy.
After catching my trophy we went farther down stream and stopped at a shoal where Dad hooked up with three Dolly Varden averaging 16 inches in length. The Dollies were beautiful in color with pinkish purple spots down the side and light gray everywhere else. Just before taking the boat out of the water I hooked up with another fat Rainbow from the bank. The fish ripped line off and doubled over the 9 foot fly rod. After following the fish down stream for about 20 yards Billy netted the 20 inch Bow and I got another great picture. Dad hooked up with another fish at this point that went 13 inches. We then took our Reds and had them cleaned by Billy.
We then went back to our room and got about two hours of rest before heading back to the Kenei to try our luck on the Reds. There's really nothing to catching the Reds but its a good idea to take a guided trip just to get accustomed to it. We took the Russian River Ferry across the Kenei and walked down stream about 200 yards. The fish were very slow but luckily I hooked up with another Red. I fought the fish for about 15 seconds before my hook straitened. I guess I should have bought the hooks that Billy recommended instead of trying to save some money.
We left Coopers Landing around noon and headed north on our way to Denali. On the way we stopped to see some wildlife at an animal refuge. There we saw several Elk, Moose, Muskoxen, and Bear. We hated that the animals were not wild but we had to see some wildlife because we had not so far. After leaving the refuge we went into Anchorage and met up with Travis Hanualla at a golf course named Moose Crossing. There we played eighteen holes of the toughest golf I’ve ever attempted. Dad and Travis tied with a 101, and I shot a 104. The golf course was nicer than I had imagined given that it is in Alaska and all.
After leaving the golf course we continued on our way to Denali, which was a four hour drive away. Shortly outside of Denali the terrain changed drastically as the mountainous views diminished and thick forests and wetlands appeared. Along the way we spotted several nice looking lakes, ponds, rivers, and creeks. When we approached Denali, the terrain changed once more as the flat lands turned into rolling hills and mountains in the distance. Mount McKinley was not visible due to a heavy haze but the mountains in the foreground were. All of the mountains were snow capped and rocky.
Just before reaching Denali we spotted a nice lake on our left and pulled off the side of the road to catch some fish. While walking toward the lake we saw ripples all over the surface of the water. The Rainbows were feeding and breaking the surface of the water rapidly. Dad and I had caught three fish in four casts between the two of us, when a woman appeared. I approached her and asked if it was ok for us to be fishing and she informed us that we would need to talk to a man named Curt the next day to get full permission.
Once we arrived in Denali it was around midnight and we decided to sleep on the side of the road in our rented Kia Sorento. The nights sleep was rough since we were both sleeping in the front two seats because of the rest of the vehicle being taken up by luggage. It got pretty cold around 4:00 am and I noticed that outside a dense fog had set in.
When we awoke, all of the mountains we had seen before falling asleep were no longer visible. We later learned that there was a fire in Fairbanks which caused the mountainous area to become smoky and invisible to our eyes. This was disappointing because the main attraction in Denali is Mount McKinley with peaks reaching over 20,000 feet. We then visited a few gift shops and decided to make our way back toward Anchorage and fish at the places we spotted along the way.
On our way south we stopped and talked to Curt who gave us permission to fish in the lake from the night before. We had to use single barb-less hooks in order to not wound the fish. The first fish landed was about 19 inches in length and gave a great fight. The fish tore off nearly all the line on my real and leaped out of the water several times. Dad then hooked up with a giant Grayling which was about 17 inches. The Grayling jumped much more than the Rainbows and put on a nice show. We caught probably 10 fish between the two of us in less than an hour and all of the fish were trophies. After leaving we stopped at several more lakes where we both caught large numbers of smaller Bows and Grays.
We then stopped at a campground and cooked up one of the Red fillets. The fish was delicious and drew in what seemed to be thousands of mosquitoes. With our bellies full we continued south toward Anchorage. When we got near Anchorage we decided to veer east toward Chickaloon. The drive east took us back into the mountains and along side a gray silt filled river. We reached Chickaloon around 10:00 pm and stopped at Bonnie Lake to try our luck at some more Bows. The lake setting was beautiful being surrounded by mountains and no one in site. We didn’t have any luck at Bonnie Lake and decided to head over to a camp ground to set up our tent next to the river. At the camp site there were mountains all around us where we had to look straight up to see the peaks. The nights sleep wasn’t the most comfortable but the sound of the rushing river was very relaxing.
We awoke around 7:00 am with a chill in the air and fairly heavy fog. After packing up, we continued east toward Glenallen. After a short drive we came across Matanooska Glacier. The glacier was huge and beautiful being wedged between two giant mountains and melting fast creating the river we had camped next to the night before. While there we took several pictures and then headed west back toward Anchorage.
While driving west we stopped at Long Lake. The water was crystal clear and absolutely gorgeous. My first 3 casts resulted in fish. Dad also had luck landing 4 fish in just minutes. After about half an hour of fun the fish became aware of our presence and quit striking. We then continued on to Fish Lake where we borrowed a john boat and a couple of snow shovels to use as ores. We paddled out in the lake a short distance, set anchor, and hooked up with seven beautifully colored Bows. We had the lake to ourselves but only fished for maybe an hour.
After getting back to the car we headed back into Anchorage where we had lunch at KFC, filled up with gas and went back over to the Sportman’s Warehouse to talk to the pros about doing some King fishing and check out the board once more. We talked to some of the staff and they pointed us back north toward Talkeetna to increase our chances of catching a King (The Alaskan Dream). We called some of the guides they recommended and booked a trip with the Tri-River Charters for the next morning.
We then left Anchorage and drove north for two hours into Talkeetna. We made our arrival around 9:00 pm and were informed that our guided trip would start at 4:45 am. We booked a room at the Swiss Alaska Inn and sat out on the porch, drank a few beers and just relaxed until about Midnight. We then headed off to bed and in what seemed like a blink it was 4:00 am and we had to head to the docks for our trip.
We were right on time for our King trip and shipped out in an inboard boat on Talkeetna River with 2 fisherwomen and 2 fishermen. The women were on a mother daughter trip and they had never done any King fishing either. The two men were local to Alaska and had made this trip in the past. We arrived to our so called hot spot at 5:15 am and pulled to boat to shore. The fishing couldn’t start until 6:00 am so we took the time to socialize with the others on board. Our guides name was Todd who had been living in Alaska for about 8 years. He visited Alaska for vacation in 97 with his girlfriend and still has the return ticket that he never used.
The fishing began promptly at 6:00 and after about half an hour of fishing one of the two locals hooked up with a 15 pound King. He kept the fish and his day of fun was over. His buddy hooked up next about 20 minutes later and his fish was also about 15 pounds. Dad then hooked up and struggled for a brief period before the hook came dislodged. Dad looked disgusted and I felt a little sick myself since we did not know if he would have another chance. After about another hour I got my first bite and I set the hook on what felt like a rock. My pole then doubled over and line started tearing off the heavy duty spinning real. It wasn’t long before my grip started to weaken and I felt like I would lose grip of my pole at any second. I got the fish close to shore two times but with each attempt the fish tore away out into the current. Each time the fish took off it pulled me a few steps with her. I finally got the fish in the net after about a 5 minute fight. My fish weighed 28 pounds and was by far the largest and toughest fish I had ever caught. I then teased Dad since he had his chance but didn’t get her in. Another 10 minutes went by and Dad hooked up again and this time he felt the fish for about a minute before the fish rolled the surface of the water and the hook came out again. The sick feeling in my stomach was twice as bad as before and I know it had to be even worse for him. Then about a half an hour later Dad set his hook and fought a fish that he claimed to be as strong as he was. The fish never broke the surface of the water and made three long runs pulling off about 20 feet of line at a time. Dad’s fight lasted about 7 minutes and Todd netted the fish while Dad and I screamed out in joy. His fish weighed 25 pounds so I still had bragging rights.
Next the mother from the 2 fisherwoman hooked up and the fish pulled her onto her behind and pulled her forward about three feet. She got too much slack in her line and the fish came off. It was quite a site and very funny too. We got her dried off and she was a trooper and continued fishing. Then a young girl from another guiding service hooked up and I helped her land the fish. The girls name was Angela and she had never been fishing before even though she lived in Alaska. Her fish weighed 30.5 pounds and I think she’ll start fishing now. About half an hour later the two women hooked up at the same time. It was the first double of the day but the mother’s fish came off. The daughter fought the fish well with the assistance of Todd. Her fish weighed 23.5 pounds so Dad and I had the largest fish in the boat and man were we proud.
Another hour went by and the mother finally hooked up once more. Dad and I didn’t witness the hook up but made our way over to her just about the time the fish was landed. From what we heard, landing the fish was a team effort and her fish was by far the largest. Weighing the fish revealed that she weighed 48 pounds and was a monster for the river we were fishing in. Todd was extremely pleased and showed the fish off to everyone on the riverbank as we headed back to the docks.
After leaving Talkeetna dad and I headed back to Coopers landing and talked about our magnificent fishing trip nearly the entire way. We reached Coopers Landing around 8:00 pm and saw all of the TroutFitters Guides outside talking about their fishing trips and having a few drinks. I talked with Billy about how to prepare our last salmon fillet and he insisted on cooking us a meal. We gave him our fish meat and he cooked up a delicious meal. The fish was a little spicy but not too much at all. This had to of been the best tasting fish I had ever put in my mouth. After stuffing our bellies we went over to Hamilton’s Bar and Grill with the TroutFitters crew. Billy bought me a drink and I repaid him the favor. It was a great getting to socialize with the guides while they were off the clock. We learned a lot about their style of life and I became jealous of their living situation. Around midnight we headed back to our room and got some shuteye before our fly-fishing trip the next day.
After waking up feeling like a train wreck, we met up with Cameron (Cam) at the TroutFitters shop. We followed Cam over to the Russian River campground and hiked down hill to the water. While Cam was showing us how to approach the fish he hooked up with a fish and let me reel it in. It was a little guy about 11 inches in length. Then he let me take over and after about four casts I received a monstrous strike with a nice 20 inch Bow nearly coming completely out of the water after my fly. The fight was awesome with the fish battling downstream and ripping off tons of fly line. I worked the fish over to the riverbank and Cam netted the fish as rain started pouring down heavily. After drying off my fly and making a few more casts, I hooked up with another Bow but this one was only about 10 inches long. Dad then had his turn as he snagged a 14 inch Bow. When he set the hook, the fish jumped and landed right next to his feet. The fight was short lived and after releasing the fish we started working our way up stream.
While walking up stream, we spotted several Reds working their way up to spawn. The Reds color had changed dramatically from what we saw in the Kenei. Their heads had started turning green and their bodies were turning more of a bright red tint. We also saw a few nice rainbows lurking in some deep holes but were unable to fish the area due to some Sockeye fishermen. The rain started to ease off as we worked our way up stream. Once we found another place with less traffic, Dad and I had several strikes but failed to set the hook.
I then found a nice looking hole and made about 15 casts before another nice trout killed my fly. I fought the fish for about 30 seconds before he took off down stream in a rapid section of water which pulled the hook from his lip. Dad then received a strike and set the hook nicely on another small Bow. As we started fishing our way downstream, the fishing slowed down and the strikes were few and far between. The rain started to fall again as I found another eddy that looked like it should hold a nice fish. By this time I had started to get the rhythm needed to cast out 20 plus feet of line. I dropped my fly in dead center of the eddy and another nice Bow came to the surface but missed the fly. Cam changed my fly thinking the fish might have just lost interest in the fly as it came to the surface. This approach worked because two casts later the fish made an aggressive strike this time. I set the hook and she immediately made a leap up and over the large rock that created the eddy I was fishing. After a nice fight Cam netted the fish and we released her after taking a few nice pictures. As our time with Cam ran out, Dad hooked up with another small Bow that didn’t give a fight at all. Dad released the fish and we made our way back to the car.
The Russian river was a beautiful river being surrounded with large mountains and plush greenery. Cam did all he could to put us on fish but being uneducated on fly fishing caused us to miss more fish than we caught. However, it was very relaxing and fun and the feel of a trout on a fly pole turned me on to fly fishing like never before. The sound of the line hissing through the air is one of a kind and definitely makes you feel one with nature. Dry flying was also an experience since you get to see the fish break the surface of the water after your fly and your reflexes have to be good in order to get a good hook set.
After taking a break at our room, we decided to head down to Seward. We went to the Sea Life Center and learned more about the native Alaskan lifestyle. There were also aquariums filled with interesting species of fish, birds, and mammals from the Berring Sea. When we left the Sea Life Center we went through a few more shops, and sat down for dinner at Christinos. We both had halibut as our meal. Dad chose to have his baked and I tried a beer battered and fried version. After gorging ourselves, we had a rough time deciding which was better, halibut or salmon. We then drove along the harbor and took a few pictures in front of some cruise ships. The mountains in Seward were huge; snow capped, and dropped off into the ocean.
We then made our way back to Coopers Landing and had to pack our bags up for the trip home. Packing was a chore since we had fish to take back with us but we managed to make it all fit. Falling asleep was sad since it would be our last night in Alaska.
We loaded up the Kia and drove north taking our time to absorb the beautiful scenery along the Turnagan Arm on our path back toward Anchorage. Along the way we spotted 3 more bald eagles and pulled of the side of the road to make a few more pictures. Just before entering Anchorage, at Potters Marsh, Dad spotted a moose so we pulled over to take advantage of what would be the one and only chance to spot some natural wildlife. When we reached Anchorage we met up with Travis once again and said our farewells. We then headed to the airport to return our vehicle and when we arrived we both looked at each other sorrowfully and wishing we had longer to stay.
The trip was an experience of a lifetime. We caught five different species of fish including Rainbow Trout, Grayling, Sockeye Salmon, King Salmon, and Dolly Varden. If we ever get a chance to do this again I know we will. The beauty of Alaska is breathtaking with incredible mountains, gorgeous waters, great summer weather, and fantastic fishing. What better place for a father and son to create memories of a lifetime.