By Kent Danjanovich
As I struggled to land my 20th silver of the afternoon, a boat full of fishermen slowly motored by on their way back to the floatplane pick-up. The guide said his hello’s to Ralph Crystal, one of the owners of the Gone Fishin’ Lodge and then his last sentence, directed at me, sounded something like this, “Hey Fly Guy, what in the hell are you using?” A little smile came across my face as I retrieved my fly from my last cast and held it in my open hand to give him a glimpse of the chartreuse and white weighted streamer that I had been killing the silvers on all afternoon. He shook his head and as he drifted away he mumbled, “That was quite an exhibition!”
Now I am not one to brag, but over the years I have learned a thing or two about fishing for salmon in Alaska and this particular day proved that to a tee. It was the first time that I had fished this piece of water while visiting the Gone Fishin’ Lodge and once I was able to find just the right fly and the zone that the fish were in, well let’s just say the fishing went from “OK” to “Fantastic”.
This little instance is just another one of a long line of stories that I could tell you from the many times I have fished with Ralph and Dick at the Gone Fishin’ Lodge on the banks of the world famous Kenai River in Soldotna, Alaska. The Kenai Peninsula is one of the few places in this vast wilderness that you can experience a different fishing adventure every day of the week and especially for the first time Alaska visitor. The awesome variety of fishing and sightseeing activities that you can experience will fill your mind with memories that will no doubt have you yearning for more and more and more of this great state.
For the past 17 years, Ralph Crystal and Dick Bowen have owned and operated the Gone Fishin’ Lodge and have managed to build a great reputation along the way. They met years ago on a trip to this very place in Alaska and as fate would have it, one thing led to another and they ended up partners in a business venture that would mature and expand as you see it today. Blood, sweat and a few tears have been part of their journey, but you will find that both of them are doing just what they were meant to be and loving every minute of it!
One of the unique things about their operation is that they have learned to go with the flow. You will find them always looking for new and exciting changes and innovations that will not only help them improve and succeed, but will make the overall experience of their customers the best it can be.
A quick look at their website will give you the first hint of what I mean by variety. There are 15 different package options available for your review, all including accommodations from Saturday to Saturday and either five or six days of fishing. You can even have them customize a package that includes a glacier and wildlife sightseeing tour to Whittier or to the Kenai Fjords National Park out of Seward to witness the massive glaciers and give yourself an opportunity to see whales, sea lions, porpoise, sea otters and an abundance of outstanding scenery. Even on many of their fishing excursions, you will have the opportunity to see and photograph moose, bald eagles, black and brown bears and many other sites that only Alaska can provide.
Knowing that most travelers have a limited window of opportunity each summer, Ralph and Dick can help to put together a trip encompassing just the adventures you’re looking for. If you are looking for the chance to catch a new world record king salmon on the Kenai River, June and July are the months for you. If you’re looking to hook into some red (sockeye) salmon then June, July and early to mid August would be your time frame. If you would like the opportunity of catching big numbers of silver (coho) salmon on both spin cast and fly rods, then July and August are definitely your months. If you would like the opportunity to catch all three species of salmon during your trip, then July is definitely your month! And don’t worry about trying to hit the halibut just right. June through the first of September is prime-time for hooking into a monster on either a trip to Cook Inlet or a multi-species trip to Seward or better yet, a trip to both during your stay!
Now get yourself ready for a fly-out trip to one of the Lodges’ special waters for sockeye or silver salmon, June through August. There is just something about the sight of a floatplane skimming across the water on its way to a remote destination in the outback of Alaska that makes my skin tingle. When you arrive at your destination, you will be able to use a variety of fishing techniques either from one of their boats or wading the banks of a glacier fed stream while not only fighting reel blazing salmon, but all the while taking in the unbelievable beauty of your surroundings. The Kenai Peninsula has magnificent alpine glaciers, wildflowers and wildlife in literally every direction. Need I say more?
Not far from the Gone Fishin’ Lodge, over in Seward, the lingcod season opens July 1st. Lingcod are prehistoric looking fish, but their white meat is excellent table fare. Lingcod hang out usually in depths of 30-140 feet of water and are taken on salmon rods using jigs. Silver salmon return to Resurrection Bay at Seward in early July through September, with limits of six silvers per person/per day. During this time, halibut fishing is alive and well in Seward also. With all the variety of fish available it gives them the opportunity to do combination trips of “Lingcod/Silver Salmon”, “Lingcod/Halibut” or “Halibut/Silver Salmon”. You will be fishing in the midst of pristine glaciers and picturesque scenery. Often you will see wildlife such as whales, porpoise, sea lions and puffins. Seward is truly one of the most beautiful places in Alaska!
Another must-do day trip will take you to the upper Kenai River in search of giant rainbow and Dolly Varden. The season opens each summer on June 11th and the months of June and July can offer some unbelievable action, but the month of August is when it really starts to heat up as thousands of salmon make their way into the system to spawn. As these fish head for their last efforts in this life by dropping and fertilizing millions of eggs for generations to come, the rainbows and dolly’s start to gorge themselves on the eggs, making an upper-river drift boat trip an absolute must during your stay.
Turquoise water flows out of glacier fed Kenai Lake and runs seventeen miles into Skilak Lake, the spawning grounds for hundreds of thousands of salmon each year, making this section of the river one of the best sections of water in the world for trout fishing! All fishing is guided and done out of a drift boat or by wading from sandbars. There are no power boats allowed on the upper Kenai River and the Kenai Canyon stretches. Gone Fishins’ guides specialize in light tackle fishing with fly rods or spinning gear for rainbow trout and Dolly Varden. This can be a very special trip for those that have not had the pleasure of experiencing the art of fly fishing and your guide will be more than happy to spend a little extra time introducing you to the sport. The strict enforcement of catch and release for trout has made the upper Kenai one of the most prolific trout fisheries in the world and drifting a bead under 12 feet of leader with a couple of split shot can produce fish after fish, with oversized football sized leopard rainbows lurking around almost every bend in the river.
As you can see, the Gone Fishin’ Lodge has a little something for everyone. Although it’s a great “Guys” opportunity to get out and play, many couples and families visit the lodge each year, making lasting memories that young and old will treasure for a lifetime. There is just something special about Alaska and all it has to offer travelers from all walks of life. The majesty and rugged beauty of Alaska is truly something to behold. If there was a standard bucket list of one thing to do during your lifetime, I would venture to say that I would just about guarantee that Alaska would be on it. So what are you waiting for? Whether you are an Alaskan regular or a “newbie” first timer, get off the couch and give Ralph and Dick a call today to book your adventure right now! It’s time to book your trip to the Gone Fishin’ Lodge and see just how great fishing can really be. Check them out under Platinum Outfitters or at their site at www.gonefishinlodge.com. Or give them a call at 877-462-5752. You will be glad you did!