By Mark Francis
There is only one place in Alaska (that I know of) where you can experience a totally different adventure every day of the week and that place is the Kenai Peninsula. Now I know that some will say that this is true of other areas of Alaska as well, but when it comes down to it, there really just isn’t another area where you can literally experience a different and even more importantly, unique experience quite like you can on the Peninsula. Your starting point will be Anchorage, but your destination is Soldotna.
Now believe me, there are plenty of choices when you start delving into lodges and guides along and around the Kenai River area. Many of them specialize in one area or another and many will be able to satisfy most would-be Alaska visitors. But if you are looking for a true adventure, one that will take you to as many as six different venues during your weeks stay, well why not book with the lodge that created the idea in the first place – The Gone Fishin’ Lodge.
When Ralph Crystal and Dick Bowen built the lodge on the banks of the Kenai River 20 years ago, their dream was to offer an Alaskan destination that would set them apart from the rest, one that would give visitors a chance to see as much of Alaska as possible in a weeks’ stay. And with the famous Kenai River as their marque, their customized packages soon became the symbol of the ultimate ‘variety’ experience available anywhere in Alaska.
A good starting point to find out a little bit more about their operation is on their website at www.gonefishinlodge.com. You will find that they have nearly twenty different packages available and even with all of those options, you can still customize just the trips that you are interested in as well. And yes, you fly fishermen and women are covered on many exciting trips also!
This past August I found myself and a couple of my fishing buddies joining up in Anchorage for our return visit to the Gone Fishin’ Lodge. This has become my favorite time of year because although the king salmon season has ended, all of the other species in both saltwater and freshwater are hitting on all cylinders and it also affords me the best opportunity to search for silvers, big rainbows and Dolly Varden with a fly rod during my stay.
Now, you can choose to catch a flight out of Anchorage to the town of Kenai if you prefer, but this is one of the few places that you can drive to in Alaska and I absolutely love the 2 ½ hour drive through some of the most beautiful surroundings that I have ever seen in all of my travels. Also, you will need to have a rental car to get you to your different venues every day anyway, so in the long run, when you are with a group, you will be money ahead renting your car in Anchorage and making the drive to the lodge.
All of the packages at the Gone Fishin’ Lodge start on Saturday and run to the next Saturday. Packages can be customized for shorter stays if desired, on space availability, but standard stay is seven nights lodging and either five or six days of fishing. My normal trip finds me arriving on Saturday evening, checking in to the lodge, grabbing a great meal at one of the nearby restaurants, checking in with Ralph or Dick for my first days’ adventure and then hitting my bed for a good nights’ sleep before my first adventure, early the next morning.
Our first morning found us pulling up to our floatplane/air taxi service at 6:30am, located just a short 10 minute drive from the lodge. By 6:45am our gear was loaded into our waiting floatplane and eight of us, along with Ralph and Dick as our guides, hopped into our seats for the scenic, 25 minute flight to the Kustatan River. Our target species would be silver salmon, with a few Dolly Varden thrown in for good measure.
The Kustatan River is very unique in many ways, but one of the most interesting parts of the trip is the landing. Yes, you will be in for one of the most unique landings you may ever encounter. When the river comes into view, your pilot will make a circle around the area, losing a little altitude, before making his final approach to a sliver of a piece of water, lined by thick Alaska growth on both sides and then gently touches down and glides into a small slough, with a line of awaiting skiffs. You then quickly exit the floatplane, grab you gear and load into your designated boat. Its then off to the main river to one of Ralph or Dick’s favorite spots for about six hours of non-stop action. Spincast outfits set up with a 2oz weight, about 18-inches of leader and a hook with a loop on it to hold a ball of roe were set up for each of us. It didn’t take long for the first tap, tap, tap of a rod to begin and a feisty silver soon could be seen flying through the air, the first of a many to come to the net. In all, over 30 silvers were landed by noon in our group. What a great way to start our week of adventures.
Our next morning would find us driving to the town of Anchor Point, about 55 miles southwest of the lodge for a halibut trip at Cook Inlet. Although the tides were a little tough and the seas a little rough, our captain came through for us in flying colors, as everyone on the boat was able to land a couple of great keepers, with the biggest of the day a beautiful 80 pounder. Stout rods and smooth reels made it easy to get our three pound weights and circle hooks with strips of cod and herring to the bottom and then again retrieve them after each hook-up. The six of us were able to take home over 30 pounds of halibut apiece for the day, nearly filling each of our boxes back at the lodge with our salmon filets from the day before.
Tuesday morning found us again headed from the lodge early, on our way to the middle Kenai River. As usual, we found our guide patiently waiting for us at the boat ramp and in a matter of minutes, we found ourselves cruising up river to one of his favorite hot spots. On this day, we would abandon the usual back-trolling techniques and instead, used spincast outfits while casting size-15 Quickfish with a piece of sardine wrapped around its belly. Our first two stops resulted in a half a dozen hook-ups, but only one shiny silver in the fish box. Since our trip on this day was a Kenai Combo (silver salmon/rainbow trout/Dolly Varden), we decided to head up to “Rainbow Alley” to try for a few more salmon before switching over for an afternoon of big rainbows and dollys.
The next hour produced five more silvers in the box, as well as a couple of nice, shiny, sockeye (red) salmon. Next, we were each handed a lightweight spinning outfit, set up with a slinky weight, about 18-inches of leader and then to a hook holding a piece of cooked shrimp. The technique used here would find our guide holding the boat sideways in the current with the motor, as each of us cast our lines up river and then let them start to bounce along the bottom, as we slowly drifted down river. Nearly two dozen trout were landed by the three of us during the next three hours, with the biggest about 24 inches and weighing nearly six pounds. Salmon, rainbows and dollys, what more can you ask for!
Day four had us headed over to Seward for a multiple species trip, which gave us the opportunity to fish for halibut, lingcod, silver salmon, yelloweye and assorted rockfish. This is billed as a long range fishing trip in the Gulf of Alaska. On this day, all of the above would be found in our box at the end of the day, with a limit of black sea bass thrown in for good measure. The weather was good, giving us the opportunity to move from area to area on fairly calm waters, making it possible to fish for all of the species in one trip. If you have not had the chance to fish the waters of Resurrection Bay in the beautiful port of Seward, you are really missing out. Not only is the fishing superb, but the wildlife sightings can be just as exciting, as whales, puffins, sea otters and even mountain goats are sighted on just about every trip.
Thursday morning again found us headed to our floatplane/air taxi service and a trip to Big River Lake. This trip is one of my favorites, as not only are you treated with beautiful surroundings, but also usually a few bear sightings and plenty of fly rod action for silvers.
Soon we found ourselves landing on the calm waters of Big River Lake, a glacier-blue lake with freshwater tributaries in different locations around it. Our destination on this day would be the south end, which would provide us with the best fly fishing opportunities. Thirty minutes later, we were each jumping out of the boat, with fly rods in hand, looking for fins and swirls of big silvers in the water.
The conditions were perfect with no wind and slightly overcast skies. As soon as we found the seam where the freshwater merged with the milky blue glacier water, we each began to cast our lines towards the weed beds. A quick strip, strip, strip and bang, the first of 60 or seventy silver balls of muscle exploded to the surface, filling our next five hours with non-stop action on the fly. Pink and purple bunny leaches were the ticket on both floating and sink-tip lines aboard 8wt. rods. Big smiles, sore arms and plenty of pictures accompanied our ride back to the awaiting floatplane and our flight back across Cook Inlet in the early afternoon.
Our last day of the week found us making our way to the upper Kenai for a day of fly fishing for rainbows and Dolly Varden. We met our guide at our takeout point and then loaded up in his van and headed to the Sportsman’s launch at the confluence of the Kenai and Russian Rivers. After a quick tutorial, we each took our place in the drift boat as we grabbed our rods and soon made our first casts with six weight rods and floating lines. Our guide would do his best throughout the day to make sure each of us would be offering just the right size of bead (salmon egg imitations of varying sizes and colors) positioned about 2-inches above a size-6 snelled hook, all of which is below a strike indicator.
At the slightest movement of the indicator, the hook was set, resulting in great battles with lively trout of all sizes from 10 inches to some nearly thirty. The beauty of the fish were rivaled only by our gorgeous surroundings as we slowly floated down the famed Kenai River. Most of the fish were landed as we floated, but when one of us hooked into a big one, our man at the oars quickly had us to the bank and then out of the boat in hopes of fighting our fish to the net.
During our eight hour float, we fished both from the boat and from the shore along the way. Both options resulted in big numbers of fish, with our guesstimated total number by the end of the day for the three of us at well over 100. And if you haven’t had a chance to fish for rainbows in Alaska, they aren’t just your run of the mill ‘bows – most of them are beautiful ‘leopard’ rainbows, with spots literally covering their whole bodies, offering an awesome contrast with their colorful side slashes of reds, oranges and yellows. A perfect week, culminated with a perfect ending on the perfect river.
Well, if this article doesn’t spike your interest in visiting the Soldotna area of the Kenai Peninsula, I don’t know what will. The Gone Fishin’ Lodge offers some of the most competitive pricing you will find anywhere in Alaska, to go along with just about every option you can think of. So, when you are thinking about booking your next trip to Alaska, give the guys at the Gone Fishin’ Lodge a call to talk about all of the possibilities at 877-462-5752 and you can also visit them on the web at www.gonefishinlodge.com.