Would you like to ocean fish or river fish? Is your passion to troll for your fish, cast a lure like you were bass fishing or bottom fish for halibut and rock fish? Are you interested in doing fly out trips to remote locations? If you would like to experience all of these things, the Kenai Peninsula is for you.
If you have never been to Alaska, you probably don’t know what type of fishing you really enjoy the most. This is another reason to head to the Kenai Peninsula. The diversity of this area gives you the ability to experience all different types of fishing as well as other outdoor activities all in one location.
The town of Soldotna is the hub of the Kenai Peninsula. The world famous, Kenai River runs right through the middle of town and is known for its huge king salmon. This is a big river and the runs of fish that head upstream to spawn are nothing short of spectacular. The Pacific Ocean surrounds the peninsula, giving you many opportunities for all the different types of salt water fishing you could imagine. There are also literally hundreds of small rivers and streams with good runs of salmon and steelhead, which are a short charter flight away. The Kenai Peninsula is truly the land of opportunity when it comes to fishing and outdoor activities.
Figuring out where to go, what to do and when to do it, makes for some critical decision making, which is why we usually leave that up to the staff at Crooked Creek Retreat and Outfitters. Dorothy Baker is the sole owner of this operation and after spending an entire career on the bench as a judge, she is just the kind of person to run an Alaskan fishing operation. She knows what it’s like to work hard and what people want and expect when on vacation. She expects perfection from her staff and she makes sure everyone has a smile on their face while doing it. Most importantly, she makes sure that she has the most knowledgeable and best people on her team to make sure you have a trip of a lifetime.
We visited the Crooked Creek Retreat for our first time in 2014 and after seeing this great lodge and its’ staff in action for a week, I chose to take my wife Lisa for a return visit in 2016. I knew that Lisa would love the high-end lodge, gourmet food and the great customer service. However, she isn’t a diehard fisherman and I knew that we could experience all different types of fishing to see what she liked the best. If she just wanted to hang around the lodge and relax, she could do that as well. She could also take the rental car and see the Kenai Peninsula and do some souvenir shopping for the kids back home.
We arrived in the later part of July. I usually pick this time of year because sockeye salmon is my favorite table fare when it comes to Pacific salmon and this is usually when the peak run takes place. It isn’t uncommon to see 30,000-60,000 fish head up the Kenai River on any given day during this timeframe. However, you are usually at the tail end of the king salmon run and a bit early for the silvers. Big steelhead are a favorite of many and that can be done early in the spring and late in the fall. Regardless of when you head to Crooked Creek Retreat and Outfitters, there is always going to be some good fishing to be had and a world class meal when you are done every day.
The Crooked Creek Retreat and Outfitters Lodge is located on “Crooked Creek” of course, which is only 15 to 20 minutes from downtown Soldotna and just a few minutes from the famous Kasilof River, which receives its’ fair share of salmon runs. The lodge is nearly 10,000 square feet, with numerous different room accommodations. Everything from a large man cave to accommodate that group of college buddies for their annual get together, to a private suite with its’ own bath and deck like Lisa and I shared.
After meeting Dorothy and settling into our room, we enjoyed a nice glass of wine on the back deck. To be able to enjoy the view of Crooked Creek meandering through the property while enjoying the seventy degree temperatures was an enjoyable experience, considering we had flown out of Las Vegas where the temperatures were north of a hundred degrees. We were called to dinner to enjoy some of the best Prime Rib anyone could ever ask for with all the trimmings. I could tell that Lisa was enjoying the experience already and we hadn’t even started to fish yet.
We departed the lodge earlier than my wife would have like, which might be around noon. However, the guides insured us that we would appreciate the fact that we got settled in on some of the best sand bars early to catch our limit of five sockeye. The dock was a frenzy of boats and tourists enjoying the experience of Alaska and the Kenai River. By the time the sun was peaking over the riverbanks and lighting up the sky, we were set-up and ready to fish or should I say “floss”.
Flossing is a different technique of fishing than most anyone has ever done, unless you have fished for sockeye, that is. Once these fish leave the ocean, they traditionally don’t feed like the other species of salmon. They are running up river to spawn and these little silver athletes are full of energy. This is especially the case when they have only been in the fresh water a few hours or even a few days. As they stage to make another run up the river and catch their breath, they are susceptible to the flossing technique of fishing. By casting up stream with ten to twenty feet of line and dragging it downstream as well as in towards the bank, your artificial fly will stream across the lips of aspirating sockeye salmon waiting for their next big run. When the numbers of fish are high, you can hook up on nearly every cast. But, it is more common to hook up with five or six fish an hour when you get the technique figured out. Fish that are hooked in the mouth may be kept as part of your bag limit. However, this technique also enables you to hook fish elsewhere. This makes for a fun and exciting run for the angler, but the fish must be returned to the water after the fight.
I had our guide provide Lisa with some high-quality instruction on how to master the flossing technique. These professionals are way better at teaching their customers and my wife is way more receptive to listening and learning from a complete stranger than from me. It is also beneficial for the longevity of my marriage to not provide lessons on anything to my wife!
After spending the better part of the first hour getting lessons, Lisa was on her own. Within minutes, she had a nice chrome sockeye hooked in the lips and ripping line. I figured that the fish were showing up from the morning high tide and I would be next to hook-up. However, Lisa and some of the other hotel guests were smashing fish and my technique was lacking. I was consistently foul hooking the fish and having to let them go. By the time I landed my fifth fish for the box, everyone else had been done for over an hour and were working on their tans back at the boat. Everyone got a great laugh at my expense, but it was all in fun and we had a box full of tasty fish to show for our efforts.
During the next five days, we consistently put fish in the box to take home. We got to experience the saltwater fishing for halibut, ling cod and multiple species of rock fish in both the Cook Inlet as well as Resurrection Bay out of Seward. We exercised the option to take a float plane excursion to a remote area which has an early run of silver salmon and the trip yielded great results as well. I even did a float trip through an area called “The Canyons” on the upper Kenai, which targeted big rainbow trout and Dolly Varden. The views in this area were second to none and I wish Lisa had decided to do this trip instead of catching up on some sleep. The guides said that late August and September is the best time for this trip. The leaves are starting to change and the rainbows and Dolly Varden are as fat and big as they will be for the year. They have gorged themselves on salmon eggs and flesh of decaying fish all summer long. As these resources dry up in September, these giants still need to eat and they do it with voracity. It isn’t uncommon to land 20-40 fish on a half day float and you are likely to get an opportunity at one of those 30” trophies we all dream of.
Regardless of when you make it to Crooked Creek Retreat and Outfitters, you will have a great time, world class service, good food and you will leave as family. We refer to the judge as Aunt Dorothy and once you make a visit, you will see that everyone there does the same. If you have always wanted to visit Alaska, but you are not sure what to do or where to go, give Aunt Dorothy a call 907-252-9612 or check them out online at www.crookedcreekretreat.com.