The boat sped upstream with only the ghostly light of the moon showing our guide his route upstream from Bing’s Landing. The first light of day appeared on the horizon as we cruised into our destination along the shores of Skilak Lake. The line counter on the reel was barely visible as it turned showing the amount of line that was being let out. The bobbing rod tip showed that the lure was working as our guide began trolling for Sockeye. The suns rays turned the lake waters to gold as morning dawned. The first fish hit the lure hard and the rod bounced up and down. Fish On!
I have fished all along the Pacific Coast of the United States and in Canada. Alaska is my favorite destination for a fishing trip. Five species of Salmon, Trophy Rainbow Trout, Giant Halibut, Grayling, and Dolly Varden trout can be caught here during the summer. Fishing trips to Alaska can be expensive. The best fishing trip for my money in Alaska is to the Kenai River.
The Kenai River system is huge covering hundreds of square miles and home to most species of Salmon and other trophy fish. The world record King Salmon was caught on the Kenai. Every year Salmon weighing over 70 lbs. are caught here. Sockeye salmon return to the Kenai in two major runs each summer. Silver Salmon storm up the river in August. Pink Salmon arrive every two years. Huge Rainbow trout many weighing over ten pounds feed on the salmon eggs and grow huge in this river. The Kenai empties into Cook Inlet and that body of salt water is home to huge numbers of Halibut. Day trips for this prized white fish can be combined with Salmon fishing on the Kenai by most lodges and guide services. Fly out fishing or bear viewing is a common add on for many Kenai Peninsula fishing trips. The Kenai River has everything you could want in an Alaska fishing experience.
Remote fishing lodges that you have to take float planes to get to are fantastic. The experience of being isolated in the wilderness is important to many who venture to Alaska to fish. However, the more remote the lodge the greater the expense to the fisherman. Transportation and shipping of fish from Alaska is not cheap. Most lodges charge a fee to process, freeze, and fly your fish from the remote lodge to your departure point and you still will have to pay baggage charges for your airline. If not, the fish will have to be shipped by freight carrier at $5.00 or more a pound. If you bring back 50 lbs. of fish fillets that cost can be several hundred dollars. This is not including the five to ten thousand dollars you are spending for the 5 days remote lodge fishing experience. You can have a great fishing experience and explore the wildness of Alaska for a lot less money.
Here are my reasons to pick the Kenai River as your destination to fish Alaska.
1. The Fishing: Late July brings the second Sockeye Salmon run to the Kenai along with the last week of King Salmon season. In even years, Pink Salmon are in the river starting in late July. Most years the daily limit of Sockeye is three which average 7 to 9 pounds. If the run is huge the limit can be as high as six. King Salmon is one per day if the season is open. Trout is catch and release for the bigger fish but smaller ones can be kept. Halibut trips are but a one hour drive away at Ninchilik. 4 days of fishing will probably yield at least 6 to 8 sockeye and 2 halibut per person. 50 pounds of fish fillets is a common result of 4 days of fishing here.
2. The Sights: Soldotna sits in the northern part of the Kenai Peninsula about a 3 hour drive from Anchorage by car. Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet parallels the roadway out of Anchorage. You can stop at viewpoints with names like Beluga Point and Bird Creek. The Alyeska Resort near the town of Girdwood and Portage Glacier are scenic stops to make on the way south to the Kenai. A cable car to the resort takes you high up among hanging glaciers, dense forests and barking marmots. A short boat ride at Portage takes to the face of a large tidewater glacier where the ice glows blue. A 50 mile detour takes you to Seward. It is home to the Kenai Fjords National Park where there are several glaciers amid snow capped peaks and wildlife abound. You could take a dinner cruise here after your day of fishing on the Kenai. On your way to Kenai from Seward stop at Exit Glacier where you can walk up to a wall of ice a short distance from the parking lot.
3. The Accommodations: There are variety of accommodations near the Kenai River, with most being of the lodge and cabin type. Many are right on the Kenai River allowing you to fish from their shoreline. Many of these cabins can accommodate 4 people and have kitchens, queen beds, and full baths set in wooded areas where Moose are common sights wandering the area. The nearby town of Soldotna has all the grocery stores, fish processing, craft breweries, restaurants, and other amenities you will need to make your trip relaxing and convenient after a hard day landing fish. The smaller towns of Coopers Landing and Sterling have additional places to stay in the area. Most lodges provide or contract with local guides to provide guests guided fishing opportunities while staying on the Kenai. These packages can be a great value if you choose wisely. My choice was the Silvertip Lodge and Cabins and their Alaska Drift Away Fishing guide service in Soldotna. They offer a great value and some of the best guides on the Kenai.
4. The Wildlife: I was privileged to see moose while driving to town, a black bear and several bald eagles while fishing for Salmon and two sea otters on my Halibut trip. A boat trip in Kenai Fjords will bring you the opportunity to see Humpback Whales, Puffins, Sea Otters, Sea Lions, and even Killer whales. Alaska’s wildlife are a treasure to enjoy and next to Denali, The Kenai Peninsula is a great place to see them. I recommend flying to Katmai National Park from Soldotna to see Alaskan Brown Bears fishing at Brooks Falls.
5. The Cost: Most offer fishing/lodging packages on the Kenai for 4 days of guided fishing (3 Salmon/Trout and 1 Halibut) with a room or cabin for about $1500-1800 a person. Many lodges have fish processing rooms. You can process your fish filets, vacuum seal and freeze them to save even more money over a professional processing service. Fish boxes to package your catch for shipment can be bought at the local superstore ($20 for a 50 lb. box).
You will need a rental car for your trip, I think this is an advantage for the Kenai area as the car allows you to explore this scenic peninsula when you are not fishing and select tours at costs that are lower as the company does not have to bus you around. Buy your own food to cook and things to drink at lower costs at the local supermarket for even more savings over a remote lodge.
At the end of your trip you drive your frozen fish back to Anchorage and pay the low extra baggage fee for your 50 lbs. of fish fillets ($25-35) and you will be enjoying several hundred dollars worth of fresh Alaskan fish for months without paying $20 or more a pound at the local grocery back home. If you take the value of the fish you bring home off the cost of your trip, the Kenai shines as a destination.
The Kenai Peninsula and its famous river offer a world class fishing experience along with great wildlife and natural wonders to see while allowing you to do so at an affordable cost. July and August offer the best opportunities to catch a lot of fish. Plan ahead as many of these lodges book over a year in advance. A great destination with knowledgeable guides and plentiful services make the Kenai River, The Best Alaskan Fishing Trip.