Alaska is more than a fishing destination; it’s a place where dreams are realized and memories are forged. From the thrill of reeling in a trophy catch to the serenity of being surrounded by untouched nature, Alaska’s allure is undeniable. Whether you’re an experienced angler seeking a new challenge or someone looking to dip their toes into the world of fishing, Alaska beckons you with its majestic waters and the promise of an unforgettable adventure.
Alaska can boast of a well-developed outdoor recreation industry that offers a broad spectrum of fishing experiences. However, choosing the right lodge, guide, or charter may not be easy. In this post we’ll offer you some tips, if not to say an algorithm, that will help you make the right choice.
Alaska’s rivers, lakes, and coastal waters are teeming with an incredible variety of fish species. Down on the ocean bottom, halibut grow to really monster sizes and put up a formidable fight. There are other species, too, including salmon, which take the lure in the marine phase of its lifetime even more readily than in the river. Speaking of freshwater, there are Dolly Varden and cutthroat trout, members of the char family known for their striking coloration and willingness to bite. Arctic grayling, known for their distinctive sail-like dorsal fin and iridescent hues, are a favorite among fly fishermen who relish the challenge of precision casting. Northern pike, though not native to Alaska, have established themselves in certain regions of the state.
But without a doubt, most fishing enthusiasts come to Alaska because of the famous salmon runs, an awe-inspiring natural phenomenon. Five species of salmon — king (Chinook), silver (Coho), sockeye, pink, and chum— return to their native waters to spawn, creating a fishing frenzy among various species, including but not limited to brown bears, fish eagles, and humans. The sight of a pristine river teeming with thousands of salmon is an experience that’s hard to put into words.
So the first question you should ask yourself is whether you just want to get a taste of Alaska, or are you looking for a trophy catch of a particular species? The latter makes for an easier choice, as all operators that don’t specialize in that particular fish will be automatically filtered out. But even the salmon runs differ from river to river, and sometimes between different parts of the same river. If you want to target, for example, king salmon, go through the lodge or guide’s description with all attention. If you can detect a strong focus on the species, for example, if half of the catch photos show huge king salmon, you can add the operator to your long list. If there is no such focus, or when king salmon is mentioned in the “if you’re lucky, you may even catch” context, you may want to flip to the next offer.
Getting a taste of all fishing in Alaska in one visit is possible, but complicated and may be expensive. You will have to be based in a bigger town, book a number of shorter trips from different operators, and spend a lot of time on bush planes and helicopters. It might be better, from the financial as well as from the emotional point of view, to select one longer trip. But what kind of trip? This is an important question, whether you focus on a specific fish or not.
When it comes to backcountry fishing, Alaskan operators can offer many different options. There are day fly-in trips, where a bush plane or helicopter takes you to a lake or river in the morning and returns you to the base in the evening. There are tent camps in remote areas, and permanent lodges with warm cabins, located in strategically important spots. There are hiking trips, including to otherwise inaccessible rivers and lakes, and boating trips, where you raft down a river day after day, fishing as you go.
To help you choose between them, ask yourself two questions: How much of my personal comfort am I willing to sacrifice for fishing? and Do I prefer to fish a particular stretch of the river day after day or would I want to see new scenery every time? Often, the choice will present itself: if you value comfort and want to be on the same spot every new morning, a lodge is the answer, those who think nothing of sleeping in a tent in bear country and want to move through it will appreciate a float down the river, and so on. Picture yourself in each of the available scenarios, and start with the one that feels right.
Once you’ve decided on the species and fishing type, you will probably still have a long list of operators to choose from. To reduce this list, work through secondary criteria. Your preferred fishing technique is seldom a defining factor. Whether it’s trolling for offshore salmon, bottom fishing for halibut, spinning for pike or drift fishing for steelhead, the choice of the techniques is usually dependent on the species, and in any case most guides and captains are open to trying whatever works.
Location, on the other hand, may be of importance. Some people set their sights on legendary places like the Kenai river, and there’s nothing wrong with that. On the other hand, if you aren’t interested in how the name of the lake sounds, you may find an excellent experience in a lesser famous, but also less crowded location. This is another question you should make up your mind on before looking at options.
Timing of the trip also plays a part. While most fishing trips in Alaska are scheduled for May through October, different species may have their best times at different periods. So, for example, the king salmon run on the Kenai river usually starts in May and peaks in June, sockeye salmon in July-August, and silver salmon arrives in August-September. If you pick the top season, you may have to drop some of the operators simply because they are already booked solid for your dates. On the other hand, if you book in the fringe season, you may save a few dollars.
Which brings us to price. This, generally speaking, shouldn’t be your defining decision-making factor. Let’s start with the fact the guide or lodge is only a part of the total budget for your Alaska adventure. There’s also transport expenses such as plane tickets (including possible charges for overweight/oversize baggage), taxis or rental cars, accommodation, food, souvenirs, and other entertainment. Then consider that your own safety depends on your operator – including the quality and condition of their boats and bush planes, etc. Is something you want to economize on – or should you better cut costs elsewhere?
Here is a tip: take all operators that can offer you the trip you want at a time you want within your budget, and make two lists. One would range them according to the reviews, from best to worst, the other on the price, from lowest to highest. You can’t expect an operator to top on both lists, but one that tops the reviews and is strongly in the middle of the price (or the other way round, depending on your priorities) should come out as the winner.
Just be sure to read the reviews through the lens of your specific preferences and needs. If, for example, one of the things that draw you to Alaska is its opportunities for wildlife viewing, and the reviewer gives the operator 3 stars out of 10 because “too many bears around camp”, you might want to interpret this 3 as 9, if not 10. And listen to the voice of your heart. If something about an operator positively resonates with you, and there are no strong “cons” about their offer, pick it – this is probably the one!
The last thing we’d like to say is, the best tool for finding your perfect fishing trip, in Alaska or anywhere else for that matter, is an online marketplace such as BaitYourHook.com. To begin with, the vetting process saves you from phantom or scam offers. Then, the search panel allows you to apply all sorts of filters, so that you can focus on the offers that work best for you, and sort them by the price, or switch to map view and see the exact locations where the operator fishes. See if you can find the Alaska fishing adventure of your dreams on BaitYourHook.com!