The Last Frontier was the 48th state of my fishing quest. Alaska is as gorgeous and exciting as everyone says that it is. I saw humpback whales in Seward, moose all over the place, and even a wolf in Denali National Park, among other wildlife. Denali National Park and the adjoining state park are roughly the size of Massachusetts and offer numerous hiking and wildlife viewing opportunities, as well as a 30% chance to see the tallest mountain in North America. (After persevering through six straight days of rain, I became one of the lucky 10% to be able to see the entirety of both peaks on my drive back to Anchorage.) In many ways, Alaska is a seemingly different world. I left 90+ degree late-June weather in Virginia for sub-60 degree “spring” weather in Alaska. I also did not see night for nine days because the Land of the Midnight Sun simply does not get dark at night in the summer.
The fishing in Alaska is world-famous, and therefore requires no introduction. Of all of the different Alaska species to target, I chose the most famous: Kenai River king salmon. Unfortunately, the Kenai fishery has been down the past few years. Alaska Department of Fish and Game closed it completely and unexpectedly in June 2010 because of low salmon counts. In mid-July 2012, they closed it completely again in what was called the worst season in 30 years. July 2013 saw Kenai king fishing restricted to catch-and-release and trophy king retention only. Most unfortunately from my perspective, ADFG closed the river completely again during my trip in June 2014. (To their credit, they let me know about this June closure on March 3rd, allowing me time to reconfigure my plans.) Other rivers also experienced closures or restrictions because of low returning salmon counts, including the Kasilof, which had been my back up plan.
Luckily for me, Scott of Jimmie Jack Fishing (https://jimmiejackfishing.com) knew of plenty of other opportunities for me to get my first Alaska fish. Scott has guided in Alaska for over 20 years and has put more clients on trophy fish than he can remember. We fished the Kenai River for rainbow trout and dolly varden on light tackle. I caught an estimated 25-inch rainbow trout that slipped out of Scott’s hands as he attempted to take it from the net to the boat, so that did not count as my first Alaska fish. Then I had an even bigger rainbow trout break off on the side of the boat, so that did not count either. I admittedly was getting nervous before I finally landed (and photographed, making it official) my first Alaska fish, a 15-inch rainbow trout. Never before have I been that excited about catching a 15-inch trout, but it meant that I had officially completed Alaska and could relax. My next fish was a 24-inch dolly varden, a new species for me and one of the hardest fighting fish I have ever caught. This was also my biggest Alaska fish. I followed this up with a beautiful 22.5-inch rainbow trout, my biggest rainbow trout of the trip, and then another slightly smaller rainbow. While these fish did not meet Alaska’s minimums for caught-and-released trophy dolly varden or trophy rainbow trout (30 inches and 32 inches, respectively), I was very fortunate to catch anything, as only one of the many other guides fishing near us over the course of the day caught a trout. My boating four is a testament to Scott’s skill and experience as a guide.
Given how important fishing and tourism are to the Alaskan economy, I sincerely hope that ADFG’s efforts to restore the salmon fishery are successful. Catching trout on light tackle is an amazing experience, but it is not the same as catching king salmon weighing 50 pounds or more, and definitely does not generate equivalent tourism revenue.