Soldotna, Alaska Imagine a way to hunt for salmon based out of Alaska’s fish-rich Kenai Peninsula, and you’ve probably been beaten to the punch.
Giant ocean barges patrol the ocean with nets measured by the mile. Locals patrol the mouths of the rivers with smaller nets, and even during nonpeak sections of the summer season, boats crowd onto the Kenai River. Anglers from all corners of the state and continent line the river’s shores and fill its boats, searching for salmon of all variety and even a few rainbow trout.
The fishes’ annual migration up the rivers nearly is unstoppable, with streams of some varieties so thick that the way they’re caught is by whipping a naked hook through the water — the hunter counting on eventually making contact with the hunted.
At least some of those salmon — of the silver variety — make it through all the obstacles of the state’s southern coast and end up at Big River Lake.
On Tuesday, it initially appeared a soupy early-morning fog would prevent the single-engine de Havilland Beavers, of High Adventure Air Charter in Soldotna, Alaska, from delivering several plane loads of anglers to another unique version of Alaska fishing: the remote lake fly-in. The sun burned the air clear by noon; however, and soon the company’s float planes rumbled to life and glided away from the aqua runway.
A great commute
High Adventure Air Charter is one of several companies that fly into the lake, and it’s about a 20-minute hop from its peninsula headquarters over the expansive Cook Inlet and to the Alaskan mainland. In Alaska, mountains rip upward from the sea, where sand beaches lie in other regions. Healthy pine trees expand as far as the eye can see, and even in August, the state’s vast midsection still is draining snowmelt, great swaths of winding water dyed a mint green by rock and glacial minerals pouring toward the coast.
Touchdown is soft in a single-engine floatplane on the remote Alaskan lake. Not “Nice landing, captain” soft, but “Hey, we’re down?” soft.
And fishing on that lake, pulling shimmering silver salmon from the waters of America’s final frontier, is sweet.
Fishing boats await at the end of the planes’ water taxiway, and fishing guides like Ben Stimmel hop from the co-pilot’s seat to fire up boat engines, assemble collapsible poles and bait hooks.
Asked how he got into guiding for the fly-in fishing business rather than taking a boat to local rivers, the Indiana native set his eyes wide and barely came up with the words.
Flying over Alaska’s wilderness every day to work is hard to beat, he said, mentioning that even former Broncos star kicker Jason Elam, who now lives in the area, flies for the company once a week.
“This is pretty great,” Stimmel said, the company’s planes buzzing off after the drop-off.
The lake itself certainly adds to the amazing experience. Several charters operate there, with one flying guests in for its small shore-side lodge. It’s awfully remote, though. There are no roads even close, and the nearest town isn’t much closer than the one the plane took off from.
And, at least on Tuesday, it was brimming with fish, especially the silver salmon. The silvers fell victim to salmon roe, gobbling up salmon eggs plenty fast enough to keep things exciting. They fight but not for long and, at about 7 or 8 pounds each, make for fat filets.
Two boats of four reached their limits of three silvers per pole in short order, and another group of four pulled anchor after hitting 10 for the boat, eager to see what other secrets the lake held.
Bears, brown and black, are a common sight, and guides zip viewers around to the hot spots. Sometimes that’s not much work. One black bear slid down a cliff right behind a boatload of tourists, swimming within a few feet of the boat before veering back to land.
That’s part of the allure.
The allure of Alaska isn’t just its size, an attribute those on the frozen frontier seem to flaunt mostly to tease Texans.
The allure is how jam-packed all those square miles are, filled with animals, fish and more adventure than anyone ever could experience.
There are countless ways to sample some of it. A fly-in fishing trip is certainly not a bad place to start.
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com