By Kent Danjanovich
The Kenai Peninsula - No other place in the world holds more opportunity to fish some of the most renowned stretches of water be it stream, lake or ocean. The dream of catching a literal fish-of-a-lifetime is the thought of fishermen of every shape, size, age and gender every year as they work their way to the northern most state in the union.
When Ralph Crystal and Dick Bowen built the lodge on the banks of the Kenai River some 20 years ago, their dream was to offer an Alaskan destination that would set them apart from the rest; one that would give visitors a chance to see as much of Alaska as possible in a week's stay. And with the famous Kenai River as their marquee, their customized packages soon became the symbol of the ultimate "variety" experience available anywhere in Alaska.
For the past fourteen years, I have had the pleasure of visiting many lodges in Alaska, from five-star resorts to remote outpost camps and a little of everything in between. Every one of my experiences has been first class in many ways, but many of them have one or two key aspects that make them special. I have found that one lodge in particular stands out in my mind as one that allows me to take in just a little more variety of what Alaska is all about. This lodge just happens to be located on the banks of the world famous Kenai River and it is fittingly called the Gone Fishin’ Lodge. I have found that during my weeks’ stay, I and the other guests at the lodge have the opportunity to tailor our trips to have a totally different trip, chasing different and exciting fishing species every day, while being treated by the staff like one of the family.
A good starting point to find out a little bit more about their operation is on their website at www.gonefishinlodge.com. All of the packages at the Gone Fishin’ Lodge start on Saturday and run to the next Saturday. Packages can be customized for shorter stays if desired, on space availability, but standard stay is seven nights lodging and either five or six days of fishing.
You will find that they have nearly twenty different packages available and even with all of those options, you can still customize just the trips that you are interested in as well. And yes, you fly fishermen and women are covered on many exciting trips also!
Knowing that most travelers have a limited window of opportunity each summer, Gone Fishin’ Lodge can help to put together a trip encompassing just the adventures you’re looking for. If you are looking for the chance to catch a new world record king salmon on the Kenai or Kasilof Rivers, June and July are the months for you. Many kings are caught each year over the 50-pound mark and you just never know when it may be your turn at “The Big One”! If you’re looking to hook into some red (sockeye) salmon then June, July and early to mid-August would be your time frame. If you would like the opportunity of catching big numbers of silver (coho) salmon on both spin cast and fly rods, then late July and August are definitely your months. And don’t worry about trying to hit the halibut just right. May through the first of September is prime-time for hooking into a monster on either a trip to Cook Inlet or a multi-species trip to Seward or better yet -- A trip to both during your stay!
Not far from the Gone Fishin’ Lodge, over in Seward, the lingcod season opens July 1st. Lingcod are prehistoric looking fish, but their white meat is excellent table fare. Lingcod hang out usually in depths of 30-140 feet of water and are taken on salmon rods using jigs. About this time, silver salmon start returning to Resurrection Bay, with limits of six silvers per person/per day in the bay itself and a limit of three on multi species trips. During this time, halibut fishing is alive and well in Seward also. With all the variety of fish available it gives the Gone Fishin’ Lodge an opportunity to do combination trips of “Lingcod/Silver Salmon”, “Lingcod/Halibut” or “Halibut/Silver Salmon” and on every combo trip you may catch black bass, yellow eye and assorted rockfish. You will be fishing in the midst of pristine glaciers and picturesque scenery. Often you will see wildlife such as whales, porpoise, sea lions and puffins. Seward is truly one of the most beautiful places in Alaska!
Now, no trip to Alaska is complete without partaking of a floatplane ride and of course, the Gone Fishin’ Lodge has a couple of options available that you will not want to miss. Although they do have a few other possible destinations as well, their most popular spots are across Cook Inlet to Big River Lake and also the Kustatan River. Both are outstanding day trips and are usually dependent on weather and water conditions. A variety of techniques can be used during these trips and again, all of the equipment and bait will be supplied by your guides (except for you fly fishermen on this one).
If your destination is to Big River Lake, along with being right in the middle of one of the very best bear-viewing spots in Alaska, you will have the opportunity to hook into big numbers of sockeye salmon in July and coho’s in August. Much of the fishing is done at the mouth of a crystal-clear stream running into the glacial waters of Big River Lake and sometimes as many as a dozen brown bears can be seen roaming the shore, trying their best to catch the same salmon that you are casting to. Now luckily, you are in a boat, out in the lake, so safety concerns are on your side, but believe me, it is quite a sight to see, one that I look forward to every time I make the trip with Ralph and his crew.
As you board your flight back to the Lodge, if the weather conditions are just right and time permits, you just might also get a chance for an “up close and personal” flight through one of the nearby glaciers of the area before heading back across the inlet. Glaciers are truly one of the marvels of God’s creations and if you ever have the chance to take a flight through them, do it!
Another must-do day trip will take you to the upper Kenai River in search of big rainbows and Dolly Varden. The season opens each summer on June 11th and the months of June and July can offer some unbelievable action, but the month of August is when it really starts to heat up as thousands of salmon make their way into the system to spawn. As these fish head for their last efforts in this life by dropping and fertilizing millions of eggs for generations to come, the rainbows and dolly’s start to gorge themselves on the eggs, making an upper-river drift boat trip an absolute must during your stay.
Turquoise water flows out of glacier fed Kenai Lake and then runs seventeen miles eventually into Skilak Lake, the spawning grounds for hundreds of thousands of salmon each year, making this section of the river one of the best sections of water in the world for trout fishing! All fishing is guided and done out of a drift boat or by wading from sandbars. There are no power boats allowed on the upper Kenai River and the Kenai Canyon stretches. Gone Fishins’ guides specialize in light tackle fishing with fly rods or spinning gear for rainbow trout and Dolly Varden. This can be a very special trip for those that have not had the pleasure of experiencing the art of fly fishing and your guide will be more than happy to spend a little extra time introducing you to the sport. The strict enforcement of catch and release for trout has made the upper Kenai one of the most prolific trout fisheries in the world and drifting a bead under 12 feet of leader with a couple of split shot can produce fish after fish, with oversized football sized leopard rainbows lurking around almost every bend in the river.
Although I love the August timing for my trip, you really can’t pick a time from June to September that won’t produce a fantastic experience. Every adventure is special and unique in its own way and it is really up to you what activities and adventures you will take in during your week. I know that many of us can never get enough fishing, but one of the things I am going to take in on my next trip is possibly a trip to Whittier for a tour of the massive and impressive glaciers of the area or maybe a day cruise to the Kenai Fjords out of Seward. There is just so much to do in the area that it is really hard to decide just what to include in your visit.
Well, there you have it. I just don’t know of anywhere else in Alaska where you can put together such an assortment of great adventures all piled into a week's stay. But don’t just take my word for it. Why not check them out for yourself. Give Ralph and Dick a call today at 877-462-5752 and check out their website at www.gonefishinlodge.com to book your next great outdoor adventure.