By Kent Danjanovich Senior Editor
Fishing is an addiction, plain and simple. Whether you are a weekend warrior that can usually be found at your local pond on a regular basis or a fly fisherman that just can’t wait to hit your favorite high-mountain lake or stream, when you have been bitten by the fishing bug, well let’s just say that the rest of life’s duties many times have to take a back seat to your addiction. And when you throw the word “Alaska” into the conversation, well now you are really in trouble!
Nobody knows this better than myself. On any given year, you will find me jumping on a plane just about every week, June through September, heading for the Land of the Midnight Sun, the Last Frontier, the Fisherman’s Paradise – Alaska.
One of my main duties (I tend to use the word ‘duties’ lightly) here at Sportsman’s News is to cover most of the fishing side of things and a big part of that responsibility is visiting our endorsed lodges on a regular basis. Each year I have the pleasure of visiting six to ten lodges throughout the many great regions of Alaska, with each destination offering something special and unique to fishermen and women from around the world.
Now when you are looking for a place to fish in Alaska, the first thing you need to do is lay down your priorities. First off – What species are you looking to focus on. Is it halibut? Then in most cases, you will be focusing only on ocean fishing. And along the way, you will also probably have the chance to fill your fish boxes with lingcod, yellow eye, sea bass and other tasty bottom dwellers. Salmon will usually also be available on your ocean trips as well, so if you decide to choose a trip like this, you probably can’t go wrong, if your system can handle five or six straight days of ocean conditions, whatever they may be.
Next let’s address those that like to stream fish. Depending on the time of year that you plan your visit for, certain salmon species will be available. And along with those salmon species, you may also encounter rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, Arctic char and grayling, steelhead, northern pike, and even lake trout in some areas. Now in many of the prime areas that offer these species, the possibility of doing a little ocean fishing on the same trip doesn’t exist.
So, now you have a dilemma, one that really starts to limit the areas of Alaska that can still be included in your search for the ultimate trip. But, don’t despair – there is an area where you can have it all and that place is the Kenai Peninsula, specifically the Soldotna region of southcentral Alaska.
Now, you will find that you have many operations to choose from when you start planning a visit to this area, but believe me, even though many will offer what seemingly consists of the same great trips, you unfortunately won’t find out if they are good or bad until it is too late. Delivering on advertised expectations is a tough thing and many lodges are willing to grab your money and run. Repeat business is essential to every successful operation and you can usually tell if you have found a good one when the lodge is full of happy return clientele. The Sportsman’s News Team has found one such lodge on the banks of the world famous, Kenai River, in the heart of Soldotna, Alaska and that lodge is appropriately named, The Gone Fishin’ Lodge.
For the last 20 years, Ralph Crystal and Dick Bowen have been offering Alaskan visitors packages that truly give them the opportunity to experience just about everything that Alaska has to offer. ‘Value and Variety’ is their motto and I challenge you to find a place that offers a more rounded trip for the price. It’s no wonder that they are our longest running Platinum Approved Outfitter, because they truly deliver on what they advertise.
With 15 different packages to choose from and the option to build your own, you can literally experience a unique and exciting new adventure every day during your stay. Our favorite package at Sportsman’s News includes a halibut charter in Cook Inlet, a multi-species ocean trip out of Seward, salmon fishing on the Kenai River, a floatplane adventure for salmon to Big River Lake or the Kustatan River and finally an upper Kenai drift boat trip for trophy rainbow trout and Dolly Varden. Now that’s what I call variety!
Here is a sampling of what our latest trip to the Gone Fishin’ Lodge resulted in:
Day one – Halibut fishing with Caption Amos Mahoney in Cook Inlet. After the unique launch of our boat at the beach (you just have to be there to know what I mean) in Anchor Point, we were off on our 50-minute boat ride to one of his favorite spots. As soon as our anchor nestled on the bottom, each of us quickly lowered our bait-filled hooks in hopes of landing a big flat-fish that would soon be turned into tasty fillets. Two hours later, the five of us had boated our ten-halibut limit (two per person, one fish under 28 inches and one of any size), with the biggest on the day hoovering around the 80-pound mark.
Day two – Silver salmon on the Kenai with one of my favorite river guides, Gary Chamberlin. Back trolling quick-fish, wrapped with sardines and spin and glows tipped with roe produced 20 hook-ups on the day, with eight big silvers (two per person, per day on the Kenai River) making their way to the fish box.
Reagan Carter, a first time Alaska traveler, displays one of many big silvers he landed on our flyout to Big River Lake.
Day three – Multi-species ocean trip to beautiful Seward, Alaska. Captain Hill Norvell greeted eight of us on board the ‘2 Day’ and we headed out of Resurrection Bay in search of a number of different species. First, we headed for one of his favorite halibut spots. Two hours later, our limits were full and we then headed over to a rocky outcropping for sea bass. Then it was off to another spot to mooch for silver salmon. Each stop found us all battling fish, with broad smiles at every turn.
Day four – Rainbows and Dolly Varden on the upper Kenai River. Captain Chad greeted us at the Sportsman’s launch, adjacent to the Kenai/Russian Rivers Ferry launch to begin our day. Four of us would be sharing the drift boat on this day, using both fly rods and spin cast techniques, while incorporating a single, bead set-up to entice the big boys that were following the spawning sockeye and king salmon migrating up stream. We were also able to wade-fish some of the best gravel bars throughout our float, the results at the end of our day nothing short of phenomenal, with nearly 100 fish landed by our group for the day.
Day five – Floatplane trip to Big River Lake. One of the most exciting adventures every Alaskan visitor looks forward to. After an exhilarating 20-minute flight across Cook Inlet and the tundra beyond, it was off the plane and to our awaiting 20-foot skiff, complete with a 40-horse jet motor. The Gone Fishin’s own, Ralph Crystal, guided us on this day. We headed for the southern reaches of the lake for a little silver salmon action on the fly. Pink and black bunny leaches were the hot flies on this day and after we quickly boated our limits, I even talked Ralph into making a few casts with his fly rod so he could experience for himself, what the last four hours had offered to myself and my son-in-law, Reagan Carter, who accompanied me on this, his first visit to Alaska.
Another great mixed bag of halibut, lingcod, yellow eye and salmon on a day-trip to Seward.
And if all of these great adventures weren’t enough, each afternoon when we arrived back at the lodge after our main trips, we grabbed our fly rods and headed down to the deck, behind the lodge on the Kenai River to try our luck at landing a few sockeyes that where still finding their way up river. Each afternoon we were able to land a half dozen or so and I even managed to hook into a big king, which of course had me quickly into my backing on my fly reel and with a quick point of the rod at his tail as he headed for the middle of the river, he was gone. What a rush!
Well, if all of this excitement doesn’t get your heart beating fast to plan a visit to the Gone Fishin’ Lodge on the Kenai River in Soldotna, Alaska, I don’t know what will. ‘Value and Variety’ are truly the name of the game for this great venue and I promise that you will have the time of your life by booking a trip of a lifetime with Ralph and his staff. And just one last side-note before I close – The Gone Fishin’ Lodge is the only lodge in Alaska that I visit every single year, so that should tell you how much I like their operation and what they have to offer. The Gone Fishin’ Lodge, 877-462-5752 and visit them on the web at www.gonefishinlodge.com