Fishing Alaska on a Budget

By Joseph Classen

Fishing the salmon-filled waters of Alaska is the ultimate dream for many anglers. It certainly was for me. I grew up in Missouri and fished for virtually every species of fish that swam in our many lakes, ponds, creeks and rivers. If it had gills and lived in the water, I was after it. While I enjoyed the variety of fishing opportunities in the Midwest, I longed to someday explore the waters of the Great Land. I watched Alaska fishing shows on TV with an almost religious fervor and paged through so many magazine articles on Alaskan adventures that I wore out my thumbs. Yes, indeed, I was bitten hard by the Alaska bug loooong before I ever called it home, as I now do. My wife and I live on Kodiak Island and along with being a jack of many trades, I’m also a fishing guide during the summer and fall months.

I embarked on my first fishing trip to Alaska when I was in my early twenties. And, like all the trips that would follow in the years to come, it was a do-it-yourself, tightly budgeted adventure. A buddy and I flew into Anchorage, borrowed his brother’s old RV and headed off to fish our way around the Kenai Peninsula. It’s a long story, but that first trip was a total disaster! While actually being in Alaska and experiencing all the mind-blowing beauty was more incredible than I imagined, the fishing itself was a nightmare! Our nights were spent in rather nasty, over-crowed campgrounds and our days were spent mostly combat fishing the big, popular road accessible rivers. We spent hours, literally shoulder to shoulder with countless other disgruntled fishermen, casting heavily weighted salmon flies over and over and over again, with painfully slow results. It was rather chaotic to say the least and it was definitely not what I had in mind. As time and experience taught, there was certainly a better way.

A first-time fly fisherwoman hooks into her first fish on the Buskin River. Kodiak Island, Alaska.

Planning Your Alaska Fishing Adventure
Let’s start from the top. If you are dreaming about fishing Alaska, but have a tight budget, that dream can still become a reality, but it’s important to start planning as far in advance as possible. The motto, “Prior preparation prevents poor performance,” applies to many things in life and especially to a do-it-yourself Alaskan fishing adventure. There are many ways to cut costs and still have a truly world-class experience, but it will take some thorough research and effort, which is half the fun, really! Keep in mind though, if your funds are limited, your fishing pursuits will be limited mostly to road accessible locations such as rivers, lakes and beaches, as guided charter boat and float plane fishing adventures are extremely expensive, unless divided up among a rather large group. But, have no fear - you can have a fantastic experience, catch lots of quality fish and spend way less money by focusing your efforts on road system rivers, lakes and beaches. So, first of all, sit down and make a list of your goals. Where, specifically, in Alaska, do you want to focus your fishing efforts on? What species of fish are you primarily after? Will you be fly fishing, using a spin rod or both? Having clear, concise plans for your adventure will help you greatly in ultimately fulfilling them.

There are two, large, primary expenses for any Alaska adventure: getting there and having a place to stay. Airfare to Alaska, depending on where you live, can be costly. This is one reason to plan your trip as far in advance as possible. Plane tickets are significantly cheaper when you buy them many months ahead of time and airlines often have big discounts that come up at different times throughout the year, especially in the off-season. Another major way to cut your airfare is to immediately get an Alaska Airlines credit card. This is not a paid advertisement or personal endorsement, but simply the facts. Upon approval, you will get a significant number of free travel miles and, most importantly, a companion ticket, which essentially is a two for one airfare discount. The savings add up fast and can cut costs immensely! If you have a similar miles’ plan with a different creditor, get the details and take advantage of it. You can save hundreds and even thousands of dollars when it’s all said and done. Of course, use your head. Don’t do anything crazy with your credit card in an attempt to get to Alaska.

A hefty Kodiak king salmon, caught off an easily accessible beach. With a little effort, combat fishing chaos can be avoided in Alaska, even on road system waters.

An additional travel expense for those who fly to Alaska will be car rental. This cost, too, can be greatly reduced by planning way ahead of time and being realistic. Don’t “over-rent,” if you can help it. Based on your well-researched travel plans and targeted fishing area, rent the most economical vehicle you can. Learn to do more with less, as that is the name of the game for DIY adventures.

A fun and exciting alternative to flying to the Great Land and having to rely on a rental car, is loading up your trusty vehicle and hitting the road! Driving the ALCAN (Alaska Highway) is perhaps one of the most memorable and adventurous ways to get to and explore the 49th state. One will experience spectacular scenery, see lots of wildlife and also have abundant fishing opportunities along the way. If you have the time and are up for the adventure of a lifetime, I highly recommend an ALCAN road-trip. Naturally, the cost of fuel will add up, but it can still come out much cheaper than airfare when it’s all said and done. If this is an option for you, get a copy of the most recent edition of the Milepost and study it thoroughly, as this annually published book is truly the Bible for traveling the North Country.

As I mentioned, your second significant expense for an Alaskan fishing adventure will be lodging. A hotel, motel or B & B that may go for around $90.00 a night during the “off-season” in Alaska can easily cost you $200.00 or more during the peak, summer/fall months. The solution? Camp as much as possible. Hey, this is an adventure, after all and if you drive the ALCAN, you’ll have all your camping gear with you anyhow. There is no better way to enjoy the Alaskan outdoors than sitting outside under the midnight sun and enjoying the heavenly aroma and taste of grilled salmon. Which, by the way, is another major way to cut costs: plan on feasting on freshly caught fish as your primary food staple. Just be sure to be “bear aware” at all times! There are many options for camping (paid and free) while on your fishing adventure and some camping areas are definitely better than others. The Milepost is a great resource for finding out more and simply doing a Google search for “Alaska camping locations and regulations” will summon up a wealth of vital info for planning your trip.

Alaska is a HUGE place with many rivers, lakes and shorelines to fish. Fishing nirvana such as this can be yours a lot cheaper than you may think.

Location, Location, Location
Alaska is a mighty big state, with hundreds of lakes and rivers, big and small and miles upon miles of fish-able beaches along the coastlines. While a handful of legendary rivers seem to get all the publicity, there are countless others, some even unnamed, that get very healthy runs of salmon, along with supporting good populations of Dolly Varden, rainbow trout and other species of fish, all without the crowds and chaos of those big, popular rivers. There is not nearly enough space in this article to go over the specifics of all those locations, so again, thorough research and planning is key to success! And, the place to start that research is the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website There, you can get an abundance of information about fishing options all over the state, along with contact info for fish biologists and other department staff members who are happy to help you and answer whatever questions you may have. Not to mention, you can also purchase your fishing license online, which by the way, will cost you $25 - $105 depending on whether you want a one to fourteen-day non-resident permit. A king salmon stamp will cost you an additional $15 to $75, again depending on how many days you plan on fishing.

A do-it-yourself Alaska fishing adventure is fun for the whole family!

Along with a wealth of online information to plan your adventure, there are lots of great books on the market for fishing Alaska’s road accessible areas, which offer directions, fishing tips, calendars for salmon runs, gear recommendations, etc. To top it off, visiting the websites of the travel bureaus and chambers of commerce for each major region of Alaska can also provide an abundance of valuable data.

To sum things up, there is a lot of leg-work, research, and preparations to be made for planning an ultimate Alaskan fishing adventure on a budget. But, don’t be intimidated by all the details, as again, the planning and studying is half the fun, as it fills one with a child-like, giddy spirit of anticipation for what is to come! Whether you are planning a once in a lifetime trip or the first of many, take that first step and commit to doing it now. I can guarantee that the memories of such a trip will be among the most cherished of your life, both as a fisherman and more so, simply as a human being.

Author Bio: Joseph Classen is a lifelong outdoorsman, professional Alaskan guide, author and nature/wildlife photographer. To learn more about his work, please visit his photography website – Alaska Wall Art - and his guide service website – Wild Revelation Guide Service LLC -