Roadside Salmon

Peter B. Mathiesen

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Get those miles cashed in and you’re financially halfway to wading among millions of salmon along the Parks Highway in southern Alaska.

Fly to Anchorage the last week of August or the first two weeks of September, and head north for great river hopping along a 70-mile stretch of the Parks Highway (a.k.a. State Route 3). Bring light camping gear, lots of flies, and an extra rod to replace the one you’ll most likely shatter. There will be silvers, chums, sockeyes, humpies, a late king or two, and the errant rainbow.

Info

When you arrive in Anchorage, rent a car ($450 for seven days) and drive north on Route 1, then take Route 3 to the town of Wasilla. Forget the advance plan and just stop at Three Rivers Fly & Tackle for supplies, a license, and to find out about the water conditions.

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A nonresident, 14-day license is $80, plus $50 if you’re fishing for kings. Kings are usually spent or closed and can’t be legally fished for. Check with the shop to find the out the current regulations.

The store will know the water conditions and quality of the fish run at more than two-dozen rivers in the Susitna drainage. They can also locate a guide if you want one. At some point, most of your catch will have passed right under the bridges of the Parks (www.3riversflyandtackle.com; 907-373-5434).

The Alaska Fishing Report will also help you plan. It’s published Thursdays in the Anchorage Daily News, and online at www.adn.com. If you need a bed before you start out, try the Grand View Inn and Suites, $160 per night (www.grandviewak.com; 907-357-7666).

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Down The Road

In good conditions, establish your first base camp at the Susitna Boat Landing to fish Montana, or Willow Creek, or the Kashwitna River. There are snacks, tackle, and camping sites starting at $12 per night (888-495-0077;www.ronsriverboat.com). If you get rained out, recover at the Gigglewood Inn cabins starting at $100 per night. It’s one of my favorite places to stay (800-574-2555;www.gigglewood.com).

Farther north is the town of Talkeetna, another great stopping point. If you want to do a jet-boat trip, Mahay’s Riverboat Services will take you to Clear Creek—a must stop—where you can catch 100 fish a day and stay as long as you like with camping gear for $60 per adult (www.mahaysriverboat.com; 800-736-2210). While in town, eat at the lively Denali Fairview Inn (www.denali-fairview.com; 907-733-2423).

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If rains have trashed the local waters, go west along Petersville Road and pitch a tent at the Peters Creek camping area. There are no facilities but it’s ideal for access to Moose, Kroto (Deshka), or Twentymile Creeks. The Forks Roadhouse has lodging although it’s a little funky for $60 a night (907-733-1851).It’s about 250 miles round-trip to Peters Creek, so depending on river hopping, figure about $70 for gas. Bring an Alaska Atlas & Gazetteer, and get the Parks Highway map from www.alaskaoutdoorjournal.com/maps, or at any gas station in the area.

Fly or Spin

If you’re flyfishing, take two 9-foot, 8- to 9- weight rods and reels with strong drags. Bring dark and bright Woolly Buggers, big nymphs, and eggs. If you’re spinfishing, bring medium to heavy 7- to 8-foot rods and reels with 20- to 30-pound-test line. Lures should include 7/8-ounce (and a few smaller) Wiggle Warts, Mepps Giant Killers, and size 5 Vibrax spinners.

RVs Are a Deal

Alaska is set up for RV rentals, the cost is reasonable and you can roll the roads and have a dry place to sleep on a moments notice.

ABC Motorhome & Car Rentals (www.abcmotorhome.com; 800-421-7456) in Anchorage will charge you $160 per night for a pickup truck with a Lance camper. Do the math. RV Rental: $160 per night (seven nights): $1,120 or $560 per person. You’re not stuck in a cabin or lodge on one river and free to pick up and go. They also have a Fisherman’s Special, which means the truck is prior to the 2007 model year for only $100 per day!

Fill up the refrigerator in Anchorage before you leave. You’ll be glad you did. Buying food and any other supplies in the more remote areas will cost you dearly.

Bears

These beasts are a part of the Alaskan experience. Even while fishing off the highway, it is still quite possible to come eye to eye with either a black or grizzly bear. What to do about bear confrontation is often the subject of heated debate among guides, residents, visitors and state officials.

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There is agreement on a few of the basics. Keep an exceptionally clean camp, make enough noise not to surprise a bear at riverside. Never put a bear in a position of having no place to go and always be particularly cautious with sow bears with cubs. The most important rule with grizzlies—never run from a charging bear. A guide once poignantly told me, “The only thing that runs from a bear, is food.”

Do you need a gun? Remember a bear can only be shot in a life-threatening situation. And if you find yourself shooting a bear, be prepared to have a long and possibly unpleasant conversation with state officials in addition to possibly needing an attorney. If you’re not experienced around bears, leave the firearm to someone who is and use pepper spray instead.

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