Planning a trip to Alaska? Want to save lots of coin, avoid crowds, and catch tons of cranky fish? Of course you do.
Places like the Kenai Peninsula and the Susitna drainage outside of Anchorage give you plenty of action, but the crowds can rob you of the isolated fishing experience that most anglers expect to find in the AK.
The way to have a stream all to yourself is to consider flying to Fairbanks in late August, renting an SUV, and heading south on the Parks Highway to the Copper River Valley and the Gulkana drainage. 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, rainbows, dollies and huge grayling. There is excellent fishing the entire way to Valdez; all you have to do is follow the pipeline south.
The Copper River is a 300-mile river system with almost every tributary sporting salmon, rainbows, dollies and world-class grayling. There is little traffic on most of these streams, especially once the king run winds down in early August. The Copper River is difficult to wade because of its size, and your casting time is best spent on the streams that flow in to it.
There are fewer places to stay or eat, and not as many guides as in other parts of the state. I have used several pros who serve the area, and my hands-down favorite is a guy named Moose who operates Blue Moose Rafting (http://www.bluemooserafting.com).
Keep in mind that just a two-day float with a skilled guide will allow you to dial weeks worth of information. Blue Moose Rafting also will rent you rafts if you like to paddle on your own. Rates start around $60 a day.
Take A Walk
Almost all of these streams are on the Richardson Highway south of the Denali intersection. Many are south of the town of Glennallen on the way to Valdez, with several having trails along the banks.
Try Fourth of July Creek for silvers and dollies, the Tonsina for kings, silvers and dollies, Bernard Creek for rainbows and silvers and the Klutina for Sockeyes, dollies and grayling. You should also consider the Middle Fork for rainbows and the Gulkana along the Richardson highway. Much of the Gulkana is less than 1,000 feet from the Richardson Highway.
Be careful when leaving the roadside. Carry a compass in addition to a GPS, maps, a small amount of food, matches, rain gear, bug repellent and bear spray.
The Last Stop
By late August, the famed Valdez silver run is in full swing with many Alaskan locals taking vacation days to fish and camp (everyone camps) just miles from the end of the pipeline at the oil tanker depot. Anglers often sip an adult beverage by a fire in the evenings and catch their limit of silvers during the days.
Highway 10 forks east along the Copper from the Richardson Highway and also is worth a day of wading small tributaries. The brush can be thick but so can the fish.
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.
Make sure you bring an Alaska Atlas & Gazetteer (www.outdoorsdirectory.com).
Places to stay
Traveling south from Fairbanks, the exceptional Lodge at Black Rapids has the views you’ve dreamt about and a staff that makes you feel part of their family. The rates are higher than a roadside cabin, but it’s worth at least one night’s stay for the experience (www.lodgeatblackrapids.com.)
There are some great, clean cabins in Paxson, AK, too: www.denalihwy.com.
For info on Alaska roadside fishing, visit:http://alaskaroadsidefishing.com/Pages/Copper%20River/GulkanaRiverPage.html
If you’re in Fairbanks, its worth an overnight round trip to Denali via the Alaska Railroad. The experience is extraordinary and the round trip train ticket is about $130. The train ride alone is worth the trip even if the big mountain stays in the clouds (http://alaskarailroad.com).