As host of the union-sponsored TV show, TRCP’s Life in the Open, I often get asked if there is fishing in Alaska that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. We all know about Alaska’s fly-in and fly-out lodges that cost anywhere from a few thousand a week to more than a $1,000 per day. But you don’t have to spend anything close to that to enjoy world-class trout, grayling and salmon fishing on the Last Frontier. Nope-you can do it on the cheap, on your own and have a ball doing it. I know because I did it.
My Alaska fishing trip began during a phone call with Ken Marsh, a friend of a friend who happens to be a noted Alaskan angler and the author of Breakfast at Trout’s Place. He said we had all kinds of options.
“We can charter a plane, we can drive to the end of beyond and then hike half a day, or we can head up the Parks Highway toward Denali and fish publicly accessible water right near the road.”
I liked the last option but asked how far we’d need to drive and whether or not we would catch anything worthwhile.
“It’s an hour or two north of Anchorage. How do three to six pound rainbows sound?” he asked. Maybe we’ll catch a few nice grayling and some 10 pound silvers, and there’s always a chance at a 10 to 12 pound rainbow, but smaller fish are the general rule.”
I responded with “let’s do it,” and what followed was pure heaven. We left Anchorage, drove to Wasilla and had breakfast at Trout’s Place before driving another half-hour north, where Ken turned off the main road, drove a few hundred yards down a gravel spur and parked. From there, it was a short walk, less than 300 yards, to the river.
Willow Creek is one of a handful of rivers and large creeks along this section of the Parks Highway, and all of them are great fisheries. Depending on which water you fish and the time of the year, they produce various species of salmon, grayling, rainbows and dollies. The silver salmon were spawning when I was there in September, and the rainbows were gorging on their eggs. The creek had experienced serious flooding the previous month and Ken was concerned, but he need not have been. We were into 3-5 pound rainbows and 10 pound salmon almost immediately.
It was one of those early autumn days with yellow leaves set against clear blue skies-the kind you just don’t forget. It was made especially memorable when our last stop produced a view of Denali, standing more than 20,000 feet high, in the distance.
Now for to the details. I got a reasonable flight to Anchorage, where I rented a car. My fishing license cost $50. The motels in Anchorage and along the Parks Highway were less than $100 a night, and the food at local cafes was both good and plentiful. Two or three friends sharing a rental vehicle, motel and food would cut down on costs considerably. You could spend five days fishing the world-class waters along Parks Highway with friends for less than a $1000 each and have a ball. And when you’re done, you could head south to the Kenai, where the fish are even bigger and there are housekeeping cabins that sleep 4-6 people for as little as $120 per night. Get Ken’s complete FAST FACTS for this trip.
Contrary to what many believe, Theodore Roosevelt never made it to Alaska, something a man who loved the lonely places probably regretted. Don’t make the same mistake. You don’t have to be rich to fish America’s Last Frontier. You just need to make a plan, get a buddy or two to go along, and as they say… just do it. But be forewarned, once you experience the great land, you’ll be hooked far deeper than the biggest rainbow swimming in Willow Creek!