Alaska's Float Fish Trip
For the best experience of Alaska's wild country and world famous fishing, nothing else even comes close
by Rene Limeres
There's really only one way to go if you want to experience Alaska's wildest country and most fabulous fishing: take a float fishing trip.
"Floatfishing" as it is usually called, using rafts, canoes, kayaks, or driftboats to access Alaska's wilder fishing waters, is the least known and seldom chosen of many options available to the vacationing Alaska angler. Now compared to the glamour and comfort of lodges, or ease and economy of charters, fly-out cabins or even spike camps, these extended wilderness fishing excursions with few amenities have little appeal to the average vacationer.
But for folks for true adventure in their blook, any tradeoffs in comfort are more than made up by the special advantages of being streamside 24 hours a day on some of Alaska's more remote and fish-filled waters.
Most Alaska floatfishing odysseys begin in remote, pristine headwaters - crystal lakes and streams where lake trout and feisty grayling come fast and furious to an angler's offerings, and frequently caribou, grizzly bears and wolves are sighted. There, you'll make streamside camps on flower strewn gravel bars, fish till way past midnight if you so desire(Alaska's endless summer days will tempt you to do so) and fall asleep to the lullaby of running water, content with days full to the absolute brim with all the adventure and fishing a person can handle.
Unlike staying at a lodge or being on charters, there's no rigid schedule on floatfish trips; you decide when and where you want make camp and how much fishing you want to do. With camps right at water's edge , you get to sample some of Alaska's choicest fishing action during late evening or early morning, times when most other fishermen are back at lodges, docks or still in bed.
Floating rivers from their source also allows access to prime waters that are strictly inaccessible by any other means- remote pools, tributary confluences and backwater sloughs that no one else fishes. You'll float through thick schools of salmon and encounter the kind of trout and charr fishing that dreams are made of, especially in late summer, where it can be literally "fish on every cast" action for egg-gorged trout and greedy Dolly Vardens.
Aside from the obvious opportunities to work that casting arm until it falls off, a wild Alaska river journey is full of many different surprises and intimate glimpses of nature. There are endless encounters with wildlife as you float silently through lonely river valleys, spectacular sunsets that light up the entire sky, and picturesque hanging flower gardens that decorate canyon walls, not to mention hearty campfire camaraderie you'll share with your tripmates and the special feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction that comes from meeting the challenge and reaping the sweet rewards of some of the most incomparable wild fishing rivers left on the planet.
MAKING IT HAPPEN
A quality float fishing trip doesn't necessarily have to cost a fortune or involve impossible logistics. There are many reputable guiding companies that can provide a variety of different services and options, some very affordable, for floatfishing some of the best fishing rivers in the state. Full service, guided trips are recommended for beginners and certainly are the easiest and safest option. Do-it-yourselfers can choose either local or statewide outfitters who rent all the necessary gear and paraphenalia for safe, comfortable river expeditions.(Even air taxi companies these days have gotten in the business of outfitting for trips).
The most difficult thing about planning an Alaska float fishing trip may be deciding where to go, as there are literally hundreds of rivers and streams across the state that can provide abundant wild fishing of some kind or another and are perfectly suited to floating. The very best offer a variety of fishing, along with pleasing scenery, wildlife, exciting, but not too technical water, and relative ease of access.
TOP 12 ALASKA FLOAT FISH TRIPS:
Southcentral Alaska (near Anchorage)
Upper Kenai River (1/2-1 day): Still one of Alaska's best short duration float trips, the upper river, from Cooper Landing to Skilak Lake(closed to motorboats) offers good to excellent opportunities for big rainbow trout, Dollies and red and silver salmon. Hit it mid-June through September.
Gulkana River (4-7 days): Easy access and many possibilities for extended, float trips(4-7 days) that combine a variety of fishing with exciting river running and scenic country. Part of the Copper River system, noted for its fine grayling fishing and good runs of salmon (kings and reds), rainbows too, though they can be elusive. Do it from early June through mid-September( be sure to use a guide if you are a river novice).
Talachulitna River (2-6 days): Alaska's most classic stream. Famous for gorgeous rainbows, decent salmon fishing, great flyfishing water and beauty. Close to Anchorage, too(runs into the lower Skwenta River, directly across the Inlet from Anchorage). Lots of fast water and rapids, best done with a guide, unless you are fairly experienced. Do it in early July or August to mid-September.
Karluk River, Kodiak Island (4-6 days): Another legendary flyfishing river. One of the most productive fisheries in Alaska, world famous for salmon and steelhead, and a great float fish trip. Located on southwest Kodiak Island. Do it in early summer or fall.
Interior Alaska(near Fairbanks)
Upper Chena River (1/2-3 days): Known for its grayling and king salmon fishing, the lovely Chena offers a variety of water and fishing( including species like chum salmon, northern pike, sheefish, and even rainbow trout and arctic charr in its tributary lakes and streams). The best water to fish and float is the upper river(accessed via Chena Hot Springs Road), for trips that vary from a few hours to several days.
Southeast Alaska(near Yakutat)
Situk River (1-3 days): Another great short trip possibility, though certainly more out of the way. Located in northern Southeast Alaska, this extremely productive stream, with its legendary steelhead runs, also offers outstanding possibilities for fishing salmon, Dolly Varden and cutthroat trout. Best time spring or fall.
Southwest Alaska (access from Dillingham, Bethel or King Salmon)
Alagnak River (4-6 days): One of the most productive, easy and economical of many great Southwest Alaska float fish trips. Located in the fabulous Katmai country in the neck of the Alaska Peninsula, it has strong runs of all five salmon species and a longtime reputation for it's rainbows and good flyfishing. Early July to early September are the best times to floatfish it.
Kanektok River (7 days): One of Alaska's most famous and finest fishing streams. Flows into Kuskokwim Bay, west of Bristol Bay. Has classic wade and sight casting to trout and salmon in its crystal clear, shallow depths. Famous for it's "leopard rainbows". Best from July to mid-September.
Togiak River System, Southwest (4-6 days): A great float fish trip, with fabulous fishing and superb scenery. Located in Bristol Bay, west of the Wood Tikchiks. Best known for outstanding salmon fishing, and sea-run Dolly Varden. Do it in from mid-July to early September. Aniak River(6-8 days): A very wild and productive tributary of the lower Kuskokwim that makes for a great wilderness floatfishing trip, with good salmon, trout, charr and grayling fishing. Don't even consider this one without an experienced guide. Best done from the second week in July through the middle of September.
Unalakleet River (4-6 days): A real "out of the way" float fishing river, with lots of potential and no crowds. Located in Norton Sound, some 350 miles northwest of Anchorage, the Unalakleet has abundant king and silver salmon runs, along with great charr and grayling. Do it from late June to early September.
Upper Kobuk River (5-8 days): One of Alaska's arctic giants, draining the western edge of the Brooks Range, near Kotzebue. It has world famous angling for trophy sheefish( 30 lbs. or more) and good fishing for grayling, charr, lake trout and pike in its many headwaters and tributaries. Over 300 miles long. Best time for optimum fishing is August to early September. A true wilderness floatfishing adventure; don't try it without an experienced guide.