PRO TIPS FOR SALMON FISHING IN ALASKA
– by Nina for NomadApp
For as long as I can remember fishing has been a true passion for me. I would not call myself a technically good fisherman, nor would I say I fish all the time, but my enthusiasm and excitement whenever I go is real. Whether it is a small brown trout, mackerel, cod or salmon, hooking a fish will always leave me wanting more. I was lucky in that my dad often brought me along with him to go fishing when I was little. Growing up in Norway and having a dad who was interested in fishing I guess one could say that I was a bit spoiled with atlantic salmon fishing in Norwegian rivers. However this type of fishing is something only for the truly patient, and so at some point I started dreaming about one day being able to go salmon fishing in Alaska. A place where salmon wasn’t just a mythical creature like it sometimes feels in Norway. A Fisherman’s paradise people call it, and I promise you it was
24th of July 2016. I was ready and excited to leave for Alaska, more precisely the Talkeetna fishing lodge and Chunilna (clear) creek. A river famous for its incredible fishing and crystal clear waters. Chunilna creek offers fishing for rainbow trout, dolly warden, grayling and 5 different pacific salmon; King salmon, Pink, Chum, Coho and Sockeye. The trip would begin at Oslo airport with a transfer in Reykjavik, Iceland, probably one of the most efficient airports I’ve ever traveled through. From there on a 7 hour and 30 minute flight followed, destination Anchorage. Talkeetna has no commercial airport and so the only way to get to it is by car or hiring a small plane, taxi being the cheapest alternative. So that is what we went for.
As this was my first time visiting Alaska and North-America I didn’t mind the 3 hour drive from Anchorage to Talkeetna, despite the so far 13 hour journey and being pretty jetlagged. As we arrived at the river one of the guides was waiting with a boat and as I could hardly keep my eyes open at this point, the 20 minute boat drive with fresh air did me good. There was just too much information about the river and new impressions to even have time to be tired. A huge excitement about exploring potential fishing spots or seeing a wild animal, and in the far distant on clear days Denali (also known as Mount McKinley) would be fully visible. North America’s highest mountain peak with a summit elevation of 6,190 meters above sea level. As we continued up our guide was very enthusiastic, explaining the river, where the hotspots were and filled us in on what had happened in the previous days with all the other already arrived guests. Finally I could see the lodge and only a small walk stood between me, food and a good rest. We walked the remaining 800 meters and there Henrik Wessel, the owner and founder of Talkeetna Fishing Lodge and the rest of the weeks guests were welcoming us. The chef was waiting with dinner, serving us salmon, a good way to start the trip and end the very long day. After dinner we were followed to our cottage and shown the room, which resembled a lot the traditional Norwegian cottages, with woodwork and containing all what one would need. The luxury of having a proper toilet and shower was also something I was very grateful for, seeing this is not always available when going on fishing trips. Before we could all crawl to bed, s’mores were made at the campfire, and a compulsory beer or two was enjoyed.
Day one, and I couldn’t wait to get going and start fishing. Breakfast was served at 9am and once we’d all gotten some coffee and food the guides started dropping us off at all the fishing spots. However before letting us loose into the Alaskan wilderness we were all introduced to bear spray, with precise instructions on how to use it and the importance of always bringing one with you whenever walking outdoors. Even on small strolls or walking between the cottages to the kitchen and main house, a bear could surprise you and one wouldn’t want to be unprepared if that were to happen. As I got to experience, a normal day at the lodge would usually consist of two to three sessions at the river, however for the special interested and eager, it would always be possible to lure a guide and a boat out for an early morning or late evening. This day I was placed at Bikini Beach for the first period. I was handed a local secret to get the salmon go crazy, and in this river they surely did. Dolly Lamas, they were big, fluffy and extremely colourful flies, something most Norwegian fishermen probably would laugh at, but in this river did wonders. All my equipment was prepped, I threw out the line and seconds after I’d hooked my first salmon for the trip. It took me just a few minutes and a nice beautiful specimen came towards me. A male pink salmon or humpy as it’s also called, would be the beginning of six magical days for me and for all the other fishermen this week.
The most thrilling day for me was definitely the second one. Due to jetlag I woke up early and decided there was no point on waiting until after food to go fishing. One of the guides was lured out and before breakfast I managed to catch four out of the five possible salmon species in this river, and in less than two hours! At this point I was already satisfied with my catch so the rest of the week would only be a bonus, seeing I couldn’t imagine I would be able to top this session. By dinnertime I had caught seventeen salmon and a beautiful rainbow trout, in only one day. Food and a glass of wine had never tasted so good before.
Everyday we would alternate between all the different fish spots and I must say their names made me chuckle. Honey Pot, Dicks Landing, The Mouth, Bikini Beach and Glory Hole, names I can only guess were made after a big dinner with a good amount of wine and beer on the side. For both professional fishermen and for beginners, Chunilna Creek was great. As for me being somewhere inbetween, I wouldn’t say that was any different. While I got more experienced on fishing in this river, the amusement of guessing what type of salmon I had hooked before being able to see it, gave me great pleasure. Chums were extremely feisty, strong fighters leaving you with a constant concern of their sharp teeth snapping the line while reeling them in. Pinks being the other and safest bet, would not bite as strong, yet there was definitely life in them as well. After hooking around twenty Pink salmons, I think most of us always hoped for something else to bite the fly, you could say this river spoils you a bit. Having only fished one Coho (silver salmon) and one Sockeye (red salmon) I can’t remember the exact feeling when hooking one and I guess the rush of adrenaline might be partly to blame. Other than an insane amount of salmon, Alaska also consists of great wildlife and on the trip I would frequently see beavers along the river. Bear tracks were also a common sight, and their fish leftovers would always make me check whether the bear spray was still stuck in my belt.
As the days passed and the fishing kept on being great, we made plans on going in to see the town of Talkeetna. Friday evening this group of fishermen cleaned up, and headed toward civilization. We all agreed it would be a good idea to get a hold of some proper food before proceeding to one of the local bars, which surely would be a more liquid experience. An American sized T-bone steak was ordered at Denali Brewpub, a recommended go to whenever in Talkeetna and our next stop would be Fairview Inn. A bar decorated according to real Alaskan standards, with stuffed animals everywhere. It even had a bear skin stuck to the roof. As we entered ‘Wasteland Hop’ was playing, a unique cross of folk/rock/hip-hop band, and the place was completely packed. We danced, we played ping pong, we talked and people of all ages were gathered and enjoying themselves. Fairview inn is definitely a place to visit if you want a night out of the ordinary. The next morning I was excited to go back up to the lodge and continue fishing, as my time at the lodge was running out. However before that, one last place had to be explored. Nagley’s store, which was founded in 1921 is a general store, though not very big probably would have anything you might be looking for. I ended up eating my “breakfast” there, and a big scoop of ice cream was not a bad way to start the day. As me and one of the guides wanted to go back to the lodge early, we left the truck for the others and borrowed some bikes. On our way to the boat some more of the Alaskan wildlife exposed itself, and a big female moose stood only fifteen meters from us. Apparently the same one had been seen only a few days earlier however then she was together with her calf, which now was nowhere to been seen. Perhaps they’d encountered a bear? A very likely incident in these bear filled woods.
Sunday would be my last day fishing and seeing as I wanted to get the most out of it, I decided on doing a morning session together with two of the other people in my group. We were dropped at Glory Hole and as we reeled in fish after fish I all of a sudden heard one of the others scream “Bear!” rather baffled it took me a while before I understood what was going on and when I started looking around, about 20 meters behind me I could see something moving in the bushes. It turned out this would be my closest interaction with a bear, and had I looked a bit sooner I would have seen a small brown bear walking right behind me. I must say I would have preferred to actually have seen it myself, however being as close to the bear as I was, I can’t say I’m disappointed. I was left with a small adrenalin rush for the rest of that day, and I had an additional great story to tell from my Talkeetna Fishing Lodge adventure.
Being used to salmon fishing in Norway where on lucky days you might get one, Chunilna creek was a whole different story. I wouldn’t have imagined that I would catch as many fish as I did, but the fact was that after these six days I caught fifty salmon and three good sized rainbow trout. Out of my group I can proudly say I caught the highest amount, though many fishermen both before and after me have caught not only twice, but perhaps even six times as many fish as I did. Henrik Wessel and the rest of the people working at Talkeetna Fishing Lodge did a great job making the whole week unforgettable, being both exquisite fish guides, chefs and handymen. It ended up being a trip I can’t compare to anything else I’ve ever experienced before, and if I got the opportunity to go back, I’ll assure you I’ll be on a plane heading to Alaska in a heartbeat.
Nina is from Oslo, Norway; just finished her bachelor in Dancing and Rehearsal Coaching, majoring in classical ballet. After 4,5 years studying in Budapest, Hungary. In November she’ll be traveling to Argentina to live there for about 9 months. Working as a gaucha for two months, followed by 5-6 months of teaching Dance and English to children.