Salmon Fishing in Alaska

Being in Alaska we could not miss the opportunity to go for salmon fishing. Coming from a family of passionate fishermen, I grew up with my father fishing trout in the Carphatian mountains of Transylvania. So many times I have heard him talking and dreaming about going for salmon fishing in Alaska. And here we were in Alaska with the opportunity of accomplishing my father’s dream! Unfortunately he passed away without making his dream come true, so it was something I had to do! We just needed the right opportunity…

Fishing salmon, Kenai River, Alaska
Fishing salmon, Kenai River, Alaska

From our previous adventure in Denali National Park we headed towards the Kenai Peninsula. On our way to Anchorage we stopped in Eagle River, a charming small town north of Anchorage to get some supplies at the local supermarket. At the parking lot, a place where me generally meet a lot people due to the weirdness or coolness of our truck, we met Mike who was curious to know more about our story, about the truck and what were we doing in Alaska. We clicked with Mike instantly. We felt he was a person to be trusted and he felt the same about us. Thus he invited us to park the truck for the night on his front yard and offered his house for anything we needed: from water and electricity to laundry. Lucky days 😉

We soon found out that Mike is a passionate fisherman. He enjoys spending his summers fly-fishing in Alaska. He has a garage full of fishing gear including a boat, waterproof suits, boots, plenty of rods, as well as his own workshop to design and manufacture fly-fishing bites. I had a big smile on my face when I saw his workshop. It was a throwback into my childhood and reminded me of my first business as a pre-teenager. When I was about 12 years old I learnt from my grandpa and my father how to create the artificial flies, the bites for fly fishing. Not only did I learn how to do the artwork, but my father would tell me which bites were more popular for what type of fish, what works for which river and for what season. This was jack pot for me. I knew all my father’s fishermen friends would love to know his secrets since he was one of the best in his generation and community. Of course I was taking advantage of his knowledge, would manufacture the flies that he would catch most of the fish with and sell those flies to his fishermen friends :))) This little business allowed me to spend the summertime holidays in my favorite destination at that time, the Black Sea.

A serious workshop for fly fishing bites. Mike knows how to do it :)
A serious workshop for fly fishing bites. Mike knows how to do it 🙂

It didn’t take too long for Mike to invite us to go fly-fishing with him on the legendary Kenai River. The Kenai River is one of the most popular rivers for salmon fishing in Alaska. We couldn't get more excited about the invitation. What could we wish more? Fishing in Alaska on Kenai River and learning from a local expert was a dream coming true. The salmon season was on its last days, so this was our opportunity, and we took it! The fact that we were going for salmon and trout fishing in Alaska, couldn’t make me prouder, thinking that this was my dad’s dream coming true and that he would be watching me from wherever he may be, smiling. I was living his dream.

We went to Walmart and bought a daily fishing permit for 25$ each. It is amazing all the gear they have available for fishing in Alaska. We met other ‘fellow' fisherman (lol) and gathered more info about the fishing conditions the following day, and a few dos and dont’s.

Upon our return Mike offered us to borrow all the gear we needed. We borrowed waterproof suites, boots, specialized rods and bites. We prepared the skiff and connected to the truck, prepared sandwiches, selected a few sweets and drinks. The adventure was on!

We set out before sunrise and drove about two hours towards Cooper Landing passing by Turnagain Arm, a waterway with one of the highest tides in the world, second only to Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. That road was stunningly beautiful.  

Arriving at the boat landing area we parked the trucks, geared up and placed Mike’s skiff on the water. Soon enough we entered the freezing waters all the way up to our waist line without feeling any cold! The waterproof gear we borrowed was of great quality, so we felt really comfortable. We could clearly see through the turquoise water many fish, mostly red salmon. Whilst I grew up watching my father fishing trout I have never seen so many so clearly. It felt magic.

We set the skiff off and crossed into one of Kenai River islands. Mike played his role of experienced fisherman coaching us how to select the bites for fly-fishing. I must confess I was completely distracted, captured by the nature’s beauty: salmons of all sizes wondering around, wild ducks flying upstream, abundant fresh all green mountain nature surrounding us, while on the other side of the river we had a serious competitor, a grizzly bear jumping and grabbing as many salmon as he could.

Somehow I feel I missed the lesson, or perhaps I just forgot all the flying-fishing techniques explained to me by Mike. I felt there was so much going on, just in front of my eyes, that I couldn't miss. It was like a live National Geographic moment! I just wanted to look at everything and feel it.

JP on the other hand was very focused. He was hooked into the flying fishing from the first tries. He was pretty talented for a beginner or maybe it was too easy to fish with plenty of salmon in the river 🙂 nonetheless he got a dolly trout and a red salmon from his first tries. JP was excited like a child, listening carefully to Mike, mimicking all he would do.

That day we learned more than we expected. It was a live biology masterclass passing through in front of our eyes.

Since it was the end of the season there was a lot of dead salmon by the side of the river. Some were alive yet very tired, swimming slowly on the shallow waters, awaiting their moment to pass. I was wondering why was this happening and was somehow heartbroken seeing all that. Then, from Mike I learned the salmon lifecycle.

They are born on the river, way up in the mountains, close to the spring source. Once they are born they fight their way into the ocean escaping from a multitude of predators until reaching the deep blue waters. There, in the ocean they will grow on the proper environment to develop for about 3 to 4 years. When they reach maturity they return to the very same river they were born in to leave their eggs, and reproduce. Imagine, they swim up the river against the current, jumping rapids, escaping from fishermen and predators such as the Grizzly bear. They make a huge effort to swim upstream against all odds for the ultimate goal of reproduction. Once they reach this goal, they die on the same river they were born. Their life is relatively simple. After the effort necessary to multiply the species, once they reached their lifetime mission of perpetuation, they sacrifice themselves dying naturally. From red they turn white, decomposing slowly and becoming nutrients for the soil and food for other animals.

We watched so many salmon turning red, then white, and decomposing in front of our eyes. It was my first time seeing it happening. It was dramatic, but it was also natural, the way it has always been. It moved me and somehow gave me a life lesson. They accept naturally their mission, their cycle of existence, giving their ultimate breath for the goal of reproduction. Once accomplished they reintegrate into the nature completing the cycle.

Absorbed by the salmon’s life story, we were enjoying a smooth sail down the river, observing the nature and the mighty bold eagle on top of a pine trees overlooking the valley.

Without realizing, time flew and it was already 6pm when we decided to get the skiff out of the water. Our day wasn’t finished yet, we went for a short hike to see the Kenai river from the top. This was one of Mike’s secret spots. The trail was full of bear poo. It looked like the bear had a feast of salmon and berries :))) Fearing the bear encounter and putting extra efforts at the end of the day to reach this peak, we were rewarded. We had a memorable view of the Kenai River, a memory we will carry with us forever. 

Salmon fishing with Mike was priceless for us. We made a good friend and had a tremendous experience. We were greeted by a generous person with the best of the Alaskan hospitality, had a unique fishing experience, a masterclass of fly-fishing from a patient and experienced fishermen and lived the magic of this nature. I felt closer to my childhood and father than never on this road trip. Thank you Mike!

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About the author: Ioana Marins

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