Alaska for the Frugal Kayak Angler E-mail
Written by Troy Eastman   
Tuesday, 09 November 2010 11:34

Troy fighting a halibut near Ketchikan

 

Have you always dreamed of remote Kayak Fishing trip in Alaska for Halibut, Lingcod and Salmon, but always thought it was too expensive?  What if I told you, you could get a two week trip for under $3000.00, including airfare, food, lodging, fishing licenses, baggage fees and more. Well you can, and I have done just this, on three separate trips in the last 4 years. I have done such trips to the towns of Seward, Valdez and Ketchikan. All it takes is a little research with the help of Google, and planning.

The first secret is to plan early, and get the Airline tickets no later than 6 months prior to the trip. Doing so, will ensure you get the tickets for around 50% of what you will end up paying if you book later, and will ensure you are able to get a seat when you need it. In August this year, I flew from Jacksonville, Florida to Ketchikan, Alaska for $675.00 round trip. The second secret is to try to have several people join you on the trip, as they will help reduce the cost of taxis, water taxis, camp sites and cabins, as well as a rental vehicle if you determine you need one.

A major part of the planning is obtaining your lodging. Here it’s best to avoid hotels and resorts because even the cheapest hotel in the summer, the prime fishing season, is expensive and will destroy your budget. Most are going to be over $150.00 a night, resorts are even more expensive. Tent camping or US Forest Service Cabins are your best, and by far the cheapest. Luckily, most towns in Alaska have campgrounds nearby for $10.00 to $20.00 a night, many are RV sites too, and these tend to have hot showers and laundry facilities too. Forest service cabins are $25.00 - $35.00 a night, and sleep four comfortably but will accommodate six in close quarters. They provide protection from the weather, plus they have oil or wood burning stoves to keep you warm, dry your equipment and cook your food.

Allen with a nice ling

Travel from the airport to the campsite usually involves a taxi, and since most of the towns you would base out of are small, the travel distance from airport to campsite is relatively short, making them very modestly priced (Most I have paid outside of Anchorage, is $15.00 one way).

If traveling alone or with one other person, hitch hiking is also a very popular, safe and readily available mode of travel in rural Alaska. Campsites are a first come first serve basis, but I have never had a problem getting one for tent camping.

Rental cars are expensive, and gasoline was over $3.50 a gallon this summer (2010). Rental cars can run over $1000.00 a week, so unless you really need to drive somewhere, I would recommend saving that money for more important things, like Water Taxis to remote cabins and islands. Also it’s prudent to pack as light as reasonable because of the fees the airlines are charging for additional checked bags. Traveling as light as possible has become a necessity.

If you book a remote cabin traveling to it is going to involve a water taxis or kayaking long distances from the town. That’s because most cabins are more than 50 miles from the closest town. Water taxis are a major expense, and that’s why you want to hook up with others on your trip. While not cheap they become reasonable with a group of four or more. Water taxis provide easy transport of larger amounts of camping equipment and supplies for extended stays

If you plan on kayaking from the town to the remote cabin, you may need to plan on camping on a beach on the way out and back. This can generally only be done on National Forest land, and requires a Wilderness Permit. Many islands and beaches in Alaska are owned by Native tribes, and generally do not allow access to them to non tribal members.

Food is actually relatively cheap, despite what you may have heard from people in Alaska. The secret is to use the bounty of the ocean for your main protein source, and supplement that with rice, beans, lentils, pasta, spices, and other things you buy at a supermarket in one of the major cities.

Put a lot of thought into your equipment and determine what you want to bring with you. Rent it (when possible), or buying it in Alaska becomes one of your most important things to consider. Size and weight become important. Since the summer months are the most likely time for such a trip, the days are long, and the nights very short.,  The weather is temperate, with highs in the 60’s to high 70’s in the day, and lows in the high 40’s to low 60’s at night. I take and highly recommend a 40’ degree sleeping bag that weighs 8 oz. It’s perfect for there. Long sleeve fleece shirts and pants are also recommended, as these will keep you warm even when wet, and can be used to increase the warmth of the sleeping bags on the coldest nights, pulling double duty. Breathable waders and a semi-dry or breathable jacket are a necessity.

Isaac fighting his first halibut

Try to be a minimalist when choosing fishing equipment. I highly recommend travel rods for since they can be carried on the airplane with you. I take the following which all fit into a nice foam lined Temple Forks Outfitters 4” Rod Tube, that easily fits in the overhead bin on airplanes, and the reels fit in my carryon bag with a full change of clothes, breathable jacket and waders.

An Echo Classic four-piece 9.0’ 8 wt fly rod with a Echo Reel 69 Fly Reel and WF8 Floating Line.

A Temple Forks Outfitter TFS763MH 7.5’ Spinning Rod teamed with a Shimano Stradic ST2500FI  Spinning Reel with 15lb braid.

A Penn PT1530C66, three-piece 6.5’ Bait Casting rod, with a Penn 320GT2 reel, with 30lb braid.

Tents, cooking gear, sleeping pad, and other things are something you can pack into a cooler and pay the fee to ship in the hold of the aircraft, so think light and compact. Since you will likely be checking a bag with clothing and fishing tackle (filet knife, lip grippers, hooks, flies, lures, leader material, pliers, etc) try your best to keep it to a minimum. It’s hard but you’re very likely going to pay $50.00 or more, each way, for a second checked bag. Remember there’s both a dimensional and 50lb weight limit per bag. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to exceed that weight.

Troy's first silver salmon from a kayak

Other options are: Try to rent some gear from an outfitter in the area. This is not always easy to do, as not all places have outfitters who will do so, but many do. This is where researching ahead of time, and contacting guides in the area is important. If you have scheduled a guide to take you on a remote trip, and to rent kayaks, they are more likely to rent you camping equipment for the period since you’re already using their services. However keep in mind this is their busy season, and they have little to no time to help you except when you have booked their services.

You can buy the equipment you need once you get into Alaska. Every town has a hardware store that also sells tents, etc…  Some have larger stores like Wal-Mart and Fred Meyer have a decent selection of stuff and lower prices. The main problem with buying the equipment you need when you get there, is what to do with it when you’re done. Luckily, I have found that locals will often take them off your hands, and there are the Salvation Army and thrift shops in most towns that will take them too. One advantage of thrift shops is they are also a great place to get slightly used equipment for your trip, instead of buying new.

Now for information about specific towns I have kayak fished in and near:

Valdez

Best camping facilities are in town. Near town is excellent fishing for Pink and Silver Salmon in season.

Camping:  Several places offer tent camping sites in or near town. Eagles Rest RV Park, Bearpaw Camper Park, Bayside RV Park, and Allison Point Campground are all in town and close to the boat harbor, shopping and restaurants. Sea Otter RV Park is across the Marina and is only about a mile walk from town.

Camping Supplies:  Valdez disadvantage is its lack of a Fred Meyer or Wal-Mart nearby, and the hardware stores have typical Alaska prices for their equipment. There is a Thrift Store in Valdez called Second Time Around.

Water Taxi, Kayak Rental and Guide Services:  Valdez has a couple of places to rent sit on top kayaks from, as well as to arrange for a trip out to several remote forest service cabins or beaches (These require a Wilderness permit from the USFS).

Otto Kulm of Pacific Mountain Guides www.pacificmountainguides.com can help arrange transport and kayak rentals for a party of up to 6 for the cost of a Halibut charter each way. ($1500.00 each way in 2008) plus kayak rentals at about $150.00 a week. Contact him for more information.

Kimberlin’s Water Taxi, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it also has several kayaks they can rent out and provides water taxi services and he can handle groups up to 15 with kayaks and gear. ($1800.00 each way in 2008), plus they have kayaks to rent along with tents and gear. Contact them for quotes and information.

Remote Camping:  Valdez has several Forest Service Cabins that can be rented with excellent fishing opportunities for Halibut, Lingcod, Salmon and other species. I recommend Shelter Cove Cabin on Hinchenbrook Island and Port Chalmers Cabin on Montague Island. Having stayed at both, Shelter Cove had better fishing for Pink Salmon, Silver Salmon, Lingcod and Halibut when I was there, but then it might have just been the conditions at the time. Port Chalmers (When we fished there Alaska was experiencing the coldest summer on record and things were running late and is most likely what contributed to slower fishing then the year previous at Hinchenbrook.) had some really fishy looking water, and we did catch a 50+ lb Halibut, several smaller halibut and lingcod, and lots of black, blue and copper rockfish on the trip. There are many others, and a beach tent camping trip is also a possibility.

 

Steve's first halibut

Overall, in my opinion, Valdez offers the best combination of camping amenities, access to camping equipment rentals, and fishing opportunities in town. They also have the best access to remote cabins and kayak rentals for use at the cabins. They also have fish processing facilities in town, that will shrink wrap and freeze your catch for shipment home, for a modest fee, if you desire. You do not need a car at all, and they have access to charter Halibut, Salmon and Salmon Shark fishing trips if you desire to do more than kayak fish. They also have some decent Dolly Varden and Rainbow Trout fishing in the Robe River near town.

The major disadvantage with Valdez is that fishing for Halibut, Lingcod and Rockfish generally requires trips of 50 miles or so, and the use of Water taxis.

Seward

Seward has some decent camping facilities within the city limits and near the town. However, the distances in Seward, require either extensive use of taxi’s to get around or a rental car. It has excellent fishing opportunities for the largest variety of fish within a one to two hour drive. The Kenai River, Russian River, Crystal Creek, Ptarmigan Creek, the towns of Homer, Soldotna, Kenai, and numerous walk in lakes are all day trips from Seward. The town boasts some excellent restaurants and shops, but fishing for halibut, lingcod and salmon generally requires traveling away from town by kayak or Water Taxi.

Camping Supplies:  Seward itself is limited to a couple of hardware stores, but Soldotna, an hour drive away, has a Fred Meyer that is well stocked with everything you would ever need.  Seward does not have a Salvation Army, but they do have two thrift stores, Ray’s Reusables and Juliennes Second Hand.

Water Taxi, Kayak Rental and Guide Services:  This is an area I am not as familiar with for Kayak fishing as the others, usually enjoying all the land based access available. However, on my last trip there, I did contact my friend, and fellow kayak angler, Chris Mautino at http://www.liquid-adventures.com/. Chris offers several kayak fishing packages for very reasonable prices and knows the waters of Resurrection Bay and the Kenai Peninsula very well. I know he is thinking of expanding his offerings in the region. Contact him for the latest information.

Remote Camping:  there are not as many Forest Service Cabins as there are near Valdez, for such do it yourself trips. One option is a Wilderness Permit and kayaking option. Another is hooking up with Chris at Liquid-Logic and have him set you up with a great remote Alaska kayak fishing excursion. He will best be able to help you time your trip for the best fishing for specific species, but again, plan early and book your trip months ahead for best results. Chris is an avid kayak angler so talk to him.

Overall, Seward offers a great combination of amenities and fish species to target, but with that come additional cost and transportation. But, if you get a group of four or more, even these costs are reasonable. Though, some of the best shore access on the Kenai requires daily parking passes, which will add up over time. From Seward, depending on the time of year, you can target all five species of Salmon, Halibut, Lingcod, Rockfish, Dolly Varden, Rainbow Trout, Grayling and even Pike.

The major disadvantages to Seward are a lack of places to rent fishing kayaks for the Do-it-yourself anglers and the need to have your own transportation. You will have to schedule a trip with a guide service, like Liquid Adventures if you desire to kayak fish in the area, but his prices are very reasonable for such a service.  You also will need a car if you just stayed in Seward. To access halibut and lingcod you would need a Water Taxi to get out to decent remote camping access places.

Ketchikan

Ketchikan has a couple of camping areas outside of town, but will require a taxi or hitchhiking to get to them. Within Ketchikan city, they have bus service that will get you to the Wal-Mart outside of town for any supplies you need. From there you can get a taxi to Settler’s Cove Campground, which is right on the water. It has an excellent Pink Salmon fishery at the mouth of the creek next to the park. Additionally you can catch dolly varden, rick fish, lingcod and halibut that’s a very short paddle from camp. All campsites are first come first serve, and you can stay up to 5 nights at a time. If you arrive on a Friday or Saturday, you can have problems getting a campsite, however, if you arrive any other day of the week the likelihood of all sites being full is negligible. This is primitive camping, no shower facilities, but fresh water and outhouses. There are also campsites inland around the nearby lakes.

Camping Supplies:  Ketchikan has a Wal-Mart, with a decent supply of camping and fishing supplies. Their food supply is limited and you will likely need to shop at the Safeway in town for those items too. Ketchikan has a Salvation Army Thrift Shop right near the boat harbor and Creek Street.

Water Taxi:  Ketchikan has a variety of Water Taxi and Air Taxi services, as well as ferry service to the town of Hollis on nearby Prince of Wales Island.

Remote Camping:  Ketchikan has a variety of Forest Service Cabins available in the area. The major cost is getting to and from them. Water taxi’s aren’t cheap, but with a larger group these costs become manageable.   Howard McKim, of http://www.Ketchikankayakco.com offers a variety of services, from kayak rentals to the Do It Yourself anglers, half day to multi day guided trips, to remote camping adventures like his Foggy Bay trip. (The first kayak fishing trip to Foggy Bay is on KFM and expect a full story of my 2010 trip to there in the near future.)  Book early though, as he is very busy during the summer months and may not be able to fit you into his schedule if he is already booked with tours.

Ketchikan offers a variety of fishing opportunities for most species of salmon, lingcod, halibut, and a variety rockfish, as well as dolly varden and rainbow trout.  There is also fish processing and freezer rental to preserve your catch available at Knudsen Cove Marina, which is a short distance from Ketchikan, and close to Settler’s Cove Campground.

The major disadvantage to Ketchikan is again, transportation. You have to get a taxi to go anywhere outside of downtown and there isn’t any camping in or near the city limits like there is in Valdez and Seward. Water Taxi’s are, as I said above, costly. They charge by the hour of the round trip, so the larger the group the better to spread the cost.

Another problem is laundry and shower facilities. The camping sites do not have these, but there is a place at the boat Marina near Creek Street that has both laundry and shower facilities for a modest fee. Additionally, be sure you have some cash on hand when you arrive, as the Ferry to the mainland costs $5.00, and they only take cash.

So if you’re interested in a trip of a lifetime, and you don’t want to break the bank and also have an opportunity to kayak fish some of the most beautiful and bountiful fishing waters in the world, it’s easy to do. It just requires lots of prior planning. If you would like further information on such trips, feel free to contact me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , and I will be more than happy to provide you with my personal experiences and recommendations.

I would also like to thank Chasina Bay Charter’s for providing me with a Hobie Outback kayak during my trip to Ketchikan.

Tight lines and lots of sleigh rides.

 

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