Search This Blog

Alaska or Bust

By Mark Romanack

The beauty of Alaska is something that every fisherman should experience
first hand at least once in their life.
About 10 years ago my niece got married on a cruise ship headed for Alaska. My wife Mari and I joined the celebration and enjoyed a wonderful week sight seeing the inland passage and much of the coastal beauty Alaska has to offer.

Our Alaska adventure was pretty cool (I gained 10 pounds), but we didn’t get to spend much time on land or enjoy the fishing that Alaska is famous for. Recently, Mari, my youngest son Jake and 411 videographer/editor Gabe VanWormer and myself traveled to Salmon Catcher Lodge to sample Alaska’s world class fishing.

When planning a trip to Alaska the first hurdle is figuring out what time of year to go. Different species run at different times of year, making it critical to plan well in advance. We opted for a late August trip to coincide with the silver salmon (coho) run and also to provide good fishing for pink salmon, rainbow trout and dolly varden.

The pink run is most heavy on even years making 2014 ideal from the perspective of nearly guaranteeing red hot fishing action. The biologists were estimating that as many as four million pink salmon would be running the Kenai River in 2014 making our decision to go in August an easy one.

Pinks like this nice male caught on a Mag Lip 4.5 plug wrapped with
anchovy proved to be not only abundant, but exciting on the author’s
recent visit to Soldotna, Alaska.
Pink salmon are not highly prized by Alaskans, but for an angler from the Great Lakes who has only enjoyed limited opportunities to fish for pink salmon, I was all about the opportunity. To say the fishing for pinks was amazing would be an understatement. We caught quality pink salmon almost at will using a wide variety of tactics including Yakima Mag Lip plugs, spinners including the Rooster Tail Vibrix and Flash Glo, bead rigs and fresh skein.

Often our best fishing was within the city limits of Soldotna, Alaska  a town build around the sport fishing opportunities this region offers.

Silver or coho salmon are perhaps the most sought after fish species in Alaska. Considered second only to red salmon on the table, silvers are powerful fish, abundant and the Kenai River enjoys one of the biggest runs in Alaska.

Mari Romanack holds a typical Alaska “silver salmon” caught in the lower
Kenai River fishing plugs dressed with cut anchovy. All the action was
captured for an episode of Fishing 411 TV that will broadcast early in 2015.
Silvers are targeted a number of ways, but we traveled to Alaska to see first hand the unique plug fishing strategies local guides have pioneered. Silvers literally hammer a plug wobbled in front of them. Once hooked these fish jump and tear off line like a smallmouth bass on steroids!

Plugs like the Mag Lip 4.5 and 5.0 sizes proved deadly. To further entice strikes our river guides cut slices of anchovy and wrapped these thin strips of meat to the under body of the Mag Lip. There are actually groves in the torso of this bait designed to help hold the cut bait firmly in place.

In most cases the middle treble hook is removed before adding the anchovy strip, but some guides don’t bother to remove the belly hook. Not surprisingly the best producing colors were gaudy shades of pink, chartreuse, green, orange and combinations therein. It seemed the more gaudy the bait, the more the silvers liked them!

This fat rainbow proved to be the author’s “trip best”. Fishing bead rigs is
one of the most popular ways of targeting both rainbows and dolly garden.
Most of the anglers who visit Alaska are after the season treats like silvers, pinks, kings and red salmon. One of the most overlooked fisheries on the Kenai River are the abundant rainbow trout and home grown dolly varden trout.

The rainbows of the Kenai are true rainbows that live in the river year around and grow fat feeding on salmon spawn. The dolly varden are actually members of the char family and some biologist feel that dolly and arctic char are the same species.

Both the rainbows and the dolly varden are suckers for anything that resembles a salmon egg. Locally the river guides favor a bottom fishing tactic known as bead rigs.

A bead rig is set up similar to how a steelhead angler might roll bottom using a spawn sac except at the terminal end instead of a spawn bag, the angler uses a single round plastic bead threaded onto the line and pinned in place with a tooth pick.

A No. 8 beak hook is used at the terminal end with the hook placed about two or three inches from the bead. Split shot or slinky sinkers are used to get the rig to bottom. When a fish picks up the bead and the angler sets the hook, the bead slides down the line and the fish is hooked on the outside of the jaw making it very easy to live release fish without harming them.

Bead rigs are just starting to become popular here in the Great Lakes and after fishing them for several days in Alaska I can see why so many guides favor the bead rig over spawn sacs or fishing cut spawn.

Plugs are deadly on Alaska silvers and Jake
Romanack used an OR34 mini board from Off Shore
Tackle to reach out away from the boat and catch
bonus fish like this nice hen. 
For targeting pinks, silvers and rainbows and dolly with spinners and bead rigs we used my Okuma T-40X medium-light action steelhead rods. These rods were matched up to Okuma RTX spinning reels in size 35 and loaded with about 150 yards of Maxima Ultra Green monofilament line.

When targeting silvers on plugs we used Okuma T-40X and SST baitcasting rods in 9-10 foot lengths and medium actions. Akena and Isis round frame baitcasting reels loaded with 20# test Maxima Ultra Green line proved ideal for even the most powerful silvers.

During our stay in Alaska we were the guests of Salmon Catcher Lodge, who provides not only the best accommodations in Soldotna, but also has access to the region’s top fishing guides. Each day we fished with a different guide and sampled the caliber of fishing that has made Alaska a world fishing destination.

In 2015 fans of Fishing 411 TV will be treated to several exciting episodes dedicated to the unique style of fishing Alaska has made famous.