Fly fishing is a quintessentially Alaskan excursion, which encourages patience, awareness and introspection — oh yeah, and the skills to reel in a strong fish! During your next Alaskan cruise, schedule time to wade into a stream or ride across a lake and join a pastime celebrated by authors and artisans. “Catching a fish” might be the goal, but conversation, meditation and relaxation also occur as a result. Here are some facts about and suggestions on Alaskan fly fishing during your next cruise to the Last Frontier.
According to the World Atlas website, about 40 percent of U.S. surface water resources are in Alaska. These resources include 12,000 rivers, more than 3 million lakes and thousands of creeks, ponds and streams. And in those bodies of water are fish: species of wild Alaskan salmon, wild Alaskan shellfish and wild Alaskan whitefish.
For the salmon, one can find coho (also called silver salmon), keta, king, pink, rainbow trout, grayling and sockeye. Whitefish species include black cod, cod, halibut, pollock, rockfish and sole (also called flounder). Just as you could never see the entire Louvre Museum in a day, you could never fish the entire state in a lifetime. That being said, your excursion will permit you up to a full day to enjoy fishing near cities, saltwater locations, freshwater locations and national parks, with the best time of year for fishing being May to September.
Opportunities for Alaskan fly fishing aren’t exclusive to the state’s national parks. One can find fishing hubs near cities such as Juneau, Alaska’s capital. Juneau offers opportunities for cutthroat trout or coho salmon along a number of beautiful streams. All it takes is boarding a floatplane, since most spots aren’t accessible by roads. What’s more, the flight offers a fantastic opportunity to see brown and black bears, deer and moose.
Another relatively urban locale for fly fishing is Anchorage, which has about 30 nearby lakes. Cast your lines in these bodies of water for rainbow trout, coho and trophy king salmon. During your excursion, experienced fly-fishing anglers will provide tips and tales based on their years of experience in these waters.
Fairbanks is another city surrounded by pristine waterways and forests. From its nearby lakes, you can catch king and chum salmon, in addition to trout. You’ll have the added excitement of seeing the fish approach your bait because Fairbanks’ waters are clear during the warmer months.
Further off the beaten path are Princess Wilderness Lodges, locationed near national parks that offer comfortable overnight accommodations. Guests can enjoy a host of adventure-based excursions such as touring massive glaciers, participating in a dog-sled experience, rafting down a river or learning about the Gold Rush era. Travelers can take a couple of days away from their cruise, or in some cases a pause from a train-based vacation, to appreciate more of Alaska’s natural wonders.
Other excursions include fly-fishing near one of several locations: Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge, based in Cooper Landing in the middle of the Kenai Peninsula; Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, in Denali National Park and Preserve; Mount McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge, in Tapper Creek; and Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge, in Copper Center.
Some excursions are catch-and-release based, such as the Denali Fly-Fishing for Artic Grayling. Yet, the Kenai Upper River Fishing excursion offers a Princess Cruises’ Cook My Catch option. This exclusive culinary experience highlights the pinnacles of fresh seafood; it also offers you the rare opportunity to catch and cook your food.
There’s an inherent appreciation for eating food you’ve caught, whether from deer or duck hunting, or in this case, feeling the exertion in your arms, the straining of the fishing line or the balance you struggle to maintain over submerged stones and the sensation of fresh air filling your lungs. Those brief moments of excitement will be remembered with the sound of the river, the warmth of the sunshine and the void left by not hearing your phone.
As with fly fishing anywhere, Alaskan fly fishing comes with some modern requirements. Fishing licenses are required for anyone 15 years or older. For some lodges, it’s 16 years. Locations vary on whether licenses are available for purchase before arrival or at the lodges upon arrival. If you want to buy a license onsite, bring cash. Booking early is strongly encouraged, in addition to dressing appropriately with a jacket, hat, gloves, waterproof footwear, warm socks and sunglasses. Fishing gear is provided at all locations, while certain locations, such Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge, provide snacks, lunch and beverages, as well.
At the bare bones, there’s traditional rod casting and fly casting. With traditional rod casting, the lure is the heaviest part. You cast it forward, and it pulls the line behind it as it flies through the air. Then you pull it backward, toward you.
For a fly rod and line, the line is the heaviest part and when you cast forward, the line carries the momentum and also the leader and the fly with it. There’s a bit of detail to the mechanics, but here’s the sweet and short of it: a fly rod is composed of a rod, a fly reel, a fly line and flies. In addition, you have a leader and a tippet connecting the line to the flies.
The first function of the leader and tippet is to connect your thick, colored fly line to the flies that you are trying to present to the fish, with a material that won’t scare them away. The second function of the leader and tippet is to complete the transfer of energy built up in the fly line: from the casting stroke through the line and down to the fly so that your line rolls over and out in a fairly straight path.
Fly casting is like visual poetry with a dash of physics, one of the most important aspects of fly fishing. Your casting helps you trick the fish into thinking you’re its food. Speaking of which, let’s briefly discuss the flies.
The flies are imitations of insects that float on the water, such as mayflies, caddis flies, grasshoppers or the occasional ant. Then you have the insects that live beneath the water as well, nymphs for example. You can even use flies that don’t resemble insects in the natural world but still catch the fish’s attention. Flies can dress fabulously!
The flies are assembled using natural and artificial materials: feathers from ducks, pheasants or other birds; fur and hairs from deer, elk and beavers; synthetic materials; glass, brass or tungsten beads; tinsels, wires and other ribbing materials. Crafting these flies is an artform in and of itself. But for us, this is an artform with a purpose — to catch Alaskan fish.
Hooked on the idea of Alaskan fly fishing? The thrill of the Last Frontier is closer than you think: Just give one of our travel agents a call. Not only do they act as your one-stop-bait-shop for all the glistening possibilities of fishing on vacation, but also they can secure you exclusive perks and amenities with whoever you choose to travel with. Whether you’re fishing in Sitka or squarely in the middle of untamed nature, you’ll find yourself flooded with serenity.