Fly Fishing Alaska's Parks Highway
In a word Alaska is simply awesome. It’s awesome on every level and if you’ve never been there you owe it to yourself to go. The scenery is awe inspiring, the landscape is rugged, the rivers wild and pristine, the summer light is magical and the fishing is simply second to none. This trip (summer 2010) was primarily a fly fishing adventure but as a professional photographer I worked in as much shooting time as possible.
I’ve always been a bit of a “do it yourselfer” (aka cheap bastard) when it comes to fishing and this trip was no different. We would not be flying anywhere nor staying in any fancy lodges. No guides? No problem. Excellent fishing in Alaska is very doable without venturing too far from the road system or having to refinance your house. And if you’re willing to walk a mile or two you can experience the true wilderness that fishing in Alaska has come to symbolize. I think I did my entire trip (10 days) for $1,500, including airfare and rental car.
I met a good friend in Cantwell, AK (just south of Denali National Park) and we based our excursions out of his cabin, which is located off the Denali Highway. It’s really nice to have a warm dry place away from the bugs to crash at the end of a long day, many of which were rather cool and damp. It being early summer our primary target was Chinook or King salmon, big rainbows, and arctic grayling. There had been lower than expected returns of Kings in many of the rivers of central Alaska this particular year, combined with later than normal runs which resulted in a lot of river closures and reduced bag limits. Although we didn’t find as many rainbows as we hoped for there were lots of eager Kings to play with as well as a bunch of spunky grayling.
Here are a few highlights:
- sunrise 3:30 AM, sunset 12:30 AM, average length of day 21 hours
- weather ran the gamut, one day topped out at 84 F while several struggled to get higher than 46 F
- fished the East and Middle forks of the Chulitna River, Byers Creek, Indian River, Jack River and little tundra stream called Fish Creek
- tons of Kings hooked, many landed with one of the bigger fish measuring 46inches and approx. 40lbs
- broken backing resulting in lost fish and lost line
- 4 hours later retrieved line while fishing another hole several hundred yards down stream, fish still attached
- sight fished to several big rainbows on Byers Creek, largest landed was 22 inches (unfortunately slipped out of my buddy’s hands before the camera came out)
- epic dry fly fishing for arctic grayling on the Jack River, multiple fish in the 17-18 inch range
- didn’t get chased by a bear this time (was on a previous trip) although we found fresh bear tracks in the river mud on more than several occasions
- 3 moose and too many bald eagles to count
- cold Alaskan brew, especially fond of the smoked porter
- lots of quality time spent with old friends
And of course the photos, here’s a handful of the keepers from the trip.
Kurt Budliger is a full-time professional photographer specializing in fly fishing, outdoor lifestyle, and scenic landscapes. He works with a variety of editorial, commercial, and non-profit clients throughout the year. His work is regularly featured in magazines and calendars and his fine art prints of Vermont and New England landscapes can be found in many private collections and galleries around the country. He is an active member of Trout Unlimited and was the first Vermont business to partner with 1% for the Planet. When he’s not out photographing, fly fishing, hiking, biking, or skiing, he can be found spending time with his wife and two small children in his home state of Vermont. See more of Kurt's work by visiting his website, www.kurtbudligerphotography.com