Members of the WBHS ski and golf teams (both JV) traveled to the far-reaches of the United States for our annual gathering. As mentioned before, this group goes back to kindergarten/elementary school. While we normally do a ski trip, this year we mixed it up with a fishing trip to Alaska. Chris wasn’t able to make our last big trip to Austria, which ended right as the pandemic was unfolding in March of 2020.
Chris did a great job of organizing our travel after hearing about it from a friend. We all flew to Kenai, AK, which is a 20 minute flight from Anchorage. We stayed for 5 nights at the Tower Rock Lodge, which is on the Kenai River where we fished for a couple days. I had no idea what to pack, so I packed all my ski gear. It turned out to be a lot like skiing … cold, rainy skiing.
Our first day of fishing was the most scenic. We headed to Crescent Lake in Lake Clark National Park, which is only accessible by float plane or boat. We took the former, which was an adventure in itself. Once landed with our gear unloaded, we took a couple boats down river. Immediately we saw a couple bear cubs playing along the shore, with their mother nearby. This was only the first of many bear encounters and sightings throughout the day.
We were fishing for Silver Salmon, but caught some Pinks and Dolly Varden trout, which are not good for eating. The fishing was tough and we didn’t get our limit, but two other guys in another group didn’t catch anything all day. The challenging fishing was made up for by a very scenic and thrilling plane ride home. Our pilot seemed to be inspired by Top Gun Maverick, as we flew up and over the crest of a range and descended down a narrow canyon. I wished I had some video, but most importantly we lived to tell the tale.
We generally had breakfast and dinner at the lodge, which was always prepared and served beautifully. The food was really good. Thursday after breakfast, we walked a hundred yards to the river and fished the Lower Kenai all day. We were split 3 and 3 into two boats and neither boat hit their limit (3 Silvers per person). The limit just prior to September 1st was only 2 per person, which we did achieve.
Our Halibut charter on Friday was cancelled due to high winds and rough seas. We ended up on the Lower Kenai again with the same groups, but we switched guides. This meant we got to spend the day with Bear the dog, who comforted us through tough times. I think our boat only caught four keepers that day, though we did throw back a couple Pinks.
The weather and seas on Saturday were much nicer. We got up for a 5am departure and a 90-minute drive to Homer. I haven’t been on that many boats, but when we boarded Big Dan’s fishing vessel, we knew it was something special. He said it was the nicest sport fishing boat in Alaska and I don’t have a reason to doubt him. It was an almost brand new all-aluminum catamaran with four outboard Yamaha 425 V8s.
We cruised about 90 minutes to our fishing spot. We did an experiment where half the group took Dramamine and the other half didn’t. I didn’t, and honestly, I didn’t feel great. Nick, it turned out, wasn’t feeling 100% either, but we both gutted it out.
Halibut fishing seemed to be a lot easier. We started pulling up keepers almost immediately. There are a lot of regulations in fishing. For halibut, you must catch one smaller than 28″ and the other can be any size, so the goal is as big as possible. All of us got our big ones except Nick, which meant that every time there was a fish on, he had to reel it up. Nick caught 3 skate and a flounder while trying to get his limit. He was grinding hard and digging deep to bring up those fish.
It turned out to be surprisingly difficult to catch our last few small ones as the tide and conditions changed. I think we ended up being just one short when a line got caught in one of the props and we had to limp home on 3 engines. Once that was sorted in the marina, we made our way back to Kenai. Someone caught a halibut that was almost 7 feet long and 300 pounds, which we saw on the way out.
The cook prepared our halibut cheeks as an appetizer and cooked some of our halibut as our final entree. The rest of our fish was sent to the processor to be cleaned, packed and frozen for our return trip home. Five of us split up the fish and I’d guess it was about 30-35lbs each.
Even though I live the closest, it still took me 3 flights and about 15 hours to get home. I can’t really complain because Nick just got home and Mike might still be flying to Laguardia.
This was another epic trip in the books. I mostly came to hang out and take pictures of these guys fishing, but I had fun getting mine, too. One of the kids asked me if I was having fun and I said it was fun, but not pleasant. Fishing is hard work. I wouldn’t normally stand out in the cold and rain for 7 hours, bouncing bait off the river bottom about 12,000 times. But, it was worth it to spend some solid time together.
We’re already talking about our next trip. Chris feels like we missed out on King Salmon season and Nick is wondering why we don’t go somewhere warm to golf. I’m always game for anything and hope we can try it all (before we can’t).