Fishing early August in Alaska is an awesome time. Great weather, last part of sockeye fishing, and the chrome silvers are making their way upstream. It also is the time for one of Alaska's largest festivals, Salmon Fest. From August 4th to 6th in the little town of Ninilchik, population 880; thousands of hippies reside for camping, music, and salmon. The first time I saw salmon fest it was a shock. I was at the Ninilchik General Store and there were thousands of people walking around; which isn't a normal sight for sure. We had Saturday off from work so Cole, Cheyanee, Brandon, Corina and I went to go experience Salmon Fest first hand. There were all types of people present young, old, hippie, business professionals, tourist, and some mountain men deep from the bush. It was definitely a different experience than your typical honkytonk in Texas, but a good time to say the least. The musicians were majority local artist, but also had some bigger names that night with Jewel and a surprise performance by Zac Brown from the Zac Brown band. If you plan on visiting early August, I would recommend at least driving through Ninilchik and check it out. Maybe add a few more unique pics to the Alaska vacation album.
You got two types of guides in Alaska. You got your salt captains and you got your River captains. We have totally different waters, but both live, eat, and sleep fishing. There is an ongoing joke with the ole salt captains that us river guides have it easy floating down the river in our shades and short getting a nice golden tan. While the salt captains battle 8 foot swells and dogfish. I've learned to let em take the oars through some mild rapids one time, and they respect you a little more. This year I met a salt captain from Michigan named Cole that will be family from now on. Cole had been guiding the Great Lakes for King Salmon since he was 13, and the guy was one hell of a fisherman I tell you what. Well one day we were having a classy natty light after work (Natural Light beer), and Cole was talking about how everybody back home was going crazy about a 25lb King salmon caught on the great lakes. We both had the next day off and I told Cole I could put him on a 30lb king tomorrow, if he could handle it. At first he thought I was joking and said he would be a god back home if that happened. I told him we could do it and were launching at 3:15 am. Those salt guides arent use to that! That next morning I took Cole straight to my special spot on the river and told him to get ready your about to get a take down in 20 feet. Sure enough he had a major takedown and Cole gave that fish jessee! The King started heading upstream which tells you he is a big fish, but we were able to get him back down in front of the boat. After about a 10 minute fight we were able to net a 32lb king and make those Great Lake KIngs look like his little sister! Just another win for the river captains against the salt captains.
During my time on the river, I've captained several different makes of drift boats. In Alaska, our rivers are different than the lower 48 states. We have larger bodies of water, deeper, and strong currents. In the lower 48, you will see fiberglass hulls like the Claka Craft and the Hyde. They're popular due to their weight, quietness, and ability to navigate in shallow waters. In Alaska, we are looking for a big, stable boat that has the ability to hold 4 fisherman while trolling gear in front of us. Aluminum hulls like Fishrite, Willies, and Alumawelds are popular. They are built like tanks. The boats I have used have been a 1998 Willie, 2002 Fishrite, and 1998 Alumaweld.
When you choose a boat, you want one that is comfortable to you and compliments your rowing style. It must be designed in a way that fits you gear and makes everything accessible for four fishermen. Also, being in Alaska, you can expect to get some rain so dry storage is important. When comparing these brands, you will see that the compartments are pretty similar.
In the last couple of years, a lot of guides have been moving from bench seating to pedestal seating. Depending on the number of clients on the boat, you can shift seating and arrange it in a way to have more room and distribute weight accordingly. The disadvantage of this is you loose some dry storage space.
When it comes to rowing, I prefer 9' 6" oars, and from my experience it takes less effort to row the Fishrite and the Willie compared to the Alumaweld. The Willie is more maneuverable which is important when you are trying to hit tight spots to get your gear behind rocks which is a favorite spot for salmon.
Any of these brands of drift boats are great options but it comes down to the fisherman and the waters you are trying to fish. The first decision is aluminum or fiberglass depending on the body of water, then you have to get out in them and try them out. I chose to order a new 2018 model, 19-66 (19 ft long; 66 in wide) custom built from Willie with a walk through seating layout. With this model, I still have dry compartments for storage but have mobility to get around without having to step over bench seating. For King Salmon fishing, I know this arrangement is most suitable for our conditions on the Kasilof/Kenai giving us the best chance to land big fish.
I had launched at 3am for a 10 hour trip with clients from Oregon trying to get our King limit. We were almost done when I got a call from the office wanting me to do a double with a family that afternoon. After saying goodbye to my clients, I met my new group who turned out to be a family of four from Idaho and a float I'll never forget.
Mom and Dad lived in Alaska at one time and were bringing their 12 and 5 year old sons back to experience fishing as only Alaska can provide. I went through protocol and all the usual instructions. The 12 year old's rod was bending in the water, screeching line. I could tell it was a 40+ pounder. He couldn't get the rod out of the holder because the salmon had it pinned down. We had to pull anchor and chase the fish downstream because he was about to strip us to the spool. Every time we thought we could net him, he would have a boost of energy and head the other way 20-30 yards. I told the mom that she was on rock duty to look for obstacles and right as we are about to net it, Mom casually said "Hey, Evan, those look like some big rocks". I glanced up, took control of the sticks, and told the boy to get ready for a fight. We had to choose between cutting the line or going through the rapids. It was a no brainer....we chose the rapids. Believe it or not, he fought that fish all the way through the rapids keeping it clear of rocks and trees. On the other side, we were able to net it and bring him in the boat.
The boy was an avid bass fisherman and when he got him in the boat he said "I've never caught a bass this big!". That salmon ended up being 52 pounds and dragged us 3/4 mile down the river. 10 months later, I still receive pictures of them eating that fish at their dinner table!
It was an average day fly fishing for Sockeye on the Kasilof River but it was blue skies and 70 degrees. "Big John" served our country in Afghanistan and was wounded and now an amputee. He was also a hell of a fisherman and didn't let one fish get upstream to the rest of the boys all afternoon. After bringing in 2-3, Big John went on security duty watching the cooler. Every once in a while, he would through his line out and while sittin on the cooler, he somehow caught a big one! He went to hootin and hollerin and I looked downstream and next thing I know, he was half way in the water hooked into a solid 8 pound sockeye salmon. I've seen some people catch a few, but I ain't never seen someone reel one in while being fully submerged in glacier water! That's just something you can't coach! Thanks, guys for one of the best trips I've ever had.