You may or may not already know that I host an annual salmon-fishing trip to >>Alaska's Prince of Wales Island<<. It's a profit center for me, but I keep the margins pretty tight. Essentially, my income comes from charging my guests for a guide trip, and that's pretty much it. Even so, I've received a lot of feedback from people lamenting that they still can't afford to book the trip. If that sounds familiar, this article is for you. Here's how to do it yourself in 5 not-too-terribly difficult steps.
Step 1: RESEARCH
Obviously, you need to do some research first. Thank God for the internet, right? You need to ask yourself a few questions to home in on your target. Are you salmon fishing? What species of salmon are you wanting to target? Which rivers hold those species? When do those species run? Are you a big river kind of person, or would you prefer a river you can wade for miles? How many people will be in your group?
For the sake of simplicity, let's say you've decided you want to fish the Kenai River basin, you'd like to be based near Soldotna, and you'd like to target king and sockeye salmon, which are both typically running in that drainage the last half of July. And let's say there will only be two of you -- you and your best friend fishing buddy.
Step 2: LODGING & TRANSPORTATION
Unless you're planning to camp, it's time to track down a roof that hopefully doesn't leak. You can always look at >>VRBO.com<< (Vacation Rentals By Owner) to find an independently owned house or cabin for rent. With a bit of creative application of filters, here's what we have to work with.
Even though we asked for Soldotna, we actually have listings from the surrounding areas as well, so we have to do a bit of sifting. It wasn't too terribly difficult to find a 5-star rated cabin with decent amenities for $110 per night. Now, this seems REALLY cheap to me, even for a VRBO listing. My guess is that this is not reflecting the accurate charge for two fishermen, but since I can't verify without actually pretending to book it, we'll just go with it.
Still too expensive? A cheaper option is to book one of the >>public use cabins<< available through the Forest Service or National Park Service. The charge is $25-50 per night, depending on how nice they are and how hard they are to get to (some require a float plane or a hike plus a rowboat to access). There is one important thing to keep in mind.
While you'll typically find a wood burning stove or fireplace, some bunks, and occasionally a rowboat if the cabin is situated on a lake, you won't find electricity... or firewood, for that matter. I'm not sure what the firewood solution is. Bring an ax? Buy wood in town? Regarding electricity, how will you store food? Were you wanting to bring fish home with you? Will you cook on the surface of the wood-burning stove or bring a camp stove? These issues will potentially add expense to your trip, and they'll definitely take time away from fishing. There are a couple of fish processors in the area that can vacuum seal and freeze your fish for the trip home. They'll probably charge you $1.50 a pound plus a fee of around $8-10 per night to store each 50-pound box of fish, so it would be a good idea to plan for an extra couple hundred bucks per person. You're also going to be charged $15-20 for each box.
That said, the less spartan $110 cabin has two notable short-comings as well. (1) While it does have electricity and a chest freezer for fish, it doesn't appear the cabin includes a vacuum sealer. If you own a vacuum sealer, you can certainly toss it in your luggage to bring with you, or you can use the same processor you tracked down above. (2) You'll also need to rent a vehicle. Some cabins include a vehicle, but of course they're more expensive. Rental vehicle prices up there appear to be around $500 for the week, after fees and taxes and whatnot. Since your destination is quite popular, familiar name brand car rental companies are available.
Step 3: TRAVELING TO ALASKA
We have our destination set. Now, how do we get there? Flying is the obvious choice, but there's a little trick that you need to take advantage of first. If you have decent credit, you should be able to qualify for the >>Alaska Airlines Signature Visa Card<<. Assuming you do, you'll get a few really nice perks. First, you'll get 30,000 bonus miles right off the bat. Actually, you need to put $1000 on the card in the first 90 days to get them, but just pay your mortgage with the card and call it done. Those miles will probably cut your Alaska Airlines fare about in half, but this varies depending on how far in advance you book. The second perk is the annual companion fare. Once each year, if you buy a round trip ticket at retail, your fishing buddy can get the same ticket for $99 plus taxes (about $121 total). You'll also get a free checked bag for everyone traveling with you on the same charge. Pretty nifty, eh? The mechanics of the trip are pretty simple, too.
For this trip, you'll fly to Seattle on >>Alaska Airlines<< and pick up a connecting flight to Anchorage. The earlier you book, the cheaper the flight, of course. I'm writing this on November 11th. When I checked fares today for the third week of July, I found it will run you around $850 + taxes round trip for economy class. If you use your 30,000 bonus miles to cover the to-and-from-Seattle part of the trip, your fare will be more like $350 plus taxes. Once in Anchorage, you have a couple of choices. It's roughly a 140 mile drive to Soldotna, so you can rent your vehicle at the Anchorage airport and take care of it yourself. Or you can take a commuter plane to Kenai for about $325 round trip and rent your car there.
Step 5: DAY TO DAY SURVIVAL
Don't forget, you're doing a DIY trip here, and that means no meals, no maids, no hand-holding. Just like when you're home, you are fending for yourself. Day one, track down the grocery store. Assuming you catch and eat a lot of fish during your week, plan on around $100 per person if you keep to a budget. That said, if you go with convenience foods, you're going to kill your budget. A frozen pizza can run you $10-15, so look for the sale items. While you're at the grocery store, grab a couple of fish boxes at about $15-20 each for you and your buddy. Each box will hold 50 pounds of fish, and you'll check them like baggage for the trip home.
You'll also want to make sure you know where the gas stations are and when they're open. On this specific trip, you probably won't have a problem with short hours leaving you stranded, but that did happen to me once. I drove to another town to drop off a group for a saltwater charter, figuring I'd gas up there. The only gas station didn't open until noon, and I was on fumes. That was a long boring morning. The owner was probably out fishing.
Let's sum up by settling on the specifics. Let's assume you're trying to go as cheap as possible, but you'd really like electricity in your cabin, and you're not a fan of chopping firewood on vacation. Let's also assume that you'll filet your own fish but use a local processor to vacuum seal it for you. You'll fly in to Anchorage, rent your car, and drive to the cabin, and you'll use the car to drive to river access points rather than hiring a guide to jet boat it for you. You're using your Alaska Airlines card miles, which gives you a free checked bag both directions, and a $500 discount on your airfare. Here's the tale of the tape.
Airfare: $350 plus taxes & fees
Your share of the car rental: $250 plus taxes & fees
Your share of the gas: $35
Your share of the cabin (6 nights): $330 plus taxes and fees
Vacuum sealing and freezing 100 pounds of fish: $150
Fish boxes: $35
Baggage fees to check two 50-pound fish boxes: $50
Incidentals (licenses, flies, restaurants, alcohol, etc.): $250
Base rate: $1550 per person + taxes and fees = $1750-ish?
Not bad, right? Here's one more thing to think about. A lot of cabin owners will only book in week-long blocks, meaning you'll land on Sunday, check in that afternoon, and depart the following Saturday. That essentially turns your week into 5 days of fishing. If that's the case, you may want to fly in a day early and grab a hotel, so you can hit the ground running bright and early on day one of your adventure. Hotels aren't cheap up north, but you're buying yourself a full day on day 1 with the extra money.
Or you can try the 2-step plan...
So, this is the cheapest trip I personally was able to put together to Soldotna to fish the Kenai region. It took me a few hours. You can do this too. Of course, I'm HOPING you'll >>book your trip with me instead<<.
My trip will take you to Prince of Wales Island, as I mentioned earlier. You get yourself to Ketchikan (instead of Anchorage) and chip in for groceries, and I'll take care of the rest. $2000 includes a float plane trip to the island, lodging, a truck, gas for the truck, a couple of fish boxes, vacuum sealers and freezers on site, flies, a guide trip, lessons if needed, and I'm there with you every step of the way to make sure you're not wasting your time when you should be having a blast instead. And there's a payment plan to make things as financially feasible as possible. Perhaps the best perk is for those of you who can't talk your buddies into a trip like this. Come by yourself and join the group! Instant fishing buddies. >>Click over to the Alaska Trip page and take a look<<. Only a few spots left!
Head Trout Honcho in Charge
Walt Fulps. RETIRED fly fishing guide and instructor, published author and columnist, and public speakr. My past career life was in the fields of Therapeutic Recreation and Adventure Therapy.