Alaska Fishing on a Budget

Have you ever dreamed of fishing Alaska for salmon and world-class trout but can’t justify spending $1,000 – $1,500 per day at the premier Bristol Bay lodges?  My brother Charles and I recently returned from a week-long fishing trip to the Kenai Peninsula and enjoyed a terrific experience at a very reasonable price.

Everything is more expensive in Alaska.  It is a long flight and you have to go for a minimum of seven days – and two weeks is recommended.  I am going to share our secrets and tell you how to have a great fishing trip on a budget.

We flew in to Anchorage and picked up our Toyota Matrix from National.  The first thing you need to know is to leave Anchorage immediately!  You might as well be in Cleveland.  If you are set on visiting someplace specific in town do it on your last day out if you have time.  You are going to Alaska to be in the wild.

As luck would have it, our trip coincided with the opening of moose season!  Although we weren’t officially “hunting” we went out and did some scouting with our friend who lives in Ninilchik.  Mike owns and operates the MeanderIn and is an avid moose hunter.  He was hoping to spot a young spike opening morning but otherwise just locating cows in anticipation of the bulls coming down from the mountains in a couple of weeks.  It was fun being out in the woods spotting moose.  We saw a couple of young bulls – not legal 50″ – and some cows.  Most importantly, we did not encounter any brown bears!  As Mike stated matter-of-fact after one hike, “You survived bear alley!”  Gee, thanks.

The MeanderIn sits above the Ninilchik River.  The view from the deck is stunning as you can look both ways down the river valley.  Mike is a great host and chef.  I highly recommend the MeanderIn if you are staying in the area.


Our days were spent scouting for moose at dawn and  at dusk and fishing for silver salmon midday.  Great times!  Staying at the MeanderIn allows you to easily fish two rivers – the Ninilchik and Deep Creek are only ten minutes away.  Anchor River and Kasilof River are close by as well.

Mike Coker
Mike with Silver Salmon

The Ninilchik General Store is your first stop.  There you can get your Alaska fishing license, gear, and, of course, some local beer (casting fluid).  The store sells a decent collection of tackle for spin or bait casting but very little for the fly rod.  They also sell the all-important tide charts.

Tides here are extreme.  We generally got out about an hour before low tide to go after the fish that backed up to the holes near the mouth of the river.  These fish never made it all the way up-river before the water started dropping so they slid back down.  We would then walk out on the mud flats to where the river meets Cook Inlet and fish the incoming tide – slowly progressing towards the beach as the ocean flooded in.  This is exciting fishing!  The salmon are rooster-tailing through inches of water as they race upstream.

This is fishing with spinning or bait-cast.  Lure of choice is a Mepps with some color in the tail.  It is close-in, fast, and social.

Break out your fly rod up-river.  Both Deep Creek and the Ninilchik offer good fly fishing for salmon and trout – depending upon the runs.  At the right time you can land a 30 plus inch steelhead.

Everything is about the fish runs.  Here is one good explanation of the fishing to be found on the Kenai but there are countless other “run charts” available online.

How to get your salmon fillets home?  Super-easy.  Go to Tanner’s Fish Processing in Ninilchik and buy an insulated fish box.   This is basically a styrofoam cooler inside a cardboard shipping box.  Freeze your fish and check it in as luggage on your flight home.  Way cheaper than paying for a commercial fish processing service that will ship Federal Express.  Think $25 rather than $200.  Pretty much every hotel, motel, and fishing lodge has a fish freezer.  Even the Best Western in Seward has a fish freezer.  This is an accepted and expected service in Alaska.

Say a fond farewell to MeanderIn and head to the mighty Kenai River.  There are countless fishing lodges along the river.  We chose the Eagle Landing Resort but there are many to choose from including the iconic Gwins.

Charles Coker
Charles with Rainbow

Troutfitters is my recommendation for drift boat trips down the Kenai.   Fish the Upper Kenai – through the Refuge – or Middle Kenai for rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, and salmon.  The Upper Kenai is spectacular with no motors allowed.  Basically, the Upper is above Skilak Lake and the Middle is below Skilak Lake.  Both sections offer incredible scenery and fantastic fishing.  The Upper is a bit more remote – the Middle a bit more crowded.  There are some sections of Class II or Class III rapids on each section.

Mike Coker
Mike with Rainbow

Drift boat fishing trips run about $250 – $275 per person per day.  Please remember to tip your guide – $100 is the going rate.  These guys work hard, are up before dawn getting ready, and work their butt off rowing the boat all day.  Troutfitters hooked us up with Mike and you simply couldn’t ask for a better fishing guide.

Mike Coker
Mike with Red Salmon

We used 6 weight and 7 weight fly lines.  The fish are feeding on the salmon eggs and that is the go-to “fly.”  Different sizes and colors of beads that set up to slide just above the hook.  We got into quite a few nice red salmon and landed a bunch of trout.  Charles probably won the “best fish” award here.

There you have it – an Alaska fishing trip that doesn’t break the bank.  Fish the Ninilchik and Deep Creek for free other than the cost of your room at the MeanderIn.  $250 per day plus lodging to fish the legendary Kenai River.  You can do this!


Goose Island State Park

Looking for a new place to fish?  Try Goose Island State Park near Rockport.  Our family has been going to the Rockport-Fulton area for years and Goose Island State Park is a special place.   There are campsites within the park and the area offers a wide variety of lodging from old-time cottages to new condos.  It is also home to the Big Tree which is well over 1,000 years old. Continue reading “Goose Island State Park”

Bay Flats Lodge

Bay Flats Lodge is the premier fishing (and duck hunting) lodge on the upper Texas Gulf Coast.  Located in the quiet fishing village of Seadrift, the lodge and facilities are first-class.  No long truck rides to the boat ramp – the dock is a short stroll out the front door.   You will fish the San Antonio Bay system including the back side of primitive Matagorda Island. Continue reading “Bay Flats Lodge”

Good times fishing with the boys

I came across this picture this morning of my two boys from our first season on the hunting lease about 5 years ago.  It was spring and we were exploring the place and did a little fishing at one of the tanks on the property.  That smile on David’s face is what it is all about.

Continue reading “Good times fishing with the boys”

Savage Precision Carbine .308

This article is part one of a long-term field test of the Savage Precision Carbine.  Now that it is legal to hunt whitetail deer in Texas with a suppressor, I was searching for a suitable host platform.  I quickly settled on the .308 cartridge because of the availability of factory threaded barrels in that caliber – usually offered as a “tactical” or “law enforcement” model – and the adaptability of that cartridge.  My criteria:  A short 18″ – 20″ barrel, detachable box magazine, decent factory stock out of the box, and a reputation for accuracy.  A great trigger is a must but I was willing to drop in a Timney or Jewell if needed.  The Savage Precision Carbine quickly became the obvious choice. Continue reading “Savage Precision Carbine .308”

AAC Model 7 300 Blackout

The AAC Model 7 300 Blackout rifle is breaking my heart.  It reminds me of the hot new girl in town that everyone is after who turned out to be hard to live with.

The AAC Model is essentially a Remington Model 7 fitted with the AAC .30 caliber barrel.  It is a short, lightweight, cool little gun that I really want to like (a lot).  Specifications: Continue reading “AAC Model 7 300 Blackout”

Weatherby Vanguard II 308 Suppressor Ready project

After getting such great results from the Weatherby Vanguard II 7mm08 we tested earlier I thought to myself, “it would be great if I could run a can on this gun” .  I contacted Tim at Weatherby and suggested they should offer these rifles in a shorter, threaded barrel given how popular hunting with suppressors has become.  He was interested.. Continue reading “Weatherby Vanguard II 308 Suppressor Ready project”

6.8 SPC II Custom Build Rifle

There have been countless wildcat cartridges over the years.  One recent trend has been the various efforts to modify the standard AR15 to shoot a heavier, more lethal bullet.  The crazy hype surrounding the 300 Blackout is but one example.  For my money, the 6.8 SPC is the best of the lot for general all-around use. Continue reading “6.8 SPC II Custom Build Rifle”