Fly fishing Alaska on a budget
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Fly Fishing Alaska On a Budget

Fly fishing is a complicated disease. It infects victims with a desire not only to succeed by catching fish, but also to do it in one of the most difficult ways. For fly fishermen, the true satisfaction comes not from the trophy, but from the pursuit.

This affects every aspect of a fly fisherman’s desires. He doesn’t want to use barbed hooks, gas powered motors, or God forbid, bait. He doesn’t want to catch stocked fish that were fed pellets all of their lives. He wants to catch wild, native fish that have never seen a human being.

But, in our country we’re running out of places you can do that. In the lower-48, they’re hard to find on your own, and nearly impossible to locate through the few people who have been there.

Alaska though, is a different story.

Alaska is a bucket-list fishing destination, but to many it is a distant dream due to the cost, trouble, and planning involved. That’s where I come in, and tell you how to fly fish in Alaska on a budget.

Why Alaska?

Alaska joins the bottom of the ocean, the dark side of the moon, and outer space as the modern day final frontiers. It is a desolate and massive area- with a population of only 750,000 people spread out over 660,000 square miles.

Half of those people are contained in Anchorage, the capital city, and some 30,000 in Juneau. Besides there, Alaska is almost entirely wilderness.

What it lacks in people, though, it makes up for with wildlife and beautiful scenery.

No matter the season, snow-capped mountains teeming with moose, caribou, and brown bear will surround you. While you’ll go for the fishing, you won’t be disappointed with your trophy shot’s backdrop.

But the real reason why fishermen go so far north is for the Alaskan experience, as those who experience it call it. This is wild country, where you won’t be going through a Starbucks drive through on the way to the river- you’ll be boiling your own water and packing in coffee beans if you need a morning pick-me-up. The top priority here is survival, and at times it can be a challenge.

If you want a truly primal, hardcore, badass fishing experience, you need to go fly fishing in Alaska.

Where to go

Alaska is typically divided into 6 regions: Kodiak, Bristol Bay, Arctic, South Central, Kenai Peninsula, and Southeast. While you can fish in each region successfully, some are much more productive than others. And, in regards to this guide, some areas are much more expensive to travel to.

Also, while Alaska is the most remote and wild area in our country, the most popular fishing holes can be just as crowded there as anywhere else. There are rivers in Alaska where you’d be fishing with hundreds of other fishermen immediately surrounding you. With tranquility and solitude as some of our goals, we’re going to avoid those places.

You’re going to go the Tongass National Forest in the Southeast Region of Alaska, and if you pick your spot right, you may not see another fisherman the entire time you’re there. The area is the largest National Forest in the country, at an astounding 16.7 million acres of pristine old-growth rainforest. There are 8 main rivers, dozens of alpine lakes, and hundreds of small streams.

Most of the forest is off the mainland, on a series of islands referred to as the Alexander Archipelago. While many of these islands offer world-class fly fishing, we’re going to specifically plan our trip for Prince of Wales island.

Prince of Wales island is the fourth largest island in the United States, after Hawaii, Kodiak, and Puerto Rico, but has a population of only 3,000 people. Out here, you’re not going to be rubbing elbows with other fishermen- you probably won’t even see one.

But, while it is both remote and desolate, it is also somewhat easy to get to, at just 30 minutes from a major airport. Also, the island itself has over 1,500 miles of roads, making access to the fishing spots much easier than other, remote areas. This makes it an ideal destination for our trip for both convenience and safety reasons.

When to go

There are two major considerations affecting the time of year you should plan your trip: the species of fish you are targeting, and the weather. Prince of Wales Island does not experience the unbearably cold weather of the northern regions of Alaska, but its average winter temperatures are around freezing.

Summer temperatures can reach the sixties and even seventies, but they can also drop to near freezing. So, take that into account first before you decide when you want to go, then consider the fish.

The Coho salmon fishing is the best in August and September, but they can also be caught in June and July. Sockeye Salmon begin showing up on the island in late June, with chums and pinks coming around the end of July. King Salmon are in and around the island year round, but the best fishing in the rivers for Kings is in May and June.

Steelhead fishing is best in April and May, but fall-run steelies can sometimes be caught in the fall and winter in the larger rivers. Cutthroat trout, freshwater rainbows, and Dolly Varden will be in the rivers and streams throughout the year. There are also rumors of Arctic Grayling in a few of the alpine lakes, but you’ll have to confirm those for youself.

Expenses

Now, to the worst part, the most limiting factor- the cost. The cost of a fly fishing trip in Alaska can add up to the tens of thousands, but it doesn’t have to. With early and deliberate planning, the trip can be affordable.

We’re going to discuss the necessary expenses, as well as a couple possible additional expenses if you’re feeling spendy. In regards to the necessary expenses, these assume that you already have the gear necessary  for the trip. If you’re worried about what kind of tackle to bring, utilize the resources on our page to figure it out.

How to get there

When I first began dreaming about fly fishing in Alaska, I thought I could save money by driving there instead of getting on a plane. So I grabbed a map to do some math- 53 hours. It would take me 53 hours of driving to get there- and that was just to get to Juneau. Flying quickly became the only sane option, so I began to do research.

If you do decide to drive to Prince of Wales Alaska, you will be able to ferry your car from Ketchikan. I’m sure it would be an incredible road trip, but I sure don’t think I could do it.

Flying To Alaska

The cheapest airport to fly into in Alaska is Anchorage by far, but since we’re fishing in the Southeast region, you’ll want to fly into Juneau or Ketchikan. These flights will be more expensive, so we’ll have to figure out a way to save money.

There are two tactics to cut costs for transportation to Alaska. First, well in advance of your trip; sign up for a credit card that awards frequent flyer miles. If you do it far ahead enough in advance, you can fly to Alaska for free. Alaskan Airlines even has their own credit card that awards you air miles just for signing up. 

Doing this can save you the entire cost of your flight, which will probably be between $700 and $1,200, with flights to Ketchikan generally being cheaper than Juneau.

The next key to saving money on flying to Alaska is booking your flight well in advance of your trip. The prices of these flights will increase as your trip gets closer and closer so don’t put it off. Plan your trip for a year in advance and book your flight ASAP.

Getting to Prince of Wales Island

If you fly to Juneau, you’re going to have to fly again to get to Prince of Wales Island. The island, though large, does not have a major airport. So you’re going to have to get on a seaplane.

The cost of a seaplane from Juneau to the island is going to be about $400, but the total cost is divided among all the passengers. Take a couple fishing buddies, and you’re looking at just $130 a piece.

If you fly into Ketchikan, you just have to take a quick, 3-hour ferry ride over to Prince of Wales Island. The Inter Island Ferry will cost about $100 for both ways. This cost is for each individual person, though.

So, to determine the most cost effective method for you to get to POW, you must take this secondary transportation into account. Compare the cost of flying to Juneau combined with the necessary flight to POW to the cost of flying to Ketchikan and the cost of the ferry.

Where to stay

After travel expenses, the next biggest cost will be lodging. In Alaska, especially the fishy parts, the options are somewhat limited. Hotels, motels, and bed-and-breakfasts can easily cost upwards of $200 a night, and luxury fishing lodges will cost $5,000 for a week. Prince of Wales Island has places like this, and I’m sure staying at one would be incredible. But we’re not paying that much.

Prince of Wales Island is home to 21 government owned cabins that are managed by the U.S. Forest service. These cabins are in diverse locations ranging from alpine lakes to coastal beaches, but no matter where you are you’ll be close to world-class fishing.

The best part? Staying at one of these cabins will only cost you $25 per night.

Booking the cabins is done online here, and should be done long in advance to make sure you get a spot. Also, be sure to read up on what is provided in the cabin you stay in. Some require you bring your own heating and cooking materials, while others will provide them.

None of the cabins will be 5-star hotels, but they are well maintained and will provide comfortable shelter during your stay. Just be sure to pack warm clothes.

If you really want to rough it, you can also camp throughout the national forest areas of the island. If you choose to do this, be prepared for freezing temperatures and inclement weather. This area is an arctic rainforest and the weather can be unpredictable and unbearable. Luckily, there are no brown bears on the island, but there are plenty of black bears. Study up on bear safety.

Car Rental

Once you finally make it to the island, you’ll want to get straight to fishing. But you’ll quickly realize that this island is massive. You couldn’t possibly fish everywhere in just one trip, and if you’re traveling on foot, you won’t cover even a fraction of it.

For that reason, I recommend renting a car. Yes, it’s an additional expense, but it will open up more areas for fishing than what is in the immediate vicinity of your cabin. There aren’t a ton of options for rentals on the island, but you can use this company or you can rent in Ketchikan and ferry it over.

Fishing Licenses

While in Alaska fishing, it is imperative for you to purchase and possess a fishing license at all times. Nothing would ruin your dream trip faster than a hefty fine from a Game Warden. Do not try to save cost in this area, just follow the rules.

Sport fishing licenses cost $105 for 14 days, $70 for 7 days, $45 for 3 days, and $25 for 1. If you plan to harvest King Salmon, you’ll also need to purchase a King Salmon stamp for an additional $75 for 14 days, or $45 for 7.

Cost Summary

Flight to Juneau $850
Flight to POW (split between 4 people) $130
10 day cabin rental (split b/t 4 people)  $62.50
10 day car rental (split b/t 4 people) $125
Fishing License $105
Food $100
Flies $100
Total Cost $1,472.50+ tax
Flight to Ketchikan $950
Ferry to POW $100
10 day cabin rental (split b/t 4 people)  $62.50
10 day car rental (split b/t 4 people) $125
Fishing License $105
Food $100
Flies $100
Total Cost $1,542.50

Optional Additional Expenses

There are a few things to consider splurging on if you’re able to. These optional additional expenses are not necessary for your trip, but they could make it more enjoyable.

Fishing Guide

As this is a new area for you and it is quite large, you could greatly benefit from hiring a fly fishing guide for a day to show you around. You wouldn’t have to hire him for the entire trip, but a single day spent with him could teach you enough about the waters and the fish that you could fish effectively the rest of your days.

I would especially recommend considering hiring a guide if you’re after steelhead, as even in this area, they can be difficult to find.

The most famous guide service in the area is Boardwalk Lodge, and they offer daily rates for fly fishing guides. It’ll cost you $900 per day for 2 person groups. There’s other services in the area too, though, so shop around if you need to.

Kayak Rentals

Another thing to consider is renting a kayak or drift boat during your trip. As there’s so much water, a vessel would help you reach considerably more than your feet could. It’s not too hard to find one, you can even pick one up from the car rental place.

If you do decide to rent a kayak or drift boat, please be aware that you’ll be fishing in remote areas. There won’t be anyone close by to rescue you if something goes wrong. So know where you’re going, and be safe getting there.

Fly Fishing Alaska On a Budget

So, there you have it. You can have a 10-day fly fishing dream trip of a lifetime on the incredibly beautiful and remote Prince of Wales Island for about $1,500. If you manage to use air miles for your flight, you’re looking at significantly less. Of course, you could spend more, but now you know that you don’t have to!

Yes, this guide assumes you bring a few friends along with you, but it’s not too hard to convince fly fishermen to chase their dreams, especially when it’s all already planned out. Plus, I wouldn’t recommend doing this trip alone unless you’re a experienced outdoorsman and survivalist.

Please, someone go on this trip and report back. Live the life that some of us can’t, and take pictures. If you enjoyed this article, let us know in the comments, and share it with your friends.


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