The Last Frontier is unlike any other place on earth. Any man with a desire for rugged adventures can easily find enjoyment in a trip that includes big peaks, deep oceans, ancient glaciers, the biggest mammals in North America and rivers 10x the size of the ones in the Lower 48. But too often I hear guys tell me that a trip to Alaska is a bucket-list item that is out of reach for the near future. Which is exactly why I want to share how I can fish the annual salmon run on the Kenai River every year and not break the bank.
First and foremost, the biggest cost that can’t be replaced (unless you are married to a flight attendant like your’s truly) is travel to and from Anchorage. According to Google Maps, driving from St Paul, MN would take a total of 55 hours of non-stop travel. Of course we are creatures that require food, sleep and drive vehicles that require fuel, so realistically, a drive to Alaska on the ALCAN Highway is a 3-5 day adventure one way. Flying is the obvious preferred method of travel.
I take my trips every year in early August, catching the later part of the Coho or Sockeye runs. With a little advanced planning and shopping on kayak.com, it’s not hard to find a seat on the 5 hour flight for between $500 – $600 (roundtrip ticket). If you’re a Minnesotan like me, both Sun Country and Delta have direct flights to Anchorage daily. Delta has had three flights every day for at least the past few years.
Once you land at the Ted Stevens International Airport, there’s not a sled-dog team ready to pick you up and take you where you want. So a rental car is a necessity. I’m generally joined on my trips by my good friend Matt, which makes car rental and gasoline half as expensive. I recommend finding a buddy to join in your travels. But don’t be afraid to fly solo if needed.
Count on a car rental for 7 days to be between $200 – $300 if you plan months in advance and shop competitively. I suggest renting an economy class car to make the rental as cheap as possible and so you don’t give too much of your money to the gas man. There’s really no need for a large SUV when fishing the Kenai with two people. Most roads are either paved or well tended gravel. The amount of gear needed is minimal. If you plan on hunting in Alaska, you may need a vehicle with more clearance underneath for the forest roads and more room in cab for gear.
I think a 6 night, 7 day trip in the Last Frontier would be plenty of time to fill up a cooler, see some awesome sights, and get in a lot of spectacular hiking. I’d recommend buying a 3-day non-resident license for $45 and using the other days for sight-seeing and hiking. On most of the Kenai River (according to 2017 regs) a person has a 3 sockeye salmon daily limit and a 6 in-possession limit. That’s 12 of the best filets on the planet per person, multiplied by 2 if your buddy’s skills are at the same level of yours.
Part of the reason people think of Alaska as an expensive trip is because they are intimidated by salmon fishing the Kenai without a guide. But trust me, it’s well within the abilities of the average angler. A little research and car/foot scouting will get you to the right spots. I mean no disrespect to fishing guides by the way. They serve a great purpose for people who want to get to the best spots or have little to no knowledge of fishing. But plan on spending $400-500 for a ½ day trip. That can add up quickly if you aren’t satisfied fishing for a short amount of time.
I believe the other major cost that can be avoided in Alaska is lodging. When I rented my vehicle this year, the guy at the counter asked me which hotel I was staying at. I smiled and informed him that I was going to be camping instead. What could cost a person $200/night, costs me $15 because I bring a tent and sleeping bag and willingly stay at any of the several state campgrounds located all over the Kenai peninsula. If $15 is too much, you can find many places to camp for free since 96% of Alaska is public land owned by the federal government. However, staying at campgrounds will get you closer access to some walk-in fishing spots and allows you to be around more humans in case a bear wanders into your campsite at night.
The one caveat to all this advice is that there are some expenses one could forgo, but probably shouldn’t. For instance, it’s smart to carry either a firearm or bear spray when hiking in Alaska. You can’t bring bear spray on an aircraft so you must purchase and use it while on the ground. A canister will probably set you back $35. If you don’t buy one, make sure you are around other people as much as possible. Although, close bear encounters are still extremely rare. Also, you might want to buy some more specific salmon tackle than what you have in your tackle box. Flipping for sockeyes is really inexpensive because it really only requires a heavy weight and a Russian River fly or large hook with yarn on it.
So there you have it! One sweet trip to Alaska to fish the Kenai and the total costs if you go with a buddy:
Flight – $550
Car rental – $150 (shared expense)
Gasoline – $50 (shared expense)
Camping – $45 (shared expense – 6 nights x $15)
Fishing License – $45
Total – $840
Optional stuff – Bear spray ($35), new fishing tackle ($20-$50)
I did take the luxury in assuming the reader has the basic camping gear, waders and fishing pole (medium weight with reel and 8-14 lb test will due). If not, add some one time costs into the budget.
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