Fishing Stories: Alaska - Summer of 1998

In early 1998, I started making plans to spend the summer in Alaska. On my first trip about 25 years ago, I drove up in a truck with a camper. Twice since then, I have driven up and have flown up on other occasions. This was to be another driving trip even though I had driven up only a few years before. Part of the reason was to pull a boat to use on the way up and while I was there.

My brother, his wife and my sister had joined in the vacation plans by the time I was ready to leave. I had originally planned to leave on the 1st of June, but various things delayed us until the end of the month.

The drive up was uneventful except for a power steering hose failure in Canada and the inability to find a hose at any auto parts place. I finally found one in Soldotna, Alaska after driving several thousand miles without power steering. At least it provided me with a good exercise program.

The Alaska Highway through Canada has been completely paved by now. The first few trips I made, the highway was a gravel road. Of course, I griped a lot about the condition of the road then, but the gravel road actually was smoother and allowed for generally higher speed than the paved road does. They are rebuilding the paved road and it will likely be better in the future. The drive is pretty and some of the scenery is outstanding, but it is a long way between places. At Watson Lake, my brother placed a city limit sign from his hometown (Newton, Texas) in the forest of signs there. It would be hard to believe that there is any city not represented among all those signs.

After almost two weeks, we got to Kenai and were ready to do some serious fishing. I have fished the Kenai River a number of times and have caught salmon in the 40 to 50 pound range--certainly nothing to feel bad about. The record is 98 pounds. But I keep wanting to catch that "big one." My sister and sister in-law and another brother who flew up to Anchorage and joined us for a week fly back home at this time; and a friend, Ray Tomlinson, flew in to fish with us for a week.

I have fished a number of years with Herman Fandel of Alaska Guides. He and his wife Irene have a great lodge that operates as a bed and breakfast. Great food, good company and comfortable beds. One morning fishing with Herman, I finally catch the "big one." After fighting him for one and one-half hours, I land a salmon that shows 72 pounds on the scale. For those of you that have fished for salmon, you know how big a fish that size is. Once you catch a King, you have to get off the river and your fishing is over I went ashore, but my brother kept fishing. He ended the day with a 54-pounder.

We fished only for a few more days as the season was closed by the Department of Fish and Game. Many others and I think that they let too many of these fish get caught by the commercial fisherman. Depending on what happens in the next two months, the federal government may take over the regulation of fishing in Alaska. But that’s another story.

We also did well with halibut fishing. My friend and I each caught a fish that weighed exactly the same weight, to the ounce. While they were not huge, they were a great eating size and did eat well! The season was open for a few more days on the Reds so we fished for them and started home. Ray flew back and my brother and I started the drive home.

No truck problems until just north of Seattle. We noticed a bump on the back tire and hoped it would hold out until we could get to a tire store in Seattle. It held out until we got to into town, but it was late and the store was closed. We decided to take a chance and drive to a campground just outside of town. We shouldn’t have tried. A few miles down the freeway we experienced a blowout. We had a spare that we had picked up after a previous flat and we just changed tires. It wouldn’t work for long but did the job for the night. The problem was changing it on a busy freeway with a narrow shoulder. Not a good way to spend an evening! But considering that the truck had 200,000 miles on it, our mechanical problems were very few.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. We had had a good time and saw a lot of country. From our departure from San Jose to the return we traveled just over 10,000 miles. For the most part we had a really good time and enjoyed most of the people we met. There were some exceptions. Restrooms are few and far between and when places that depend on travelers for their income put up big signs that say ‘RESTROOMS FOR CUSTOMERS ONLY’ it makes you wonder. And, it is bad enough for private businesses to put up signs like that but when government offices act in the same manner, it really leaves you with a bad taste. The worst by far was the ferry service. In Valdez, one year when my mother went with me the ferry office refused to let her use the restroom. In Haines, the ferry office had a big sign saying "NO DOGS ALLOWED - THIS MEANS NO DOG," ignoring that seeing eye dogs and service dogs are allowed by law. Between Haines and Skagway the ferry service prohibits dogs on deck. They won’t allow people to stay with their cars because of the risk from gasses and emissions, but they make people leave their pets in that area. We saw several who had smuggled their pets up on deck despite the regulations.

On the other hand, we found many people willing to help and very friendly. If you make a trip to Alaska, I would suggest that you do better planning then for a similar trip in the lower 48 and try to stop early. Don’t leave a large town late in the evening if the next town is a long distance away. Always fill your gas tank when it reaches the 1/2 mark. Expect the worse to happen and be pleased when it turns out well.