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It's Salmon Time: Alaska Heavenly Lodge Gears Up

In honor of the summer fishing season -- and salmon in particular -- presents a celebration of fishing from Oregon to Alaska! First up: take a trip north to Alaska Heavenly Lodge, where the salmon are running from now through early Fall. Then, let us take you for some top salmon fishing tips from a well-known West Coast salmon guide. Salmon-lovers, unite!

Salmon and So Much More

"We could not be in a nicer spot for fishing," says Laura Paulding, operations manager of Alaska Heavenly Lodge in Cooper Landing, Alaska. "We are at the confluence of the Kenai and Russian Rivers. The salmon are running - we get two amazing runs of sockeye salmon each summer, and then in the fall we get a run of the silver salmon. There is wonderful stream fishing here, and a lot of people will come here and hire a fly- out service to fish."

The sockeye in Cooper Landing run on the upper part of the river in June and July; the silvers run in August and September. On the lower river, King salmon run from May through July. Though the area is known for its salmon, it's also the home to world-class trout fishing, and there are several rivers and lakes that allow for hike-in grayling fishing.

Paulding also notes, with some pride, that the Kenai river is exclusive home to the world-famous Kenai Kings - the largest ever recorded. "The world record is 97 pounds, four ounces," says Paulding.

In fact, the Kenai is also known for world-class drift boat fishing for rainbow and Dolly Varden trout. 

Alaska Heavenly Lodge serves the sort of clientele who hire float-planes for salmon or grayling fishing, especially from July through September; the lodge staff helps them with booking, flights and guide set-up.

Those who do not fish aren't forgotten. "We are family-oriented," says Paulding. "We have weddings, family reunions, and so forth, so not everyone has to do the 'fishing lodge thing.'" In the immediate area, there's hiking, hundreds of hiking trails, horseback riding, and scenic rafting, all within an hour of Alaska Heavenly Lodge. Even the fishing itself is broad enough to suit a wide variety of vacationers. "Our guests can just customize their trips - what they want to catch and how they want to fish," says Paulding. "That's a perfect way to put it. You aren't locked into a package."

"The salmon are running. We get two amazing runs of sockeye salmon each summer, and then in the fall we get a run of silver salmon." - Laura Paulding, Alaska Heavenly Lodge

The exclusive, six-room lodge is designed for a personalized experience. The lodge serves daily inn-style breakfast, which can consist of smoked salmon quiche, and serves to up to 14 guests at the lodge table; at times, groups can hire a private chef to exclusively cater their stays. "It feels like you're visiting a remote lodge," says Paulding. "But you're right off the highway. You get that remote resort feel without having to fly in."  

At the heavenly junction of two salmon- and trout-filled rivers, and just 99 miles southeast of Anchorage near Homer, Alaska - the "halibut capital of the world"- Alaska Heavenly Lodge provides fishing equipment to match. Float tubes, Sage fly-rods, and Simms waders are all available. "This is where the Alaskans go to play," says Paulding. 

Especially during SALMON TIME.

A Visit With Steve Smith, Steve Smith Outdoors, Portland, Oregon is SALMON TIME, from Alaska to San Francisco. Ever since I was six years old, I have had a tough time sleeping on SALMON TIME. Some hear tick, tock, tick, tock, as they try to sleep. I hear SALMON TIME, SALMON TIME, SALMON TIME.

 In the spirit of SALMON TIME, here are some universal salmon tips that can help everyone CATCH MORE FISH.

I am sorry to inform you that you smell badly...well, at least to a salmon. And salmon can detect odors down to three parts per million. Wash your hands. Check your fly. If you're over 50, check your fly again. If you smoke or sweat, wash your hands twice before handling your tackle. It matters. As we all know, there are dummies everywhere, and the odds increase with the numbers. So especially if you are fishing a spot with five salmon as opposed to 500, it would behoove you to take this advice. Most of the top salmon guides wear latex gloves and thoroughly wash rod handles and tackle at the end of the day. Continue to wash your hands throughout the day. If you like, call it salmon hygiene. It makes a big difference in the way your salmon harvest card appears at the end of the season/trip.

If you're not getting bit, then change something - anything. If you are sure the fish are in the general vicinity, consider the following (I will not fully explain why at this time; after being a full-time angling guide for the last 26 years, you will need to trust me):

Move two steps up or downstream. Continue to move after casting, slowly and quietly. Fish sense your presence by sight, smell and sound/vibration. Do not kick rocks or disturb the water as you move. These are simple, but often ignored, rules of the game:

  • Change lure size. Smaller is usually better than larger.
  • Change lure color, and keep changing color.
  • Vary your retrieve.
  • Change the amount of weight you are using.
  • Try to present your lure, bait or fly at a different angle and speed.

Just one of these variables can make the difference. When you are successful, fish the area carefully and then try to find the same water type you were last successful in. Remember that as light intensity increases, salmon will seek deeper water and/or overhead cover, which can also include rifles and whitewater. Observe the other anglers, but don't always try to imitate the successful ones. Salmon will sometimes avoid the lures/flies that their buddies have sampled.

However, you must remember that many salmon are caught because of their curiosity. The only way they can satisfy it is to feel with their mouths. Try something different and be ready for the soft bite, take or stop. If you are fishing crowded water where others have been successful, you should immediately go above or below the crowd. Even if the salmon are crowded into a preferred piece of water, many will not tolerate the pressure of being constantly bombed and will move away. Fly anglers should always start at the top of a run, or ask permission to step in below fellow anglers.

 A Few Notes About Comfort

June should be declared Mosquito Awareness Month in North America. Aside from the diseases the little fellows can transmit, they can just about ruin any trip if you are not prepared. If you plan on traveling to a known "mosquito heaven," be sure to check with your physician and get the required/suggested inoculations. Do this without hesitation if you are traveling to Central or South America. If your lodge operator or guide suggests you get a head net, don't think twice; get one, and consider a spare. Chances are, if needed, you can sell the spare for a tidy profit. If your "bug juice" is not DEET, forget it. Read the package carefully and get the highest strength solution you can tolerate. Get at least three containers of repellent, including a small one for your pocket that you can refill, a larger one for your daypack and a spare you can keep with your luggage. One convenient way to store and apply repellent is to use cloths containing DEET and sealed in plastic bags. These are handy, but be sure you have a liquid or spray supply to re-saturate the cloths. Be sure to self-test DEET or other medications/repellents long before your trip. Some repellents can cause skin irritation and other side effects. Anglers also need to be mindful that DEET will melt fly lines and some plastic baits, and it will repel fish from your brother-in-law's lures if applied with stealth.

 To complete your mosquito protection you must have an anti-itch/antiseptic topical remedy. Without a doubt the best product available is adult strength liquid Benadryl. A drop applied shortly after the bite will keep swelling and itching to a bare minimum. Being highly allergic to bites and stings, I find that within two days of repeated use I have no noticeable bump and can sleep throughout the night. Once again, I recommend carrying two or more bottles of liquid Benadryl. You will be amazed by how many lodge and resort owners you will meet who have never heard of this wonderful and truly effective remedy. Without it in the bush I would easily pay $20 per bottle to get it. At times, $100 would not be too much. You may also want to consider some sort of antihistamine tablet for nighttime relief. 

The best news for me during mosquito season is that most of the rivers and lakes I guide on in Oregon are nearly mosquito-free. Oregon has some of the world's best, nearly mosquito-free fishing; mosquitoes are not found in clean, cool quick flowing waters. 

 The Oregon Fishing Situation

The Spring Chinook season was closed for Spring salmon in the Columbia until recently due to abnormally low numbers of fish crossing Bonneville Dam near Portland. In fact, the numbers were so low many predicted a crash like never seem before. Then the numbers increased and in a 10-day period the fish appeared in numbers that far exceeded the projected run size. This is the latest return of salmon on record and the fishing is very good and improving. Excellent snow pack this year and late running fish will keep Spring salmon fishing hot well into July this year.