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40 minutes out of Anchorage, one-day fishing adventures.

We've all heard the tales before: "The river was so loaded with fish they were bumping off my legs," or "This fish was so big it took two of us to carry it." And we have all been justifiably skeptical. After all, most fishermen are notorious storytellers.

That is why reports of great summer-long angling within an hour's float plane flight of Anchorage sounded too good to be true. Though Alaska is legendary for its outstanding wilderness fishing, many of the well-known lodges are far from Anchorage, require a two- or three-night stay, and can easily cost $200 to $300 a day per person plus charter air fare.

But if our two trips (one in June, one in August) are any indication, the one-day, fly-out fishing packages outlined here offer one of the quickest and easiest ways for you to get a crack at some of the great fishing the state has to offer. These air taxi services will completely outfit and drop you where they think the fishing will be best within a 40-minute flight of Anchorage.

Even if you don't catch fish, the single-engine float plane ride low over the grassy meadows (on a clear day you'll see Mount McKinley 125 miles north of Anchorage), the likelihood of spotting moose from the air, and the chance to spend a day in the bush make the trip a worthwhile addition to your Alaska visit.

The fishing can vary. On our trip last June for king salmon, we caught only one fish (the limit)--a whopping 47-pounder on light spinning tackle. This was at a known hot spot with about 75 other anglers already fishing that stretch of river. The best drifts were crowded--almost elbow to elbow. A wilderness lodge, offering food service, guides, and boat rental, was nearby. Still, only a few anglers went home empty-handed, and most fish caught were in the 20- to 25-pound range.

The early August trip for sockeye salmon was much less crowded and more productive, with about 15 fish landed and released. The only problem was that the small stream was so thick with migrating humpback (pink) and sockeye that spinning tackle snagged many of the fish. After switching to a fly rod, we caught two hard-fighting sockeye in the 10-pound range--deep red fish with greenish, hook-jawed heads--that in themselves made the day worthwhile.

Typical one-day program. The pilot flies you out in the morning (usually between 7 and 9), then picks you up at a prearranged time. All planes take off from the float plane dock at Lake Hood, near the international airport. There you'll be outfitted with waders, a fishing rod, and a small box of tackle. You can buy the $10 license at sporting goods stores in Alaska--or, if necessary, at the air service office.

The best fishing is often north and west of Anchorage, although destinations can change daily depending on the previous day's results and reports from other locations. The pilot will likely circle the area, show you the best spots to fish, and give a few pointers on local technique, but then you're on your own. There may be a wilderness lodge or related services nearby, or you may be the only person for miles.

You can arrange for a guide (novice anglers should consider this) at some locations, but this costs at least $100 more. Guides and outfitters emphasize that there is no guarantee you will catch fish.

The spinning gear provided by most outfits is adequate, but it's a good idea to bring along your favorite rod and reel (especially fly tackle) and some lures or flies. A small day pack, rain jacket, sunglasses, and mosquito repellent are musts.

Now into July, the fishing is best for king (chinook) salmon, with silver (coho) salmon picking up from July into November. Sockeye salmon run June into August; humpback and chum salmon are good in July and August. Grayling and trout run all summer long, but fishing for trout peaks in late spring and early fall.

If you bring your own gear and are in a party of three or more, you may do better by arranging a private, guided charter from one of the many charter outfits in the Achorage area. For a list of licensed guides and other information, write or call the Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau, 201 E. Third Ave., Anchorage 99501; (907) 276-4118.

The operators. We've limited the listings below to companies that offer a specific day package for individuals and provide them with necessary gear--included in price unless noted. You may be the only passenger, but it is much more likely there will be a planeload of two to five other anglers. Ask about seasonal packages, especially for salmon, that can include guides and boats (often from a wilderness lodge) for little extra cost.

All operators include hotel pickup and, with one exception, a bag lunch. Area codes are all 907.

Alaska North Flying Service, Box 6330, Anchorage 99502; 243-2686. Fishing day trips cost $175, including a small boat where applicable.

Ketchum Air Service, 2708 Aspen Dr., Anchorage 99503; 243-5525. One of the originators of the day-fishing idea, Ketchum is large and well established. Trips cost $180, with boat where applicable.

Rust's Flying Service, Box 6325, Anchorage 99502; 243-1595. A fly-in fishing pioneer, this large outfitter can usually put people together (in June there's no problem); it does require a minimum of two. Day trips run $169, with boat where applicable.

Silvertip Lodges, Box 6389, Anchorage 99502; 243-1416. No frills here: bush pilots drop you on their way to fishing lodges for a flat $150. Tackle rental is $25 more; bring your own lunch. Also offers complete day packages (including guide and lunch) to lodges starting at $200, a bargain when local fishing is good.
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Title Annotation:Alaska
Date:Jun 1, 1984
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