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Del Eyer (left) and Josie Eyer (right) with friends Dick and Edie Sodergren and a catch of sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay region of Alaska.
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
For many outdoorsmen, going to Alaska to fish for salmon is a dream trip of a lifetime. For my Roanoke County neighbors, Del and Josie Eyer, it is an annual event. So who better to ask some questions about putting this adventure on your bucket list:
Q. How many years have you been going to Alaska for salmon fishing?
A. We first went in 1989 and have fished there every year since then.
Q. What is your favorite species of salmon?
A. Oh my! For eating, our favorite is sockeye, but for the pure battle of a big fish, the king salmon has to be tops.
Q. There was much publicity last year about salmon being in short supply, particularly king salmon. Did that impact your fishing?
A. Our favorite king fishing in the rivers of Southeast Alaska was virtually shut down by the Alaska Fish and Game Commission in 2011 and 2012.There must be a quota of fish passing safely through each river--called escapement--or the fishing is cancelled or curtailed to reduce the fish harvested.
Q. What kind of fishing season do you anticipate this year?
A. I am sure the sockeye and silver (Coho) salmon runs will be great. Early reports on the king salmon are more optimistic than the last 2 years.
Q. Do you use a guide?
A. The only guide we use is for the remote wilderness river fishing for sockeye. Float planes and jet boats are used. We have never used a guide for silver salmon or king salmon.
Q. Would you recommend that newcomers use a guide?
A. If you have only a week or so, it would be best to go on a package deal that includes a guide, lodging and meals. For a month trip I say do your own research on the Alaska Fish and Game website (AF&G).
Q. What is your best tip for a newcomer?
A. For river fishing, you must be there on the exact dates the fish are running. All major rivers have weirs or electronic fish counting devices that clearly graph the peaks. Look at the last 5-year runs and plan to arrive the third day after the average first peak for your targeted river.
Q. Anything a first-time salmon anglers needs to do to prepare for the trip?
A. For a do-it-yourself trip, the most important thing of all is to buy the following two books: "The Roadside Angler," by Pederson and "The Milepost" which list all commercial places on all routes in Alaska.
Q. Do you find it important to get into the back country or do you stick pretty close to civilization?
A. Alaska has changed and the river fishing can be congested. Here is the biggest tip of all. Select a river that is not serviced by roads from the mainland or by commercial airlines. Use the extensive ferry system and choose a ride of at least 3 hours and you will virtually have the river to yourself.
Q. Do you prefer stream, lake or ocean fishing for salmon?
A. I much prefer the river fishing to have the thrill of the strike and ensuing battle. Ocean fishing is usually done with heavy gear and down deep so the excitement is considerably subdued.
Q. What is your favorite fishing area?
A. The rivers flowing into Bristol Bay have to be tops. Last year 2.3-million sockeye went through the escapement in one day on the Kvichak River alone. You have to love the Nushagak for kings in late June. For Silvers we target Southeast Alaska.
Q. What is the biggest change you have made through the years?
A. For a short or extended trip, coordinating the arrival of each species of river fish is of utmost importance. Use Pederson's book, "The Roadside Angler," and the AF&G Website to get it right.
Q. What should a person expect an Alaska fishing trip to cost?
A. Air fare is about $900-round trip per person. A motor home rental is about $175 per day, which is a wonderful way to fish and see Alaska. A full fishing package including guide, meals and lodging will range from about $3,500 to $5,000 for five days of fishing. Charter boats for ocean fishing are about $1,000 per day for four people and this is truly a great adventure.
Q. What type fishing equipment do you use, and do you take it from home or rent it when you get there?
A. We always mail much of our gear ahead of time then pack more clothes and gear in one 48-quart cooler each as plane baggage. We mail all of our gear back home and always bring back frozen fish in the coolers. Our fly rods are 8 weight and our spinning gear is composed of 7-foot Ugly Sticks with a fast tip for long casts. Our best producing lure for silvers and kings is the Blue Fox Vibrax spinner size 5 in nickel red.
Q. When is the best time to go?
A. For river fishing, arrive in the Anchorage area on August 17th to fish the many tributaries to the Big Susitna River north of Anchorage. For sockeye runs in rivers flowing into Bristol Bay, be there on July 1. Kings are best late May and June. For Southeast Alaska silvers arrive about September 7.
Q. How much time should you allow?
A. Travel eats up a lot of time. Two days travel going and leaving and five days fishing makes a fast but delightful trip.
Q. What is the biggest mistake a newcomer makes?
A. Many fishermen think you can just go to Alaska and fish the rivers any time. First you must get the timing of the salmon runs coordinated. Ocean fishing is much more lenient for timing.
Q. What is your favorite way to prepare salmon for the table?
A. We smoke a lot of our salmon and eat a fair amount grilled. Friends and family really cherish the fine taste of salmon smoked 4 to 5 hours with spices from the Conyeager Spice Co.
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