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It’s no secret that the returning runs of Alaska’s silver salmon have their up and down years, even in the best watersheds. In poor years, the runs do not develop as they should, making fishing tough and occasionally requiring emergency in-season regulation tightening. Even in good years, some outfitters tout fishing for silvers that have been in fresh water for a long time and are well past their prime. Their clients end up fishing for reddish, in-river fish that have begun to lose their fighting qualities.

I say all that as a roundabout way of introducing an on-your-own silver salmon fishery I just discovered. It’s relatively cheap. It’s reliable. And it offers angling for chrome-bright fish every August and September. The site of this fishery is Shuyak Island, which lies just north of Kodiak and Afognak Islands. Little more than an irregular dot on most maps, Shuyak’s nook-and-cranny, convoluted shoreline is perfect for fly fishermen looking to cast into the salt in small, protected bays.

The island is only reachable by air or water, and has no major towns, so fishing competition is virtually zero. The real attraction here are some Alaska State Park cabins, which are available for rent. On a recent trip I stayed in one of these cabins and fished from the beach, catching as many silvers as I wanted without even donning my waders. Certainly, chest waders will get you closer to cruising fish, but a 50-foot cast while standing on the dry gravel of an open beach will get you into fish here. In fact, on my last trip there were times when I could see two, three, four and sometimes as many as six fish leaping into the air at one time.

Although all four of the cabins have fishing, I can personally recommend two of them – Salmon Cove and Eagle’s Nest. They are luxurious as far as cabins go, at 12 feet by 20 feet and equipped with wood burning stoves. You don’t have to go far for fuel, as cut firewood is supplied in a nearby storage shed. The wood is dried and some of it will need to be split, but tools to do that are provided. Each cabin has four double, foam-padded bunks, but I recommend going in with a party of no more than four. Packing eight people into one of these cabins amidst four or five days of rain could make it start to seem very small.

The cabins are also equipped with a two-burner propane stove and propane lights. Propane is also provided. The cabins also contain a good supply of cooking gear and utensils. You only need to bring your sleeping bag and food. Fresh water is available at all the cabin sites but, as with everywhere in Alaska now, the water needs to be boiled or filtered to protect against giardia. Reservations for the cabins are on a first-come, first-served basis and the rental price is $50 per night. To get a state parks public use cabin application contact Alaska State Parks (*). Reservations can be made up to six months in advance.

Even though you can do most of your fishing from shore, it is best to have a small inflatable boat and outboard engine. In Anchorage you can rent an inflatable boat with floorboards, an outboard engine, tool box and personal flotation devices from Wild Alaska Rivers Company (*). The rental package costs about $100 per day.

Logistically there are several ways you can pull off this trip. It is easiest to fly to Anchorage and rent a vehicle (or vehicles, depending upon the size of your party). Keep in mind you’ll be hauling a cooler or two of food and an outboard engine and deflated inflatable boat. If you have four anglers you’ll be most comfortable with two vehicles. All the major car rental agencies are located in Anchorage. Shop early, though, as tourist season in Alaska uses up most of the available rental cars.

Once geared up in Anchorage, make the 250-mile drive to Homer. There you can use Beluga Lake Floatplane Service (*) or Kachemak Air Service (*). They take you right to your cabin with their float-equipped aircraft. The flying time from Homer is just shy of an hour and the cost varies depending upon the size of your party and the type of aircraft you charter. For example, a one or two-person party can fly with Beluga Lake in their Cessna 185 for a total price of $900 roundtrip. Beluga Lake accommodates groups of up to four people in their DeHavilland Beaver, which can carry a weight of 1,250 pounds for between $400 and $450 per person roundtrip. Kachemak Air also has a Beaver, and they charge about $1,400 roundtrip for up to 1,200 pounds. Larger groups may want to use Kachemak’s Otter, which accommodates up to 2,000 pounds for $2,220.

For fly fishing gear bring eight-weights or better and plenty of tippet material in the 10 to 15-pound class. Lots of these silvers run better than 15 pounds. Woolly Buggers in white, purple and pink as well as any attractor-type streamers will work well. And while a floating line and nine-foot leader will work most of the time, it doesn’t make sense to fish in Alaska without a sinking-tip line too.

Peak weeks for silvers here are the last two weeks of August and the first two weeks of September. To find fish simply look for them breaking the water’s surface. Best places to prospect are where freshwater streams – even very small ones – dump into the salt. From both Salmon Cove and Eagle’s Nest cabin you will likely see silver salmon jumping in the salt right off the beach. And the chances are very good that except for the people in your party you will not see any other anglers. Enjoy! – Anthony J. Route.

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