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Continuing subscribers will remember the reports we published in The Angling Report several years ago (see the June, 1990 issue, pages 4-6; and the January, 1992 issue, pages 1-2) on how to find drive-around fishing in Alaska. Those reports centered mainly on roadside fishing in southcentral Alaska around Anchorage. This area has more roads than any other area in the state and the fishing is something less than pristine. However, there are many other regions of the state where anglers can find drive-around fishing, including places that don’t sport the extensive road system that southcentral Alaska has.

One such region is southeast Alaska, an area that is dotted with islands that can only be reached via plane or boat. To be sure you’re properly oriented, I should point out that by the term southeast I am referring to that panhandle portion of the state that stretches from Valdez on the edge of Prince William Sound south to Ketchikan and the British Columbia border.

Many visitors to southeast Alaska drive up from the lower 48 and take the ferry through the Inside Passage back down to Washington. What most people don’t realize as they pass through this region is that there are roads on many of the islands in southeast Alaska, and they provide access to some wonderful, lightly pressured freshwater fishing. One such out-of-the-way spot is Wrangell Island, which lies about half way between Juneau and the border of British Columbia. The total population of Wrangell Island is around 3,000 people, most of whom depend on commercial fishing, forestry products and tourism in the form of cruise ships for a living. (The cruise ships that dock here include Alaska Sightseeing/Cruise West (*); Clipper Cruise Line (*); and World Explorer Cruises (*).)

At first glance, Wrangell Island may not seem to be a very likely place to go freshwater fishing, but hold on. The island has more than 100 miles of road and they crisscross the entire island offering easy access to a number of waters rich with sea-run dolly varden and cutthroats, as well as steelhead and salmon. When you consider that only 3,000 people live on the island – and most of their occupations make them extremely busy during the summer fishing season – what you have is a lot of uncrowded roadside fishing.

So, what’s the best way to get to Wrangell to sample some of this fishing? Well, one option is to put your vehicle on an Alaska State Ferry (booked by the Alaska Marine Highway System (*)) – either northbound from Bellingham, Washington, or Prince Rupert, British Columbia; or southbound from Haines or Skagway, Alaska. Prices for a ferry excursion vary according to the number of passengers in a group and the size of the vehicle brought on board. To give you a general idea, the cost of a one-way trip for two person ages 12 and over and one vehicle up to 10 feet long is $554 from Bellingham; $170 from Prince Rupert; $215 from Haines; and $233 from Skagway. These prices do not include the cost of a cabin (two-berth cabin from Bellingham – $174 to $192; Prince Rupert – $53 to $58; Haines or Skagway – $63 to $69) and meals.

Another option is to take the ferry as a walk-on passenger (no vehicle) or fly into town. Wrangell has regular jet service via Alaska Airlines (*) from Anchorage and Seattle. It’s a 2 1/2-hour jump from Anchorage that costs $330 round-trip, and roughly the same flying time from Seattle at $362 round-trip. Upon your arrival, you can rent a car from Practical Rent-A-Car (*), which is located right at the airport, for about $44 per day. The proprietor, Bob Prunella, has lived in Wrangell for decades and has a wealth of information. He is happy to answer questions regarding anything that goes on in Wrangell.

The town of Wrangell itself is located at the extreme northern tip of Wrangell Island, and there is only one road – the Zimovia Highway – that takes you south out of town to the fishing. The highway eventually branches off into a series of state-owned and Forest Service roads, so you will need to consult a map to help you find your way. A good one is available from the Tongass National Forest (*). Ask for the pamphlet on fishing opportunities, which includes the map plus a complete list of the fresh and saltwater fishing opportunities in the area. The roads on Wrangell Island, by the way, are not paved but have good gravel beds. I traveled in a rented Ford Taurus station wagon and had no trouble whatsoever negotiating them.

The highlight of fishing the road system on Wrangell Island is Thoms Lake and Thoms Creek, 21 and 39 miles south of Wrangell respectively. During the months of April and May, you’ll find steelhead, sea-run cutthroat trout and sea-run dolly varden here. Sockeye, chum and pink salmon begin to appear in late July and you can fish for them through the month of August. The last week or two of September is prime time to fish for silver salmon, with good fishing running well into October.

Other easily accessible sites along the road system are Pats Creek and Lake, 11 miles south of town, where you’ll find cutthroat trout and pink and silver salmon. However, because these fisheries are so close to town, they are very popular with the locals and you’ll find more pressure here than in other spots. Salamander and Earl West creeks, 18 and 25 miles south of town respectively, have limited opportunities for cutts and silvers. Long Lake, which requires a mile hike in from Mile 28, also has cutthroat trout.

Fools Creek is a little bit tougher to get to. From Mile 32, you’ll need to take a one-mile bushwhack to reach it. The creek has cutts, dollies, pinks and silvers, and except for a grizzly bear or two, you’ll most likely have this stream all to yourself.

The fish in this part of the world are not what most anglers would consider sophisticated. Sure, there are times when the fishing is tough, but mostly it’s just a matter of getting your fly in front of the fish. A standard assortment of brightly colored steelhead flies, along with a selection of Wooly Buggers, will put you in good stead. If you experience some uncharacteristic hot and sunny weather in this land of misty gray skies, you could also have some decent dry fly fishing for cutts, so make sure you take a few dries like Humpies, Wulffs and Elk Hair Caddis.

I didn’t use the services of a guide during my trip to Wrangell Island, and in fact, most of the ones I was able to locate concentrated mainly on saltwater trolling for salmon and bottom fishing for halibut. Upon my return, I did learn of one guide, Mike Patterson (*), who listed freshwater trout fishing as one of the services he offered. I know nothing about him, but I’d venture to guess it would be worth contacting him if you’re headed that way. I plan to do just that on my next trip.

As for accommodations, I chose to camp out along the way, but if you’d prefer, there are a number of places to stay in Wrangell. These run the gamut from the Stikine Inn (*), complete with restaurant and cocktail lounge at $55 per night, to several bed-and-breakfast facilities. For a complete package of information on lodging, restaurants, camping facilities, local tourist attractions, etc., contact the Wrangell Chamber of Commerce (*). Enjoy! – Anthony J. Route.

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