Old Duck Hunter: Go farther afield to avoid crowds on the Kenai

By Steve Meyer, for the Redoubt Reporter

There is life beyond the Kenai Peninsula.

Having just hit my 40th anniversary of living on the Kenai, I have to admit to being like area residents and spending much of my time outdoors right here on the Kenai. Oh, I’ve been to some of the spots commonly talked about in the outdoor magazines — the Alaska Peninsula, the Brooks Range, the Chugach and Alaska ranges. But predominantly I’ve spent my hunting and fishing time close to home and have not been disappointed.

The past couple of years, though, my hunting partner and I have been venturing beyond the peninsula and have found some great hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities right on the road system.

Summer is not a time for hunting, but it certainly is a great time to scout and see some of Alaska, and the Parks, Denali, Glenn and Richardson highways all offer spectacular scenery and access to some of the wildest country this state has to offer. There are numerous streams on the Parks Highway heading north toward Fairbanks that offer summer fishing for grayling, trout and in-season salmon.

Check the regulations, particularly the emergency orders, before heading up that way. Like the Kenai, salmon runs have been less than stellar the past couple of years and restrictions and closures are the order of the day. But if you go prepared for all the species, there will surely be fish available.

This is not a meat fishery by any stretch. Catching a few fish for dinner over a nice fire is more like it, and, at least as far as I’m concerned, is a great way to spend summer days.

The Denali Highway also offers great summer fishing and relaxing opportunities. Numerous streams cross the road and most have native grayling and trout. Small spinners or flies are the order of the day. While they are not generally big fish, they certainly challenge the fisherman, and the streams are among the clearest and most beautiful on the planet.

Tangle Lakes, on the east end of the Denali Highway, offer good lake trout and grayling fishing. If you spend a bit of time fishing the inlet stream that runs into Tangle Lakes from the southwest you will be rewarded with some nice grayling and the occasional laker lurking about for a meal.

Paxson Lake is off the Richardson Highway, south of the intersection with the Denali. There are good-sized lakers there that can be caught from shore, but the odds are much better with a boat to explore and troll the lake. It is a good-sized lake and you will want to stick close to shore with a small boat.

Heading north from the Denali-Richardson intersection you come to Summit Lake, another laker spot that is fairly large and subject to strong winds due to its mountain pass location. Again, stay close to shore with small boats. Farther up the road is the Clearwater River, a pristine grayling stream that is among the best Alaska has to offer from the road system. Regulations on the Clearwater are stringent due to its popularity, but really good grayling fishing is there to be had. Incidentally, grayling are a great-eating fish if cooked soon after the catch. They do not hold up well to freezing and lose much of their flavor and substance. This makes a shoreside cookout the best option if you want a fish dinner.

Heading back west on the Glenn Highway there is Lake Louise, which is well known for its lake trout population, although the recent allowance of subsistence fishing with nets has greatly reduced that fishery and will probably result in a closure before long. But like the Denali, many of the streams on the eastern end of the Glenn hold grayling.

If you are not really into fishing but are into hunting dogs, there is a little known spot on the Parks Highway that is the perfect place for offseason training of your upland bird dog. Falcon Ridge is a game farm that specializes in providing wild game birds for training hunting dogs. They offer chukars, pheasants and pigeons raised in flying pens that, unlike most hatcheries in Alaska, produce a bird that really can fly like a wild bird.

This is extremely important for training pointing dogs. If the dog is able to catch the bird when they don’t hold a point they are rewarded and will continue to break. That’s an oversimplification of the process but dog folks will know what I mean. They also know that spending a day over wild birds is more beneficial than many days training with dummies or frozen bird carcasses.

It isn’t cheap, but, then, few things of value are these days. The main point being that it is available. The owner, Gary Thompson, is a dog man. He is not making a dime on his business but continues to operate it for the love of hunting dogs.

Another really great place to visit off the peninsula is Grouse Ridge, a shotgunners paradise. This club offers trap, skeet and a sporting clays field that is unmatched anywhere in Alaska. They have a very nice clubhouse and restaurant, which makes for a really great day of shooting in a gorgeous setting.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Kenai Peninsula and the majority of my time will always be spent here. But sometimes when the crowds get a bit overbearing, it is nice to get away and relax in some of the less-pressured spots Alaska has to offer.

Steve Meyer has been a central peninsula resident since 1971 and is an avid hunter, fisherman and trapper. He can be reached at oldduckhunter@gci.net.

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