ULTIMATE ALASKAN SURVIVAL GEAR LIST:
(FOR SOCKEYERS, SLAYERS, and OTHER FISH PLAYERS)
Remember...The Three Most Important Things You Need In Alaska:
Toilet Paper- this item tops the list, all other items can be obtained later
Fishing Pole and Reels- Did I ever tell you the story of when Rod and I went fishing and I forgot to pack my fly reels?
Gray Tape - Of all of the things to forget...this is not one of them. Gray tape really is the magic glue that holds Alaska together. ..I use it on my car, my fishing pole, my fingers, my tarp, my wife (no no just kidding, hunny!), taping up fish boxes, etc. Plan on one roll per week.
ON THE RIVER:
The Sockeye Bare Essentials:
1. Your chosen selection of fishing rod and reel:
Fly Rod - I have found great success using the shortest lightest fly rod I can get away with a 7wt 8.5ft Pflueger. I figure it gives them sockeye a fighting chance. For most people a 8-9wt rod is the ticket. I recommend trying to find a rod that goes no more than 9ft long. If you are going to combat fish it can be difficult to squeeze into a spot with a 10ft long fly rod and still maintain a decent drift. If you are chasing silvers or kings with a fly rod then definitely step up to the bigger heavier rods, but for sockeye stay light and short.
Light Salmon/Steelhead Rod- For years my wife has been sockeye fishing with a small lightweight rod designed for trout fishing. The benefits are cost (cheap) and short length. The short length allows here to fish in tight quarters in combat conditions. Also. being small and light the rod doesn't wear out her arm and wrist during the first day of fishing. So, the smaller rods are great for sockeye fishing and obviously can double for trout or char action as well.
Salmon Pole - Some people love to bring their heavy king salmon rods down to the river when they sockeye fish. Personally, I don't recommend it. They are too big, too heavy, and tend to wear a person down when making cast after cast. Granted, they will do the job, I just have a personal bias against them. The heavier rods, though, are essential for king and or silver fishing. So, it really depends upon what species you are stalking as to the size of rod you want to bring.
Fly Reel - In my opinion there are basically three types of fly reels that are used for sockeye fishing. There is the cheap kind like the low-end Medalist 1595 reels (great for trout), that have a little thumb-screw click drag that might stop a trout or a small sockeye one time. This was the first type of reel I used for sockeye fishing. The drag held up for about one day and after that it was all palm and bloody-knuckles to get those fish under control. Then there is the medium-class reel like the Scientific Angler 89 or 78 series - that have an excellent disc drag that could stop a king. These are the reels that I use and they work great. And then there are the more expensive reels (like the 4G-AR, Penn International) that have the heavy duty drag, as well as, the anti-reverse handle that doesn't spin when the fish takes drag. Within each of those three classes are many varieties of design and construction. One tip that you should take to heart....no matter what fly reel you purchase, make sure that the handle is attached by a screw and bolt - not press fitted in. Those press fitted handles do not last very long under the pressures of sockeye fishing. And the last tip - no matter how expensive a reel you buy - letting it sit in the river or dropping it in the mud will turn it into a piece of crap in no time. Treat those reels nicely and keep the dirt and gravel out of them.
Spinning Reel - Everyone has their own preference for spinning reels. The only advice I can give is to load them up with 30lb line, bring along a few extra spools of different weighted line for other adventures, and get one with an easily adjustable drag. And just like a fly reel - keep the dirt and gravel out.
Baitcaster Reel - In my observations, baitcaster setups are a close second to fly setups in terms of effectiveness at sockeye fishing. Most of the excellent sockeyers that don't use fly rods are using baitcaster setups. Baitcasters are effective I think because of the ability to transmit the "feel" of the river bottom up through the line to the fisherman's thumb on the reel. The biggest drawbacks of these reels are the tendency for "backlashing" and the inability to quickly change line with a spare spool. But, overall, baitcasters are excellent reels that work in a wide variety of applications.
2. Your choice of methods for staying dry
Chest Waders/Boots - I prefer using Hodgman neoprene chest waders for all of my fishing adventures. They are fairly tough, water and wind insulating, usable in a variety of situations, and provide the means for carrying all of my fishing tackle. Their big drawback is that they make you perspire on the inside of them, and consequently after a few day's use they begin to stink a bit.
Breathable Waders - These types of waders are great in warmer climates where you don't want to sweat so much. I personally have not used them. This year my brother-in-law used them on the Kenai and had great success.
Hip Waders - These are very popular. They allow you to quickly slip off your shoes and get into your boots without changing clothes. Of course the big drawback comes once you are in the water...one bad step and your boots are full of water or if Swiftwater Bill drives by in his boat the 6-ft surf is a killer. The first two years I fished on the Kenai I used hip waders....once I found that I couldn't stand in some spots due to water depth or cross key channels I quickly realized that chest waders were the way for me to go.
Shorts and Tennis Shoes - This is a viable option. However, I don't recommend it as the Kenai is a glacial fed (read: cold!) river system. However, on some of the real hot Alaskan days I've witnessed people standing out in the river with bare legs and tennis shoes....it's not for me, though.
3. The means for hooking-up:
Coho Fly - Prepackaged coho flies are available at all tackle stores and grocery stores in South Central Alaska. For sockeye fishing, color doesn't really matter. I use coho flies because they are quick and easy to grab and tie on. Some people don't like them because the hooks are consistently sharp or the hook opening is wide enough. I've never had any big issues with them. The main problems I have are that I get batches where the glue has filled in the hole on the hook and I have to poke it out in order to use the fly. Other than that, what the heck, they're quick and easy.
Hook and Yarn - A popular alternative to coho flies is the bare-hook and yarn combo. The biggest reasons people say they go this route is because a hook and yarn fly is cheaper than a coho fly, and the hooks are consistently of higher quality. Both observations are probably true.
Leader - For sockeye fishing I recommend using 30lb leader. The heavy leader will help you yard in your fish quickly without interrupting everyone else who is trying to fish next to you. Typically in sockeye fishing, you don't have the luxury of space to play and chase a fish up and down the bank, nursing it in. Hook 'em, fight 'em, land 'em. Any leader under 30lbs. will have you breaking off hooks left and right.
Mainline - Again, I recommend line in the 30lb range. I definitely recommend mono-filament line. Stay away from that braided tuff-line, it will only wear your fingers down to the bone in a very short time. If you are using a fly-rod setup, I would use a floating fly-line.
Split Shot or Banana Weights - Can't have too many of these. Funny, I'll go days without losing any weights and then some days I'll go through 2 or 3 bags full of split shot. Always over-prepare.
Pencil Lead - Some people like to use the sliding pencil lead setup. For sockeye fishing it works okay. However, it is a little to fancy of a setup for me. I would prefer to crimp on some split shot and get fishing.
Swivels - If you are someone who uses the main line - swivel - leader setup then bring plenty of swivels. Use the larger ones as you will need the strength when fighting sockeye, especially if you hook one in a place other than the mouth. Though for me, when I rig up Glory's spinning outfit, I just tie the coho fly directly onto the end of her mainline, bypassing the swivel and leader setup. As long as I tie a decent knot, there is no issue.
4. Battle Armor
Favorite Fishing Hat - My bald spot burns more easily these days, go figure. Also, the Alaska sun is quite intense at times, so don't leave home without it
Sunglasses - Not only cuts down glare but offers eye protection from all of that snapping-off tackle....and on occasion will give you the ability to sight-fish salmon when the water clarity is just right. But overall the biggest issue is eye protection. Don't end up in the annual photo on the wall of the Soldotna Emergency Room.
Sunblock - It's funny, when I go sockeye fishing six hours can pass in an instant. So, I also make sure to swab the nose and ears and neck with some sunblock before I set out - especially in the morning.
Needlenose Pliers - A key piece of equipment that only a small minority bring to the river. Every sockeyer should have a set of pliers with him, on the water, at all times. Use them for pulling hooks out of fish, killing fish, and bending hooks. Mainly, though, they are the tool to use when trying to release fish that are foul-hooked. Too many people foul hook fish and then are not prepared to release them in a timely manner. Have a set of these close at hand.
Filet Knives - Notice I wrote plural - Depending on how long you are staying or fishing will drive the number of knives you will need. For my month long adventures I usually go through 2 knives. Inadvertently, one of them usually gets all bent up somehow...so consider bringing more than one
Filet Glove - Sometimes I like using a glove while cleaning my fish. It helps you to hold onto the fish and avoid some nasty cuts from the filet knife. The problem with these is that they get pretty nasty after a few day's use and really need a good cleaning.
Fishing Vest - Allows you to keep all of your tackle on you so you don't have to get out of the water to change your fly. Get one of these or a belted fishing pouch to hold all of your stuff
Belt Pack - A great alternative to using a fishing vest is to strap on a belt pack to carry your battle supplies. Glory uses one for all of her fishing needs. She can carry her license, pliers, knife, Ziplocs, split shot, and coho flies. I prefer them over a fishing vest because the vests tend to place too much stress around my neck and shoulders which ends up making my back hurt.
Stringer - There are two types of sockeye fishermen: those who put their fish on stringers and those who throw their fish onto the bank. It's your choice as to the kind you want to be...
Fishing License - A no brainer, but you've got to remember to bring it with you at all times.
Miniature Flashlight - A great tool for the early morning/late evening fishing sessions. Also very handy for energizing "glow-corkies" for late night trout fishing.
Rubber Bands - Useful for banding together the pieces of your fishing rod for those long trail hikes.
Waterproof Watch - A watch on the river is a great thing to have. For whatever reason, time really flies while sockeye fishing. I'll be fishing for what I think is an hour only to check my watch and realize that four hours have gone by. Also, a watch is very handy when you're trying to get into your "spot". Numerous times someone has had my spot and I'll overhear them say something like - "Hey Joe, we need to leave at about 4pm to go to town...blah blah blah....". Then a smart guy like me will whip out my watch and tell them - "Hey its 4:05 now..." (even though maybe it's only 3:30). Sends 'em packing everytime....
Small Sharpening Stone - One of the most important tools a sockeyer can have. Whenever you snag a couple of rocks or have a series of fish-on/fish-offs it is important to check that your hook is still sharp. Drifting along the rocky bottom of the Kenai will cause minute "burrs" on the point of your hook. A small sharpening stone will allow you to file off these burrs and return your hook to a sharp point. Truly, the sharpness of your hook is one key factor that most fishermen overlook during their time on the water.
Fishing Net - "Put 'em on the bank, baby" - the rallying cry of true sockeyers. I find nets a pain in the butt to haul around, and so I don't bother bringing one. However, there are a few occasions where a landing net is a handy item to have - especially in those years where the Kenai is running so high that there is very little bank to land a fish on. Now here's two tips: a) If you're going to bring a net along, don't bring that little trout net, bring a real salmon net, and b) When you go out in the river to net make sure you don't drop it in the river - hold on to it (ain't that right, Wayne?).
5. Taking home the kill
Ziplocs - A popular way of transporting sockeye filets. I filet most of my fish into personal sized meals. I figure about 1.5 sockeye per ZIploc unless the monsters are in, then its one fish per bag.
Backpack - I you have a dedicated "fish backpack" then this is a great way to go. Especially if you clean your sockeye and keep them "whole". The issue is, once you've put a fish in the backpack, that backpack is useless for anything else - kinda stinky.
Plastic Bag - The disposable plastic grocery bags from the local Safeway or Carr's store make excellent tote bags for hauling fish.
Gunny Sack - One of the best methods for hauling fish is the gunny sack or potato sack. A key feature of these sacks is that no one can see how many fish you're carrying out of the river.....hmmmm
Bucket - Although this method works and is on the upswing (more and more bass-fishermen every year are coming to town), I've got to tell you....."Keep you damn buckets off the river. This is sockeye fishing not clam digging!!"
6. Fishing Related Clothing for those severe weather systems
Hooded Sweatshirt - This is the essential piece of clothing that I wear on the river. At times it can help keep the wind of your neck, the bugs off your head and the sun off your bald spot. If it warms up then peel it off. If the weather gets worse add the rainjacket. But, the hooded sweatshirt is the mantle-piece of my fishing garb.
Rainjacket - A must have for Alaskan fishing, even during summer. Some years it has rained nearly every day. Some years it hasn't rained at all. You just never know. Usually, I check the sky in the morning before I head down to the river, if it looks nasty, I'll tote the rainjacket...if not, it stays in the motorhome.
Poncho - A good alternative to a rainjacket is a rain poncho. Sometimes it's a better fit over the rest of your fishing outfit.
My Preferred Setup - From the Listings Above:
When I head off to fish a sockeye hole I carry the following items on my person, either in the pouch of my chestwaders or stuffed down inside my waders in my shorts or sweatshirt. I bring nothing with me that needs to be set down on the shore or sat on the bank. I have no need to step out of the water at any time to change my tackle. If I need to release a fish I have my pliers handy. If I catch a fish out comes the stringer and then back to fishing. In combat situations being fully self-contained is an essential element of being able to identify the sockeyer. The following is a list of my personal setup...
8.5ft 7wt Fly Rod
Scientific Angler 89 Fly Reel w/Floating Line
Chest Waders - Neoprene
Spool of leader 30-40lb
Coho Flies (2 dozen)
Split Shot (2-3packs)
Needlenose Pliers (with small rope attached)
Small Sharpening Stone
Ziploc Bags (enough to hold a limit of fish)
2 Carr's Plastic Grocery Bags
Rainjacket (optional depending on conditions)
Other Fishing Items To Bring To Alaska:
Spools of line - I have line and leader ranging from 2lb to 50lb to cover my Alaska fishing choices
Backup Reels - I usually have a couple of reels ready and loaded in a variety of configurations for ease of choice
Gray Flies - Weighted treble hook for that time you want to go salt-water snaggin'
Pixies - Large and small sizes, works on silvers, pinks, and dollies for the most part
Bait hooks - Soaking eggs is an Alaskan tradition
Assortment of Dry Flies - For grayling and trout fishing....I like yellow humpies, royal wulff, etc
Assortment of Streamer Flies - egg sucking leach, flesh pattern, maribous, glo-bugs, etc
Clippers - Good all around tool for trimming line
Corkies - Chartreuse, red, egg colored
Spinners and Spoons - Great for dollies, rainbows, silvers, and pinks
Wader glue - I am constantly developing minute holes in my waders. Right now the butt of my waders look like craters from the moon....but they're still water tight!
OFF THE RIVER:
Clothing: The premise is that if you are going in the two months of summer, expect decent whether. But long summer days also contain harsh breezes, snow flurries, thunderstorms, and other furies that seem to pop out of nowhere. It always seems best to overdress when in doubt. Also shorts and short sleeve shirts are fine sometimes. But if you go north of Anchorage or camp out anywhere in the woods, I will warn you that the mosquitoes are tough critters. When camping out sometimes it is advisable to wear two pairs of socks to bed. The skeeters are usually able to bite through one sock quite easily.
Rain Gear - As I said earlier, I can guarantee that it will rain at least once during your Alaska vacation
Jeans - Bring two pairs of jeans that you don't mind getting ruined and you'll be fine
Sweatshirts - The mornings and evenings in Alaska are pretty cool/chilly even in summer. Once the sun goes down (if it does at all) the glacial winds really flow.
Long Sleeve Cool Shirts - Long sleeves will help protect against bugs and sun. I usually dress in layers: a long sleeve shirt, a t-shirt, and then my hooded sweatshirt.
Socks - You don't need as many pairs as you might think. You should get a couple of days out of each pair. Also, consider bringing some of the heavy wool socks to use while fishing - helps to keep the toes warm
Underwear - Similar to socks....Alaskan style is that underwear should last a couple of days each - or until they can stand up by themselves. There are so many other odors to deal with while sockeye fishing all week, that you'll hardly notice those mungy underwear.
Shirts - Bring a few t-shirts. My tip- bring some shirts that you don't mind getting ruined or stained with fish blood.
Shoes - Bring a pair of comfortable tennis shoes that you don't mind getting ruined. Alaska and camping, in general, seem to be tough on shoes.
Boots - There are two kinds: fishing and hiking. Have a set of each.
Hats - Besides the standard fishing hat, everyone should bring a ball cap or other hat for wearing around the camp.
Shorts - The weather was mostly sunny during 2003, when I wasn't on the water it was almost always shorts weather. Of course, conditions will vary, but plan on 2 pairs of shorts.
Sweatpants - Great camping gear, especially for hanging out around the camp in the evening.
CAMPING / LIFE ENHANCING PRODUCTS: (Things to Consider...)
Skillet - you gotta be able to eat those tasty morsels fresh out of the river.
Lantern/Flashlight - depending on the time of year, it can get dark in Alaska, evening during summer.
Mess Kit - some people use these things when hiking and camping, or so I've heard.
First Aid Kit - I always seem to be gashing myself with the filet knife. The two best things to have here are band-aids and some Neosporin. Neosporin is very helpful for soothing those finger cuts caused by fish teeth.
Sleeping Bag - duh
Blanket - Compliments the sleeping bag. A necessity if you are bringing your wife.
Foam Bed Roll - if you are sleeping in the back of your car or truck this is a godsend. If you're hiking and camping this may be a burden.
Tent - Depends on your style of camping
Tarp - a thousand and one uses for this. I can guarantee it is going to rain at some point during your Alaska trip.
Heater/Stove - A propane stove is really an asset for fixing those meals quickly
Cooler/Freezer/Freezing - Once you've caught and cleaned all of those fish, what are you going to do with them? Either get them on ice immediately, or get them in a freezer somewhere.
Metal Grill - Nice to have if you're in a place that you can build a campfire
Lighter/Matches - Essential survival gear...fire...good
Garbage Bags - I like to keep a clean campsite....others don't, but they're a bunch of hayseed idiots
Canteen - Great for packing some survival water around. Also makes a good missile to hurl at....
Mosquito Net Hat - If you are camping anywhere north of Anchorage prepare for the biggest display of blood sucking insects you've ever seen.
Binoculars - Great for enhancing your wildlife viewing experience...and also for spying on fisherman who are catching when you're no
Camera & Film - Some of your outlandish stories will need to be backed up with proof. Also, photos help ease the pain when your next Alaska vacation is still 8 months away
Rope / Tying String - Always very valuable. Works great with the tarp.
Shovel - Helps in a number of ways...digging out your tires, digging a poop hole, smothering a fire....etc
Bug Spray - Skeeters aren't such a big problem on the Kenai, but anytime you head north of Anchorage prepare to be sucked
Cribbage Board and Cards - An essential member of the "firsts" club is that 'first' cribbage victory. The King of card games for all respectable sockeyers.
Collapsible Water Jug - Great for bringing an extra water supply to the campsite.
Towels - For those one or two times per week that you find a shower necessary.
Stamps - makes sending those postcards easier
Alaska Milepost Book - A great resource for all of the stops along the highway. Not very good for finding specific fishing holes, though.
Small Backpack - Great tool for those day trips - especially into the Russian River area
Alarm Clock - This item might almost qualify as "battle armor". It is an essential device for getting me up at 3:30am in order to ensure that I have my fishing spot.
Passport / Identification - If you are driving the Alcan from the lower 48, I would suggest that you have a passport handy for the Canadian Border crossing. Things are getting kind of weird these days.
Axe or Machete' - In order to build that back-country shelter or to chop your firewood you'll need one of these.
Firearm - Depending on the situation you plan on being in it might not be a bad idea. But remember, most bear encounters are best solved by clear thinking and cautious behavior. Every year it seems someone gets a little too gung-ho and starts firing lead along the crowded Russian River fishing zone. Personally, if you're planning on fishing in a "people" area then leave the gun at home and just use your head to avoid bear encounters, if you're headed into the backcountry, well then, that's a different story - pack the heat.
Plastic Tote Bins - One of the best inventions in history for stowing camping gear.
Hand Lotion - Fishing and camping seems to take its toll on the skin - especially the fingers and hands. Plan on using a handful of lotion everyday to replenish those lost skin oils.
MOTORHOME / AUTO SUPPORT:
Gas Cans - Sometimes helpful sometimes a dangerous burden. Coming up the Alcan these really aren't as necessary as they once were. There are gas stations at least every hundred miles or so. However, if you're going off the beaten path then fill 'er up.
Oil/Gas Funnel - Ever try pouring 5 gallons of gas into a one-inch hole?
Flares - Could save your life when you're pulled over changing a flat....
Maps - Okay...where is Nikiski again?
Spare Tires - You most definitely absolutely must have at least one of these with you at all times. The highways of the north are paved in name only.
Tool Set - So far, every year, something's gone wrong....but I can fix it!! Bring wrench, pliers, screwdrivers, sockets, etc
Tank Repair Kit - I've never had to use one, but I hear they are great to have when the need arises
Gray Tape - see opening note above
Electrical Tape - Works better on car wiring than gray tape. Great to have but maybe not "essential"
Fish Wrapping Supplies - ZIploc Bags, Foil, Saran Wrap, Butcher Paper, Gray Tape, Plastic Garbage Bags, Vacu-seal bags: Once you catch your fish you need to decide how to preserve it. It needs to get wrapped somehow and frozen as quickly as possible. I have a vacu-sealer and a 12v DC to AC converter that I carry with me. Others use Ziplocks and throw 'em on ice in their coolers. Depending on your accommodations you've got to come up with a plan....
All purpose Knives - I don't like preparing my dinner with the same knife I just scooped-out fish poop with
Extra Set of Keys - The worst thing you can do is drop your only set of car keys in the river or on the trail somewhere. Bring an extra set...Remember, I told you so.
Spare oil, Transmission fluid, brake fluid, coolant - If it can leak, bring some extra.
Spare Tire - Make sure it is fully inflated and good before you leave for your trip.
Tire Inflate Spray - Not the greatest way to fix a flat tire, but sometimes it is the method of last resort. Bring a bottle just in case.
Tow Rope - Most of the Alaska and Canadian Highways have what is called a 'sunken shoulder'. Meaning that once you are off the pavement it will take an act of God or maybe a tow rope to get you back in the road. Also, if you're going to do any 4-wheeling, a tow rope is a must-have.
Jumper Cables - A must for any long journey. Either for you or the stranded motorist you find along the highway.
Spare Headlight / Tail-Lights - In Alaska, headlights are often mandatory on many highways during the days.
CB Radio / 2-way Radio Set - Helpful in those places where the cell phone doesn't work.
Spark Plugs - It's rare that you'll need to replace one of these in route, but again, it's a cheap spare part that could come in handy some day.
Extra Fan Belts - Good backup gear to have on hand.
Oil Filter - It's handy to have a spare one of these...just in case.
Jack and Tire Iron - Make sure you have every thing you need to change a tire. There are a lot of chances for flats when driving through Alaska and Canada.
Extra hoses and clamps - It would suck to be stranded in the middle of the Yukon just because a radiator hose split.
Wood blocks for the jacks - Most tire jacks need a little boost in order to get the wheel off the ground high enough to change. Bring a couple slabs of wood for a support base.
New Music to Listen to - Even the best CD gets old after 2500 miles.
Trip Journal - If you don't write it down, more than likely you'll forget about it. Also, essential for keeping score of your daily fishing catch.
Bungee Cords - So many uses for these....bring some
Rock Guard - Helps protect headlights and radiator grill from those pesky rocks on the Alaska highway system. If only they could come up with something to keep my windshield from cracking....
Repair Manual - In case you are a mechanical moron like I am, a repair manual can come in handy
Pry Bar - There are a lot of things to run-over in Alaska....and most of them do some sort of body damage.
Books - After a nice session of catching fish, nothing helps me to relax like a decent book to read. Also recommend you bring a bible along to read as well....it's good for the soul.
Altimeter - Some people like to know how high they are - I mean in altitude you idiots
Fuses - One of those pesky 10-cent items that can really save you from a bad experience
Well, that pretty much does it for now. I'm sure I've forgotten more items than I've remembered (guess I should have made a list). If you have some good ideas for inclusion drop me a line....
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