Fishing Alaska With Kids

Fishing at Summit Lake along the Seward Highway Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

This story originally appeared in the Alaska Dispatch News 5/23/2017

I caught my first fish at Rocky Run Creek in Washington’s Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest when I was about 6 years old and camping with my family. It was a rainbow trout just over the 6-inch legal requirement, and I proudly carried it back to our campsite, where my dad taught me how to gut and then fry it up in a little bit of bacon grease for breakfast. I didn’t even have to share with my brother and sister.

Best day ever.

Many years later I remember that moment as if it was yesterday. The tumbling sound the water made as it rushed over the rocks, how my dad showed me the intricacies of fish behavior and how to hold the pole just right so they’d nibble on the salmon eggs we carefully affixed to tiny hooks.

Considered a rite of passage in many families, sport fishing Alaska is a terrific outdoor activity for kids, teaching a new generation about everything from stewardship to subtle techniques passed down generation to generation.

Alaska Fishing enthusiasts on the Kenai River. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Alaska’s size opens up myriad opportunities to welcome kids to sport fishing. The largest state includes 12,000 rivers; 3 million lakes; and 6,640 miles of coastline — opportunities aplenty to reel flopping fish. It’s simply what we do here, and over the years I’ve discovered that the old adage about “so many fish, so little time” holds truer and truer.

Ready to hit the shoreline. Fishing Alaska is a great way for kids and adults to spend time together. (NOTE: Felt-soled wading shoes are no longer legal in Alaska waters.) Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Sportfish Division apparently thinks so, too, and is bolstering efforts to encourage Alaska families to explore fishy places with kids — not just to catch fish, but to become part of a thriving outdoor community.

Terry Thompson, statewide communications and outreach coordinator for Fish and Game, explained that the division’s goal is to get folks excited about the idea of packing up and going fishing together.

“We want to make it easy for families to fish together,” he told me, “And … help people understand the resources available to them.”

Consequently, I took a trip to the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery along the banks of Ship Creek in downtown Anchorage, where a variety of fish from rainbow trout to king salmon are reared and then released for the enhancement of sport fisheries. Considered one of the most complex hatcheries in the world, the facility is a carefully-orchestrated and controlled site that allows 6 million fish to be released across Southcentral each year. 

The William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery in Anchorage is a great place to visit with kids. Image credit to mcgalaska.com

Thompson says the hatchery is a great place to visit, especially as the facility enters its busiest months. Open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. seven days a week, the hatchery includes an outdoor rearing pond and Ship Creek overlook that provides stellar viewing of salmon, some huge, fighting their way upstream to spawn. As summer progresses, the numbers will only grow.

“We also encourage people to take a free tour of the hatchery facility,” Thompson said. Interpretive signs and enormous windows offer visitors the chance to see operations in full swing.

From vast circular tanks holding up to 260,000 tiny fingerlings to trucks that transport the catchable fish to lakes and creeks from Cordova to the Kenai Peninsula, the hatchery is a fascinating place to spend an hour or two before launching the “catching” part.

AK Kid reels in one of his first fish at Campbell Creek in Anchorage. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Fishing success with kids

Ryan Ragan is a father and the guy in charge of Fish and Game’s kid-centered programs. An avid family fisherman himself, Ragan knows firsthand the value of taking kids on the water for a bit of family time. He also understands that kids (often parents, too) need incentives and encouragement to learn more about fishing Alaska. 

“What we don’t want is the complexity of regulations to keep people from fishing with their kids,” he said. If you’ve ever tried to read the rulebook governing fishing in Alaska, you know what he’s talking about. But both Ragan and Thompson want people to feel supported by Fish and Game staff and say that questions are welcome and encouraged, particularly from those new to fishing.

“Drop by our office on Raspberry Road in Anchorage and we’ll help with advising about tackle and places for parents and kids to fish together,” Ragan said. “That’s what we love to do, because most of us are fishermen, too.”

Ragan says Fish and Game also has a slate of youth-only fisheries throughout the summer for kids 15 and younger. And while you’re at it, he said, take a stab at completing the Five Salmon Family Challenge and earn an official certificate from the agency if you and your kids catch all five species of salmon this year. 

No gear? Not a problem, says Ragan. Most Fish and Game offices have spinning rods for summer fishing available free of charge through a loaner program (you need to provide tackle, however).

Above all, I learned, fishing is one of those activities that combines recreation and quality time with kids who are growing up all too quickly. With a bit of luck, fishing families can cast together for years to come.

Need a fishing rod? The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has a thriving rod loaner program. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Southcentral Alaska youth-only fisheries

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game offers several opportunities for kids 15 and under to take advantage of accessible fisheries in 2017. Visiting? This is the perfect way to introduce your kids to fishing Alaska, the way locals do it. 

*Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon, Homer: June 3 (kings), Aug. 5 (silvers)

*Seward Lagoon and lagoon outfall stream: June 16-18; July 7-9; Aug. 25-27; Sept. 1-3

*Ship Creek, Anchorage: June 17 (kings)

*Eklutna Tailrace, Palmer: June 17, Aug. 19 (6 a.m.-6 p.m. each day)

*Campbell Creek, Anchorage: June 14, 25 (kings, 6 a.m.-10 p.m. each day)

*Fish Creek, Wasilla: Aug. 5, 6 (5 a.m.-10 p.m. each day)

For more information about all things fishing in Alaska, visit the Fish and Game website. 

**AND- stay tuned to AKontheGO this summer, because ADF&G is partnering with us to help more families fish the stocked lakes around Alaska. We’ll have tips from the pros, and even a prize for the family who visits every single lake to fish with the kids. WOW. 

~EK

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