With the exception of the remote north coast, the Yukon is landlocked. We have large rivers and drainages that connect us to the Pacific Ocean, but 3,000 kilometres for salmon to travel to Whitehorse is a bit far.
It is sad that the British didn’t step up in 1867 to purchase what is now Alaska. Within that big, beautiful neighbour of ours are some of the most productive salmon runs in the world. Add a little halibut and you have an angler’s paradise.
It is for this reason that Yukoners annually head west to Alaska for a salt-water, big river fix and a chance at any one of a number of salmon species.
Most popular are the Chilkat and Chilkoot rivers in Haines for silvers and reds (coho and sockeye in Alaskan). A close second is Skagway with some productive king runs fished right out of the harbour.
With Haines and Skagway five and two hours away, respectively, it is interesting that more Yukoners are pushing farther west into places like Valdez, Soldotna and Homer on the Kenai Peninsula. These are long, bumpy drives varying from 14 to 18 hours away.
One should be asking why we drag rods, boats and campers this far.
Having just spent two weeks fishing the Kenai, and a trip to Valdez a couple of years ago, I can tell you this is the big leagues. The runs are massive in some cases with 88,000 fish passing through in a single day. The fish are large, fresh and will give any angler a run for their money.
Imagine hooking into an average nine- to 12-pound sea-run, wild sockeye in a swift river on a fly rod.
Like the Alaskans who live here, these fish are determined to be free and will shake, jump and test your 20-pound test to the limit.
You have a good chance to fill the freezer on a trip farther west, but you still need the right gear and be prepared to work for it.
Fishing for the same species, like sockeye on the Kenai River, requires a completely different approach and lure setup than it would on the Chilkoot River.
Timing is also critical with salmon runs on each river varying month to month.
Certain species come through different rivers at different times. Most people like to catch the sockeye run in Haines in late July, early August, but might get lucky and still get into a couple of fresh pinks.
If you go in late August, there may be very little in the system other than a mess of skanky pinks, a few late sockeye and maybe a super early coho.
Other factors to consider when planning your trip west are regulations, river conditions, weather, commercial fishing activity, bear activity and angler congestion.
When the stars align and you are on the river when a big wave of fish rolls through, the freezer can fill quickly.
If things are not working out, fish not there or show a lack of interest in what you are presenting, at least there is always the scenery.