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Alaska on the Cheap

No money? No problem! You can make your dream of hunting and fishing Alaska come true for as little as $25 a day.
Photo by Outdoor Life Online Editor
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Over the past 28 years, my family and I have enjoyed a millionaire's hunting and fishing lifestyle without the fat bank account. We've sipped fine wine from the comfort of a bubbling hot tub after a day of hooking and releasing more than 50 salmon. We've explored remote wilderness islands, hunted mountain goats, black bears and blacktail deer, and had entire lakes and rivers to ourselves, catching fish until we were too tired to make another cast.



Curious? I'll let you in on the deal. You can enjoy these Alaska adven-tures for as little as $25 a day, too.



Let me set the scene. Most families can't afford the $5,000 a week per person charged by many full-service lodges. People who go to these high-end establishments pay for five-course dinners, little mints left on their pillows each night, pilots to fly them into wilderness areas and guides to unhook caught fish. But if you can cook your own meals, land your own fish and choose your own bottle of champagne, you can have fishing and hunting every bit as good as, if not better than, what those high-priced lodges offer.



There are three types of wilderness cabins from which to choose: government cabins, outfitted cabins and high-end chalets. Allow me to introduce each of them to you.

Government Cabins

Leave the tents at home. Man was meant to walk upright into overnight accommodations, not crawl into them like a rodent. Alaska's 200 U.S. Forest Service cabins allow upright entrances. At the current rate of $25 to $45 per day, outdoor enthusiasts can spend days nestled on isolated saltwater bays or in remote mountains near streams filled with salmon and cutthroat and rainbow trout, and surrounded by forests loaded with black bears, deer, wolves and moose.



Don't expect run-down shacks crawling with mice. These are modern, well-maintained cabins with furnishings that might include an oil- or wood-burning stove, a table, benches, a boat, oars, an outhouse and firewood. Several cabins even have ramps and boardwalks for easy access for the handicapped.



Alaska's 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest offers more than 120,000 acres of fishable lakes and 23,000 miles of streams. The 5.9-
million-acre Chugach National Forest contains about 70,000 acres of lakes and 8,000 miles of streams.



According to a survey conducted by the U.S. Forest Service, sightseeing and fishing are the main reasons nonresidents visit southeastern Alaska. In that survey, 87 percent expressed medium to high satisfaction with the U.S. Forest Service cabins.



Most of the cabins are accessible only by floatplane or boat. Air charter costs vary with distance, but fares can be split among passengers. For example, the 15-minute bush-plane flight from Ketchikan to Kegan Creek cabin, located on Prince of Wales Island, will cost three anglers about $130 each. At $35 per night, renting the cabin for seven days costs $245, or about $82 apiece. Toss in some food, supplies and licenses and that comes to around $300 per person for the week.



Permits for these cabins are issued on a first-come, first-served basis. Permits can be obtained by phone or over the Internet. Reservations are accepted up to 180 days in advance.



At Kegan Creek cabin, anglers can catch four of the five species of Pacific salmon from the stream. Fishing is
often as steady as a fish per cast, especially where the creek enters salt water. There are also rainbow and cutthroat trout and Dolly Vardens in the upper stream and lake, along with steelhead beginning in April. The silver salmon fishing yields fish in the 8- to 12-pound category. You'll be enjoying the same fishing that others at lodges on the northern part of the island are paying over $4,000 a week to enjoy. Your price? Once you arrive, $35 per day.



If you crave isolation, other cabins in the Chugach National Forest have equally good fishing for several specs of salmon and receive little, if any, pressure. At many cabins, you won't see another plane, angler or person during your entire stay. And many of these same cabins are excellent base camps for hunting black bears, Sitka blacktail deer, moose and wolves.



After a hard day of fishing, you can take a plunge in a glacial pool, absorb the sunlight in a huge, boulder-filled amphitheater or listen to the harmonic melody of a snowmelt stream that tastes as great as it sounds.



On a visit to the Pybus Bay cabin on Admiralty Island, a friend and I were astonished by the number of silver, pink and chum salmon in the creek near our cabin. The salmon would enter the stream on the incoming tide, not in twos or threes, but in waves of fifty. We spent three days fishing the stream and didn't see another angler. In the evenings, we would explore the intertidal areas to photograph deer, eagles and brown bears. Under the thick canopy of the spruce, wild berries were everywhere. The berries made tasty additions to salads, pancakes and oatmeal. In the tidal pools, we found an abundance of marine life that included starfish, barnacles, jellyfish and crabs. We photographed herons, otters, eagles and blacktail deer. We found paradise and kept wishing we could stay for an entire month.



Another great place for photography is Anan Creek cabin. It has a large protected shelter nearby that was built for photographing and viewing brown and black bears while they fish for salmon. Ronald Reagan decided the site was fit for a president when he stayed in Anan Creek soon after he left office.



You'll find there are so many government cabins currently available, each of them with different hunting and fishing opportunities, that it's best to refrain from calling local offices and asking generic questions.



Instead, research the cabins and trips beforehand and try to find the one that is right for you. The National Recreation Reservation Service's Web site has maps and descriptions of all Forest Service cabins.



Contact: National Recreation Reservation Service (877-444-6777; www.reserveusa. com). The book Fishing and Hunting Alaska on Dollars a Day, by Christopher Batin, reviews several hundred cabins in the state ($25.95; Alaska Angler Publications, Dept. OL, 221 Bentley Drive, Fairbanks, AK 99708; 908-455-8000; www.alaska hunter.com).



Outfitted Cabins

Searching for a bit more luxury and perhaps a guide? Consider an outfitted cabin. These will typically cost between $70 and $200 per night per person. A favorite of mine is Deneka Cabin, located in the Talkeetna Mountains and operated by Alaska Experience. I first explored the area for rainbow trout nearly 20 years ago. I revisited the cabin again in 2002. The cabin has remained unchanged, and the fishing is still exceptional. Knee-deep streams make for easy flyfishing. I've averaged between 30 and 40 rainbows per day, typically 16 to 28 inches long. Other streams within walking distance offer salmon, char and grayling. In fall and winter, the ptarmigan and grouse hunting in the area is excellent.



Deneka Cabin is $200 a day per
person, but all camp equipment is
furnished, as is your flight in from
Anchorage. You arrive with your gear and food. I recommend the guide
option for a few days to learn the local hot spots. Expect no competition-the wilderness area surrounding the cabin is privately owned. In an emergency, radios and satellite phones keep you in touch with the outside. If you feel a tad mischievous, call up your office buddies and describe a huge rainbow trout you're about to release.



This past summer a retired businessman from Switzerland booked a four-week stay at a cabin across the lake from me. Each day, he fished for lake trout and salmon and investigated old trapper cabins in the area. One day, he hurried over to tell me about a brown bear he had chased off his porch with a stick of firewood. The area boasts one of the highest concentrations of brown bears in south-central Alaska. In just one evening, I observed and photographed nine brown bears as they fed on king salmon.



Kodiak Island is the preferred locale for saltwater enthusiasts searching for cabin accommodations. Spirit of Alaska cabins run from $70 to $200 a day per person; the cost includes a bush-plane flight in and out and a fishing guide. The fishing opportunities here are outstanding. Mountains rise up from the coastline as you troll for salmon or jig for rockfish and 200-pound halibut. And from August through December, hunting is excellent for Sitka blacktails-the bag limit is three per hunter. Waterfowl hunting for mallards and sea ducks, including a variety of eiders, is also available.



Contact: Alaska Experience Cabins (907-696-2163; www.alaskaexperi ence.com); Spirit of Alaska Wilderness Adventures (888-552-8674; www. spiritofalaska.com).



Lottery Winners Only

A full-treatment cabin, such as Wolverine Lake Chalet north of Anchorage, is intricately furnished with group luxury in mind. It's common for a half-dozen anglers to stop salmon fishing early in the afternoon so they can kick back in an oversize hot tub and watch Wolverine Lake's rainbow trout rise. These facilities have full TV and stereo systems, complete libraries for trip planning and an RV for extended fishing and exploration. Owners Sid and Kathy Cook also offer four-wheelers, so do-it-yourself hunters can pursue black bears, moose or wolves in the Chugach Mountains. The trail begins to the left of your cabin. Expect to pay fees starting at $500 per person per day.



Steve Ranney of Fishing and Flying offers cabin and guide adventures in the scenic Prince William Sound region. One of my favorites is Summit Lake, where we hooked 56 rainbows on dry flies in 100 casts. I didn't see
another angler during the entire trip. If you're an adventurer, ask about camping in the Cape St. Elias lighthouse. Expect to pay about $300 a day for these guided-cabin packages.



Contact: Sid and Kathy Cook, Wolverine Lake Chalet (888-745-8872; www. alaskavacationpackages.com); Fishing and Flying (907-424-7249; www.orca adventurelodge.com).



[XLINK 434131 "Story Continued...Click Here"]with a stick of firewood. The area boasts one of the highest concentrations of brown bears in south-central Alaska. In just one evening, I observed and photographed nine brown bears as they fed on king salmon.



Kodiak Island is the preferred locale for saltwater enthusiasts searching for cabin accommodations. Spirit of Alaska cabins run from $70 to $200 a day per person; the cost includes a bush-plane flight in and out and a fishing guide. The fishing opportunities here are outstanding. Mountains rise up from the coastline as you troll for salmon or jig for rockfish and 200-pound halibut. And from August through December, hunting is excellent for Sitka blacktails-the bag limit is three per hunter. Waterfowl hunting for mallards and sea ducks, including a variety of eiders, is also available.



Contact: Alaska Experience Cabins (907-696-2163; www.alaskaexperi ence.com); Spirit of Alaska Wilderness Adventures (888-552-8674; www. spiritofalaska.com).



Lottery Winners Only

A full-treatment cabin, such as Wolverine Lake Chalet north of Anchorage, is intricately furnished with group luxury in mind. It's common for a half-dozen anglers to stop salmon fishing early in the afternoon so they can kick back in an oversize hot tub and watch Wolverine Lake's rainbow trout rise. These facilities have full TV and stereo systems, complete libraries for trip planning and an RV for extended fishing and exploration. Owners Sid and Kathy Cook also offer four-wheelers, so do-it-yourself hunters can pursue black bears, moose or wolves in the Chugach Mountains. The trail begins to the left of your cabin. Expect to pay fees starting at $500 per person per day.



Steve Ranney of Fishing and Flying offers cabin and guide adventures in the scenic Prince William Sound region. One of my favorites is Summit Lake, where we hooked 56 rainbows on dry flies in 100 casts. I didn't see
another angler during the entire trip. If you're an adventurer, ask about camping in the Cape St. Elias lighthouse. Expect to pay about $300 a day for these guided-cabin packages.



Contact: Sid and Kathy Cook, Wolverine Lake Chalet (888-745-8872; www. alaskavacationpackages.com); Fishing and Flying (907-424-7249; www.orca adventurelodge.com).



[XLINK 434131 "Story Continued...Click Here"]

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