room Alaskan Fishing Lodge Salmon, Halibut & Trout Fishing on the Kenai River



For the Halibut

By: Howard J. Heatherwick

We went North to Alaska for the Halibut

Fishing up North is like fishing in no other place

I enjoy hunting and fishing and have “hunted” for unique places to fish many times but never before saw a fish caught that required a shotgun to subdue enough to take on board. That experience occurred June 26, 2007 on a fishing trip to Alaska where we were based at Terry Johnson’s Salmon Catcher Lodge ( located near the town of Soldotna Alaska on the fabled Kenai Peninsula.  Terry is a former bush pilot who today flies cargo jets for UPS. I learned about his fabulous lodge reading ASO magazine.

Lodge II at Salmon Catcher Lodge, Kenai AK

Going to Alaska takes time, money and planning but fishing there is like fishing in no other place. Experience gained over 62 years of living told me to do my homework, book early and remember what my dad always told me. He said, “At 50 you can’t do what you could do at 40 and at 60 you can’t do what you could do at 50, etc”. He is 85 now and back problems have curtailed our annual fishing trips together. I am glad we did several trips to Canada years ago and for many years, Lake Michigan salmon trips.

Depending what species you are interested in, there are peaks in the flood of fish that move from ocean to their traditional spawning streams. Some rivers have earlier runs than others. The nearby Russian River had a good run of sockeye when we arrived but the Kenai’s run was still several weeks away and the King run had slowed. Salmon run data can be found in several places such as (

Good Friends and Booking Early.

My hunting and fishing partner of many years is John Irwin of Danvers. John is always ready and we work well together. We can count on each other to do what we say and not quibble about who paid for what. That makes for an enjoyable trip. A last minute cancellation of our third fishing partner created an opportunity for Larry McMahon of Minier to step up and get us back on plan with three fishermen. We booked early and airfare from Peoria to Chicago O’Hare then on the additional 6 plus hours to Anchorage, was $692 round trip. Booking last minute was over $1K.

Guides Make a Big Difference

With three days to fish and a day before and after for a cushion, it was important to invest wisely in whom we would fish with. Over the years the value of well referenced guides has paid off time and time again. This trip was no different and we booked a fly in fishing trip for sockeye out of Kenai on Monday June 25, Halibut on the Cook Inlet out of Deep Creek for Tuesday and a drift boat trip down the Kenai with a local legend, Tom Corr, on Wednesday. If you go only once and don’t have lots of time to spend learning what works best yourself, guides are the way to ensure the investment in adventure has a pay back in fun and memories to last a lifetime.

Monday Float Trip for Sockeye

On Monday we got on a turbo equipped Otter owned by Talon Air Service of Soldotna ( They have two float planes that each holds 10 passengers, two guides and the pilot. We flew over the Cook Inlet along the Alaskan Mountain Range to Big River Lake where we landed and got into 18’ boats that motored us to Wolverine Creek. We found this was a popular place for other fly in fishermen and also a great bear watching spot. This trip is a good value as it combines a day of great flying, sightseeing from the air along with catching sockeye. The fish are also being caught by bears along the creek. The bruins grab fish that traverse the gauntlet of fishermen while they struggle upstream to locate a place to spawn. This fishing was a little crowded for me with several boats from other guide services but at $305, was a good value and an experience worth taking. We saw several black bears catching 15 pound salmon in their jaws then lumbering off into the bush for dinner. When a large brown bear came down the hillside the black bears skedaddled since brown bears eat black bears.

Howard Heatherwick, John Irwin, Larry McMahon at Talon Air Service of Soldotna, AK

For the Halibut on Tuesday

Tuesday morning we got up at 4AM and traveled south to Deep Creek for the Halibut charter with Frank Saunders who also is a hunting guide. A double benefit of booking with Frank was to talk hunting as John and I still want to do a moose and possibly a brown bear hunt before too many more years go by. This was the trip I most wanted to take. I’ve caught all the Lake Michigan species of salmon and trout (although there is a big difference in their ocean run cousins), but had only seen photos of huge halibut. Halibut are also called “barn doors” with the largest sport caught one going 455 pounds. While catching a whopper that size was unlikely we did catch a bunch in the 20-80 pound range. Frank’s boat was a sturdy ocean going aluminum vessel powered by twin 225 HP Honda motors. The launch alone was an adventure as the huge rise and fall of the local tides made docks impractical. We were pushed into the water by what looked to me like log skidder tractors. Once in the ocean we moved into deeper water. We lucked out as it was the calmest water the crew had seen in many trips with only 1-2 foot waves. This trip often gets cancelled like we heard it did two days later, when waves were over 7 foot.

Halibut fishing is work as you jig from 1 – 5 pound weights off the bottom with bait of cod chunks as big as your fist tipped with herring heads or tails. There were two other fishermen on the boat from Wisconsin and the five of us had plenty of room and all started catching 20 pound halibut one after another. After releasing at least 15 of these we moved out into deeper water where the bite was slower but the fish larger. After a 20 minute battle with the largest fish, Frank loaded the .410 as it was being gaffed and unloaded it into the 80 pound fish before hoisting it aboard. A flopping monster like this could push someone overboard thus the combo fishing and hunting method is utilized for the bigger fish aptly called “shooters”.  Larry landed the biggest fish of our Illinois group and we each caught and kept our limits after releasing a bunch of smaller fish. We ended up with 90 pounds of pure white meat halibut to take home. I’ve never tried to justify a fishing trip based on value of fish taken but this trip could have been the exception as that much halibut goes for about $1600 if purchased locally. Frank’s charter cost us each $195 plus tips.

Howard, John and Larry with halibut caught with Frank Saunders at Deep Creek, AK

That evening it was all the Halibut cheeks one could eat on the big Weber grill back at Salmon Catcher Lodge along with some steaks we picked up in town. Friends, a great place to stay and fresh caught halibut topped off a day of fishing that by itself was worth the price of the entire trip.

Kenai River Drift Boat Trip with Tom Corr on Wednesday

Wednesday we met up with famed river guide Tom Corr who moved to Alaska when he was 7 years old and has been fishing and building first class log homes for the past 50+ years. Tom is a hoot and someone who loves to fish. You know it when a guide takes it personally if the fish are not cooperating. We were most likely past the peak of King Salmon and well before the rush of sockeye into the fabled Kenai River but we had a great trip. Drift boat fishing is an experience in and of itself. Purists like Tom are not in favor of powered boats that back troll the likely King spots while drift boat guides use skill and considerable muscle maneuvering into position. Once fished the next spot downstream is their target while the motor guides go back and forth spooking fish. Nevertheless Tom came through and we each hooked a king but Larry’s two year old was the only one landed and quickly released. We had enough fish to take home and today it was “catch and release”. Several nice rainbows were also set free to grow even bigger.

Don’t miss the opportunity to fish Alaska. Moose and bears abound and the drive from Anchorage alone is worth trip. This stretch of highway is ranked one of the top ten scenic drives in the US. Show capped mountains span the horizon and the Cook Inlet with its huge tides is ever present for the first part a drive that is unforgettable.