Today marked one of the definitive signs of spring in Seattle: Boxes of Copper River salmon were pulled of Alaska Airlines planes on the Sea-Tac tarmac. The king and sockeye were then prepared in a cook-off judged by the likes of ex-Mariner Jay Buhner and the co-owner of Dunham Cellars, Joanne Dunham. It probably tasted better than most airplane food.
A further sign that salmon-mania is a local affliction? Alaska has announced that a "salmon-thirty-salmon"—a Boeing 737-800 painted with a 129-foot fish—joins its fleet this fall. Besides making air traffic controllers do a double take, the aircraft is meant to promote the 25 million pounds of seafood the airline flies from Alaska every year.
But maybe you’re not looking for imports. You want to catch your own. Here’s what you need to know about salmon fishing trips to Alaska:
• The salmon run in summer, so book soon. Most fishing lodges are open May to September, but fishing windows are even more narrow—at the Gakona Lodge and Trading Post, where they fish feeder rivers to the Copper, they recommend you go after king salmon before early July, for example.
• Despite the well-marketed Copper River name, tourist fishing is rarer on that interior waterway, and salmon aren’t even the usual bounty. The Rainbow River Lodge specializes in rainbow trout, a popular catch on the river.
• The Kenai peninsula, within a few hours’ drive from Anchorage, is chock-full of angling outfitters. Sarah of Tower Rock Lodge offered her number one piece of advice when planning a Kenai trip: "Get references—there are so many hacks up here. People get up and are shocked by what they find in the package they booked," she says. Many on the Kenai are angling for one of its record kings, but those not up for reeling in a giant can try for sockeye or silver salmon, which require more "endurance and stamina" than strength, says Sarah.
• Check regulations and limits before booking; for instance, you can’t fish for Kenai kings on Sundays and Mondays with a guide. Licenses are available on the website for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Buy one ahead of time, since some require postage mail time.
Or, of course, you could just go sneak a filet off a baggage cart at Sea-Tac.