Alaska’s summer fishing derbies attract crowds of anglers eager to win cash prizes for tagged or large fish. Get in on the action with this seven-day sample trip that takes you through the scenic, fishery-rich Kenai Peninsula and some of its most popular summer derbies.
Day 1 Anchorage to Seward
Fly into Anchorage’s international airport and rent a car for the 125-mile drive to Seward via the Seward Highway, a National Scenic Byway and All-American Road. This famous stretch of road weaves along the dramatic Turnagain Arm coastline, offering expansive views of Cook Inlet and the snow-capped Chugach Mountains. Upon reaching Seward, choose from a variety of quality lodging options, from hotels to bed and breakfasts to campgrounds.
Day 2 Seward
Purchase your Alaska fishing license (available in grocery stores, outfitters, or online before your trip), then make reservations for a chartered fishing excursion tomorrow. For today, choose from the many other adventures Seward offers: Consider kayaking, exploring Exit Glacier (one of the most accessible glaciers in Alaska), or making the challenging but rewarding hike to Exit Glacier’s source, the Harding Icefield.
Day 3 Seward
It’s time to fish the charter that you booked yesterday. But before you go, make sure you buy a ticket for the Seward Silver Salmon Derby, which runs for a week in mid-August when the silver (coho) salmon runs are at their prime. Running now for more than 60 years, this derby is one of the oldest and largest in the state. Seward also has a halibut derby, the Seward Halibut Tournament, that runs during the month of June. Even if you’re traveling outside those dates you can still enjoy bountiful fishing, along with possible encounters with seals, sea lions and other marine creatures.
Day 4 Seward to Soldotna
Make the 95-mile drive to the fishing town of Soldotna. Along the way you’ll drive alongside the turquoise-blue Kenai River and through the small town of Cooper Landing, where fishing is also a popular pursuit. Once you’re through Cooper Landing, the mountains fade behind you and the land opens up to rolling, lake-pocked scenery. If you’re traveling in mid-August, fishing out of Soldotna nets you a chance to enter the Kenai River Classic derby, a three-day long charitable event. But even if you miss the derby, Soldotna is still the perfect base for a float trip on the Kenai River or a fly-in adventure to one of the nearby lakes.
Day 5 Homer
From Soldotna, it’s another 75 highway miles south to the ‘Halibut Fishing Capital of the World,’ sometimes known as Homer, Alaska. Homer is also home to the longest-running halibut derby in Alaska, with the largest total payout: the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby. The derby runs from mid-May through mid-September and if you got an early enough start out of Soldotna, you can buy a derby ticket and start fishing today. Prizes up to a $50,000 truck are awarded for the biggest fish or for tagged fish, so never leave the docks without buying a derby ticket first.
If you got a late start, spend your afternoon exploring the 4.5-mile Homer Spit, a finger of land that juts into Kachemak Bay and is lined with locally owned art galleries, restaurants and gift shops.
Day 6 Homer
The Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby is the longest running in Alaska. Spend another day fishing Homer’s waters. If you have, against all odds, fished yourself out, consider hiring a water taxi to access great day hikes in nearby Kachemak Bay State Park, or taking a small ferry to visit the picturesque coastal towns of Halibut Cove or Seldovia. Homer also has many sea kayaking outfitters, along with several wide, sandy beaches that are a pleasure to stroll, as long as you keep an eye on the fast-moving tides.
Day 7 Homer to Anchorage
It’s time to head back north. The 220-mile drive back to Anchorage along the Sterling and Seward highways usually takes about 5 hours, but leave yourself plenty of time to pull over and watch wildlife or take pictures of the dramatic scenery. Once in Anchorage, you can take advantage of the many big-city offerings, including a world-class museum, the Alaska Native Heritage Center, and a number of fine shops and restaurants. Consider spending one more night here so you’ll be well-rested when you start your trip home.