Detailed guide hooks avid anglers

Posted: Thursday, July 10, 2003

The Kenai has earned a reputation as one of Alaska's hottest angling destinations, combining record fish with accessibility and scenery. Now Dave Atcheson, an admitted fishing fanatic, has written "Fishing Alaska's Kenai Peninsula," which aims to be a complete anglers' guide.

"Part of what has drawn me to fishing, and what keeps me interested, is that there are so many ways of doing it. That's why, while many of these pages are dedicated to fly-fishing, an equal number are devoted to a variety of other methods," he writes in the introduction. "It is my intent to appeal to the occasional and the obsessed angler, to provide some entertaining and exciting anecdotes while providing practical advice that will improve success not only on the Kenai Peninsula, not only in Alaska, but anywhere you choose to wet a line."

Atcheson takes the reader all around the peninsula, checking out varied lakes, rivers, streams and ocean fishing holes. He delves into the details: what spots are worth a hike, which lures to use, when the fish are in and how to flip a wrist for a particular species. He gives insider tips on lesser-known sites, how to travel inexpensively and when you would be better off to invest in a professional guide. All this he does in a clear, readable style bubbling with enthusiasm.

His audience is the intermediate or advanced sport angler, ready to get serious about the Kenai's fishing opportunities. If you don't know a banana sinker from a woolly bugger, this book will leave you adrift despite the author's best intentions. But if you already know how to tie a fly and use a float tube, it will be a valuable resource.

The frequent illustrations are a huge asset. In addition to pleasant black-and-white photos of alluring scenery and successful fishers, the book boasts clear and specific maps and diagrams of rigs.

Atcheson provides more than facts and figures. He conveys the feel of the sites and techniques he describes; advocates catch and release of rainbow trout and Dollies in the most heavily fished water due to their stocks' vulnerability; and challenges anglers to take on notorious "combat fishing" zones with a positive attitude and carnival mood. He also offers valuable common sense. To compensate for unpredictable runs, weather or other vagaries of the Alaska wilderness, he strongly recommends that anglers have a "Plan B" and remain flexible.

"The most common mistake visitors make is setting their sights on only one type of fishing or one species of fish," he writes.

At times his adoring reveries about the joys of casting mark Atcheson as one of those truly hooked on fish worship:

" I will continue, like any convert, to sing the praises of the fly to whomever will listen, and to return to the cathedral of the mighty Kenai as often as I can," he writes.

Atcheson has lived on the Kenai Peninsula since 1985 and says he pumped numerous guides and old timers for tips during the 15 years he worked on this book. He is most confident and informative close to his home in Sterling. He covers the lakes and streams around Cooper Landing and the Swanson River system in fond detail, and waxes eloquent about the famous Kenai River itself:

"Carving its way for 80 miles through a patchwork of diverse environs, the Kenai River might better be viewed not as a single river but as many rivers. Its drift-only area, for instance a renowned trout fishery flowing in braids through the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge near Cooper Landing is a world away from the river's lower reaches, where powerboats vie for position in the annual bid for king salmon."

The book is vaguer about other parts of the peninsula, and skimps a bit on the saltwater fisheries. For example, it tucks Kachemak Bay and its environs into about six pages of text and omits the more obscure but tasty fish such as cod, starry flounder or greenling someone might pull out of the bay. Strangely, he omits the peninsula's big lakes: Kenai, Skilak and Tustumena.

Although they don't measure up to other fishing sites, any visitor looking at their big water on a map will wonder, and the author should have at least clarified their shortcomings.

Atcheson is careful, however, to include the gamut of rod and reel options. He covers lesser known species such as grayling, steelhead and rockfish. He even gives a passing mention to snagging.

The publisher's claim that this is the first and only book covering this territory is debatable, but it is the only one now in print targeting the Kenai Peninsula so comprehensively.

"Fishing Alaska's Kenai Peninsula" is a handsome, thorough and pleasant guide.

It would make the perfect gift for any sport fishing fanatic and a great item to pack along on a Kenai Peninsula angling expedition.

Shana Loshbaugh is a writer and former Clarion reporter who now lives near Fairbanks.

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