It’s usually not difficult to distinguish the real bicyclist from the occasional fisherman spotted riding our local trails.
For one thing, the fisherman won’t likely be riding along with an army of other bikers, nor will they be sporting spandex or traveling at a ridiculously fast clip. No, the fisherman will usually be plodding along at a more moderate pace and with a strange array of equipment — such as rod tubes, waders, and boots — strapped haphazardly to the bicycle. That’s because, for most fishers, it hardly matters what they look like. They are more interested in reaching their destination in the easiest, most expedient way, because that translates into more time spent doing what they really want — being on the water, with rod in hand, casting a favorite lure or fly.
The first step is choosing the right bicycle. Though a bit more expensive, when it comes to a mountain bike it’s definitely worth going with a top brand, such as Cannondale or Trek, one that will withstand the rigors of the Alaskan backcountry. At the top of the price threshold and considered by many to be the latest and greatest for trail riding, are the fat tire, or just “fat,” bikes. Brad Carver, the bike master at Beemun’s Bike Loft, says that he is seeing more riders switch over to fat bikes because they can be ridden all year. And, because they come at a premium price and can handle such a wide variety of terrain, riders opt to keep riding them throughout the summer.
“They are especially good early season,” he says, “when there are still patches of snow on the trails.”
The other advantages, he explains, are that they have simple suspension (the tires) and can carry more gear; the downside is that they are a little slower than a conventional mountain bike.
Whichever type you decide on, when buying a bike riders will want at minimum 2 to 4 inches of clearance when standing over the crossbar, and with a mountain bike at least a front shock absorber, which nowadays usually comes as standard equipment.
Once you have a bike, it’s time to outfit it with various accessories, such as a rack over the rear tire, which provides a platform to strap on waders, travel rods, and panniers, which are saddlebags specifically designed for biking.
A model-specific repair kit is a must. It should contain an extra tube, small pump, tire levers, patch materials and bicycle mini-tool that includes a chain tool. Just as important as the repair kit, is the know-how to be able to use it. There are numerous books available and the internet has all kinds of information available. Doing your own maintenance and repair work at home is a good way to be prepared to handle an emergency job on the trail.
A luxury item fishermen might want to consider is a trailer. A BOB (Beast of Burdon) trailer is easy to pull, making it a nifty way to tote along rods, float tubes, and other assorted gear.
Despite the state-of-the-art design and comfort of today’s bicycles, the fact of the matter is that you still must be in at least decent physical shape. That’s why biking around home is recommended in preparation for any backcountry adventures. Not only will this increase much needed endurance, but it’s also a good way to firm up the old gluteus maximus, as being saddle sore can make for a rather long and arduous journey.
Now it’s time to find a trail, and for those adventurous anglers who want to reach some out-of-the-way destinations in the most expedient, and quite frankly fun way, there are a wide range of possibilities. Most of the trails open to bicycling will deliver the angler to lakes and streams that see little fishing pressure, where the quiet is absolute, and where the trout, Dolly Varden, and grayling abound. Here are just a few options:
Resurrection Pass Trail
This 38-mile long trail, extremely popular with hikers and mountain bikers, runs between the villages of Cooper Landing and Hope as it winds through the picturesque Kenai Mountains. If you head north from Cooper Landing, the first fishing locale is Trout Lake, six miles from the start of the trail. This lake has stocked rainbow trout and a few lake trout, which are best pursued in early spring or late fall.
Next along the route is Juneau Lake, about nine miles north of the Sterling Highway. It is a large body of water, with stunning views and a healthy population of rainbow trout, lake trout, and burbot. This is the only lake on the Kenai Peninsula that holds burbot, a freshwater member of the cod family.
About 3 miles further a long the trail is Swan Lake, which has large populations of rainbow trout, Dollies, and lakers. All three of these lakes have U.S. Forest Service cabins on them, which come with the added bonus of having boats, which allow much greater access to the best fishing spots. The cabins are extremely popular, however, and reservations must be made early.
Johnson Pass Trail
This trail, part of the original Iditarod Trail, begins at mile 63.8 of the Seward Highway and runs 23 miles to its southern terminus at milepost 32.5, near the Trail Lakes Hatchery in Moose Pass. The entire route can be ridden in one day, but that leaves little time for fishing. A better idea might be to bring camping gear and make a weekend out of it.
Johnson Lake is about 10 miles from the northern trailhead and has a good population of rainbow trout. Try dry flies on a calm evening, and if fish aren’t rising dip below the surface with a small nymph pattern, or cast a favorite spinner or spoon at any inlet or outlet.
Bench Lake sits just a mile north of Johnson Lake and contains grayling, which are known for their propensity to rise to the surface for dry flies. They are also apt to take just about any streamer pattern or any variety of small lure.
Crescent Creek Trail
Crescent Lake, a designated “trophy” grayling lake, is reached via the Crescent Creek Trail, which starts at the end of Crescent Creek Road, which branches off the Sterling Highway at mile 45 in Cooper Landing.
This 6 ½ mile long ride quickly ascends into alpine country. After an extremely steep couple of miles, it begins to flatten out, and the rider emerges from the darkness of the forest into a vast meadow — a view so staggering in conjures up images of Julie Andrews prancing through the Alps.
Grayling here can at times be a bit finicky, but they will rise for most dry flies — the black gnat, mosquito, and Adams included. Winds on Crescent Lake can make fishing difficult. This may be a good time to go subsurface with a streamer or with your favorite spinner or spoon. There is also a Forest Service cabin available here.
Using a bicycle may require some added effort, but the bike’s ability to deliver us far beyond the usual bustle and into some of Alaska’s best angling might make it one of the fisherman’s most valuable tools.
Dave Atcheson is the author of the guidebook “Fishing Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula,” and National Geographic’s “Hidden Alaska, Bristol Bay and Beyond.” His latest book, “Dead Reckoning, Navigating a Life on the Last Frontier, Courting Tragedy on its High Seas” is now available in hardcover, online, and as an audiobook. www.daveatcheson.com.
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