Alaska Excursions

Alaska Excursions

A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.

Iditarod 41

Photos and stories from the last great race.

Anchorage: 36°/52°/Cloudy

Fairbanks: 31°/54°/Partly sunny

Juneau: 32°/55°/Cloudy

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Steelhead in Anchor River a sport fishing boon

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Live video: Brown bear and salmon

Watch live video from Katmai National Park of brown bear fishing for salmon at Brooks Falls.

Riders in the Sky

Greenery rushes by on all sides. You’re dancing in the sky to the tune of wheels whirring along the cable.

Focal Point: Skiing across Portage Lake by moonlight

It's a rite of spring for many Anchorage skiers: a trip across Portage Lake to the glacier face. It can be a crowded place on a bluebird weekend, so photographer Marc Lester set out to experience it in a different way: He skied out all alone at night.

Bird Treatment and Learning Center hold open house

Petra is a bald eagle that has been with Bird TLC since 1995. Bird Treatment and Learning Center invited the public to visit and learn about bald and golden eagles at its Save the Eagles event on Saturday, January 12, 2013.

Bird Treatment and Learning Center invited the public to visit and learn about bald and golden eagles at its Save the Eagles event on Saturday, January 12, 2013.

A Butte-Palmer tour

Vapor rises and overflow freezes in this view of the Matanuska River on Wednesday. Take a photographic tour along the Glenn and Old Glenn highways in the Valley on a clear, cold day at the Focal Point photo blog.

Aerials from Birchwood to the Alaska Range

Photos: A Day along Turnagain Arm

Two new ziplines open in Southcentral Alaska

SeaLife Center treats orphaned walrus calf

Webcams make Alaska bears more accessible

Painter brings odd Alaska dinosaur to life

Bear attracts audience during marathon swim

Baby Dall sheep finds home at Alaska Zoo

Birds of Southcentral Alaska

Birds of Spring 2012

Spring babies out and about at Palmer farm

A winter's day on Westchester Lagoon in Anchorage

Valdez digs out from world class snowfall

Alaska's attractions lure visitors even in winter

Cold weather equals safe travel for great ice fishing

Christmas 2011

New scanners debut at Anchorage airport

Alyeska Resort opens

Hilltop Ski Area opens

A summer day in Barrow

Autumn awesome for Northern Lights viewing

Fall Colors

Denali Park prepares for lottery winners

Alaska State Fair, 2011

Record salmon surge thrills Kenai netters

Salmon fishing at Bird Creek

Columbia Glacier Kayaking

Welcome to Talkeetna

Spring can be prime time for a visit to Portage

Begin the season fishing hooligan, king salmon

Outdoor Life names Kodiak 4th best for sportsmen

Preparing for McKinley climbing season

Chugach backcountry network takes stride forward

Popular Anchorage salmon derby will take a year off

Sea lions fly from Europe to Seward

Fewer Prince William Sound shrimp means pot reduction

Photos: U.S. Adaptive Alpine Championships

Photos: 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race

Skiers hit city trails in 2011 Tour of Anchorage

Day-by-day guide to the 2011 Fur Rendezvous

Reality TV invades Alaska

Recent weather makes for ideal skating

Outdoor enthusiasts make the most of Alaska

Carving out Anchorage's New Year's Eve celebration

Ice climbing along the Turnagain Arm

New hut on Snowbird Glacier has great views, insulation

Birds of prey boost the thrill of the hunt for some

Healing Waters encourages vets to start casting

Potter Marsh's swans

Steelhead in Anchor River a sport fishing boon

There's more to fall than just colorful leaves

Hill on wheels; testing Alyeska's Silvertip Traverse

Anchorage teacher looks to climb 5 treacherous 'teeth'

Surfing the bore tide

Alaska tourism industry sees visitor increase this year

DIVING FOR A FISH COUNT: Trio dons dry suits, snorkels in an attempt to assess numbers.

For about two hours late last month, three Alaska biologists shivered for science.

Michael Booz, Edan Badajos and Meredith Banner donned dry suits with neoprene hoods, masks and snorkels to float about two miles down the Anchor River from the old Sterling Highway bridge to Grass Hole near the river mouth.

The purpose: To count steelhead in a river that pretty well marks the northernmost reach of one of North America's most beloved sportfish.

The result: So-so at best.

"The water was really low, but visibility was very poor," said Carol Kerkvliet, the assistant area biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game based in Homer who organized the effort. "We expected to see a lot of steelhead as we floated by, and we didn't see that. We were just basically giving it the old college try, but it was less than scientific and doesn't really reflect the abundance of steelhead downstream."

The 30-mile-long Anchor River north of Homer is a clear-water stream narrow enough that most fly fishermen can cast across. Decades ago, some 4,000 steelhead returned each year; now the estimate is considerably lower and steelhead fishing is catch-and-release only.

Despite protections in effect since 1989 on the Anchor River, Deep Creek and the Ninilchik River, state biologists have few sturdy steelhead counts to gauge the strength of those Kenai Peninsula runs. All indications are it's small -- with angling pressure mounting.

This fall's snorkel effort and overall count of 586 steelhead through Sept. 29, when the weir was removed, helps.

Since 2003, the Anchor weir has been used by state biologists counting silver and king salmon. Occasionally, some steelhead are counted too, but for budgetary reasons the Anchor weir is removed before the fall run of steelhead heading upstream ends. Some other tallies:

• 1992 -- Weir removed in early October with 1,261 steelhead counted.

• 1989 -- Weir removed in early November with 769 steelhead counted.

"It's always a matter of budget priorities," said Tom Vania, the state's regional management biologist. "Decreasing license sales mean decreasing budgets. They've got quite a variety of things going on down there (on the southern Kenai Peninsula). Plus, we've gone a long way towards protecting sustainability already with the catch-and-release restrictions."

Counting steelhead is much tougher than counting salmon, which turn red as spawning approaches. The bright coloration makes aerial surveys feasible on some clear-water rivers. By comparison, the dark flanks of a steelhead can seem invisible.

"It's surprisingly difficult to see the fish, even when you're in the water" said Booz, a state fisheries biologist based in Homer and one of the divers.

The Anchor was about as clear as it ever gets when the divers were in the water.

"We tried to float over the top of the fish, and we did see some," Booz said. "But you really couldn't see any farther out than you could stretch your arm."

If the river had turned high and murky, as it regularly does in autumn, counting would have been impossible.

"We've never done (snorkel counting) on the Anchor," Kerkvliet said. "It's been successfully used in Southeast, but their streams are much clearer than ours are."

Angler effort on the Anchor had increased steadily before dipping last year, said Kerkvliet, who urged anglers to familiarize themselves with rules that prohibit keeping steelhead or removing them from the water as the hook is removed.

To help anglers, Fish and Game has posted signs at access points with illustrations that help distinguish steelhead from silver and king salmon.

But Brian Emard, owner of the Anchor River Lodge and an avid angler, is still concerned that many anglers are poorly informed.

"They're killing those beautiful fish, and that's a problem," he said. "In that late August and early September time frame, they're just as likely to catch a steelhead as a silver..

More widespread Fish and Game signs help -- to a point, Emard said. "You get these idiots who tear the signs down, and they're not replaced."

And bait fishing allowed for silver salmon takes a toll, too.

"The bait fishing doesn't help the steelhead. They'll take a gob of eggs. I've seen beautiful fish floating belly up down the river to save a 50-cent lure stuck in their gills because the angler doesn't want to cut his line," Emard said.

"This is the biggest steelhead run in Southcentral Alaska, and I think the state is missing the boat by not studying the river further. We certainly don't want to screw this up. They're too priceless of a fish to screw up."

Reach reporter Mike Campbell at or 257-4329.

Getting to know one Alaska's wiliest fish

STEELHEAD OR SILVER? Steelhead have 8 to 12 rays in the anal fin, the last fin on the bottom of the fish before the tail. King and silver salmon have 13 to 19 rays. Check Fish and Game’s Wildlife Notebook Serie,

REGULATIONS: To protect Kenai Peninsula steelhead, bait is banned and only single-hook artificial lures may be used. No retention permitted. In addition, “rainbow/steelhead trout may not be removed from the water.”

AT SEA: Fish and Game isn’t sure exactly where steelhead go at sea. “However,” according to state biologist Frank Van Hulle, “large numbers are intercepted in high-seas fisheries, and undoubtedly many of these fish are of Alaska origin.”

SPAWNING: Starts mid-April and continues into June. Males may spawn with several females. Unlike salmon, steelhead commonly spawn more than once and fish longer than 28 inches are likely repeat spawners. Most repeat spawners spend at least one winter in the sea between spawning migrations.

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