The Outfitter Interview Series: Fishology Alaska : Fishing Outfitters
Date Posted: 1-18-12
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The Outfitter Interviews: Fishology Alaska
We recently caught up with Mark Wackler, owner of Fishology Alaska, to discuss fishing in Alaska, his favorite fishing gear and the environmental issues facing Alaska with the proposed Pebble Mine project in Bristol Bay. Mark has a lot of say, cares deeply about the Kenai Peninsula and is regarded as one of the finest outfitters in Alaska.
GuideLoop: What were the highlights of your last season at Fishology Alaska?
Mark Wackler: 2011 was a highly controversial season here on the Kenai. There is a constant battle being waged over the rights to the access to harvest salmon runs that flood the Cook Inlet, and things got pretty heated this past summer to say the least. Despite all the controversy, it was one of our most successful and productive seasons to date with some colossal King Salmon landed, a HUGE Sockeye run, and some fantastic Silver Salmon fishing in the fall!
GL: What advice do you have for people new to fishing King Salmon?
MW: King Salmon fishing is an emotional roller coaster ride! On the Kenai we fish for the largest King Salmon in the world, so it is definitely a trophy fishery. Sometimes it takes a bit of patience, but just when you take your eyes off the rod – BAM! Fish on! In a heartbeat, your emotions transform from hopelessness to a state of pure exhilaration, and it’s a moment you’ll never forget. I’m getting excited just thinking about next summer!
GL: How did you become an outfitter?
MW: Growing up in the small town of Soldotna, Alaska you are literally surrounded by the best fishing in the world, and I was lucky enough to have a father that introduced me to the outdoors at a young age. I remember there being times when my parents had to drag me off the river when the fishing was hot, which around here is most of the summer. When I turned 16 I decided I wanted to work for my own money and becoming a fishing guide just made sense… I had the boat, the experience, and my family owned a fishing lodge. My plan was to guide my way through college, but I enjoyed guiding so much that I never could give it up, even after I finished my Master’s degree. After guiding for 12 years I decided that it was time to start my own outfitting business, and so I created Fishology. Fishology is still a young business, but I learn more every season, and work as hard as anyone to ensure my guests have the time of their life. That being said, the Kenai makes that job pretty easy.
GL: In your opinion, what where were the best spots for fishing in Alaska last season?
MW: That’s a tough question since there are so many great places to fish, there are so many species to fish for, and Alaska is an enormous state… perhaps a slightly easier question to answer would be my favorite spot to fish: The most popular fishing attraction is undoubtedly King Salmon on the Kenai River, and it’s easy to understand why, however, one of my favorite and highly overlooked trips is a late fall combo for Silver Salmon and Rainbow Trout. September is a magical time here on the Kenai Peninsula; while some folks have put their gear away for the season, and the kids have gone back to school, many others are enjoying what is possibly the most fruitful fishery I have ever experienced. Big second run Silvers are still flooding the river, and trophy Rainbow Trout are gorging themselves on spawn from the dying Kings and Sockeye. Both the Silvers and Rainbows are feeding in the same waters, and it is most common for us to pick up a limit of Silvers in the early morning, and enjoy a ridiculous afternoon of Trout fishing, where we often catch literally hundreds of fish in a single day! Keep in mind that all of this takes place in one of the most beautiful settings imaginable. It’s an experience I would highly recommend to any angler traveling to Alaska.
GL: What do you personally prefer, salt water or fresh water fishing?
MW: First of all, I enjoy fishing of ALL types. As easy as it might be to get locked into the Kenai or some other alluring fishery, I enjoy mixing it up and experiencing a wide range of fishing locations throughout the season. With that being said, I spend the majority of my time on the freshwater rivers of the Kenai Peninsula, including the different stretches of the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers. In general, I just go where the fish are.
GL: What gear are you currently using?
MW: The quality I am most proud of, and the quality I look for most in guides I work with is versatility. With that in mind, I employ many different gear types, and the gear we use on any particular trip is mostly determined by the fish. In one single trip we might troll, spin cast, bottom bounce, drift, jig, flip, fly cast, bobber fish, or whatever we discover the fish are in the mood for. When it comes to choosing a specific brand I don’t necessarily look for a name, but rather look for a rod, reel, line, etc. that performs the tasks that my guests and I need them to perform. G. Loomis, Lamiglas, and Shimano generally do a good job of designing their products (rods and reels) to perform the specific tasks an Alaskan guide requires.
GL: Is there any gear coming out in 2012 that you are excited about?
MW: I am in love with most of my rods & reels, but am always on the lookout for the “latest & greatest.” When it comes to tackle and techniques, I am constantly brainstorming and experimenting. In 2011 I spent a lot of effort exploring the use of jigs in situations where I would normally be throwing a spinner, and found huge success in the process. I also increased my use of bobbers and bait in situations I would normally be trolling or bottom bouncing, and my guests seemed to have a blast catching fish using this technique. In 2012 I am looking forward to exploring new & different artificials for trophy Rainbow Trout, trying to come up with an alternative to the standard bead and indicator method; I’ll keep you updated on the results. For fly gear, I am really excited to try out one of Sage’s newest fly rod “One” and I hear it lives up to the hype. But what I really want to add to my repertoire in 2012 is spey casting. I have always admired the art of spey casting, but haven’t had the time to spend learning to be proficient myself, so I hope 2012 is the year I finally get the opportunity to do that.
GL: Are there any other outdoor activities you enjoy besides fishing?
MW: I try to get outside as much as possible, and while fishing is certainly my first choice as an outdoor activity, I also enjoy hunting, kayaking, skiing, hiking, and just about anything that gets me outdoors. The challenge for me at this stage of my life is getting my kids (ages 5, 6, and 9) interested in outdoor activities, which is especially challenging throughout the winter months in Alaska!
GL: Any environmental advice you could pass on for somebody interested in fishing the Kenai River or any other spots in Alaska?
MW: The most well-known environmental issue in Alaska at this time is the proposed Pebble Mine project in Bristol Bay. To say it is a debate over jobs vs. fish is simple minded, and I encourage folks to do their research before forming an opinion on this very touchy subject. An environmental concern that I deal with for 2 months of every summer is the preservation of our largest King Salmon on the Kenai River. People come to the Kenai in June and July because they have the opportunity to catch a world class King Salmon, and who can blame them? But by selectively harvesting the largest fish, we risk the elimination of those genes from the population. I am not suggesting that it is a crime to keep a King Salmon, but think about the long term effect of keeping only the big ones. I might encourage anglers to release the largest of the population, as hard as it might be, and instead to fill their freezers with other more abundant species such as Sockeye Salmon. Preserve your memory with a video and/or pictures, and I guarantee you will feel an enormous sense of satisfaction as you release a Kenai monster and watch it continue its journey to spawn.
To book an Alaskan fishing trip with Mark Wackler and his team at Fishology Alaska, check out the FIshology Alaska website.