by Denis Peirce, July 04, 2018
From the outside looking in, fishing may seem to be all about body counts and hard-pulling, big fish. But if you have spent a considerable number of years in the sport as I have, you may find that there is more to it that the casual observer may see.
As a young man I lived within walking distance of the beach and when I was bored there was always a place to go fishing, whether you had someone to go with or not.
With age the sport has become more of a social event and a good trip does not have to produce lots of fish. It is the place, the experience and who you spend it with.
For most anglers Alaska is the pinnacle of cold water fishing. It has been on my bucket list for decades. I started seriously working on my first trip a year ago when a friend offered a place to stay in Craig if I made the trip to Prince of Wales Island.
With a destination and a late summer time frame, I was able to begin. I planned to be gone a week. When thinking of someone to invite, my brother Tim came to mind immediately. We grew up together and at the end of high school we went separate ways for a time. But circumstances put us back together as roommates for the last two years of college. After that, our careers took us on very different paths and places.
We did get together for weddings, funerals and occasionally we met up through the years. He made a comment once, "The people that count are the ones who know who you are and where you came from." I called him up and we were going to Alaska. With a place to stay for part of the trip I did not want to go to an all inclusive lodge. I wanted more of a "sampler" to see what southeast Alaska might hold for future trips. The gateway to the area is Ketchikan and air transport is readily available.
We arrived Sunday afternoon with a 6 a.m. fishing charter scheduled for Monday. The good fishing is not in Ketchikan but a dozen miles up the coast at a place called Clover Pass where the channel through Ketchikan opens up onto the "Inside Passage."
LET THE FISHING BEGIN
We had a great charter captain from Oasis Charters. I wanted to catch salmon on fly rods and Captain Murray was willing to accommodate what we wanted to do. The morning started with light rain but the fish were willing.
One of my goals was to fish some new fly patterns I had tied but we started the day fishing the proven ones first to see if there were salmon on the bite. Once that was established, I moved on to the new ones. By midday between Tim and I, we had six salmon to the boat, three silvers, two kings and a pink. Not too bad of a start.
Our second day, we took the ferry from Ketchikan to Prince of Wales Island. It is a beautiful three-hour ride, sailing among many small islands. Prince of Wales is the third largest island in the U.S. after the big Hawaiian Island and Kodiak Alaska. It has 3,000 foot mountains and numerous fjords in its 130 mile length. Our destination was the town of Craig on the west side. After settling in at a friend's home, we went to the docks to meet Jeremy Thompson, our charter captain. After introductions, we discussed the next day's fishing and the tackle I wanted to fish with.
The following morning we were on the dock before dawn, ready to head west to fish among the islands between Prince of Wales and the north Pacific. The islands are forested mountains that drop vertically into the sea. I was reminded of a friend's comment years before that trout don't live in ugly places. Neither do salmon. Jeremy took us through channels and around islands based on how the tide was flowing and where the bait fish were likely to be. Late morning, we spotted a whale feeding and headed over to fish near it. The thought was that the whale was where the food was.
I had never been so close to a creature that large before. We lost sight of it and thought we had lost it until a huge column of bubbles surfaced next to the boat. The whale was deep beneath the boat. The afternoon came all too quickly and we were back at the dock having caught a mix of coho salmon, rock fish and ling cod.
The following day was a layover spent sleeping in then touring the city of Craig and surrounding area. It is a beautiful but isolated area. The town has 1200 residents year around but the population triples in the summer. It is not on the way to somewhere else, you have to want to go there.
THE FINAL DAY
Friday was the final fishing day of the trip. I told the captain that I wanted to bring home white-fleshed fish. He said we would start the day bottom fishing and when we had enough in the boat we would go back to salmon fishing. He put us out in 300 feet of water fishing on the bottom. I had brought along "glow in the dark" flies. At 300 feet there is no light and anything with a bit of glow is noticeable. We brought in a number of rock fish and cod. On the next drift across the deep flat my rod doubled over and a good fish was on. By the way it pulled, our captain said it was a halibut. A full 10 minutes later I had it on the surface.
There is a 42-inch size maximum in those waters and it looked close to the limit. It measured 39 inches and into the boat it went. As large a halibut as the rules would allow. Tim landed another halibut a few minutes later which limited out the boat for that species.
The second half of the day we spent trolling the edges of the shore line kelp beds for salmon. The island we fished frequently had schools of herring in the kelp. The day ended with the best salmon action of the trip, a fitting last day for our first Alaskan fishing adventure.
Saturday started at 4:30 a.m. packing up. On the Inter Island Ferry before 8 a.m. for the cruise back to Ketchikan. An afternoon flight to Seattle where my brother and I split up, he lives in the area and caught a shuttle home. I was back at the Sacramento airport late that evening with a large box of frozen salmon and halibut.
Of the seven days I was gone, only three were spent on the water fishing. My brother and I had a great time talking about life past, present and future. Being together for a week, the topics can get much deeper than what you discuss in groups at family gatherings.
These were conversations one can't have with anyone other than a brother. We saw Ketchikan and Craig. Spent time in bars and ate a lot of halibut in restaurants. We saw a part of the world that I had never been to before.
Yes, I called it a fishing trip and I have the photos to prove it. But in another way it was much more than that.
I am looking forward to next year's trip.
Denis Peirce writes a fishing column for The Union's Outdoors section and is host of "The KNCO Fishing & Outdoor Report," in California. He is owner of Arctic Fox Trolling Flies and can be reached via his website TrollingFlies.com