My ambition to someday fish in Alaska came true last week. And it didn’t take long to know this was the place of dreams: Mounts of huge salmon line the walls of the airport lobby here.
A month ago, that’s all this trip was: a dream. Then Marco Vuicich, a good fishing friend, invited me to join him for four days of “fun fishing” with some of Marco’s friends, who have been guiding Sitka for years.
I was at the dock at 5:30 a.m. as Dave Logan pulled his 28-foot boat up and we climbed on. Under nice sweater weather (but with a forecast of wind) we motored out of the harbor and I marveled at the maze of tree-covered islands, the nearby dormant volcano and the open ocean, all surrounded by a backdrop of jagged, snow-covered glacial peaks.
Forty-five minutes later we reached “the Cape” and anchored in 240 feet of water. We began soaking bait on the bottom for a few rockfish as the wind slowly came up and the waves got bigger. We held on tightly in the rough seas for a good hour before heading for shelter behind some islands.
There we caught rockfish from 50 to 150 feet deep on bait. The area was alive with small fish. It became evident I had a problem using the boat’s right-handed reels. I’m a hopelessly left-handed reeling guy, so it was like trying to fish with boxing gloves on.
Ben Johnson, owner of Compass Rose Fishing, took us out in seas that were much calmer. His plan was to run 2½ hours south to Snipe Bay. We headed into open water but then veered into a calm, narrow passageway meandering between steep mountains. He said it led back out to the sea 20 miles away! This narrow maze of water took us through magical vistas where the mountains and dense trees plunged into the water just a few yards from us. We were in ocean water but it was like being in a winding lake. Huge eagles, giant sea otters, seals and wildlife were just yards away. The inland trip ended when we got to a crashing 200-yard opening leading back into the open sea. Big rollers made the mouth treacherous, but we weaved through the slot into the waiting sea swells for the rest of the trip.
An hour later, we arrived at Snipe Bay and began downrigging at 150 feet using a big dodger followed by a hootchie. No luck, so Ben decided to fish halibut at the mouth of the bay. My anchovy had barely hit bottom at 180 feet when my pole bent over. Now I had a left-handed reel, and I was in business! I put several nice “chicken” halibut to 20 pounds in the boat.
Later, we were trolling another bay when the pole jerked hard and I reeled in a 20-pound king salmon. Our second day ended with a couple halibut, some rockfish and a nice king. Ben had made the right moves.
Two hard days of fishing, two left. Could I still get my bucket list fish goals (a 100-pound halibut and a 30-pound king)?
If I had known what was coming next, I would have been jumping up and down. Join me for my last two fishing days and the exciting concluding episode of “Alaska!” next week!
Never give up!