So we left a cliffhanger last week when my motto “Never give up!” was tested by my first two days fishing in Alaska, and still looking to catch my bucket-list fish.
Two days to go, and I tested my limits.
Our fishing day began with us meeting Sitka legend Mike Keating, the owner of Big Blue Charters. Todd Linehan, our fishing buddy, was back out with us today! Todd hooked us up with Mike as well as our hosts for my first two days on the water here, Dave Logan and Ben Johnson. All our trips were “fun fishing” with very experienced Alaskan anglers.
We started out at the Cape catching a few rockfish. Then Mike gets a radio tip about some salmon at “the Rockpile” and we’re off! Arriving, there’s a flock of wheeling gulls in the distance hitting the water, a sign of feeding salmon. We run to the diving birds, then idle along with Mike watching the sonar. “Drop the baits – they’re at 90 feet!” he yells. I drop my herring and moments later I get a tap tap – I’m on! The salmon rips out a big run then finally circles back to us on top. It was a nice 30-pound-plus king! Gliding by, it sees the boat, explodes, and is gone! The salmon season has been slow – losing a big one hurts.
The tide was changing soon, and Mike decides to try for halibut back at the Cape. Anchoring in 300 feet of water, the rockfish were soon biting, but when I made my final drop, I was hung up as soon as I hit bottom. I tried for awhile to get it loose, then Mike grabs my pole. Carefully feeling the line, he says, “We’ve just drifted 60 yards since you got hooked up, and your ‘bottom’ is moving right along with us in the current. You’ve got a big fish on!’” OMG! The salmon rod couldn’t move whatever it was, but a minute later the hooks pulled out. What in the heck was down there?
4:30 a.m. and the alarm goes off. Today’s my last chance to get a bucket-list fish. Fish hard!
We start the day trolling before Mike heads back to the deep Cape area. Anchoring in 325 feet on a flat gravel bottom, Mike brings out a shorter, thicker rod for me. It’s mounted with a huge two-speed reel (it’s right-handed –backwards for me – but I’ll make do) spooled with over 500 yards of very heavy line. The hook and bait were monstrous. “Might hook a big ’but!’” he says, smiling.
An hour later, the big pole quivers and suddenly jerks down. Mike tells me to crank the huge reel hard in short bursts to set the hook. It feels heavy, but I’m on it. I keep the fish coming up slowly. The halibut is about 45 pound – half of my bucket list goal but a personal best!
Ten minutes later the pole goes down again, but harder! It’s tough to reel, and after 15 minutes my back is killing me and my hands are cramping. “Keep going!” they shout.
The idea is to try to get the halibut’s head coming up slowly and never stop reeling, lest the big fish heads back down. The tactic was working and they could see the big fish on sonar at 180 feet. Twenty minutes later, the 62-inch, 130-pound-plus halibut was on the deck and one of my bucket list items was history! But I needed to get back to my pole – I was hot!
I’m intently watching as my pole twitches then slams down hard again. Twenty minutes later the big fish is a long blur a few feet under the water. “It’s a giant ling cod!” Mike shouts. This wasn’t on my radar! The huge alien-looking beast, over 51 inches long, was in the mid-50-pound range, a monster ling, according to Mike. Ling cods have massive heads and teeth like piranhas and are fearless and unrelenting predators. They’re a throwback to the dinosaurs era.
By now, I had seen how much pressure the fish I had caught put on my big pole, so when I turned around a few minutes later and saw the heavy pole in its holder bent to the water, I was stunned. The fish was smoking the heavy drag, line peeling out at warp speed, when the huge hook finally pulled. I had a new bucket-list catch!
We headed in and I had two bucket-list catches as well as another massive bite all on the last two days’ fishing. There are many anglers with bigger fish, but it was a great catch for a first trip. I was totally satisfied.
Thanks to my buddy Marco Vuicich who set up the trip (he did well on halibut and rockfish). And thanks to Mike, Ben and Dave for making our Alaskan adventure an epic one. If you’re going to fish Sitka, I highly recommend checking them out.
On the flight home, Marco and I agreed that “Never giving up! “ had won the day for us in Alaska. Of course I’m going back soon.
Never give up!
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SITKA FISHING GUIDES: