Sitka, Alaska — It’s 4:25 a.m. and the sun is rising over the mountains. I’m wide awake, excited about my upcoming day; I’ve been up for almost an hour already in anticipation. I’ve heard all about the World Class Fishing in Sitka—now I’m about to find out for myself why it’s so thrilling.
4:30 a.m. There’s a knock on my door. “Time to wake up!” a friendly voice calls. “Breakfast is at 5:00!” As I’m already dressed and ready to go, I make it to the kitchen in plenty of time. Breakfast consists of fresh fruit, waffles with strawberries and whipped cream, oatmeal, toast, scrambled eggs, bacon, orange juice and coffee. The breakfast girls have put together an amazing spread. There are fresh homemade cookies on the treat counter, and I grab one of them, too—they’re impossible to resist!
The Wild Strawberry Lodge buzzes with energy. I’m not the only one looking forward to phenomenal salmon and halibut fishing. There are five boats going out today, with 5-6 people on each boat. We all mill around in various array of fishing garb. Some are fully outfitted in bright yellow raingear from head to toe. Others have their rubber boots and bibbed pants on and are toting around their jackets, not convinced they’ll need them on this day that is dawning so bright and clear.
I finish eating and, along with a middle-aged couple and a group of outdoorsy-looking guys, take the short two-minute walk across the parking lot from the Wild Strawberry Lodge to the loading dock in Eliason Harbor. Two kids come running past us, down the blue-covered ramp, yelling with glee. “I win!” one yells, as he runs up to one of the charter boats. “This is our boat!”
I meet Captain Greg and his deckhand, and climb aboard the Triple Play. It’s a sound 30′ fishing boat, with a complete walk-around deck, spacious cabin, and stand-up head. I take my seat next to the other anglers in the cabin, and at 5:30 a.m. on the dot, we cast off from the dock, and start the hour run to the fishing grounds.
Some of the other anglers fall asleep immediately, but I don’t want to miss anything. I stare out the window the entire time, and am greatly rewarded for my vigilance. I see a brown bear on shore! And later on, I see two whales!
When we arrive at the fishing grounds, the captain calls, “Okay, cast ’em out!” Our deckhand has already baited all the lines with cut-plug herring so they’re ready to go. He hands me a 9 foot salmon rod and gives me a few pointers on mooching. He shows me how to do a gentle lob, making sure my leader doesn’t get tangled on my line, and the herring spins enticingly as it drops through the water.
On the drop, in 40 feet of water, I feel a slight tapping on my line. As instructed, immediately I begin reeling. Suddenly my line feels really heavy and tight, so I set the hook, reel my rod tip down to the water, and set the hook again. Suddenly there is a ferocious splashing, and the line zings out, 20 feet, 30 feet, 50 feet. There’s nothing I can do to stop it, so I let the fish swim. At about 100 feet, I am finally able to start reeling again, and this time I’m taken for a lap around the boat, as I follow my fish. Three of my fellow anglers also have king salmon on. It is fishing action at its finest!
In the space of about 10 minutes, three of our fish are landed, and after a long, long fight, the fourth one is brought in as well. They’re beautiful fish—24, 29, 34 pounds, and a whopper: a 45 pound king salmon!
We fish for a few more hours, in the same spot, catching more king salmon, as well as a boatload of silver salmon, and a conglomerate of ling cod, rockfish, and a stray dog shark. The deckhand passes out snacks in the short periods between fishing activity—coffee, those homemade cookies again, cheese, crackers, fruit.
Soon it’s time to switch over to halibut fishing. We motor to another spot to set up for soaking for halibut. Using shorter, stouter rods with 2-speed Avet reels, the lines are baited with guts, gills, large herring, and chunks of pink salmon. They are dropped down 300 feet to the ocean bottom, sending out a scent trail, hopefully tempting a big halibut to start gnawing on the bait, working the circle hook into its mouth.
As we wait, we are asked what we want on our sandwiches for lunch. I’m hungry, so I ask for a roast beef sandwich with “the works.” I receive a huge deli sandwich with lettuce, tomato, pickle, mayo and mustard. I also get a bag of chips, a can of soda, and another homemade cookie!
Naturally, right when I am taking a huge bite of my sandwich, I see my rod start jerking up and down. Food already forgotten, I focus on the fish at the end of my line. It’s a tremendous workout—try reeling up a grand piano for 300 feet. I finally get the halibut to the surface, and it’s a beauty, definitely over 100 pounds! The captain brings out a gun to shoot the fish before bringing it onboard. Just protecting us from a wildly flailing halibut, and ensuring that it can’t get away.
An hour later, I feel my stomach rumble and realize I never finished my sandwich! I eat another cookie.
We get in from fishing at 4:00 in the afternoon. The fish processors from the lodge meet us at the dock to collect our fish and get started filleting, cleaning, vacuum-packing, and flash-freezing it.
I go back to the lodge for appetizers and a shower. At 6:00 p.m., a gourmet dinner is ready and soon followed by a scrumptious dessert. I enjoy the camaraderie I have with the other guests. My captain joins us at the table for awhile, and we re-hash the excellent day we just had out on the water, along with many jokes, all in good humor.
The day was a complete success. They don’t lie when they say Sitka has world class fishing. I’m exhausted—in a good way—from the exhilarating fishing—using muscles I didn’t know I had—great food, and excellent company. The best part is, I get to do this all again tomorrow!