Ketchikan fishing at its finest
A father with his three grown sons, an older South Korean gal with her younger boy toy, me and Rog, a bit-time concert promoter from Florida with his grandson, a media guy from Los Angeles and his surfer father. These are few of the fellow men and women we encountered during our fishing trips up to Alaska. Of those I mentioned, over half had never fished if all. Worried about getting up early and bobbing up and down on an ocean inlet? Don’t be. If land-loving cowboys from Montana can do this, and I, a sun-seeking, fair weather fisherman who prefers lake trolling, so can you.
Casting a new rod
Rog is a die-hard, life long fisherman, preferring fly-fishing, floating on the river at 4 a.m. in the ice and deep sea tuna in the “blue water,” (if you know what that even means, congratulations). Me? I’m a straight up, trolling on the lake at sunset-while-talking-all-the-while girl. I started with my grandfather as a kid, and never changed—or evolved, as Rog likes to say.
Still, I’d heard the romantic retelling of flying to Alaska, watching the shimmering fish jump from the water against a glimmering sunset while in the comfort of the hot tub on a deck before having a gourmet dinner and retiring to a cozy lodge. It was with this ideal in my mind that I bid up the price for a fishing trip to Alaska at a school-sponsored auction. Two months later, we were on our way.T
Alaska, the fishing mecca for anyone with a pole, instills religion-like feelings about what place is the best and why. Some want the 5-star luxury experience, replete with the spa-like atmosphere, or a 10,000 square foot home and private chef. What’s important to me is one thing: the fish. I don’t want a plush, four-day spa vacation if I’m paying for fishing. If I wanted that, I’d hit Sonoma or Arizona and save the extra two grand. At the same time, I want great food and an authentic lodge experience—along with lots and lots of fish. After looking at the Sportsman’s Cove website, I believed this was right in the middle, authentic yet cozy, guaranteed to bring me home with lots of fish and great pictures. Rog had been fishing in Alaska before, but never at Sportsman’s Cove, and I was excited about this factoid. We would have a firstie—an experience unique to both of us at once, which, Rick Santos, the lead male in A Convenient Date, says, is hard to do.G
From Seattle, Ketchikan was a 3-hour flight. With bags in hand, you take the short walk under a covered ramp to a pier where the float plane awaits. Sportsman’s Cove owns their own fleet of float planes which seat six. The flight is a short 25 minute during which you can take pictures of Ketchikan, the islands below, along with the cruise ships which come to Ketchikan daily. On every flight, I’ve seen bear as we near the island where Sportsman’s Cove is located.
Once landed, an assigned host greets guests, takes the bags up the landing, and guests are shown their assigned cabin. Depending on the package and requests, guests have a single or double (with a guest). Nestled into the mountain side, the cabins are an adult version of a tree house, the wooden steps leading up to the private rooms. Rustic but comfortable, the beds have flannel sheets, views of the lake, and incredible water pressure with plenty of hot water.
Dinner is set at 6 p.m., where guests meet one another and sit with their assigned captain. Over dinner, guests meet those assigned to their (limit of 6 guests). What I like about this is the administration works really hard at putting compatible groups together, and we’ve never been disappointed. During dinner, the boat Captain provides the daily schedule, preferences for fishing, how he determines the areas to fish, and options for taking the fish home.
The fishing days are simple: full breakfast at 6 a.m. (varies every day, but can be stuffed sour dough French toast, steel cut oats, biscuits and gravy etc.), on the boat by 6:30, fishing until 3 pm then return to the dock. After breakfast (or before, if you wake early) you make your own sack lunch with snacks).
Once back at the lodge, dinner is at 5:30, allowing time to hike, walk the beach, nap or hang out on the covered deck or living room, which has a guitar if a guest has the desire. Around 8:00 p.m., homemade cookies and milk are set out for the guests in the living room. A hot tub is located on a lower deck, which is much desired after a long day fishing.T
The Cove has a master chef, who produces gourmet meals for breakfast and dinner. My fear of eating fish morning, noon and night was unfounded. Fish is only served one evening—the other nights includes every other meat available (beef, pork, chicken). If you have food sensitivities, the opportunity to do this is when the office sends a pre-arrival questionnaire. Dinner is a casual affair, jeans and the coziest top you want. The dining room consists of five round tables– nor more than 5 groups- or 30 in the session total. It’s large enough to have fun, while small enough to be intimate
TRustic would fit the description, but it’s not much different than home rentals we have had in Austria, Germany or Switzerland. Think lots of pine wood, small bathroom, shower, sink in the bedroom, a well-loved bed (they are soft, not hard) and a great view of the lake. On my first trip, when I went in, I thought—really? Then I put it in perspective. This is a true lodge, not a 5-star resort, and any disappointment I initially had about the room left at the end of the first day, when I took a long, hot shower, ate an amazing dinner and fell asleep, nestled in the warm flannel sheets as the cool breeze came through the opened window.
The fishing- what to expect
Right after dinner, groups are led to the dock, where chest-high, one-piece yellow rubber waders, jacket and books are provided. You need to bring/wear your own gloves, hat etc., wearing your choice of jeans/pants, tops etc. I always bring my waterproof bag for my camera, but nothing else is required.
The boats leave the cove around 6:45 and then you are out on the water, the mist coming off the water, the Captain determining the location. A roll call of guests determines what will be fished—halibut, salmon, cod, you name it. The majority vote guests wins, but if certain fish are biting more in one area than another, plans change. Also, some types of fishing are more challenging than others. As an example, fishing halibut can test skills and patience, as the hook needs to be bounced along the bottom, then reeling up a 300-foot line can take some time and effort. I personally love halibut, because I’m like a goat. I’ll just keep going and going until I hook a fish. On the other hand, salmon fishing is fast and exciting—you throw the line in, get the hook (fish on!) is what you cry, and then it’s a race to bring in the fish. This can be a nice change of pace if the day is slow.
Throughout the day, you have flexibility to fish, relax, eat or warm up in the cabin, where the heater is blazing, offering comfort and relaxing when you need a break. On the ride back to the cove, the deck hand guts and cleans the fish, throwing the entails off the back. Overized eagles scream and dive for the innards, making for great photo shots.
Weather- the best times for fishing
We have gone every other year for six years running, starting the summer Rog got his snore guard! Why the two-year break? That’s how long it takes to eat all the fish we got.
We have had June, July and August. It was cold and rainy in late June/early July, and a good haul, which was 250 pounds of fish (pre-packaged). Mid-July offered two days of great weather, two days clouds, and almost 300 pounds of fish. August was incredible weather, but only about 230 pounds of fish. That’s because the week we arrived, the commercial fishing season started. Every other day, the larger vessels would chase our fleet when they saw the fish were jumping. Within an hour, four-to five boats would surround us and string their nets, forcing us out.
That said, we still came home with 230 pounds of fish for fishing 4 days. That incident proved that no “bad time” to go exists. The timing comes down to preference of weather (which is never guaranteed) and price.
The July spots book fast, but cancellations occur. We are on a “call” list, which means we are alerted if a spot opens up, and you can be too. Call reception and ask to for your name to be added, but be prepared sometimes the notice is only a week or two out. You are always going to get the best deals through last-minute.
December is a good time to sign up because it’s slow, and of course, August slots and early June are often the least expensive, because it’s pre-season or commercial fishing.
Below are a few of my favorite photos from our trips.