I have always considered the 49th state of the United States to be a mecca for fishing and hunting. It’s a location that has been on my bucket list for many years now, but despite that, I’ve never taken the plunge to buy a plane ticket to, that’s right, you guessed it- Alaska! Who knew that my soon to be wife would be the one to encourage me to finally visit the Last Frontier?After a red eye flight from Montana to Alaska, and many hours in the airport, we were greeted by a small bush plane hanging from the airport ceiling in Fairbanks. After gathering our gear in baggage claim, we departed the Fairbanks Airport for the first leg of our Alaskan adventure. My fiancé, now wife, has family in Alaska and we would spend the first week catching up with relatives, visiting old mining dredges, 4-wheeling in mud bogs, whitewater rafting, and fishing for arctic grayling. The grayling fishing was like nothing I had experienced before.
On a warm, 80 degree day, we loaded up the jet boat and headed out on a small river about the size of the Upper Clark Fork River. Sarah’s (my wife) uncle fired up the engine and we roared up river, gliding over thousands upon thousands of jumbo-sized grayling.
The appetite of these large finned fish was surprising to me. I had assumed grayling were just insect munchers, but soon learned that they are in fact carnivorous water dwellers. The grayling were anxious to eat white streamers; and in just a couple hours the entire boat had reeled in some exceptional grayling.All of the folks from Montana were impressed by the number of grayling in this crystal clear river. We only had a short period time to fish, and the experience left me hungry for more. I would love to get back to this amazing location in the future.Our next fishing outing would leave us chasing sockeye salmon. The goal was to catch our daily limit, for several days in a row, in order to bring lots of fresh salmon back to Montana. We figured fresh AK fish would be a nice addition to the wild Montana game that currently fills our freezers. I have to admit, before this trip, I had not experienced ‘combat fishing’, and Alaska gave me a fine introduction to the sport. Its an interesting experience to say the least- standing side by side, slinging weights and flies at schools of salmon, hoping to ‘force feed’ a pesky sockeye.
Sockeye are explosive when you hook them. It is very entertaining trying to land a buckin’ bronco of a salmon as it wraps itself in every line along the river bank. We were thoroughly entertained by watching our party, and others on the river, try to land the torpedo on the end of their line. At one point, I even watched a hooked salmon burst out of the water and smack a lady right in the face, while at the same time snagging a few fishing lines!
An interesting law in AK is that you must hook a salmon in the mouth in order to legally keep that fish. If you hook a salmon in the back, fin, head, and tail while fishing, you must let them go. As a result, you will consistently see salmon with brightly colored flies hooked in their bodies as they continue to try to swim upriver to their spawning grounds. After several hours of working over a couple good runs, everyone in our party had achieved their daily limit. We did this for a couple of days and felt fortunate that the sockeye run was strong while we were there. Everyone would be going home with a nice little stash of omega 3s.We filleted our prizes, packed them in our bags and took them to be vacuum-sealed and frozen solid back at camp. Our salmon adventure is one I will not soon forget.The next adventure entailed a 24-hour halibut fishing trip out of Homer, AK. The plan was to catch our daily limit one day, sleep on the boat, and then wake up at midnight and attempt to catch our next day’s limit before heading back to port.While attempting to catch halibut is not the most exhilarating fishing I’ve ever done, it definitely had it’s perks. The process involves a fat rod, a 3lb weight, a circle hook and a dead bait fish. From there you drop the weight about 200-300ft to the sea floor, and wait for a halibut to eat it. Most of the time, they are eager to eat and you have instant action. As soon as you feel a tug, you reel hard to get it to the surface. Reeling in a halibut is comparable, I would imagine, to reeling a car hood up from the surface of the ocean-tough!
After catching our ‘chicken’ (halibut under 28”), we moved locations in search of the giants. The new fishing hole supposedly held larger halibut, and we would be able to confirm this after catching a couple later in the evening. During the relocation, the crew cut and filleted the chickens. The white meat looked delicious and there is something to be said for catching what you eat.The new spot produced. I hooked into a what seemed like a much larger halibut than what I had felt earlier in the day. This fish actually ran and pulled line. My forearms burned as I continued to turn the reel handle. After what felt like an extended amount of time, the fish finally surfaced. The crew sent in the boom stick to assist in getting the fish into the boat. KABOOM!! Water flew and the large fish went limp. The halibut weighed in the 50lb-60lb range I would estimate.There were a few others on the boat charter that pulled in some +100lb halibut. Rockfish and pacific cod were also reeled in by a few in our group. We had a gamut of fish filling the boat deck, and we were pretty pleased by the productivity of the last several hours.
After our daily limit, we went to sleep on the large boat and woke a few hours later just to get up and do it all over again.
Around this time of year Alaska is light almost +20hours of the day. The photo above was taken at 2:04am. My beautiful wife fighting the cold ocean wind while waiting for a bite on the end of her line.After a solid 24 hours of forearm workouts, our halibut charter was complete. We came home with about 33lbs of halibut each, 330lbs between the ten of us.Alaska is an amazing state. After examining a map, I realize I have just scratched the surface of this expansive landscape. If you are on the fence about visiting AK, my recommendation would be go for it and make the trip happen! The hunting and fishing opportunities are endless. As long as you can handle bird size mosquitoes, you will have a great time!