After a week-long road trip to Southeast Alaska, I think I may have found some of the best fishing on the planet. That is if you like yanking on halibut until your arms feel like they’re full of wet cement and hooking so many coho salmon that it seems a little like bluegill fishing out of a 5-gallon bucket.
And the best part of the deal is this angling paradise is relatively close.
My base of operations was Juneau, which is a short 3-hour flight from Sacramento, with a stop in Seattle. On assignment for Fish Alaska Magazine, my orders were to explore and report back on the fishing opportunities available in the waters within easy striking distance of Alaska’s capitol city.
On day one, my assistant Khevin and I rented a car and buzzed around the Juneau road system, where we found massive amounts of salmon in all the small streams we visited, catching more than we could count on fly and conventional tackle.
Glacier Bay/Icy Strait
The next day, we were flown out to South Passage Outfitters near Glacier Bay. South Passage Outfitters (SPO) is located smack dab in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness and caters to small groups of anglers (and wildlife enthusiasts) who like to go the unguided route. Guests stay in beautiful cabins located on the shores of Gull Cove, each with stoves, beds, hot showers and flush toilets. Home-style meals are provided in the spacious cookhouse and after breakfast, you hop into an 18-foot skiff and disappear for the day.
The fishing is a do-it-yourself type of affair and is a really sweet deal for guys like Khev and myself who are tackle junkies and like to set our own schedules. Each morning, we’d woof down some breakfast at about 5 am and wouldn’t come back until after 8 pm. The many bays and passages in the area were teeming with sea life and we had a ball jigging halibut in 30 to 150 feet of water with swimbaits.
Most of the fish were perfect “eaters” in the 20- to 40-pound class, though I nailed one about 70 pounds and another guest got one that was closer to 100 pounds while we were there. The waters of Icy Straight pump out some gargantuan halis as well, but we really didn’t target the monsters (too much work!).
We also jigged up so many rockfish on light bass gear that it got silly.
As far as salmon fishing went, there were good schools of coho around, but they were deep for some reason and fishing for them 180 feet down didn’t appeal that much to our light tackle sensibilities.
There are also abundant freshwater streams around SPO that hold runs of salmon, trout and dolly varden, but we were having such a blast catching halibut that we didn’t even mess with them. There was simply too much to do and too little time in which to do it.
Other that the two other boats from the lodge, we never saw another angler (there were a few commercial salmon trollers, but that was it) and it felt like that corner of the state was ours alone to explore. In fact, we saw a lot more whales (up close and personal, I might add), sea otters and porpoise than humans. It was definitely a place we felt like we needed another 6 weeks to explore!
Off to Angoon
The second part of the week, we were sent to Whaler’s Cove Lodge in Angoon, which is a fully guided (though they do have self-guided packages as well), luxury outfit located in one of the most perfect and unique fishing spots in the state.
The waters off Angoon are typically very calm (the area only gets about 36 inches or rain a year) and harbor one of the largest herring populations in the world. There’s also a prolific salmon hatchery nearby and several freshwater streams to top it all off.
The combination of huge balls of herring and tons of salmon just a mile or so from the lodge makes for lots of fun as Khevin and I found out. The two days of saltwater fishing we did resulted in so many ravenous coho that we started throwing bass stuff at them just to make it more of a challenge (it wasn’t – they ate all the plastic worms, dropshot rigs, Flukes and swimbaits we threw at them) and we probably caught 30 to 50 a day without much effort.
We also found excellent halibut fishing like we had at Gull Gove and continued our “Three Bounce Policy,” which stated that we’d move to a new spot if our jigs bounced more than three times on the bottom without a bite.
Just for record, we rarely had to move.
The whale watching at aptly-named Whaler’s Cove was also fantastic.
On our final day, we went on an epic quest up one of the area’s lovely freshwater streams, where we found lots and lots of salmon and dolly varden – many of which were all to happy to inhale our spinners. In the afternoon, we paused from casting at the base of a 15-foot cataract to watch salmon trying to leap over the obstruction, which was an awesome sight.
So I guess what I can say in conclusion is this: regardless if you’re the do-it-yourself type angler or prefer the lap of luxury, you can’t go wrong with the waters near Juneau. I know I’ll go back…soon!