Alaska is world-famous for its fish and fishing. More than half of the country’s commercial seafood production comes from the state, and sportfishing is a favorite activity of both Alaska residents and visitors. Fishing options are equally vast in Alaska, where undeveloped areas stretch for hundreds of miles and the population is clustered onto a tiny portion of the land. The state is speckled with more than 1 million lakes—including some of the largest in the nation—along with 34,000 miles of pristine coastline and 42 Wild and Scenic Rivers.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s website (www.adfg.state.ak.us) has details on sportfishing, including descriptions of the various species, fishing regulations, news, and an abundance of other fish facts.
Alaska Fishing by Rene Limeres and Gunnar Pedersen is a comprehensive guide to fishing in Alaska, with detailed information on the when, where, and how to catch fish, along with natural history and other details. Locals, as always, are the best advice-givers about fishing techniques, spots, and regulations, and they might even share some secrets.
Popular Alaskan Fish
Salmon are the primary attraction for many sport anglers, and all five species of Pacific salmon are found in Alaska. Steelhead and rainbow trout, which are also salmonid, are famous for their beautiful coloration and fighting spirit. Rainbows are found in many streams and lakes around the state; the larger steelhead are the sea-run form.
Dolly Varden, also known as Arctic char, are a sea-run trout that flourish in many Alaska rivers. Arctic grayling occur in lakes and streams across the state, particularly in Interior Alaska and the Alaska Peninsula. The fish have a large and distinctive sail-like dorsal fin, and they put up a big fight when hooked. Other important freshwater fish species include lake trout, brook trout (an introduced species), northern pike, sheefish, and whitefish.
Pacific halibut is a large flatfish that is commonly caught in saltwater, particularly in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska. Halibut sometimes reach the proverbial barn-door size, and it isn’t uncommon to see ones that weigh in excess of 200 pounds. Many Alaskans consider halibut the best-tasting fish in the state. In addition to salmon caught in saltwater, other popular ocean-caught sport fish include rockfish and lingcod.
Fishing is not only great fun, it’s the way to bag some super meals. All you need are a breakdown or retractable rod, a variety of hooks, flies, spinners, spoons, sinkers, line (4–8-pound for freshwater, 12–30-pound for saltwater, depending on what you’re after), and a reel. All but the rod will fit in a small plastic case. For bait, get a small bottle of salmon eggs for freshwater, shrimp for saltwater. Have a filet knife to clean the fish. While fishing, watch for protected areas with deadfalls or rocks where fish like to hide. You’ll have the best luck in the early morning or late evening, or on cloudy days when the sun leaks out to shimmer on the water. So as not to attract bears, keep your catch on a stringer well downstream.
Fishing licenses are required. In Alaska, 1-day nonresident sportfishing licenses cost $20, 3-day $35, and 14-day $80. If you plan to catch king salmon, all these fees increase to $30, $55, and $130, respectively. The Alaskan license is valid in national parks.
Fishing licenses are sold in most outdoor stores and by charter fishing operators. Ask for brochures outlining local fishing regulations when you buy your license. Check open and closed seasons, bag limits, and the like to avoid trouble with the law. For the whole thing—spelled out in minute bureaucratic detail—request a copy of the regulations booklet from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (907/465-4180, www.adfg.state.ak.us).
Many Alaskan towns have salmon or halibut fishing derbies in the summer. If one is going on when you visit, it may be worth your while to buy a derby ticket before heading out on the water. The prize money gets into the thousands of dollars for some of these events, and more than a few anglers tell of the big one that would have made them rich if they’d only bought a derby ticket first. Some of the biggest fishing derbies are in Seward, Homer, and Juneau.
Local knowledge is one of the best ways to be assured of a successful Alaska fishing trip. By using a charter or guide service, you’re likely to have a more productive sportfishing excursion. Fishing guides can be found in most Alaskan communities, some offering float trips accessible by car and others going to more remote fly-in destinations. Charter fishing boats are available at coastal locations, particularly in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska and along the Kenai Peninsula.
Particularly important charter boat fishing towns include Homer, Seward, Kodiak, Valdez, Cordova, Juneau, Sitka, and Ketchikan. Charter boat trips typically last either a half-day or all day. Remote fishing lodges are widespread throughout the state, offering top-quality sportfishing with all of the amenities; find them in the Alaska State Vacation Planner or online at www.travelalaska.com. Note that it’s common to tip fishing guides, particularly if they’re especially helpful or if you land a big one. There’s no standard amount, but a 10 percent tip would certainly be appreciated.
For information on fishing charters, available from every seaport in the state, check the local chamber of commerce websites or pick up brochures when you get into town.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition