May 26, 2014

Fourth Day in Alaska: Fishing Expedition!

No, you didn’t miss day #3, but that was marathon day and I’ll be posting my race report later in the week 🙂

I woke up super early on Sunday morning, and wasn’t terribly thrilled about that… but I was ridiculously excited for what I was getting up to do. I was going on a fishing expedition!

Lisa and Rocky Ness of Outer Otter Sport Fishing had generously donated the fishing trip to the marathon, to be used for the guest speaker. I had never been fishing before, not even stream fishing with a basic fishing rod, and many of the people I met in Prince of Wales seemed shocked by that. Fishing is a way of life up there! But besides the fishing, I was super excited for the company I got to hang out with all day. I had spent all day Friday getting escorted around Prince of Wales Island by Lisa, and she was one of my favorite people that I met the whole trip (which is saying a lot, because everyone I met was incredibly sweet and wonderful).

Lisa And Laura
Pic taken on race day just before Lisa set off to run her very first marathon! So excited for her 🙂

I begged Lisa to let me stop at the Dockside Cafe for coffee, and she graciously obliged. I was amazed to find that this full service cafe opens at 5:30am every day, which seemed early, but when I went in, I found a whole crew of fisherman in there. The early bird gets the worm in fishing, it would seem! I was able to get a coffee and a breakfast sandwich to go pretty quickly, so I was happy about that.

Heading Out To Sea
Heading out to sea!

I headed out to sea along with Lisa, Rocky, and Samantha, who is on the race organizing committee and works full time as the school music teacher. Everyone else had been fishing many times before, so I was the lone newbie who was basically jumping off my seat with excitement. I was surprised how easy it was when I got the rod in my hand, though that’s really due to Rocky’s great instruction and patience with beginners. Lisa later told me that of all the fishing tours on the island, he usually takes out the visitors and beginners, so he’s had a lot of experience teaching people how to fish. And it paid off! I desperately wanted to catch at least one fish, and in pretty short order, I was able to land a small halibut. Maybe I’d get to take some fish home after all!

Unfortunately, this time of year is still really early in the season for Alaskan fishing, and as a result, the halibut I caught was too small to keep. Bummer! I considered begging Rocky to let me keep it anyway (who cares if its too small?), but reluctantly accepted his advice that we should throw it back. When we eventually got back to the dock at the end of the day, a government official actually surprised us with a visit to make sure that we hadn’t taken any halibut (yes, that specific fish) that were too small… so I was really grateful for Rocky’s wisdom!

In return for throwing the halibut back, I was rewarded with a pretty crazy tug on my line. It seemed bigger than the halibut, and I found my rod pulled in all kinds of different directions (rather than just constant weight pulling straight down, like the halibut). I was really impressed by Rocky’s ability to tell what kind of fish something was when it was still 150 feet in the ocean (without even feeling its pull, just by my reactions), and in this case he told me it was definitely a King Salmon. Whoa, the holy grail of late spring Alaska fishing! When I bought my fishing license the day before, they asked me if I wanted to pay extra for my “King Stamp” (which allows you to keep the King Salmon you catch), and I decided to spring for it, even if I didn’t think I was actually going to catch anything. But here I was!

Reeling In Fish

I followed Rocky’s advice to pull my rod up and back slowly and steadily, then quickly drop the tip back down to the water and reel in like crazy. This allows you to gain line on the fish without just having to do it by brute strength. And it was a good thing, because this salmon was strong! There were several moments where I was sure that the rod was going to break (or perhaps the line), or that I didn’t have the arm strength needed to bring it in. In fact, sometimes when I was holding the line steady, the salmon was actually able to make the line slip out without my reel spinning! But the line counter kept ticking closer to zero, and eventually I was able to see my weight coming to the surface, with the salmon right behind it. He was a beauty!

I didn’t have to worry about getting him into the boat, thank goodness – I just had to bring him close enough to the surface for Rocky to catch him with a big net, and then Rocky clubbed him to get him to stop flailing around. (Apparently I have psychopathic tendencies, because despite my lack of fishing experience, I didn’t mind watching the kill at all. The sooner he is dead, the sooner I can cook him and eat him!) And while my mom had thought I’d be too squeamish to bait the hooks (okay, so I didn’t do that part, but that was only because Rocky was worried I’d slip and hook my own fingers, not because I thought the bait was gross), I grabbed the salmon by slipping my fingers through his throat so I could raise him up there for a photo.

Caught A King Salmon
The look on my face says it all. Also, this guy was heavy – holy shoulders / biceps workout holding him up there for photos!

After catching the King Salmon, you’d think everything else paled in comparison – but even though I didn’t catch another King, the promise that more could be out there kept me going. Plus, the scenery was just beautiful. I fell in love with the sea lions sunning themselves on the rocks, even though Lisa told me I wouldn’t like them nearly as much if they swam in and stole a fish that I had already hooked on my line, as they are wont to do.

Sea Lions
Guess how many layers I have on? Tank top, tech tee, fleece lined turtleneck, second tech tee, fleece jacket, sweatshirt, hat, and gloves. It was chilly out there!

We also got to see numerous whales, and a really cool phenomenon called a “bait ball.” This happens when the salmon/halibut are swimming on the bottom, and all the tiny little fish that they eat swirl into a big ball for protection and then come up to the surface. When they do this, all the birds that are flying above come down to eat them from that direction. (So really, they can’t win.) It was so cool to watch the majestic eagles swooping down into the water and grabbing fish – they are amazing at fishing!

Eventually, though, it was time to go back in. I couldn’t believe how quickly the time had passed, but my body could – I inadvertently fell asleep for most of the ride back to the docks, as did Lisa. Fishing is tiring! But at least we had something to show for our efforts:

Our Fishing Haul
Of that haul, I caught 8 halibut (7 of which we threw back), 2 black bass, and 1 beautiful king salmon.

But the day wasn’t quite done yet – we still had to get the fish cleaned up. Rocky was an absolute pro at making this butchery look so easy, and he didn’t make a single mistake as he deftly sliced through the fish to make beautiful filets. I kind of wanted to ask him if I could get it a try, but I also knew that he was only making it look easy. My favorite part, though, was when he cut open the king salmon’s stomach and out came all the little candlefish that the salmon had been feasting on all day. How cool is that?!

Salmon's Last Meal
Clearly I am not easily grossed out.

All in all, an amazing day of fishing. I can’t believe how lucky we were to get all those fish so early in the season, and how lucky I was just to have this experience! Now I just have to hope the fish are staying frozen for the journey back to Denver (via five day stop in Dallas)…


14 thoughts on “Fourth Day in Alaska: Fishing Expedition!”

  1. Wow some nice big fish there. Well done! What are they exactly?

    I’ve been meaning to go on a fishing trip to Alaska, but it’s so hard lining up the time and friends to do such a trip. I also assume you went in the warmer months of the year correct?

    1. I caught a king salmon, some halibut, and two black bass. It was really fantastic!

      I went Memorial Day weekend, which I understand is early in the year. I was really lucky to catch fish that early! I would highly recommend it though – it was honestly one of the best travel experiences of my life.

  2. It’s interesting that Rocky’s first instinct to throw the small fish back was correct. It was probably a relief to learn that the government official actually preferred that action for the time being.

  3. Hi Laura, I love fishing and after reading your post.. I am definitely going to plan my next trip with my family very soon in Alaska…

  4. After watching that big fish on your hand I can’t resist myself going to a fishing trip like yours. Loved your Fishing Expedition photos!

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