I have been immensely fortunate to be able to pull off an Alaska fishing trip each year since moving south in 1996. One year I did pass on Alaska fishing to go to France instead. Other than that I’ve gone home to Alaska to visit friends and go fishing each summer for a week or two.
This year finds us destined to visit a remote fishing lodge west of Juneau. Brother Vic and sister Linda will join me and my wife in Juneau the night before the floatplane takes us to fishing paradise. We are going back to Whaler’s Cove, a place we visited 19 years ago. It was there that we caught an amazing amount of fish, saw whales galore, and somehow stayed afloat in six-foot seas rounding Danger Point in an 18-foot skiff.
It’s not getting any easier to run a boat with three passengers onboard so I never know if this will be that last trip of this type. Alaskan waters can be very dangerous with storms that blow in on a moments notice, big fish that can break bones or flip people out of a boat once brought aboard, and general stupidity that can rear its ugly head when least expected.
One common thread binds all of these Alaska fishing adventures together is that we go as a family that loves the outdoors and fishing. Some years my brother or sister has passed on the annual summer trip. Usually it’s because this is not a cheap trip. Some years we pull of the trip for around $1,000 per person. Other years like this on will cost around $4,500 per person. Most of the last twenty years we have all gone to Alaska and had a blast.
Tradition must be respected
Since neither Vic or Linda joined my wife and me last year we are thrilled to have them back this summer. The fun will start in Juneau where a tradition dictates an obligatory meal at The Hanger on the Wharf restaurant is called for. Situated on the Juneau waterfront this old floatplane hanger delivers great food and views. I never tire of watching the floatplanes, boats, and ships come and go. The food is excellent and an order of steamer clams is a must. The beer and wine complement the food and view and the meal seems to end too soon most trips.
If time allows we will head to Mendenhall Glacier for a hike in the forest. We never get tired of seeing this mass of blue ice towering over the landscape. The hike takes us close to raging waterfalls and an up-close view of the glacier. I often hope to see a bear on these hikes but we never have. I suspect I’m the only one in the group wishing for such an encounter?
When the morning of our floatplane departure to the lodge comes all of us will be in high spirits. The take off is exhilarating as we skim above the water with the antique De Haviland Beaver attempting to fly. The flight is usually only around a height of 1,000 feet and the blue-green waters of the famed Inside Passage shine below us. All eyes attempt to spot Humpback whales we know are lurking below.
With luck, a pod of Killer whales might be spotted, or a brown bear scavenging on the beach.
Our flight takes us over parts of Killisnoo Island, nicknamed Fortress of the Bears. This aptly named island has a large population of big bruins. On our first trip to Whalers Cove, the staff told us the “dump bears” that scavenged at the Angoon dump. One night the owner took us out for a close up look at these bears. It was the first look my wife, brother, and sister ever had of a brown bear. Not exactly the best place to see a magnificent creature of the wild, but it was interesting.
The fishing and scenery are great. One of the things I like best about a trip to a place like Whalers Cove is there is plenty of room to fish away from the pack of fellow anglers found in much of Alaskan waters. This year, like the last time we were at Whalers Cove we have chosen the self-guide option. I love to be able to go where we want to go and am willing to gamble on my ability to find and catch fish.
A flying fish or a swimming bird
One day on our last trip to Whalers Cove we took a break from fishing and went exploring. Off in the distance, I saw something splashing on top of the water that didn’t look familiar. Upon closer examination we found a mature bald eagle doing the breast-stroke. The bird was in possession of a prized fish and wouldn’t let go. We watched as the eagle frantically thrashed the water and finally made I ashore dripping wet with its prize firmly grasped in razor sharp talons. We also saw seals, otters, Dall Porpoises, and sea lions.
The most memorable part of the trip was the pod of killer whales we sighted about a mile towards Juneau. I headed towards the pod to get a better look but as I got closer noticed they were headed towards us. I slowed the motor and watched as they eventually came right at us. As one passed directly under our boat I saw its form show up on the fish-finder screen. When the big predator surfaced on the other side of the boat and exhaled we could all smell its “fish breath” as the mist engulfed us.
What lies in store this year
Who knows what Alaska fishing adventures await us this year? Two years ago we fished at South Passage Outfitters near Glacier Bay and caught huge halibut and saw hundreds of sea otters. We also saw humpback whales every day but sadly never got a single good photo of them. This year we are all in agreement to take less fish from the teeming waters of the Inside Passage. A fifty-pound box each is about all we need and will last a year in our home freezers. Each time we open a package of our frozen fish; visions of wild coastlines, blue-green waters, a myriad of wildlife plays back in our mind’s eye. This sort of trip has the ability to keep on giving week-after-week, month-after-month.
At this point in my life I’m just so grateful I have another Alaska fishing trip in my future. With any luck, there will be several more to share with my three best fishing buddies. Life is good!