The wild?–it’s calling you.
Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck betide us;
Let us journey to a lonely land I know.
There’s a whisper on the night-wind, there’s a star agleam to guide us,
And the wild is calling, calling . . . . let us go.”
― Robert W. Service
By Rick Fowler
Fishing new waters has always intrigued me. There’s a unique excitement about casting into a river, lake or ocean for the first time, anxious to see just what I’ll haul up the first time my line goes tight. This sense of euphoria and wonderment was very evident in a September 2015 excursion to Alaska.
Growing up in northwestern Michigan I was captivated by stories, fiction or non-fiction, involving characters who were present in that far-away land called Alaska. Photographs and tales of the beauty and wildness of this state continued to mesmerize me into my adult years. No way did I ever think fishing the coastal waters of our 50th state would be a possibility. Yet here I was in Skagway, window shopping on Main Street and engulfed by myriad sensations. Then as I came to the end of another street I noticed a small crowd drawn to the shallow river that ran parallel to the city itself. As I ventured farther I could see that up ahead the water seemed to be boiling. It was, with hundreds of silver salmon struggling to make their way upstream. It was just like a Michigan smelt run at its peak. But in fact the run was nearing its end, as evidenced by the discoloration of so many of the silver salmon and the many carcasses that littered the river.
As if this wasn’t enough to overload the senses, the next port of call was Ketchikan, where an eager captain awaited my arrival. To me, Ketchikan is one of the most unique and beautiful places in the world. There are stunning surroundings and seemingly endless varieties of wildlife to view and, for some, to hunt and fish. In Ketchikan I witnessed more encounters with spawning salmon, flocks of eagles, black bears on the hillsides and seals in the harbor.
In other words, anglers will be kept busy with watching the wild when they aren’t busy with catching.
The city itself is on Revillagigedo Island, which is surrounded by scenic inlets, the Pacific Ocean and the Tongass National Forest. From there we left port and made our run up a few miles from the protected bay itself into one inlet, idled down and commenced trolling for king and coho salmon. Captain Jason explained, “huge runs of salmon migrate from the open ocean into these protected waters. Because of the abundance of fish followed by the construction of salmon canneries, Ketchikan soon became known as the ‘Salmon capital of the world'”.
This became evident when after only a few minutes Jason hollered, “Fish on!” and my battle with an Alaskan salmon began. Now I’ve boated a few Michigan salmon in my life but the ferocity and power of this guy was tremendous. The fight lasted just 10 minutes, but the runs it took were fitting to a Wahoo or a Mahi Mahi. I was, needless to say, grinning from ear to ear as the captain gaffed the Coho and remarked, “Welcome to Alaska.”
We did hook up with two more keeper coho and boated a king, which was then released since it was a bit small. However, the excitement and action was enough to keep this small town Northern Michigan guy grateful for this trip of a lifetime.
After arriving back at the dock I viewed other lucky anglers with their prize catches, and decided that I needed to go back. Back to the wild of Ketchikan, because whether you’re after kings, a wily silver or any of the other three salmon species that run in these waters, or whether you have your heart set on catching a halibut, red snapper, lingcod, steelhead, Dolly Vardon, grayling, rainbow or cutthroat trout, chances are very good you’ll get your heart’s desire. At least that was my impression from looking around the docks, and from my time at the nearby watering hole where the visiting anglers congregated.
Fishing guides are not essential. You can rent a skiff and venture out on your own (successful fishing can be had at the bridge or breakwater) if you like. To me however, they are a definitely a huge asset out in the open sea. Veteran Alaskan fishing guide Ken Teune once wrote, “It’s a big ocean out there. The trick to catching fish is knowing where they are biting and what they are hitting…” This of course holds true on any body of water, but here where the depths are vast and the structure alien to a fisherman like me, knowing what lure or live bait to fish with and where to troll is vital for success.
Robert Service was right when he penned, “The wild is calling you…” It called me to Alaska and I answered. Now, I need to call back.