Baranof Blog & Fishing News
Nobody would ever describe me as passionate about cooking. Whether it’s due to my being colorblind and having a tendency to overcook things – “It LOOKS done, but better give these burgers another 20 minutes, because E.coli…”, my lack of planning – “Cordon Bleu sounds good, I bet I have everything at home, just need these breadcrumbs…”, or my predisposition towards complete laziness, I don’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Since my kids started growing teeth, however, necessity has truly been the mother of invention, and my forays to the grocery store have widened in scope to include more than just the freezer aisle. Mine is a culinary story of many defeats, some draws, and the occasional act of God. When I pull things out of the fridge, develop grudges against innocent ingredients, but somehow put something on the table that the kids don’t “accidentally” drop on the floor or leave my wife with a look on her face usually reserved for a Lifetime Original movie, I know my acceptance in our home is secured for at least one more day. This is the story of last night - when the light of providence bathed me and my halibut tacos in its radiant glow.
Last winter my brother took his wife and two kids camping out on some island he doesn’t remember. Before setting up on the beach for the night, they dropped a longline out in the bay. The next morning, they headed home after pulling up a couple hundred pounds of halibut from their set. (There’s a lot more to this story, but I wasn’t there and Jack (my aforementioned brother) is at work, so that’s all you get). As any good son would do, he gave our mother and her husband all the fish that wouldn’t fit in his freezer. Jump ahead a few months, and my momma is visiting me and the kids here in Missouri. For this trip, Mom and Dan (my aforementioned step-father) bought a van, loaded in a chest freezer, and ferried it to the mainland for a month of visiting grandkids. Luckily, they stopped in Missouri before heading to see Michael (my not aforementioned step-brother) and his new little girl in Colorado. Out of the chest freezer and into mine were some spot shrimp our friend Aussie Rob caught, some salmon Mom and Dan pulled out of the water, and a bunch of halibut slabs my brother and his family took from the bay of an unnamed island in Southeast Alaska. The food grown in Missouri is amazing compared to what I grew up within Ketchikan, but there is no replacement for excellent fish and the taste of home, which I’m eternally grateful my family is willing to provide. Long story short, my brother killed some fish in Alaska, my mom drove it to me in Missouri, and I fried it in a cheap pan on a dirty stovetop.
Halibut tacos are actually easier than regular tacos. When you make tacos with ground beef there is a ton of work that goes into the prep; finding a cow and turning it into ground beef, chopping onions, and finding a cooking spoon that doesn’t have holes in it can take an eternity. With halibut, you just pull it out of the freezer the morning of, slice it into portable-phone-charger sized portions, season and fry for five minutes (flipping once). Heat up some corn tortillas, layer sliced cabbage for texture (and to prevent the halibut from breaking out and escaping through the bottom of the food frisbee), grated cheese, cilantro, and lime juice, and *BOOM*, your progeny are eating food they can’t come close to appreciating. While loading up with tomatoes, onions, and other common taco complements/ingredients can be tempting and aren’t discouraged, I prefer to keep things simple when I’m dealing with my scarce supply of fish.
Yesterday, everything went according to plan. In the morning I pulled a vacuum-sealed 2 lb. filet of halibut out of the freezer and tossed it in the sink. After picking the kids up from school we headed to the local grocer for “taco stuff”. Once at the store, and with the children sent on missions of obscure product procurement, I was able to swiftly and efficiently locate pre-shredded green cabbage, paprika (I didn’t end up using it for the tacos because I forgot, but I bet it would have been awesome), chili powder, salt, little corn tortillas, peanut oil, lime juice, salsa and a brick of mozzarella. A lot of this stuff you may already have in your home, but that’s a level of adulting I haven’t reached yet. I also grabbed a sweet potato for sweet potato fries as a side. Once the kids came back from their respective missions empty-handed (“Real Mayo” is a thing, but they never find the jar of “Fake Mayo”, and 3% milk doesn’t exist) we headed home for some anxiety fueled cheffing. Everything went better than expected; I didn’t have any flour, which should have been included with the seasoning to prevent the halibut from breaking up, but the size of the fish was good enough that it didn’t segment when I fried it. The fries weren’t cooked nearly long enough, but the children probably wouldn’t have eaten them even if they had been, picky as I allow them to be… All in all, though, it was a good meal. The kids were full, the wife wasn’t fiddling idly with her ring, and I had enjoyed a dinner that reminded me of why growing up in Southeast Alaska was such a privilege.
The adventurer’s spirit is different in all of us, but at its core, it means doing something that no one, or few, have ever done before. Pulling as many strange fish out of as many different waters as possible certainly fits the bill. This article includes a bit on catching ratfish out of Ketchikan; not the main draw of the area.
Baranof Fishing Excursions is offering an Early Booking Discount for 2019 Fishing Excursions. Are you planning on Stalking Salmon while in Ketchikan? Or are you more interested in Hunting for Halibut? Have you experienced our popular Cook your Catch program? No matter what your interest is, Baranof Fishing Excursions is in the business of creating authentic Alaskan experiences for you and your family. Our fishing rates.
Vote now on your favorite salmon restaurant! USA Today is asking those that know to decide which Alaskan joint puts out the best fish, and the Alaskan Fish House is on the ballot! Check it out below and let your voice be heard.
Voting ends Monday, October 15th, 2018 at 11:59 am EDT and the winners will be announced on 10Best on Friday, October 26th, 2018 at 12:00 pm EDT, then later on USA TODAY. You can read the official rules here
Our photo competition winners will win cash prizes for pictures that capture what the Fish House is all about; singing, dancing, great food, and good times. All photos will be considered (not just this weekend’s) and can be sent to Jeimi at email@example.com by September 21st. Winners will be announced with their photos displayed on our website and Facebook on September 26th.
If you missed this year's R2AK, this article by Norris Comer of NW Yachting gives one an excellent account of the trials and tribulations experienced by the teams competing in this year's engineless race from Port Townshend to Ketchikan.
Come and join myself and the Fish House crew for four days of music and fun from the 13th-16th. Help us honor our staff for a job well done, give a special farewell to Culinary Manager Tyler Cox, and wish bon voyage to Diane Fast on her last weekend of the 2018 season. For the grand finale, come out and celebrate my birthday with our last open mic, blues, jazz, special guests, southern-style food prepared by Chef Austin and more! See you there! – Latoya
Baldwin’s duties as General Manager during the offseason have proven critical to the success of our business. While, like any good fisherman, he would rather be on the water than in an office, his passion for what Baranof offers its guests provides him with the motivation to attack all opportunities for improving the customer experience with a very personal dedication. Chris has a business degree from the University of Alaska. This means that while he is outfitting the fleet with new gear or working with Raider designing a new boat for Baranof, he is able to do so with both the customer and the company in mind; he knows what would add value for our guests, and he has the business savvy to enact those improvements in a way that keeps the owner happy. Chris is also in charge of finding, hiring, and training new captains. Many of the local sportfishing operators began guiding at Baranof Fishing Excursions, then moved on to begin their own business. We wholeheartedly support this and work closely with many of our former guides every summer, but we do need to man the vessels they’ve left behind. This year’s new recruits (Jamie, Josh, and Isaac) are a prime example of how far Chris will look to find captains that not only think of fishing every minute of the day, but also those that are passionate about providing a unique experience to their clients; there are a lot of folks out there that will work for us taking people fishing, Chris finds the kind of person that would do it for free.
Chris wears a lot of hats throughout the year and wears them well. He always has time for educating his guests, guides, and coworkers on what it means to provide the best possible experience to our guests, and proactively seeks ways to improve both his own fishing abilities and those of the company as a whole. His personal desire to exceed the expectations of his clients are perfectly inline with the goals of Baranof Fishing Excursions. We’re lucky to have him and proud to have him represent our company.
As Baranof’s Lead Guide, Chris is the perfect person to ask if you have a question on Alaska fishing. One of Chris's most marked traits is that he has an unquenchable curiosity. If Chris can't find the answer within his own personal resources, the guide pool, or friends and family in Southeast Alaska, he'll find a way to get it. He's a prolific reader when it comes to fishing, and he's always ready to listen to stories from either the old timers or one of his fellow guides because he knows he might walk away with a nugget of fishing wisdom. Because of this, he's a wonderful resource on Alaska fish and all things fishing. His administrative duties have him working closely with our Operations Manager (Andy Mikkelson) to ensure the safety of our guests while at our facility and efficient transition from the dock to the boat. He is also responsible for addressing any suggestions his guides have toward improving the overall customer experience.
As a guide, Chris has an amazing dedication to his clients; he's always focused on ensuring everybody has a successful day on the water. A typical day with Chris would have you running 45-60 minutes out to the back of Duke Island, Mary Island, or one of the other areas touched by the bordering open ocean, which often gives access to a wider variety of fish. Rock cod and lingcod are more prolific in the areas that are fed by the open ocean currents, and Chris knows it. He's always trying out new cuts for herring plugs, a different reel, or the unique technique he just picked up off the fisherman he met in Thomas Basin. Chris's willingness to experiment with bait, tackle, and different fishing techniques is one of the reasons he is one of our most consistently requested guides.
The story of Chris Baldwin is a tale of two seasons. For the first decade, Baranof’s guides were hired and managed by the owner. With his brother AJ providing expert opinion on an applicant’s abilities, Chuck was able to man the boats with experienced captains. Over time, however, our operation grew to a point where a lead guide, in charge of managing and acting as an advocate for our crew, was required to ensure a quality experience for our guests. Enter Chris Baldwin. During the summer months, you’ll find him in the thick of things, expertly managing every aspect of our aquatic and sportfishing endeavors. In the offseason, he lays the framework for the following year as general manager; while he’s difficult to keep off the water, his administrative duties are vital to improving the customer experience.
What is a chef’s table? Simply put, a chef’s table is a medium for a chef to flex his or her culinary muscle. Passionate individuals who want to share their love of food with others will offer an unforgettable dining experience where the chef decides the menu. The guests watch in amazement as a master chef transforms raw ingredients into exquisite dishes right in front of each table. As the chef takes center stage, you’ll hear the story behind each dish you are eating and learn about the thriving fishing culture of our beloved Ketchikan.
A chef’s table is meant to showcase a chef’s skill, passion, inspiration, and ingenuity. We’ve brought in chef’s from across the country who are passionate about seafood and bringing the guests a truly memorable experience. Towards that end, our chefs are intent on including the best ingredients possible. At the Alaska Fish House, this not only includes crab, shrimp, salmon, halibut, oysters, and other delicious seafood, but also more exotic and intriguing local edibles; devil’s club tip, spruce tips, ribbon kelp, seaweeds, sea cucumber, sea urchin, local berries, rhubarb, salmonberry blossoms, licorice fern, and much more. We work hand in hand with Ketchikan’s local fishermen to bring the highest quality seafood possible.
In addition to our chefs, we’ve made a very special and unprecedented addition to the culinary team this year: the forager. Think of having a rainforest as an office, where your job is to immerse yourself in nature, learning about the vast plant life of Southeast Alaska. Early each morning, one brave individual will go remote and collect the seasonal blossoms of the week to bring back to our chefs who will then create a dish, unlike anything you’ve ever seen. During low tides, our forager will suit up in raingear and take a skiff out scouring local beaches to gather edible seaweeds to be served in savory recipes created by our chefs. At the meal, the forager will be present tableside with each chef to educate each guest on locally foraged foods and sustainable practices for harvesting these plants in Southeast Alaska.
At the Alaska Fish House, our chef’s table meal will be served in a private dining room with four six-person tables, a personal chef and storyteller for each meal, and seven courses of freshly caught seafood and locally foraged, traditional Southeast Alaska ingredients. There will be plenty to eat and drink so bring along a hearty appetite. No one leaves on an empty stomach!
We’ve given our crew all the tools they need to provide an authentic Alaskan dining experience. Limited only by their imagination, we’re excited to see what kind of table our chefs prepare.
We’ll be setting our chef’s table four times daily, with seating sold by the table. $100.00 per person, minimum of four guests with a maximum of 6. Restaurant, room, and table reservations are available.
Of special interest to locals and overnight visitors, the Alaska Fish House puts on live music starting at 8:00 on Friday and Saturday nights. Enjoy a world-class meal from 6:00-8:00 p.m., and keep date night rolling with cocktails and music next door.
Update: King salmon sport fishing in Ketchikan opens a month early
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game just released changes to their 2018 terminal harvest area, and the relax in regulations is giving local sport fishermen a welcome sigh of relief. In 2018 the terminal harvest area has been established from Mountain Point to Carrol point where the limit will be one king salmon starting May 15th. This allows us to target and retain kings a month earlier than originally planned.
Mountain Point is roughly four miles from our dock, and while I’m sure there’ll be a whole lot of boats fishing in this area, it will be legal to keep kings 28” and over. Mountain Point has historically been a place to hold fish as they move through; given its location, it is very unlikely that Unik River kings come through the area.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game recently released salmon regulations concerning the area around Ketchikan in which we fish. The changes are indeed historic, as these are the strictest king salmon regulations ever seen in the area. For the first time since king salmon has been protected by the state, they have closed the retention of king salmon from April 1st to June 15th. Until June 15th, king salmon will be strictly catch and release, regardless of size.
According to the ADF&G, these regulations are necessary because several runs of wild king salmon throughout Southeast Alaska are at an all-time historic low. The Unik river, in particular, is the main concern of biologists in the Ketchikan area. This river has traditionally seen the largest king salmon runs in Southern Southeast Alaska, with some runs exceeding 10,000 fish. This year biologists are expecting Unik River King salmon to number in the hundreds. These regulations are partly because the ADF&G is legally required to regulate this fishery because of a treaty with Canada.
While the news from the Unik is disappointing, hatchery fish, on the other hand, are not fairing quite so badly in our area. Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association (S.S.R.A.A.) was formed and funded by commercial fishermen, and it currently operates eight hatcheries that release millions of salmon in the Southeast Alaska area every year. While several species are released, they are expecting a king salmon return which is much more optimistic than the doom and gloom of the Unik River. The travesty of the situation is that while the ADF&G is required to protect the Unik river salmon, it’s impossible to tell the difference between these wild fish and SSRAA’s hatchery fish. This creates a situation where commercial fishermen, who have invested time and money in producing these hatchery runs, are tied up at the dock because of our regulations. In 2017 king salmon news was consistently bad, with many calling it the worst year ever recorded. It was surprising that our company seemed to have its best year ever. All we can attribute it to is the lack of commercial pressure.
While it’s technically not illegal to fish for king salmon before June 15th, the fish must be released into the water; Alaska laws consider a fish brought into the boat as “retained.” This is viewed by some as ethically questionable due to the unquestionable mortality rate when playing kings close enough to pull the hooks. Needless to say, there will be no pictures of clients holding king salmon during the protection period for ethical and legal reasons. My position is, that while I would be willing to enthusiastically pursue kings before June 15th if a client had a dream of fighting a king, I’ll be recommending spending the day fishing for halibut.
There’s no way to spin this as good news for folks planning a king fishing trip in the Ketchikan area, but it’s not as bad as it may seem. While fishermen arriving within the regulated period will need to adapt their expectations, they won’t be doing it alone; please call us or email me directly if you’d like to toss around some ideas on planning your fishing charter. For those outside the restricted period, don’t be surprised if you have greater success than your friend did last year.
Service - We’re in the business of exceeding expectations, and that starts with the first phone call. When you ring our number, you’ll be talking to a human. When our guests have a question, you’ll be talking to an expert (or Greg); we endeavor to put you in contact with the authority on whichever topic you need more information on - be it fishing, cooking, or just Alaska travel in general. Anything less than a 5-star experience is a cause of concern for us, and we encourage our guests to make their needs known. As we identify areas for improvement, especially in the case of skewed expectations, we strive to address those issues via our website.
Baranof Fishing Excursions and the Alaska Fish House are driven to provide the most authentic Alaskan experience possible to our guests and visitors. With our commitment to continuous improvement, we’re constantly seeking ways to enhance that experience whenever possible, which is the motivating force behind our web design efforts. As we continue to expand on our site, we look forward to offering current, exciting content to visitors and locals alike, prepare future explorers for their journey to Alaska, and provide a medium to share that experience with their friends and family.
Graphics - Throughout the site, you'll see all manner of graphic content. Whether using photos sent in by a satisfied client has taken on their phone, historical photos supplied by Ketchikan Museums, or drone shots by Charley Starr, our Director of Digital Marketing, Jeimi Woffinden (who wished to remain nameless) has done an absolutely outstanding job of pairing content with pictorial representation. Our guides are provided with company cameras and are expected to snapshots throughout each one of their charters and excursions, leaving the guests to focus on their Ketchikan salmon or halibut fishing experience, which are then uploaded to our site for clients to download or link to their friends.
Analytics - Anything measured tends to improve. Towards that end, we use a number of different programs to track the customer experience on our site. By keeping a sharp eye on Alexa and Google rankings, bounce rate, and where visitors spend their time, we are able to identify areas that need to be improved or expanded upon. While that may seem Big Brother-ish, it’s all for a good cause; knowing, for instance, that folks are spending time reading our blog, checking out our recipes, or amusing themselves by perusing our Alaskan Anecdotes stories enables us to focus on what our visitors value most.
Baranof's website has undergone some dramatic changes over the last year or so. Our owner, Chuck Slagle, no longer believes computers, or even the internet, are just fads. He decided to invest a wealth of time and funding towards retooling the company web page by hiring and contracting proven and talented individuals to provide excellent graphics, content, and analytic overview. Our mission is to provide an informative, interactive experience for prospective clients, tell stories that our guests can live, and offer insightful recommendations on how to best enjoy Ketchikan. Here's how we do it...
Connections - Most of the people you meet in Ketchikan, and the rest of Alaska, are here because they can’t imagine living anywhere else. Baranof, as well as most every other excursion company you’ll come across here, is made up of these individuals. We are constantly seeking connections through our site with the companies we feel exemplify Baranof’s passion for providing authentic Alaskan experiences. Our Explore Ketchikan section provides ideas for recommended activities, restaurants, excursions, and anything else we believe to be integral to what makes Ketchikan a wonderful place to live.
Storytelling - Baranof is about providing experiences, which manifest later as stories told by our guests to their family and friends. That being the case, a question we constantly ask ourselves when diving into a new project or looking to connect with another Ketchikan business is "What's the story here?” The focus of the web team is to tell good stories. Oftentimes, folks hop on a cruise ship or plane and travel to Alaska with expectations lower than they should be. Spinning a good yarn excites the imagination and educates our guests on what they can, and should, expect from their vacation in Alaska. For example, Ketchikan is known for salmon fishing, which is an excursion Baranof is proud to provide, but some folks get up here without realizing our main attraction is the amazing scenery found all around, especially in the Misty Fjords. We want our visitors to dream big, aim high, and leave Alaska having checked boxes off their list that they didn’t even know existed. We encourage our clients to tell us what their story of Alaska sounds like before they come up and let us figure out how to make that story come true.
By Greg Slagle
One day, my father Chuck Slagle looked at what his brother was doing for fun and said to himself, “I bet people would pay to do that…”. Over 15 years later, the concept holds true; fresh fish on a Southeast Alaska beach is a wonderful family experience. Dedicated to providing authentic Alaskan adventures, Baranof is a family company in many ways; our employees regularly borrow a boat for salmon and halibut fishing in Ketchikan with visiting relatives, we’ve designed all our excursions to be enjoyed by anyone from 5 to 85 years old, and we’re a family company in the sense that we were founded by two brothers – AJ and Chuck Slagle. With a young son of his own, and his brother’s grandkids making regular calls, AJ is constantly surrounded by his family. Always happy to take the time to teach us knots, how to fillet a fish, and the proper method of reciting a Robert Service poem, uncle AJ continues to show the younger generations of Slagles how to enjoy Alaska to the fullest. Alaska is about experiences; who better for our children to learn from than the man that has done it all?
For more stories about AJ and the Alaskan experience, visit his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=alfred%20slagle%20jr. and our Alaskan Anecdotes page at https://exclusivealaska.com/alaskan-anecdotes.
By Greg Slagle
AJ knows every nook and cranny of the area surrounding Ketchikan. His boat handling skills are renowned, as he has traveled most of Southeast Alaska in small skiffs during his trapping, fishing and hunting adventures. Out of all of Baranof’s guides, AJ probably has the most eclectic and interesting stories of outdoor living in Alaska: he has guided on the Nushagak River in the Bristol Bay drainage hunting caribou and moose; chased mountain goats and Sitka black tail deer through the hillsides in Southeast Alaska; led brown bear hunters through the wilderness of the Misty Fjords National Monument; and caught halibut and king salmon off the coast of Prince of Wales Island. For a time, AJ ran a large fishing live-aboard called the Shamrock. He’d take clients out for multi-day salmon and halibut fishing charters in the Ketchikan area. On one such trip, when I was about ten, I was allowed to join him as a deck-hand. This was an absolutely amazing experience for me as a child, part of which AJ chronicled on his Facebook account recently after coming across an old photo:
"Hey AJ, Greg's got something big on up on the bow" the client said to me as I was cooking dinner for everyone. I had him watch the meal cook while I went and checked it out. When I hefted the rod after arriving there I said "Greg, go back to the stern and I will hand it down to you, and grab my pistol as you go by." He raced belowdeck yelling as he ran "oh boy!,I got one big enough to shoot!" It went well. Greg did exactly as I asked and brought the fifty-pound halibut to the surface and I shot it before bringing it into the skiff we had tied off. It was a great moment to see his joy and wonder at what he had caught. I wish I could have brought my young nephews and nieces on more of those excursions, but I am glad Greg got to come along on that one. That halibut is one I won't forget...
…and neither will I. Our father made sure that my brother and I spent as much time with AJ working, fishing, and hunting as we could while growing up, and he taught us a great many things; the most important of which is our love and respect for the Alaskan outdoors.
By Greg Slagle
In August of 2017, I took a trip back to Ketchikan with my middle child and oldest son, Charlie. During our visit, we had the opportunity to join my uncle AJ for a day out on the water in Baranof’s newest Raider cabin cruiser, the 30 ft. Alyssa. Ready to do some halibut and salmon fishing anywhere near Ketchikan that AJ wanted to go, he opted to run us down to his old stomping grounds near where he used to fish for Mink Bay Lodge. My son thought the day was about fishing. While he was technically correct, my goal for the day was to provide him with the rare experience of spending time in the Alaskan wilderness with a true master outdoorsman.
A born-and-raised Alaskan, AJ spent his formative years hunting, fishing, and trapping from his family’s home, a floating logging camp located northwest of Ketchikan in Neets Bay. If a biographer were to write about AJ’s experience in the Alaskan outdoors, I can assure you it would most likely be to the tune of been there, done that. While many people talk about a desire to live comfortably by themselves in the wilderness, few really enjoy their own company enough to do so; AJ is one of the rare outdoorsmen that could spend three weeks solo in the woods, and not get lonely.