Baranof Blog & Fishing News
2019 was a tremendous year for us as we hit new highs in customer satisfaction in the restaurant and on the water. Using this momentum, we’re making some improvements to our culinary offerings as well as the fishing fleet.
The most noticeable change any of our repeat customers will notice is that we’re upgrading our 5-passenger open-air skiffs to a completely new design better suited for light-tackle fishing. These new boats are a couple of feet longer, console driven rather than a tiller, will be equipped with a 115 h.p. motor, include an upgraded electronics package, can seat 6 passengers and feature a trolling motor that will “anchor” the boat anywhere through GPS integration. Construction has begun on seven of these new vessels for 2020, so we’ll be getting photos out as soon as we get a couple in the water this spring.
Cook Your Catch, whether in our private dining room or at our wilderness campsite, is our passion. Most of our guests that come up for more than a cruise ship calls have already had a taste of our multi-day fishing/dining options, but this year we’re taking it a step further. We’re telling the comprehensive story of Alaskan seafood over the course of five choreographed meals featuring twenty-five unique species. Check out our invitation here for dates as well as a complete description, it’s going to be quite the production.
Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and a blessed New Year from the Alaska Fish House and Baranof Fishing crew. We look forward to seeing our friends, old and new, during the upcoming season.
The day this story takes place started out like many in southeast Alaska - rainy and windy. Even though it was mid-July, when the weather is generally more agreeable for fishing, this day was an exception. It was blowing hard enough that I didn't even venture past Bold island, which is generally only a mid-way point to our halibut and salmon grounds. This was especially frustrating because I was fishing with two gentlemen who have been guests on my boat for the past three years. I look forward to them coming up each year and enjoy their company when they are here.
I knew the halibut fishing options were limited, so after a talk with the guys, we opted to fish for salmon since the pinks and silvers were fairly thick and were making showings close to town. The salmon bite had been pretty vicious till about 8 A.M. in the days prior, so I had high hopes that we would whack a few before the bite slowed. On this particular morning, the bite was spotty at best. We would hit pockets of fish and land one or two, then double back only to not get a bite, let alone a takedown. On top of this, the driving rain and howling wind made it difficult for all parties involved to land the fish we were hooking (this wasn't looking good).
As the morning progressed, we spent more time catching up with each other than high-fiving and catching fish. All the while the wind was twisting our arm and driving us closer towards town looking for better protection from the weather. During the final hour of the trip, I made the call to make our last few passes at Mountain Point (a popular but productive spot about six miles from our dock). Almost as soon as we started our drag, the down rod blew out of the clip and started taking line - fish on!
I call for my friend to "grab the rod!" - he pulls it out of the holder and starts his fight. It fights like a nice silver and I cross my fingers we can land this one to end the day on a high note. The fish appears on the surface forty yards behind the boat, jumping and tail-walking like a tarpon you would see on T.V. We all have our eyes on the coho, but unbeknownst to me, we are not the only ones watching its big show. As we start gaining line on the fish I catch sight of what looks to be a brown and white tomahawk missile coming out of the sky. In about half a second we all put together what's happening; a bald eagle that had been perched off of the Point had targeted our fish. He hits the water fast and clips the fish, sending it into a frenzy straight toward the boat. It's all we can do to keep up on retrieving the line and putting tension back on the fish. In no time flat, the fish has reached the boat. I grab my net and get ready to attempt to scoop the very green silver when all of a sudden another missile screams by us! The bird is back and he means business - no more than six feet off the starboard side, swooping at the fish, gaining altitude and attempting again. All the while the fish is on the edge of spitting distance and out of net range. Now we make a decision - we need to "horse" this thing to the boat or we are going to have a serious mess on our hands. We leverage the rod and ski the fish within the net range. I dip my net in the water just as a simultaneous eagle attack occurs. The fish goes into another frenzy, this time wrapping itself around the downrigger cable several times. I take one more dip at him but I know what's about to happen… I can't get deep enough to reach the fish and he is wearing the mainline out on the wire cable! The line snaps and the fish rockets off, the bird flies away, and in the ensuing quiet all we can do is look at each other with expressions that say; "We just can't get a break, can we?”.
We end the wet and windy day without landing another keeper but return to the marina with one of the most eventful salmon fishing stories any of us have ever heard. Fishing is a game of anticipation, artistry, and passion. Catching an elusive species, landing a trophy-size monster, dropping a fly perfectly into a river’s eddy or competing with another apex predator for the same fish all amount to the same thing – living a once-in-a-lifetime experience. On the worst of days, we accomplished exactly that. After tying up and shedding our raingear, we went to the restaurant where chef Austin cooked up some of the fish we had caught earlier in the morning. My clients and I capped off their fishing vacation with a 5-star meal, while our conversation focused on the highlight of their vacation - we all agreed that the “mottled missile” made the day.
Until next year guys!
The doors have been closed for the last time in 2019, and everyone can breathe again. For the Alaska Fish House servers, cooks, managers and support staff, this was an incredible season. More people than ever before came off the cruise ships and dined at the Fish House, which is great, but what’s truly remarkable is that despite a marked increase in business, our TripAdvisor review rating increased dramatically. With no change to the infrastructure, the only possible explanation is the staff – thank you all for your attention to detail and hard work.
2019 was Baranof’s most successful season to date by most metrics, but most importantly when measured in terms of customer and employee satisfaction. Those of us working behind the scenes that don’t get a lot of time with the customers rely on the guides and tour ops to represent us - this year more than ever we’re proud to be part of a winning team.
DAY FOUR: A paddle through Rudyerd Bay
Rudyerd Bay is pretty well protected from the winds, making it an ideal body of water to kayak. Our fourth day is the day I remember the most. We left the cove and headed up Rudyerd Bay at low tide and found this amazing beach a mile or so up the bay. The group decided to stop for lunch and laying in the warm sun on the beach. After a few hours, the weather was starting to change and we knew rain was coming. We all decided to head back to camp. The group, for some reason, was in a rush to take-off (I found out later this was a planned departure). As I stood by our kayak watching our friends paddle off, wondering why the hell they were trying to ditch us, I see my partner walk across the beach towards the boats. I, of course (impatient as I am), started to get gruff and stated we need to get going to catch up with the group when I then noticed my partner on a knee with a ring. This was the day of my engagement, and now I forever have to tell that I was ornery and cranky yet still got proposed too.
That night sitting around the campfire reminiscing of the past few days it was the last night of our adventure in the Mistys. The next afternoon we would be picked up and head back to our working lives. This was the night, also, when we discovered why the Misty’s got its name. Once the clouds came in there was an only a slight sun ray beaming through the mist. It was a day, and an evening, to remember.
FINAL DAY: Goodbye, until next time
We were all up early, but I am not sure anyone can ever be completely ready for the rain that Southeast can dish out. Let’s just say it poured all night. We all had tarps over tarps over our tents and the water still got in. We all packed up and put our gear in a dry-ish location to await our pick-up before hiking to Punchbowl lake for the day. The trail was super rough going as there was a lot of blow-down on the trail from some strong winds a few weeks prior, so we did a lot of climbing over and crawling under downed trees. It just proved the point that you can never tell what you will experience on a trip into the wild. Once at the lake, we were sitting under the shelter eating lunch when the sun came out. With the rainfall what it is in Southeast, you appreciate every ray of sunlight you get. Seeing the sun come out for the first time in the Misty Fjords National monument on the first day of engagement to my wonderful partner, however, was something truly beautiful.
DAY TWO: Kayak to Checats Springs
Today we were going to kayak to Checats Springs for a hike, and, if the Behm canal was decent enough, possibly paddle over to New Eddystone rock. The paddle to Checats definitely broke our friends into how powerful the ocean and waves can be. With a headwind and 2-3 ft chop I wasn’t sure, even in double kayaks, if we would ever make it to our destination; for every paddle stroke forward it felt like we went back 3. Finally, we made it into the cove and out of the wind. It took us some time to find the trailhead. The area had been pounded by a storm a few months prior, so there were so many downed trees it made it impossible to know where the trail was at times - especially considering none of us had been here before and cellular devices don’t work in the Misty’s. Not wanting to spend our entire day hiking, we decided we had gone far enough and returned to the beach for lunch and Sun.
As we left the cove on our way back to the cabin we noticed a pod of Dall porpoises heading through the now-glassy waters making their way towards New Eddystone. We also figured this was the perfect opportunity for us to kayak across Behm Canal for a look at The Rock. These were definitely the best conditions I have ever experienced while in the canal; the sun was out, there was no wind, and the water was glass. As we headed for the island, one of the friends started freaking out. They were not a fan of kayaking across this much open water and they hated the fact that they couldn’t see under them. We found out later the reason they were a bit distraught because they thought the Dall porpoises were orcas (“killer” whales), they were sure they were going to tip us from our kayaks and eat us. As one kayak left and headed for the cabin, the rest of us headed across Behm canal towards Eddystone. The paddle across was effortless. The boat slid through the water so gracefully. This was the moment I fell in love with Alaska. Once reaching New Eddystone we took a few hours to enjoy our lunch and hike around until the tide turned and carried us down to the cabin.
DAY THREE: The 12-mile paddle to Punchbowl
We had a slight breeze, but for the most part, the waters were fairly mild. (There’s no better way to experience the waters of Alaska and the beauty they hold than the quiet solitude of a kayak, especially the Misty Fjords. Feet away from thousand-foot vertical granite walls, and inches from the sea’s surface you can’t help but soak in the grandeur; the Misty Fjords are a must see for anyone coming to Alaska. No matter how you get there, however, any Misty trip is worth the time. Each experience is different and something truly special.) By the time we made it to Punchbowl cove everyone was pretty tired from the long paddle that day, so we all set up our tents to prepare for the night. The one thing to keep in mind when doing anything in the backcountry is that we have bears. Although I have never had a bad experience with a bear, I do my best to make sure I don’t put myself in a position where I might. Once our tents were set-up we walked around the cove to prepare our cooking and eating area and find trees to hang our food and supplies in. After dinner, we headed to our sleeping area to start a fire. There is nothing that brings people together quite like a campfire, beers, and stories in the backwoods of Alaska. The beer taste better, the fire feels warmer and the venue for your stories puts any man-made theater to shame.
TO BE CONTINUED...
When Baranof first started, we were outfitting our guests out of the back of a canopied truck. I spent a half-hour each departure rummaging through stacks of boots, raingear, gloves, etc. as we decked out our guests. That first year I was making multiple trips each morning to Tongass to buy extra gear as we ran out of the appropriate sizes. (Our initial offering of Wilderness Dining attracted a lot of families, which it still does, so when we needed an extra-large or extra-small set of gear, it typically meant we’d need 4-5 for the whole family.) Fast forward 15 years, and my father’s love for beating any problem into submission is evident by the fact that we have indoor dining at our restaurant… The seating area at the Alaska Fish House was originally built to turn our outfitting process from a necessity into an experience. As the popularity for the Fish House grew, however, we constructed an 80-foot outfitting room at our marina, which is still in use. Necessity being the mother of invention, however, we’re not done yet – this winter we’re building another outfitting room to be used in conjunction with our current building.
Enter William Hink, the master carpenter and night squid-fishing enthusiast. He has been working with Chuck for the last few years on all our building projects and his pride is evident in his work. This winter dad’s turning Will loose on a new outfitting room that will serve not only as a place for our guests to get garbed for Southeast weather, but will play a critical role in the Baranof experience. William enjoys working with Chuck because his creative side is encouraged; dad wants Will to spend a little extra on fancy nails, for example, if they’re to be used where guests can see them. (That may sound silly to mention, but my point is that the finest details are not overlooked when William puts together a blueprint.) Outfitting guests for a day on the water are sort of like the opening act at a concert; the customer often views every minute spent as wasted, and keeping them from what they paid to see. It’s William and Chuck’s mission to provide a venue that allows our opening act to be an authentic, memorable Alaskan experience.
We’ll be posting photos of our progress in the months leading up to the season. Check back here or on any of our social media outlets for updates and discussion; first-time guests will garner a little peace of mind knowing they don’t have to dress for an arctic expedition for a day of fishing in Ketchikan.
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.
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.
Preparing folks for a day fishing around Ketchikan means adding layers and getting licensed. Bonnie and her crew, along with the guides, do an excellent job of outfitting our guests with everything they need for a day of fishing for salmon and halibut in Ketchikan. Raingear, boots, hats, gloves, socks, dry bag, and life preservers are fitted for each client’s comfort by their guide while the state of Alaska fishing license is filled out for each guest by Bonnie’s team. Nobody goes fishing without a license, so until everyone is legal, Bonnie is in charge; you’ll often see our owner, Chuck, with license book in hand scribbling furiously to avoid Bonnie’s wrath. Once all the boats have left the dock, Bonnie gets to relax in the office settling billing accounts for about 100 guests before the cruise ships leave port. Once the passengers are back on board, she checks the next days counts and starts the whole process over again. Baranof takes thousands of guests fishing in Ketchikan, Alaska during a season, and we couldn’t do it without Bonnie Steinberg.
Check Back For These Great Upcoming Stories
- Overnight kayaking through the Mistys Fjords
Nothing breaks you into the beauties of the Misty's like a week paddling through her splendor.
- SE Alaska 2019 Fishing Regulations
Fishing limits and the Fish & Game’s reasoning, and what it means for Baranof’s guests.
- Adventure around Revillagigedo Island
Misty's, Hot Springs, Fishing, Crabbing, and wildlife; the experience of a lifetime.
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