Baranof Blog & Fishing News
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.
Visitors to Ketchikan, and the rest of Alaska, are sometimes surprised to find we use American currency. While we do live a life disconnected from the “Lower 48s”, we’ve been a part of the U.S. of A. for a long while now. In an effort to solidify Alaska’s inclusion in this great country of ours, we at the Alaska Fish House have decided to spotlight our most popular dish; Fish & Chips. Sure, the combination of fried fish and fried potatoes is over a hundred years old and one of a multitude of things we “borrowed” from our British cousins, but nobody deep-fries like we do. From okra to butter, anything a patriot has been able to get batter to cling to has been boiled in oil and chewed off a stick. Thumbing our noses at the tyranny of the pervasive medical propaganda, much like our forefathers did toward taxation without representation, the Alaska Fish House is proud to prove its unwavering national pride by wrapping Alaska’s freshest fish in two layers of bread and dunking it in molten peanut extract.
All kidding aside, we’re not as gung-ho about deep-frying as we pretend. Fresh Alaska seafood, especially salmon, is rich in natural flavor. Rather than covering it up with a lot of seasoning, ingredients that accent the flavor of the meat are our preferred method of preparation. Our menu is replete with options with an eye toward natural, healthy flavors such as our steamed crab or blackened halibut tacos. Whether you’re in the mood for something savory, healthy, or a little of both, the Alaska Fish House is here to satisfy.
This has been an interesting year for anyone trying to follow the upcoming changes to charter halibut limits for 2018. The International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) has been uncharacteristically deadlocked in determining halibut size limits for the 2018 fishing season.
In February, a 35-80 inch slot was proposed to keep the numbers within a sustainable range. Halibut over 35” would need to be released. While the sustainability of the fishery is of utmost concern for most fishermen, this cut in size limit would hurt, as lots of the halibut we catch fall within that size range. Fortunately, as of now, the commission has decided on a 38-80 inch slot for 2018, giving Ketchikan charter fishermen an additional three inches.
A three-inch difference might not seem like a lot (it equates to about a 5-pound difference in weight), but it is a big deal. Our average halibut length is around 35”, and a large percentage of halibut we catch fall within the 35”-38” range. If we couldn’t keep fish in this size range, a lot of halibut would be going back this year. This slot limit applies to guided sport halibut charters in area 2C, which is anyone fishing for halibut in Southeast Alaska and includes the Ketchikan area.
Sometimes stricter regulations tick me off; but when that happens, I need to take a step back and look at the big picture. If we don’t protect these fish, they’re not going to be around.
Halibut have a special place in my heart. My family fished halibut before I was born and some of my earliest memories involved halibut fishing. My first time fishing halibut, my dad, my two uncles, my twin brother and I went halibut fishing out of Marina Delray in Southern California. We were fishing offshore, and though my parents tell me I was conceived on a boat in the same area, it was the first time I can remember being on the ocean. Right from the start, we had a hard time getting our lines to the bottom because a large school of mackerel was ferociously taking the bait on the way down. My brother and I were having a ball catching the little mackeral, but the older generation of fishermen were getting irritated. At one point, I remember my normally mild-mannered dad cursing a mackerel as he smacked it against the side of the boat. My brother and I were overjoyed at the non-stop action; we were catching fish, why was everyone else upset?
This went on for a few hours before we attracted the attention of a giant sea-lion who had learned to follow boats around looking for an easy meal. When the bugger grabbed a mackerel I had pulled out of the school, I had no idea what was happening, I just knew that something tremendous was pulling all my line off the reel. My uncle, knowing right away that I was on my way to getting spooled, immediately cut the line with a knife. They had to explain it to me, I didn’t know what happened.
Later on, amongst the maceral onslaught, I was reeling in another fish and the thing started aggressively pulling line off the reel. I started screaming “Cut the line! Cut the line!”. My Uncle Dave replied, “Screw you.” I was bewildered by the situation, but I started slowly gaining on whatever it was. After what seemed like a very long time, I saw an unusual fish coming up out of the emerald green deep. At that point, I knew it wasn’t another sea lion, and I was amazed when my uncle savagely gaffed it and plopped it on the deck. Everyone but me cheered. So that’s a halibut? I realized that up to that point, I didn’t even know what the heck we were fishing for. I was happy with the mackerel, but this halibut was incredible to me.
We finished the day catching a hundred or so mackerel and a nice pile of sea bass; I caught one more halibut. This time, I knew what it was as it took its first dive and started pulling drag; and I was beside myself with excitement. At the end of the day my brother may have been a little upset that I caught the two halibut of the day and hooked the only sea-lion, but I remember how proud my dad was. When we got the boat cleaned and put away, the entire family met at my grandma's where we celebrated the successful day by frying up our fresh fish.
This was my first experience halibut fishing, my first time hearing my dad swear, and the first time anyone ever said “screw you” to me. It was a monumental day of firsts, and halibut fishing has been in my blood ever since. Twenty-five years later, I still vividly remember the mackerel, the halibut, and the sea-lion; but most importantly, I remember the wonderful time we had as a family. My dad has since passed away, and my uncle has since sold his boat and moved to Arizona; but while life is constantly changing, memories like this always stay with you. For me, this encapsulates the true essence of fishing.
I hope to one day create these types of memories for my children, and it’s our regulations that keep me optimistic. Pacific halibut are fortunate that fishermen have learned from past failures and are applying their knowledge to protecting the halibut population. While there are three distinct species of halibut, (Atlantic, Pacific, and California) only the California and Pacific halibut have steady numbers. Atlantic halibut haven’t been so fortunate. Atlantic halibut are found on both sides of the Atlantic from Virginia to the United Kingdom, but are considered an endangered species due to hundreds of years of unregulated fishing; lessons learned at the expense of this species are being applied to West Coast fisheries, which have made organizations like the IPHC possible.
The International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) is responsible for protecting Pacific halibut from Southern California all the way to the tip of the Aleutian Islands including; Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California. This is a huge area, but it is only part of the tremendous range of the Pacific halibut. They range down the coast of Russia to the coasts of Japan. While the IPHC doesn’t include Russia or Japan at this point, it does ensure all of the fishing regulations throughout northern America work together to protect the resource. The IPHC is an international treaty amongst Canada and the US making halibut one of the few federally regulated fish in our area.
It’s no surprise to me that outdoorsmen are usually ardent conservationists; we love the wild, and most are fascinated by the vast intricacies of its inner workings. From its lifecycles to the incomprehensible food webs, the wildness of the ocean is something we can touch, feel, and eat. Nevertheless, regulations sometimes feel like a double-edged sword; while they do limit something we love, they also ensure the future of this passion for future generations.
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.
Ketchikan regularly gets up to ten thousand visitors off the cruise ships in a day. Many of them book tours and excursions through the ship, which means the tour operators pick them up on the pier to transport them to their company’s location. That being the case, the cruise ship pier can get pretty hectic at times. Baranof Skiff Excursion’s guests are usually some of the first to disembark, as our salmon, halibut, and culinary fishing excursions here in Ketchikan typically run the duration of our clients’ stay in town. Bonnie makes sure everyone gets where they need to be at the right time. Depending on a world of factors such as departure time, specific excursion, mobility considerations, and weather, Bonnie must coordinate pick-ups and drop-offs for all our guests throughout the day. With a dedicated crew of dock reps at her disposal, and the option of putting our fishing captains to some actual work, she sends forth her minions to guide our clients to and from our marina.
A typical day for the office crew at Baranof starts late the night before. We allocate a certain number of seats for salmon, halibut, and our culinary fishing excursions to each cruise ship that will call in Ketchikan on a given day. Based off how many cruise ships will be visiting, the size of the ships, time of year, our relationship with each ship’s sales staff and their previous sales, and a magic 8-ball, we determine an expected number of guests from each. While the number for a specific ship is rarely exactly what we predict, when taken as an average we are very close at predicting a passenger load for each day. Typically, however, we don’t receive those numbers until the end of preceding workday, which is when Bonnie starts working her magic. Organizing our 20 odd boats, with 4-6 passengers on each, over three unique Ketchikan fishing excursions (let alone the customized private charters), while keeping family’s and parties together is an impressive feat accomplished by Bonnie and her crew. Once the plan for the next day is set, they’re ready to hit the ground running in the morning as soon as the cruise ships hit the pier.
Most industries have a lot going on behind the scenes to get a product to the client, and tourism is no different. While there are the standard support teams such as accounting and HR, businesses like Baranof Fishing Excursions deal with a unique set of concerns. It takes a special kind of person to run the shoreside end of an operation such as ours. Good office managers for Ketchikan fishing companies require logistical skills, good situational awareness, calm under pressure, and the ability to work five months on a truncated sleep schedule. Bonnie Steinberg is our gal. Defined by her ability to stay focused and not lose her cool amidst the chaos, she exhibits the same control and care you might remember from your preschool teacher. Baranof is proud to have her, so we’d like to give you an idea of what her summers look like on a day to day basis.
The winter of 2017 was the first winter I lived in Alaska. A California transplant, I’d been fishing in Ketchikan for the last 6 years, but I always drove up in the spring and drove down south in the fall. 2017 was our first winter away from California, and I dragged my wife up not really knowing what to expect in this place. A few weeks after the cruise ships stopped coming, and the downtown hustle and bustle slowed down to a crawl, I was amazed at how quickly and by how much this place grew on us. The warm people, the wonderfully beautiful days mixed with the violent storms, the crisp clarity after a snowstorm, and the way the community comes together in winter was like nothing we’ve ever experienced in the lower 48.
Even though my wife and I had a special winter together, springtime felt like a bit of an accomplishment. Before we stayed our first winter, my wife and I often heard “good luck surviving the winters...” but after a while, we realized that most of the people saying this have never stayed a winter in Ketchikan; and while many Ketchikan residents do complain about the weather from time to time, from my experience most wouldn’t have it any other way. This place is truly special and seeing the seasons' full circle made me love it more. We are in the middle of our second winter, and it still seems that the longer we live here, the more we love this place.
Needless to say, I am a fisherman, so when spring came around that first year I was chomping at the bit to get back on the water. Our first boat got put in towards the end of April, and that same day I grabbed my friend Tony and my ultra-light rods and went out. We were targeting rockfish so we didn’t have to go far. About half a mile from our dock, we started catching fish pretty quickly. Tony caught a copper almost immediately, and I pulled up a nice little quillback a few minutes later, completing our limit of non-pelagic rockfish. It was fun nailing a couple rockfish that quickly, but we were a little bummed it happened so fast. Non-pelagic rockfish live their entire lives down at the bottom and pulling them up to the surface rapidly cannot be a pleasant experience for them. Because of this, we didn’t want to keep catching non-pelagic rockfish if we were going to release them, so we went looking for pelagic. Pelagic rockfish are migratory in nature, and they can be found anywhere from the top of the water column down to the bottom. In fact, many times part of the school will follow the hooked fish right up to the surface, and you can see them swimming right under the boat. Sometimes leaving a hooked fish down 10-15 feet under the surface will keep the school close to the surface as they school with the hooked fish.
Tony and I didn’t have to go far to find pelagics. About a quarter mile away, we parked the boat over a large school of duskies. We were dropping 1oz. metal jigs sometimes called jigging spoons, or flutter jigs, where you use the tip of the rod to flip the lure up and down sporadically imitating a wounded baitfish. These metal jigs can be like candy for the little buggers! Fish bite the lure as it flutters down. The next time you raise the tip, the hook gets buried, and you’ve got a little fight on your hands. The pelagic duskies were hungry that evening, we caught 10, limiting out in around 20 minutes. I would chuckle, and Tony would have a big grin on his face every time we hooked up; we were having fun.
A day or two later, Chuck, Baranof’s owner, wanted to impress some friends with a meal in the Fish House. When it comes to impressing people, it’s hard to beat fresh rockfish, so I took him and his wife to my secret rockfish spot (It’s under a mile from the dock; everybody in the company knows about it at this point.). That school of duskies was still sitting on that same ledge; and using my ultra-light setups, we soon had enough to make some of the best ceviche I’ve ever had. Now, of course, saltwater fishing in Alaska is not always this successful, but the great thing about rockfish is that it often is. Chuck was so impressed by ultra-light fishing, it was easy for me to convince him that it’s a skill set we should have on our dock. I am happy to say that this winter I am working on incorporating ultra-light fishing into our fishing program. If you have any interest in giving ultra-light fishing in Ketchikan a try, please contact us ahead of time, and we can match you with a guide passionate about ultra-light fishing.
Rockfish are certainly not the biggest or the hardest fighting fish in Alaska, and they actually have somewhat of a bad reputation among local fishermen, but that’s ok with me. I feel that catching them on an ultra-light set up is one of the best-kept secrets of fishing in Alaska. Much of the bad rep comes from the fact that most fishermen in Alaska catch rockfish incidentally when targeting halibut, and they do so from 300 feet on stout halibut rods designed to lift lots of weight off the bottom. Where’s the fun in that?
What made these fishing trips so much fun was the ultra-light rods. Rockfish are similar in size to largemouth bass, and while people are fanatic about bass fishing, part of the reason is because 8 lb. test line and light duty rods are common. This enables them to feel the strength of the fish. I don’t think they’d enjoy catching bass that much if all they had was a halibut “broomstick” fishing rod, 100 lb. test line, and 32 oz. of weight.
I have found that targeting rockfish using small 1-3oz. metal jigs and sizing down the rod and fishing line, make catching rockfish a kick in the pants. Metal jigs are also fun to use because most predators in the ocean love them, and you never know what you’re going to catch. If you want a real challenge, try catching a halibut with an ultra-light setup. The little rod makes an average 20 lb. halibut seem like a beast, and they make long screaming runs with the comparatively light drag.
I have caught and I have had clients catch trophy size lingcod, halibut, and kings on an ultra-light. Chasing these serious fish on a light setup really requires the guide and the fisherman to be on the top of their game. If the drag is too tight, if there is a nick in the line, or if the fisherman tries to horse the fish in by rushing it, bad things are likely to happen. But at the same time, there really is no excuse for losing a large fish with an ultra-light setup, and I have caught halibut in the 100lbs. class with an ultra-light rod. You do need to slow down and play a fish this powerful though. You can’t just reel and reel and reel.
This year, when the winter is over, and the first boat is back in the water, I’m sure I will again feel the call of the ocean and especially the fish in it. I can already feel the joy of wrestling with that first rockfish on my ultra-light and tasting it after it’s been filleted and freshly cooked, and I’m excited that I can now share this passion with our guests. I can’t wait for the season to begin.
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