A Guide to "Charter Boat Fishing"
Many readers are thrilled at the prospects of going to Alaska for that fishing trip of a lifetime. With the tourism industry blooming throughout the state, its not hard to locate a fishing guide or charter willing to take you and your family out for a day on the water.
Due to the challenging nature of Alaska's countryside and its diverse climatic conditions, fishing boats in the North Country assume a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Safety is always the number one concern but that's where the similarities may end.
Fishing from a boat in Alaska may find you in a 16 ft. drift dory or on a 55 ft. party boat. The experience can be filled with the serenity of nature or resemble a heavy metal rock concert. Much depends on where you go and what you are after.
Most of the easily accessible fishing areas in Southeast, Prince William Sound, the Kenai Peninsula and the Matsu Valley have many guide services and charters who provide an economical means of taking the whole family out fishing.
Expertise is seldom required and children as young as seven or eight years old often accompany their folks and sometimes even beat ol' dad at the game. The fishing techniques are usually quite simple and the guide or captain's ability to find the fish plays the major role in the angler's success.
This article is designed to give you some insight in what to expect on a fishing trip in Alaska. Our descriptions reference the fishing found on and around the Kenai Peninsula but can be applied to most other areas with few exceptions. Quite often creature comforts can play a big role in the experience, especially if children or women anglers are on board.
The Saltwater Halibut Fleet
- If you will be fishing the Homer/Cook Inlet saltwater area, consult the tide tables listed here in the Alaska Outdoor Journal. Halibut fishing during the minus tide series can be a real workout. You may need to use as much as 4 pounds of lead for a sinker to hold your bait on the bottom during the tide change. This can exhaust even the most fit angler when needing to check your bait in 200 feet of water. The most "comfortable" halibut fishing will be during the neap tides, i.e. the series of tides occurring twice a month when there are no minus tides. Tide change during these periods is very moderate and less weight is needed to fish. But halibut will be caught on any day of the season no matter what the tide. Its just a matter of preference if you have the opportunity to select from a variety of dates.
- The saltwater charter fleet provides a wide variety of boat sizes for fishing trips. Those charters operating out of Seward and Homer have boats from 26 foot to over 50 feet in length. They can carry as few as 6 fishermen all the way up to 16 or more on the largest of boats. Boat charters along the beaches of Cook Inlet in the Anchor Point and Ninilchik/Deep Creek area can range from 18 foot open river boats to 28 foot heated cabin boats. The size of boat you choose may be important to you. Here are some considerations:
- The largest charter boats, those from 40 to 60 feet in length, are the most stable on the saltwater when windy conditions create rough seas. Weather is unpredictable and may change during the day. The fishing is more comfortable on the larger boats since there is much more deck space and the cabins are larger when taking a break. There is usually non-stop action on the larger boats due to the number of fishing lines on the bottom at any given time.
- The smaller boats, commonly referred to as "six pack" boats, are restricted to a maximum of 6 anglers. These boats range in size from 26 to 40 foot. They are faster than their larger cousins but don't handle the rough water as comfortably as the big boats. The smaller number of fishermen onboard may be more to your liking. It also affords you the opportunity to get to know your captain and fellow anglers on a more personal basis. These boats have the full compliment of heated cabin and head. With their faster speed they can arrive at the fishing grounds sooner than the bigger boats and with less anglers on board can limit out and head in sooner.
- The smallest of the fleet, the open power boats in the 18 to 24 foot range, usually operate from the beach areas along Cook Inlet from Anchor Point to Ninilchik River. These usually take a maximum of four anglers due to their size and for safety considerations. They are completely exposed to the elements with little creature comforts....the head is usually a bucket. Wind and rain can make these trips an experience to write home about but they do offer some opportunities the fleets in Seward and Homer don't usually provide. These charters quite often provide "combo" fishing trips which include fishing for king or silver salmon as well as halibut fishing during the same trip. If your timing is right, these trips can provide an opportunity to enjoy both types of fishing for a single price. Even the 28 footers running out of Deep Creek and Anchor Point provide combo trips as part of their service. This is a very popular fishery and many thousands of anglers each year opt for this experience.
- If you are prone to seasickness, your charter service can provide you with suggestions on the many "tactics" anglers use to prevent this uncomfortable condition. Dramamine, ear patches, pressure bands, ginger ale and ginger tablets all have their particular following of users. One should expect the seas to be "lumpy" or worse and if the day turns out perfect it will be that much more memorable.
- Tipping and gratuities are not mandatory but very much appreciated. The captain and deck hand(s) will work hard to produce the most successful fishing trip possible.
- Photos are usually taken back at the dock but usually only the dozen largest fish are hung on the rack for pictures. If you want to get photos of your specific catch onboard the boat, be sure to take your camera. "Action shots" out on the boat have a value all their own and bring back forgotten memories of the trip.
- All of the halibut fishing areas around the Kenai Peninsula have excellent fishing and it is almost impossible to get skunked. These fisheries measure their annual sport catch in hundreds of TONS of halibut caught each season. I kid you not!!
The King and Coho Salmon Fleet - Fresh & Saltwater
- Freshwater salmon fishing by boat is available on the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers on the Kenai Peninsula. There are two types of guide boats available; drift boats which carry from one to three anglers and the power boats which carry up to 5 anglers but usually hold the number to four unless its a family.
- Drift boats offer a very enjoyable experience that many anglers prefer. These boats are usually 16 to 18 feet in length and are surprisingly comfortable for their size. The pace is quite "laid back" as the guide slowly rows against the current and gradually backs down the river. Lures may be wobbling plugs or spin-n-glo's with eggs....depending on the current tackle restrictions for that run of fish. These guides usually fish the more quieter sections of the river starting from Skilak Lake or Moose River and end in the Soldotna area. Some operations do work the lower section of the river where most of the power boats are concentrated. This leisurely pace allows the client to really soak up the Alaskan scenery watching birds, eagles, waterfowl and wildlife such as moose and an occasional bear. The rates for drift boats may be slightly lower than for power boat guides. Only drift boats fish the Kasilof River since the water is too shallow and rocky to allow safe power boat operation on this river. Drift boats fish coho salmon on both rivers from late July through September.
- The power boat guides are the largest group of commercial boats on the Kenai River. There are currently 400 registered guides on the Kenai River with 80+% being power boats. Most power boat guides concentrate their efforts in the lower section of the river, between River Mile 7 and 20. This area is no wilderness experience. Often you will see 100 boats fishing a specific stretch of the river. Overcrowding on the river has been a big issue for many years and studies are being initiated to address the problem. But this lower portion of the river is where anglers get their first shot at the big fish. A majority of the catch is taken in this section of the river but competition is fierce at times. There is no doubt you will see fish being caught up and down the river during most days. Most power boat guides carry cellphones and have a network of fellow guides they are in constant contact with to keep abreast of the action over many miles of the river. The advantage of power boat fishing is that your guide can pick up and move to a new location if he/she gets word there is a bite on at another spot. Silver salmon fishing on the Kenai River is much more relaxed. Most occurs in the same lower section of the river but fishing is done when the boat is at anchor. Fishing behind the boat with bait is preferred over lure fishing.
- Saltwater salmon fishing can be found in two areas around the Kenai Peninsula and provide some exceptional fishing. Resurrection Bay at Seward has some incredible silver salmon fishing from mid-July through mid-September. The second area is in Cook Inlet from Bluff Point to Ninilchik River/Deep Creek and offers good king salmon and coho fishing at different times of the summer.
- The Resurrection Bay charter fleet operates dozens of boats, ranging from 28 foot "six pack" boats to 53 footers taking 16 or more anglers. Silver salmon are the primary target although there is an earlier run of King Salmon that anglers are beginning to target as they learn more about how to catch them.
Most charters in this area focus on halibut and rockfish during the early part of summer since the coho salmon are out of reach of the fleet. But in early July the silvers begin to enter the bay and many boats start to focus more attention on the salmon. During August Seward hosts the Seward Silver Salmon Derby which brings thousands of anglers to this area to compete for over $100,000 in potential cash and prizes. Fishing is always productive and the limit in saltwater is 6 silvers per day. Many boats will limit everyone onboard once the fish have been located in good numbers.
There are many things to see and do in Seward and most fishing trips provide an opportunity to see gray and humpback whales, orcas, sea otters and porpoise if traveling to the outer end of the bay.
- Cook Inlet offers a special treat for the angler....a chance to catch salmon and halibut on a "combo" trip. Most charters from Anchor Point to Deep Creek offer these trips. There is also a growing fleet operating out of Homer which now target feeder kings and migrating silver salmon as well as partaking in some bottomfishing for halibut to round out the day. It is also possible to catch a few small halibut on your troll gear while fishing for kings and silvers in the Bluff Point area.
Boats range in size from 18 foot open boats to 28 footers with heated cabins to get out of the weather during the ride. Boats larger than 28 foot operate out of Homer. Fishing for salmon is done near the shoreline, anywhere from 50 yards to a mile or so from the beach. Most trolling is done while the tide is running (either incoming or outgoing). These charter boats operate closely around the tides since much of the success for saltwater salmon trolling in this area depends on fishing the correct tide. Usually the trip is split evenly between time for salmon and time for halibut.
Fishing for halibut may be done a half mile from shore or 15 miles out in the Inlet, depending on where the fish are during various times of the summer. This offering is gaining in popularity each year. Most of this area is rich in history dating back to Russian occupation days. It also offers some very popular stream fishing for kings and silvers in the Anchor River, Deep Creek and Ninilchik River during specific weekends of early summer.
I guess that's a wrap for now. As I mentioned, descriptions of the various types of boating adventures can be applied to other areas offering similar types of fishing. Keep your hooks sharp.
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