Some summers in SE Alaska are jewels, and jewel-toned in color. The sky is blue, the water is a deeper blue, and the rain forest vegetation is a lush green.
But all that takes a back seat to the draw that brings so many tourists to this area. With the salmon capital of the world right here, what else could it be?
That’s right…fish! Salmon and halibut are king, but there are other fish in these waters, and when you’re out for the day, or you’ve come up for a few days of high-priced guided fishing, you want to take something home. Most people coming up to fish have a target, either salmon or halibut. Non-fisher that I am, before I lived here I wouldn’t have really known much about the variables in guiding for different types of fish. But fishing is an art, like any other skill. It’s also a hobby, sport, industry, and a way of life for so many in SE Alaska.
As with any hobby/sport/industry, you can outfit yourself with a lot of tools, gadgets, must-have and nice-to-have equipment. For professional guides, the challenge is not just having equipment for yourself or your family; you have to have enough gear to supply the guests you take out. And a boat.
There’s a reason fresh-caught fish is expensive, and when you spend some time around these fishermen, you quickly realize to be successful in the fishing industry requires a hefty investment of time, money, and effort, to say nothing of skill, and knowing these waters. I listen to fishing guides talk, and it’s a different language with its own idiom, terms that I can only hazily interpret the meaning, and stories that are fish-sized.
Another factor that impacts this industry is the seasonality, whether you’re fishing commercially, as a guide, or even as an individual. You have to have the right type of license, know where to fish, know when to fish, and then be prepared to fish while the fishing’s good. There are “openings” for different types of commercial fishing, at different points in the season, and the state regulates the limits that can be caught. Fishing lodges are seasonal as well. The short summer here means lodges have to make their money in a compressed time frame. In the peak of the season, communities that draw fishing tourists are hopping. Then almost overnight, things change. The season ends, the crowds fly away, and the sleepy little towns go back to their off-season norm. Lodges close, the seasonal workers leave, and the locals breathe a sigh of relief.
Some years the fishing’s amazing, and the commercial industry makes fantastic amounts of money. And other years, it just doesn’t happen. This year I hear the water wasn’t right for the salmon. Too warm maybe? Seems hard to believe (I’ve dipped a toe in these Pacific waters, and it’s chilly to me!) but these fish know their water, and if it’s not right, the industry numbers reflect that. So the next time you’re buying fish in the market, or eating it at a restaurant, just know…there’s a reason it’s pricey. But it’s also delicious, and good for you, so maybe that will make it easier to pay the bill, as you reflect on your heart-healthy fish entree.
We like fish, and we like to fish, but we don’t get out often…sometimes once a season, or maybe a couple of times if we’re lucky. I sometimes fish, sometimes just go along to bring food, take photos, and enjoy a few hours on the water.
This time I fished. I bought an annual fishing license, and good thing I did! We were out with a couple of locals on Prince of Wales, and we caught our limit of halibut, plus a few cod and snapper. No salmon this time.
The day was glorious, the fish were biting enough to give us a nice catch, and we got to spend a day on the water…and that always beats a day in the office!