Fish ON!

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!



Gift of summer

This season has been a gift, in every way.

Family, friends, travel, work, play…everything has flowed, cooperated, come together just so.


This weekend was another example. We went fishing Saturday, one of the many beautiful summer days we’ve enjoyed this year. We caught three coho salmon, had a dinner of sushi and seared salmon fillet last night (couldn’t decide which taste we preferred, so we had both). Our luck is holding!








That’s a whale’s fin in this photo!

Catch of the day:


First days of summer

It’s almost July, and I still hear the heat kick on some nights. I still wear a light sweater or windbreaker jacket every morning. But real summer heat is on the horizon. The summer season here is July and August. If we’re really lucky it might stretch into September.

This is the brief season when I wear summer sandals, strappy little heels, tank tops, sleeveless dresses, when my hairstyle becomes a ponytail and my house heats up with the afternoon sun. This is the time of year when I remember that my car has air conditioning, and I wish my house did. This is when I make up reasons to go to Wal-Mart to enjoy the cool indoor climate. This is the full-price season for cruises in Alaska, because you’re more likely to have a postcard day for your stay in port than a rainy day.

I think about summer traditions in other places I’ve lived: Rockies baseball games, summer gardening season when the earth produces home grown tomatoes that are warm from the sun when you pick them; farmers’ markets; rambling drives “in the country” just because; kids playing in the sprinkler, and trips to summer camp. I think about road trips and vacations to the beach.

Hhmmm. Alaska is more about coastline than beach, although there are a few beachy areas here in Ketchikan, and you can get in the water…probably not for too long. But summer fishing is always popular, and there are great hikes around Ketchikan. You can camp in backcountry Forest Service cabins, and if you’re lucky you might see black bear. Summer is the season when it rains less, and people whose homes are on a rain collection system for water may have to have their tanks filled by truck. Seems hard to believe, but you can actually run out of water here, in the rain forest.

Summer is the season the ferries are full, and if you plan to take a vehicle on a ferry, and haven’t reserved space for your car, it’s probably already too late. Walk-on passengers usually don’t have space issues, but vehicles are another matter in summertime.

Summer is about the commercial fishing industry, and the addition of crews who come up to man the boats and to work in the processing plants. (Workers who clean the fish and remove the un-edible parts work on the “slime line” and all wear the iconic footwear of Southeast Alaska, Extra-Tuff boots.)

Summer is about tourists. And in Ketchikan that means the jewelry stores open downtown…don’t ask my why cruises and jewelry stores are such a popular combination. It means the return of summer workers to support the tourism industry, the influx of summer construction crews, road crews, shipyard crews. Even the Forest Service brings in summer workers. That’s when they are busy out in the field monitoring wildlife and forest and water conditions. Alaska Airlines adds flights to the daily schedule. Even the hospital sees an uptick in volume (never thought about it, but quite regularly, cruise passengers who come through are admitted for all sorts of illnesses that occur after boarding, and Ketchikan is the first port on the way up the Inside Passage).

Summer is the season you’re more likely to have visitors. It’s the time for town activities like the Fourth of July parade, the Blueberry Festival, the Salmon and Halibut Fishing Derbies. Summer brings the looong days and short nights. On Wednesday evenings sailboats dot the waters I see from my windows.

There’s a quote I like from Henry James:

Summer afternoon – Summer afternoon… the two most beautiful words in the English language.

We’re not quite there yet, but soon…soon, the magic of the summer will be here again.

photo from here