So, as many of you are no doubt tired of hearing, I finally graduated law school and took the bar exam. Had a two week trip in Ketchikan that was originally scheduled immediately after the bar. Had to reschedule it to mid-August to accommodate another required exam, and it appears that was a good thing.
King salmon have been at historic lows throughout all of Southeast Alaska this year. Last year, the state actually shut down the king fishery in August through September, and they closed it in June of this year as well. Some rivers which normally get returns of thousands of these magnificent fish saw as few as 300 return to spawn. Hopefully this year is an anomaly, and the populations will improve. Despite the trouble for this year class, smaller king salmon were in abundance - when we were trolling, I caught & released so many undersized kings that I lost count.
Likewise, for some reason, the pink and silver salmon were really, REALLY late arriving in Ketchikan this year. Got reports from a guide in Craig, Alaska (west side of POW island) that they were finally seeing big numbers of silvers showing up about a week before my trip. But those schools apparently didn't migrate around the island until after I was done fishing. Had a grand total of FOUR silver salmon and, for the first time, caught no pinks at all. Normally, the problem is getting past the pinks to the silvers and kings. Part of this may have been due to the dry weather. "Dry" is a relative term in a place that measures its annual rainfall in feet ... like, 11 to 13 feet
per year. Nevertheless, when they're only getting rain once every week or two, that dries up many of the spawning streams, and the fish seem to know that their home streams aren't ready.
This trip was just my mom and I. She paid to rent a new BIG boat as a graduation gift, and I was able to spend ten days getting acquainted with this beast of a boat. When you're operating electric downriggers, pulling a 33# anchor from 250 feet, etc. it really does help to get some practice in with the boat without the distractions of multiple people all wanting the boat to go in different directions. This is owned by the guy who I've rented the twin engine 23' Svendsen from in the past. This is a 28' Svendsen with a fully enclosed cabin, bunks, sink, stove, private electric head, electric downriggers, electric pot puller, twin 250 Hondas, and a 10hp kicker tied to the main engine steering. Even with the poor salmon fishing, getting to learn how this boat handles was worth the trip.
First couple of days I was terrified that I would have a docking accident. Nope. With the deeper draw, extra weight, and the massive torque put out by those big motors, I was able to dock with crosswinds and against tidal currents so well that the deckhands at the dock thought I was an old pro. Still was cautious in how fast I took it for awhile. At 3000 rpms in moderate chop, we were doing 20-22 mph and not feeling the waves. On calmer days, I ran about 4000 rpms and was doing 30 mph! On the last day, it was glass calm and I nudged it up to 4400 rpms. 35mph!! I know that bass boats go faster, but they're nowhere near the size of this machine.
Despite the poor salmon fishing, I was able to put us on limits of 'chicken' size halibut almost every day. Sure would've liked a big one, but these are still fine eating. We also caught a few rockfish, but I tried not to go wild on them, as they're down to 1 fish per day limits now.
One thing that I had the luxury of time to experiment with was boat control for drift fishing. I love deep drop fishing, both in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. In Alaska, there's a deepwater fish known as a sablefish, or "black cod". They are, in my opinion, the best eating fish in the ocean. But they sure do live deep, and that makes it tough for the average rod & reel fisherman to get them. In prior years, I've caught them from 900-1,300 feet deep using my Shimano 30TLD 2 speed. But I got my mom an electric reel so she wouldn't have to crank - it's a Daiwa Tanacom 1000. Holds something like 1,200 meters of 65# braid.
Was able to use the kicker motor to do what the locals call "back trolling", where I controlled my drift so that the boat was drifting with the deep water currents where the sinker was, rather than crosswise with the surface current and wind. Did this so well that I was able to keep my line almost vertical, with the sinker ON THE BOTTOM in 1,500+ feet of water. Doing this, we were getting sablefish hitting the baits within just 2-3 minutes of touching bottom most of the time. Spent a couple days working over large areas and realized that these fish are spread out EVERYWHERE up there. So getting our annual limits of nice size sablefish wasn't too difficult. As a bonus, the charter captains I spoke with told me that being able to control the boat like that makes it much easier to catch silvers using "motor mooching". I'll do this next summer and try to post some photos & videos.
Also spent quite a few hours one day trying to jig for squid. I went all the way to the bottom at over 1,000 feet and worked up to 100 feet, jigging everything in between. Nada. The next day, one of our local friends was trolling with me about 1/2 mile from where I'd been jigging the day before. He caught a nice king salmon, about 12-13 lbs, and when he gutted it, it's belly was stuffed full of armhook squid. Huh. What do ya know? I'll try closer to that cliff face next time.
Saw very few whales this trip, but did see one I'd never seen before, called a "Minke" whale. It's got a fairly distinctive dorsal fin and so stood out as being different than a humpback whale. Also got to see a humpback surface RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME. While I was running 30mph!! I dropped the boat into neutral and just barely missed hitting it. Talk about newfound respect for Mother Nature.
Even with the poor fishing and the warm sunny days (in contrast to the cool rainy days I was anticipating), we still brought home several boxes of high-quality fish. Nxt year I'll be up there several times with the new boat, and my fellow TFFers are welcome to put together a small group to go with me on some of these trips.