Salt Water Fishing Guide
No Alaska saltwater fishing trip is complete without challenging the Pacific halibut. The fish is big, easy to catch, and offers a fight that is sure to please angler and non-angler alike. Halibut fishing is good from May through mid-September. But here’s an inside tip: July is the “sleeper” month for trophy halibut as most anglers are pursuing other species of salmon and trout, leaving the halibut grounds as deserted as a ghost town. This is when we enjoy some of our finest catches of the year.
We fish in the northern-most end of the Inside Passage at the confluence of the famed Icy Strait, Gulf of Alaska, and Glacier Bay National Park. Inside water means no ocean swell, which makes for easier fishing, more fish, and virtually no seasickness.
There are several ways to fish for Alaska halibut, with most anglers choosing either leadhead or metal jigs and bait. Halibut in our area concentrate along the sandy bottoms, rock pinnacles, and steep glacier-carved ledges. Unique holding structure and limited tidal activity allow Glacier Bay halibut to feed in relatively shallow water from 50 to 90 feet. Only 12 to 24 ounces of weight is required to reach and remain on bottom. Some of the more popular halibut areas found elsewhere in the state require a 400-foot drop with three pounds of lead!
Halibut Gear Guide: You can bring your favorite fishing rig, or use our quality gear and tackle. For bait, we use horse herring that we catch first thing in the morning on small shad darts and light-action tackle. Many anglers have as much fun catching herring as they do the larger halibut. We thread pieces of fresh herring onto a Mustad 14/0 circle hook, to which is tied 250-pound nylon leader with an in-line sinker. This rig is connected to 250-pound-test terminal tackle. When tidal conditions are right, lead-head jigs with eight-inch scampi or twister tails are equally effective.
Did we mention that halibut get big? The state record of 440 pounds was held here for nearly 20 years. In 2002, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game undertook the complex task of compiling the creel survey information gathered at various ports in Alaska. As it turns out, Gustavus has the largest retained halibut average in Southeast Alaska.
Unlike the kings caught near their spawning rivers, Glacier Bay-Icy Strait king salmon are chrome colored with a brilliant sapphire-blue tint, making them a treasure to behold. We have two king salmon runs: The main schools pass through in May and early June, while feeder kings to 25 pounds migrate all summer long through the region.
If you’ve hooked a king salmon in saltwater, you know what to expect. If you’re considering it for the first time, you’re in for a treat.
Icy Strait is a geographical and hydrological funnel through which salmon bound for watersheds along the northern Inside Passage must travel. This concentrates in-migrating and feeding coho and king salmon in clear offshore water.
We mooch or troll for kings, using either bait or hootchies off downriggers. It’s a thrill unlike any other. Large blips appear on the depth-finder, and you wait anxiously for one of the rods to slam down and disengage from the downrigger clip. You’re enjoying the ocean breeze, watching the seabirds work the whitecaps, or admiring the wind-and-wave-carved shoreline when it happens. The rod tip straightens and the reel starts screeching. Removing the rod from the holder will take all your strength. Once you have it in hand, hold on! Our saltwater kings are feisty and powerful. They will surge for bottom, thrash, roll and twist. Do nothing but hold on! Let the fish run! Modern tackle can’t stop one of these fish on its initial run.
After the king has slowed to where you can turn its head, start a slow, steady retrieve. Easy does it, as you’ll spend nearly all your energy bringing the fish to the boat. Invariably, the fish gets its second wind, and strips off another 100 yards of line. Apply steady pressure, and slowly pump the fish to the surface. Keep the line tight, as the fish will often break the surface, thrashing its gills and sometimes clearing the water in spectacular aerial jumps.
For the die-hard king salmon enthusiast, we strongly encourage you to spend a day or two fishing our Gulf Coast salmon paradise. Expect early-season action along steep shoreline breaks on inside waters when the run peaks in May and June. Mooching is exciting when the fish are schooled in a feeding frenzy. At this time, the average king salmon caught by our anglers range from 20 to 30 pounds, with an occasional 40-pound and over torpedo-shaped beauty worthy of a wall-mount.
Kings are highly prized for their rich, oily flesh that is great barbecued, grilled, or prepared most any way imaginable.
Coho Salmon (Silver Salmon)
Hooking coho or silver salmon in saltwater is an endurance sport that most anglers relish with an ear-to-ear grin. Cohos are chrome-bright aquatic firecrackers that explode in head-shaking action from hookup to landing. They are not only aggressive in taking bait or lures, but are also one of the best-eating of all the Pacific salmon. We fish near natural reefs and target the tide rips near the top of the water column as silvers move up to feed on herring, capelin, and sand lance. Peak runs arrive in early August and continue through September. Early-run fish are 6 to 10 pounds. Fourteen to 18-pound fish return in late August through mid-September.
Saltwater silvers are taken using a variety of techniques common throughout Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. Most are caught off downriggers fishing a slow-trolled herring or flasher/squid combination. We also troll, drift and mooch for silvers. When fish are schooled up, it’s easy to catch them on small spoons and light-action spinning gear. Fish hooked this way jump repeatedly, sometimes up to eight times in succession, and battle all the way to the net.