KETCHIKAN, ALASKA – This is where I landed last week on my way to the Sea Otter Lodge for a week of salmon fishing. It would be a week to remember – and not just for the fishing.
Ketchikan, with a population of around 15,000, is known for a number of things other than being a great place to enjoy salmon and halibut sport-fishing.
Commercial fishing is still a large part of the local economy, but according to locals the town is far from its heyday.
Logging also was an important part of the scope of the area until logging was virtually shut down, eliminating 350 jobs at a local sawmill. The ripple effects of no logging are evident in the local unemployment rate, which is over 10 percent.
The cruise ship industry is a bright spot. Huge ships start coming into the Ketchikan harbor starting in May and don’t stop coming until the end of September. They unload thousands of tourist that spend money with the local shops and fishing guide services. Some days, as many as four ships come into the harbor.
With an average rainfall of 200 inches a year, a sunny day is unusual. The lodge we fished out of for the week is actually a floating raft. It is tethered by four strong cables to land and neatly tucked away from rough weather in Dora Bay.
There are seven buildings on the raft that house the kitchen, generator and rooms where the guests sleep. The raft area is even large enough to accommodate a landing pad for a helicopter.
The Sea Otter Lodge is 20 miles west of Ketchikan. You can reach it by boat in an hour-and-a-half or by plane in about 30 minutes from Ketchikan.
Mark McQuirk, from Missoula, joined me along with Marta Holda from Seattle. There were also three other Montanans from East Helena staying and fishing out of the lodge as well. We were all glad to get out of the smoke of Montana for the week.
You can fish out of a 14-foot Lund boat, which they call a skiff, a 22 foot C-Dory equipped with downriggers or have your days on the water guided. Fishing was excellent the first two-days, with our boat bringing in 13 and 15 salmon on Monday and Tuesday.
We used pink and silver spoons along with herring. Some of the offerings had flashers in front of them. We fished down 30-60 feet using downriggers to reach those depths.
On Wednesday, the weather turned and the fishing slowed. In fact, we had to come in early because of the wind. On Thursday, the weather turned out to be great but the fishing wasn’t. We ended up with two salmon for our eight hour effort.
Most of the salmon we caught were silvers however we also took some pinks and chum during the four days. Captain Steve Aldridge of Deer Creek Charter service guided us.
Halibut and bottom fishing is available, although we didn’t fish for them. We did have a chance to eat some fresh shrimp that were caught in the bay. Bear hunting is also available in the area this time of the year.
It was a memorable trip and well worth the journey, both for what we caught and for what learned about Alaska along the way.