An Alaskan Experience with Eagles, Orcas, and Big Fish
by Ed H. Edwards, SCI Lansing Chapter Member, avid hunter, and fisherman
Three Days in Paradise!
Bodies of water have always been a collection of mysterious places to me. Life memories so often quarried from the sunrise over a Michigan inland lake where bass and pike lay waiting for their next meal. The greenish water of the Gulf of Mexico swarming with schools of mackerel and bonito, or the clarity of the Sea of Cortez watching an oversize roosterfish terrorizing a school of mullet. Yes, just like hunting, fishing is being in a place that creates peace of mind not to be found on paved overground. Who knows, the promised land may not even be land.
It is pretty clear God holds fishermen in high esteem, perhaps just for their patience. In any event, quite a few disciples made a living fishing. I will probably never fish the Sea of Galilee but I hope he would approve if I ever was to do so. In any case, he is known to protect all types of assorted misfits and I have many qualifications.
As we drifted over a ledge the electronics indicated we were in 330 feet of water and I could feel the 12 oz jig reach the ocean floor, thanks to the braided line I was spooled up with. Within a few minutes, I felt a strike and reeled down and lifted my St. Croix “musky” rod up and came tight with something with serious shoulders! Line whistled through the guides as the dweller of the deep pulled drag in spurts akin to having a live jackhammer on the end of the line. Lift and crank, lift and crank, lift and crank, my left forearm numb from the strain of holding and pumping the rod. The line seemed endless until finally the leader appeared followed by my shout “I see color” and the big lingcod was gaffed. At that point, I was glad I had brought my fighting belt and the Alaskan limit for lingcod is one per season!
I started fishing with Dan Hernandez in 2002 and he has been a piscatorial pal up and down the Pacific coast with many trips out of several California ports, the East Cape of Mexico, and Vancouver Island British Colombia. When his post came up on Facebook advertising a group trip to Shelter Cove Lodge out of Craig, Alaska I wasted no time booking a reservation.
Three long fishing days (depart at 6 AM and fish until 4 PM) for king salmon, halibut, lingcod, and assorted rockfish, a luxurious lodge, tasty meals, and operated by friendly professional staff, made for a fantastic trip.
Ketchikan is as close you can get to Shelter Cove via commercial airlines and flights are very limited. I was able to get there departing Detroit and connecting in Seattle. Connection time in Seattle was 40 minutes which is cutting it way too close since a charter flight would be taking the group to Craig later that afternoon and I did not want to be “the guy” that did not make it. Figuring if I came a day early and overnighted in Ketchikan everything would go smooth and it almost did. I scored upgrades on both of the Delta flights and they departed on time and I actually saw my checked duffle bag made the flight! We were close to Ketchikan when the pilot announced that due to a disabled plane on the runway we would have to return to Seattle. Upon arriving the plane was refueled and we were cleared to depart once again and landed in Ketchikan without further issues, but about four hours later than scheduled. No problem except even in First Class airlines are only offering snack bags of nuts or cookies on domestic flights, so immediately after checking into the hotel I found a bar close by that had a reputation of serving good burgers where I indulged and enjoyed every bite!
The charter departed early the following afternoon as scheduled and cruised at a low altitude between snow-covered mountains and through a rainbow.
Shelter Cove has excellent boats that are comfortable to travel and fish out of with two 200 HP outboards and a 9.9 to reposition when making a drift. All tackle is provided with each angler having a fairly light set up for salmon and a heavy rig for halibut and Lingcod bottom fishing. I enjoy using my own rods, reels, and lures which was totally acceptable with captain Brian an attitude I find not to be always the case with some captains and charters.
Fishing techniques were “mooching” for salmon which uses a cut herring for bait and rigged on a double hook and a banana shaper sinker about three feet in front of the hooks. The rig causes the bait to spin in circles when the boat is drifting. The largest halibut (estimated weight 150 # or more) was hooked up on a mooching rig and had to be followed like a billfish to keep from getting spooled! The angler was a fifteen-year-old boy from Nebraska and he will remember his catch for the rest of his life. The halibut had to be released due to it being in the “slot” size that by law has to be released.
For targeting halibut and Lingcod short extra heavy rods, reels with high line capacity, and 80# braided line rigs were used with either large bait hooks or lead head jigs with plastic tails.
My 8’ medium action Albright travel rod and Penn 965 International spooled with 30# braid worked great for mooching. For halibut and Lingcod I used a 7’ St. Croix muskie rod and a Penn Fathom spooled with 50# braid and wind on mono leader. A 12 oz black lead head jig with a purple skirt was tied on to reach the bottom and a dropper loop was tied approximately 2’ above the bottom jig. A 3/8 oz Strike King football jig in green pumpkin color (a popular freshwater bass lure) was attached to the dropper. My theory was the big jig would draw attention when scraping the bottom and fish would investigate and bite the small jig as easy prey. My big lingcod was hooked on the small jig which had the captains talking! This rig worked great all 3 days in fact too good sometimes with many double halibut hookups. The doubles were small halibut but still a handful!
In addition to the fishing, the area has considerable wildlife including but not limited to eagles, sea lions, black bears, blacktail deer, and several species of whales. We had a real unusual treat one afternoon when we drifted into a pod of orcas that sway very close with a few swimming directly under the boat!
The fish we kept received great care and were bled out and put on ice immediately after landed. The lodge had a dedicated staff waiting to cut up and vacuum seal package the catch at the end of each fishing day. The frozen fish were boxed for transport home in heavy-duty insulated boxes with approximately 50# of fillets to enjoy and share upon returning home.
Fishing with groups organized by Dan is always enjoyable with the opportunity to see old friends and make new ones. This trip boat mates were all new and included Paul Del Monte, Larry Mettler, and Gilbert Andrade. In summary, all were gentlemen, serious anglers, and great guys to spend a day on the water with. As on several previous trips Dan’s parents, Paul and Erma came along and we celebrated Paul’s 84th birthday over dinner the last evening. Friends, family, and fishing we were all truly blessed!
For information on Dan Hernandez organized charters and trips: www.sport-fishing.com
For information on Shelter Cove Lodge: www.sheltercovefishinglodge.com
Join SCI TODAY!
Safari Club International is the leading voice in the fight to protect the freedom to hunt, both in the United States and internationally. The SCI Departments of Legal Advocacy Resources and International Affairs and Government Relations is headquartered in Washington, D.C., advocating on behalf of SCI members and non-members alike. From staff dedicated to legislation and policy to a team of litigators, SCI hunter advocacy is at the forefront of protecting the hunting heritage. SCI and the SCI Foundation provide the voice of the hunter in treaties that affect hunting and wildlife conservation worldwide. This is where SCI and SCI Foundation go beyond what other hunter organizations do and why their work in this arena is critical to preserving the right to hunt. Plus, we have lots of fun and events like this one!
To find out more information about SCI and joining our chapter, click below: