LONG RANGE FISHING: Seward, Alaska
Some locations grab a hold of a fisherman’s attention and stay with them for their entire life. Alaska is one of those places. It draws fishermen like a moth to a light.
Once you see a photo of a halibut the size of a barn door, or a salmon so giant it takes two people to hoist it up for the camera, you can’t help but imagine a trip to the final frontier. Add in the wild landscapes and remoteness of this gorgeous country and it’s no surprise that just about every angler has Alaska on the top of his or her bucket list of places they hope to fish before they die. Even those fortunate enough to have made the trek to fish Alaska start dreaming about their next adventure the moment they leave.
“Fishing in Alaska is like an addiction you can’t shake.”
For many anglers, the pilgrimage to Alaska is deemed a success after catching a few salmon and winching up a halibut or two from the cold, deep waters.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, but if you’re looking for a bit more adventure and you want to add a few more fish to the tally, an Alaska long-range trip represents the best way to discover new horizons. We began offering longer trips through Crackerjack Sportfishing in 2005. The objective? Take fishermen out to the farthest reaches of the North Gulf Coast. These trips give the crew more time to find big halibut, lingcod and salmon on top of shallow-water reefs, kelp forests and pinnacles that seldom see any type of fishing pressure. Don’t get me wrong, a good day trip in any of Alaska’s ports or lodges is the stuff that dreams are made of, but fishing remote areas offers much more than a typical day trip. The best part is you can score more fishing time in virtually untapped areas. On an Alaskan long-range trip, we fish at least 12 hours a day, often more than that, and you can rest assured that the fish will bite at some point during the day. When they hit the feedbag, it’s going to be spectacular, especially when you’re the only boat around and have it all to yourself. There’s something special about fishing in waters where few others venture to go. The adventure is greater and the payoff even sweeter, especially when you fish with light tackle.
Time It Right
Where we fish, out of Seward, Alaska, the best time of year for larger halibut and king salmon runs throughout the month of June. The nearshore waters around Montague, Latouche and Middleton islands load up with thick schools of capelin and herring. These small forage fish draw the predators up into shallower waters from 30 to 120 feet. Halibut, massive lingcod and king salmon will follow the bait into the skinnier water, making for some easier pickings on lighter, more sporting tackle. In July, the same bait will attract huge schools of coho or silver salmon, and in odd years there are literally millions of pink salmon in the mix. Once these schools of salmon begin piling up along the western entrance of Prince William Sound, it kicks off a feeding frenzy of epic proportions.
“In the Alaskan summer, the sun shines nearly 24 hours a day, causing water temperatures to rise dramatically, and the entire food chain goes into genetic overdrive.”
Plankton blooms turn the ocean waters into a deep green, biological pea soup. Tiny shrimp called euphausiids or “krill” feed on the endless sea of plankton. Herring and squid in turn eat the krill, creating a melee of fishing action as larger predatory fish show up to the party and jump in on the act. From rockfish to salmon sharks and marine mammals — they’re all here. Every type of game fish in the water column switches to feed mode and the scene goes ballistic. Thousands of birds attack the bait. Humpback whales show up to gorge themselves full of krill, herring, squid and even salmon at times. The frenzy gets so intense that I have caught halibut to 175 pounds mid-water and found cormorants in their stomachs.
This explosion of aquatic life usually takes place between mid-May and mid-August — there is no better time to plan a trip to Alaska. My favorite period occurs during the month of June. There are less salmon around and this means the halibut will key in on and feed on smaller baitfish. When chasing smaller bait, the halibut need to feed for a much longer period of time each day to get enough food. Long feeding times equals more productive fishing time. By August, halibut can eat one or two pink salmon and they are done for the entire day. This might take a smart halibut only a few minutes. I’m not trying to say that fishing in Alaska is subpar in late August, there are tons of salmon to target and plenty of halibut around, but big catches of larger halibut are less frequent later in the season.
Tactics for Fishing Seward, Alaska
When you head to Alaska, odds are you will hook up with a guide who has developed his own techniques and tactics for finding trophy halibut, lingcod and salmon. After all, that is his job. And you didn’t come all this way to miss out on these cold-water trophies. A good captain will supply first-rate gear, making it easier on traveling clients.
Most of the same principles of fishing hold true in Alaska as they would anywhere else. The biggest difference is the way we like to pull on bottom fish. Because halibut spend most of their fight going straight up and down, putting the screws to them and pulling on them like a tuna can result in lost fish and pulled hooks. Halibut have a fleshy mouth that is not as strong as a tuna’s, and their body shape causes resistance in the water. If you don’t make a few slight adjustments, you could pull the hook or even break a rod. Save yourself some angst and alter your technique a bit to make the most of the trip north.
For the best shot at landing a giant halibut, apply slow, steady pressure and keep the rod tip lower than your eyes, which will help you make sure you don’t get into any “high sticking,” the number one way to break rods. Using slow pressure lets you ease big halibut and lingcod up through the water column, maintaining a consist amount of pressure on the fish for a smoother battle. Big halibut are notorious head shakers. If you don’t use the right rig, a big halibut can work loose a 16- to 24-ounce lead-head once it starts shaking erratically. This is especially true without a decent mono top shot. It’s very important that you fish with appropriate tackle.
I look for halibut and lings in the shallowest water possible and tailor my tackle accordingly. I prefer to fish with the lightest tackle I can get away with. Braided line from 30- to 50-pound test is plenty. I use a 15-foot top shot of Stren Pink Coral fluorocarbon tied to the Spectra with a Bristol knot. The top shot will provide a bit of stretch and abrasion resistance, both of which help minimize gear loss. Using the small-diameter braided line allows us to fish with tackle better suited for calico or striped bass than the old broom stick rods and 4/0 senator reels you used to find on halibut boats.
I have been fishing Penn Torque rods and reels for the past couple of years for all of my light-tackle fishing — these rigs have been rock solid on halibut up to 340 pounds with no failures. You can also fish the Penn 525 mag, Abu Garcia Revo Toro, Okuma Cedros and two-speed Accurate 270s. All of these reels are capable of catching kings, lingcod and halibut. All are quality reels that use heavy-duty drag materials capable of delivering at least 15 pounds of pressure at max drag. As far as rods go, I like a 6-foot, 6-inch to 7-foot, 6-inch rod with a parabolic bend. My go-to rods are the Penn TG2040C and the Fenwick Elite Tech EMT. They feature a light action but when fully loaded, they have some serious pulling power. You want a rod with a strong backbone and the lifting power to catch a big Alaskan bruiser, but is still light enough to make the smaller specimens a blast to battle as well.
All of our long-range trips depart out of Seward, steaming out to the best fishing grounds. We provide all of the meals, tackle, and accommodations needed to create a memorable trip with Alaska’s most sought-after species. We can customize the trip to meet the needs and wants of any client, and we can usually make the call to extend the trip right from the boat. You can expect to catch a multitude of species on each trip, including halibut, lingcod, rockfish, salmon and sharks.
“You’ll be far from the crowds and dropping baits and jigs in waters that seldom see any fishing pressure.”
Our boat, Crackerjack Voyager, is a custom 46-footer-built for Alaska’s tough marine environment by well-known commercial fishing boatbuilder Modutech Marine. Voyager is powered with twin 405-hp Cummins turbo diesels, and cruises at 24 knots.
“With her range and speed, the boat has opened up huge areas of seldom-fished waters.”
We built her to include comfortable sleeping accommodations for nine and some unique features like our on-board entertainment system (DVD, CD, VCR), redundant hydronic heating, satellite communications system, a full fish-around deck, a huge insulated fish hold and a large live-bait tank. While each trip is different, the crew always works as hard and as long as it takes to find you fish.
Seward is located directly on Resurrection Bay on the southeastern tip of the Kenai Peninsula. It’s a 126-mile drive from Anchorage. The deep-water port serves a wide range of fishing boats, pleasure craft, cruise ships and ferry lines as they travel around Alaska via the Inside Passage. Seward lies at the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park, and thousands of miles of stunning shoreline starts right outside Crackerjack’s front door, complete with pinnacles, reefs, rockpiles and kelp forests. The shore is lined with a remote backdrop of impossibly steep mountains that drop right into the ocean.
In terms of lodging, Seward offers plenty of hotels, motels, inns and bed-and-breakfasts to choose from. We recommend that our guests stay at Seward’s finest hotel, the Hotel Edgewater. This modern hotel has affordable rates, a great restaurant and the ever-important bar.
There is a small airport in Seward but most guests arrive by sea, train (Seward is the southern terminus of the Alaska Railroad, dating back to its origins in the early 1900s) or car via Anchorage.
You can find more links and travel information on our website Crackerjack Charters.
Make sure to add a day or two on either side of your fishing to enjoy everything Seward has to offer.
About the Author
Capt. Andy Mezirow is the owner and full-time operator of Crackerjack Voyager. Fishing Alaskan waters since 1983, Andy has guided anglers to more than 30 IGFA light-tackle world records. He serves as the Alaska representative on the BD Pro Staff and is also a regional representative for the International Game Fish Association. He has sits on the board of directors of the National Association of Charter Boat Operators and the Alaska Charter Association. Andy has worked on a variety of advisory boards for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. He also works with Penn, Berkley, Mustad and Simrad marine electronics. In the offseason he is a maritime instructor at the State of Alaska maritime training center.
For more information, visit Crackerjack Charters or call 800-566-3912.