TRAVEL DESTINATIONS

A Boys’ Trip to Sitka

lead photoSitka has been a destination that holds a special place in my heart since the first moment I laid eyes on it. I can remember my first landing at the airport, where the Pacific Ocean engulfs both sides of the landing strip. Of course, the fact that it has some of the world’s best salmon and halibut fishing doesn’t hurt either.

Seeing some of these trips through the eyes of guests that have never experienced these amazing trips is truly a joy. Seeing a trip like this through the eyes of two 7-year old boys is even better. When we planned our trip to Kingfisher Charters and Lodge in Sitka, Alaska, it was to be a boys’ trip. Two dads and two 7-year olds experiencing Alaska’s fishing at its best: I with my son Cole and friend Jared Eisenburg with his son Aidan.

When planning a family trip like this with your kids, make sure your timing is right. Later in the season the silvers make their giant run and you can keep six of them. The action is so fast it keeps everyone in the game. There is definitely no boredom involved and the size of the silvers, which tend to run a bit smaller, gives the smaller guys a good shot at winding them in.

photo 2The wildlife viewing is as good as it gets. While running out to the fishing grounds we ran across whales, sea lions, bald eagles, puffins, otters, deer and there were even bears roaming the shoreline. Sitka surely has what I would call the true Alaskan experience.

The time came and we boarded our plane heading out of Seattle for Sitka. All the while there was anticipation for what Alaska would bring with questions like, “Are there bears at the lodge?” or “How big are those halibut again?” The plane ride was short and in no time we were looking out the windows at the clusters of islands surrounding our destination. After a smooth landing we made our way to the lodge where our adventure would begin the next morning.

Seth Bone, owner of Kingfisher, was one of the originals to start chartering in Sitka back in 1990. It was the ideal place to headquarter and we could tell that the crew has been doing this a while. Their experience was clearly evident and in both of our visits here there haven’t been any hiccups.

photo 3The Kingfisher Lodge is nicely appointed with clean and spacious rooms and we even had a hot tub on our patio. This came in handy after a day of pulling on fish. The food was outstanding and there were no shortages of it, plus variety enough for even the picky eater.

Another great thing about the lodge is it has a large fleet of boats working the expansive waters. The boats spread out and find the fish then stay in communication so you’re able to stay on the schools. This is huge benefit because there are a lot of areas that the salmon could be running through.

Kingfisher Charter Capt. Brian Oberreuter aboard his vessel Kaiya, a 35-foot Coldwater, kept us on the water for the trip. I fished with Brian a few years back and actually took his son fishing when he was in SoCal the following winter. It was kind of full circle to have him take my son out. We look forward to fishing with Brian as he has the patience to deal with kids and a great customer service ethic that sets him apart. That, and the fact that we always catch lots of fish with him!

LOGGING OUR DAYS

The first day we loaded up on the Kaiya, knowing the wind had blown a bit the day before so the ride wouldn’t be completely smooth. We ran down through the protected water ways then just as we made our way out of the inner water we dropped the downriggers and hoochies and in no time the boys were pulling on a few silver salmon.

photo 4The shear speed of these coho is amazing. They strike hard and run hard with some jumps in between. The bite was good, but we heard from some guys up around the cape that the weather wasn’t too bad and the bite was good there as well. Before we took off, we gave a quick rockfish drop and both boys doubled over with nice lingcod on the light rods.

When we ran up to the cape, we put the downriggers back out. Brian dropped the rods in and we were off trolling to find the school. We focused on loading up on silver salmon the first day and the hookups started every few minutes or so and it just got better. It was like a wide open albacore bite. My son Cole and his buddy Aidan put the wood to their limits of silvers and then we went to work and got ours as well. Since sea conditions were a bit rough for the boys we ran closer to shore and targeted some rockfish and smaller halibut. The black rockfish there are crazy, even biting bare hooks, and they taste great! That evening the kids sat at the dinner table telling stories of the big ones they caught.

The second day our guests had planned to tour the town and fish a bit in the local rivers, so Cole and I went out with Brian in search of some larger halibut after we filled our salmon limits. The morning started with beautiful weather and a great silver salmon bite. There was a bit of a mix of some trophy size kings as well.

Cole landed a king that was just under 30 pounds, a true giant! The bite was full speed and we loaded the deck quickly with silvers. We made this trip in late August anticipating the silver fishing would be exceptional and the forecasts were spot on. If looking to take younger kids up to Sitka, August is a great month to do so. The action was fast and furious, keeping the kids interested and excited.

Once we settled in with limits of silvers and kings we went off to one of Brian’s halibut spots and put the anchor down. We were expecting to wait out the bite, but on this occasion we were on halibut after halibut, right off the bat. Brian set up the cooler so that Cole could stand on it and wind in halibut from the rod holder, which worked out really well for him. We kept one in the undersize category and held my limit for a giant. The lingcod also joined the action early and we released a number of lings in the 35- to 45-pound range.photo 5

Then we caught the largest yelloweye I have ever seen in person. Years ago when I fished with Brian, I got one around the 21-pound mark, but this fish weighed in on the scale at 23.8 pounds. Throughout the day we caught and released some really nice halibut in the 60- to 120-pound range. Needless to say, the day was another huge success.

On our final day our guests rejoined us on board and we were ready for a rod-bending day for the kids. We got our salmon out of the way quickly and hit a spot located farther north for some larger halibut. It was a place where Brian had guided me to an exceptional fish on a previous trip and was, in fact, the spot where he had caught his largest halibut to date at more than 400 pounds!

The bite was good and one after another we released nice size halibut from 70 to 100 pounders. We kept a couple “unders” for eating while continuing to try for the giant. The boys had a blast catching some nice halibut and lingcod. We did hook the “mama” we were looking for, but unfortunately she pulled the hooks. Halfway up the water column there were some mean head shakes and off she went. Still, not a bad way to end a great trip.

photo 6Neither the dads nor the boys were ready to head home at the end of our stay. The fishing and company had been great and the scenery unmatched. I will be back to Sitka real soon; this is a destination that will always be on my travel list.

If you are planning that trip of a lifetime to Alaska, give the guys over at Kingfisher Lodge a look. You can reach them via www.Kingfishercharters.com.

Sidebar

Sitka: A Thumbnail Sketch

Sitka, originally home to the Tlingit Indians, still has a large population of Native Alaskans. In the downtown area there is a remarkable landmark sitting right in the center of town: Saint Michael’s Cathedral, built in 1844-48. The quiet city of roughly 9,000 is filled with culture and atmosphere, as well as some very nice people.

Home to some of the best fishing around, Sitka features one of the best catch rates in the world for both salmon and halibut. Uniquely situated, you won’t find the extreme tides that can hinder other Alaska destinations fishing halibut. Here, you can go just about any day of the season. This area has beautiful weather, great atmosphere, great fishing and easy access. The airport is tiny, making it easy to find the shuttle for your lodge. There are many daily direct flights from Seattle every day.

From a weather perspective, the temperatures during the summer average in the high 50s to low 60s, while the average annual precipitation is around 94 inches. During the summer you may experience some nice warm days but there will be a few rainy days as well. Make sure you layer properly since the weather changes quickly.

Sitka enjoys its main run of king salmon in May and June while the coho arrive in mid-July through September. As you can see from our trip experience there are still kings around in late August, and we had a few each day of our trip. The halibut and rockfish bite all year long and are a staple in your fishing day.

 

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Dream Trip Aboard the Intrepid

Dream Trip leadA possible to top the fishability, crew, sea worthiness and meals of that served up aboard the 116-foot Intrepid.

Pacific Coast Sportfishing magazine was invited to spend eight days this past summer aboard the Intrepid with the opportunity to fish a number of hot spots along Baja’s majestic coastline. With Mexican limits of yellowtail and yellowfin tuna in the slammer, topping off the trip was a run out to Alijos Rocks to duel with razor-toothed wahoo.

Arriving at Point Loma Sportfishing during a busy summer morning found limited parking available, but fortunately being dropped off made for an easy transfer of tackle, gear and clothing. Loading was quick and professional with rods and tackle boxes placed within easy reach and luggage carried down into staterooms and a huge lunch spread out in the galley along with lots of extra munchies.

dream 3Captain Kevin Osborne pulled away from the docks and it was off to the bait receivers, where the deck crew selected enough cured sardines that would hopefully carry us through the entire trip. It took nearly 1.5 hours to load the bait, first into the huge on deck bait tanks and the remainder of hot sardines were placed down into two slammers.

Most of the crew of the Intrepid have been together for years and work as a team to provide the utmost in angling advice, tackle tips, gear preparation, casting, various fishing techniques and styles and five-star class meal presentations. When it comes to taking care of anglers, the crew goes above and beyond to offer the best in customer service.

Captain Osborne opted not to head north to fish the tuna schools off Southern California but instead headed the Intrepid south in hopes of reaching fishable waters by the next morning. It would be trolling through blue water with occasional stops on kelps and jig strikes. The captain wanted to be at The Ridge to tap its prolific waters for yellowtail by sundown.

After a dinner of prime rib, it was time for chartermaster David Tang to raffle off a wide selection of donated Okuma fishing gear, lures, bombs and other neat fishing accessories. Everyone on board received a tackle goodie bag, a tradition of fishing the Ray Jarvis Memorial Charter.dream 6

Anglers were geared up with a variety of tackle and most opted for newer, smaller reels, spooled with braided line, graphite composite rods for either fishing bait or casting iron jigs and a selection of Owner circle or J hooks.

After criss-crossing The Ridge, the scanning sonar showed big schools of yellows over rocks covered with strands of kelp. Anchoring up on the 38 Spot didn’t produce very good fishing that evening and into the night, but Capt. Osborne was confident that these yellows would bite in the morning with more current.

dream 8That next morning’s bite was explosive from the start, with yellows in the 18- to 25-pound class coming over the rail for hours. The activity and blood in the water attracted brown sharks and they took their toll of yellows, usually just as an angler would call for a gaff. Unfortunately, many yellows were lost to sharks, but the bite still continued strong throughout the day with most every angler asking for additional numbered fish tags. You just could not make a cast and not hook into a yellowtail, but many were lost in the kelp.

With half a slammer filled with yellowtail and a few miscellaneous catches, Osborne made the call to leave The Ridge and make a straight run out to Alijos Rocks. Part of his rationale was to avoid the ominous winds of Hurricane Delores brewing up off mainland Mexico.dream5

Despite a strong northwesterly blow, the Intrepid held its place under rough conditions using twin stabilizers and bulbous bow to make for a smoother ride. Noted the captain, “The installation of a bulbous bow nose and our stabilizers allow this vessel to prevent roll or pitch in rough weather. We are the only long-range sportboat that has these unique extra features. The bulbous breaks up the water off the bow like a diver does when he enters the water, offering up a smoother ride all the time. This boat rides so smoothly that we never hear of a glass of wine spilling in the salon.”

Upon an early morning arrival at Alijos, conditions were ideal with just a small surge pushing up against the rocks, little wind to deal with and an abundance of boobie birds, shearwaters, pectorals and a pair of frigate birds, a good indicator that there was life here in abundance.

Wahoo Wake-Up

Wahoo are perhaps the jewel of the pelagics of the eastern Pacific, not only for offering up exciting fishing but also seared on a barbecue for a dinner feast. Here, some anglers tied on “bombs” in their hot color preference. Others opted for surface iron or rigged Owner 4/0 J hooks that were connected to braided line or Seaguar or Berkley ProSpec fluorocarbon by way of Sevenstrand wire. My tackle choice for wahoo was a Saltiga Lever Drag 30 matched to a Proteus composite graphite rod and fished with the new Daiwa J-Braid X line, Seagaur 40-pound leader material and an Owner 4/0 hook.

Prior to putting trolling gear in the water at Alijos, the captain and on-deck crew instructed anglers on what to do when hooked up to a racing wahoo. Collectively they said, “Once you get a hook-up just begin to grind on the reel. Don’t bother to try and play a wahoo like you would a tuna or yellowtail as these fish will just plain eat you alive. The troll fish needs get on deck quickly so other anglers can cast bombs, iron or live baits. These critters have extremely sharp teeth and we don’t want anyone standing near a wahoo when it comes over the rail so listen to a crew member and we don’t want ever to see flip-flops or open toed shoes on deck.”

dream 12Added Osborne over the PA system, “Guys, we will start off our trolling rotation now. Those standing by should wait until I get the boat in position to make a cast with a ‘bomb,’ iron or live bait. You don’t want to cast over a hooked trolled wahoo, and you also want to cast to the side of the boat where I last see them on the side-scanning sonar.”

It didn’t take long for the first wahoo to come aboard followed by my bait fish and a flurry of lost fish for a variety of reasons. According to Osborne, about half of the wahoo hooked end up chewing through wire or fluorocarbon, get unbuttoned from a bomb, iron or just twisting out of a trolled jig. These fish are considered the fastest in the eastern Pacific and can be brutal on tackle.

According to Capt. Jesus Campanioni, wahoo are very reactive to fishing pressure and will often back off the bite from time to time. When huge new schools arrive at Alijos Rocks, they may bite well on the first day, then it becomes a real pick bite and ends up with ones and two’s before shutting off.

“Wahoo are not caught at night and really don’t like dirty water,” Campanioni noted. “I prefer to back hook a live bait and don’t recommend chrome swivels or bright hooks, as wahoo have excellent eyesight and will shy away from anything that isn’t to their selective liking.” While it wasn’t a wide open bite, by rotating anglers out of a trolling position who had already decked a coveted wahoo, the captain came close in his quest to have each angler deck one.

Weather Watch

With eyes set on the scanning sonar for orange/red marks, Osborne also watched updated weather reports on the fast approaching hurricane on the computer in the wheelhouse.

Hurricane Delores was on the move north at a sustained speed of 7.8 knots with winds already up past hurricane force.

“I don’t want to get caught out here by this storm,” offered up the captain. “You cannot outrun a hurricane and its powerful winds. We are going to have to cut our stay here at the rocks short, heading up and into safer waters as a precaution for all on board. After some 24 hours of running we will be tracking right up through the yellowfin tuna grounds that should offer up excellent fishing.”

He then opted to head for the beach and fish his way up the coast with the first stop to be in the lee of Cedros Island. Anglers on board had plenty of yellowtail in the slammer so the main species targeted would be white seabass, halibut, calico bass and maybe a good chance of hooking into one of the homeguard yellowtail that this Baja island is so famous for.

dream 10After couple of unsuccessful drifts, the Intrepid moved in closer to the island that allowed anglers on the bow to cast surface iron Tady jigs toward shore. Seals lurked in the chumline but stayed away from the bow section, which allowed a few lucky anglers to hook into huge mossbacks and land them. While only a few big yellows in the 40- to 45-pound class were landed, it sure made for an exciting late afternoon of angling as the sun set behind the rugged mountains of Isla Cedros. Topping off on the drift was a 45-pound white seabass that drew the attention of all on board.

During the run from Cedros to the tuna waters, anglers re-rigged for tuna and offshore pelagic fishing while the galley crew prepared lunch, a sashimi/sushi mid-afternoon snack and prepped steaks for dinner. Food served aboard the Intrepid is like dining in a five-star restaurant, with Chef Perry McMillian in charge of the kitchen, backed up by Hector Quintanar.

Yellowfin tuna had been pretty much scattered along the Baja coastline most all season long, with a better showing off the California coastline. Even though tuna fishing turned out to be red hot for the Intrepid, there were no big tuna caught and it would be too far of a run north to get into the bite in northern waters. The golden triangle area off Punta Colonet was holding some tuna, some 210 miles south of Point Loma, but our captain was heading to an area that showed warm water on the most recent Terrafin map. The San Diego-based spotter plane was not flying at the time so we relied upon on board equipment and the experience of the captains to find potentially good fishing water.

dream 15With calm seas and little wind in place, the hurricane moving off to the west, conditions were ideal for a good shot at yellowfin. Trolling rotations were again put in place with a selection of Marauders, cedar plugs and feathers jigs deployed across the stern. It didn’t take long for the first tuna to jump on the cedar plug with a few bait fish to follow. The captain then began to box the area and we were soon joined by three other Cadillac sportboats in these tuna-rich waters. After a few more stops with increased numbers of 18- to 25-pound tuna being put down in the slammer, the ocean exploded with foaming tuna off the stern corner that followed a quadruple jig stop.

It was one of those wide open tuna bites where every bait was crushed and the feeding frenzy went on for nearly four hours. Tuna were jumping on Shimano poppers, light surface iron and sardines.

Colonet and Homeward Bound

Overnight, we continued north heading for the protected waters of Punta Colonet where there would be an opportunity to fish for white seabass. At sunrise, thick clouds of building Hurricane Delores could be seen over the San Telmo Valley of Baja, but the beachside fishing village just west of the rural town of Colonet was picturesque when reflected off the calm blue waters along the coast.

Our boat was approached by a local fishing panga and after an exchange of fishing options and a few scoops of live bait, we followed the Mexican skiff up the coast to what had been the hot spot for white seabass earlier in the morning. Seabass are a very fickle species and such was the case as none were hooked next to the kelp and only a few skinnies were decked.

The next move would be up the coast to finish off what had been a very productive eight-day summer fishing experience with a few drops for lingcod, rockfish and assorted bottom dwellers.

Calm seas prevailed that afternoon and into the early evening hours as we neared our home port of San Diego. Chef Perry was not quite done with his culinary delights for the closing afternoon snack and dinner. At cocktail hour he offered up a couple of plates of giant king crabs with all the trimmings and that was just for afternoon appetizers.

When it came time for everyone to come into the salon for dinner there was a rich aroma of broiling lobster and a tangy sauce that would top off a 12-ounce chunk of filet mignon. The crew, all dressed up in colorful shirts, served the meal as the galley crew stepped out to acknowledge a round of applause from the anglers.

The ETA of the Intrepid at the dock was set at 5:30 a.m. and upon anchoring up in San Diego Bay just after 2 a.m., word came of the now Tropical Storm Delores dumping a couple of inches of rain at the docks the prior afternoon with more expected for Sunday. Thankfully, Captain Osborne had kept the Intrepid and its 26 anglers and crew out of harm’s way as a severe storm front pushed through that afternoon, making for miserable fishing conditions for tuna and yellowtail offshore. “Fishing on the Intrepid with this crew and group of fishermen is like fishing with family,” answered David Tang, when asked by PCS to sum up the Ray Jarvis Memorial Charter. “We continue to thank Ray for bringing us together each year.”

Intrepid Credentials

The specs and features on the deluxe long range sportfisher Intrepid are impressive to say the least. The vessel’s length is 116 feet and boasts a 27-foot beam. Its fuel capacity is 20,000 gallons, providing up a 10,000 mile nautical mile range while powered by twin 750hp Caterpillar 3412 marine engines.

Hull construction is of corrosion-resistant steel base and there are five refrigerated/RSW fish holds to preserve catches made on long-range trips off Baja and beyond. In addition to superior design and construction, the Intrepid features a complete topside tackle center, 13 two-person staterooms with individually controlled air conditioning and direct TV/DVD flat screens with remote controls. And to top it all off, this sportfisher offers the lightest passenger loads among the entire long-range fleet.

For booking information and general details, log on to the Intrepid’s website at www.fishintrepid.com or give General Manager Steve Hoffman a direct phone call at their Point Loma Sportfishing office by dialing (619) 224-4088.

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