Most avid fishermen dream of the day they can take a fishing trip to a location where the fish outnumber people.
One such place is Alaska. Few places on earth can compare to Alaska’s wealth of angling opportunities. Huge king salmon, countless crazed coho and monster trophy halibut weighing upwards of 400-plus pounds call the area home for good reason – an endless supply of food and wilderness waterways. And let’s not forget that the Bristol Bay area holds approximately 60 percent of the world’s population of sockeye salmon and some of the largest rainbow trout in the world. Recently, a local avid angler was able to make a dream a reality by taking a fishing pilgrimage to the 49th state in pursuit of salmon and halibut. Actually, it was Herald reader Charlie Russell’s 2nd trip to Alaska to fish. In 1999, after 10 years of dedicated service to his company, Charlie’s boss offered him an expense paid trip to anywhere in the world. A long time salmon angler, Charlie’s choice was Alaska to pursue salmon.
This year again in recognition for five more years of service, the owner of the Arnold Company awarded Charley another trip to the destination of his choice. Charley once again packed his bags for Alaska and a side trip to British Columbia. In Alaska he was joined by his brother-in-law Steve McCallend of Southern Califorina at the Sitka Point Lodge.
The lodge would serve as the base of fishing operations where they would depart early each morning on a 32 foot vessel named the Glory Days in pursuit of Chinook salmon and halibut. Charlie’s love of salmon fishing began a number of years ago trolling on Sebago Lake in Maine for landlocked salmon. Although landlocks put up a good battle on light tackle, they are not in the same class and cannot be compared to fighting the largest Pacific Salmon.
Trolling is the preferred salmon fishing method at Sitka Point Lodge in the coastal waters. Schools of feisty, chrome-bright lunkers can emerge in a flash behind the boat chasing bait. Most of the time cut herring or anchovy baits are fished on downriggers at various depths. The day starts early at 5 a.m. and most of the morning is concentrated on trolling for salmon usually a mile or
so off shore. Experienced captains will concentrate on the salmon in the morning when the sun is low and head out another couple of miles in search of Pacific halibut. Most of the salmon that are caught average between 20 and 30 pounds with an occasional trophy that can top 40 pounds or more. When a salmon takes the bait, it’s quickly pole bending, reel screaming, line-burning, heart-pounding excitement.
On the second day at the lodge, Charlie and Steve boarded the Glory Days for another day of salmon and halibut fishing. After a pretty good morning trolling for salmon the captain steered the boat out to the halibut grounds about three miles off the Sitka coast. Halibut are fish of remarkable size. This giant member of the flatfish family sometimes grows to well over 500 pounds. The largest known halibut is one that some Alaskan natives captured in a gill net while fishing near Homer, Alaska. That fish, while never officially weighed, has been estimated at 1,100 pounds. Young halibut less than fifty pounds are called chickens, while large adults are referred to as barn doors.
Fishing for these leviathans requires stout rods and reels. Large circle hooks can be baited with a variety of fishy appetizers from squid, herring or salmon chunks. Halibut grounds are in several hundred feet of water with strong currents so sinkers weighing two pounds are commonly used. On this particular trip the mate baited four rods and sent the rigs to the sea floor over 300 feet below.
Anglers take turns rotating on the various rods. The bruiser struck a rod that had been left unattended so Charlie moved into position next to the rod holder and waited for the mates instructions. This fish appeared to be a good one so the mate told Charley to fight the fish in the rod holder for added leverage. Chicken sized halibut can be fought with a stand up harness. Fish weighing over 100 pounds require added mechanical leverage and a strong back.
When they strike, these king-sized flounder can dive straight down peeling line and pinning the angler to the rail. The right technique will mean the difference between an exhausted angler or beating the behemoth at the end of the line. Charlie successfully landed his fish after a short long 12-minute tussel. Halibut are incredibly strong fish and must be subdued before they can be brought aboard for the safety of the angler crew and vessel. Once aboard, Charlie’s fish tipped the scales at 127 pounds and measured 66 inches from tail to snout. Some anglers fish all their life without ever feeling the surge and strength of a 100-pound halibut. Charlie was successful at landing a “shed door” size fish early in his halibut fishing career. In addition to the trophy, Charlie also caught fish weighing 70 and 45 pounds on the same trip.
One of the benefits of staying at a fishing lodge is that the anglers do not have to worry about cleaning and preserving their catch. Arrangements are made at local fish processors for packing and shipping the fish back to the angler’s home.
Congratulations to Charlie Russell for his terrific catch.
FISHING REPORT: Best fishing for trout is reported from Farmington, Housatonic, Willimantic, Natchaug, Naugatuck Scantic, Salmon, Quinnipiac, Pootatuck, Mill and Saugatuck rivers. Hatches include Blue Wing Olives, Midges, caddis, and pale evening duns.
Lake fishing is reported good to excellent at Candlewood Lake, Lake McDonough, Lake Saltonstall, Wonoscopomuc , Amos, Rogers, Cedar, Highland, Maltby, East Twin, Crystal Lakes, Beach Pond and West Hill Pond.
Largemouth bass fishing is reported good from Lake Lillinonah, Upper Moodus Reservoir, Amos Mashapaug, Cedar, Highland, Rogers, Quonnipaug, Silver, Congamond, Coventry, Bashan and Bantam Lakes and Beach Pond.
In saltwater bluefish dominate catches throughout the Sound and in Rhode Island waters. Striper fishing remains good for schoolies in the tidal rivers. Larger “cows” in the 40-plus inch range are on the reefs and tidal rips. Dawn and evening hours are the best times to go. Live lining eels and hickory shad are the choice baits along with trolling the tube and worm combo. Typical striper haunts include the reefs off Watch Hill to the eastern tip of Fishers Island, Ram Island Reef, the Race, Plum Gut, Bartlett Reef, Hatchett Reef, Long Sand Shoal, Southwest Reef, Sixmile Reef, the reefs off Branford, New Haven Harbor, Charles Island area, Penfield Reef, the Norwalk Islands, and the Cows off Stamford.
Summer Flounder fishing has improved on the Connecticut side in Fishers Island Sound off Stonington and the mouth of the Mystic River, Niantic Bay, Soundview Beach, Westbrook area and New Haven Harbor.
Anglers fishing New York waters including Montauk Pt., Peconic Bay, Gardiners Bay, Mattituck area and Eatons Neck Point are still bringing in doormats with some weighing in the double digits.
Bob Salerno is a United States Coast Guard licensed captain and a member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association. Readers can write to him at 1 Herald Square, New Britain, CT 06050 or e-mail Captbob317@cs.com.