A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.
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The annual derby and run of salmon lure angers to Seward
It's difficult not to be taken by the sheer magnitude of the mountains surrounding Seward. Often veiled behind a thin mantle of low-lying clouds, these primordial, windswept peaks form an almost mind-boggling backdrop for what may be some of Alaska's best saltwater fishing. Along with its rugged, natural charm, this city along Resurrection Bay hosts the world renowned Seward Silver Salmon Derby. With prize money totaling more than $100,000, and $10,000 offered for the largest silver, this event - which runs for nine days, beginning in mid-August - attracts a lot of interest. Fortunately, this exceptionally large run of salmon usually peaks just after the derby and continues strong well into September.
The first silver salmon usually begin to appear in July and, early in the season, are most easily caught from a boat. Trolling is the method most commonly used by those targeting silvers. The majority of charter boats and large private vessels are equipped with downriggers, a definite advantage early on, when the salmon are running deep. Later in the year, when the runs hit in earnest, those in small boats have just as much chance of landing large numbers of fish. The basic setup for trolling includes a trolling or "banana" sinker and a salmon leader, preferably with a sliding top hook (which are sold in various sizes at all local tackle shops). Herring, either cut into plugs or whole, are attached to the hooks and trailed behind. Anglers also have the option of purchasing various types of plastic harnesses that attach to the herring and spin it. This contraption comes with its own leader, so you simply tie it to your sinker and are ready to fish.
Another popular method of salmon fishing from a boat is "mooching," which uses the same basic setup as the trolling rig. In this case, the bait sinks and is simply allowed to drift, the boat operator occasionally putting the motor into gear or the fishers lifting their rod tips to give the rigs some action. This method also allows those in boats without downriggers to sink their bait deeper, a big advantage early in the run when the fish tend to be deep.
For those without boats, skiff rentals are available at Miller's Landing, just outside of town on Lowell Point. These 18-foot skiffs allow bargain hunters with some previous boating experience an opportunity to ply these rich and productive waters on their own. For those with a slightly more adventurous spirit, there are also a number of outfitters that rent kayaks. Paddling one of these small boats maintains just about the perfect speed for trolling, and attempting to land a fiery coho from a kayak certainly adds to the challenge. As the silver salmon begin to move closer to town in mid- to late-August, they can also be readily caught from shore. A large silver Vibrax spinner and the Pixie Spoon are the lures of choice among locals. Cast them along any of the beaches in town or on Fourth of July Beach, on the east side of the bay. Silvers also can be caught by simply soaking cut herring or a gob of fresh salmon roe a few feet beneath a large bobber. One of the best places to soak bait is along Lowell Point Road. This road is narrow and subject to a lot of summer traffic and small rock slides, so it's best to find a decent pullout to park at and walk to your fishing spot.
While silvers are the major draw in Seward - it's estimated that nearly 100,000 are caught annually - they're only the beginning of the fishing opportunities available in Resurrection Bay. Options abound as early as April, when sea-run Dolly Varden hit area beaches. Fish up to 25 inches can be caught on light tackle or fly gear. Any bright spinner or spoon will work well. Fly rodders will want to fish with a sink tip line and a flashy streamer such as a Mickey Fin or a small Lefty's Deceiver. For those who want to get a little way out of town, fish along the beach at Lowell Point. For those who don't mind hiking, they can head down the coast to Tonsina Point, via the Caines Head Trail. It takes less than an hour to reach the beach at Tonsina Point, the halfway-mark of this trail, which begins at the Lowell Point State Recreation Site. These Dollies tend to group in schools, so fishing for them can be hit or miss.
King salmon are also available in Seward and are the first salmon to arrive, usually in mid-May. Their feeding habits are similar to silvers, and a Vibrax spinner is the favorite lure among king fishermen. The often crowded conditions on shore, and the casting distance required to reach these fish, can make it difficult for fly-fishers. There are, however, large candlefish and herring patterns tied just for this purpose. Use them, as well as any large streamer or Deceiver,for both kings and silvers.
Kings are also caught by trolling, and it's becoming increasingly popular to troll for winter kings. These so-called "feeder" kings are probably not destined for Resurrection Bay but are simply migrating through the area. It definitely takes a strong constitution to get out after these fish during winter. It also helps if you have a boat with a cabin.
Halibut fishing out of Seward is also extremely popular. Boats will often venture as far as 50 miles outside of the bay for these flatfish, coveted for their white, flaky meat. They average between 40 and 80 pounds, but it's not uncommon to return with fish that tip the scales at 200, even 300, pounds. Considering the size of the fish and the distance required to find them, those who truly want to experience halibut fishing, which also usually entails bringing home an ample supply of meat, should consider the services of one of the many charter companies that operate out of Seward.
Not for the faint of heart, a few of these companies have also begun shark hunts. These are often multiday excursions in which intrepid anglers set out after salmon sharks, which can reach up to 15 feet long and weigh up to 800 pounds.
Many local boat owners and guides have begun light-gear fishing along the nearby capes, using a jig or soaking bait for rockfish. Rockfish, such as black sea bass, are a delicacy, and there is always the chance of picking up a lingcod or halibut, especially in the outer reaches of Resurrection Bay. For fly-fishers, this may be some of the most productive and fun fishing they will ever encounter. Often rockfish are congregated in a certain area and will literally swarm a fly and follow it to the surface. The fly-casters, armed with a 7- or 8-weight rod, full sinking line and a weighted, saltwater fly, cast out and retrieve with a jigging motion. Swarming rockfish will hit just about anything that looks like a baitfish, and most will run like crazy. Because of the size and grandeur of Resurrection Bay, it rarely feels crowded, particularly with the personal space and freedom provided by a boat. Those venturing out on their own should check the weather carefully, file a float plan and always wear a personal flotation device.
Freelance writer Dave Atcheson, author of "Fishing Alaska's Kenai Peninsula," lives in Sterling.