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An Angler's Journal: Postcard From Alaska

By King Montgomery

That first evening in Alaska after a long day in airplanes, my wife and I took our places at the comfortable dinner table and gazed down at a handwritten menu from Chef Bryan Vietmeyer and his amiable kitchen crew. Below the “Welcome King and Elizabeth” note, this simple document gave us an indication of what the week ahead would bring. It said we could order Pepper-Seared New York Steak with Bourbon-Molasses Jus and/or Parmesan-Crusted Thorne-River Coho Salmon. Dessert was Sorbet Trio in Almond Cup and/or Frangelico Chocolate Mousse. And there was a lot of other good stuff, too. Among all the things listed, the “and/or” caught my eye, and Elizabeth and I smiled at each other.

You know, I thought, if the fishing is halfway decent, I’m really going to like this place.
Earlier in the day we had taken an Alaska Airlines flight from Washington Dulles International Airport, changed planes in Seattle, and flew direct to Ketchikan, Ala. From there we flew in a 1950s vintage DeHaviland Beaver float plane to scenic Thorne Bay on nearby Prince of Wales Island.

After touching down lightly on the calm water, we taxied to the floating dock where the entire staff of the Orvis-Endorsed Alaska’s Boardwalk Lodge met us and gave us a genuinely sincere welcome that still touches me even today. Strangers at first, these folks became fast friends by week’s end.

Thorne Bay’s town of the same name has a little less than 500 people and is located about 40 miles from Ketchikan on Eastern Prince of Wales Island. The island is 140 miles long and 45 miles wide, the third largest island in the United States (only Hawaii  and Kodiak, in Alaska’s Aleutians, are larger).

The fishing in the surrounding saltwater and in the many freshwater rivers and streams is some of the best in the world for steelhead trout and the Pacific salmons. Plus there are hunting opportunities for black bear, Sitka blacktailed deer and waterfowl.

THE FISHING: FLY, SPINNING, CONVENTIONAL

Leave your 5- and 6-weight gear at home. If you only take one fly rod, make it a nine-footer for an 8-weight. Sure lighter gear is fun, but it can exhaust fish, and probably kills them or keeps them from spawning because of the stress induced. A 9-weight is not overdoing it, and if kings are around, a 10-weight is even better.

The salmons and the legendary steelhead are main draws for light-tackle angling with conventional, spinning, and fly gear. All five of the Pacific salmons can be caught in the saltwater, and all run up the island’s rivers and creeks to spawn, although there aren’t many kings in the freshwater. Steelhead are caught on their spawning runs in spring and fall, and spring, generally from mid-April to mid-May, is the best time for this prince of fishes.

Other fishes available in the saltwater are huge halibut, red snapper and other Pacific rockfishes, and lingcod; these fish are usually taken on spinning and light saltwater tackle since they usually are out of range of a fly line.

If you want to take fish home to the lower 48, the folks at Alaska’s Boardwalk Lodge will filet, freeze and pack your catch that may be carried home on the plane or shipped.

FISHING LOGISTICS: SEA OR STREAMS

If you fish out of the lodge, all fly and conventional tackle is provided and most of it is quality Orvis gear. This includes fully-rigged rods and reels, waders and boots.

The lodge has a fleet of comfortable fishing boats with enclosed cabins, heaters and a head. All the conventional and spinning gear you’ll need is aboard. You just show up. On the short trip to the fishing grounds, you’ll see harbor seals, sea lions, and have a good chance of observing porpoises, Orcas and humpbacked whales. Not to mention you'll see an assortment of sea birds, waterfowl and bald eagles.

Elizabeth and I fished the salt but prefer to fly fish on streams and small rivers, and Prince of Wales Island is perfect for that. The island hosts hundreds of salmon and steelhead waters, and cutthroat and Dolly Varden are available.

The island is crisscrossed with old logging and Forest Service roads that allow access to some pretty wild places. Some trails to streams are manicured by the Park Service, but most are black bear (there are no brown bears on the island) and other game trails -- often loaded with ripe salmonberries, thimble berries, Russian berries and others -- that are fairly easy to navigate to prime fishing spots. The lodge guides drive comfortable Chevy Suburbans to the creeks and rivers, with drinks and lunch on ice. It’s a pretty fine way to get around.

***

Alaska’s Boardwalk Lodge: Orvis-Endorsed, casual elegance, and first class. Call 1-800-764-3918 or visit www.boardwalklodge.com. The finest lodge I’ve ever visited. Open spring through fall.


King Montgomery, our fishing editor, visits Alaska once a year to renew his acquaintance with Raven, Eagle, and Salmon -- spirits who accompany him on fishing adventures. You can reach him at Anglersjournal@aol.com.

Issue 2.22: May 31, 2007