Alaska Fishing Charters : Questions & Answers

Alaska has some of the world’s best fishing!  Fishing charters help put you on the fish, increase the odds of success, and make the most of your time and money.  I’m going to help answer some common questions and give you a few things to think about.

A great day of halibut fishing.
A great day of halibut fishing.

I have been fishing my entire life, but when we moved up to Alaska I took it to a professional level.  Many years ago Rebecca asked me, “If you could do anything at all, what would you want to do?”  If the answer wasn’t obvious, “I want to fish!”

A younger and thinner version of myself with a black sea bass caught fishing in Mexican waters out of San Diego.
A younger and thinner version of myself with a black sea bass caught while fishing in Mexican waters out of San Diego.

I proceeded to get my Captain’s License with the United States Coast Guard and attended an Alaska Fishing Guide School to learn the art of guiding anglers.  Since that summer learning the ropes on the majestic Alagnak River, I’ve guided anglers on the rivers in the Mat-Su Valley and the Gulf of Alaska.

A beautiful king salmon one of my clients caught using a Vibrax spinner on the Deshka River.
A beautiful king salmon one of my clients caught using a Vibrax spinner on the Deshka River.

Here are things to consider and common questions and answers about fishing charters in Alaska!

  • What are the advantages of fishing charters?
    • Boat access:  Unless you have a friend with a boat, you need to take a charter to go out on the ocean.  There is also better and more peaceful river fishing away from the walk-in crowds (aka Combat Fishing).
    • Increased odds of success:  A good fishing guide has years or even decades of experience fishing their waters.  They know when and where to find the fish and the techniques needed to catch them.
    • You can focus on fishing and having a good time:  On a fishing charter the guide does all the work; they drive the boat, prep the bait, supply the gear and tackle, land the fish, clean the fish, etc..
  • What are disadvantages of fishing charters?
    • Costs:  Taking a fishing charter is costly but when considering the increased odds of success, I feel it’s money well spent.
    • Specific regulations:  There are size and limit restrictions for clients of halibut fishing charters.  For example, in Southcentral Alaska, charter halibut fishing is closed on Thursdays and on the remaining days one of your two fish limit has to be under 29″.
  • Where do you plan on fishing and staying in Alaska?  It’s a huge state and you don’t want to book a charter hours away from your campsite or hotel.  A long drive is the last thing you want with early morning departures and being exhausted after a day of fishing.
Photo courtesy of USDA.gov
Photo courtesy of USDA.gov
  • What time of year are you coming up to Alaska?  Salmon runs timing vary from river to river and in the saltwater certain species of fish may be closed or not present at that time.  You will need to be very specific in your research on locations.
The Copper River
The Copper River
  • What do you plan on doing with the meat from your fishing trip?  Upon returning from a successful fishing trip you could easily have 20# to 40# of fillets (per person) that need to be addressed.  Are you prepared to handle this much meat?  I take this very seriously because a fish has given it’s life and you need to make sure it does not go to waste.
    This is over 50# of professionally processed salmon.
    This is over 50# of professionally processed salmon.
    • Fish processing:  Fish processors are found at all major ports and rivers where there are loads of fish to be caught.  Some people INSIST on processing their own fish but we firmly believe that professional processing is the best value.  Quality fish processors use high grade vacuum bags that protect your catch and keep it in prime condition for 1-2 years.  What is your time worth?  If you have 50 lbs. of meat it takes a home-use vacuum packer all night to process that meat.  Then you have to freeze the meat which can take days if you have a chest freezer and need to shuffle the meat around to get it to freeze.  Expect to pay around $1.20 per pound to have meat vacuum packed and frozen.
    • Getting the fish home:  If you have a chest freezer in your RV, you are lucky because the problem is solved.  For everyone else they need other options.  Processors can FedEx overnight your catch to your front door, they can also wait to ship your catch until you are home to receive it.  This is a premium service and costs are weight dependent.  If you flew up to Alaska, the processor will package it up in 50# insulated boxes and you can check it as luggage.  Don’t worry, your meat will stay frozen for over 24 hours.
  • Do you get severely seasick and it can’t be overcome with medicine?  If so, you might want to stick to the rivers or lakes.  Unless you rent the entire boat, the captain will not turn around if you get seasick.
Ben's Camera 001
Puking off the bow of the boat.

 

  • What’s the difference between a Captain and a Guide?  In most cases they are one in the same.  A Captain has a United States Coast Guard License to drive a boat with paying passengers.  A Guide is someone licensed through the state of Alaska to take clients on fishing trips.  In rare cases, you could be driven by a Captain to a location on a river and dropped off with a guide who takes you fishing.
  • What size of boat do you want to be on?  When booking an ocean charter, you could be asked what size of boat do you want to fish on?  There are larger 10-20 passenger boats or smaller 6 passenger boats.  Ultimately, it comes down to your personal preference.
    • 6-Pack: Typically in the 24′-32′ range, they take a maximum of 6 paying passengers.  It’s an intimate setting where you get to personally know your Captain and fellow anglers, because you are in tight quarters with them.  They all have some sort of a head (toilet) but it might be a pump toilet in the V-Berth with only a curtain for privacy.  If a private place to do your business is important, make sure to research the boat your are going out on.
      Photo courtesy of my friends at ProFish-n-Sea Charters. The Interceptor is a beautiful example of a 6-Pack charter boat.
      • 10+ passenger boats:  These are larger boats usually in the 38′-60′ range and can take anywhere from 7-30 clients fishing.  These boats are more comfortable if the seas are rough and are also equipped with a crew of deck hands to help all the clients.  Almost all of them have private and enclosed heads.
Saltwater Safari
Photo courtesy of my friends at Saltwater Safari. These top notch Deltas are fishing machines.

 

  • What is a half day fishing charter?  A half day charter means there are two trips per day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  On the rivers, half day fishing charters are very common due to the short distance traveled.  You can also find half day ocean charters in towns like Seward during the silver salmon season.
    • What are the advantages?  Pricing for half day charters is roughly 2/3 to 3/4 the price of a full day charter.  Timing, you are not on the water all day and still have time to do another activity.  When the fishing is HOT, sometimes all you need is half a day.
    • What are the disadvantages?  Considering the prices of a half day, you can take a full day charter for a little more money.  You are not on the water all day, if the fishing is slow you have less time to catch your limit.
    • Are mornings or afternoons better?  You won’t get much of an argument over this one, fishing for salmon is almost always better in the mornings.  The exception is when the fishing is HOT it doesn’t matter what time of day it is.  Afternoon fishing is for people who want to sleep in or have no other options in their schedule.
  • How much do charters cost?  Traditionally, river charters are cheaper than ocean charters due to the costs of the boats and distance traveled (fuel burned) to the fishing grounds.  Half day charters are also going to be cheaper than full day charters.  Salmon ocean charters are also cheaper than halibut charters.
    • Freshwater: Half day $130 – $180, Full day $180 – $250.
    • Ocean: Half day $160 – $200, Full day $230 – $350.
  • Are there charters on lakes?  Yes, the larger lakes such as Lake Louise in the interior of the state have charters for lake trout.
  • Where do I get a fishing license?  Licenses can be purchased in advance online from Alaska Department of Fish and Game or from about 1000 vendors across the state.
Photo courtesy of Alaska Fish and Game.
Photo courtesy of Alaska Fish and Game.
  • How can I learn about the fishing regulations?  Fishing regulations can be accessed online from ADF&G or regulation summary books are available at the vendors who sell fishing licenses.
  • What are Emergency Orders?  Fish and game are carefully managed in Alaska.  Biologists monitor the fish entering the rivers and escapement.  If a river has not reached it’s predetermined escapement levels they will restrict or close the river to fishing.  Guides are ultimately responsible for knowing regulations and  EO’s, you will also find them posted at the trail heads to popular fisheries.

I hope this helps to inform you about fishing charters in Alaska.

Stay tuned, we will be continuing this series on Alaska Fishing Charters.  Subscribe to our blog so you don’t miss any of our posts.  Please feel free to ask questions in the comments section.

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