Just For Girls: Fishing in Alaska

Just For Girls: Fishing in Alaska

Red (Sockeye) salmon in full spawning colors.  Summer of 2007.  Little Susitna River, Mat-Su Valley.
Red (Sockeye) salmon in full spawning colors. Summer of 2007. Little Susitna River, Mat-Su Valley.

Alaska is truly an equal opportunity state when it comes to gender and is one of my favorite things about this place! In Alaska, we womenfolk are welcomed (perhaps, even expected) on outdoor adventures. We chop and carry firewood. If we live in dry cabins, we haul water. We hunt, fish, hike and get dirty!  Nobody questions our physical fortitude, we are equal partners in these parts.


This rule applies to fishing as well!! If your hubby decides to book a day or two on the water, don’t opt out, go with him!! I promise you won’t regret it! Fishing in Alaska is NOT like fishing in the lower 48, though truth be told, I enjoy fishing all over the world.

Float trip down the Kenai River, Summer 2010.  Rainbow trout.
Float trip down the Kenai River, Summer 2010. Rainbow trout.

Mind you, my idea of the perfect day fishing is to limit out in the first couple of hours.  Then if we’re on land, I like to be able to plop down in a comfy spot on the shoreline to read a book or if we are out on the ocean capturing the beauty around us with my camera (I can’t read on the open ocean, the boat rocks too much).

The Gulf of Alaska.  Image captured after I had caught my limit one day last summer.
The Gulf of Alaska. Image captured after I had caught my limit one day in 2014.

I love to reel in fish right along with everyone else but I probably lack the patience required to be the avid fisherman my husband is. I like to get down to business and get it done, nevertheless I do love to fish.

Here’s what you need to know about fishing in Alaska, the good, the bad and the ugly:

1.   Nobody’s going to baby you because you’re a girl.

To me this is a good thing, and I don’t mean that no one will help you learn to cast your line or bait your hook. You’re paying good money to fish with your captain, s/he will make sure your every need is met if s/he’s good at what he does.  S/he will tell you when to check your bait, how to cast and reel to attract the fish.  Your line will always have fresh bait on and if you get tired reeling in that monster halibut,s/ he will give you tips on how to reel more effectively (pump the rod up, reel down).

A "smaller" halibut. Gulf of Alaska Summer 2012.
A “smaller” halibut.
Gulf of Alaska Summer 2012.

What I do mean by this statement is that no one will be surprised that a girrrlllll is on the boat and you likely won’t be the only one. Furthermore, they’ll assume you are equally as capable as Mr. Macho sitting next to you when it comes to taking care of business and getting a fish on board. They won’t baby you if you whine about being cold, though you’ll likely be encouraged to grab a hot cup of coffee and take a few minutes to warm up inside the cabin.

Lastly, your crew will likely be excited to have you on board, it’s common knowledge amongst boat captains and crew in Alaska that women are far better at acquiring the necessary fishing skills required when in a new environment. We are known for listening to and following instructions from the crew and often we experience far greater success at reeling in the big one because we heed their advice.  In other words, men have a listening problem!  Bet you didn’t know that.   😉

Kenai Float Trip, Summer 2010.  Red (Sockeye) Salmon.
Kenai Float Trip, Summer 2010. Red (Sockeye) Salmon.

2. Here’s a list of things to consider taking with you on board to keep hydrated, well fed and comfortable.

  • Waterproof boots with good soles so your feet stay dry/clean and you don’t slip and slide on the deck.  Be forewarned, there’s a reason, they have an entire website called BloodyDecks.

    My sexy husband manning the deck
    My sexy husband manning the deck
  • Layers of clothes: I’ve been out on days when it’s sunny and 85F (which feels like 95F in Alaska, since the sun is so close). I’ve also been out on days when it’s frigid cold and foggy. You’ll never be able to judge what the weather is like out to sea when you are on shore and you’ll also never know what the weather will turn to half way through the day. So start with a t-shirt and layer up from there including rain gear, warm coat, hat and gloves.
  • Wear warm socks.
  • Bring something hot to drink, something cold to drink and plenty of snacks. You’ll get hungry and thirsty and most of the charters in Alaska do not supply food or beverage.

 

The River Jetboat Ben captained our first summer in Alaska.
The river jet-boat Ben captained the summer of 2007.

3. What a girl wants in a boat:

Before you book your trip, it pays to do a little research.

  • If you are doing a saltwater trip, find out which boats have toilets and heaters on board. It’s the little things that make a trip extra special.  You’ll rarely find an ocean going vessel up here without some form of a head (bathroom) but a heater in the cabin is hit or miss. There have been many a trip when the awesome diesel heater on the boat we use has been a lifesaver (or at least a comfort saver).
    • A word on boat heads:  It will save you a bit of heartache if you are picky about where you potty, then you’ll be well served to inquire ahead of time about the type of toilet on board.  Some boats have nothing more than a glorified 5 gallon bucket behind a curtain.  Others have marine toilets in the v-berth (front of the boat) with a curtain or a door.  My favorite kind of boat has a marine toilet located in it’s own room with FULL door.  It’s up to you how particular you want to be on this point.
  • The larger the fishing deck the better the trip, too. It’s awful to have to deal with the overzealous ding ding next to you who keeps getting his fishing line caught up in yours. It’s also more enjoyable to have a little elbow room when you are reeling in the big fish.
Our first time dipnetting on the Copper River.  Summer 2013.
Our first time dipnetting on the Copper River. Summer 2013.

4. For fresh water trips, know that you are likely going to be in a jet boat or drift boat sans toilet.

  • Be sure to bring toilet paper, find a bush and prepare to cop a squat. You can do it, just bend your knees way up and sit on your haunches, you can avoid splashes that way.
  • Also, if your going to do more than a day or two of river fishing and it’s feasible to include it in the budget, I would encourage you to splurge on a pair of chest waders and boots. The pleasure you will experience because of these will be well worth the money.

    Catch of the Day:  Halibut, halibut and more halibut.
    Catch of the Day: Halibut, halibut and more halibut.

I spent my first summer river fishing in Alaska with hip waders which meant I spent many a day with wet drawers, let’s just leave it at that. We have found the Cabela’s brand to be the best. When he first started guiding, Ben bought a really expensive pair of waders and a pair of Cabela’s as back ups. The expensive ones didn’t make it through the summer and the Cabela’s brand are still going.

I’ve never liked the way the women’s waders fit. I’ve always ended up buying men’s waders and going up one size to account for the extra room needed on top. They’re a little baggy in the legs, but you want to be comfortable and the women’s waders are always super snug in the waist and thighs, even if you go up a size. I’m sure they look more attractive but I’m all about comfort when I’m in the Alaska bush.  The catwalks of New York City might as well be on the moon when you’re experiencing the great outdoors of the last frontier! Which ever ones you choose just be sure to try them on before you buy, they all fit differently.

LOVE my new waders, got these from the new Cabela's store in Anchorage this summer!  Oh yeah, that a Copper River Red.
LOVE my new waders, got these from the new Cabela’s store in Anchorage this summer! Oh yeah, that a Copper River Red.

5. One last thing, where ever and however you are fishing, come prepared.

  • Bring any medicine you might need.
  • Sunglasses (polarized lenses help).
  • Take something for seasickness the night before and the morning of, if you are going out on the ocean.  (Please heed this advice, no matter what your experience in other places, Alaskan waters are big and even the most seasoned shipmates get a little queasy up here.  Having said that, don’t let this discourage you, just take your medicine and go have fun).
  • Bring plenty of warm layers (nothing ruins a good day of fishing, like being cold).
  • Don’t forget toilet paper and hand sanitizer (notice I’ve mentioned this twice and not by accident–translate:  REALLY IMPORTANT).
  • Your camera and extra supplies (battery, film, lenses, etc.)
  • Your sense of adventure!

    Everybody but the captain is allowed to take a nap on the way home ;)
    Everybody but the captain is allowed to take a nap on the way home 😉

Once the boat leaves the dock or shoreline, they don’t turn around and as all good Girl Scouts know, you’ve gotta be prepared for anything!

Which reminds me, be sure to know how long you’ll be gone.  Some charters are full day and some are half day.  A full day fishing charter can be up to 10 hours.  A half day charter is usually 4-6 hours.  The length of the charter often directly correlates with how far you have to travel to reach the fishing grounds.

Check out this video of us fishing on the Gulf of Alaska in 2012.   I caught a huge ling cod on this trip.  Too bad it was three days before they were legal to keep.

Have fun and be sure to share pictures of the big catch with us here in the comments below!

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