Misty Fjords 2012: The Trip of a Lifetime! E-mail
Monday, 01 October 2012 18:04

Sunday, midday: The crew rolls into Ketchikan, Alaska with sunny 70-degree weather!! What is going on here? There are way too many people wearing shorts that shouldn't, and the blinding glare of bright white skin is over-powering. It’s a great sign of things to come. I meet up with Thomas and shortly after, our host Howard McKim, proprietor of Ketchikan Kayak Fishing. Howard is in “the zone” and needs to get a few things done before he and our Camp Chef, Eric head out. So we trail down to his boat and help load gear, and send him off for his four-hour crossing to the camp site in Foggy Bay.

Thomas and I take care of a few more things then go for a great little hike where the highway in Ketchikan dead ends. (Yes, the highway just ends at a trailhead.) We head back to town to meet up with the rest of the group and grab a bite to eat.

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Monday 06:00 The transport boat is loaded and everyone is on board including me, and my 150 pounds of gear. I never am able to pack light for this trip. The way I see it, if I get all the way out there and I wish I had that one piece of gear and I left it home I would be pissed. The only option: bring everything!! The transport boat made the crossing just shy of three hours and I was chomping at the bit to fish! First we must unload.

Not long after we are on shore, Ed and I hit the water. Ed is a hardcore kayak fisherman from San Diego and is just as amped to get a line wet. Twenty minutes later, we are just outside the opening in about thirty feet of water and we double up on fat coppers on the first drop. Second drop for me is one nice rockfish; third drop results in a doubled over rod. I think, “shit, a snag,” then- huge slow headshakes! Halibut; a good one! I am fishing with a 9 foot 8-12lb medium steelhead spinning rod and a small spinning reel w/ 30# braid! This brute had me doubled over and I could barely move her. The rod held strong for the entire fight and I was very impressed with its power! She came to the surface three times and the Boga Grip wouldn't even fit around her jaw!

Eventually the braid parted from her teeth. What a hell of a start to the trip! Ed and I continue to drift around the island and it isn't long before he is hooked into a halibut himself. It is a nice 30ish-pounder and the first halibut out of the water for the trip. We are loving life.  

The rest of the group joins us from around the back of the island and we all continue to fish together. I hooked into a small 10 pound halibut that was going to be dinner until it flipped out of the boat. Piles of rockfish were caught including a nice yellow-eye that ended up meeting the frying pan. A few drops later, I jig up my Kalin’s Big’N, and it doesn't move. Then it does move!! There was no mistaking the heavy dumps of a really big fish! This time I had the big guns out and she was hooked on my heavy rod.

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For the next 15 minutes we played vertical tug-of-war. I would take 50 feet she would scream out 40 back. This was a strong, strong fish. Finally she broke the surface and was all head!  I got her to the top three times before I was able to unhook her. Biggest fish of my life; easily 100+ and probably over 120 pounds! My heart is racing, my arms are shaking. As soon as she was gone, Howard suggested  we move towards the great drop-off that kicks out some killer lingcod. All I could say is “Bring it On!”

We paddle over and I watch the depth finder drop from 85 to 145 feet in about 20 yards. This is it! My first drop down and the Big-N doesn't even hit bottom before it is crushed! Another epic battle and I have the largest lingcod of my life in my lap! Tapes out at 44.5"! Right now I am on cloud 9 and just hooked the two biggest fish of my life! Damn I love Alaska! We round out the day with some more rock fish, then dinner on the beach. That was only the first day!

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With the first day on the Island blowing away all expectations I had for the entire trip, I had the remaining four days to have fun and play around with no real need to chase big fish at a fevered pace. Tuesday was spent mostly throwing jigs with my light spinning gear which makes catching rockfish and greenling down right sporty. Teresa, Ed and I head right out front and started catching fish, one after another. Eventually it turned into a game of waiting for one person to hook up then trying to get a double or triple hook up. We were getting quite good at it and were having an absolute blast.

The fish were killing everything from the “magic squid” to the irons that lost all paint during the course of one week. As we start to drift apart, we hear a yell come Teresa and look over to see her rod full bendo! Of course, I think she has hooked the bottom and just as I am about to give her a hard time the fish makes a hard run and she is in full sleigh ride mode!  She hooked up in 35 feet of water! The same spot where I hooked a large fish the day before on my light gear.

This would become known as the “hole” and this wouldn’t be the last big fish from here. After a solid battle she has the fish up to the surface with a very puzzled look on her face that says, "What do I do now?" Of course the only thing to do is get the fish out of the water. Easier said than done with a live 50+ pound halibut. I slide my boat along-side her, reach down with a little hand gaff and try to hook the fish under the chin.

Needless to say the fish is none too happy about this tactic and proceeds to beat the side of my boat until it slips off the hand hook. Down he goes and, like a champ, Teresa brings him back up.The second attempt goes much smoother and with the fish on the hook, I slide him right up on the kayak. A quick celebration: a high five, victory photo, and an unhooking is all that is needed before we send him back down.

The rest of the day is a solid mix of rockfish and greenling with a lingcod or two thrown in. After lunch I went out on a solo mission to try and find a good dinner sized halibut. Something in the 20 pound range. I hit a couple of my favorite holes but no love. All I am able to muster is more rock fish and a nice 22" starry flounder. Upon returning to camp, I talk to Erik, our Camp Chef, and he gives me the green light to keep the next halibut I catch. This means the rule of releasing large fish is temporarily lifted. Something more important is at stake: dinner! Tomorrow I will make good on this opportunity!

Wednesday 5am:  I am restless thinking about what the new day holds. Turns out to be the best day of the trip! I climb out of my tent and into my dry suit to see if anyone is up; no one yet. In an effort to warm up a bit before a day on the water I set about getting the fire stoked and hope others will be up shortly. Soon Teresa is up and eventually Ed appears too. We get our gear together and head out front for some more easy fun with rockfish to start the day.

Today is going to be a shortened day of fishing because we plan to catch the afternoon tide up nearby Very Inlet to see a few salmon streams and then ride the ebb tide back out. So we decide to stick close to camp and just enjoy wetting our lines. Today was also the best weather we had seen so far, with hints of blue sky threatening to make an appearance. As the three of us roll up on the rockfish hole we all settle back into the comfortable grove of playing with nice 16-20" copper and quillback rockfish.

As I look Ed's way, he is all smiles reeling in another rockfish, then, his rod goes from the light fast shakes of a feisty rockfish to the deep bendo of something much larger! Instantly I think he has a nice hitchhiker lingcod on, so I stow my rod and hustle over to watch the show. I arrive just in time to see his line go light; whatever it was spit his rockfish out. As Ed slowly retrieves his stunned rock fish, he watches it drift under his kayak as it is followed by a MASSIVE halibut less the three feet under his kayak. His eyes get huge and a few choice words are uttered as he watches the halibut swing back around and completely inhale his rockfish again right under his boat ... fight is back on!

All this time I am just kicking back and enjoying the show: it is the craziest thing I have ever seen. Ed fights the halibut for one good run before it spits his rockfish again and his jig comes back bare. I am sitting here, stunned by what just unfolded in front of me, then Ed starts frantically pointing to the water yelling "It’s right there!" So I reach back, grab my big rod and drop straight down. Two bounces later and this halibut absolutely hammers my gear! This is no light take, this is a full blown sledge hammer take down! This fish takes off like a rocket.

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I have never seen a halibut run along the surface but this toad makes a long, solid run just below the surface. So shallow that it left a wake behind it. I think the fish was half marlin! It is about this time that I realized that I told Eric that the next fish to the boat was going in the cooler. I estimated the fish to be in the 50 pound range so this fight just got a little more serious! This is our dinner fish. I wasn’t planning on landing a big halibut and I don’t have any of my serious gear with me, so I am going to have to improvise a bit. When I get the fish up, my only though is to secure it as soon as possible.

My estimation is a touch off, size wise, and on the first attempt, I get the jaws of my Boga Grip around its lip and am locked on! This just pisses the fish off and it goes wild alongside my kayak. All I can do is hold on for dear life. After what seems like a decade, I lean far away from the fish and pull it into my lap. This puts the head right in my face so I grab my bait knife off my PFD and quickly brain spike and cut all the gills. This quiets the fish down a fair bit, but I am still shaking and very amped up! All that is left are victory shots!

I still call this Ed and mines’ fish, as we both got to fight it and had a part in bringing it to the dinner table. 54.5" and according to ADFG's tables that puts it right at 80 pounds!!  That is it for the rest of my fishing day as I spend the next two hours paddling back to camp with this fish in my lap, filleting it on the beach, paddling the meat back around to the kitchen, then taking the carcass out to dump. All that is left is a 14 mile paddle up and back Very Inlet, which by the way, is beautiful. We get a wonderful bit of weather with light scattering, parted by blue skies, as we play in the tidal rapids and watched schools of pinks swarm the mouths of even the tiniest creek.  On our return to camp we catch an amazing sunset and since I have fallen back to catch a few pinks for crab bait, I get to enjoy possibly the most relaxing beautiful paddle of my life. Sitting in the kelp, grabbing a quick drink of water and watching the sky transform and dance with color was truly magical; an image that is etched into my memory and will never be forgotten!

Dinner back at camp is amazing as we feast on fresh halibut and grilled zucchini.  As with every meal, I eat until I am about to burst, then sit around the camp fire to relive the highlights of the day while sipping scotch and smoking cigars. The final days of the trip are spent leisurely paddling around and taking a moment to soak it all up. It is wonderful to quietly drift with newly found friends in a huge expanse of ocean and be able to acknowledge that I am in the middle of an experience that will stay with me my entire life and bring me great joy every time I am able to retell my story. As our trip draws to a close, I am so completely at peace that the fishing became secondary to just enjoying the grandeur around me.  We dip our blades for our last glide of the trip. The only thing that stands out is a wonderful connection to the land, the ocean, and unspoiled wilderness that surrounds me as I pledge to return to this gorgeous corner of the globe. Alaska is truly magical. To the entire crew: it was my pleasure to spend a week with all of you!

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