This was a definite highlight of the trip and just what I was looking for – remote camping all to myself with rivers full of fish. During a nice short ferry ride (3.5 hours) from Ketchikan where I met a local Eric Cook (Cap’n Cook) who said as we were approaching land: “you wanna go out on a boat tomorrow” me: “yeah I wanna go out on a boat tomorrow”. So we exchanged info and left out of Craig early the next morning for a different type of fishing from my usual – not just because I actually caught big fish either!
First salmon – coho or silver, all the salmon have at least two names that they are commonly called up here. Also while boating around looking for fish we saw all sorts of cool AK wildlife: lots of sea otters (most with pups on their bellies), harbor seals, a couple humpbacks breaching, countless eagles and lots of interesting shore birds.
After that I left the metropolis of Craig, PoW (the biggest town on the island which is the 3rd largest in the US with a pop of 1,200) for the interior of the island to try for river salmon on the fly rod and is often the case I found a great national forest campsite right on a beautiful lake. I grilled up a nice salmon dinner while thinking that the next human was probably an hour’s drive from me.
The timing worked out just right; the day I was on the boat fishing with Eric everyone was saying that the water levels were much too low and the salmon couldn’t make it up the streams and were all just staging in the river mouths so the river fishing stunk – actually a bit later in the season it began to really stink, after the salmon spawn they die and while it provides an all-you-can-eat buffet for lots of creatures it’s really substantially more than they can eat and a few tons of dead fish doesn’t smell so great after awhile. Then the day after going out on the boat while driving around the island to find a good first campsite the rains came hard and the rivers came up and the salmon with them. Salmon salmon everywhere. Still, I’ve never caught salmon on a fly rod and needed to crack to the code so while I’m fruitlessly casting to an endless flow of salmon I hear a couple guys pull into the pullout where I’m parked to admire my truck at which point I yell up the bank from where they haven’t seen me in the river “I’ll tell you all about it and even give you the tour if you tell me how to catch these damned fish!” A guy laughs and heads down the bank and a deal is struck. After giving him and his buddies a tour of the mog five magic words were spoken that change my fortunes: “purple egg-sucking leach pattern”. It sounded like solid advice so I drove to the nearest town – Thorne Bay – to put the new plan into action and the rest is history. The salmon are particular about what they eat there and what they eat is apparently purple egg-sucking leaches! From then on I caught salmon after salmon between 27″ and 35″, mostly pinks and a couple silvers.
I could’ve stayed on month in Prince of Wales easily but more stuff to see so back on the ferry back to Ketchikan (mom would love this part!).