Going on a Fishing Charter?

    After speaking with many clients over the years,  I have found that many people who book trips on charter boats in Alaska really don't have a good idea of what to expect and how to gear up. Even though most companies work hard to inform prospective customers, in the summertime most booking agencies and charter businesses are extremely busy. Inevitably, there are some people who book a trip (perhaps at the last minute) without really having a good idea of exactly what they're getting into. If nothing else, this page is a last ditch effort to prevent another fisherman from showing up in shorts and sandals. Mine is a perspective from Whittier, but things shouldn't be all that different if you chose Seward, Valdez, Deep Creek, or even Homer as your port.



   I once heard a couple from California (no offense) ask a booking agent  if the boats go out when it's raining. If you know anything about Whittier, Alaska, you'll understand why they were laughed at. More than once I have gone from sunglasses and a T-shirt to full raingear in a few hours. Alaska weather can change extremely fast. The best tactic is to be prepared. There probably won't be room to bring a full suitcase, but try to arm yourself for anything.. A couple of layers topped with good raingear is hard to beat. If you're from a warm place (like Florida or Texas) or if you're fishing early or late in the season (May or late August) I would also suggest bringing along a wool stocking cap. Yeah, you just might get away with a T-shirt, but you want to be comfortable under any circumstances.  
    As for footwear, there is no replacement for a good pair of extra-tuffs, but in a pinch just about any ankle high rubber boots will do. I take many people in sneakers fishing each year and they always wind up wet, slimy, full of blood, and asking me where I bought my boots.
The Ride out and the Fishing Grounds
    Are we there yet? This is the typical question after the fisherman stares at his watch for the third time. Every boat is different, but in general if you're going on a halibut trip out of Whittier, Valdez, or Seward, the chances are good that you're going to travel for a while to get to the fishing grounds. On my trips out of Whittier I typically travel for two to two and a half hours at 30 knots to reach the grounds. I wish I didn't have to travel so far (the fuel bills are a nightmare), but that's the way it is. In order for me to consistently expect to find good numbers of fish, we need to go where they are.
    One of the nice things about Prince William Sound is that it's fairly protected. I spend most of my time fishing in really calm water. It does get rough occasionally though, and this is something you might want to consider. Yes, you could be in a boat in less than still water all day. This is especially true if you are in a boat that plans to fish in the open Gulf of Alaska. Generally in the Gulf you can always expect some groundswell-- and this surging is usually what gives people that queasy feeling. If you do have a tendency to get sick, start your treatment (dramamine, etc.) the night before your trip.
Whole boat Charters
    One of the worst common situations I face onboard is having mixed groups of people with different objectives. Mom, dad, and daughter are on the boat for their first fishing trip to have a good time and catch a few fish, while Frank, Bob, and Eddie are on their twentieth trip and want to travel halfway to Hawaii to slay the big ones. There certainly are times when this group can be happy together. Sometimes the best fishing to be found is in calm areas and everything is great. Other times, however, things aren't so perfect. When you introduce a variable such as moderate wind things change. Now I'm faced with either not putting Frank, Bob, and Eddie on the best possible spot, or I'm going to give Mom, dad, and daughter a little more of a nautical experience than they had hoped for.
    The way to go, unless you're fairly durable and easy going, is to book the whole boat for your group. The trip can be much more enjoyable when the captain can customize a trip for the group.
The Fishing
    Another good reason to book a boat as a group is that halibut fishing isn't always easy. There are times when the best fishing around necessitates using heavy weights in strong current. Cranking up three or four pounds of lead from 200 feet down isn't everyone's idea of a good time. This isn't the norm, but there are times when extra work is the price to pay for nice fish. Most often, you can expect to be cranking 20 oz. to 40 oz. from 100 feet to 350 feet down if you're fishing with me.
    Contrary to what a lot of advertising would lead you to believe, fish don't always jump into the boat either. Yes, make no mistake, Alaska has some amazing fishing. There are times when big fish come up two or three at a time and the limit is caught by noon. Normally, however, a little time and work is required for nice fish. This is fishing, and it does take patience. On many halibut trips we spend more of our time waiting than catching. Things change fast though, and it's not uncommon to catch nothing by noon and have a limit by 3:00 PM. Nothing is more aggravating than a fisherman who gives up one hour into it because "there are no fish here". Persistence pays off. Try to find captains that don't sleep well if they're not catching fish and give them some faith.
Should I keep that Halibut?
    Everyone wants to go home with two halibut. Here's another dilemma that seems to be getting worse as time goes on. The worst scenario for me is to drop down on a spot early in the day and have everyone hook into 15-25lb fish. Early in the day, these fish aren't too appealing. Fishing is fishing however, and I've seen people throw back small fish all morning and wish they could buy them in the afternoon. I've also seen people keep smaller fish and then watch their friends catch much bigger fish later. If it were me, I would probably keep the chunkiest of the smaller fish and then hope for the best. There are alternatives too. If you don't mind keeping fish that are less than grand, you might be able to devote some time to chasing lingcod, rockfish, and/or salmon.
    There are really nice fish out there. That said, realistically, our waters are being fished pretty hard these days. The recreational fleet is growing and I've seen and have heard of more commercial longline boats fishing in the areas I fish lately. The days of throwing back anything under fifty pounds are gone, at least for now.
What do I do now?
    You had a nice day and now you have a hundred pounds of fillets to bring home. This is a great situation, but you might want to consider the expense if you're planning on shipping that fish back to Iowa. Most ports have businesses nearby that will vacuum pack, freeze, and ship.... but it isn't cheap. It's a shame not to vacuum pack fish that won't be eaten fresh. Most people bring a couple of coolers with them to hold iced fish for the trip back home. A plastic bag in the trunk of a rental car isn't going to work, trust me.
    Take only what you will eat and can reasonably deal with. Although I eat a lot of fish, I don't enjoy watching someone keep a limit of sea bass and then tell me at the dock that they don't eat them.
Final Thoughts
    Make no mistake, the halibut fishing in south central Alaska can be nothing short of awesome. But... before you head out and book a trip, define your goals. If you absolutely need to bring home two fish over 60lbs. to justify the trip, you're probably better off heading to the nearest grocery store. However, if you want to get away, see some amazing sites, spend the day with good people, and have the opportunity to catch some amazing creatures, take the trip.
    All boats and captains are different and may specialize and attract different types of people. Unless you feel lucky, do some research before you pick a business.

Halibut  dustin  Randy halibut 

Tight lines.     

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