Where to Fish Saltwater
Silvers in Alaska
Top Ocean Coho Destinations
by Marcus Weiner
Alaska is replete with saltwater fishing destinations, where salmon and bottomfish can be found in amazing numbers. In several locations, anglers can catch both salmon and bottomfish during the same trip. In fact, in these prolific ports it’s common to see fish boxes stuffed with coho salmon, halibut, rockfish and lingcod on a regular basis.
As the bottomfish portion of the equation is fairly consistent during the late summer in most Alaska coastal hubs, you’ll want to concentrate on when and where the silvers are if your plan is to double-, triple- or quadruple-up on species in a single outing.
Most saltwater coho fisheries peak in August, with some fish being caught in July and September. Trolling and mooching are the two preferred techniques for targeting coho. Action is usually either slow or frenetic; coho are school fish and when you find them in numbers, results are usually good.
It’s my preference to fish the locations where combo trips are possible. In this blog, we’ll examine five locations where salmon and bottomfish are caught: Valdez, Seward, Kodiak, Sitka and Prince of Wales Island.
Located in northeastern Prince William Sound, Valdez offers a very good terminal hatchery return of coho as well as access to other salmon stocks in Prince William Sound (PWS) and the Gulf of Alaska. When the coho are thick in the Valdez Arm, anglers can access good numbers of fish in protected water and it provides one of the better road-system accessible small-boat coho destinations in Alaska. Anglers can also reach coho by casting from the beach, but a boat surely improves success.
Coho salmon can reach impressive size in Valdez and the derby-winning fish is usually in the upper teens, approaching 20 pounds. Within the terminal harvest area within Valdez Arm, anglers can keep six coho per day. Outside those boundaries, anglers get three coho per day. I’ve experienced quite a bit of trolling for coho in the Valdez Arm and PWS and have seen banner days. I’ve also cast my fair share of Pixees and Vibrax at Allison Point, which resulted in thick, succulent fillets.
Audrey Bradshaw landed this fine coho while trolling
in Prince William Sound.
For anglers looking to also catch bottomfish, a typical day starts with a run to greater PWS or the Gulf of Alaska. It’s most effective to start halibut fishing a few hours before tide-change and to fish it through slack to a few hours after tide-change. So depending on when that falls during the day, that will influence the order of operations. In some cases, lingcod and rockfish are present in the same place as halibut, as we found on several trips to the Gulf of Alaska. On the first trip, we experienced lights-out, off-the-chain angling. In 2.5 hours of fishing, we limited the boat with big halibut, lingcod and yellloweye rockfish. That day provided enough fish for my family for the year.
Anglers have access to charters that target coho, and who also provide bottomfish trips. Contact Valdez Outfitters (907-255-4555) for a guided charter to troll for coho or to target halibut, lingcod and rockfish. Self-guided anglers can bring their own boat to Valdez or rent one from Greg Kern at Fish Central (907-835-5002). Contact Laurine Regan at the Valdez Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (907-835-2984) for more information on all the amenities in Valdez. RV travelers to Valdez should contact Laura Saxe at Eagle’s Rest RV Park (907-835-2373). Travelers who need a hotel room and restaurant should contact Connie Ballow at the Totem Inn (888-808-4431). And if you need gear, go say hi to Joe Prax at the Prospector (907-835-3858).
Located on the west side of Baranof Island, situated in the middle portion of the panhandle very close to open water, Sitka is within a reasonable boat ride from migrating schools of coho. Boats either troll or mooch for coho and both are successful. Once out of the confines of Sitka Sound, anglers can retain halibut, so most boats leave the sound and head north or south in pursuit of a multi-species experience.
Father and son team Eric and Bill Ward displaying silvers caught near Sitka. The one on the right is a whopping 21 pounds.
I was there in 2014 and coho fishing was incredible. I weighed most fish and one in three was over 15 pounds. We caught our six-fish per-person limit every day, and did it each day within four hours. We were then able to make a short run and target halibut and similar short runs to target lingcod and various species of rockfish, both shallow and deep. On one day, we dropped the gear down deep and even managed to troll up a few nice feeder Chinook. One of the many highlights of the trip was catching a 21-pound coho.
There are many good options for guided fishing and lodging in Sitka. We recommend Teresa Weiser of Alaska Premier Charters and Wild Strawberry lodge (800-770-2628). Visit Bayview Pub (907-747-5300) for a good meal. For a place to sleep if you aren’t going to stay at a lodge, try the Aspen Hotels (907-747-3477). Sitka offers a full scale of amenities, and is one of the larger cities in southeast Alaska.
Located about 125 miles from Anchorage, on the Kenai Peninsula at the head of Resurrection Bay, Seward is a hotspot for coho and bottomfish anglers. Within the confines of Resurrection Bay, anglers can keep six coho per day. Once outside, the limit drops to three. I’ve caught six-fish limits within the bay, and on many occasions, plugged the boat with salmon, halibut, lingcod and rockfish.
Combo trips, like this one in Seward, can produce both
bottom fish and coho.
Charters who target big halibut will often make long runs to locations around Montague and Hinchinbrook islands, as well as farther into the Gulf of Alaska. The usual order of operations is to make the long run to a known productive halibut spot, set up anchor and get a scent trail going to bring halibut to the anglers. Once halibut have been caught, boats make their way back towards Seward, stopping to fill limits of lingcod, rockfish and coho as time, weather and the bite allows. Most of my coho trips in this fishery have been on big boats and we’ve always mooched for coho with cut-plug herring. On one especially productive trip on Glacier Charters with Will Gentry (307-359-0495), we loaded the boat with coho in less than an hour, after already filling limits of lingcod, rockfish and halibut. Will now works at Grande Alaska Lodge (907-422-0610).
There are ample accommodations and restaurants in Seward. We recommend Hotel Seward (800-440-2444) the Seward Windsong Lodge (907-224-7116). The Seward Chamber of Commerce (907-224-8051) can also point you in the right direction to find the right place for you. They orchestrate the Seward Silver Salmon Derby, which is one of the oldest and largest derbies going, and this year it runs from 8/12 to 8/20.
If you are looking for a charter, we recommend Aurora Charters (888-586-8420), Alaska Northern Outfitters (907-224-2665) and Alaskan Fishing Adventures (800-548-3474). If you want additional help booking a charter, contact the Fish House (800-257-7760) and they can get you on the right boat. If you want to also do some freshwater fishing when you are in Seward, contact Dragonfly Fishing Guides (907-491-1018).
Kodiak Island is a saltwater lover’s paradise as salmon and bottomfish can be found all around Alaska’s Emerald Isle. It offers good access to open water and also provides sheltered bays, coves and inlets where anglers can find fish and refuge on windy days.
The city of Kodiak holds most of the people on the island, the widest range of amenities and the bulk of the day-trip charter fleet. Depending on time of year and weather, charters target different locations, but most are fairly close by, allowing for more fishing time for anglers. I’ve been on boats that both troll and mooch for coho, so you have options depending on preference. These same boats offer combo trips, where anglers can also catch bottomfish. Contact Rick Baker at Fish Kodiak Adventures (888-568-2882). For lodging in the city of Kodiak, we recommend Best Western Kodiak Inn (888-563-4254), Kodiak Russian River Lodge (907-487-4430) and A Smiling Bear B&B (907-486-6390). If you need a rental car while on the island, contact Budget Car Rental of Kodiak (907-487-2220). If you need any gear while on Kodiak, visit Big Ray’s (907-486-4276).
Quality downriggers make a big difference when trolling for coho.
There are six remote villages on Kodiak Island: Old Harbor, Larsen Bay, Port Lions, Ouzinkie, Karluk and Akhiok. We can confirm that there are saltwater lodges in Old Harbor, Larsen Bay and Port Lions. There is little fishing pressure at these remote locations and the variety and bounty of fish stocks is impressive. We recommend visiting Jeff Peterson at Kodiak Combos (831-236-0278) in Old Harbor. Contact Andrew Airways (907-487-2566) and Island Air (907-487-4596) to arrange travel to these remote locations. For help setting up travel anywhere on the island, contact the Kodiak Island Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (907-486-4782).
Prince of Wales Island
The fourth largest island in the United States has an extensive road system that allows anglers to access saltwater. Ports like Craig, Klawock, Thorne Bay and Coffman Cove host charters and lodge fleets that can get anglers into the salmon and bottomfish that prowl the waters surrounding the island. Alaska’s Inter-Island Ferry Authority (866-308-4848) offers access to Prince of Wales (POW) with service between Hollis and Ketchikan.
Chrome silvers like this put up a great fight and are sublime on the table.
We recommend Thorne Bay Lodge (503-680-1755), who offers guided saltwater trips in Thorne Bay. For a fully-guided, all-inclusive lodge experience, visit our friend Captain Mac at Sportsman’s Cove Lodge. Capt. Mac and his other captains are experts at mooching coho salmon.
For an unguided experience, we recommend Alaska’s Fishtales Lodge (907-846-5317) in Whale Pass, Sea Otter Sound Lodge (877-569-7042) on Heceta Island and McFarland’s Floatel (907-401-3947) in Thorne Bay. If you need tackle while on the island, visit Log Cabin Sporting Goods (907-826-2205) in Craig. For help with planning a trip to the island, contact the Prince of Wales Chamber of Commerce (907-755-2626).
Southcentral and southeast Alaska offer many exceptional saltwater locales to catch coho, and in most cases, bottomfish as well. There are many other excellent locations that we did not cover in this article; Yakutat, Wrangell, Petersburg, Juneau, Homer, Whittier and Seldovia, just to name a few.
First you’ll need to decide what’s most important to the group before picking a location. If sightseeing and amenities are vital, then a trip to a road system port in Southcentral could be the right choice. If you are more interested in getting off the beaten path, and have always wanted to see a brown bear, then Kodiak could be the right decision. For those with a yearning to go out and explore a myriad of options, then Prince of Wales offers the right solution. And for the hardcore angler, looking for a solid, multi-species experience, then Sitka is worth considering.
In the end, realize that Alaska has a lot more to offer than just fishing and will leave you with long lasting memories, in addition to succulent fillets of top-notch fish.
For recommendations on top saltwater Fishing Charters and Lodges in Alaska, contact us at 907-345-4337.
Marcus Weiner is Publisher of Fish Alaska and Hunt Alaska magazines.