For the staff of Fish Alaska magazine, though based in the Anchorage bowl, going to Valdez feels like coming home. In Valdez, it seems friends can be found around every corner; in some places, you just feel like family.
The town is full of good people as a matter of fact, and over the years we have had the pleasure to get to know some of them. Take, for instance, Laura and Jeff Saxe of Eagle’s Rest RV Park. They are supremely kind and generous people who go out of their way to make you feel like you are part of the family. They’ve spent over 30 years in Valdez, raised three wonderful children and continue to share the spirit of Valdez with travelers from all over the globe. I’m sure many people feel that the highlight of their summer is spending time at Eagle’s Rest RV Park.
Or how about Connie and Rick Ballow, owners of the Totem Inn? On a recent 2011 trip to Valdez, Rick and Connie hosted our group aboard their beautiful boat, the Connie B III. They made us feel at home, helping me to get my 3 ½-year-old boy into his first fish and even letting him sit with Rick in the wheelhouse, showing him how to drive the boat and explaining all the electronics. They nearly adopted him as a grandchild. Of course, Charlie didn’t stop talking about the trip for weeks. Connie does a terrific job of running the Totem Inn and restaurant, and if you don’t have a place to stay for your next visit to Valdez, try there first. This month’s featured recipe is courtesy of the Totem, and you will enjoy a good meal when you go there.
Similarly, have you had the pleasure of meeting Joe and Laurie Prax? (That’s them on the cover). Joe owns the Prospector and Laurie owns KVAK radio station. Both are pillars of the community and contribute in so many ways. They have raised a beautiful family who will no doubt continue all the good work that the Praxs do in Valdez. Listen to KVAK when you come to town and you will surely be entertained by Laurie. And a visit to the Prospector is a ‘must do’ for anything you need for your outdoor adventure.
Have you met Greg Kernor his sister Michelle at Fish Central? Wonderful people who help to make Valdez a great place. Stop by and visit them if you need a charter, skiff rental, or need your fish processed.
Over the years we have likewise had the privilege to meet and fish with many different charter captains in Valdez. Captains like Mel Grove, John Goodhand, Dave Wiley, Dave Bruss, Rick and Connie Ballow, Mike and Patty Wing, Dan Eames, Dave Pope and Jeff Saxe. To the man, these operators are experts in catching anything that swims. From salmon to halibut, rockfish to lingcod and occasionally a giant salmon shark, you will be impressed by the combined angling knowledge of these experts.
And if you can’t get out and catch your own fish, go visit Solomon Falls located at 1815 Loop Rd. This is the retail arm of the Valdez Fisheries Development Association and they can help you with your seafood needs. VFDA is the group that is responsible for rearing salmon at the Solomon Gulch Hatchery. They are permitted to incubate 230 million pink salmon, two million coho and 105,000 kings and have a goal of an annual return of 10 million pinks, 100,000 coho and 10,000 kings. This makes it possible for all of us to enjoy the incredible salmon fishing that is one of the hallmarks of Valdez.
Don’t forget to purchase a derby ticket for the silver salmon or halibut derbies when you visit. These derbies are well-run, offer tons of prizes and add a heightened level of excitement to the prospect of fishing. Not only will many lucky anglers enjoy fighting big fish and the ensuing delicious meals that come from this high-quality seafood, but they can also win some money and prizes. I was fishing with Joe Prax in 2003 when he caught the derby-winning halibut that won him $15,000. What a day!
Finally, if you need help figuring out what to do while you are in Valdez, consult the Valdez Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. These friendly folks can aid you in planning your trip, and there is plenty to see and do in Valdez. You won’t want to miss any of it, even if it takes more than one trip to fit it all in.
-Marcus Weiner, publisher