The Sitka Experience
By Marcus Weiner
When I think of southeast Alaska, I think more water than land. From the endless array of interconnected and protected saltwater bodies to the myriad rivers, streams and lakes found scattered throughout, to the steady rain and snow that pours from the skies, the landscape seems more fluid than solid. And I like it that way because in Alaska if there's water there is usually fish.
Sitka exists roughly in the center of the Southeast action. And more importantly, it sits closely to the migration lanes traveled by millions of salmon making hundreds of separate runs. It's no wonder then that Sitka is considered the salmon capital of southeast Alaska, where catch rates for Chinook and coho salmon are three times higher than anywhere else in the region. Fish headed for systems farther south stop in Sitka Sound to rest, rejuvenate and fatten up before continuing on their way. And some find their way into anglers’ fish boxes; these, in many cases, are also headed south.
My experience with Chinook angling in Sitka confirms these statements. Action was steady and kings were caught with regularity. These Chinook are locally referred to as Sitka brights, and fish ranging from 20- to 30 pounds were the norm.
On a 2014 trip to Sitka, we targeted coho as well as the full complement of bottomfish. Coho fishing was insane. Each day we landed limits of six fish each for four- or five anglers and always in fewer than three hours. Double- and triple hookups were common. Fish were large, with roughly one in three weighing 15 pounds or more. The Boga-Grip scale I brought along confirmed that our largest fish was a ridiculous 21-pounder, seen on the cover of the December 2014 issue.
According to ADF&G data, Sitka is the top yelloweye rockfish port in Southeast and the second-largest-producing port for lingcod. Again, experience on the water confirms these statements, as we caught yelloweye to 20 pounds and many lingcod ranging from 10- to 40 pounds. Angling for black rockfish, both inshore and open-water varieties, was superb. On one perfect day on the water in 2014, we targeted open-water black rockfish after stuffing the boat with coho. These are the facts: I never made a drop that didn't result in a fish, the average fish was over five pounds and we reached the 20-fish limit in 15 minutes. As halibut retention- and size limits decrease, I think anglers should target species like black rockfish and Pacific cod, which are both plentiful and great to eat.
Halibut angling in Sitka is also solid. ADF&G states that it takes an angler about two hours to land a halibut, on par with catch-rates for Prince of Wales Island and considerably faster than the rest of the region. Action ramps up in July and peaks in August. We boated many solid 25-pound fish during our late August excursion, and even hooked and landed a robust 70-pounder.
Surf fishing options are also excellent around Sitka. Anglers can target cutthroat trout, Dolly Varden and a range of salmon from places like Starrigavan Bay, Crescent Bay and the along the shoreline at Halibut Point Rd.
King salmon - May through early August
Silver salmon – Mid-June through mid-September
Chum salmon - July and August
Pink salmon - July and August
Halibut - June through mid-September
Rockfish - All season
Lingcod - All season
Dolly Varden - May through October
Steelhead - April through early May
Cutthroat trout - May through October
Indian River - Dolly Varden in April and May, again in July and August. Note: the river is closed to salmon fishing.
Sawmill Creek - steelhead in May, rainbow trout throughout season, Dolly Varden as mentioned above, as well as pink, chum and silver salmon in July and August.
Starrigavan Creek - Dolly Varden, closed to salmon fishing.
Blue Lake - best option for rainbow trout.
Beaver Lake - only grayling option in area.
Thimbleberry and Heart lakes - eastern brook trout populations were planted in 1928 and have developed into a stable fishery.
Recommendations for Charters and Lodges
Kingfisher Charters and Lodge
Wild Strawberry Lodge and Alaska Premier Charters
Vonnie's Guide Service