Hitting Our Limit – Binge Fishing in Valdez
Valdez, Alaska sits at the end of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and the Richardson Highway, miles from anywhere. It’s one of those towns that seems like a simple fishing village but its history is one of perseverance.
This town has recovered from an array of rough patches throughout it’s time. There are scars from battles during the gold rush era, a damaging earthquake in 1964, Volcanoes, Glacial Landslides and probably the most famous of all its woes is the massive Exxon oil tanker spill in 1989.
Now the plant and animal life have nicely rebounded and its home to an abundance of wildlife. Plus, its location at the head of a fjord in Prince William Sound make it an outdoor lover’s paradise (aka, our kinda place). We could have easily spent our time paddling around the tiny islands and hiking the stacked mountains in every direction but we came here on a mission…a fishing mission (and why not, even the deadliest catch crews are here)!
I feel the need to make a big disclaimer before we go any further. We have only fished with family or friends occasionally here and there and before coming to Alaska, we didn’t even own a fishing pole. But we’re passionate about foraging, living off the land and very much want to become capable fishermen. So we’re taking every opportunity to learn, and in our opinion, there’s no better way to learn than spending some quality boat time with the locals.
It just so happened that our Alaskan friends Bonnie and Chris were in fishing in Valdez with friends for one of their many summer trips. Each year they load up their RVs, boats, gear and meet up here to fill their freezers with enough salmon and halibut to get them through the winter. Luckily, Alaskans are incredibly welcoming and a couple invited us, two strangers, to bring our newly purchased gear and inexperienced (but very excited) selves to join in on the adventure!
A huge thanks to Greg and Danielle for the boat tour, teaching us the salmon fishing ropes and stuffing our freezers/bellies for the winter too!
We learned a lot about salmon while in Alaska…and not just the fishing part. Our minds were blown by just how in the dark we really were. So, for all you fellow salmon lovers who have not been salmon fishing yet or even for those that buy at the market, here are some pearls we’ve picked up here in Alaska.
There are 5 different species of Salmon, and most Alaskans only eat 3 of them and consider the other 2 dog food (no really, some feed them to their dogs):
- Chinook / King Salmon – The biggest of Salmon, the most prized and most difficult to catch.
- Sockeye / Red salmon – A prized catch and the Alaskans we met loved this fish most for its deep red flesh.
- Coho /Silver Salmon – A desirable fish known for being a fun catch and good eatin’ with their tasty reddish orange flesh.
- Pink Salmon – Most Alaskans we met wouldn’t eat this fish nor keep them. They would even say, “Friends don’t let friends eat pinks”. It’s a milder flavor with a light pink flesh. What blew our minds is Pink Salmon is what most of us get at the market in the lower 48 (wild Alaskan salmon, Atlantic salmon…) unless its specifically noted as Coho, Sockeye or Chinook. Now, we’re not that spoiled and we’re perfectly happy to catch and eat a pink salmon (when our Alaskan friends aren’t around that is).
- Chum / Dog Salmon – Known as “dog salmon” because of their teeth and canine look during spawning. They have a softer flesh (some say mushy) and are generally not considered a desirable table fish. However, it is commercially caught so who knows how many times we have eaten it not knowing any different.
After our incredible salmon fishing experience, we were hooked and wanted more. This time however, we wanted in on the halibut action. So, we started asking around the group and bingo! Eric and Lenny invited us to join their boat (sorry, I was so excited I forgot to get a photo of them). It was a perfect day, blue skies, white fluffy clouds and glassy waters.
While we went in search of halibut (we didn’t catch one) what we were reeling in was yellow eye rockfish! Those things are like reeling in boulders and come up with big bulging eyes, tong’s swelled and poisonous spikes out! True punk rockers!
Yelloweye are one of the world’s longest lived fish and can live to be up to 140 years old! They can also be easily overfished because they take a long time to reproduce. However, because they come from deep waters, once you have reeled them up, they won’t likely survive if you toss them back.
You’d think by now we would have had our fill of fish…but nope! We headed over to Allison Point and the fish hatchery. It’s supposed to be the place to see bears feasting on salmon and a great place to toss a line in and catch some pinks. While the views were stunning, sadly there were no bears despite the swarms of fish. However the sea lions were in hog heaven and it was quite the show! They were literally rolling around in swarms of pink salmon biting off heads and throwing back the bodies. It was a vision of true happiness and gluttony.
We did catch pinks here and is a great spot that doesn’t require a fee or a boat ride to get to. However, if you don’t meet any locals willing to take you out and you can spring for a charter I think it would be worth it!
Where We Parked It
We stayed at the Eagles Rest RV Park because we wanted to hang with our friends and that is where they stay. It’s nothing fancy and essentially a parking lot but so are the other in-town RV parks. We celebrated the 4th of July here enjoying our freedom, eating fresh salmon and spending time with all our new friends. It was all wonderful, but I have to say…watching fireworks in a part of the country where it doesn’t get dark is a strange experience.
What we missed
Lu-Lu Belle – Lots of our fellow full time RV’ing friends took this scenic tour and every one of them loved it. They got up close and personal with lots of wildlife, glaciers and came back with lots of Valdez folklore stories. We didn’t have the time but will definitely do this excursion on our next visit!
SUP / Kayaking – There are so many little islands to explore and when the weather is nice, the water is like a big teal mirror! If you love paddling then this would be a great place to explore. There’s even a public use cabin a day’s paddle from town.
Hiking – This whole area is an outdoor lover’s paradise and much of it can be explored on foot. There were a list of trails that we would have loved to take. Make sure and stop by the visitor’s center for current trail maps and conditions.
Fuel Prices – Fuel around the area hovered in the realm of about $3.60 – $3.70 a gallon. For the most recent pricing, check out the free Gas Buddy app.
Road Conditions – The roads in and around Valdez were well maintained.
Weather – We had a couple of glorious sunny days and some drizzly misty days with highs hovering in the low 70’s and the lows in the upper 40’s.
Dates Visited – July 3 – July 8, 2015
Resources – We purchased a medium action pole (Alaskan friend approved) that worked great and seems to be a good investment for long term use. We opted for quality fishing line, and borrowed a diver and a flasher from our friends. The fresh bait of choice was herring and was only $19 for the big bag of frozen which lasted for a week! When fishing for the pinks, we used a pixie.