The North Pacific was incredibly productive over the last year and hordes of returning salmon in Alaska this past summer provided abundant proof. The numbers are staggering including a record commercial harvest of over 260 million salmon statewide in Alaska including 98.5 million salmon harvested commercially in Southeast alone.
The sport fishing reflected the glut of fish, too. For nearly three solid months, our guests experienced lights out salmon action virtually every day. We’re not talking a few white hot days to punctuate the normal very excellent Sitka fishing. It was day in, day out wide open action from the second week in June until we closed the doors in early September. We’ve seen a lot of great fishing over the past 21 years in Sitka, but not such sustained action at a meteoric level for so many months.
On top of the spectacular fishing, the summer 2013 delivered higher than average temperatures, much lower than normal rainfall, abundant sunshine, and nearly 3 solid months of calm seas. All these stars and others aligned to make 2013 my favorite year. Here are my favorite moments from 2013:
- Sustained action at a meteoric level for so nearly 3 months.
- Best weather and sea conditions for entire summer we’ve ever seen.
- My new boat – a great addition to the fleet – fast, smooth riding, perfectly set up for fishing, and mechanically flawless
- My son Gus as my deckhand. The opportunity to work day in and day out with my 17 year old son was priceless. On a personal level this, more than weather, fishing, or a new boat made 2013 my favorite year.
According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, it was the best silver run since 1994. According to Captains Chuck and Tom, who fished 1994, this season was better. The coho showed up in late June with limits becoming the rule by the end of the month. Daily limits of six per angler, often landed within an hour or two, remained the rule into early September. We had over 2 months of lights out coho fishing every day. The fish were outrageously aggressive, sometimes making it difficult to fish inshore halibut because the coho attacked coho guts intended for the bottom. These silvers were big, strong, and acrobatic. We saw more fish between 15 and 18 pounds than any previous season.
Grade: A plus, plus – for size, incredible numbers, consistency of action, and aggressive biting.
A low preseason abundance index drove strict annual king limits in July and August this past season. The fish didn’t read the memo. We had a good action in May, with the fish largely confined to the Cape Edgecumbe area. Then there was a brief window of slow fishing on the last day of May and the first week in June. After that, the run lifted off for the stratosphere. By June 10 it was lights out for kings at Point Amelia and Shelikof Bay – action as fast as we’ve ever seen in 21 years of fishing Sitka. King action remained somewhere between solid to spectacular the rest of the summer right into early September. The biggest kings of the season were a 48 pounder taken by Tom Fulton aboard Aquila with Captain Greg Mohs and a 45 pounder taken by Anders Engle about Albatross with yours truly, Captain Tom.
Grade: Solid A – for numbers, good average size, big schools of fish, and consistent action.
We enjoyed excellent halibut action with lots of fish near the 45 inches (roughly 40 pounds) in May and June. By the time the salmon fishing lit up, there were abundant halibut inshore, some of which were very respectable, many were smaller chickens. The option to run offshore for bigger fish or stay inshore remained throughout the summer. With salmon fishing so lit up, many of our anglers opted for taking their halibut on salmon gear and enjoying the inshore show.
Grade: A – for numbers and convenience on inshore grounds and B for size (inshore).
The standout bottomfish of the season was the state record shortraker rockfish caught by Henry Liebman in June with Captain David Gross. This 39 pound whopper went viral in the news – the 200 year old fish. A little lab work revealed it was actually a youthful 64. Henry now has the Alaska state record and a pending world record.
Black rockfish (sea bass), yelloweye (red snapper), and a host of other rockfish species provided fast action and will make great eating over the winter. The lingcod population is robust, but the catching one within the 30 to 35 inch window is often a challenge.
Grade: A – solid except lingcod due to tight slot limit.