Farewell 2023 Fishing Season
The ’23 season began on a sunny, nearly hot, May 18 with Hook It and Cook It. It ended on a rainy breezy September 11. So much happened in between those dates that a full write-up could take on the proportions of a Russian novel. We’ll spare you the heavy reading – the thrill of victory, the occasional agony of defeat (the big one that got away). What follows can’t possibly capture the fun, the beauty, the excitement, the friends and family bonding that comes with your fishing trip with Angling Unlimited. In a nutshell – 2023 was a very good year.
Grades for 2023 – A compilation from the AU captains:
Chinook (kings): Highest grade A+, lowest B. Biggest King – 43 pounds caught by Terry Weathers with Captain DJ on July 3.
Without a doubt, the 2023 king run provided lots of fish and action from the May 18 opener well into the latter part of August. The kings were widely distributed much of the time, which meant a chance to boldly go to places with few or no other boats. The kings flushed through in big schools with many high in the water column. A chinook strike at 25 feet makes the action even more exciting. The only minus in the run was size. The fish in May and June came in a variety of sizes, but many were small by our standards, and few were trophies. In a nutshell – great for numbers, subpar on size.
Coho (silvers): Highest grade A, lowest B. Biggest Silver – 18 pounds caught with Captain Tyler on September 10.
The coho began showing up in scattered numbers in early July and in big numbers by the middle of the second week of the month. From then on, limits became more and more common. We also found silvers feeding on balls of bait on nearshore spots like Point Amelia, Gilmer Bay, and “the Bowl”. The coho did their usual rapid growth throughout the summer and by late August we were seeing more and more in the low to mid-teens. The fishing for silvers held up well right up to the bitter end in September despite bad weather. During the hard blows our boats caught good numbers in the protection of the Shark Hole and the waters well inland. In a nutshell – an excellent coho season with only a slight markdown for showing up a tiny bit late.
Halibut: Highest grade A, lowest B –. Biggest Halibut released – 76 inches caught by Dan Greene fishing with Captain Chuck aboard 7th Sun.
The season for halibut began with good numbers at our Cape Edgecumbe locations and offshore where they were well mixed with blackcod and pacific cod. Quick king limits provided lots of time for us to venture to the deep, deep where we found halibut close to the 40-inch maximum with blackcod and pacific cod. Toward the middle part of June, some of most trusted halibut spots suffered a dogfish invasion and pretty much petered out. Fortunately, we found extremely fast action, like instant action and limits, close to the salmon grounds. These fish were a bit small at times, but we also found good numbers of halibut in about 450 feet of water another 6 miles out that often pushed the maximum size. In either case, halibut limits were just about guaranteed and if you took the fast option, it left lots of time to pursue salmon, rockfish, and lingcod. In a nutshell – excellent for fast action with a slight markdown for size.
Other Salmon: Ungraded. Pink salmon are graded about like golf – the higher the score, the worse you did. We had about a month of the pink invasion from late July until late August. Unlike 2022, we didn’t see a lot of chum salmon. Sockeye are always a rare incidental catch and 2023 was no exception.
Blackcod: Highest grade B, lowest D – The blackcod season was terrific in May and half of June. Things were much more challenging the rest of the season with some exceptions in early September. Up until the dogfish invasion put out the lights on our most reliable blackcod (and pacific cod) location, we were catching limits or near limits along with halibut on a daily basis. After that, we had an occasional good blackcod catch, but the action was not reliable. Here today, gone tomorrow. Late in the season the blackcod catches offshore improved, but the weather made it challenging to get there and most of our anglers were preoccupied with pursuing big silvers. In a nutshell – great first half of the season, weak second half.
Lingcod: Highest A, lowest C – Lingcod numbers are excellent in Sitka over a wide range of depths from 25 feet to 700 feet. The challenge is finding them within the narrow slot of 30 to 35 inches and there’s an annual limit of one. This explains the range of grades. Many of our lingcod are caught incidentally while rockfishing or targeting halibut. On days when other limits come quick and early, the pursuit of the evasive slot lingcod can produce frustration, results, or a bit of both.
Rockfish: Highest A, lowest B – Rockfish remain incredibly abundant in Sitka waters which means fast and fun action. That makes one wonder why the regulation is down to 2 per day. The popularity of fish tacos makes rockfish a must catch for our guests. In a nutshell – A for action, B for the tight bag limit.
Rare catches: A wolf eel landed aboard by Captain Jack McNamee and Deckhand Conner in early August with the Orton Party. Thresher shark landed by Jeremy Shaia on September 1 fishing with Captain Tom and “the Cobrah”.
Weather: Highest A, lowest B minus – We had an exceptionally warm day to kick off the season followed by weeks of cool damp weather. We were able to get out on the ocean throughout May and June without facing anything too ugly. Most days were pleasant until about a week of northwest wind in the first and second week of July which ended with weeks of dead calm weather. The calm ocean became the dominant picture through the middle of August when we saw our first preview of fall with a strong system of rain and wind. From then until the season’s end, we dealt with a combination of days that ranged from decent, to big and barely doable. Thankfully, the fish didn’t seem to care, and we found good catches of silvers and halibut on inside protected water. In a nutshell – A for so many calm days, B since some groups hit challenging weather.
Ryan Leverington, known to all as Lev, began his career with AU as a deckhand at age 20. He reached the end of this rainbow with us on September 10, 2023. We will miss Lev’s hard work, exceptional fishing skills, good nature and his excellent rapport with guests. He has been a valuable player on the AU team for over a decade and we all wish him continued success as he enters a new era in his life. We’ll let Lev say the rest in his own words:
“What a ride it has been! When I started at AU 11 years ago as a 20-year-old deckhand, I never would have envisioned how much it would change my life. Angling Unlimited and Sitka grew on me quickly and after a couple seasons I knew it was going to be more than just a summer job during college, I was hooked. It quickly grew into a passion for me. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to take the helm and show family, friends, and clients who became friends, the beauty and bounty Sitka has to offer. Some of my best memories are seeing the range of emotions when fish hook up and hit the deck! I want to say thank you to everybody I’ve had the pleasure of taking out to the big water! The time has come for my wife, Tracy, and I to start a new chapter and settle down a bit. No doubt, I will be back to Sitka to visit in the future and look forward to it already.
Keep that rod tip up and don’t set the hook!”
– Capt. Lev
Welcome Back Conner
Conner Cooke worked for AU as deckhand for Captain Spencer for three summers from 2018-2020. He was fresh out of a four-year stint in the US Marine Corps where he “learned how to walk a straight line and shave my face”. In 2017, after his enlistment concluded, he enrolled in college and began studying biology. He made his way to AU the following summer where he earned high praise from his captain, his coworkers, and his employers.
Raised in Chehalis, Washington Conner grew up on a Christmas tree farm bordering the Newakum river. “Due to the convenience of the location, and a fortunate childhood, I started fishing at a very young age. Our house quickly became a hangout spot for all my childhood friends. Fishing has always been a great excuse to get your buddies together and enjoy the outdoors”.
Conner earned his captain’s license in the winter of 2020 and made the big decision to move to Sitka full time. AU did not have any vacancies in their captain’s roster at the time, so he began running a boat for another charter outfit in Sitka for the past three years (2021-2023) where he gained much experience at the helm. This year, with the departure of Lev, Conner got the news about an opening at AU. He’s excited to be back on our team. The feeling is quite mutual.