Learn About Our Catch Rates
The Intelligent Fisherman
(not always an oxymoron)
While some folks might throw a dart on the chart to choose which stock to invest in, others take a practical, common sense approach to choosing an investment. Choosing where to fish can be approached in much the same way. I have constructed a rational argument for Highliner Lodge and Charters Inc. as the premier sportfishing destination in Alaska. No longer should you rely on insider tips or irrational exuberance when making this most important of life’s decisions.
There are reasons that our average halibut are 3 times bigger than the ones from Seward, Homer or Sitka. There is a reason that our king salmon catch rate is the highest in the state. There is a reason that our peak king salmon season is three months long while at most other locations, the king salmon season is 3 or 4 weeks long at best.
I will present the facts and reasons. It is up to you to decide if this is an honest and compelling argument. If it is, it should trump any other reason to choose where to go for a great fishing experience at an Alaskan fishing lodge.
The catch rates have been consistent year after incredible year at Highliner Lodge and Charters Inc.!
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION!
To catch a lot of fish, you must be in their migratory pathway. You must go to where most of the fish are. If you get in the pathway but there are tens of thousands of other fishermen there with you, well, do the math.
You have to share with tens of thousands of others. Your share won't be very big. If you are late, you won't even get your share. So, it is obvious that you need to get in the pathway and go where there aren't tens of thousands of fishermen. Also, if you want to experience great fishing, you need to be first in line too!
This is where the chart to the left will start to make more sense.
Please look at the 400 mile-long unfished area shown on the chart in dark blue. This area is inaccessible to cruise ships. It has no roads, few harbors, no cities and therefore, almost no fishing effort. It is, in effect, an unofficial marine sanctuary. King salmon and halibut aggregate here and then continue their migration to the southeast where you can be first in line!
They call them "fishing" lodges for a reason. People like to catch fish! That is supposed to be why you go there—to catch fish. There are many very fine hotels and restaurants in New York and London but there are no fish in their waters and everyone understands that.
If you are going to a "fishing" lodge, your first concern should be if there any fish there and what the catch rates are. People don't understand that there are very few fish to catch at many locations in Alaska. Some lodges have a masseuse, a world-famous chef, an endorsement from a famous fishing celebrity, or even a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed lodge and genuine Lincoln Log bedroom furnishings. However, don't you think that they might be trying to overcompensate for something?
The table above shows that the two areas closest to the unfished 400-mile stretch (shown in dark blue on the chart) have the biggest halibut in the state. Coincidence? Not at all. It is attributable to biology and fishing pressure. There are still big halibut near Sitka, Seward, and Homer—lots of them. They are located where the fish are.
The problem is that there are literally tens of thousands of fishermen fishing there! So, it shouldn't surprise anyone that the chances of actually catching a big halibut in those locations are now very low. That is why the average halibut caught there is only 15 lb. Our average halibut is 45 lb because we don't have the overwhelming fishing effort that they do.
From ADF&G Charter and Non-Charter Halibut Harvest Data:
Other places are so far away from the Gulf of Alaska that they just don't have an abundance of halibut or salmon. They never did. They never will. They are not on the migratory pathway of these fish.
Some locations are on the pathway but sadly for them, they are last in line. California is last in line to catch even its own king salmon. They are caught in Alaska first, in British Columbia second, then Washington and Oregon.
If you are from California, you know what I'm talking about! So even if a fishing lodge is isolated and doesn't have overwhelming fishing effort, they will catch very little fish if they are off the migratory pathway and/or last in line.
This chart to the right depicts the fishing effort in Alaska and British Columbia. The bigger the dot, the worse the fishing!
Pelican is not in the middle of the Gulf of Alaska. I have put the dot that represents Pelican's fishing effort there so you can see it. The red dot that represents Pelican (where Highliner Lodge and Charters Inc. is located) is so small as to be virtually invisible.
Pelican (Highliner Lodge and Charters Inc.) is located where the arrow that points to the east is pointing. The effort in Sitka, Homer, or Seward dwarfs that of Pelican. There is about 50 times more fishing effort in each of those ports than in Pelican!
We are on the migratory path, we are isolated, but we are not overwhelmed by fishing pressure, and we are first in line!
This chart shows the two regulatory areas for halibut. In area 3A, the daily bag limit is 2 halibut- one of any size, and one under 28". Across the line in area 2C, the daily limit is 1 halibut under 38" or 1 halibut over 80”. You must release any halibut between those sizes. That is any halibut weighing between 30 and 275 lbs!
We have licenses to fish both areas and our guests have the choice to keep two halibut a day of any size using Guided Angler Fish.
Not only do we have the considerable advantage of being first in line (we like to say… “Closest to the Fish!”), we also have the ability to cross that line and fish in area 3A where the daily bag limit is much more generous!
The further down the line you are, the more disadvantaged you become!
What happens when you are in a good location, but too many fishermen go there?
This Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) chart shows that all inside waters in and around Sitka have been closed to charter fishing for the past 9 years! This is because there are too many fishermen depleting the local halibut resource.
“Tourism, including a growing sportfishing charter industry, is vital to the economy of Sitka and other communities. The number of registered charter vessels based in Sitka nearly doubled between 1991 and 1992, and, between 1992 and 1998, doubled again to 240 vessels. In 1998, harvests by anglers aboard charter vessels comprised 65%, 85% and 88% of all king, coho, and halibut harvested in the Sitka marine sport fishery. Between 1982 and 2001, the number of charter fishing boats in southeast Alaska increased from 139 to 1,343. “ (ADF&G 2000)
Is there really any wonder why this area has been restricted to a bag limit of one halibut under 38” or over 80"per day? Do you now understand why the average halibut is only 16 lb (even before there was this restriction)? This is why you cannot fish for halibut in the calm inside waters of Sitka Sound. But you can fish the calm inside waters for halibut at Highliner Lodge and Charters!
This chart depicts the average weight of landed halibut in Alaska. The halibut icons are sized proportionally so that you can visually see the difference between the average size halibut in different locations throughout Alaska.
Note that the Yakutat and Glacier Bay areas (the Glacier Bay area includes Pelican) have the largest average halibut in all of Alaska, more than quadrupling Seward!
Data tables from: http://www.fakr.noaa.gov/sustainablefisheries/halibut/sport.htm
This chart shows the average amount of pounds of halibut landed per angler, per day, in these Alaskan ports. This takes into consideration that you could keep 2 halibut of any size in area 3A and you could retain only 1 halibut under 37” in area 2C in 2011 (future regulations may change but the differences will always be there).
The bigger the red dot, the better the fishing! I have depicted the various king salmon catch rates with a red dot sized proportionally to represent the king salmon catch per angler. Notice that Seward and Homer have such a terrible king salmon catch rate that the red dot is nearly invisible! The data is from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) tables.
King Salmon Catch Analysis
Our king salmon catch rate is 5 to 50 times greater on the outer coast than on the inner coastal areas of Southeast Alaska. A very large portion of the king salmon caught in Southeast Alaska was destined to spawn in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California. Most of the Alaska king salmon are caught in the ocean and not near the hatcheries or streams where they will spawn. The closer to the ocean that you are, the more king salmon you will catch! Ketchikan, Juneau, and Petersburg have terrible king salmon fishing compared to Sitka, Craig, or Pelican. They are more than 100 miles from the ocean. The king salmon fishing has never been and will never be very good in those locations.
Halibut and salmon are replenished from the ocean but not at a rate high enough to make up for the fish taken out of local waters where there is very heavy fishing effort, as in Sitka. This leads to "local depletion."
The two NMFS tables below show the actual king salmon catch based on logbook data from Southeast Alaska and Southcentral Alaska.
Don't be distracted by the sheer volume of salmon caught in a particular port. It is NOT the overall catch that is critical; it is what YOU will catch. The catch per unit of effort (per angler day or per rod hour) is the only thing matters.
See the spreadsheet below. I built this spreadsheet based on the above data for the whole season. The catch rate is computed by dividing the total number of king salmon caught by the total number of angler days.
For example, there were 367 king salmon landed in Pelican. Divide that by 569 angler days and that equals .63 king salmon caught per day.
In other words, in Pelican, the average king salmon catch per angler, per day, was .64 king salmon. We only fish for king salmon about four hours per day.
This works out to be a fish every six hours, every day, all season long! In contrast, it would take, on average, more than 26 days to catch a single king salmon near Seward!
Sitka's Catch Rate: 7,889 king salmon / 44,194 angler days = .64. In other words, just slightly less than Pelican.
I built this argument for a prospective guest who had gone to Larsen Bay (Kodiak). He was disappointed because although he caught some halibut, he did not catch any salmon.
In Larsen Bay, the average catch per angler, per day was .05. This means that Larsen Bay averaged one king salmon for every 20 days of effort. Again, the data in the spreadsheet represents the whole season. If you choose more optimal dates with us, your actual rate can improve markedly.
What really counts? How many fish you catch per hour!
We will have to use this Sitka table because the ADF&G doesn't bother to make a king salmon catch rate table for our area—too little fishing effort to bother! We have already shown with the NMFS tables above that we have a slightly better catch rate for king salmon than Sitka. We will use Sitka's stats to represent Highliner Lodge and Charters Inc. when comparing king salmon catch rates.
Please note that the charts below compare how many rod hours, on average, it takes to catch a king salmon that you decide to keep, not how many king salmon were caught. Notice the window of opportunity to catch king salmon is nearly 4 months long in our area! Now look at the Juneau chart below.
Highliner Lodge and Charters Inc. Chinook
Why can’t I show you a harvest rate table for Pelican? Because the fishing effort is so small that we are virtually invisible to the ADF&G, and they don’t bother to compile a table for our area. Please let me know if you'd like any further information. I have charts for most areas of Alaska.
The best you can hope for in the Juneau area is a king salmon every two or three days fishing. More likely, you might catch a king salmon in Juneau once every seven days.
DON'T USE THIS CHART!
This is the generic chart that you will see on almost every other website. Those charts are worthless at best and downright misleading most of the time!
They are an amalgam of all salmon fishing in all of Alaska. There is usually very little correlation between the fishing at that particular lodge and the chart. After comparing our catch rates and the Juneau area catch rate on the charts above, you can see how meaningless and downright misleading this chart is.
The distance between Highliner Lodge and Charters Inc. and Juneau is about 100 miles (as the fish swims). Our catch rate far exceeds Juneau's because we are located very near the Gulf of Alaska, and we are north of all of the other fishing areas in Southeast Alaska.
I can present charts from every other area of Southeast Alaska and make the same point. The catch rate in our area exceeds all other areas by 2 to 15 times! Our catch rate is equal to—or better than—Sitka’s because of our location and lack of competition.