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.

Halibut Catch Rates and Average Weights

First, let's get our bearings. Highliner Lodge, as you now know, is located in the tiny fishing village of Pelican, AK with the town slogan "Closest to the fish!". Our "commute" from the protected waters of Pelican Harbor to the fishing grounds outside of the Lisianski Inlet is only about 45 minutes at 25 knots.

The halibut fishery is managed by the International Pacific Halibut Council (which we will refer to as the IPHC). This organization defines the regulatory areas, analyzes catch data, and sets bag and size limit for the species. The IPHC has defined the 2 areas we fish in as Area 2C and Area 3A. We are required to carry a Charter Halibut Permit on every boat, for both Area 2C and Area 3A. Since there is a greater abundance of halibut in Area 3A, the regulations are far more lenient. The chart below shows both regulatory areas that you will have access to at the Highliner Lodge.

2019 Halibut Limits (2020 to be announced in March)

Area 3A

Daily bag limit of 2 per day; one fish any size and one fish under 28”,  annual limit of 4 halibut and no halibut retention on Wednesdays and five Tuesdays in 2019: July 16, July 23, July 30, August 6, and August 13.

Area 2C

Daily bag limit of 1 per day that is under 38” OR over 80”, no annual limit. No restrictions on Wednesdays. 

However, we have licenses to fish both areas and our guests have the choice to keep two halibut a day of any size in either area using our Guided Angler Fish!

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Now that you know you can keep more fish at Highliner Lodge, what are the average sizes of halibut landed in our areas?

Below are the harvest estimates and average weights for halibut landed in the 3A and 2C regions of Glacier Bay, where we fish. I didn't just pick a spectacular year to illustrate this. Follow the ADFG links below to see annual reports over the past 5 years. The average weight of halibut landed in Glacier Bay is consistently highest year in and year out!

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ADF&G Charter and Non-Charter Halibut Harvest Data

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The Highliner Lodge is the premier sport fishing destination in Alaska. Our average halibut are 4 times bigger than Sitka, Seward or Homer! Our king & silver salmon catch rate is the highest in the state! This is not debatable, this is proven with ADF&G & NMFS statistics. This chart shows the ageless annual migration of halibut and king salmon from the West to the East. Please look at the 400 mile-long UN-FISHED AREA shown on the chart in dark blue. This area is inaccessible to cruise ships, has no roads, no harbors and no cities… it has almost no fishing effort. King salmon and halibut aggregate here. The table above shows that the two areas closest to the un-fished 400 mile stretch have the biggest halibut in the state. We are on this migratory path, we are isolated and not overwhelmed by fishing pressure. We are first in line to catch the fish on this path. This is why our fish bigger and our catch rates better than any other destination in the state. We also offer our guests an opportunity to keep halibut over the normal bag limits; halibut they would have to release if they were fishing at almost all other lodges. We have invested in, and converted, commercial halibut fishing rights into what is called “Guided Angler Fish” or GAF. Hundreds of our guests have been able to keep halibut above the restrictive bag and slot limits typical for Sitka, Seward and Homer!

The two areas closest to the unfished 400-mile stretch (shown in dark blue on the chart above) 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 over 40 pounds because we don't have the overwhelming fishing effort that they do.

 

What happens when you are in a good location, but too many fishermen go there?

We are on the migratory path, we are isolated, but we are not overwhelmed by fishing pressure, and we are first in line!

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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!

Angler effort is illustrated on the chart to the left for Alaska and British Columbia. The bigger the dot, the worse the fishing!

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.

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.

 

The two NMFS tables below show the actual king salmon catch based on logbook data from Southeast Alaska and Southcentral Alaska.

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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.

Sitka's Catch Rate: 7,889 king salmon / 44,194 angler days = .63. 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 

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Juneau Chinook

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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!

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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. 

We are undeniably “Closest to the Fish!”

 

Fact: There are fewer than a dozen boats registered to charter fish in Pelican. By comparison, Sitka has 285 registered charter boats!

 

Where do you get your information? How do I know that it is reliable? 

All of my data is taken from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) or the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) websites.

This is where you can find current fishing reports and current Harvest/Effort Statistics. Click on the links below to see the Harvest/Effort Statistics for the individual areas.

Yakutat, Haines/Skagway, JuneauSitka, Petersburg/Wrangell, Ketchikan, Prince of Wales Island