So after a few summers in Ketchikan, I've worked out a set of guidelines and rules for the friends & family group that my mom brings up each year. Would love to know if I've overlooked something, or if I'm just an overbearing tyrant. This is partly the result of different friends wanting to 'reinvent the wheel' every trip. Every single summer, we have someone new who invariably will say something like "well, I read on the internet that you catch salmon with such and such".
SAFETY FIRST – NO MORE THAN SIX (6) PEOPLE ON BOARD AT A TIME
I am going to give the canned speech that flight attendants give regarding lifejackets, emergency equipment, etc., to everybody. I want everyone to know where these things are and how to call the Coast Guard for help if needed.
I check the weather forecast frequently and often decide where we’ll fish based on wind speed/direction and other factors. I may say “no” to fishing a particular area based on the weather on a given day and my decision on that is final. I may also make a decision not to fish an area (or leave it) based on the presence of commercial fishing boats or other factors. Some of these factors can corpsify us quickly, so my decision on this is final too.
When the boat is moving at higher speeds (faster than about 7mph) everyone NEEDS to be seated. If I have to slow down suddenly, or we hit submerged debris, you’re liable to faceplant on the deck and lose teeth. I’m not going to order you to sit, but you’ve been advised of the risk.
When we are coming in to a dock, everyone needs to stay where they are until we are secured. The boat can be very unstable at low speeds and people moving around can make docking very difficult, especially with wind or strong current.
When we are underway at higher speeds, please do not attempt to open/close the front hatch or the cabin door. Ask me to slow down first, THEN open/close it.
Please do not attempt to operate the boat unless I ask you to. While we’re fishing, I may ask you to adjust the wheel, or bump a motor in/out of gear at low speed. I will NOT ask you to drive the boat at anything higher than about 3mph, and please do not attempt it.
In some circumstances, we will get VERY close to rocks and cliffs. In other circumstances, I will want to stay VERY far away from them. Please trust my judgement on such things.
Fishing is inherently dangerous – fish hooks, gaff hooks, heavy sinkers, downrigger weights, heavy jigs with hooks and other goodies can turn your day ungoodly. Combine this with a rocking or moving boat, or a frantically thrashing halibut, and you have a recipe for unpleasantness. Stay aware of what’s going on.
From time to time, I’ll give you directions while we’re fishing (hold the rod out, lower the tip, keep reeling, stop reeling, etc). Trust me on this stuff, as I very badly want to see you successfully get that fish into the boat.
If you have something that looks like wet red line stuck to your fishing line DO NOT TOUCH IT. Leave it hanging over the side of the boat until I can clean your line off. It’s red jellyfish and will not make your day better.
When we start fishing, Mom’s line gets set up and in the water first.
We’re out here to catch fish. We’re also out here to have fun. Hopefully we’re going to have fun catching fish. But, if you see whales, waterfalls, etc., and want to get a closer look or have us run slower to get video, just let me know and I’ll be glad to accommodate you. I will NOT try to crowd/harass whales or other marine mammals, but I will keep us slow & steady so you can get quality video or photos. I also know of a hidden waterfall that I will try to take us to see at high tide if we happen to be in that area.
I want you to fish for the kind of fish YOU want to catch. So long as there are not overriding safety concerns (like weather), we’ll fish pretty much how and where you want to. I will let everyone know what I think is our best chances for good fishing that day, but will go with what you guys want to do. But, sometimes I will veto a particular area/method for safety reasons.
If you want to watch commercial fishing boats instead of fishing, I don’t mind doing so. Watching a purse seiner haul a big net of salmon onboard makes for a very cool home video. It’s fascinating to watch, but I keep a healthy distance away from them. Those big nets spread a long way under the surface with heavy current, and they can drag us under too.
Downriggers catch salmon. They are also a fair amount of work, and require a team effort to use successfully. I’ll coach you on how to use them, but most of the time, I’ll set and retrieve them myself. Your job is to reel the fish in. Just remember that there’s a 15 pound weight attached to that cable and it can carve your hands up badly if you’re not careful. In some situations I’ll stow the downriggers and we’ll fish by other methods.
If you take strong prescriptions (blood pressure, pain meds, etc), please do not handle the bait, lures or other tackle tied to the fishing line. Salmon have a very keen sense of smell and things like this can put them off your bait.
I’ve been doing this a few times, and have a fairly good idea what works and what doesn’t. Some methods work great in the spring for big king salmon, but not very well in July for pink salmon. If you want to try something else (within reason), it’s fine, but we only have so much fishing time available, and I’d really like to see you catching quality fish.
We generally will not mix gear types in the water. It creates more problems than it’s worth. If we’re bottom fishing on the anchor, I’d prefer not to drop a salmon line straight down and get a massive tangle of lines. Likewise, if we’re drifting herring for salmon, we’re not going to try putting a downrigger into the water as well.
Different types of salmon often take different types of fishing. Pink salmon are small and abundant. King salmon are big and not so abundant. Pink salmon are caught trolling slow closer to the surface. King salmon are (usually) caught fishing much deeper at somewhat higher speeds. If you want us to target kings, I will be delighted to do so. But, king fishing is a patience game, rather than about numbers. Pink salmon will keep us hopping continuously. If we locate active silver salmon, I will want to switch gear and methods to catch them, as they are big, abundant and just a blast to catch! (they taste fantastic too!!)
Jigs often catch more fish than bait does. But a small strip of bait can’t hurt.
It rains in Ketchikan. A lot. Like 11 to 13 FEET a year. A good rain suit and rubber boots are a good investment (they really aren’t that expensive at the Tongass tackle shop).
The wind blows almost every day in Ketchikan. I’ll check the wind speed and direction and decide where the calmest fishing areas will be. They may not be the most productive, but it’ll be more pleasant than plowing through 3’-5’ seas.
There are some things that are just not a good idea to do. I’ll say so if asked. Trust me on these things, ok?
If we get really calm weather, I’ll ask if everyone wants to try deep DEEP fishing with the electric reel. This is a chance to see fish that most people have never heard of, but it does take time (6 minutes to hit bottom, about 20 minutes to reel up).
I know the fishing rules & regulations by heart, and I know exactly what kind of fish that is. Getting a ticket from a trooper is embarrassing. Trust me on this.
Your job is to catch fish. My job is to drive the boat, rig the gear, bait the hooks, net the fish, clean the fish etc etc etc. However, I will heartily accept any and all offers to help clean the boat, or to vacuum pack the fish after I’ve filleted them.