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Salmon Fishing in Alaska

In a sprawling state full of fish, Cordova, Alaska, offers it all.

May 20, 2021
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Chum salmon caught in Alaska
Chum salmon are just one of the many species targeted by anglers traveling to Alaska. Gary Caputi

The spoon hit the water near the mouth of a stream running into the bay and was immediately snapped up by a large pink salmon. It ran hard for the open water, pulling drag off the light spinning outfit, punctuating the run with an inspired leap for the sky.

The action was fast and furious as our small group hooked one fish after another, keeping the mate running around the boat net in hand.

Fishing map of Alaska
Anglers may opt for lodge-based or fly-in fishing. Tim Barker

Orca Adventure Lodge owner Steve Ranney had run Storm Prince, a 42-foot catamaran, into Sheep Bay in Prince William Sound. The original plan was to beach the boat and wade the river, but it was too swollen from recent rains. Plan B was to cast from the boat to the salmon jumping out of the water all around us. The catching was nonstop as dozens of eagles glided above and waterfalls ran down the steep, lush mountainsides into the fjord. In this idyllic setting, we realized there is always an available Plan B around these parts.

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Pick Your Salmon

This part of Alaska is known for its salmon, with runs from late spring well into fall. The first arrivals are kings (chinook), then sockeyes, followed by schools of pink and chum salmon. During our trip in early July, we caught a few late kings, a few early silvers (coho), a day’s worth of hard-fighting sockeyes from the Eyak River, and pinks and chums until our arms were worn out. Successful techniques run the gamut: trolling, jigging, casting with spinning and fly tackle from boats or kayaks, and wading the multitude of available streams and rivers.

Salmon caught near the lodge
Anglers needn’t travel far from the lodge to find willing salmon in the bays and sounds. Gary Caputi

If I had to pick a favorite fishery, it would be the fall run of silver salmon, and the waters around Cordova boast the biggest and the best. Wading the tidal rivers and casting flies to these hard-fighting fish—often weighing over 20 pounds—is the ultimate north-country thrill.

Powerful and acrobatic, silvers peel line off the reel like bonefish, with the addition of numerous aerial displays. In some of the shallower flows, silvers strike topwater flies, which adds another level of excitement.

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Don’t fly-fish? Light spinning tackle with bright spinners and spoons finds plenty of takers as well.

Salmon caught near the lodge
Anglers needn’t travel far from the lodge to find willing salmon in the bays and sounds. Gary Caputi

On a prior trip to Cordova, Ranney took us to a spot called Hell’s Hole, a river where the tidal flow is incredible and the salmon fishing unsurpassed. In Alaska, tides fluctuate 25 feet or more, and the fish come into rivers on the tide in huge waves. One memorable day wading at Hell’s Hole produced constant action on huge, willing silvers, and it was just a 90-minute boat ride from the lodge.

What makes Orca so special is the variety of fishing available from the main lodge. As a bonus, the company operates three remote out-lodges accessible by bush plane.

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Itineraries include a couple of days tacked onto your trip or an entire week of elective seclusion, and either offers miles of streams to fish, wildlife to view and unmatched scenery. I spent a few days at the Hidden Cove camp along the Katalla River, which sees a July and August run of sockeyes and pinks, while late August and September bring explosive silver salmon action. I lost count of all the silvers I caught on gaudy flies in one river bend in just one afternoon, all big, chrome-bright, and fresh from the salt. And I never saw another angler all day.

Targeting salmon at a river mouth
Anglers find ideal conditions at the mouths of rivers, where the salmon stage before heading upstream. Gary Caputi

Part of any Alaska fishing adventure is the halibut fishing, and Orca Adventure Lodge has it covered. During our stay, we were limited to bottomfishing in the sound because of a distant storm generating big seas in the gulf. Even with the limitation, we caught halibut in excess of 80 pounds, lingcod to 50 pounds, and several species of tasty rockfish. An extra hour-long run to Cape St. Elias puts anglers on monster trophy-size halibut. Many anglers visit Orca just for the bottomfishing.

Whatever your idea of an Alaska fishing adventure, Orca can tailor a trip to your expectations. You can fish alone from a kayak in the inlet and sound for salmon and halibut, or explore the islands across the strait in a skiff.

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Three big boats ferry guests to dozens of otherwise inaccessible streams and rivers to fly- or spin-fish for salmon, and to experience the fantastic bottomfishing. You can spend time exploring Cordova’s shops, restaurants, bars and fish-packing facilities, and chances are you’ll see a few of the crab boats made famous on television moored just outside the harbor. I love Alaska, and once you experience the Orca Adventure Lodge, you will too.

Orca Adventure Lodge in Alaska
The Orca Adventure Lodge is perfect for serious anglers or a family fishing vacation. Gary Caputi

Making the Trip

Cordova is a small commercial fishing town on Orca Inlet, sitting between the Copper River and Prince William Sound, and only reachable by air or water. The Mudhole Smith Regional Airport accommodates jet flights from Anchorage, making it simple to access. The Orca Adventure Lodge is a few miles north of town, on the site of a historic salmon cannery established in 1887. Owners Steve and Wendy Ranney, both Alaska natives, have decades of experience making visitors’ fishing dreams come true. Steve is a top fishing captain, a renowned bush pilot, and the son of Alaska’s most famous female bush pilot, Gayle Ranney. Alaska, one-fifth the size of the lower 48, offers a lot of territory to cover when you consider fabulous fishing is almost everywhere you turn. After six trips to various areas of the state, I’ve found the widest variety of fishing opportunities and spectacular scenery right here. Accommodations are perfect for serious anglers or a family fishing vacation.

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