Tips For Choosing A Fishing Guide, Charter or Fly-In Service in Alaska
O.K. you've made the big decision, you're heading north this summer for that fishing trip of a lifetime. Vacation time has been scheduled but now its time for the hard part....choosing a guide or charter to go fishing with.
Over half of the fishing in Alaska requires a boat but its pretty tough to pack one in your baggage. Most vacationers will need either a friend or family member in Alaska with a watercraft or hire out with one of the hundreds of fishing guides and charters in the state.
Fishing in Alaska is not like shooting fish in a rain barrel if you plan to try your luck in areas that are easily accessible and extremely popular. On the contrary it can be very discouraging even for the locals who know their way around because Mother Nature never plays all her cards at once.
For this reason, a first time visiting angler is wise to employ the wisdom and experience of a fishing guide who may have a few tricks up his/her sleeve when the going gets tough. Getting skunked is something that happens even to the best fishermen so going out with a pro will greatly improve your odds.
A second factor the visitor must consider is the limited amount of time they have, usually one or two weeks. This adds a bit of urgency to the objective of catching the fish they intend to pursue. Again, a well-seasoned family member or professional charter can make all the difference in the world.
Up Against The Elements
Salmon runs vary in size from year to year and have very specific times for their arrival, peak and eventual disappearance. So fishing success can change from week to week or even day to day.
Even species like trout, grayling, pike and sheefish may have certain times of the year when the fishing may only be fair-to-middlin' for much of the season.
Weather can also play an important role when heavy rains can change a stream from clear water to muddy in less than a day, and cause a significant reduction in the anglers' success rate. Even hot sunny days can change water temperatures enough to put the fish down.
For those seeking halibut in the saltwater and especially that of Cook Inlet where the tides can change as much as 29 feet from high to low water, this factor can make for some very difficult fishing. And with changing weather patterns, a glassy ocean can turn to 4 ft. seas and 30 knot winds in half an hour and keep most boats on the beach for the day.
Doing Your Homework
Vacations are often a major part of a family's annual recreational budget. So its always prudent to get your money's worth. With the explosion of advertising on the internet, finding a guide or charter is now a simple matter of spending a few hours each evening surfing the net for fishing services in the area you want to visit.
But it can become quite tedious after awhile since only a few ads you will encounter really stand out from the competition. And most seem to have the same incredible photos of braggin' size catches. How do you separate the wheat from the chaff?
Sorting It Out
The first thing to do is sort through all those that show promise and bookmark them in your browser for a return trip later. Once you've compiled a list of candidates, review them again, perhaps after doing additional research on the area you will be visiting.
The more you get to know your guide prior to making a reservation, the more confident you will feel when the day comes to commit to a reservation. Most web sites have an email address for contacting the guide or captain so fire off a brief introduction letting them know you are interested. If their response is favorable you can take it to the next level of communication.
The following checklist covers just about everything you will need to know before going out fishing. If you have someone that is physically challenged or requires special arrangements, be sure to include that in your communication. Many operations can accommodate special circumstances or suggest others who can.
Guide Selection Checklist
- Are you properly insured and licensed with the Coast Guard and registered with the State?
- How long has the captain or guide been fishing in this area?
- Can you supply any references who live in my area?
- What is the season for the species I want to catch?
- What is the best time of the season for improving my chances of success?
- How long are your fishing trips? When do you depart and return?
- How many fish can I expect to catch and what is their size?
- What is the limit for the species we will catch?
- What kind of fishing will we be doing?
- How do I get a fishing license? Do you sell them?
- Is your guide or captain thoroughly versed in the IGFA rules in case I catch a world-record fish?
- Does your rate include fish cleaning and/or filleting of the catch?
- How will I get my catch home?
- Do you provide packaging and freezing or can you direct me to the appropriate services for this?
- What should I bring with me?
- What do you supply for the fishing trip?
- How big is your boat and how many other fishermen will be present?
- Does your boat have a head? Heated cabin?
- How much deposit do you require?
- What is your policy if I decide to cancel?
- What is your policy if you cancel due to weather?
- What is your policy if Fish & Game closes the fishery or changes it to catch-and-release before I go out?
- Do you accept credit cards?
- What is your rate? Do you have discounts for multiple trips or large groups?
These guidelines can be applied to saltwater, freshwater or fly-in fishing anywhere in the state. The more you know about your captain or guide the more confident you are going to feel when the day comes to step aboard and bait that hook.
Wrapping It Up
Few fishing services in populated areas will guarantee fish. Some days the fish just don't want to bite....and no doubt you will see that in the lack of success for fellow anglers in other fishing parties on a day like that. So there are a few more items that fall under the "homework" category you should consider.
Know Your Quarry
The Alaska Outdoor Journal is filled with additional information to assist you in planning a fishing trip. We have many articles that describe what species of fish are present in the various areas of the state and what types of fishing tackle or techniques work best. Some of this information is generic in nature and painted with a broad brush while other sections may detail the nitty-gritty for success. Its worth getting to know your quarry well in advance of your trip.
A Day Can Make A Difference
Yes, even for a river which will see a million salmon move through it in a couple of weeks, your timing can be off by a day. Migrating species such as salmon often hit with a vengeance as they move into a river system. The day before may be an effort in futility and the next.....limits for everyone! Our Reference Section has a great deal of information related to the presence of a species in a particular area for timing your trip to coincide with your best opportunities. Again, some of the information is generic in nature while other sections provide accuracy to within a few days.
How about getting a FREE vacation? Its entirely possible here in Alaska. We've identified over 30 fishing derbies held throughout the state during the fishing season. And many of these are quite rewarding. The oldest and most popular events can have cash prizes of $20,000 - $30,000+ for the largest fish and catching a particular tagged fish might reward you with a $100,000 check. Some of the smaller community derbies have smaller prizes and shorter competitions but even these can reward an angler with a few thousand dollars to take home.
The Final Word....
BOOK EARLY! February and March are the times when the knowledgeable angler will make his reservations. Seats for the best times of each salmon run are booked many months in advance of the season. He who hesitates is lost as they say and there is nothing more frustrating than having to rearrange vacation schedules because the best times have been taken.
Keep your hooks sharp and your line tight. And good luck!
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