Mining Silver: The Lost Coast of Alaska
Like the Sirens to Ulysses, Alaska beckons me. The southeastern area of the state bordering the Gulf of Alaska from the Copper River Basin south to the tiny town of Yakutat is known as the Lost Coast. It is remote, uninhabited, beautiful beyond imagination, and home to incredible fishing. I’ve experienced the runs of silver salmon while fishing near the mouths of the Katalla and Tsui rivers, visited by bush plane from Orca Adventure Lodge in Cordova. The salmon are at their biggest, brightest and most powerful here, just beginning their spawning exodus. Silvers attack gaudy flies as well as topwaters, and flashy spinners and spoons. The breathtaking scenery, with the Bering and Sheridan glaciers in the background, and the opportunity to get up close and personal with moose and brown bears, under the watchful eyes of seasoned guides, heighten the appeal.
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Farther south, Icy Bay, fed by the glaciers that calve into it, is reminiscent of turquoise Caribbean shallows. This might be the only place you can wade clear saltwater flats and sight-cast to large silver salmon aggressively feeding before entering their spawning streams. The mirrorlike surface of the bay reflects the snow-covered slopes of Mount St. Elias, second only to Denali in height and grandeur, but more remote and less visited. No tourists here, just Icy Bay Lodge and a few dozen anglers lucky enough to experience it each season. Be prepared to lose all concept of time and space, surrounded by the serenity of the ice-capped peaks and rugged coastline littered with the bones of massive trees, uprooted and washed ashore like so many matchsticks.
The Lost Coast is unlike any place I’ve ever fished, and it haunts my dreams. It will do the same to you. —Gary Caputi
Great Abaco, in the north end of the Bahamas, has yielded some memorable catches for me over the years. Miles of picturesque open flats — many shallow enough to wade — and the renowned Marls are home to healthy populations of bonefish, and seasoned guides aboard top-notch poling skiffs departing from Blackfly Lodge and Abaco Lodge have allowed me to connect with my share of tailers and cruisers, notching a few epic days even when stiff breezes and cool temperatures shut down the fishing at other destinations.
Two years ago, my wife landed her first bone on fly near Sandy Point, a joyous occasion for any fly-rodder. And nowhere else have I hooked as many 8-plus-pounders as in neighboring Moore’s Island, where permit, mutton snapper, giant barracuda and the sporadic tarpon come to forage as well.
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Abaco also offers superb bottomfishing, with a smorgasbord of snappers and groupers on reefs a short run from Marsh Harbour. At the Hole in the Wall, southwest of Sandy Point, friends and I have boated a number of impressive muttons and black grouper. And it rarely takes more than a little chum to get big, flag yellowtails off the bottom and behind the boat.
While the flats and reef fishing are more than enough to fill my dance card, there are excellent big-game options offshore. Fabled bottom structures — the Great Abaco Canyon, the Bridge, the Mushroom and Jurassic Park — hold tuna, dolphin and blue marlin of major proportions. I haven’t yet felt the rage of such a leviathan on the line but have had a ball with slammer dolphin, yellowfins to 100 pounds, and even a couple of nice wahoo on plug tackle in Abaco’s fertile waters, which I’m convinced have something for every angler. —Alex Suescun
Marlin Surprise in Loreto
The Sea of Cortez off Loreto, on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, is best known for its dorado fishing, but it was an unexpected encounter with a pair of striped marlin aboard a rickety panga named Cracker Jack that I remember most vividly.
My oldest son, Brandon, Sid Dobrin, Bryan Hendricks and I boarded a 20-foot superpanga captained by a local guide named Humberto. The little blue boat was super in name only. A broken T-top, missing gas cap, hand-twisted bilge-pump wires, leaky livewell, fishing rods with missing guides, and a 90 hp four-stroke outboard that burned a quart of oil every 10 miles had me questioning the wisdom of venturing offshore.
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Despite my misgivings, we found a school of small dorado quickly. Using pieces of cut mackerel, we were having a blast catching “doraditos” from a school that swarmed around us. That’s when a pair of striped marlin crashed the party, their tails knifing the calm water as they charged our boat.
Brandon and Bryan quickly cast live mackerel to the billfish. I thought to myself, those 30-pound-test leaders won’t hold up against the marlin. Too late. Brandon was bit, and as soon as the line came tight, the leader broke.
There was no time to mourn as the second marlin hit the other outfit. This time Bryan was on and the leader held. The 100-pound marlin, never more than 100 feet from the boat, put on a thrilling aerial display, nearly jumping in the panga. Within 10 minutes, the fish was boatside. Cracker Jack nearly capsized as we all rushed the rail to take pictures.
Turns out, this was Bryan’s first marlin. We celebrated with cold Pacifico beers and decided to head in before Cracker Jack met unsurmountable mishap. We made one stop on the way home: Humberto needed to add a quart of oil to the aging four-stroke. —Jim Hendricks
I’m an inveterate reader of maps and charts, not only of the places I’m fishing tomorrow or next week but also of places I may never fish that just look interesting. One of the places I looked at for years, playing spin the globe, lies off the south coast of Cuba, an archipelago enticingly named Jardines de la Reina, or Gardens of the Queen.
When an opportunity arose several years ago, I emptied the savings account and went for it.
Imagine the Florida Keys, but protected and uninhabited.
Though Europeans had been visiting here for 20 years, under Avalon Fishing’s franchise with the Cuban government, you’d never know it. The place appeared pristine.
A houseboat anchored midarchipelago served as the lodge. From there, we covered 25 miles to the east, 25 to the west, and at least that distance north over the course of five days, without seeing another boat.
Mostly we hunted permit — always an unreliable target — and saw plenty but enticed none, per usual with that species. But when the effort grew wearisome or the tide wasn’t right, we took a break. Our choice: catch a bonefish or catch a tarpon. Notice I said “catch” and not “look for.”
The fish, both species, were just where they were supposed to be at all times. It was as if they were waiting on us. Bonefish tailed over white-sand flats. When the tails went up, we dropped a fly in their travel path. When the tails went down, we twitched the fly and hooked up.
Tarpon held reliably over lush turtle-grass banks in the pushy current of an oceanside channel. The guide lined up the boat, we put a fly in front of the fish, and it was game on. All of them were perfectly willing to take a well-presented, or even haphazardly presented, fly.
It was five days of a flats angler’s dreams come true. Except for those damned permit. —Glenn Law
Grand Cayman’s Pickle Bank
The most explosive two hours of fishing I’ve ever experienced took place when Carey Chen and I made the 90-mile journey from Grand Cayman Island to Pickle Bank, timing our arrival for sunrise. Within 2 hours of reaching the bank, Carey and I boated 10 wahoo to 57 pounds, four yellowfin tuna to 45 pounds, and released a blue marlin — before we had our first sips of coffee. Shortly after landing five more wahoo, bringing our total to 15, we threw in the towel.
Numerous banks off the Cayman Islands yield good fishing at various times, but none hold the allure of Pickle Bank, which rises to 180 feet from the Caribbean depths. This faraway bank, halfway to Cuba, sits in the middle of a migratory highway for wahoo, tuna, dolphin, marlin and sharks. It serves as a cafeteria for pelagics and bottomfish alike as they gorge on forage species thriving around the mound. Due to its distance from land, the only pressure is from hardcore anglers. You just need good weather to get out there, and a seaworthy boat and capable crew.
Wahoo are solid at Pickle Bank from the first full moon in November through March. Just two Novembers ago, around the full moon, I returned to Pickle Bank with friend Albert Castro and scored 10 wahoo in a little over a half day of fishing, before racing a storm back to the dock. Wahoo reside here year-round but in fewer numbers than their winter-spring run.
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Spring through summer sees a major uptick in dolphin, tuna and blue marlin. Trolling surface and subsurface lures from conventional and wireline outfits gets the wahoo, whereas standard lure and bait trolling catches dolphin, marlin and tuna. Chunking and live-baiting are a prime way to score yellowfins. —George Poveromo