By Chad LaChance
Ok, be honest anglers. Who hasn’t dreamed of going fishing in Alaska? I mean it’s Alaska and we have all heard the stories of rivers teeming with salmon, bays loaded with halibut and other crazy bottom fish and the lodges, those rustic lodges that are quintessentially Alaskan. Now, what could be better than a fishing trip to Alaska? A free fishing trip to Alaska, of course!
That’s exactly the scenario my new friend Randell was in. You see, Randell had the foresight to recognize a good bet when he saw it, prompting him to sign up for the Sportsman’s News Pro Member Sweepstakes. His hunch was right and a few months later, Randell received the call notifying him that he’d won a seven day trip to Alaska’s Boardwalk Lodge, to be accompanied by a professional fishing instructor and TV host, otherwise known as yours truly. And while I had not personally been to the lodge, I was long-time friends with the owner and also the chef. If you only know two people at a fishing lodge, those are two good ones to know! To be honest, I was probably as excited as Randell and I was there on assignment.
Randell is a life-long outdoorsman complete with a fair bit of Alaskan experience, some recent even, so he had a pretty good idea what he was in for. His win allowed for a traveling companion and he chose his 20 -year-old son, Treyson, all 6’8” of him, to accompany us. In our communications leading up to the trip, Randell clued me in to his goal of getting Treyson up to speed with fly tackle and asked for my help. Of course, I agreed; it’s kind of what I do and I figured the guides at the lodge may help as well. About 100 fly caught salmon later, I’d say we accomplished the goal.
Alaska’s Boardwalk Lodge is tucked into the trees on Thorne Bay, on the east side of Prince of Wales Island, in the southeast portion of the state. It’s a 30-minute float plane ride from Ketchikan’s International Airport, making the region easily accessible yet deliciously remote in feel. Guests have no visible human neighbors, yet plenty of critters about; we saw blacktail deer, mink, sea otters, eagles, and others all from the more than 1,000 linear feet of raised boardwalk transversing the tidal flats that give the lodge its name. Incidentally, these scenic boardwalks make for a fine evening stroll with an adult beverage in hand.
Speaking of adult beverages, a range of beer and wine is included along with the copious amounts of delicious food. Breakfast varies with your taste; Randell was inclined to order a “surprise” each morning and was never disappointed. Lunch is a make-your-own deal; the staff sets up a bar stocked with all sorts of lunch meats, cheeses, condiments, breads, fruit, chips, homemade cookies, etc and each guest packs a brown bag to their liking to be carried out on their day trip. The days’ fishing trips all return to the lodge in time to clean up and enjoy a fine happy hour with tasty hors d’oeuvres. Randell, Treyson and I especially enjoyed the fresh steamed Dungeness crab, smoked king salmon, poke and ceviche.
Dinner. Ah, dinner, even after ample breakfasts, lunches and appetizers, we all learned quickly to find room for dinner. Chef Jeff, the 12-year executive chef at Boardwalk Lodge, outdoes himself daily and every guest I spoke with felt the same way. Our trip included roasted halibut, Asian grilled coho salmon, chimichurri ribeye and chicken marsala accompanying sides ranging from fresh steamed veggies to polenta to a delicious Asian slaw. Do yourself a favor when you go to Boardwalk Lodge and ask for the creme brûlée for desert; best I’ve ever had anywhere and I bought Chef Jeff’s cookbook just for that recipe.
Why did I just spend that much time talking food at a remote lodge? Because the food was a consistent topic of conversation among the 18 +/- guests that were at the lodge along with us and it was always complimentary. Randell and I surmised that if you’re going to spend a week at a lodge on an island fishing, great food eaten in a very “family home” feeling setting is a great touch. Make no mistake though, this is Alaska and we came to fish.
The Pro Member Sweepstakes winner, like all lodge guests, had options to fish both fresh and salt water. Randell and Treyson decided to start off salty, so the first day was spent in one of their 34 foot traditional Alaskan aluminum boats, complete with twin 150hp outboard motors for speed, enclosed cabins and heads (enclosed bathrooms, for land lubbers) for guest comfort. The small fleet of boats are a nice walk down the boardwalk from the lodge itself on their private dock. All our tackle was set up and ready on the boat; bottom fishing rigs for halibut, cod and rockfish as well as trolling set-ups including electric down riggers for salmon. Our captain for the day was Sean, a 20-something ambitious dude that clearly understood that being a fishing guide ain’t all about catching fish; it’s about entertaining, educating, customer service and catching fish. We spent part of our day trolling and caught coho (“silver”), pink and king salmon. Then we switched it up completely, moved to new spots and dropped bait rigs to the bottom, 250-300 feet below the boat. A couple hours of that yielded a bunch of the previously mentioned bottom dwellers and topped off our harvest for the day.
The daily ritual of boats returning to the dock and the staff processing the day’s catches turned out to be really fun. Randell and I enjoyed the distinct camaraderie that was apparent from the first day as each guests’ enthusiastic accounts of their day was shared while pics were taken and fish filleted. Sea otters greeted guests daily and a chocolate Labrador named Bo was in charge of enthusiasm, as well as keeping sea gulls honest. Even for a jaded traveling fishing guy like me, it was a fun scene every day.
The next adventure was fresh water fly fishing in rivers and a lake for salmon and dolly varden. We drove, accompanied by the lodge owner, about 45 minutes from the lodge, which turned out to be cool because of the scenery it afforded us, before stopping at an unbelievably scenic and deserted river. I looked over the side of the bridge we parked near, spotted a pile of sockeye salmon and knew this was going to be good. Randell took a more proactive approach; he hopped down into the river and hooked himself to a beautiful fish immediately. I like how that guy thinks!
Backing up a quick step, Boardwalk Lodge is an Orvis outfitter. Before guests head out to the various rivers, they stop by the “shop” to suit up in waders and boots,and grab their fly rod du jour. Orvis Helios and Hydros rods were both available. The guides handle flies, leaders, rigging, etc. while clients concentrate on the important things, like catching fish. All tackle including spinning tackle should you desire it, for your use as well. Full rain gear is on hand for every guest, along with rubber “ditch boots” for salt water boat trips. Guests stay in the main lodge or one of a couple of outbuildings. Laundry service is available, while all fish to be kept are processed, vacuum packed, flash frozen and packed for guests to travel with. For lounging, there are both inside and outside areas, patios and a nightly fire. There is a small shop with sundries and gifts.
Back to the river – it was gorgeous, full of sockeyes, pinks and dollys and we had the whole place to ourselves all day, unless you count the black bear. The creek drained into a lake and a huge pile of fish were at the inlet. It was an amazing day of fly fishing for sure and tons of fish were caught and released, including a bunch of them by our fledgling fly guy, Treyson. He was catching on quick.
The next day found us boarding another saltwater boat, this time with one of the veteran guides, Bear. Here again the boat and tackle were all clean, prepped and ready. This guide had a systematic approach to icing a limit of each species. He fully recognized that most lodge guests desire to take fish home and he took it personally. We had some funny stuff this day; I got caught with my pants down, literally, by a halibut that destroyed my rig as I was shedding a layer of clothes and later one of the winners (name withheld to protect his, umm, reputation) was using the “after dinner roll” when all three of our trolling rods got hit at the same time, leaving only two anglers with their hands free, pun intended, to fight the fish. Good times!
Our last two days of fishing had us desiring more fly time and the three of us were paired with another young guide named Kris, one of the rare female guides I’ve encountered in my travels. Kris is the owner of that Labrador retriever I mentioned above and being dog lovers, we requested his company for the day, too. It was a blast; fish after fish after fish, this time including coho and pink salmon. Kris helped with Treyson’s fly casting and the conversation flowed all day. Bo was the consummate fishing dog, the fish were very willing to chomp our streamers and we all thoroughly enjoyed the amazing day, start to finish.
The last fishing day found us on a small creek between two lakes and by this point in the trip, Treyson had found his fly groove. We spread out between the lake and the creek and proceeded to have an epic salmon beatdown; I’m not even sure how many triples we hooked up and released, but it was a lot, all the while laughing and enjoying life in general. It’s easy to do that while standing knee deep in a remote and beautiful Alaskan lake, with fish rolling everywhere and rod bent with yet another salmon and for me, new friends to share it with. It was a great way to end our fishing.
But the trip wasn’t over. Our float plane wasn’t picking us up until the following mid-morning, so we still had an evening to reconcile memories we made with the fellow lodge guests, the staff (who all felt like friends in short order) and our personal reflections on an Alaskan adventure, over delicious food in a beautiful setting of course. Randell, Treyson, and I agreed – this trip was definitely about more than the fishing, as productive as that was. Whales, awesome old float planes, positive people happy to be there, family bonding and an amazing setting. Like I said, the only thing better than a week at Alaska’s Boardwalk Lodge is winning the trip in a sweepstakes! Alaska’s Boardwalk Lodge, visit them on the web at www.boardwalklodge.com or give them a call at 800-764-3918.