// By Brianna King
I got married this year, and my younger sister and maid of honor asked me what I wanted to do for a bachelorette party. I didn’t want to go to Vegas or drink myself into oblivion. What I really wanted to do was go fishing!
When we arrived to Captain’s Reel fishing in Newport, Oregon, they told us that we were the very first bachelorette party fishing group that they ever had. Apparently, a fishing trip is a typical staple of a bachelor party, but hasn’t been a popular choice amongst brides-to-be.
My female friends and I were happy to do our part to tear down some stereotypes and chip away at the glass ceiling.
We had a blast – went home with a huge amount of rockfish and greenling, didn’t get too seasick, didn’t get too cold (though by the end of the trip we were ready to meet the rest of our friends at the beach house and jump in the hot tub!). To top it all off, my Buddhist, pacifist, vegetarian sister caught the first and largest fish of the day – a 20-pound lingcod! We took the fish home, made some fish tacos, drank some wine and beer, and recounted our newly acquired fish stories.
Are you a novice fisherman or fisherwoman? If you have always wanted to go fishing, but some of the basic concepts are a bit intimidating, I offer you this quick guide on what to keep in mind for your first fishing trip on a charter boat. On the other hand, are you an experienced Washingtonian fisherman interested in making the journey north to “whack some buts”? Does the Ron Swanson quote, “Fishing relaxes me – it’s like yoga, but I still get to kill something,” speak to you on a primal level? Then keep reading for some general tips I have for you to plan an epic fishing trip to beautiful Alaska.
Choosing a Charter Trip
A charter trip is a great way to be introduced to marine fishing. Charter trips are when you pay to go out on a boat for a day, and the licensing, tags, gear, and sometimes even food and beverages are supplied for you. This way you can just enjoy the day without the stress of planning or the worry of whether you have the correct tag or license. The captain and the deckhands are responsible for knowing the regulations and making sure their guests are complying with the law. If there are any fish caught that aren’t in compliance, then the charter is usually stuck with the fine.
In this information-rich age with websites like Yelp and reviews being left on Facebook pages, it is easier than ever to determine what may be a good fit for a first day out fishing. Look for charters with good reviews, but keep in mind that some great charter captains have not been quite as savvy with their online presence. Ask around any fishing supply store and they will probably be able to give a good recommendation. There are some things that you will need to keep in mind, however, to make sure you get the most out of your trip and know what to expect.
Prices usually depend on the length of the trip and how far it is to the fishing grounds. A bottom fishing trip (typically around six hours, close to the coast) generally starts around $80, whereas a tuna trip (12 hours, a few miles off the coast) can be in the $300 range. Charters will often add crab pots on to the trip for an extra $20 and the cost of a day licensing fee for crab (sometimes separate from a normal fishing license). I highly recommend getting at least one pot. You will be so jealous when you see other guests on the boat going home with some fresh Dungeness crab, and you are left empty handed because you wanted to save a couple of bucks!
Make sure you know when you are supposed to meet and where. Fishing trips are usually early starts, so don’t be surprised if they say to meet at the dock at 0500 hours or earlier. If you don’t have one already, day fishing licenses will need to be issued before the start of the trip. Do not turn up late in case you need to fill out your licensing paperwork before departure (and make sure to bring your driver’s license).
As any experienced sport fisherman knows, fishing is really about sharing a great day with friends out on the water. If you are going in a group, let the charter know. Be sure to let them know well in advance if anyone bails, or else be prepared to pay for their spot anyway.
Food and snacks
In general, charters usually provide some sort of snack or meal (especially on longer trips), and of course that one fishing essential – coffee! I recommend asking what sort of snacks will be provided in case there’s anything in particular you would like to bring on your trip (especially anything to help you deal with seasickness – see below).
Length of trip
For a first time out on a charter trip, you may want to just look into half-day trips. On the Pacific Northwest coast, this is usually a bottom fishing trip (targeting rockfish, greenling, cabezon, or lingcod), or perhaps a salmon fishing trip. Longer trips are usually when a deeper water or open-water species is targeted, such as halibut (further offshore) or tuna (way offshore in open water). Tuna trips are usually at the very least a 12-hour trip, so keep that in mind if you have plans for the evening.
Weather & More
Talk to the charter about the expected conditions. Wind (not rain necessarily) is the main thing you want to keep an eye on. If it is expected to be windy on the day, then there’s a good chance there are also swells meaning the ocean will be “lumpy.” You can do some of your own assessing on websites like windtytv.com, NOAA weather service sites, or even surf report sites like magicseaweed.com. A day with rougher swells may not be a great experience for a novice.
Make sure that you dress for being on the water. You can count on air temperatures being at least 10 degrees cooler out on the water than on land. It is better to bring too many layers and be toasty than to be too cold and have to go inside the cabin and risk getting seasick.
You can look up many articles recommending ways to avoid seasickness, but I thought I’d give you my personal recommendation: use Bonine. This is a non-prescription motion sickness medication, like Dramamine (and can be found next to Dramamine in a grocery or drug store), that supposedly does not make you drowsy like Dramamine does. Take at least one Bonine tablet the night before you intend to go fishing, and another the morning of. If you only take a Bonine the morning of, you may as well not have taken one at all (same for Dramamine). The medication needs time to be incorporated in to your bloodstream. Also, pretesting a new seasickness medication on land a week or so before going to sea is important to make sure you don’t get a rare bad reaction. Finally, keep yourself busy and stay in the fresh air!
What to expect
Expect to get there early, fill out your paperwork, and then probably fill up on some free coffee either in the office or on the boat. If you expect you’ll get seasick, I’d recommend staying away from coffee. The comfort of a chartered vessel will vary considerably from boat to boat. Some boats will be very well equipped, tidy, and well taken care of, while others will be less so. You may not know until you arrive at the boat. There may be a few other people on the boat who are also fishing – potential new fishing buddies! On a bottom fishing trip, you can expect that the boat will set some crab pots if anyone paid for any before heading out to the fishing grounds.
The crew will consist of the captain and at least one or two deckhands. Depending on the charter, the deckhands and captain will help you with the rods and tackle. One thing to keep in mind is that the gear the charter owns is expensive, including some of the tackle that they use (particularly any lead weights). It’s best to let the crew help you in a pinch in the instance of snags so as not to cost the company valuable equipment. After a couple hours of fishing you’ll be on your way back to port. The boat will swing by and grab the crab pots that were set. Hopefully you paid for one, because you’ll be kicking yourself otherwise.
Back in the harbor, there will be a fish fillet station, where for a relatively small charge you can have a fish filleted by a professional. I’d recommend it just for efficiency. If you’re willing, however, you can take your fish home and give it a go yourself. It may be easiest to use a fillet station at the dock, which has a bench that can be hosed down afterwards and trash cans meant for fish guts. At the end of your trip, it is acceptable to offer a tip to the captain or crew if you feel like they went above and beyond to make your day memorable.
Then – enjoy the fruits of your labor! There is nothing better than a truly fresh piece of fish straight from the ocean. Make sure the fish is room temperature before cooking (this ensures that the fish cooks more evenly), and ideally you would brine the meat beforehand. This adds moisture and flavor to the meat. A simple yet effective recipe is blackened fish. After brining the meat, place in an already preheated cast-iron skillet with some olive oil and cook under the broiler in an oven, skin side up, for about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and voilà – you have a delicious meal.
To store the rest of your fish, ideally you would have it vacuum sealed. Sometimes charters provide this service for a cost. Another method is to use freezer paper, but make sure that the fish is wrapped well to prevent freezer burn. Storage is an important part of the process. Your efforts will have all gone to waste if you can’t save your fish for later.
Planning a trip to Homer
To any fisherman, Alaska is a significant destination to be checked off the bucket list. Even if you’ve done your share of fishing in Washington and Oregon, fishing in Alaska can be a wonderful opportunity for new experiences, new sites, and maybe even some new species of fish. Washington and Oregon have their fair share of bottom fish, salmon, Dungeness crab, and albacore tuna. Alaska offers some of the same (no tuna fishing, though), and of course, some world-class salmon and halibut fishing, as well as salmon sharks, dolly varden, and tanner crab. If you’re looking for a straightforward, easy-to-plan experience without losing the Alaskan charm, then look no further than Homer. You can leave Seattle and arrive at your accommodation in Homer about six to seven hours later.
Homer is located on the lower Cook Inlet on the Kenai Peninsula. To get to Homer, you will take a flight to Anchorage first, most likely with Alaska Airlines or Delta. From there you can either take a 45-minute flight to Homer, or rent a car or take a bus to make the five to six-hour drive. While the flight is more expensive, it will give you the most time in Homer if you are doing a quick trip. If you have time, however, I do recommend driving. The drive down the Turnagain Arm through the Chugach National Forest is stunning any time of year.
Homer has many different options for accommodation, from hotels and motels to cabins and houses, a hostel, and even several Air BnB options.