Sitka is an Alaskan town that celebrates both its native and Russian history. Renowned for its salmon and halibut fishing, Sitka has so much more to offer not to mention the rare chance at a "Salmon grand slam."
The town of Sitka Alaska is located on the west side of Baranof Island in the Southeast part of the state. Sitka is south of Juneau and north of Ketchikan, and enjoys a very strong tie to the state's Russian history. Sitka was actually originally the capital of Russian America, and then originally served as the Territory of Alaska's capital once the United States took control. Today Sitka is a popular destination for serious salmon anglers and adventurers looking for a chance at catching a trophy sized halibut. Southeast Alaska is known for some of the best fishing in the world, and it should come as no surprise that salmon, halibut, and trout are only a few of the fish that abound in both saltwater and freshwater.
If you're heading out for some great saltwater fishing you'll most likely be hitting the Sitka Sound. There are many saltwater species in the area, including the ever-famous halibut not to mention all five species of salmon: king (Chinook), coho (silver), pink (humpies), sockeye (reds) and chum (dog).
In fact because Sitka is located at sort of a natural crossroads for migrating salmon, it's one of the few places where it is technically possible to catch all five salmon in one day, although accomplishing the "salmon grand slam" is still pretty rare.
The halibut fishing is famous worldwide, and there will be no shortage of Sitka charters offering their services for halibut fishing. Some even offer halibut and salmon fishing on the same trip, although if you have the time it might be worth spending one day with a professional fishing guide for salmon and another day with a professional halibut fishing charter to get the most out of both. Lingcod are abundant in these waters and can also be caught year round.
If you prefer to focus on freshwater fishing, you can still catch all five species of salmon, although the seasons are different. The main run for king salmon through Sitka, for example, is in May, June, and the beginning of July while silvers are mostly found in June and July while Chinook salmon can still be found through early September. Baranof Island also experiences heavy runs of trout and Dolly Varden. Rainbow trout are the most common, although some areas of the island around Sitka also enjoy heavy steelhead populations. Fishing styles used by the guides vary from a series of conventional rod and reel methods to fly fishing for the trout anglers, or you may even may learn how to "mooch" for salmon, which is a traditional method learning how to offer bait at various depths until you find the fish that are actively feeding.
No matter if your preference is salmon, trout, or halibut you can find world class fishing for all three species around Sitka. Whether it's in the Sitka Sound for halibut or King Salmon while they're still out in the saltwater or if you prefer the hard to reach lakes and tributaries throughout Baranof Island, you will be able to find plenty of great fishing. However one thing that does set Sitka apart from many other Alaska locations is the weather. Pack for rainy and windy weather, as both can occur suddenly around Sitka and the weather is notorious for creating delays in flying in or bumpy rides before landing via float plane or at the local airport.
Sitka is completely separated from other Alaska communities in the southeast part of the state and there are no roads connecting to the town. This means the only way in is through flying or by taking the ferry through the Alaska Marine Highway System that connects Sitka with other Southeast Alaska towns like Juneau, Ketchikan, or Skagway. The ferry takes longer, but it is a great way to see the natural beauty of the southeast archipelago of Alaska and the wilderness viewing is excellent. There's even a chance of catching sight of some whales while going from one location to another.
If you have a clear idea of what type of fishing you want to do, it's always good to make reservations with a professional Sitka charter ahead of time. Halibut charters are especially popular and often need to be booked in advance. If you want to know some of the local lingo, smaller halibut in the 20 to 40 pound range are known as "chickens" while the 100 pound plus giants are often referred to as "barn doors" because of their long yet thin shape. Halibut meat is extremely white and flaky and makes for some incredible eating.
Rates are going to vary based on the provider and the type of fishing trip you're envisioning. Many packages lasting 3-4 days run from $1,700 to $2,500 per person with a minimum of four people but this often includes expenses like your sports fishing license (very pricey for out of staters), salmon stamp, cleaning and packaging of filets and even meals depending on your provider. It is always a good idea to talk with several professional Sitka fishing guides to compare services and prices.
Generally most fishing seasons kick off on the first of May and end in the first week of September, although halibut and lingcod fishing can last past that. The salmon runs vary slightly based on species although often all five are available at the same time and there are major runs of salmon stretching from June through August, while Dolly Varden are most common in May and June. January is the only month when halibut season is closed, although the summer months are the best times to fish for these saltwater trophies, as well.
When you're not on the water there is still plenty to do around Sitka Alaska. The Sitka National Historical Park is Alaska's oldest national park and displays a large number of native totem pole art. The Totem Trail is a can't miss part of this park and you can learn a lot about the local Tlingit culture. If you want an even more breath taking view of Sitka's natural beauty and that of the surrounding Baranof Island then consider a helicopter tour or small twin prop flight tour of the area to see the glaciers, mountains, and forests from a bird's eye view. For the adventurous types you can rent a sea kayak, take hikes on deep nature trails, and explore the surrounding areas. Make sure to enjoy the fresh seafood that many of the town's restaurants specialize in. This doesn't just go for halibut and salmon, but look out for fresh crab as well. Check out Sitka's harbor system, one of the largest in Alaska with 1357 permanent slips.
Don't forget to take a little time to check out St. Michael's Cathedral or The Russian Bishop's House while in town. The Tongass National Forest is close by for nature lovers and if you love classical music you might be surprised to know that June is the Sitka Summer Music Festival which has different groups playing classical music every night for the entire month. If you're visiting late in the fishing season, it's always a fun time checking out the annual Labor Day Mudball Classic Softball Tournament.
Sitka might be off the beaten path even by Alaskan standards, but it's a wonderful place to get the full northern experience when it comes to fishing and enjoying the amazing wilderness. Getting a high quality Sitka fishing guide early is a great way to kick start the adventure off right.