Fly Trolling South East Alaska

The second week of September is a decent bet for the silver run in SE Alaska. This year my brother and I flew to Ketchikan, fished one day there and proceeded on by ferry to Prince of Wales Island for two more days of salt water fly trolling. One of my goals was to test some new fly patterns I want to offer for next season. Another goal was to run a new smaller set of planer boards I made. I am trying to scale them down so they are not too difficult to stow in a smaller boat.  We did not run the planer boards until day two in Craig.

Ketchikan Day 1

We met up with Captain Murray Easter, Oasis Charters, at the Clover Pass Resort dock located about 15 miles north west of Ketchikan. The city is on a narrow water way with heavy boat traffic. The better fishing occurs where the waterway opens into the Inside Passage just outside the resort. I had made arrangements with the captain to troll flies with fly rods and sinking lines on one side of the boat and flies with flashers on the other side rigged on the boat's rods. The captain had one rod rigged with a flasher and mini pink hootchie to start the day as a control.

The day started with a light rain and dark heavy skies. I ran one fly/Action Disc rig on a sink tip fly line. This presented the fly near the top of the water column. The other fly rod was rigged with a 30' lead-core shooting head backed by braided line. This was set with the down rigger at 50 feet.

It took almost an hour to hook up with the first silver of the trip. The coho hit a blue-green tandem bucktailing fly behind a small Wiggle Fin Action Disc, NO FLASHER! This was on the down-rigger rod (photos above)

The second fish of the day, a king, came on the boat's rod, flasher and small pink hootchie. This was released because the king salmon closed August 15th in SE Alaska waters.

Third fish of the day was a pink salmon. It is the first fish taken on the needle fish pattern, fished behind a dodger. The pink was released, as it was getting dark with spawning colors (photos below).

After catching and releasing another king, the final two salmon of the morning were silvers. The first of these came on the needle fish fly and the final coho bit the UV Pink Arctic Fox Tube fly. The pink tube fly was very similar in size to the pink hootchie the captain rigged at the start of the day.


The final score was 3 coho, 2 kings and one pink for a 4 hour charter. Many thanks to Captain Murray Easter form Oasis Charters for getting on to the fish. I look forward to another trip with him into the future.


Tuesday was a travel day, Tim and I took the ferry to Prince of Wales Island. We arrived late in the day but made the time to meet Captain Jeremy Thompson at his boat the Pacific Wind. We set a 6:00 am start time for the following day.


Day 2 Craig

Bright and early we were on the Pacific Wind heading across Bucareli Bay to fish the north side of Suemez Island. Today was the inaugural run for my new shorter planer boards. Planer boards are difficult to stow on smaller boats. I wanted to know how small a set I could make that would still work.

Leaving Craig AK, starboard planer board and two fly rods ready to go.

Jeremy had been seeing some fish on the surface feeding recently. We took the weight off the starboard down rigger and clipped on the planer board. My plan was to run two fly lines off the planer board cable, one out to the board and the other half way out. The way to troll off planer boards is to put the longest line out farthest from the boat and the progressively shorter lines as they get closer to the boat. When a fish hits the farthest out line, the fish can clear the other lines as it moves behind the stern.

The outside line was a 120' floating spey line with a 20' fast sinking tip. I let all of the 120 feet out and clipped the release to the end of the fly line. I am running braid as backing. I want the light weight braid to span from the rod tip to the clip. Heavy fly line will droop to the surface and could break free of the line clip.

The inside rod was rigged with a 30' lead core shooting head and a 20' level 20# leader. I put the clip at the junction of the lead core and braid. We trolled at speeds varying between 2 and 4 mph, depending on whether we were running with, against or across the tide. The port side rods were set in down riggers at various depths in the 30 to 60 foot range.

We did well throughout the day on a variety of species from silvers to rock fish and ling cod. I do not recall fishing near the bottom, the rock fish and lings were probably suspended in the water column. In the morning with a falling tide we fished the basin inside of the islands that formed the barrier to the north Pacific. At the change of tide we moved to one of the channels funneling the tide surge toward Craig. This did not produce as hoped and after an hour or so we headed back in where we had been catching fish.

At this time Jeremy caught site of a whale. He thought the whale was feeding so we headed in that direction to see if there were any feeding salmon. It was a good photo-op but the catching did not materialize until we moved well back into the basin. Jeremy has had consistent success on an incoming tide, He looks for islands that are across the basin from an incoming channel. The theory is that the incoming water will push bait up against the island and the feeding salmon will follow. His theory proved out and we picked up some more fish there before heading in.


The largest fish of the day was a 27 inch silver. This fish and many of the others hit a gaudy pink/orange Tandem Bucktailing fly. Other flies that caught fish were the White Glow Squid tube fly and a purple Peril tandem.


Thursday was a lay over day, sleeping in, getting groceries, checking out the town of Craig.


Friday was our last day of fishing. We were back on the dock at 6:00 am. I told the Captain that priority #1 today was putting fish in the box. I prefer white fleshed fish and requested some rock fish & halibut fishing as part of the days agenda. We started the morning fishing water 300' deep. The rigs were conventional rods with 60# braid, 16 ounces of lead and a dropper. Off the dropper I rigged an Action Disc ahead of a Glow in the Dark Squid. At 300' there is no light. The bait has to be at least faintly lit or smell good.

We did well putting modest sized rock fish on ice for an hour. Then on one drift across an under water basin 330' down, my rod loaded and a good fish started to pull. Jeremy said it was fighting like a halibut. About ten minutes later we saw that it was a nice halibut. Jeremy tailed the fish to measure it outside the boat. The maximum length was 42 inches. Over that size and it had to go back. This one measured 39 inches and in the boat it came. He hit the green glow squid. Shortly there after a second smaller halibut was landed on the same fly.

At that point it was time to get back to salmon trolling to end the final day of fishing. We went to an island that had a steeply dropping shore line that was across the basin from a channel leading to the “Outside “. The steeply inclined shore had only a narrow kelp bed extending out 10 to 15 yards from shore. We spent the next couple hours running the planer board close to the kelp with a pair of fly lines clipped to the cable. We would run a mile or more of the kelp line, hang a “U” turn and fish back out over much deeper water to the start point of the kelp line run again.

This afternoon nothing hit the down rigger rods. All of the action came to the shallow running fly lines and only on the white fly. I ran pink/orange, purple/white and glow squids with no hits. The fish wanted the “Purple Haze” white tube fly.

Typically a salmon would hit the fly and pop the line out of the clip. The captain would increase the rpms to help take up the slack in the line then cut the engine to almost zero. On the last run of the day I had two disctinct tugs nad then nothing. We had been picking up at least one salmon per run up the kelp line. I kept hoping but nothing else hit. When it was time to “Reel em up” I popped the line from the clip and it was a bit heavy. After it was close to the boat we could see there was a small rock fish on the hook. Had I checked the line early on in the run I believe I would have had one more salmon.


The theory on planers boards is that when the fish are shallow, as the boat comes by, the fish will swim away from the boat. This is why in fresh water lakes, running lures 125' to 150' behind the boat is necessary to get fish in shallow water. How far away the fish will move varies with the hull, motor size and speed. But there will be a concentration of fish at “X” feet off the side of the boat. I run multiple lines with the planer boards to find where it is that they want the fly. This trip re-confirmed for me that getting way from the track of the boat will increase your catch.  I am working on a post/video about making your own planer boards.  Keep checking in on the blog to see it when it is posted.



Rodeway Inn too far from town to walk but they have a shuttle that took us anywhere we wanted to go and picked us up when we were ready to return.  Recently remodeled.  Good breakfast included.  Has its own docks.  Decent price for Alaska

Pacific Pride of Alaska, best supplier of fishing tackle and marine hardware in Ketchikan.  located at 1080 Water Street,  907-225-3135.  If you go down town you drive right by it.  Good source for trolling flies.

Oasis Charters:  They were very professional, I would fish with them again.  located 15 miles north west of Ketchikan, accomodations, rental boats and charters.  Accomodations, rental boats. and charters.


Ferry to Prince of Wales Island:

Captain Jeremy Thompson, "Pacific Wind"

Log Cabin Sports:  The most complete outdoor sports shop on Prince of Wales Island.