By Dave Gibson
For The Cordova Times
With my negative coronavirus test results in hand, I arrived in Cordova well within the 72-hour timeframe allowed between having taken the test and boarding your plane to Alaska. Those in noncompliance were tested, charged $250, and quarantined until the results came back. Middle seats were all open during my flights. A face covering was mandatory in airports and on airplanes.
On my first day with two guides at my disposal, we fished from Orca Adventure Lodge’s biggest boat, Storm Prince. On our way out to the fishing grounds we passed a buoy weighted down by Steller sea lions. Accustomed to people, our circling them for pictures only elicited yawns. A soft rain fell most of the day. I was able to reel in nine and 10-pound fish that jumped and fought for five minutes straining the light tackle. My fishing companions Mike and Latifa each caught their limit of three silvers along with a pink salmon. Hers was the best of the trip at 13 pounds!
The food at Orca Lodge’s historic café couldn’t have been better. Soups such as roasted butternut squash bisque and desserts like crème brûlée, butterscotch cheesecake and chocolate pate rounded out meals. Ownership and all of the staff at Orca were personable, friendly and helpful.
I hadn’t caught yelloweye rockfish or a big ling cod since fishing the Gulf of Alaska out of Homer 12 years ago. They are two of the species of fish I hoped to land on this vacation. We began our drift jigging in a bay encompassed by the snow-patched cloud-hugging Chugach Mountains rising abruptly from the sea. Being hauled up from great depths, the fish’s swim bladder would often expand and protrude from their mouths. A “descender” was affixed to the mouths of any fish we didn’t harvest which pushed the bladder back in place and released once it reached a depth of approximately 65 feet. Only instilled in the regulation book this year, it saves fish. I recall a trip in Sitka when it wasn’t employed and the released yelloweyes all died. Some of those fish were major breeders 80 to 100 years old. Captain Jim put us on the right spot as I promptly missed a couple strikes. Mike, with his never-before-seen circular jigging technique, pulled in two beautiful large bright-orange yelloweye rockfish! I was used to being “outfished” by then, but it made it no easier a pill to swallow. As consolation, I landed my best ever halibut later that day weighing in at 43 pounds and two 30-pound ling cod the following day. After Mike’s yelloweyes, we walked Bear Trap Creek where hundreds of pink and chum salmon were schooling, fighting, spawning, had spawned, or died. The water erupted with the splash of salmon when we waded through the creek in our hip boots and an old skinny brown bear combed the shoreline in the distance.
At Power Creek, crimson red salmon spawned. Battered from their arduous journey with dorsal fins drooped and turned white, the submerged bushes shook with their amorous activities. I spent two fascinating hours there. Along the Copper River Highway, a beaver paddled back and forth in the slough and trumpeter swans swam gracefully backed by views of Sheridan Glacier. Ripe salmonberries by the road made a tasty treat for lunch. An old fish trap watchman’s cabin has been converted into a sauna for the guests and employees. The steam from the eucalyptus oil steeped water as it hit the woodstove filled the lungs. Sufficiently warmed, I made my exit after 15 minutes with sweat streaming down my chest.
My last day fishing was again slated for the Eyak River. I brought a folding chair to sit on in the river as I fished to give my back a break. I had barely sat down when I pulled my first fish to shore. Another silver salmon followed as my fishless fishing partners looked on longingly. I could feel their pain because I’d been there, yet I also felt my joy. I let another smaller one go and grabbed lunch. On my second cast from the chair after eating, an 11-pound hook-jawed silver took the offering which amounted to my biggest and best salmon! The others ended the outing with merely a single silver to show between themselves. Sometimes it is just your day and that happened to be mine. I decided to relax on my final 24 hours in Cordova, daring not to spoil the perfect day followed by a potentially less than perfect day.
Dave Gibson is a travel writer and photographer based in Nederland, Colo.