By Candice Gardner
If you are looking for a true adventure in fishing then there is no place quite like Haines, Alaska. Unspoiled and far from the usual tourist trappings that one finds along the Inside Passage route, this remote wilderness is a salmon fishing paradise.
Haines is located in the northern part of the Alaska Panhandle, near Glacier Bay National Park and at the north end of the longest fjord in North America. This small town also has the distinction of bordering the largest protected land area on earth- more than 20 million acres. Haines will always be — The Adventure Capital of Alaska. The town of Haines is small, with a population of only 2,500 and scenic as only Alaska can be. Best of all, it is the spot for world-class salmon fishing during the months of May through November. What makes this particularly exciting is that you are fishing in near proximity to one of the largest land predators in North America, the grizzly bear. You will encounter them, often with cubs walking the banks of the Chilkoot River as you fish. No, this is not entirely safe, but the local bears are habituated to fishermen at the river and you just need to move away or walk up the hill to your car as they pass. Most bears are fairly tolerant of the excited anglers as long as a safe distance is kept (usually 100 yds.) and there is usually a ranger around to keep things calm. Still, don’t think the same grizzly bear will tolerate your presence anywhere outside of this very specific situation, because they won’t. Coming within the same proximity just across the road in the forest will likely get you killed. Taking precautions and learning some basic bear safety guidelines will allow you to fish on the same river as 800 – 1700 lb. bears for the thrill of a lifetime.
The tall pines are dotted with bald eagles – 400 of them call Haines home year round – just waiting for an opportunity to dive down and grab a passing salmon. Despite the heavy competition by local grizzly bears, bald eagles, seals, salmon sharks and visiting anglers, the salmon is plentiful. To make it upstream to the river, the salmon must navigate their way past the salmon sharks in the ocean, the seals in the harbor, the bald eagles in the trees above, and the grizzly bears and anglers on the river. In spite of this tough task, an adequate number make it up stream many miles to the Chilkoot Lake and further still into the tributaries and finally reach their spawning grounds to lay eggs and propagate the next generation.
If your trip is planned during the month of November, you will also be able to witness a local event known as the Alaska Bald Eagle Festival held during the peak of the gathering of eagles. Each year more than 4,000 bald eagles gather in Haines as part of their annual migration. Haines is a natural resting place due to the calm open waters and the plentiful numbers of salmon available to hunt.
Fishing Equipment & Licensing
The fishing areas in Haines are abundant and as long as one has the right lures, the salmon will bite your line quickly after casting. The local shops are your best resource for the correct lures to use and Outfitter Sporting Goods is a recommended nearby spot for both equipment and licensing, along with information on daily catch limits for each type of salmon. Fishing tackle can be rented but an alternative resource is a telescoping pole which can size down to a comfortable fit inside your suitcase along with a sturdy reel and line strong enough to catch a 10-20 pound fish. This option was my choice and it yielded a healthy 200 lbs. of salmon filets to ship home. Rubber boots and a rain jacket are also a must as the Alaskan weather is changeable and heavy rainfall can happen at a moments notice so being prepared for changes in weather is important.
Haines boasts all five types of salmon in their waters: Chinook, Coho, Sockeye, Pink and Chum. Runs of the different varieties occur from May through the month of November. The Alaska Department of Fish & Game is an excellent resource for run timing. Haines-specific information is located under the Northern Southeast Chart under the Sport Fishing tab.
Among the salmon species, the King or Chinook (Alaska Native word for King) salmon is the largest at an average weight is 20 lbs. The Alaska Coho is the second largest of the species with an average weight of 12 lbs. and is a favorite in the food service industry. Up next, the Alaska Sockeye or Red Salmon, weigh in at an average of 6 lbs., and are known for their deep red flesh and distinctive flavor. However all five varieties – King, Coho, Sockeye, Pink and Chum – are flavorful and abundant in the waters of Haines. Sport fisherman often go after the King and Sockeye Salmon varieties, however a first-timer can easily cast a lure into the river and catch any of the five varieties in the same place and with the same lure.
The best option in Haines for taking care of your daily catch is Dijon Delights. This is where many locals have their own catch processed and is where they will recommend you do the same. You may arrange with them to drop off each day’s take and they will clean, filet and vacuum pack your fish for you. It is maintained in a freezer until you are ready to pick up and carry home or if you have a large amount, they will ship it in dry ice directly to your home or business. It costs around $400 to ship 200 lbs. of salmon filets but it is well worth the cost to have a freezer full of delicious, self-caught salmon to enjoy. Dijon Delights also has smoked salmon and other gourmet items for purchase and shipping.
Where To Stay
Haines has a number of places to stay, from the extraordinary to the simple and charming. The best options are:
The River House: A personal favorite located on the banks of the beautiful Chilkat River and about one mile from downtown Haines. Two separate units are available or one can rent both for a family. The upper unit has a full kitchen, deck and upper loft with windows for a fabulous view. A spotting scope provided with the unit is excellent for wildlife viewing. The lower unit is smaller and has a double bedroom and mini kitchen. Quiet and lovely, it is a unique find. Moderately priced depending upon options chosen; upper unit, $800/week, lower unit $550/week, whole cottage $1250/week, 3 night minimum. Each unit sleeps two adults.
The Chilkoot River Lodge: Fishing adjacent, located on a bluff overlooking the Chilkoot River and offering wildlife viewing platforms for bear watching. The lodge includes an onsite restaurant for convenience. Price per night is $150 and is a lovely option for the traveler desiring maximum comfort.
Hotel Halsingland: A less expensive option located in historic Fort Seward and walking distance to the town of Haines. Old, but charming and listed on the National Historic Register. Restaurant & lounge on site. Price per night is $69- $109.
In Haines, a rental car is an absolute must. Rentals are available through The Lynn View Lodge and elsewhere in Haines, though locals will recommend the Lynn View Lodge as the best option because they will meet you at the ferry or airport and transport you, cost free, to pick up your rental car.
How to Get There
Because Alaska is so wild, the easiest way to get around is by air or by boat. Haines is no exception. The least expensive way to get there from North America is by a flight into the capital city, Juneau- usually on Alaska Airlines out of Seattle. Juneau has more options and less expensive choices for travel to Haines than you will find if leaving from Anchorage. For inexpensive and enjoyable travel to Haines, the Alaska Marine Highway is an excellent option. Commonly used by Alaska residents, the Alaska Marine Highway is a ferry system designed for travel between various remote seaports in Alaska and the Inside Passage. Automobiles and RV Campers may also travel on-board at an extra fee.
Equipped with an indoor observation area and with narration by a crew member, the four hour trip to Haines passes quickly. Passengers can also walk outside on the decks or have a meal in the informal dining area equipped with a walk-up grill area. Food is reasonably priced at less than $10 per person. Large windows surround all inside passenger spaces and the photographic opportunity was an unexpected bonus with views of humpback and killer whales, dolphins, otters and other sea life along the way. The price is $38.00 each way for an adult passenger to travel from Juneau to Haines and reduced child/senior rates are also available. The Alaska Marine Highway is an inexpensive way to see Alaska, while avoiding the expense and tourist trappings of the costly shore excursions often touted by cruise lines.
Air travel is also available on small aircraft between Juneau and Haines. Regularly updated information can be found at Wings of Alaska or Alaska Seaplane Service. The flights are about 35 minutes in duration and the cost ranges from $79 to $133 each way depending upon flights chosen.
Other Haines Activities
Haines has a variety of other activities available. Kayaking, canoeing, and other types of sport fishing are plentiful, particularly halibut fishing. Charters are offered on the docks by several different charter services and 1st Choice Charters comes highly recommended by local residents. Also, the Haines Highway is an official State Scenic Byway and is thought to be one of the most majestic drives in all of North America. Revealing high mountain peaks, glaciers, lakes and rivers along the way, it connects to Canada and the Yukon beyond. Downtown Haines sits only 40 miles from the Canadian border. For those visitors crossing into Canada, a valid passport is a must in order to reenter the United States. Canada will often let visitors enter with a photo ID or valid drivers license but reentry into the United States will not be allowed without a valid passport.
The Haines Visitors Center is located at 122 Second Avenue South, Haines AK 99827 – (907) 766-2234. They have walking tour maps, a visitor’s guide, wildlife viewing tips, hiking safety information, and more.
Have you had any bear encounters while fishing? Tell us about it.