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This past August, I checked out a fishing package in the Aleutian Islands put together by the sales director of the Grand Aleutian Hotel (*) on the island of Unalaska 900 miles southwest of Anchorage. The package involved two days of halibut fishing in the Bering Sea and two days at a remote island camp, where I enjoyed some of the most interesting salmon fishing I have ever experienced.

The real appeal of this trip is the island camp, but I will start by telling you about the halibut fishing. As pre-arranged, we fished out in the Bering Sea on a trim, 32-footer with a man named Capt. Darrell. Personally, I think you can get all the halibut you want or need here in one day’s fishing. I suggest each angler settle for two chicken halibut, which are fish in the 40 to 60-pound range that provide the best eating. We saw an amazing amount of sea life, including puffins, sea lions, killer whales and huge schools of krill and herring. Dress warm, bring good rain gear and follow the mate’s instructions on bottom fishing for halibut.

Now, let me get to the main event – namely, fly fishing for silvers at a place called Volcano Bay, where a most amiable young angler named Greg Hawthorne (*) has set up a comfortable tented camp. Volcano Bay is a 15 to 30-minute flight north from Dutch Harbor via floatplane. Depending on the number of passengers (maximum six), you fly out in either a Pen Air Widgeon or Goose. A short river connects the Pacific at Volcano Bay to an inland lake, which is located about five minutes upriver from Hawthorne’s camp. The plane lands on the lake and taxis to shore, and you should wear your waders on the flight since once you arrive you have to walk though three-foot-deep water to meet Hawthorne and the boat that takes you downriver to the camp.

Most of the fishing we did involved casting from the shore into crystal clear salt water. With polarized glasses, we could easily see the schools of silvers and sockeyes as they moved along the beach towards the river inlet. There is nothing nicer than casting to fish you can see and watching them move to the fly! The silvers were brightly colored, fresh-run and full of fight. Often as not, the silvers we saw were being pursued by sea lions, who in turn were sometimes being chased by killer whales. It’s a tough life being a salmon!

Sockeye fishing at Volcano Bay starts in mid-June, while the silvers start in mid-August. I was there from August 17 to 24, and the fish were plentiful. On my first fishing day I landed seven of the 10 silvers I hooked into, and each day after that I always managed to land my limit of five fish. I lost most of the unlanded fish while trying to land them in the surf, and found what worked best was beaching the fish on an incoming wave and then running down to move them further onto the beach. If you have ever fly fished in the surf for stripers or blues, your experience will come in handy at Volcano Bay.

I fly fished with Hawthorne on several occasions, and had very good luck with a size 2/0 Abel Anchovy Fly, #2 Karluk River Flash Fly and, best of all, a #2 all-red Lefty’s Deceiver. These silvers are very strong and I personally recommend you invest in top-quality gear. I had a lot of fun one day using my Thomas & Thomas eight-foot, six-inch bamboo salmon rod matched to an Orvis DXR reel and eight-weight line. I also used a Loomis nine-foot, six-inch rod with an nine-weight Abel 3N reel. Both reels have a strong braking action and a large backup line capacity, which is important when these 12 to 18-pound fish run you well into your backing. Although they are a bit bulky to pack, I also recommend that you bring a stripping basket with you. The volcanic sand is tough on a fly line so the basket can save you a lot of trouble.

You may also find that when casting to an incoming school of silvers you will get more strike action if you cast the fly so that it runs in front of the fish rather than bringing the fly across on a swing. I found that stripping the line fast caused the silvers to chase it and strike with a vengeance. They are spectacular fish and I had the best salmon action I’ve have ever had in spite of terrible weather, including high winds, rain, fog, etc. If the wind is heavy from the sea, Hawthorne can take you back upriver via boat to fish in the lake for salmon, but these fish are not as bright and strong as the saltwater fish.

The camp itself is comfortable but primitive – sort of an upscale campout. There is a central tent with a gas stove, refrigerator and table. There are also two large waterproof tents on a wooden platform with three cots per tent. The cots have spring foundations, four-inch-thick foam mattresses and warm sleeping bags. There is an old-fashioned outhouse about 50 yards from the camp, and solar showers for the need-to-be-neat types. Hawthorne is an excellent cook and the food at Volcano Bay is plentiful and tasty. You may bring your own alcohol, and Hawthorne provides ice and soft drinks.

Overall, I highly recommend this halibut/salmon fishing package. My fishing partner and I paid $1,891 per person, based on double occupancy, which included the roundtrip flight to Dutch Harbor from Anchorage, all fishing, lodging at the hotel for five nights, all meals and best of all, fish processing. This means your two halibut per trip and your five salmon are cleaned, filleted, vacuum-packed, frozen and packed in a fish box good for 24-plus-hours of travel.

I am very much in favor of "do-it-yourself" trips and you may want to plan one by purchasing the various parts of this trip separately. Just be aware that the starting cost will be around $695 for roundtrip airfare on Alaska Airlines (*) to and from Dutch Harbor to Anchorage. The halibut charter will cost $190 next year (fish processing and lunch extra), and a single room at the Grand Aleutian is about $135 per night ($150 for a double). That will still leave the cost of the flyouts from Dutch Harbor to Volcano Bay, all meals and (if you want it) the cost of the halibut fishing. Whatever program you choose, I strongly suggest that you factor into your plans two extra days at the Grand Aleutian Hotel, since weather may cause either your planned Volcano Bay trip or your halibut charter to be delayed. The hotel is inexpensive and good salmon fishing is available in the Dutch Harbor area, which the hotel can set up for you at a minimal cost.

The hotel itself was built in 1993 and has 112 rooms and suites, each of which has a great view of either Margaret Bay (we could see salmon jumping in the bay), Ballyhoo Mountain or Unalaska Bay. Unalaska Island’s steep cliffs that run to the sea reminded me of Maui in the Hawaiian Islands, except that Unalaska has almost no trees. The hotel has an atrium lobby, floor to ceiling stone fireplace, two restaurants and lounges, and a very warm and friendly staff. Unlike most locations in Alaska, June, July and August are the slow seasons here, as the commercial fishing is quiet until early September. At that time, the population jumps from 3,000 to about 9,000, when the town becomes the temporary home of about 6,000 commercial fishermen and cannery workers. Workers are housed in modern apartments and dorms and are given all meals, lodging, medical and dental, plus good wages. Dutch Harbor is a very interesting little place. It was bombed by the Japanese in World War II and many military fortifications are still in place. There are many very good restaurants in town, and the Chart Room at the hotel is rated among the best.

If Angling Report subscribers would like more first-hand information, they can contact me directly (*). I am booked to go back to Volcano Bay next August. – Don Kimel.

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