One bucket list item we had was to go salmon fishing in Alaska. While visiting the quaint coastal town of Valdez, nestled in the fjords of coastal Alaska on Prince William sound, we decided it was time to get out on the water.
Valdez, AK is the northernmost ice-free port in the USA, burned into many people’s memories by the terrible Exxon-Valdez Oil Spill in 1989 – the worst in human history until Deepwater Horizon in 2010. Some remnants of the 11 million gallons of oil spilled can still be found in pockets around the sound, over 30 years later.
While in the area, we explored the Worthington Glacier before heading out to McCarthy to see the historic Kennicott Copper Mine (read McCarthy Blog Here).
Getting to Valdez
The drive down to Valdez on the Richardson Highway turned out to be a magnificent one, scenery-wise. Frost heaves and construction kept our speeds low, but the views kept our moods high!
We climbed to a high elevation of 2,600 feet in Thompson Pass, which has the distinction of being Alaska’s snowiest place with around 500 inches of snow per year! You’ll notice a terrain change to alpine tundra, with glaciers all around you.
This highway follows the Alaska Pipeline once again as its southern terminus is Valdez, but here it is mostly buried.
You’ll want to slow down as you pass through Keystone Canyon, which has several AMAZINGLY beautiful waterfalls! (there are pull-outs you can use to stop and view)
Welcome to Valdez
Besides being a port for oil exports, Valdez is an active freight and fishing port. The town is also a popular out-of-the-way tourist destination and has several well-known restaurants and bars.
The water in the marina is an unreal turquoise and it’s fun to walk the boardwalk and watch the bustle of activity.
The Valdez Wildlife
We were not surprised to see giant halibut, marine life and eagles here, but one animal that you can find everywhere here sure stood out…. the rabbit.
Valdez has an abundance of wild bunnies that have been hanging around town for as long as the town has been here, and no one really knows where they came from. Some people find them a pest, while others and the visitors seem to enjoy them and we heard that some local residents feed them through the winter to help keep them going.
But we weren’t here for rabbits: we came to do some fishing!
Salmon Fishing in Alaska
It’s hard to visit Alaska without salmon fishing. When the fish start running, you can’t help but catch the fever! Salmon fishing is a huge part of the Alaskan culture, as well as the economy (link to AK Seafood Economic Value Report from 2017).
Many people in Alaska take up salmon fishing as a pastime, as subsistence fishing, and/or to make a living. Salmon are amazing and strange creatures that are born in rivers and streams, but make their way to live in the ocean for a few years, before making the trek back to where they were born to spawn.
This hatchery uses this behavior to “ranch” these salmon in the ocean. Much of the sport fishing is supplied/supplemented by the fisheries in the sound that works to offset impact due to commercial fishermen.
We visited the Solomon Gulch Fish Hatchery that manages a majority of the pink salmon population, as well as some coho/silver salmon, in the waters around Valdez. Millions of salmon are hatched in this compound, then released to the ocean where they mature. After a few years they return to this exact same spot, where some spawn, and others are harvested by fishing vessels for sale.
Spawning salmon go through an incredible change of body shape and color during spawning and will protect their nests without eating until death. It was strange to watch this mass of fish trying so desperately to all cram into such a small stream or, in the case of the hatchery, the fish ladder.
Alaska Salmon Fishing Charter
As long as you have the appropriate Alaska Fishing License(s) you can fish from shore, rent a boat, or hire a charter guide. We procured ours from a local sporting goods store, being sure to get our king salmon stamp in case we were lucky enough to reel in a King!
Our friends from Dometic had accepted our invitation to come fishing with us in Alaska and met us in Valdez. With our friends, Stephan, Trey, Larry, and Gopi, we stocked up on snacks in to cooler and headed out early in the morning with Captain Josh of Valdez Water Taxi & Charters.
We were going after Coho, also known as silver salmon.
We ran about an hour out and as quickly as we had lines in the water, we started to reel in fish!
Pink salmon at first on the surface, but soon our deep downriggers started picking up silvers.
We didn’t quite meet all of our daily quotas of fish, and the king salmon eluded us, but we sure caught a lot of fish! Between the 6 of us, we caught 46 fish: a mixture of silver salmon, pink salmon, rockfish, and sea bass.
Tom was back in his element, reliving his childhood memories of salmon fishing in Alaska.
Alaska Fishing Day Success
After they were all cleaned at the dock, we ended up with 91lbs of filleted fish that amazingly all fit (pre-freezing) into our Dometic CFX 50W Electric Cooler that travels with us in the back seat of the truck.
We had the fillets portioned and flash frozen to help them keep. This much salmon should last us quite a while!
The Dometic CFX cooler is also a freezer and we set the temperature at 3-5 degrees. We will find out how it performs keeping our portion of the catch frozen over the next few months traveling back home.
We have the cooler plugged into the Dometic PLB40 Portable Lithium Batterywhich is plugged into the truck’s auxillary power. When the truck is running, the battery charges and powers the cooler. When the truck is turned off, the battery continues to power the cooler.
Keeping the cooler around 6 degrees F will be a sizable draw. So, we occasionally had to plug the battery into our inverter to charge off the Battle Born Batteries when we were stationary for longer periods of time. (Check out our electrical system here)
We had an AMAZING time salmon fishing in Alaska with our friends from Dometic! We are so glad they could join us for this memorable excursion.
It was crazy to see some of the other fishing boats coming back in the evening after deeper fishing for halibut and ling cod. Some of these fish were massive!
Exploring Worthington Glacier
Worthington Glacier is located along the Richardson Highway just north of Valdez. It was denoted a National Natural Landmark in 1968, and is one of the remaining US Glaciers that is accessible by highway.
The Worthington Glacier Recreation Site is a park located near the toe of the glacier. Here you’ll find a view the huge mound of ice. You can hike up for a closer look, either on the Ridge Trail that gives you a view up and alongside the glacier, or take a guided hike tour from Alaska.Guide.
We happened to bump into Zack, owner and guide at Alaska.Guide in the Worthington Glacier Parking lot. He was super nice, and had just finished a tour. After chatting a bit, he shared directions to the route he likes to take along the north side of the glacier, opposite of the ridge trail.
One trick to the hike is that we needed to traverse the swift cold glacier run-off stream. Luckily, we had climbing gear with us, and Zack was kind enough to lend us additional safety and webbing!
Once across, we scrambled our way up the steep slippery rock. We followed some ridges and faint hints of a trail, and finally came face to face with the slowly moving wall of blue ice!
This was probably one of the coolest things we’d done so far – it was just SO BLUE!
The trail was a bit strenuous, not super well-marked, and involved quite a bit of scrambling. If you’re not comfortable with hiking off-trail and winging it on steep cliffs but want to experience getting up close like this, definitely give Zack a call over at Alaska.Guide.
Paddleboarding Valdez Glacier Lake
Our last night in Valdez we spent boondocking down near Valdez Glacier Lake. (Campendium listing for this spot here).
The next morning Cait decided to go for a paddle among the icebergs!
WARNING: Paddling among the icebergs like this needs to be done with EXTREME caution! THIS IS VERY DANGEROUS, PEOPLE HAVE DIED OUT HERE (WE FOUND OUT LATER). There are many submerged ice obstacles that are impossible to see in the milky water, even just an inch below the surface. There is also the potential of a calving glacier or chucks falling off the icebergs.
Luckily, I had been warned by others coming off the water of these invisible threats. I remained seated on the paddleboard instead of standing. Otherwise, I would have gone for a frigid and hypothermia-inducing swim when hitting the underwater ice shelves.
To keep warm, I wore a wet suit and life jacket and proceeded slowly and with extreme caution. I wandered around the closer icebergs, wary of the ledge that might drop rocks or chunks of ice. I didn’t even attempt to get near Valdez Glacier itself. However, there are tours are available during low-risk calving times.
Despite its danger, the experience was calming and beautiful. The ice popped and cracked, melting and dripping into the water. The gentle lapping of water against the ice in the sunshine was very soothing and surreal.
On To McCarthy, Alaska
After this, we packed up and head out of Valdez. We turned onto the Edgerton Highway to begin our adventure out to the remote and off-grid town of McCarthy & the historic Kennecott Copper Mine!
The Go North Expedition is made possible by Lance Camper Manufacturing, Battle Born Batteries, Truma North America, Dometic, LivinLite.net, Hellwig Suspension Products, and viewers like you through Patreon. Thank you!
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