Bill Vanderford holding a Sculpin.

Bill Vanderford holding a Sculpin.

Travelers looking through the big picture window on deck 2 we were stunned to see numerous large fish being hauled up by somebody on the 3rd deck above them. Within in minutes, I had drawn a crowd as I landed and released rockfish by the dozens from a tiny walkway! Because I was prepared, this was simply one of many exciting times catching fish while on an Alaskan cruise. If one has the proper equipment, any cruise or overland Alaskan trip can be greatly improved by adding some diverse fishing opportunities to the mix. First you should know what to carry and how and when to successfully use these simple angling tools. After much trial and error, I have discovered a setup that is light, takes little space in a suitcase, and is very efficient and productive. My fishing outfit consists of two Bass Pro Shops telescopic rods (one spinning and one bait-casting) that sell for less than $20 each, one light spinning reel and one old Garcia bait casting reel. The rods close down to 16 inches, the reel needs a folding handle and a full spool of 8 pound-test fishing line. The old Garcia reel incorporates a line guide that goes from side-to-side as the line goes out at a rate of 6 feet per pass with a full spool of 12 pound test line which allows exact depth measurement. For Alaskan waters, I take two plastic sandwich-type, ziplock bags that have stronger sides to protect the hooks from coming through. All of this together takes up less space than one heavy shirt.

Lures in a ziplock bag.

Shallow and Deep Spoons with Clippers

Lure selection for Alaska is also very simple … especially if you know your itinerary. It’s the old KISS theory (Keep It Simple Stupid)! Most fishing opportunities in Alaska consist of deeper saltwater jigging and fast-moving rivers or streams in freshwater. Therefore, saltwater fishing will usually be accomplished with vertical jigging spoons without any curvature that weigh from 1 to 3 ounces. In swift, shallow, freshwater tributaries, I carry slightly larger, wobbling Johnson spoons or 3/16th to 3/8th ounce Swirleybirds with a trailer for the bait-casting, and 1/8th ounce Swirleybirds or Little Cleos for the light spinning tackle. This selection of lures has allowed me to catch thousands of fish during my numerous trips to Alaska!

People fishing from a bridge in Ketchikan..

Fishing Ketchikan Creek

Even on my last cruise, which included 10 days overland and four days on a ship, I had an opportunity to land quite a few grayling, some northern pike, a few salmon and numerous species of saltwater fish. During another cruise on a smaller ship, I caught and released more than 400 saltwater fish that included salmon, halibut, several species of rockfish and dolly varden trout. Most of my successes happened when we are anchored in less than 200 feet of water, and I can find a place to vertically jig a spoon from the ship or a dock on the shore. On smaller ships, however, kayaks are often an option as well as inflatable motorized boats with one of the crew. In places like Denali National Park, it is possible to hike or simply ride one of the shuttle buses to a productive stream. It is also good to know that only in Alaska, you don’t need a fishing license in any National Park.

Kathy Watts holding a large halibut..

Kathy Watt with a large Halibut.

On any Alaskan cruise, fishing charters are always offered at your own expense in ports of call for salmon and halibut. Also on overland cruise trips, freshwater fly and spin fishing for trout, grayling and salmon are available to those who don’t mind paying. Whether in Alaska, the Yukon Territory or British Columbia, it is imperative that you obtain the proper fishing licenses. Authorities in these areas take fishing and conservation seriously, and a trip could turn into a nightmare if you don’t have the proper papers! The beauty and diversity of Alaskan waters will have you constantly clicking away with your camera, but it would be a shame if that’s all you do! Swimming below the surface of those picturesque waters is a plethora of hard-fighting and great-eating fishes waiting for your lure, so don’t dare miss the chance of a lifetime.


View of back of a person in pink jacket in a kayak.

Fishing from a Kayak

Three members of a family standing in tall grass next to a river with fishing poles.

Family Catching Grayling in Denali

Photos: by Bill Vanderford