Can you catch fish in April in Alaska?
I’ve always heard how great the fishing is in Alaska in the summers. But what about when it isn’t summer? Alaska is pretty busy during June, July and August. Is that because fishing is bad the rest of the year? When I travel I prefer to find quiet times when there are less tourists roaming about and less pressure on the fishing. So we decided to head up to Seward Alaska in April to see first hand what fishing is like during an off peak season.
Do fish bite when the weather isn't perfect in Alaska?
Over the years I’ve done dozens of sport shows selling fishing trips. Along with attempting to sell trips to people I usually meet other outfitters, lodge operators and others like me who have chosen to try to make a living in the fishing/tourism world. I met Jeff Bryden, captain and owner of Gone Again Charters out of Seward Alaska, in January of 2020 at the SCI National convention in Reno Nevada. Like me, Jeff doesn’t just work in the fishing industry, he lives in it and loves it. In Reno I was selling trips to Belize and just 10 feet away Jeff was selling trips to Alaska. I was quite impressed with Jeff and his trips sounded awesome. When it was slow I’d chat with Jeff and we shared stories. In 2022 I saw Jeff again at the DSC show in Dallas Texas. During a slow moment I asked Jeff if people ever caught fish during a non summer month in Alaska. He laughed and told me he can catch fish any month of the year. I found that hard to believe. He was adamant and told me I should come up and prove him wrong. That night in my hotel room I looked up historical weather patterns for Seward and April looked doable. By doable, I mean that the weather wasn’t terribly cold. It wasn’t very warm either (average is low 40s on a good day). I decided to put him to the test and made arrangements to charter a fishing trip that April.
I convinced my wife to let our son, Brock, take a week off of school to accompany me to Seward. She wasn't thrilled with our 12 year old missing a week of school "just to go fishing", but relented. A friend heard about our trip and asked if him and his two teenage kids could join us. We all flew into Anchorage on a Sunday evening and after staying in an airbnb headed down to Seward Monday morning. We arranged to fish Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Rather than target a specific species we decided to fish for whatever is biting. When we pulled into the harbor and saw all the boats moored there I felt a thrill and a sense of dread at the same time. Either we were fools for going out fishing when no one else was or we were brilliant and had the whole ocean to ourselves. The weather looked perfect and we were excited to get on the water!
We arrived in Seward just after 8 am. After filling out our fishing licenses, gearing up and the captain’s safety briefing it was almost 10 am when we pulled out of the harbor. The sun was shining, the water was calm and our spirits were soaring. On the way out we saw an otter laying on it’s back and watched a few porpoises swim in our wake. Once we reached the mouth of the inlet the water changed. Captain Jeff explained that the week prior to our arrival the weather had been rough and these were the residual swells from that storm. He didn’t think it was very rough and told us to sit tight for 20 minutes while he took us across the open ocean to a protected bay.
Once we arrived at his targeted location bait was cut and lines were dropped. In less than 10 minutes we had 3 fish on board. The first was a lingcod and the second two were both rockfish. The rest of the day was spent hauling in rockfish and lingcod. Yellow eye rockfish, dusty rockfish, black rockfish and a yellowtail rockfish were caught aplenty. Rockfish are somewhat protected in Alaska and we could keep 1 nonpelagic rockfish each and up to 3 pelagic rockfish. We had to deep release several yellow eye rockfish. All lingcod were released because the season hadn’t opened yet. On the ride back we stopped to look at sea lions. On the way back in we stopped and checked Captain Jeff’s shrimp pots and were rewarded with a couple dozen huge shrimp. That night we enjoyed a meal of rockfish, halibut and shrimp with Jeff and his family.
Our second day in Seward was cold and foggy. There was no wind and the water was nearly flat. Visibility was under 100 feet, all around us you could feel the cold dampness. We had caught so many rockfish and lingcod the day before that we asked Captain Jeff if we could try something else. We decided to target halibut. Within 30 minutes I hooked into a halibut. I had heard pulling up a halibut was like pulling a sheet of plywood off the seafloor. We were fishing 350 feet down and it took me about 20 minutes to pull up a 30 pound halibut! I can’t imagine what a 100 plus pounder would feel like(but someday I hope to find out). We were so excited when we saw the halibut and assumed that like the rockfish more were going to be joining us on the boat. Captain Jeff urged a little caution with our optimism. He said he preferred a little wind to drift or a changing tide (we were just going into slack tide). We caught a dozen grey cod and a couple of arrow tooth flounders but no more halibut. We headed back in cold and with some mixed levels of satisfaction. I was happy, I had caught a nice halibut and several large cod. Brock hadn’t landed a fish all day. He had several bites but had struggled with the hookset. I think fishing several hundred feet deep was challenging him more than he anticipated.
Day Three started out cold and foggy and we worried that it would be similar to the previous day. However the fog burned off in the afternoon and by the time we returned to the harbor we were all squinting in the sun. We started out the day trolling for king salmon. We really wanted to catch a salmon or three. But it didn’t work out. Captain Jeff tried different depths, lures, and rigs but it didn’t matter. We weren’t in luck. The water simply wasn’t the right temperature for a salmon bite. As a licensed fishing guide Jeff isn’t allowed to fish for halibut every day. So we decided to try fishing for rockfish again. We really wanted to catch some new species of rockfish. We had caught so many yellow eyes, dusty and blacks. We were hoping for some quillbacks, chinas, copper and the one we really wanted was the tiger. Sure enough I caught a couple more nice yellow eyes and Brock caught more dustys and blacks. But our friends, Damon and Bridger, they managed to land a couple of nice quillbacks! We brought back about a dozen rockfish to be cleaned.
Day 4 weather was pretty nice again. The fog had cleared out and the was a slight chop to the water. We decided to try to find more halibut. At first we dried deep dropping seven to eight hundred feet deep. Our lines had two hooks each and Brock caught a 22 inch halibut (chicken halibut) and a grey cod at the same time. This was Brock’s first halibut and seeing that smile was awesome. We caught several more cod but no more halibut at that depth so we decided to more 300 feet depth. Soon Bridger landed a large halibut and I landed another halibut. After a couple more hours of catching more grey cod, arrow tooth flounders and even a skate we decided to make one last effort to catch a new type of rock fish. Sure enough we managed to catch some more yellow eye, lingcods and a couple of dustys, but we were really hoping for something new. Then Brock’s pole bent over. We were laughing at him and telling him that he probably had another dusty or black rockfish. But, what would you know, he caught a China Rockfish! Such a pretty fish. Completely black with a bold yellow line running down its body. Again we headed in with a bunch of fish in the hold. Day 4 was arguably the best day we had fishingwise.
What We Caught
Sadly enough we did not catch any salmon. I guess we will have to do that next time. We did catch 9 species of fish in 4 days. And brought home 50 pounds of fish to enjoy!
What We Learned
The water was simply too cold for the salmon. Salmon follow bait fish which follow thermal climes. And Salmon move to spawning grounds(rivers) when water hits a specific temperature. The ocean water was 41 degrees. Normally the water needs to be 45 or above to consistently catch salmon. The other fish bite fine in colder temps. Jeff keeps a log of all fish caught and at the end of April in 2021 his boat had already caught 100 salmon. This year, no salmon had been caught when we left on April 29th. I think it is safe to assume that halibut, cod and rockfish can be caught anytime in the spring. Fishing for them probably improve during the summer, but they are definitely catchable in the spring. Salmon on the other hand can be tough when the temps/conditions aren’t ideal. Overall we had a great time. We caught a lot of fish and ate very well both while we were there and since coming home.
Photos from our trip
Want to fish with Captain Jeff?
Gone Again Charters is an Alaskan family owned fishing charter out of Seward Alaska. They offer fishing trips and sight seeing tours. You can find their website at goneagaincharters.com or find them on facebook. We highly recommend fishing with them.