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Feature Article: WON Frontier Charter

WON / Frontier Charter to Sitka, Alaska: Making angling dreams come true

BY BOB SEMERAU/WON Staff WriterPublished: Jun 16, 2017

SITKA, Alaska — “We arrived a couple of days early to see some sights around Sitka,” explained excitable charter angler, Kim Hoffert. Kim, along with her husband Barry Hoffert, had traveled to Sitka, Alaska for the 2017 Western Outdoor News/Frontier Charters and Lodge adventure from their home in Carpinteria, California.

mountedgecumbeMOUNT EDGECUMBE SOARS behind Gailen Waggoner, right, as Mac Huffman displays a yellow eye taken near Kruzof Island. The fish is especially prized since it has a one-fish per year limit for visitors fishing in Alaska.


Barry went on to explain further, “Kim has always dreamed of catching a huge salmon or halibut and I think we have a chance at both on this trip.”


With time to spare, the couple went into town for a little souvenir shopping and then on a hike to Blue Lake, just out of town. After speaking with Travis at the local fly shop, the decision to sojourn to Blue Lake and work on local trout with rental fly gear was put into motion, and this reporter opted to tag along.


Just how a lake can be “a 45-minute hike” and not “too difficult to reach” when it sits at the end of a seemingly endless, uphill-in-both-directions trail is beyond anyone’s comprehension. At the top of the (in-reality) 2.5-mile hike lies a beautiful mountain reservoir with almost no flyfishing accessibility. Flail at the water all you want, but the limited access makes the fishing almost pointless.


After the long hike up to the lake, and putting in several hours of swatting flies, only one trout was taken — which Barry caught — before time came for another trip uphill and back to the relative civilization Sitka.


While the Hofferts explored the Sitka environs, frequent Alaska charter anglers Gailen Waggoner, Steve Thompson, Darwin (Grandpa) and Justin Lien (Grandson) arrived with another newcomer on this Sitka trip, Tom Goldston, from Gardnerville, Calif.


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ALL KEEPERS, HALIBUT, ling, and vermilion, were perfect size for slot-limit fish out of Sitka, Alaska. The anglers were keepers too, left-to-right: Gailen Waggoner, Justin Lien, WON reporter Bob Semerau, Darwin Lien, and Steve Thompson.

At Frontier Lodge, Chef D (Damian) is the commander of the kitchen, and the Chef had prepared a salad bar, French onion soup, fresh lingcod with bourbon glaze, veggies and homemade (as are all of Chef D’s creations) berry pie-a-la-mode for dessert, to welcome the arriving charter guests.


Days can be long at these northern climes this time of year (sunrise at 4:15 a.m.; sunset at 9:45 p.m.), and the fishing day begins before you know it. Just after sunrise, most anglers were up each day, ready for the breakfast buffet to be set out. Packing sandwiches into brown bags along with a selection of cookies and chips allows anglers to have lunch their way. By 6 a.m., the 27-foot Sea Sport fleet that is run by the lodge was headed out of the harbor and off to The Cape, a run that generally takes about an hour or so.


Before taking off to the boats, anglers selected their personal foul-weather gear for use during the three days fishing. Last year, Frontier Lodge had laid in a completely new package of GRUNDENS “foulies,” including their new Hi-Vis jackets in safety yellow. After a year of intense use by Frontier Charter anglers, the gear seemed like new, without any visible signs of wear on jackets or pants alike.


Frontier Charters and Lodge owner and operator, Stoney “Mac” Huffman, always makes time to run his boat, Jaylene, and for this charter, Gailen Waggoner, Steve Thompson, and Darwin and Justin Lien would be fishing with “The Boss.” The Hofferts, Tom Goldston, and I were aboard SummerWind with young Captain Nolan Woody, under the mentorship of his grandfather, Steve Woody. Captain Nolan had just achieved his final approval for his Captain’s License (not yet in hand), hence the two-captain requirement.


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TOM GOLDSTON, A true veteran outdoorsman, bagged his share of the bounty, including a huge king salmon on Day Two of the WON-Frontier charter.


As the two boats arrived into the zone, the bulk of the local charter fleet sat a few miles off The Cape and in the shadow of the ancient volcano, Mt. Edgecumbe on Kruzof Island. But to Capt. Mac Hoffman and Capt. Nolan Woody, the crowds off The Cape did not bode well and the pair opted to run up along the outside shoreline of Kruzof to a beautiful cove at Shelikof Bay. Not just a few boats (a dozen) had made the run to Shelikof and they were already struggling to get king salmon into their boats.


Anglers aboard both SummerWind and Jaylene began working the water column with Ahi Diamond Dart jigs in a variety of colors. Some opted to try their luck with mooching flagged herring.


When fishing with Frontier Charters, the choice of action is all yours. You might want to soak the herring (flagged), cut to spin in the water as it drops ever so slowly down to the bottom and back up again. You could toss the Ahi jig and drop it down, working to find fish. Working the water column. The distinction makes for a hands-on experience like no other and sets Frontier Charters apart from most others in the area.


Within minutes of setting up the first drift, SummerWind angler Barry Hoffert came tight on the first keeper king of the trip while jigging 25 feet off the bottom of the bay. In short order, the next salmon bit Kim Hoffert’s rig, and it too was a keeper. Results were much the same for Gailen Waggoner, breaking the ice for his group in just a few minutes while fishing aboard Jaylene by landing a sizable king salmon while jigging deep.


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MAC HUFFMAN WRANGLES a keeper halibut into the boat for charter anglers aboard Jaylene.


With salmon in the boats, the time had come for a shot at halibut, both keepers and monster photo-trophy size. The two boats headed offshore to a spot known as Howie’s Hole.


Gear was switched out to break out the big guns. The boats had just been rigged with Accurate reels mounted to new Cousins stocky, game rods that meant serious business. The heavy braid on the reels led down to a short shank of heavy line (rope, actually) with a 15-0-size circle hook and two, one-pound weights.


The choice of pinning on day-old fish guts or huge cut herring is entirely up to the angler at Frontier, but either selection suits the halibut’s palate just fine (ling, too, for that matter) and in short order. Dropped down 300-plus feet, the whole mess sits just off the bottom for no more than a few minutes before the fish are drawn in to the scent, and then the battle is on.


The first tentative tugs make the heart race. As the fish commits and the angler comes tight, the pull is a tremendous force not to be missed, like being tied into a runaway bull headed downhill.


With the skipper calling to “crank the handle,” and the rolling of the sea making each turn of the reel a challenge, inches are gained at last and the beast starts to rise just a bit. After quite some time (45 minutes or more), a shadow appeared deep below and its form was startlingly huge.


Leaning out over the rail, the skipper applied a short-handled gaff tucked into the fleshy lip and the halibut, well over the keeper-size limit, which was then lifted for photos and a quick release.


By the end of the day, the scene is repeated with “picture fish” (giant lingcod and halibut) interspersed with smaller, keeper fish from both species and the occasional yelloweye thrown in the mix.


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A HUGE HALI poses for great photos below the water before its release.


Once the limit had been taken or time had lapsed, the boats moved inside again to find a spot near The Rock Pile for rockfish, especially to collect black bombers (black rockfish) and an occasional yelloweye and lingcod.


The rhythm is much the same each day but weather conditions can turn things around, making running offshore a challenge at times.


Back at the lodge, having taken time to clean up after the day’s fishing and after having perhaps grabbed a cocktail on the patio, anglers head in to dinner of rib eye steaks and baked potatoes with all the trimmings.


Western Outdoor News had sent along some swag in the form of four Turner’s Outdoors­man gift cards (valued at $50) each and a certificate for a pair of $250 Costa sunglasses, which were awarded to the raffle-winning anglers.


Days two and three of the charter fishing days brought out some more of the seriously large fish and with them, the catches that dreams are made of. As the adage says, “women often seem to outfish the guys” and on this trip, our lady angler, Kim Hoffert, held up her end of the deal.


“I’m so excited, I managed to boat all three of the trophy fish: a huge lingcod, halibut and a top-of-the-size-range king salmon,” beamed Kim at the end of the third day on the water.


Of course, that’s not to say the guys did not do their share of the heavy lifting as well. Both Darwin Lien and Steve Thompson aboard Jaylene, and Barry Hoffert aboard SummerWind, found photo-trophy halibut that went over the century mark.


Gailen Waggoner and his group have been coming to fish the WON /Frontier Charter since its inception more than five years ago. As a loyalty bonus, lodge owner Huffman offered the group a flight-seeing tour around the Sitka area aboard his Cessna 185 floatplane. Waggoner, Thompson, and Justin Lien loaded into the equipped pontoon plane at the floatplane dock and headed out for the two-hour tour. The flight took the group over snow-capped mountains and into deep canyons, and above pristine mountain lakes to see mountain goats, bear, and some of the loveliest country in the state of Alaska.


Days earlier, Mac had arranged for this reporter to accompany him to Lake Eva aboard the float plane and to fish the outflow and headwaters of the lake. Both areas were delightfully pristine and teeming with brookies and cutbows willing to eat both spinning and fly gear. The trip to the backcountry by floatplane is just one of the many added elements of fishing with Frontier Charters and Lodge.


Each year, the fishing with Frontier is different, an experience like no other. The quality of the fishing and the unique variety make this annual Western Outdoor News charter trip one not to be missed. As charter anglers headed out with 50 pounds of carefully vacuum-sealed and flash-frozen fillets of all sort, there is sure to be lots to share with friends and family back home.


Contact Info: Frontier Charters and Lodge: (800) 388-1218; frontiercharters@alaska.com, www.frontiercharters.com


kimmieslingwas350
KIMMIE’S LING WAS just one of the big fish dreams come true for the excellent lady angler, Kim Hoffert of Carpinteria. Showing off Kim’s big king is Captain Steve Woody, who had mentored his grandson Nolan Woody aboard SummerWind while Nolan awaits his Captain’s License, due to arrive any day.

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TOP-END HALIBUT for Tom Goldston with less than a ½ inch to spare before being too large to keep.


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BARRY HOFFERT BOATED his big salmon early on while the rain fell and the wind blew, but his smile says it all despite the inclement weather.

newgearincluding335
NEW GEAR, INCLUDING Accurate Valiant 500 narrow reels and Cousins Tributary salmon jig-sticks worked like a charm for limits of king on the bite.


chefddamian
CHEF D (Damian) makes fresh salads every day and serves them up with specialty dishes every night.


sharingthewatersSHARING THE WATERS with orca, otters, and eagles just adds to the elements of fishing Alaska.


solitudeamidsthighSOLITUDE AMIDST HIGH mountain lakes and streams, where brookies and cutbows get little pressure and eat flies or metal on the toss.




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