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Feature Article: WON Frontier Charters Recap

WON annual Frontier Charters adventure makes memories and more

BY BOB SEMERAU/WON Staff WriterPublished: Jun 07, 2018

SITKA, ALASKA — Weather conditions can be a big factor in any trip to Alaska, especially traveling north early in the season.

This year’s Western Outdoor News annual trip with Frontier Lodge and Charters took place from May 28 through June 1, with a few participants opting to extend their trips a few days, and the weather showed just how changeable it can be.

Several of the folks along for the charter have been returning to fish with WON at Sitka for many years running, and others were first timers to Alaska.

trophyhalibutmadeTROPHY HALIBUT MADE for lifetime memories and pictures to share before release. This ’but, shown but Capt. Justin Guzman, left, taped out for angler Won Choi, right, at 49-inches, released.

Tom Goldston, a true outdoorsman from Gardnerville, Nevada, and a past charter angler, decided to get to the lodge 3 days early and stay an extra day after as well.

This reporter’s obligation to be available for the duration of the fishing time meant my trip was extended several days to accompany anglers on their adventures. A challenge gladly accepted.

With the early arrival of angler Goldston and myself, Frontier owner/operator, Mac Huffman generously offered to fly his Cessna 185 float plane out to a steelhead stream, two lakes, another stream holding wild cutthroat trout, and a falls at the mouth of an un-named river where returning steelhead would be leaping to get upstream to their spawning grounds. An offer just too good to pass up, indeed.

The flyout trips took place over three days in rainy, cold weather, which any steelhead enthusiast will tell you, makes for perfect conditions. The results were several 20-inch-to-30-inch steelhead caught while sight fishing returning steelies in crystal clear water despite the rains, and loads of 10-inch to 16-inch trout taking the flies and being released.

While the beautiful fishing in the lakes and streams is exciting, Frontier is all about the waters outside and offshore from Sitka.

Once the entire group was assembled after three days of fly-fishing pristine lakes and streams, the time had come to head offshore for king salmon, halibut, lingcod, yelloweye, and black rockfish to fill the boxes going home.

Upon arriving into the modern and comfortable international airport at Sitka charter anglers were greeted by Mac’s mom, Sherry Sanchez and her husband, Robin, to be collected and taken to the nearby lodge. Sherry is like having a personal concierge at your service, and now husband Robin is helping out with the landside tour duties.

KING SALMON MUNCHED on downrigger trolled herring at the Sitka Point Cape for Gailen Waggoner, left and displayed by Captain Justin Guzman.

Frequent WON charter anglers, Gailen Waggoner and Steve Thompson both arrived along with the other remaining charter participants, including Anaheim angler Won Choi and last year’s 2017 WON Striper Derby winners, Kenny Baldwin and Derek Quinonez. The pair of striper pros had won first place honors and the top prize of a four-night trip to Frontier Charters and Lodge.

The final member of the brigade, Los Osos angler Bob Brantley, had arrived on the midnight ferry, opting to fly in to Ketchikan and enjoy the trip across the waters between there and Sitka.

The lodge is a custom-built structure with all the comforts of home. A gathering room with floor to 25-foot ceiling views running along an entire wall, a cozy T.V. room, lots of restrooms and showers, as well as special accommodations for couples and families, all make the Frontier Lodge the choice for frequent visitors.

The first night’s meal, prepared by the extraordinarily talented Chef D, was a baked halibut dinner with specialty desert. After dinner all retired to get some rest in preparation for the 4:00 a.m. start to the fishing day coming the next morning.

With several 27-foot Sea Sports outfitted for hands-on fishing, usually with no down-rigging, anglers get the feel of the bite and the true Alaskan experience when a giant halibut or ling cod takes the bait.

Two of the comfortable boats, Moondancer, skippered by Captain Justin Guzman, and Summer Wind, commanded by Captain Nolan Woody, would take the WON charter anglers to the fishing grounds, departing Sitka at 6 a.m.

At this latitude, and at this time of year, sunlight can be a tricky thing as sunset was more of a graying-out to darkness around 11:00 p.m. and some gray-light showing after 3 a.m. At 4:45 a.m. each day Chef D set out freshly made buns for sandwiches and all the fixings for anglers to pack a bagged lunch for the coming day. A hearty breakfast buffet, plenty of juice and coffee gave anglers the strength they needed for the day ahead.

MASSIVE YELLOWEYE, FOR angler Kenny Baldwin fishing with WON/Frontier Lodge and Charters. With only one fish of the species allowed per year, per angler, it had better be a big one.

Weather forecasts called for continuing improvement over the recent rainy days and both skippers had a free choice for their fishing plan.

The two vessels headed out of the harbor and kept in constant communication throughout the day. By sharing the weather and ocean conditions and the details on fishing success, anglers get an advantage over boats fishing alone.

When fishing with Frontier Charters the action can be all yours. Down riggers are rarely used. You toss the Ahi jig and drop it down, working to find fish. You soak the herring, cut to spin in the water as it drops slowly down to the bottom and back up again, 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.

Accurate Valiant 500 N reels, attached to Cousins Tributary rods, made working Ahi jigs and herring mooching rigs a snap, with great responsiveness and “feel.”

Captain Guzman took Moondancer out to a spot just short of Sitka Point, off Mt. Edgecumbe, to try for salmon with Ahi jigs and cut herring, both.

Capt. Woody opted to roll outside to deeper waters and fill his dance card for halibut. Since regulations limit legal halibut to one per day, 38-inches or less and 80-inches or greater, the opportunity get a fish of a lifetime for photos and a quick release grows greater every year.

After an hour or so working the area round Sitka Point Moondancer moved out to deeper waters as well, and a spot known as the “460” to look for halibut and lingcod.

Anaheim angler, Won Choi, fished the lead head swim bait for some success on both halibut and lingcod. His oversized ling looked to approach 44” and was the largest lingcod of the charter trip.

A STEVE THOMPSON, left, assist made this catch possible for WON staffer Bob Semerau, recovering from back surgery, with big halibut displayed by Cpt. Guzman, right.

Several oversized halibut “picture fish” and four legal-sized flatties made for a good day at the “460” and so Moondancer moved back inside to work up a limit of black rock fish, known as black bombers, to finish out the day.

Summer Wind also moved back inside, but instead ran to the salmon grounds to work the downriggers for a bit and try for the elusive kings, with no fish coming over the rails.

Back at the lodge a great dinner of baked halibut cheek and 56 crème brule dessert helped to ease to shortcomings of the missing king salmon. As did the raffle of sponsor supplied Costa sunglasses and a Costa accessory package for everyone. Costa sunglass winners Tom Goldston and Won Choi had something special to help them remember this trip to Frontier Charters and Lodge.

Loading up the boats next day it looked as if the weather could not get any better. The boats headed through the harbor at Sitka, out to the north through the inside passage, and up to the far end of Kruzof Island. This close-in cruise had two advantages. Firstly, it would make the otherwise hour-and-a-half run to the north end in under an hour. And second, it gave everyone a view of some very scenic area that otherwise might be missed. The snow-covered mountains and tree-lined shore were all teaming with life. Our eagle-eyed hunter, Tom Goldston, spotted two sleuths of bears along the shore. Angler Derek Quinonez spied a bald eagle snag a fish off the water.

The boats worked around the reverse plan and headed south along the outside of Kruzof Island finding little action until Moondancer came upon a spot holding black bombers, lingcod, and yelloweye. Limits were quickly met, and the run was outside for halibut once again.

Returning at last to search for salmon along Sitka Point, Summer Wind put out the downriggers to score one king for Gailen Waggoner, on the troll.

keepbutforKEEPER ’BUT FOR charter regular Gailen Waggoner while fishing aboard Moondancer.

Back at the lodge dinner was served and Chef D put out a very special pad Thai chicken dinner that was extraordinary, followed by an apple cobbler with vanilla ice cream.

After dinner the WON charter crew spent the waning hours of the day casting for dolly varden along the shore at Starrigavan, just a couple of miles up Halibut Point Road from the lodge.

With one final day to fish, the effort to get salmon went on in earnest, but little luck. It was Gailen once again that was on the troll when a 36-inch salmon took the bait and ran, for the only salmon of the day. It did appear that the fish were stalled and might arrive into the area any day soon, but clearly had not yet arrived. After another great dinner of country style pork ribs, the WON crew tried trout fishing at Blue Lake, a 35-minute drive from the lodge.

Despite difficult fishing no one could complain about the 30-to-50-pounds of flash frozen and vacuum packed filets they would be taking home for their efforts.

Several of the WON/Frontier Charts and Lodge anglers found the legendary lingcod and giant halibut they were hoping to catch here, at Sitka, Alaska.

Won Choi found a halibut that was above the legal slot limit, but under the top-end keeper range, and after a quick photo released the fish to grow and spawn future trophy fish. Steve Thompson had the same fun on a bruiser lingcod with some very nice pictures to take home.

Limiting out on rockfish, finding huge halibut and lingcod while staying at a first-rate lodge gave WON-Frontier Charter anglers plenty of reasons to come back again next year.

Contact Info: Frontier Charters and Lodge, 800-388-1218 ;

accuratevaliant5ACCURATE VALIANT REELS attached to Cousins rods worked Ahi jigs for rockfish, halibut, and lingcod.

TOO BIG TO KEEP, halibut must fit into the slot-limit size range and this flattie taken by angler, Won Choi was almost 50-inches.

goldstonsteelieGOLDSTON STEELIE ON fly-out fishing at remote mountain rivers. The chance to get away and find steelhead like this fish released by Tom Goldston, is next on the menu with Frontier Lodge and Charters.

KENNY BALDWIN BAGGED a keeper ling that measured a smidge under the slot size limit.

BOB BRANTLEY GOT his keeper halibut while fishing the deep water for giants.

yelloweyeandbombersYELLOWEYE AND BOMBERS, for anglers fishing aboard Summer Wind. Left to right: Kenny Baldwin, Derek Quinonez, Tom Goldston, Captain Nolan Woody.

DEREK QUINONEZ FOUND this halibut to be a bit too big for the slot and released after a quick photo.

CREATIVE CHEF D makes delicious and inventive meals like this pad Thai chicken dinner plate served with a specialty dessert.

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