Steelheading in Comfort - Alaska's Boardwalk Lodge

Steelheading in Comfort

By Shel Benjamin

Ambivalent would be the best way to describe my relationship with steelhead fishing. I love catching these strong acrobatic fish, but I always wonder if the discomfort I have to put up with is worth standing in frigid water and making a thousand casts. So when the WFF offered a steelhead trip to Alaska and after talking to the lodge owner who assured me that it was not like that at this destination, I thought I’d give it a try.

Steelhead Fishing Season

Steelhead fishing has always conjured up images of shooting heads, chest high wading in frigid water, long casts and few fish. None of this is true at Boardwalk Lodge. It is truly civilized steelheading. The rivers are about the size of your average Montana stream, the wading is knee high to waist high, the casts are 20-30 feet and the fish plentiful. Most fishing is done with sink tip floating lines while using the usual array of classic steelhead flies. (Orange Marabou seemed to be the hot pattern when we were there.)

Unlike British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest, the run of fish at Boardwalk has increased each year for the past few years and owing to effective management by Fish and Game, expectations are for this to continue. During the height of the run (which lasts from the opening of the Lodge on May 1st until about the end of May) you can expect to average at least two fish per day. One afternoon I hooked and landed three fish in the 31″ range. The only reason I didn’t catch more was that I stopped fishing, but the fish were there. The Lodge record is an astronomic 10, held by a dentist (of course) from Pennsylvania. The fish range from 29″-37″ and because they are strong, almost always take you into your backing.

The Lodge is located on the eastern shore of Prince of Wales Island, Alaska, which is the third largest island in the U.S., behind the big island of Hawaii and Kodiak. It’s a 35-minute charter flight from Ketchikan, with the charters nicely coordinated to Alaska Airlines. Since the island has been heavily logged, there are many roads making access to the rivers easy for the Lodge’s fleet of well-maintained Suburbans. The ride to the rivers ranges from 20 minutes to 1 hour, depending on where the fish are.

As a change of pace, you can fish for very cooperative cuts and dollys. Boardwalk has a canoe with a little kicker motor to take you upriver for some delightful dry fly action on a little 3-weight rod. This, along with a shore lunch provided by our guide, made for a perfect day. It was the only dry fly action on the trip; we were told steelhead in this area aren’t dry fly oriented.

Our guide was a delight; very low key and knowledgeable, not only about fishing but the area as well. My companion was a novice fly fisher, so we appreciated our guide’s patience and skill in turning her from a reluctant participant into an enthusiastic fly fisher.

Since the Lodge is Orvis endorsed, it has a full array of Orvis waders and rods available for the use of the guests. The equipment is first rate, with a choice as to the flex of the rods. Unless you are particularly in love with your equipment, leave it home. For me, it was a pleasure not to drag all that “stuff” on the plane. The Lodge also has a nice selection of flies available and, for those so inclined, there is a well-equipped fly tying bench. Saltwater fishing is also available but it is generally poor at the time the steelhead are in.

Steelhead Fishing Season

The rooms are clean and comfortable and the Lodge has a very family feel to it. Only 12 guests [expanded to capacity for 19] are booked during the steelhead season, so everything is very intimate. You have ample opportunity to intermingle with the other guests who, when we were there, were varied and interesting. The food is excellent and every effort is made to satisfy any particular dietary needs. My biggest problem was keeping away from the ever-present platters of cookies.

This is a first class operation and for those who wish to experience hassle free steelheading, I highly recommend it.