Sunday, September 30, 2012

Take Advantage of Year-Round Fishing During Your Vacation in Alaska

Fish.  Alaska.  These two words immediately bring to mind some of the best fishing in the country.  With over 3 million lakes, 34,000 miles of coastline, 3,000 rivers, and countless fish-filled streams, Alaska boasts some of the best all-around fishing opportunities in the United States.  Whether you prefer fly-fishing, saltwater fishing, freshwater fishing, or even ice fishing, you can find it here.  When you stay at your favorite bed and breakfast inn, you are always close to Alaska's great angling options, no matter the time of year!

Fishing has been a major food source in the Alaskan culture since the first peoples arrived here.  Because of the short growing season, hunting and fishing have always been a food-source mainstay in the state.  Even today, our small communities' ways of life revolve around fishing, from Southeast where the coastal boats go out every day to ply the ocean, to villages on the Yukon (River) whose rhythms of life follow the salmon runs. The abundance of fish here, both in the oceans and in freshwater sources, makes it easy and economical to integrate fish as a major part of our diet.

There are so many options for fishing here.  It can be as easy as inexpensive and easy as pulling over at a stream and casting a line, as usual as taking a fishing tour, or as involved as chartering your own boat or plane to go to a remote camp or a fly-in lodge for the best angling locations. Some of our member inns area actually fly-in lodges offering great fishing and vacation experiences!

While it is said that the Alaskan waters are home to over 600 species of fish, you'll most likely be most interested in the 5 types of salmon, 5 types of trout, halibut, Dolly Varden, Grayling, Smelt, and Kokanee that inhabit our waters.  Many of these species can weigh up to hundreds of pounds!  While white King salmon are highly prized for their white flesh and mild flavor, halibut is actually the fish of choice for Alaskans for its buttery flaky taste and texture that just melts in your mouth.  If you happen to find some halibut at your area grocery store, why not try the recipe for Halibut Olympia presented after this post?

So what's biting when?  Prime fishing seasons are spring through fall.  However ice fishing is an option during the winter months.  Early summer is when King Salmon, Chinook Salmon, Saltwater Kings, and Halibut are plentiful.  Summer months are perfect for catching Sockeye Salmon, Pink Salmon (in even years only), and Rainbow Trout.  Fall is the best time to catch Silver Salmon.  Winter ice fishing may produce landlocked King and Silver Salmon, Rainbow Trout, Arctic char, and Dolly Varden.  Due to the hazards of ice fishing, we recommend a led trip with a guide who is familiar with the current ice thicknesses in the area.

If you aren't one to travel with your rod and reel in tow, there are plenty of places to purchase in almost every region.  Your BBAA innkeeper can direct you to the best nearby locations for casual fishing.  If you opt for a charter trip, most include all the equipment you'll need.  Even better, many charter trips offer filleting, freezing, and shipping so that you can enjoy your catch when you return home!  Another reason to take a guide, and it is THE reason we suggest it, is that state fishing regulations can be daunting.  Those guidelines listed above?  They are more than just suggestions.  In some cases, the state regulates catching certain fish to specific months, and our sport fishing guides are the best resource for this knowledge!  Also, emergency closures of tributaries or river systems to protect certain species can change with less than a day's notice, which is hard for anyone but those who are in the business to keep up on.

What do you need to fish in Alaska?  Besides the usual gear, all residents and nonresidents age 16+ must purchase a sport fishing license before dropping a line in the water.  If you are fishing for King Salmon, a stamp is also required.  Nonresident licenses cost $20 for a single day, $35 for a 3-day license, $55 for a week-long option, and $80 for a two-week license.  You can purchase your license online or visit area sporting goods stores or Fish and Game offices during your Alaska vacation.

There are also several large fishing derbies in the state that are important to their communities, and are popular activities for locals and visitors alike!  Many of these give out some large monetary prizes, prompting thousands of visitors to come participate.  Here is just a quick look at a couple of the more popular events.
  • Homer's Halibut Derby is an annual event lasting from mid-May through mid-Sepetmber, and offers prized ranging from $125 through $5,000.  Kids prizes are awarded, making this a great family activity!  This year a tagged fish was released with a $10,000 incentive for catching that one fish!  Sadly, this fish is still swimming in Alaskas waters today.
  • Valdez offers a number of Fishing Derbies offering prizes up to $15,000 throughout the summer months.  These include a Halibut Derby, Kids' Pink Salmon Derby, and two Silver Salmon derbies (one for women only).
  • While Pike are great for eating, they are predatory fish erroneously introduced into our state's lakes.  To help control their population, and hopefully someday eradicate this pest-fish, many communities offer Pike Derbies including Mat Su, Skwentna, Juneau, Houston, Soldotna, and more.  These derbies happen both in the spring and summer, AND during the winter as ice-fishing event.

Whether your interest lies in casual angling or competition fishing, we have it all!  Member inns of the Bed & Breakfast Association of Alaska look forward to hosting your fishing getaway!

Please note that during Salmon migration season, bear activity in rivers and streams increases.  Be on the lookout when fishing!

Halibut Olympia
While this dish seems very simple, it produces a luscious, creamy dish that Alaskans are crazy about!


2 lb filet of halibut
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1 medium onion, sliced into rings
salt and pepper to taste

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Spray a baking dish with non-stick spray.  Place halibut in the baking dish and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  • Place rings of onion over the fish.
  • Mix mayonnaise and sour cream together and thickly spread over fish and onions, using all of the mixture.
  • Bake for 1 hour

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Winter Alaska Vacation? Why Not?

Summer is quickly coming to an end here in the Last Frontier.  In fact, the first kiss of real color is decorating the trees, turning the landscape into a beautiful kaleidoscope of red, orange, yellow, and green.  All too soon, the freezing will begin - we expect that to happen in just over a month in mid-October!

Have you ever thought about a great winter Alaskan bed and breakfast getaway?  What?  You say that you don't have the time? You say it's too cold?  You say there's just too much snow?  You say that it's dark 24 hours a day?  You say there's nothing to do?  Well the member inns of the Bed and Breakfast Association of Alaska would like to convince you to give us a try in the winter!


Photo from A Moose in the Garden B&B
An Alaskan vacation is an actual vacation!  When most people plan a vacation, they plan on several days away from home/work/their usual lives.  While we are a bit off the beaten path, making a quick 3-day weekend trip impractical, 5+ day vacations are the perfect option for an Alaskan getaway!  Direct flights to the state (usually to Anchorage or Fairbanks) are available from many U.S and Foreign cities.  So it really isn't a big deal to just come on up to Alaska from just about anywhere!  Flights to Anchorage take approximately 2.5 hours from Seattle, 5 hours from Denver, 5.5 hours from Phoenix, and 6 hours from Chicago.

The popular belief of many lower-48-staters, and even of those throughout the world, is that it never stops snowing here in the winter.  But believe it or not, many place in our great state actually get LESS snow than, say, Buffalo and some portions of upstate New York!  Even Minneapolis gets more snowfall than some areas in our state!  Let's compare NOAA's 1981-2010 total numbers (in inches):

        Yakutat, AK    143.4
        Rochester, NY    99.5
        Buffalo, NY    94.7
        Anchorage, AK    74.5
        Juneau, AK    69.8
        Kodiak, AK    68.9
        Cleveland, OH    68.1
        Fairbanks, AK    65.0
        Salt Lake City, UT    56.2
        Minneapolis, MN    54.0
        Denver, CO    53.8
        Homer, AK    47.4
        Pittsburgh, PA    39.6
        Barrow, AK    37.7

Granted, just like there are areas in the lower US that receive little to no snow each year, there ARE places in Alaska that receive an exorbitant amount of snow - (anyone interested in Valdez at 326.3 inches and Haines at 262.4 inches per year on average?).  However, this is the extreme end of Alaska's snowfall.  The general average for much of the state is between 40 and 75 inches per year!

Photo from Hatcher Pass B&B
We could go through the same comparisons in temperature, but we'll sum it up.  The average temperatures between November and March are between 20 and 30 degrees Fahrenheit.  Not bad, really!  Again, we have our extremes, but this is true anywhere!  And our dry air makes 25 degrees seem a lot warmer than it seems in much of the lower 48 states!

You think it's dark here all winter?  We beg to differ!  Some of the northernmost parts of the state DO have an extreme 2-month period during which the sun does not rise.  However, most of the state does have sunlight during at least part of the day:  between 5-7 hours of full daylight during our shortest daylight months of December and January.

Now we can talk about what there is to do in our great state during the winter months.  The question might be:  what ISN'T there to do, swimming and sunbathing aside?

Winter Activities
We've already talked about the Aurora Borealis.  Winter is certainly the time to catch this beautiful nighttime light show!  However, let us offer a few suggestions as to daytime activities:

Whale Watching
It doesn't have to be summer to catch a glimpse of our Beluga Whales!  Because these mammals live on the coast of Alaska year-round, you can watch them in action during the winter - most often in Kachemak Bay.

Whether you enjoy cross-country or downhill skiing, there are ample opportunities for both! 

World-class downhill skiing is available in Girdwood at the Alyeska Ski Resort, just 40 miles south of Anchorage.  Most major cities are also home to at least one smaller, local resort including Alpenglow and Hilltop areas in Anchorage, Egale Crest in Juneau, and Moose Mountain in Fairbanks.  Your bed and breakfast innkeepers can direct you to the local ski spots in their area.

Girdwood's Nordic Ski Club is committed to "developing and maintaining a sustainable Nordic/multi-use trail system in the Girdwood Valley," meaning that this is also a great place for cross-country skiing as well!  Other cross-country skiing areas can be found throughout the state.  Don't forget to check the reports on each area before you go!

Another quickly-growing ski pastime in Girdwood AND in places like Valdez is heli-skiing.  You've probably seen it on TV:  a helicoptor drops you off at the top of a mountain for an extreme downhill adventure.  However, the inherent dangers of becoming lost, getting hurt, and even avalanches mean this sport is only for the best-prepared skiiers!

Snowshoeing is basically a hike over the snow.  Most major trails in the state are perfect for showshoeing after it snows!  Of course, in the winter you can snowshoe OVER the lakes instead of around them... but do be careful if the area has not had a good freeze for several weeks before you go stepping out onto the water!

It's true that many Alaska residents use a snowmachine (a.k.a snowmobile) to get around once snow covers the ground.  It's only practical!  However snowmachine tours are readily available for everyone who wants to experience the thrill of zooming through the snowy land!

Ice Fishing
Interested in catching your dinner?  Or maybe you just want to do some catch-release fishing?  Available on most lakes, this sport is best done on lakes that are stocked for fishing and offer resources like equipment rental and warming huts.  Popular lakes for fishing are Quartz Lake (about 40 miles southeast of Fairbanks); Delong, Jewel, Sand and Campbell Lakes (in Anchorage); Lake Clunie (near Chugiak and Eagle River); and several lakes near Ketchikan in the extreme SE part of the state.  However, lakes dot our entire state, so as long as there has been a good freeze cycle and an outfitter for equipment, there is the chance to ice fish!

Dog Sledding
Whether you just want to visit the dogs themselves to see how they are trained, or if you want to experience a trip yourself, there are tours offered all over the state.  A dog sled is pulled by 12-16 dogs at speeds of 10-12 miles per hour.  Actual sledding tours can occur on trails nearby to where the dogs are raised, or opt for a thrilling adventure where you are dropped off via helicopter onto a glacier with dogs and sled waiting to take you around the glaciers!

Photo From Rose Ridge Vacation Chalets
Glacier Viewing
Speaking of glaciers, there is way more frozen water in the winter!  Some are actually visible by land:  car, snowmobile, skis, snowshoes, etc.  If you visit a coastal town, boat tours are popular ways to see these frozen behemoths.  Of course, the more thrilling way is to take an airplane or helicopter tour, sometimes even landing on a safe area of a large glacier for a closer look!

Ice Climbing
For the more adventurous, you can CLIMB a glacier!  Somewhat similar to rock climbing, but much easier to find your grip because you're using climbing pick hammers and boots outfitted with ice cleats, this sport can be just as easy as climbing a ladder.  No matter what your skill level, you will be taught the basics and techniques (which are much more important than strength, just like in rock climbing), and you will be top-roped on anything from a slope to a vertical surface.  Whether you're young or older, a beginner or experienced, anyone can ice climb!

Hot Springs
Okay, okay, we said you couldn't swim during the winter.  Well, that's only partially true!  There are over 100 known hot springs in the state, and several are near roads and highways!  Your innkeeper will probably know the closest warm water in the area!  Of course, there may be nudity issues if visitors want to actually "bathe," so please keep that in mind.

Other Activities
Of course, there's always the old-fashioned sled ride down an area hill for those who want to stick closer to the warmth of their chosen Alaska inn!  Your host(s) may have some available, or local stores will probably have a good supply throughout the winter!  You may also run into a snow or ice-sculpting competition being held in the area, or find any other number of other events throughout the winter months.

No matter what you choose to do here, your innkeepers can point you in the right direction for an area tour, a guide, or activity.  All you have to do is book your winter getaway to your favorite BBAA Inn to find out for yourself all we have to offer during those "cold months" of the year!

Photo From A Room With A View B&B
Warning:  Wildlife
If you encounter wildlife during the winter (moose, beaver, wolf, coyote, wolverine, or even polar bear, etc.), try your best to admire from afar.  And never, under any circumstances, come between a mother animal and her babies!  Ski poles can be used as a form of defense, but if it comes to you trying to outrun a wild dog or a bear, you can guess who will win.