Alaska Fishing: Sitka Management Area (Marine Fishery)
Tucked in the seaward edge of virgin spruce rainforest on Baranof Island lies the beautiful coastal town of Sitka, Alaska. Formerly the home of Alaska's Tlingit natives, the city was a stronghold against the Russian military led by Alexander Baranov but was later conquered by the Russians when the Tlingit warriors ran out of gunpowder. Sitka was renamed New Archangel and was known as the capital of Russian America until the purchase of Alaska by the United States in 1867, 53 years after Baranof's victory over the Tlingit.
Today, Sitka is a mecca for sport fishermen seeking opportunities at salmon, steelhead, Pacific halibut, lingcod, and rockfish of various species. The Sitka coast is unique in all of southeast Alaska in that large quantities of wild king salmon first make contact with the Pacific coast here, before turning south in the migration to natal streams throughout southeast, British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest. More kings are landed in Sitka than in any other Alaska saltwater fishery. Anglers seeking large kings up to 60 or more pounds flock to Sitka to have first crack at these pelagic giants.
Travel to and From Sitka
Sitka offers daily scheduled jet service, so getting there and back again is not an issue. On the other hand, the weather is sometimes harsh enough to close the airport for a day or two, so factor this in when you plan your trip. Sitka offers several options for getting your fish locally processed, flash-frozen, and packaged for shipping home.
Sitka receives an average annual rainfall of around 87 inches, so bring your hat and raingear! Average precipitation during the summer months is around four inches, but August and September see easily twice that amount. The temperature during the summer months ranges from the low 50's to the low 60's, which is shorts and tee-shirt weather for Alaskans. If you're visiting from a warmer climate, better toss a sweater or a light jacket into your gear though. If you forget something, not to worry. Sitka has plenty of places to purchase an additional insulating layer if one is called for.
Time Your Trip!
As is true anywhere salmon and steelhead are found, timing is the key to success. King (chinook) salmon may be caught year-round, but if you want to hit kings dead-center, you'll plan your trip from mid-May through mid-July. Toward the latter part of that period, there will be some pinks and chums around, but the silvers don't come on strong until closer toward the fall; August and September are the best, and Sitka is home to one of the largest silver fisheries in the entire state. Sockeye peak in July, however, they're krill feeders and harder to catch in saltwater.
The Sitka saltwater fishery is well-known for lingcod, and they are found in abundance year-round. Halibut and rockfish species are also available year-round, however, the best time for those species is in the warm summer months; June through September.
What to Expect in the Sitka Marine Fishery
The marine environment around Baranof Island is teeming with a variety of sportfish species, in numbers that can boggle the mind. Some anglers are surprised to learn that Sitka lands more king salmon than any other port in Alaska. This is because a huge number of fish that spent their lives circulating around the North Pacific Gyre make for the coast right at Sitka. From there, this huge run of the world's largest salmon turn right and migrate along Alaska's coast to natal streams throughout southeast Alaska, British Columbia, and the Pacific Northwest. Sitka is a king salmon angler's dream come true.
Kings can be caught by trolling or mooching, and are available even for shore-bound anglers at times. But your best bet if you are serious about catching Sitka's king salmon is to take advantage of the offshore fishery. Few things get the blood pumping like a fresh, fat 60 lb. king hooked in saltwater, where he has all the room in the world to run! These fish are powerful fighters and will provide anglers with many delicious, nutritious meals.
The coho fishery is equally amazing, and few angling experiences can rival an encounter with a wolf pack of voracious silvers slashing through your troll gear. Bag limits are liberal and fish are abundant. Silvers are caught in a variety of ways, with trolling and mooching topping the list. In some cases, however, casting from shore with hardware or even bobber fishing with bait (eggs or herring) can be equally effective. If you're fishing from a boat and the weather outside is blown out, silvers can sometimes be found in sheltered inlets, coves, and bays, or on the lee side of islands. In those areas, casting hardware can be very effective for silvers.
Halibut fishing in the Sitka area can be quite good, as fish move in from deeper water to shallower underwater plateaus and other structure in the spring. Peak opportunities occur during the summer months. Halibut fishing elsewhere in the state usually involves high tidal changeovers, which limit your fishing time because the current is too strong to allow you to hold bottom where the fish are. That's not the case in Sitka because the tide changeovers range from eight to 12 feet between high and low tide. This means that, instead of a couple of hours of prime fishing time in other areas, Sitka gives you a full day of halibut fishing. Longer bait soak times combined with chumming action keep you in the zone long enough to attract some real monster halibut. While very large halibut are caught all over the state, Sitka has seen fish in excess of 400 pounds at the dock, with fish over 100 pounds fairly common. Refer to our Halibut Page for more details on halibut, including the tackle and techniques to catch them.
Lingcod, susceptible to over-fishing, are carefully managed. The Sitka area produces some real giants, so come prepared to do battle. Though many lings are caught by anglers fishing for halibut or rockfish, some anglers prefer to target lings specifically, both because of their sporting aspects, and because they are considered by many to be superior table fare as well. Refer to our Lingcod Page for details on tackle and techniques for catching these incredible game fish.
Sitka's rockfishing opportunities are nearly endless, with numerous areas of excellent habitat; rocky bottom, kelp beds, and other structure favorable to various species. Black rockfish are the most common, followed by non-pelagics such as quillback rockfish and yelloweye. Conservative anglers often avoid targeting yelloweye specifically, as these fish can be older than 70 years old, and they can be easily depleted by overfishing. Many yelloweye are caught in waters deeper than 300', making them a chore to retrieve. Barotrauma is almost inevitable when fishing for yelloweye, so if you do intend to release them, be sure to bring along a quick-release device to minimize the stress on the fish. Check our Rockfish Recompression Page for details.
Accessing the Sitka Saltwater Fishery
Like many towns in Southeast Alaska, there are a number of ways to enjoy the saltwater fishery. Here's an overview.
The Sitka Road System
The road system on Baranof Island is limited to one road heading north of town, and a road heading south. Neither is long; the Halibut Point Road extends roughly eight miles north to Starrigavan Bay, and the Sawmill Creek Road winds south mostly hugging the coastline just over 13 miles. Some shore-based fishing opportunities exist along both of these roads, however, anglers must take care to avoid trespassing on private lands.
The primary land managers on Baranof Island are the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, the National Park Service (the South Baranof Wilderness occupies the south end of the island and is not road-accessible), and some native organizations.
Refer to our Sitka Road System Fishing page for extensive information on fishing Sitka's road system.
For those who prefer to do it all themselves, Sitka offers kayak rentals, however, they do require previous ocean kayaking experience, including the ability to self-rescue. Ocean kayak fishing is a great way to enjoy some solitude fishing around the numerous islands within five miles of the harbor. With the right setup, you can troll for kings and silvers, or jig for rockfish, lings, and halibut. Most saltwater kayak fishermen prefer fully rigged sit-on-top boats and a dry suit, however finding such a rig for rent in Sitka is probably not going to happen. Seasoned ocean kayak fishermen will want to ship their own on the Alaska State Ferry system.
The Charter Fishery
Sitka has a charter fishing fleet that serves the area's very productive saltwater fishery and, unlike other locations along the Inside Passage, Sitka's location along the Pacific side of Baranof Island puts you in direct contact with the best offshore fishing on the island. Sitka is a destination unto itself, and though it's possible to stop in for a day's fishing the best way to really take in the offshore fishery is to plan on spending a few days there. Because Sitka is located within striking distance of the open Pacific Ocean, some days may be blown out and too rough to fish outside. Not to worry; the town is protected by many barrier islands that offer sheltered bays and coves that provide opportunities for lingcod, rockfish, and halibut. There's hardly a wasted day when you're fishing the saltwater in Sitka.
Anglers planning on spending a few days enjoying Sitka's charter fishing may want to bring at least their own terminal tackle. Refer to our Charter Fishing Page for details on what to bring (and what to leave behind) on your charter trip. While you're at it, take a few minutes to review our Fish Species Pages for details on the species you expect to catch, to ensure that you have the right gear. Don't want to haul it all with you? No problem! Sitka boasts several tackle stores that can outfit you all the way down to the hooks and sinkers.
Cruise ship passengers should be aware that many of the charters offer special cruise ship rates and shorter trips that mesh perfectly with your cruise schedule. They will even process your fish for you!
Commercial Operators in the Sitka Management Area
Sitka boasts a number of charter fishing operations, some of which provide local lodging packages, along with fish processing and freezing. If you're on your own with your own boat, there are processors available on that basis as well. Sitka also offers tackle shops, kayak rentals, and other services of interest to fishermen. Check our Directory for listings in the Sitka area.
Rules and Regulations
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is responsible for maintaining the sport fisheries across the state of Alaska. Their website provides a wealth of information about our sport fisheries as well as the regulations you need to know. Additionally, the Department issues Emergency Orders throughout the season, that have a direct bearing on last-minute changes in bag limits, openings and closings of seasons, and much more. Fishermen are responsible for knowing the regulations, including these Emergency Orders. You can find all of that information and more at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s website, or at the regional office in the area where you are fishing.ADF&G Sportfisheries DivisionSitka Office:
Alaska Department of Fish and Game
304 Lake Street, Room 103
Sitka, AK 99835
1 (907) 747-5355
The Sitka Angler's Gear Bag
You'll need to adjust your gear to match the species you're after, but this should give you a good lead on being prepared. Pack your gear in a tackle duffel and bring it along with you on the ferry. You can order most of the items on the list by clicking on the item name.
Boat-Based Fishing Gear
Rigging up for a saltwater trip can get complicated in a hurry, especially when there are several species involved. The best recommendation is to bring separate tackle boxes/satchels for each species. Be sure to bring along a five-gallon bucket and some fresh water, so you can drop your used tackle inside for a rinse, before putting it back with the rest of your gear. Otherwise, you risk rusting your expensive hooks and lures.
King and Silver Salmon
- Blue Fox Pixee. Sizes 2-5. Colors: gold and silver with orange, hot pink, green, and chartreuse inserts. 8 assorted.
- Vibrax Spinner. Sizes: 3, 4, 5 and 6. Colors: pink, flame orange, chartreuse, silver, blue, and green. 8 assorted.
- Kodiak Custom Tackle G. I. spinners. Sizes: 4, 5, 6. Colors: pink, chartreuse, orange, flame red, blue, green. 8 assorted.
- Kodiak Custom Tackle Skirt spinners. Sizes: 4, 5, 6. Colors: pink, chartreuse, orange, flame red, blue, green. 8 assorted.
- Luhr Jensen Tee Spoon. Size: 4. Color: Hammered Copper. 4 each.
- Luhr Jensen J-Plug. Colors: Cut plug, chartreuse, flame orange.
- Sampo Coastlock ball-bearing swivels. Size: X3CB. 12 swivels.
- Gamakatsu Octopus hooks. Sizes: 2/0, 3/0, 5/0. 30 hooks.
- Gamakatsu Mooching Rigs. Sizes: 3/0-5/0. 12 rigs.
- Hootchie Skirts. Sizes: 4-inch, 6-inch. Colors: blue/silver, hot pink, chartreuse, neon green, purple, pink/white. 24 assorted colors/sizes.
- Luhr Jensen Coyote Trolling Flashers. Colors: Black, glow, white/blue. Bring one of each.
- Luhr Jensen Herring Dodger flasher. Colors: Chrome, chrome/prism decal. Bring one of each.
- Water Gremlin reusable split shot. Sizes: 3, 4. 4 packs.
- Danielson Banana Weights with bead chain swivels. Sizes: 3oz, 4oz, 6oz. 4 of each size.
- Maxima Fishing Line. Size: 20-lb test. Color: Chameleon. 2 spools.
- Frozen Herring (Alaska Bait Company). Size: Green Label.
- Bait knife.
- Dexter-Russell fillet knife. Model: S133-8WS1-CP SaniSafe.
- Gibbs Fish Whacker.
- Fishing Pliers.
- Plano Guide Series tackle bag.
- Danielson Knotless Salmon Landing Net.
Halibut, Rockfish and Lingcod
- Power Pro Spectra Fiber Braided Fishing Line. Size: 80-lb test, 300-yard spool. Color: Green. 2 spools.
- Curly Tail Jigs. Size: 10". Colors/quantity: White (4), glow (2), root beer (2), purple (2), black (2).
- Jig Heads. Size: 12/0 hook, 16 ounces or more.
- Kodiak Custom Bottomfish Jigs. Sizes: 6 oz, 10 oz, 14 oz. Colors: White, Pink, Orange, Green, Black.
- Luhr Jensen Crippled Herring Jig. Size: 3-inch. Colors: Neon Blue Back, Nickel, Neon Green Back. 3 each.
- Frozen Herring (Alaska Bait Company). Size: Black Label (get the biggest you can find).
- Bait knife.
- Dexter-Russell fillet knife. Model: S133-8WS1-CP SaniSafe.
- Gibbs Fish Whacker.
- Fishing Pliers.
- Plano Guide Series tackle bag.