Disclosure: All my travel, lodging, meals, and activities were hosted by Steamboat Bay Fishing Club. As ALWAYS all opinions in this story are my own.
The end of June/beginning of July is typically the hottest part of the summer in Phoenix. So Mr. Misadventures and I jumped at the chance to escape to Alaska and check out Steamboat Bay Fishing Club on Noyes Island. Steamboat Bay is the closest lodge to the best fishing grounds in Southeast Alaska, and in particular, to the best king salmon. One of the things I miss most since moving to Arizona is access to fresh seafood so what better way to treat myself than to experience lodge life on an island where I can practically reach my hand in the water and grab one of the more than 20 species of sports fish?!
Okay, so it wasn’t quite as easy as that. But more on that in a bit.
Steamboat Bay is on Noyes Island a short float plane ride from Ketchikan. On our float plane trip into the lodge, the weather was slightly overcast but we were still able to see the stunning landscape that is Alaska. The various shades of green and blue, and the many, many miles of isolated islands and coasts without one sign of humans. The float plane ride was about 40 minutes, however, it might as well have been 4000 minutes, as once we arrived, it felt like we were on the other side of the world! Steamboat Bay is considered the most remote fishing lodge in the world and when you land at the property and step onto the dock you feel transported.
That feeling continues as you start your metamorphosis into the Steamboat Bay experience. This is a luxury fishing lodge. The focus is on fishing and the team’s mission is to facilitate a successful fishing trip. The expedition takes place over a 3-day period (although your total trip will be 5 days) and it is managed like a well-oiled machine to maximize your ability to catch what you want and feel spoiled.
This is how a typical Steamboat Bay trip flows:
- Day 1:
- Travel to Ketchikan Alaska.
- Stay the night in Ketchikan.
- Day 2:
- Take an early float plane to Steamboat Bay on Noyes Island.
- Arrive at the lodge
- Eat breakfast
- Hit the boat
- Fish until 4-4:30
- Happy Hour
- Day 3:
- Eat breakfast
- Hit the boat
- Fish until 4-4:30
- Happy Hour
- Day 4:
- Eat breakfast
- Hit the boat
- Fish until 4-4:30
- Happy Hour
- Day 5:
- Take an early float plane to Ketchikan.
- Travel home.
Steamboat Bay is a luxury fishing lodge which means while certain things, like your arrival and departure, are run with military precision, or say like a cruise-ship turn, the rest of your trip is YOUR trip and the staff will accommodate what you want to do and how you want to fish. The reason they can do this? There are only 16 guests at a time. The guests take the trip as a group of 4, with 4 guests in each of the 4 Pacific Northwest 25-foot pilot boats. There are 26 staff/crew members at the resort, so there are plenty of people on hand to make your stay magical.
Now, the vast majority of the time those 16 people are hardcore fishermen and fisherwomen who go out the entire day (out at 6:30 a.m. in at 4:30 p.m.) all 3 days. However, our group of 4 were media: my old pal, Nyssa of The Cultureur who I spent a year with as a fellow Buick brand ambassador in 2015, and new friend, Clay Barbour of Distinction Magazine along with Mr. Misadventures and I. We are not hardcore fisherpeople, so our schedule was a little different!
Our first morning at the lodge we followed the usual regime. We arrived by float plane, ate breakfast and moved to our boat. We were met by our fishing guide, Harold Yamagata. He would be our boat captain, fishing guide, and therapist over the next 3 days. He explained the safety details of the boat and the types of fishing we would do and the materials we would use. To get our “sea legs” we would start in calmer waters, see how we did and move to the open ocean to test our nausea level.
Captain Harold has been a guide at Steamboat Bay for 4 seasons. And like all the guides, he has lots of experience and most importantly lots of patience. As our group of 4 had never fished this way before, we needed LOTS of help. But you know what? We all caught fish! And pretty quickly. Within the first hour of getting to our first spot and dropping lines, all 4 of us caught something! We spent some time getting used to the rods, the process and moving around the boat.
Then we moved to the open sea. And then Ms. Misadventures and I got sick. It was totally our fault. For 10 years I have been wearing my PSI bands for any situation that might cause nausea (cruises, tour bus rides through the mountains, etc.) but my bands were just no match for the ocean on an overcast, sprinkling day in Southeast Alaska. And that lovely breakfast I had at the lodge was lovely no more! [Hey, it wouldn’t be Misadventures with Andi without some misadventure!] Mr. Misadventures managed to keep his breakfast down but he wasn’t feeling awesome.
Still, we all managed to catch fish! Here’s proof!
Luckily, my boat mates were all feeling a little haggard from early morning travel the previous day so we headed back to the lodge at about 1:00 p.m. where we were met by a welcoming staff who served us lunch by the fireplace. We rested the remainder of the afternoon and re-energized for the evening’s happy hour. Also, Mr. Misadventures and I started a regimen of Dramamine so that we could get our bloodstream pumping with the magic of dimenhydrinate.
Like most spots along the Alaska coast, the island and some of the buildings that make up the hotel property are part of a former salmon cannery. The lodge and other buildings are made from local timbers and reclaimed wood from the cannery and decorated in a classic (and beautiful) Pacific Northwest/Scandinavian design with artistic touches from local Alaska Native artists. And that includes Steamboat Bay’s own fishing guide Everett Anthorp who carved the incredible wood pieces that appear above the hearth and in other spots around the lodge.
We had the opportunity to speak with Everett about his art as well. Everett is from the Haida tribe and he carves oars and creates carved wood panels from Western red cedar with animals that are represented in his tribes’ stories and history. For instance, there is a beautiful raven above one of the seating areas in the Great Room that tells the story of the bird bringing salmon to the people by dropping salmon eggs as he flew over the rivers. Above the bar are the lovebirds – an eagle and a raven. People from different clans have to marry someone from the opposite clan, thus the eagle and raven together.
Our room was so cozy, I seriously needed a few extra days to just lounge around in it! We had a huge bathroom, a spacious walk-in closet, a little bar/fridge area, 2 cozy armchairs, a fireplace and 2 of the most comfortable beds with piles of warm duvets. Our room opened up onto a deck with Adirondack chairs where we could enjoy our oceanfront view, as well as the beautiful sunsets.
But before those beautiful sunsets, there is the relaxing evenings. Once you’ve pulled in to the docks the staff takes over. The captains work with the crew to offload your catch, weigh each fish, hose it down a bit so you can get your photo opportunity and then take over cleaning, cutting and processing your fish for the day.
While they are doing that the guests are removing their fishing jackets, pants and boots (all supplied to you by the lodge) then usually showering or freshening up and then meeting everyone else in the Great Room to relax, enjoy a beverage and a couple of nibbles, and of course, recount the day’s events.
The meals at the lodge are no joke. There is an open kitchen concept that makes you feel like part of the dance. Don’t worry, no one is going to ask you to peel potatoes, and if you want to ignore Chef Joe Pienody and his team, you can do that, but given that Mr. Misadventures and I live via our stomachs, watching the culinary team was part of the enjoyment. And they are a talented bunch with deep resumes. Over the 3 days, they created delicious meals and treats despite the constraints that exist.
Food is barged in from Seattle at the beginning of the season. The vast majority of dry goods, meats, and fish arrive a few weeks before opening. Weekly grocery runs take place by boat to pick up produce. That produce is either sourced locally and/or comes from Charlie’s Produce in Seattle, which takes 5 days to get to Southeast Alaska. That means you can’t create menus with delicate fruits and vegetables – they need to be hearty to make the trip and last a few days longer to be fresh on a guest’s plate.
Of course, when your dining table looks like this you sometimes forget the meal in front of you and find yourself just gazing out those gorgeous windows!
In general, we were impressed with the food. There was halibut or salmon every night as well as beef or game meat. Every dinner began with a choice of salads and soup – all outstanding. Every meal ended with an incredible selection of desserts including a changing trio of housemade ice creams and gelatos. I am not a big dessert person, but I couldn’t resist partaking every night. It is a rare thing to find a chef that also masters pastry, and by goodness, Chef Pienody does!
Having a low-carb lifestyle I didn’t try the homemade cinnamon rolls the first morning (I regret it) or the blueberry bread on the 3rd (another regret) but I did have an out-of-this-world scone the 2nd morning. I miss scones from the Pacific Northwest so I allowed myself this treat. It was epic. Perfectly moist, perfectly sweet (meaning not too sweet), the right balance of fruit, the right crustiness on top. Complete and total perfection.
My meals were memorable. Here are some of the highlights:
Lunch Day 1: I was recovering from seasickness and had a simple cup of tomato soup. The balance of acidity and sweetness along with its perfect texture hit the spot.
Dinner Day 1: venison stew, enough said. Mr. Misadventures is not a stew guy, yet he even raved about it! For dessert, Mr. Misadventures and I decided to split the flight of ice creams – strawberry, bananas foster and lemon sorbet, along with a chocolate chip cookie. Each bite of the ice cream was nirvana! Strawberry that taste like someone muddled fresh strawberries in your mouth, a banana that tasted so deeply of banana with perfect fresh chunks (meaning not mushy chunks of bananas that had started to turn brown) and the tartest of lemons that reminded me of housemade lemon sorbets (not gelatos) that we had in Italy. Of course, we were sharing and didn’t get enough, so we asked for more!
Breakfast, Day 2: that scone.
Dinner Day 2: sockeye salmon (my favorite) with a blueberry jalapeno gastric. Perfectly-crisped skin on medium rare salmon – there is nothing better. The sweet-spicy-acidic nature of the gastrique served on the side so as to keep the skin crisp cut the fattiness of the salmon like they were made for each other. (Chef Pienody is a huge fan (like me) of Tom Colicchio and Top Chef. Chef Colicchio would murder you if you put sauce on your crispy skin!)
Dinner, Day 3: the last evening we were invited to see The Residence, a separate stand-alone guesthouse (that sleeps 8) that has its own chef and staff. The chef over there is Chef Greg Guy who formerly worked at Michelin-starred Meadowood in Napa. Every aspect of our meal stood out. I had a Japanese-inspired smoke salmon with Ponzu sauce as an appetizer, a black bean bisque with just the right hit of cumin (I now want all my black bean soups to be bisques), halibut served with black-eyed peas, asparagus, and celery leaves. All of it hit home, I was starving and tired (from all the fish-catching!) and this meal was utterly satisfying.
The previous 2 nights I had stayed with the ice cream flight, but for our final meal, we had a little bit of a café gourmand with a half-portion of bread pudding (OMG was it delicious), a chocolate chip cookie scone with Mexican hot chocolate and the pièce de résistance, salted-caramel ice cream. Our first night in the lodge Nyssa, Clay, Mr. Misadventures and I hung around the long community table enjoying the evening view. Chef Joe joined us for a while and we talked about our favorite this and that (meal, donut, food city, etc.) weaved in with learning more about Chef Joe’s history. I immediately liked him. He is kind, friendly, funny and many of his food heroes are mine. We also complimented him on his ice creams. Nyssa asked him if he had ever done salted-caramel, to which Chef Joe said, “no.” He said, “I’ll have to try that.” And we all said, “Yes, please!”
So on our final night, for our final bites of ice cream, it was a delicious, delectable and surprisingly delicate salted-caramel ice cream! Go chef Joe!
So now you’re thinking, ahh yes, Steamboat Bay is all about the food. You are now thinking how can I have a meal here? But kind readers, I’ve led you astray. Steamboat Bay is about fishing. It’s all about fishing, which is why having such distracting food is an incredible bonus. But I have digressed too far off the boat. We need to get back to the adventure at hand.
Fishing is fun. Fishing requires work. Fishing is addictive.
Now on the work part, I’ll have to say by having my first experience being Steamboat Bay I will forever be spoiled. Harold put the bait on our lines, got us untangled when we got stuck, pulled out our fish, measured them, held them up for photo ops, killed them and put them on ice. All I had to do was drop my line, wait for a nibble, pull at the right time and reel them in!
But once you catch one you are hooked! Something primal clicked over in my brain! My first fish was a halibut which we would learn was not too hard to get. We got 10 over the 3-day period and 8 of them were caught by Mr. Misadventures! So, that was “easy.” What I wanted was a king salmon. In my mind, when you say premium king salmon fishing grounds I thought they’d be hopping in the boat! Somehow I had transversed all those Alaska salmon stream documentaries where the bears are gleefully pulling in the salmon like it’s no tomorrow! Alas, that is not how it works on the sea.
Those suckers are tricky! I’m sure our group let a good half dozen get away just because by the time we realized a salmon was nibbling on our line we were too late in pulling up!
More on that in a second.
While the salmon eluded us until the last day we did catch plenty of other things. Every time we caught a rockfish, which we threw back we had the opportunity to see a bald eagle come in and swoop one up. (I should explain that when you catch a rockfish its swim bladder fills with gas and it floats on the surface recovering before returning down below, unless an eagle gets him, which honestly doesn’t happen every time.)
I caught a bright orange rockfish and we threw it out and waited. An eagle circled above but didn’t go for the fish. He headed back to the trees and by the way, the trees were just dotted with their white heads, there were eagles everywhere! So Mr. Misadventures put down his camera and picked up his pole. And wouldn’t you know it? The eagle came back! The hubby missed the shot where the eagle grabbed the fish from the water but he got this one with the eagle carrying his prize away.
The next day Clay had a scare. Both he and I caught rockfish. Harold took mine off the hook first and threw it back in. As Harold was preparing to grab Clay’s rockfish an eagle swooped in and grabbed it while it was still on his line! There was a moment of utter shock when we didn’t know what to do, but luckily the eagle dropped the fish.
It wasn’t all Mutual Omaha’s Wild Kingdom out there! We saw sea lions and whales and otters popping up here and there. We saw a mink one evening while watching the sunset on the dock and we saw plenty of other birds.
But let’s face it, people, I was there to fish. Once I got a taste I wanted more and I wanted a salmon. In truth, it didn’t matter who caught it. Every boat of four shares the fish that is caught so even if you personally catch nothing as long as someone on your boat does you are going home with fish. But I wanted salmon. Fresh Alaskan king salmon.
Our second day we started at 8 instead of 6:30 and being the good journalists we were, we headed back at 2 so we could get interviews, write notes, etc. We caught 4 halibut and a sea bass it was a good day.
We hung out to watch them process a halibut and admired the talent of the “fish cutters.” The area they work in is extremely clean and they ensure that everything is iced and sealed immediately. They freeze everything right away and keep track of which group catches what.
They use really fantastic American-made Dexter (no not that Dexter) knives to do the carving. If you’re squeamish, scroll down a few inches.
If we had caught a salmon, we could have had it prepped for sushi, darn it! But all in all, I could not have asked for a better day of fishing, camaraderie, a beautiful meal, a nightcap, and a gorgeous sunset. Which by the way, took place at 10:40 p.m. The physical activity, the fresh air, nature, I was relaxed and didn’t want to miss a minute. For someone who goes to bed at 9:00 that’s saying a lot!
In fact, here’s me right before the sunset, do I look like I am thinking about going to bed?
On day 3, our last day of fishing, we were on a mission, go big or go home! We wanted salmon! We headed out at 7:30. Our plan was to return at 2:00 again giving us time to rest before a special dinner that had been planned for us at the Residence. The morning was a bit cool and a bit windy so we went to a bay where we pulled up some halibut.
After a while, we headed to open water but the wind prevented us amateurs from feeling our lines so Harold took us to a spot to try out jig fishing. For this, we fished with sturdier rods and 1-pound jigs in place of bait. The goal is to drop to the bottom quickly and then slightly pull up to just above the bottom then pull up hard 2-3 times before letting it drop again. Mr. Misadventures immediately caught another halibut (we called him halibut man!) and he declared, “I like this kind of fishing!”
Right after that I felt something on my line and pulled up. With these kinds of rods, you can’t let it bend or lower (with the other rod, it bends and you bend down with it and then reel it in as you are coming back up), you have to keep holding up the rod. Whatever I had was big but not putting up too much of a fight. When I got it the side of the boat and looked over I saw that it was a giant monster! A lingcod.
Harold netted it with the help of Mr. Misadventures and pulled it into the boat to measure it. It was 46 inches, one inch too large to keep! (Lingcods have to be between 30-45 inches or over 55 inches) he weighed about 50 pounds and Harold held it up for me to take a shot before releasing it.
And now I understood fish tales. What did people do before cell phones! Of course their digital cameras, but before that, what proof did you have of your amazing catch unless you had a witness. And what about the incredible catch that a sea lion stole? (That happened twice to another group!) Ah, the ones that get away!
After jigging a bit, Harold indicated that the open sea looked good weather-wise so we headed out in search of salmon. When we got out there it was choppier than expected so we moved to a calmer spot although it was still windy making it difficult to feel our lines. But as Harold had declared all weekend, “we’re fishing!”
I cast my line a few times and then in a surreal moment that happened without me consciously realizing it, I felt my line pull. I raised my rod up and I began a fight. You see unlike all the other fish we caught, salmon put up a real fight. They take your line and go! You’ve got to give them enough line so it doesn’t snap off while still reeling them in and keeping a tight rod. They go left, they go right, they could go under the boat, so when a salmon is on everyone clears out and stays out of the way.
When you bring him up to the side he can still go crazy. I couldn’t tell you what happened in those moments of that fight. I was keeping my rod in my gut reeling up inch by inch which was intense as I don’t have a lot of upper body strength. I was listening to Harold’s instructions trying not to piss him off and I was praying to the Universe that a sea lion wasn’t going to get my fish. The whole thing was like an out of body experience!
Once we got him on the boat, cleaned him up and I took a photo with him, it was at the moment that I finally realized what I’d just done. And you know what? I wanted more! Or least for someone else on the boat to get one. In July you are only allowed one salmon per person for the season (you can have 3 in June!).
As we approached 2:00, the time we were supposed to head back to the lodge, we decided to keep going. We had the fever. We continued fishing. We followed a grey whale and a whole bunch of birds near a commercial fishing trawler and we kept at it. We were supposed to start heading back at 3:30 but at 3:15 we all called it a day, we were completely pooped. In 3 days we had thrown back a handful of rockfish, an over-the-limit sized lingcod, and over-the-limit sized halibut, but we had caught and kept: 10 halibut; 2 sea bass and 1 king salmon!
It was the longest day we had stayed out and we all quietly reflected or recovered as we made our return trip to the lodge. Until the most amazing thing happened! In our last moments, sad that we would be going home the next day, we were escorted home by a large pod of orca whales!
Harold drove the boat quickly to get in front of them a few times and we sat there watching in awe as they swam towards us and past us. It’s not a common sight and even Harold was taking video!
There are no words to describe how incredibly cool it was to see about 30 Orcas swimming and breaching around you. It is not easy to capture on film but I don’t need to, it’s totally etched in my brain! Although Mr. Misadventures did a good job!
We were on a total natural high coming back! What a day! We did some jigging, I caught my salmon, we saw the Orcas, I caught my salmon! Oh, right I said that! But I was thrilled, I really wanted to take some home!
We scrambled back to the Lodge, freshened up and enjoyed a wonderful last night at the Residence, a private home next to the lodge available for groups of 8. The house is dreamy with glass “tiles” on the main room’s floor that allows you to look down onto the stream that runs under the house; a sauna that has a view of the whole bay, and much, much more. We chatted with the chef that is dedicated to the Residence and had a lovely time. I will say my shoulders and forearms were pretty sore from my fight with the salmon, but it was a good pain! And totally worth it!
Alaska is a very masculine place. It was foraged and conquered by many hearty men. Most of the fishing guides at Steamboat Bay are salty dogs, weathered and proud, but also over-the-top friendly and open. We enjoyed Dennis, Everett and the whole crew. They know these waters, they know their stuff.
And I could listen to them for hours! And I never tired of asking them questions and they never appeared tired by answering them!
I now understand how fish stories happen. I now understand the competitive nature of the sport of fishing. I now know that fishing is not a sport just for men. I had the time of my life and if they would have let me stayed, I would have done it for 3 more days! Although I had a great time as a couple, I think it would be a fun girlfriend’s getaway as well. There is a beautiful sauna, hot tub, massage therapist, an open bar and fresh ice cream, what more to love? Lots actually!
Our final morning we were up early to have breakfast and prepare for our departure on the float plane. The morning was gorgeous.
The Steamboat Bay crew had our processed, frozen fish boxed up and labeled for our flights. They partner with Alaska Airlines to facilitate the transfer and delivery of packaged fish to ensure that it stays frozen and fresh.
Our catches netted 35 pounds of fish, most of it halibut, a tiny bit of seabass (thanks Clay!) and salmon. We got 4 salmon steaks out of my catch which, trust me, will be cherished for a special occasion!
On the float plane home, it was bright and sunny which made it seem like Mother Nature had boosted the contrast and saturation on everything.
Tanguan Air flew us directly to the Ketchikan airport where the ground crew took our luggage and drove it to the curb as we walked the short distance to the departure gates. We checked in our luggage and fish and headed to Seattle. We caught an earlier flight out of Seattle. Once on board, there was a collective moan when the Alaska Air flight attendant announced that the temperature in Phoenix was 110.
Despite my fear our fish would get lost it was there waiting for us on the other side and still totally frozen when we arrived home. We opened up our box to find everything neatly labeled and ready to go into our freezer.
Before my trip, I read Tip of the Iceberg: My 3,000-Mile Journey Around Wild Alaska by Mark Adams and something the author wrote struck me:
“The dual vision of Alaska as a wilderness to be preserved and a frontier to be exploited.”
I think I understand it a bit more. Alaska is one of the last frontiers, still mostly unspoiled. A place where a man or a woman can go to be with nature, to challenge it a bit, in my case, with fishing, and get a taste of why these types of experiences need to be protected. Steamboat Bay very consciously and very sustainably allows its guests to experience that “dual vision” and I can’t stress enough how important it is to visit Alaska in your lifetime. And to make it a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I recommend you do it with Steamboat Bay Fishing Club!
How about you? Have you been fishing in Alaska before? Would you consider a trip? Would you do a couple’s trip or a girl’s getaway? If you’ve been, what was your experience? Do tell!