Sitka: Good Reason for Regulations

See Also: The Sea Lion and 4 King Salmon, Pinks on the Fly
We don’t always like the burden of fishing regulations, not when we’re out for meat. But the regulators who govern the waters around Sitka have good reasons. It’s sound management when you consider the number of fishermen who come there each season for the great salmon and halibut fishing.

I wanted this Ling Cod in the worst way, but couldn't keep it! Story and photos by Dwayne Parsons

I wanted this Ling Cod in the worst way, but couldn’t keep it! Story and photos by Dwayne Parsons

Three-Eighths of an Inch for Good Reason

I have no reason to complain; every reason to feel I was absolutely blessed to be on this 4-day fishing excursion to Sitka, Alaska. I had flown up with other family members for a chartered 3-day trip, fishing primarily for King Salmon and taking opportunity on Halibut if we had the chance.

What ensued will stay in the memory of all of us for the rest of our lives.

I had long wanted to catch a Ling Cod, one of the ocean’s many ugly species, but a prize for the palate–great eating in other words.

On the second day out, we were fortunate to boat our limit of Kings by 9:20 in the morning (one each for six members of the party), so we had a day ahead to choose: hunt for silvers, which were not yet showing up in great numbers, or go for halibut.

The latter choice was always a risk because more often than not, you stood the chance of getting sea sick if the waves were at all significant. You also stood the strong likelihood of just sitting and wondering where they might be.

Too big to keep, this halibut, like nine others we fought to the boat was released for the purpose of propagation. Only the smaller males were kept for the table. And these were halibut! Those released averaged, we estimated between 80 and 120 pounds. A lot of food let back, but for good, sound reason.

Too big to keep, this halibut, like nine others we fought to the boat was released for the purpose of propagation. Only the smaller males were kept for the table. And these were halibut! Those released averaged, we estimated between 80 and 120 pounds. A lot of food let back, but for good, sound reason.

An Exceptional Day

But this day proved to be quite unusual. No sooner had my bait hit the bottom and I had on my first halibut of the day. From then for the next four hours we almost continually fought at least one, if not two simultaneously, halibut. We had to release 10 halibut that were too large!

John Hawkins fighting one of his several large halibut of the day.

John Hawkins fighting one of his several large halibut of the day.


That’s a lot of work for older men. Fortunately we had two nephews of mine with us: Nate Lunde and John Hawkins, both athletic, both strong and both willing to fight these large fish from 300 feet down. “It’s like fighting a piece of plywood,” one said, “hooked in the middle.”

He was right. I couldn’t have done it and remained healthy. But these two brought in those humongous flounders with great enthusiasm, knowing it was a day of a lifetime.

Nate Lunde on yet another piece of halibut plywood coming up slowly, stubbornly from 300 feet down.

Nate Lunde on yet another piece of halibut plywood coming up slowly, stubbornly from 300 feet down.


Fortunately we were able to keep three, one of which I landed entirely on my own, (yeah, bragging. Darn rights!), because they were within the catch-range allowed by regulations.

A Tough Decision is Necessary

But my disappointment came when I also landed (on my own) one of three boated Ling Cod, all of which we had to release. I wanted a Ling Cod because they are excellent eating, as good as the halibut in my mind. But this one, the smaller of the three, could not be kept. It was a full 3/8’s of an inch outside the allowed length limit! Ooooh! Ouch! That was frustrating.

I have to say, it was tempting to fudge, but the fact is those regulations are in place for a sound reason. This area receives a tremendous amount of pressure from the lower 49 because it’s the first in the line-up of fly-in fishing meccas on the way to Alaskan paradise. That translates into tremendous pressure on the fish populations.

Too big to eat means the larger females, most of which live when properly released, remain there to spawn. These regulations are one of the reasons now over 400 charters operate out of Sitka in the summer months. Yeah, that’s a lot.

So when you feel the bite of a stiff, uncompromising regulation and you have to turn back the prize you wish you could keep, even with a little fudging, think about all the fish that can be brought forward, and many kept, in future years because your released that great fish.

When you think about that, and you realize that you just might be preserving this for your own future pleasure as well; it’s not so bad.

Then you can appreciate the dedication and no-lax regulations set by those who call these sometimes seemingly tough decisions and Sitka remains one of the best places you can go for an outstanding fishing weekend.