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Alaska’s Fishing Ferry Lands

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BY CHRISTOPHER BATIN
If you fish, hunt, scuba dive, kayak or enjoy any and all outdoor sports, you should know and appreciate the Alaska state ferry system.
Today’s ferry system has metamorphosed into the way travel used to be: something to look forward to, not only for the destination involved, but to savor the simple joy of travel. For instance, the MV Chenega is adorned with Alaska decor, fully equipped snack bar, comfortable tables, seats, and even plush work areas with computer desks. You’ll not only be at your destination faster than you can drive (some destinations you can’t drive to), but also refreshed once you arrive, with your car and fishing tackle in tow. Unlike the airlines, I wasn’t crammed into a middle seat and my luggage wasn’t lost. I could get up and walk around, and I had a window seat for the entire journey. I had my choice of good food and drink, and was able to take a walk on deck, get some fresh ocean air, and watch for whales and seabirds. When I arrived, I climbed into my own truck, turned on my own music, had my own gear and equipment and enjoyed the familiarity of my own possessions.
This is the only way to travel to and fish Alaska’s coastal areas. How far you travel and what you do depends on your budget and the time you have allocated for your trip.
A ferry-fishing excursion can be virtually instantaneous as long as there is room aboard the ferry. I often drive to Valdez for some saltwater salmon fishing; the drive from Fairbanks or Anchorage takes about six to seven hours with stops. While the drive from Anchorage along the Glenn Highway and down Thompson Pass is always spectacular, sometimes I just want to forego the stress of driving. The ferry allows me to arrive in Valdez, fully rested and ready to go.
For trips farther a field, consider Cordova, the Alaska Peninsula or Kodiak. You can trailer a boat to these locations and have some spectacular action.
Janet Buckingham, executive director with the Kodiak Convention and Visitors Bureau, never misses a chance to remind me what great salmon fishing they have on Kodiak. The water is clear, no glacial influences, and the chances for halibut and other bottom fish are excellent. Take your motorhome, choose from plenty of places to camp, or choose the hotel and charter route. The Kodiak CVB is one of the friendliest you’ll find anywhere and best of all, it’s served by the ferry system.
The MV Kennicott will operate full time running from Bellingham, Wa., across the Gulf of Alaska to Whittier and Kodiak, providing a convenient, direct route for passengers and vehicles bound for the southcentral or southwest regions of the state. Why opt for an expensive cruise when you can drive your own vehicle onto the ferry, take in the sights of the Inside Passage along the way, and dock in Whittier on the fourth day. If time is not an issue, it’s possible to disembark at select cities along the Inside Passage and fish on the way north.
Changing your schedule is not the headache it often is with the airlines. I had to change my ticket a few times and the cost was only $10 each. Make the change and you’re rebooked.
There are more marine highway angling destinations than you can experience in a decade of angling summers, and the ferry folks who work for the state will help you with most any of your trip planning. I don’t have the space here to provide you with the details of ferry operation, schedules and routes, but you can find all the details at www.ferryalaska.com.
Check out the ferry discount for members at www.owaa.org/2012conference/2012/01/12/complimentary-passage-on-the-alaska-marine-highway-system.
I’m sure that once you’ve sampled the benefits of the Alaska Marine Highway system, the state’s ferry lands takes on a whole new meaning. ♦
—Chris Batin has been a member since 1979. He is the 2012 conference local chair. He is also editor and publisher of Alaska Angler, and Alaska Hunter Productions and Video Productions. Contact him at ChrisBatin@AlaskaAngler.com
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