Harbor Seals

Harbor Seals

Some harbor seals lounge on an abandoned bit of dock in the Ketchikan harbor.

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Launch in the Grotto

Launch in the Grotto

The launch waiting for us to return in the Grotto

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Sea Lions at the Brothers

Sea Lions at the Brothers

Sea Lions at the Brothers, photo by Andrew Cooper

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The Airport Ferry

One of the unique things about Ketchikan is how you leave the airport. After collecting your luggage you proceed out the the front of the airport as usual. But instead of the usual bustle of shuttle vans, private vehicles, and taxis in front you find a tranquil drive with a few parked vehicles.

Gravina Island Ferry

The Gravina Island Ferry that shuttles airport passengers to Ketchikan

Instead you and your fellow passengers file across the driveway and down a long boarding ramp and into a small ferry for the ride across Tongass Narrows. On the other side, at the ferry terminal, you find the crowd of vehicles you would have expected at the airport.

The ferry runs every half hour and costs $6 for the ride. While unique, it does add a fair amount of time to the process of de-planing your aircraft and getting on your way to the final destination. Pick-up by float plane or small craft can be accommodated at a small dock on the airport side just north of the ferry terminal.

I suppose it is an improvement on the original airport. Before the opening of the Ketchikan airport in 1973, passengers would arrive at the Annette Island Airport 20 miles south and take a shuttle boat or floatplane to Ketchikan.

The ferry was to have been replaced by a bridge a couple decades back, but the funding drew a storm of controversy in the US congress. As the planned bridge was large enough to cross the channel with the needed clearance for cruise ships to pass underneath it would have been big. Thus the budget was a few hundred million dollars.

The city of Ketchikan was caught in the controversy over federal budgets and earmarks, with the bridge derisively labeled the “Bridge to Nowhere” and used as a symbol of pork barrel spending. As a result the funding was eventually pulled and the airport ferry remains a fixture of life in Ketchikan.

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Back Deck Crab Party

Be messy… We will just hose down the deck later.

Eating dungeness crab

Enjoying fresh caught dungeness crab, photo by Deborah Cooper

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Neva Strait Derelict

Neva Strait Derelict, photo by Andrew Cooper

Neva Strait derelict, photo by Andrew Cooper

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Pick-Up and Drop-Off at the Ketchikan Airport

The Ketchikan airport is a little different for access. The facility sits across Tongass Narrows from the city. Access is by a small ferry that regularly shuttles across the channel with passengers and the occasional vehicle. A covered walkway runs from the terminal to the ferry landing to allow passengers to access the ferry in the notoriously wet Ketchikan weather.

Gravina Island Ferry

The Gravina Island Ferry that shuttles airport passengers to Ketchikan

The famous congressional controversy around the “Bridge to Nowhere” scuttled the effort to build a span connecting the airport and the island to the city. For now the ferry remains the solution.

Aside from the ferry there is another option… Boaters should have no difficulty accessing the airport. There is a small craft dock on the south end of the seaplane dock just below the terminal. Here a boat can tie up and passengers can walk right up to the main terminal.

Nordic Quest at the Ketchikan Airport

Picking up passengers at the Ketchikan Airport using the Nordic Quest

We have performed this maneuver, finding it quite convenient. Meeting a scheduled Alaska Airlines flight with the Nordic Quest. We docked about an hour before the flight to debark family members leaving on the flight, waving them goodbye on the dock. After the flight landed other family and friends came walking down the gangway. Yes, the logistics were complex to arrange, but it worked rather well.

There is room for two mid-sized vessels on either side of a finger pier at the floatplane dock, out of the way of the aircraft. This should be considered a loading zone, only used when meeting a flight.

de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver

A de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver at the Ketchikan Airport floatplane dock

Baggage carts are free here. If there is not a cart sitting on the seaplane dock you can run up to the terminal and procure a cart or two for luggage and coolers of fish.

The dock makes the transfer of passengers unusually easy in Ketchikan. No taxis or rental cars needed to get to a marina, just park your vessel at the airport. Good planning and coordination may be required to meet your flight, but it has worked well for us.

Need a taxi? Catch the airport shuttle? No. We will just use the boat. This is the only large airport in the world, that I am aware of, that you can actually do this.

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Catch

Catch

Fred and Nicole diplay a few fine fish, photo by Deborah Cooper

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Bicycle Garden

Bicycle Garden

An old bicycle finds a new use as a planter

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Managing Your Halibut Catch Under the New Rules

Any recreational or non-guided fisherman who has fished for Pacific halibut in Southeast Alaska this last several years knows that there has been increased enforcement of the IPHA rules for processing your catch. I have had to alter my whole approach to halibut fishing this season and last season. I have spoken to skippers who brought their boats up from Puget Sound for the summer and who had expected to take frozen halibut home with them. You can no longer do this. Boats are being boarded by Alaska Fish and Game, Alaska State Police, the International Halibut Commission and the U.S. Coast Guard–all charged with the same enforcement. Get caught and they take your fish and leave you with a hefty, and I mean hefty, fine. It can be thousands of dollars.

You must follow the adopted management measures for NOAA halibut sport fishing that stipulate how your catch is fileted, regarding size of filets and skin on, and to not retain processed fish on board if you have fishing tackle on your vessel. And who doesn’t. So what can be done and still end up with properly processed, vacuum packed fish?

When I set my itinerary, especially when it may be several hundred miles around SE Alaska waters, I now plan what days and where I will fish for halibut. If I do not limit out the first day, I remove the heads and entrails and ice my fish. After a second attempt to catch limits I dock at a community with seaplane service back to Juneau. I do my usual processing and put the catch on a flight as air cargo. The cost can vary from $0.80 to $1.00 per pound.  I then contact my pre-arranged pickup who receives my boxes or packed coolers and puts them into frozen storage for me. I have used Alaska Seaplanes who a frozen storage facility in Juneau. I have also used Jerry’s Meats but someone has to deliver your boxes. There is a business in the town of Gustavus near the entrance to Glacier Bay that will not only process your catch but put it on a flight somewhere.

You can still enjoy all of the scenery as well as the excitement of Alaska halibut fishing. Just don’t ignore the rules as it can lead to truly spoiling a wonderful time in Southeast Alaska.

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