Halibut fishing in Whittier Alaska is a big “must do” for anyone going to Alaska. Every outdoorsman dreams of landing “the big one”. And by big one, I really mean “THE BIG ONE”! Halibut are regularly seen in the range of 15-30 lbs and it is quite common to even see them going up to 150lbs, but the dream fish are the real big ones that are not seen quite so often. These are the ones that weigh between 400 – 500 lbs. The official current world record came from halibut fishing near Port of Gustavus, Alaska and weighed in at 459lbs! So the hunt continues halibut fishing in Prince William Sound to see if the record can be broken.
To get your chance, you will have to leave Anchorage and head to one of three main “fishing” towns: Homer, Seward or Whittier. Homer is about 220 mile and a 4.5-hour drive each way from Anchorage. This means you will most likely have to stay overnight. Seward is much closer at 130 miles from Anchorage and only 2.5-hour drive each way. Anchorage to Whittier is about 60 miles each way and only about an hour and a half in each direction. Whittier is almost always the town I choose because it is closest to Anchorage.
Anchorage TO WHITTIER
Heading south out of Anchorage to Whittier, you drive along Turnagain Arm, which is a breathtaking drive where the ocean meets the mountains. Look up at the mountains and you might spot some dall sheep hang out on the rocky terrain. From the highway, they might just look like white dots standing on the edge of the mountain’s rocky face, but if you are lucky you might see some down close to the highway. Look out at the water and you could see beluga whales or even the unique bore tide. What’s a bore tide you may ask? A bore tide is a tidal phenomenon in which the leading edge of the incoming tide forms a wave (or waves). Although truth be told you are most likely to only see wind surfers, paddleboarders and kayakers which also frequent these waters.
After driving the length of Turnagain Arm you will head away from the water towards Portage Glacier. Now here is the cool part…for the last bit of your trip you will have to drive thru a train tunnel that gets you to the other side of a mountain! The tunnel is named Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel after the chief engineer of the Alaska Railroad and Mayor of Anchorage, Alaska from 1956 to 1958. The Whittier train tunnel is officially the longest highway tunnel in North America and is the only way to reach the city of Whittier by land.
Don’t worry…there is a set schedule for vehicles and trains so you do not have to worry about playing chicken with a freight train! It will cost you about $13 each way. If you miss the time slot that you wanted you will have to sit around and wait an hour for the next time slot to drive thru the tunnel. Trust me you do not wanna miss it and have to sit there and wait another hour until the next chance comes around. There isn’t anything to really do out there so you will just be sitting in your car waiting a long time!
Going thru the Whittier train tunnel will cost you about $13 each way. If you miss the time slot that you wanted you will have to sit around and wait an hour for the next time slot to drive thru the tunnel. Trust me you do not wanna miss it and have to sit there and wait another hour until the next chance comes around. There is not anything to really do out there so you will just be sitting in your car waiting a long time! PLAN ACCORDINGLY especially if you are going on a fishing boat and need to be there by a certain time! Here is a link to the schedule: Whittier Tunnel Schedule
WELCOME TO WHITTIER, ALASKA
The drive thru the Whittier train tunnel is 2.5 miles long and takes about 5-7 minutes. Once you get thru the mountain you finally get to see Whittier, Alaska. It is a very small town with just over 200 full-time citizens. There are some little shops that sell souvenirs, restaurants with some food and some coffee shops. Other than that, there is a cruise ship terminal and the marina. Not anything really touristy to do but the marina is very cute with all the boat right there against the mountain backdrop. You can also see the fishing boats bringing in their latest catch.
We located the charter company that our trip was booked with and made our way down to the boat. It was a very small boat that was just barely big enough to hold 6 people, the Captain, and his First Mate. Heading out of Whittier is a very scenic boat ride with snow-capped mountains on each side. During our trip out into Prince William Sound, our Capitan spent some time on the radio talking with other nearby fishing boats to see where the good spots were for the day. We spent about an hour getting all the way out near Montague Island to start fishing. And of course, the entire boat ride had gorgeous scenery for us to see! No towns, no cities just mother nature at it’s finest!
DEEP SEA FISHING FOR HALIBUT
Have you been halibut fishing before? It is definitely not the easiest of things to do. You have a huge fishing pole with a gigantic weight and smelly piece of bait fish. You drop your line into the water; no casting necessary because all you are doing is getting your line to the ocean floor. Yes, all the way down to the ocean floor…the area that we fished in ranged between 150 and 250ft deep. The hard part of it all is once you have a fish on your line you have to pull that thing all the way from the ocean floor…and they can be heavy!
Imagine if you had a small piece of plywood on a rope and had to drag it up from the bottom of the ocean…that is about what it feels like. That’s also assuming that your fish weighs 20-30 lbs…I have no idea how hard it would be if you caught one of the really large halibut, but I do know that often they will have to shoot them with a gun before taking them on board so they do not injure anyone or damage the boat!
Honestly, I had no idea what I was doing when we first started fishing. After a little help from the Captain and First Mate it was easy to do and before long I felt like a pro! Not to mention I caught all the fish I was allowed to catch. After that since we still had plenty of time we moved on to fishing for salmon.
Different types of salmon “run” at different times of the summer. Now the salmon run is when they leave the saltwater ocean and head back into fresh water to mate and die…pretty terrible if you ask me, but that is what they do I guess. Anyway, the silver salmon typically run late July to early August so it was not much of a surprise that we were catching them. I have to say that this was a trip of firsts for me…first halibut trip and also my first time catching salmon. Salmon were fun to catch and very different than the halibut! The salmon were fighters and were way more active when you got them on the fishing line.
We spent about 4 hours fishing at various spots and everyone on the boat caught their limit for the day. We even saw some humpback whales playing off in the distance. They could be seen jumping out of the water a bit and slapping their tails against the water. We also took a short ride over to The Needle to see a colony of Stellar Seals that live there…oh boy were they loud! The Needle is a set of rocks that are located in Prince William Sound off the coast of Montague Island that is home to a large colony of seals. We were fishing quite a distance away from them and we could hear them barking and making all kinds of noise!
On our ride back to Whittier the weather took a bit of a turn; we had lots of wind and rain, which made for a rather bumpy ride that took (what felt like) a lot longer than when we were going out. Our little boat was fighting against the wind and the tide current, Not to mention it made some of our group start to feel a little queasy! After getting back to Whittier and off the boat, we got coffee from one of the small coffee shops nearby while the halibut was prepped for transporting.
Usually, the charter boat will do basic cleaning but not the full filleting unless you want to pay extra for that service. We took our fish in a cooler to deal with filleting and packaging once we got back to Anchorage. (We had made arrangements to have our fish flash frozen and stored until it was time for us to fly home. The service was pretty cheap and was convenient to have a place to store the fish because hotels will not do that for you!)
6 PEOPLE, 12 SALMON & 13 HALIBUT IN WHITTIER
The limit for halibut was 2 per person (but make sure you check the current state regulations, your captain should also know the current limits). Our fishing totals were 13 halibut (2 per person and one for the Capitan) and 12 silver salmon. That’s a pretty good day of fishing if you ask me! We were tired and smelly at this point and all we wanted was to leave Whittier with our fish and go get cleaned up!
So if you are looking for a little fun or a little adventure next time you are in Alaska? Go fishing for halibut in Whittier, Alaska! There are many different companies down there that I’m sure would love to take you out to catch some halibut or some silver salmon. Happy fishing!