Alaska . . . The Final Spearfishing Frontier
Trip Organized by: Greg & Vanessa Fonts (Freedive Shop / Triton X) Divers: Greg Fonts, Vanessa Fonts, Alex Reynaud, Mike Chavez, Chris MacDonald & Bret Pemberton Guide: Colin Sutton
This trip started while Greg and I were in Peru preparing for Worlds. We are sitting at the dining room table in our modest little Peruvian home following up on work emails. It had just been an 8 hour day on the water and I can still recall Greg looking up and saying "you want to go and spearfish Alaska?"
8 months later we are geared up, trained up, sporting new 7mm & 7.5mm wetsuits with the dream of landing Ling Cod, Halibut, Salmon and Rock Fish. Little did we know just how challenging this dream was going to be!
We landed in Sitka, Alaska on July 28th, to amazing conditions. No wind, sunny and the locals in great spirits because the official Salmon derby was about to start and the fishing had been amazing. Honestly, what more could you ask for while we relaxed on land for 2 days with the goal of getting acclimated and recovered before 7 straight days at sea. The town of Sitka is a very special place, with an astonishing history, great local pubs, tasty food and a very laid back atmosphere. It is honestly an old Russian/American ghost town and then all of a sudden a cruise ship comes into port and the place goes crazy. While in town for a couple days, we had a chance to poke around the commercial fishing fleet, the processing plants and of course Murry Pacific, which is "crack" for anyone that loves fishing. (I think almost all of us dropped about $400 each on knives, tackle and I found some of the best pigtail swivels I have ever seen). Also, on a side note, if you are a single guy looking for girls . . . Sitka must have something in the water.
The morning of the 30th, at 4am, we left port on a 40ft salmon trawler with untouched ocean ahead of us. At this moment, you as the reader, should imagine going to a place that has never been touched and never been dove. A vast open ocean with mile after mile of remote pinnacles, untouched islands, protected bays, kelp forests and species of fish that have never seen a person in the water before . . . it is truly an awesome feeling. On our way out, we started fishing Salmon and it wasn't long before we had some beauties on the boat. Follwed by rock fish, lingcod and then more Salmon, it was a variety pack of dinner options jumping around on the deck. Then we pulled up the lines and focused on getting to our first spot.
Let's take a break to discuss gear - One of the unique factors about Alaska is that because it is so unknown, we really didn't know what to expect and obviously everything is really big. So the real challenge was how you would handle hunting rock fish and then come across a 50lb Ling or Halibut. And you didn't want to be over gunned to handle a potential World Record Rock Fish as they are just big (6 to 8lbs was standard!) But here is a breakdown of everyone's gear.
Each diver had a float and float line at all times Greg Fonts - Rob Allen Carbon Roller 80cm with double flopper / Rob Allen Carbon 110 with double flopper Alex Reynaud - Sea Sniper 90cm with slip tip and a double flopper / Sea Sniper 110 with slip tip and rigged for full break away Chris MacDonald - Rob Allen 90cm with double flopper / Sea Sniper 110cm with slip tip and break away Bret Pemberton - Koah 90cm with slip tip and a double flopper / Koah 110 with slip tip and break away Mike Chavez - Sea Sniper 90cm with slip tip and a double flopper / Sea Sniper 110 with slip tip and break away
Our fist location was a pinnacle about 1 mile out in the open sea. The top was roughly 45 feet and the bottom was around 120. This was a good opportunity for us to warm up, get a feel for the fish, water temp and have a little fun. After a few dives, everyone had respectable rock fish on the stringer and the focus moved to seeing what the edges and the deeper cracks were holding. Greg and I wanted to land some big fish, but we both had a lofty goal of landing a Yellow Eye. The only problem, they are rarely more shallow than 90ft. We started working over the edge and hunting the drop offs . . . 60 feet, then 70 then 80 then 90. We found some amazing fish, but not the ones we wanted to land. By the middle of the day, the currents were to strong to dive and it was time to continue exploring and breaking new ground. Greg and I finished off the first day with around 11 hours in the water and had come up with some strategy to start locating Ling Cod and Yellow Eye. However, the other guys and Vanessa had already had enough of the cold water and starting working the rod and reel. The highlight was massive Yellow Eye on the boat. Simply an amazing fish and so good to eat!!
Day 2 our goal was to hunt the tides perfectly and perfectly we did. We worked sand flats and boulder fields in the morning with great results for rock fish, but still no other species. In the afternoon, it was all about deep water pinnacles. Greg and I spent 6 hours working some of the most amazing offshore mounts you can imagine, working deep cracks at 70 to 90 feet and strategically dropping halved black rock fish into these cracks to see if we could bring up some big boys from the deep ledges. By the late afternoon, I had our first opportunity at a nice Ling while working a crack at 78 feet. I believe this Ling had come in to investigate the rock fish lunch I placed inside his hunting hole! Finally, we had a nice fish on the boat by spear. Meanwhile, the boys on the boat had landed some massive ling at 200 feet on rod and reel and already had limited out on huge Yellow Eye. It was a solid day. Greg and I called it a day when we got to the point that the viz had shut down to about 3 feet and the conditions combined with the current was just exhausting.
That night, an updated weather forecast showed inbound weather of 35 knot winds and 18 foot combined seas. It was already rough and the viz was about 30 feet on the first day, 10 feet on the second day and getting worse due to the ground swell and wind. We had one morning left to hit it hard and then we needed to tuck our tale and get back to port!
The next morning, we hit it hard but the conditions made it almost impossible to dive. Even in the protect bays, the viz was shut down to almost nothing and the fish were not playing. So we decided that it was time to go and not risk the storm catching us while in open water. 6 hours later we pulled into port, with winds pushing 30 knots and rain coming in at an angle that us Californians didn't think was possible!
Overall, it was an experience of a lifetime. Colin was amazing and our boat captain made the trip with his stories, humor and love for the ocean. Even though we all walked away very humbled at how challenging Alaska was, we did walk away safe, with stories and memories that will honestly never be forgotten. The next night we all celebrated our trip while watching Golden State take a 1 game lead in the NBA finals, eating Yellow Eye fish and chips and being stoked to have dove such a beautiful place.
Water temp: 43 to 47 Viz: 2 ft to 50ft Fish Speared: Ling Cod, Olive Rock Fish, Greenling, Black Rock Fish, China Rock Fish Fish Rod and Reel: Lots of Salmon, Ling Cod, Black Rock Fish, Yellow Eye, China Rock Fish, 1 Halibut that broke the line and wasn't landed
The video footage isn't the best because the water was really green, but it gives you a good feel for the diving - https://vimeo.com/131145903