Legendary Fish Care in Larsen Bay

Legendary Fish CareArticle by Melissa Norris
As seen in the January 2021 Issue of Fish Alaska

I remembered how bountiful the fishing was in Larsen Bay from a previous trip to Kodiak Island more than a decade ago. I caught the biggest silver I’ve ever held in Uyak Bay, where the city of Larsen Bay lies, plus a bunch of other tremendous fish. What I remembered most about Uyak Bay, beyond abundant fish stocks and that big coho, is that the plethora of fishable water is predominantly protected from wind by the area’s mountainous topography, hence calmer seas. So, when Kodiak Legends Lodge manager Chad Elmer shared that they’d seen a turnaround in their king salmon fishing in recent years, I was all ears. There aren’t many fishing scenarios that excite me more than saltwater kings in calm waters, although a dozen others tie for the win. I can’t remember if I invited myself to their premier lodge in Larsen Bay or if Chad suggested I come, but we were in agreement I’d visit during king season in late May, June, or July and would later pin 
down dates.

The mission was clear. I wanted to write an article that highlighted the superb fishing in the area and showcased the quality of this fine lodge. At the same time, it was the perfect opportunity to fulfill my family’s annual harvest needs. We decided on early June. It was slated to be my first lodge trip of the summer, perfectly planned so I could bring home all the fish needed for my freezers of concern. The rest of the summer I would know exactly what I wanted to keep or release, having most of it stocked from this trip. Then COVID-19 hit and several of our clients were left scrambling. Some lodges determined they would have to close for the entire season while others stayed abreast of the travel regulations and did all they could to get guests there safely. The trip to Kodiak got put on hold, but by mid-June the staff at Kodiak Legends Lodge felt they could safely receive guests and were grateful for the small groups of Alaskans and families from out of state who concluded they could travel. With testing in place, and people and businesses taking precautions, I traveled by air several times throughout the summer across Alaska with no trouble.

Once things settled down with travel regulation changes, we determined I would go out in late July. It was not the timing we had planned, but they were still catching kings and some silvers would start to show. Plus, the regular force of bottomfish—halibut, rockfish, and lingcod—would be present. On top of all that, we could harvest tanner crab. Sounded good to me!

Captain Rafe Oliphant with a lingcod suitable for the cooler. One aspect we really admire about Kodiak Legends Lodge is their goal to have guests keep medium-sized fish, letting larger fish go to proliferate.

The flight from Anchorage to Kodiak on Alaska Airlines was one hour. Once there I schlepped a cooler, backpack dry bag, camera case and day pack the hundred-or-so feet across the parking lot to Island Air Service, a locally owned airline serving the island of Kodiak. Their friendly staff can bring over a luggage cart for those who need it. It was easy to check in, have my luggage weighed, and stand by before the fog lifted enough to fly. A pilot wearing a green, silk cravat and a dandy mustache-and-beard combo guided us to their Piper Cherokee. I rode shotgun and left the flying to the presumably lucky, presumably Irish man beside me.

Safely on the ground in Larsen Bay, Chad greeted me planeside to help cart my luggage and me to the lodge. A few minutes later he set my bags down inside the cabin I was provided. I took in the smell of cedar mixed with sea air, and looked out at the expansive view from the deck. I remember thinking to myself that I could get used to that view. Looking around, the cabin was lavish. The large, two-bedroom A-Frame cabin with an extra loft sleeping area has two full bathrooms, living room, dining area and a full-sized kitchen—not that I’d be doing any cooking while I was there. The stone fireplace in the living room makes a gorgeous focal point, except it’s hard to notice with that view out the window. This vision of the edge of the sea took my breath away. Rocks and land give way to water outlined by pebble beaches ladened with driftwood. Rolling hills dabbed with emerald green, splotched with deep, blue hues breathe promise of the unknown. Life is everywhere. It’s the kind of moment an overworked Mom like me can thoroughly appreciate, the few of which I am afforded, and the kind of which few are privileged to receive.

Larsen Bay boat harbor with one of the Kodiak Legends boats—a spacious catamaran built for fishing.

Always up and ready when it’s time to fish, I welcomed the breakfast-to-go option so we could get down to the order of business. It took a matter of minutes from the time expert Captain Rafe Oliphant steered the 35-foot Armstrong catamaran from the harbor out to the coastline where he’d previously trolled successfully for kings. We picked up a king out of the gate trolling a Hot Spot Apex lure with a Herring Aide finish in about 50 feet of water. I observed right away that the fishing crew at Kodiak Legends Lodge makes a strong effort towards their fish-processing care. They bled the fish immediately and added it to a fish box smartly packed with ice. Keeping fish cold is a crucial step surprisingly often overlooked. A few more passes through the sweet spot yielded a couple more strikes that didn’t stick, possibly by some pinks milling about. “Let’s pick up and go drop bottomfishing gear,” suggested Rafe. “We’ll troll again after the tide changes.” He looked around for the consensus from Chad, Tony, and me. Each one of us was content fishing any of the options, so it was an easy accord.

The guys set up to fish bait on circle hooks, as well as a variety of jigs. We hunted up a couple of Pacific cod, some yelloweye and a dusky rockfish, plus a couple of perfect, eater-sized halibut in the 35-pound range. Day one was already proving to be fruitful.

Rafe announced it was time to troll for kings again, and I am sure glad he did because I was rewarded with a girthy, 30-plus-pound chrome Chinook that I am still thoroughly enjoying. What a toad this fish was. We were field testing the Silver Horde Kingfisher trolling spoon in a glow-green spattered finish (#942). It was high fives and fist bumps all around. I’ve since eaten that fish several times as sashimi and it’s absolutely incredible. We also caught silvers and randomly caught a sockeye in the saltwater while trolling! You rarely see that trifecta.

When we got back to the lodge, Rafe, Tony, and Chad put in more time to ensure the quality of fish care. After they set up stations in their screened-in, fish-cleaning room, Rafe and Tony harmoniously filleted fish. You can tell each has done this before with perfect fillets turned out for the vacuum packer, clean and free of blood. Their kind of detailed effort really makes a big difference at the table.

Picture of a woman who caught an Alaskan kings salmon in Larsen Bay. Kodiak, Alaska

Melissa with a gorgeous saltwater king that she has been steadily munching on since July. She made sashimi with this king that was some of the best salmon she has ever eaten in her life, the last 12 years of them as a pescatarian.

Shelikof Strait

Day 2 fortuitously gave us calm seas and blue skies, so the plan was to venture out of Uyak Bay into the open water of Shelikof Strait. It was a bluebird day with the sun shining high. Three grown men bellowed Lionel Richie with me from my iTunes playlist into Rafe’s Bluetooth speaker while we jigged up some keeper-sized lingcod on Tica rods. Lingcod are my brother’s favorite, and while I love all fish from Alaska’s seas, halibut are my favorite, tied with king salmon. We iced some lings for my bro in case his salt quests didn’t provide this summer and with several people in line to receive fish, a variety pack was nice. We caught a huge array of white-meat fish on this trip, including a monster-sized black rockfish I failed to photograph. Captain Tony baited up a crab trap to lower and soak overnight, then we headed back

Uyak Bay

Above: Another favorite fact about Kodiak Legends is their meticulous fish care that has led to some of the best quality fish harvest Melissa Norris has had in the freezer in 20 years as Fish Alaska’s Publisher. This is so much the case she asked Captain Rafe to share halibut care and filleting tips currently featured in a new video on Fish Alaska’s website.

That evening it was decided we would head back to Uyak Bay and the cause of day three would be to search for halibut. Uyak Bay is the largest fjord within the Kodiak Archipelago. Its wide mouth meets Shelikof Strait, then narrows as it reaches about 40 miles across the Island, nearly cutting Kodiak in half. Stemming off Uyak Bay are Larsen Bay and Spiridon Bay, and around the corner, Zachar Bay. The city of Larsen Bay is named for a famous turn-of-the-century bear hunter, Peter Adolf Larsen. Year-round population in Larsen Bay is about thirty people. The community is rich in Alutiiq culture and history. It is home to a cannery operated by Icicle Seafoods. Normally employing people from around the world, the cannery remained closed this summer due to the pandemic.

The halibut catch in Uyak Bay that day was outstanding. Limits were had by all and the fish sizes were perfect. We kept halibut ranging from 35- to 70 pounds, ideal for the table and for halibut conservation. The seas remained calm for us the whole trip. I was prepared with a Relief Band motion-sickness watch I am field testing because I do get seasick when the ocean starts dancing, but I never once needed it in Larsen Bay. That evening, as the fishing crew was meticulously packaging the most gorgeous halibut fillets I have ever had the privilege of freezing, I asked Rafe to film a How to Fillet Halibut video with me for Fish Alaska’s website. Rafe did a great job, offering expert tips while he explained his efficient technique. You’ll find it on our home page or under how-to videos. Back in the kitchen, the chef was busy rolling a variety of sushi rolls and crafting a crab-and-salmon tower that was a major treat.

Bag Limits

By the last day we felt we had harvested all the fish we needed. That’s one of my biggest compliments I can give to this lodge, specifically to the manager, Chad, and the fishing crew. These guys are conservation minded. They appreciate the resource to a fault and take extra care to lead by example and educate guests. It’s not about the biggest fish you can harvest. They prefer to send those back to reproduce. It’s about sustainable harvest. I have a huge respect for their efforts to not to keep halibut over 100 pounds. I would personally release a halibut anywhere near 100 pounds because I don’t have a need for it and it is a precious commodity that needs to be perpetuated. We are fishermen, I get it, but we are the future of our fisheries. It’s been a long time since you’ve seen a big, dead halibut (say, over 100 pounds) on the cover of Fish Alaska for a reason.

We had all the fish we needed, but I wanted to record a little more video, so we set out to catch-and-release some rockfish, then pulled up the crab pots. I waited as the pot slowly ascended to see if we would be dining on fresh crab in Kodiak Legends Lodge’s Crab Shack that evening. When the trap broke the surface filled with buttery-fleshed crustaceans, the murmurs started about a nice haul and keeper sizes, and my grin was about as wide as the beam of the boat.

Most guests get to experience an exquisite meal in the Kodiak Legends Lodge Crab Shack after harvesting a pot of fresh tanner crab.

Planning Your Trip

Something for everyone—While the specialty is saltwater fishing at Kodiak Legends Lodge, the beauty of the area combined with things to do and see make this a memorable trip even for non-anglers.

The saltwater fishing in Larsen Bay really is outstanding all summer long. The halibut fishing is good throughout the season as is the other bottomfishing. If you want kings, book for late May through the middle of July. If you want silvers, shoot for late July through the beginning of September. You’ll want to go after July 1 if you would like to harvest lingcod. During the fall, adding a fly-out to a nearby freshwater location like the Karluk River Lagoon or Lower Dog Salmon Creek for silvers is an option. Give Chad a call and he’ll provide date recommendations based on your interests.

The fishing was so good I almost forgot to mention I slept in the most comfortable bed in my life. It was so amazing I asked Chad to look up the make and model. Sadly, it’s discontinued, or I would have bought one. In addition to multiple private cabins, the lodge has five cozy suites in the 5000-square-foot main lodge, an open dining area that comfortably seats 16 people, and an expansive entertainment room with a pool table and more.

A trip like this is a luxury, but it becomes legendary when you are personally attended to by the captain and crew at Kodiak Legends Lodge. Their merit list is long and at the very top you’ll find superior fish processing, stunning views, abundant fishing, conservation mindfulness, fantastic accommodations, and excellent dining. The crew are truly excellent captains and fishermen, loads of fun, and now they’re my friends. I highly recommend a trip to Larsen Bay at Kodiak Legends Lodge for your saltwater trip to Alaska. I can’t wait to go back and bring my daughter. Contact Chad if you would like trip information.

Melissa Norris is the Publisher of Fish Alaska since its inception in 2001. This is the 20th anniversary edition of Fish Alaska and Melissa is so thankful for trips like the one written about above. The opportunity to explore Alaska and make lifelong friends has been a treasured gift in her career.