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Experience the Magic of Fishing for King Salmon in Alaska

Get a glimpse of what it's like to go salmon fishing in Alaska with Mercury pro Rob Endsley

salmon fishing with rob endsley

Wherever it takes place, fishing is full of incredible moments. From sudden, surprising strikes to that flash of joy when landing a big fish, it’s one little bit of magic after another. And nowhere else is the experience amplified like it is in Alaska.

In Alaska, every day on the water is magic.

Mercury Pro Team member Rob Endsley understands this better than most. Endsley grew up in Washington, where he built a successful business guiding on saltwater and some of the legendary rivers that feed into Puget Sound. Then about 20 years ago, he came to Alaska looking to experience something more – halibut and brown bears, orcas and endless summer days. But mostly, Endsley came for the king salmon.

“When you grow up in Washington and you’re a fisherman, Alaska is always where you want to be,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who you are, if you’re interested in salmon fishing, eventually you have to get to Alaska. This is mecca.”

Once he got there, Endsley built a new chapter in his career with Prince of Wales Sportfishing, guiding anglers from around the world to world-class salmon fishing. In this video, he offers a glimpse at an authentic Alaska wilderness experience and the kind of king salmon fishing you can only find here. 

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Welcome to Craig. Pop. 1,023

For about four months out of the year, Endsley operates in Craig, Alaska. The largest community on Prince of Wales Island, Craig is a two-bar, two-restaurant town. There’s a ballfield, a public library, an aquatic center and offices for the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Postal Service, Alaska Department of Fish and Game and Alaska State Troopers. There’s also a Mercury Authorized Dealer called The Bay Company whose boat sales range from “fully packaged skiffs to the 40-foot offshore boat dreams are made of.”

That’s the developed part of Craig. All around it, there’s adventure. Craig is nestled within the dense hills of a temperate coastal rainforest. It’s a place for folks with an explorer’s soul, who’d gladly trade city lights for northern lights.

“It’s remote,” said Endsley. “The cruise ships don’t come in here. It’s more authentic, and it hasn’t been developed like some of the other larger cities in Southeast Alaska. We’re there to fish, and the people who live here are there to fish, too.”

That’s a fact. At its heart, Craig is a real fishing town. It’s named after Craig Miller, who owned a saltery in the area in the early 1900s. Today, the fleet of boats operated by professional fishing guides in Craig numbers around 80. There are commercial fishing and processing operations, too. This community exists because of the vast natural resources that surround it.

“It’s crazy how beautiful it is here,” Endsley added. “It’s rugged, spectacular, just amazing fishing. King salmon is kind of what brings us all here, but halibut, silver salmon … you name it, it’s all here. It’s full-on adventure every time you leave the dock, every single day.” 
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Alaska scene with Mercury powered boat
Alaska salmon fishing trip
Under water salmon

What to Expect When Salmon Fishing in Alaska

As remote and rugged as Southeast Alaska is, Endsley and his team have the logistics dialed in for a great destination fishing experience. His crew caters to out-of-town anglers, from pickup upon arrival to exceptional cuisine to comfortable lodging just a short distance from the boats.

A typical day in Craig starts at 6 a.m. aboard a North River boat powered by twin Mercury V6 225hp FourStroke outboards. Then it’s off to explore the waters of the North Pacific. Anglers return to the dock in time for some rest before supper.

What’s unique about Southeast Alaska is the immediate access to Mother Nature combined with plenty of shelter to take refuge from her when needed. Prince of Wales Island is part of the Alexander Archipelago, a 300-mile ribbon comprised of some 1,100 islands along Southeast Alaska’s Pacific coastline. Craig is located within this protective front line.

“It’s just a really nice mix of protection and open ocean,” Endsley said. “We want to be fishing on the ocean, but if the ocean’s too rough, we go hide in the islands. There’s always a place to fish.”

Are These the World’s Best Salmon Fishing Waters?

Craig is also perfectly situated for anglers who want to target salmon. There are five species of salmon in Alaska, but the Chinook (prounounced “shin-ook”) salmon is the king. Literally, its more common name is “king salmon,” and it’s the official state fish of Alaska.

King salmon are anadromous fish, which means they spend part of their lives in saltwater and part in fresh. Kings spawn in freshwater tributaries along the Pacific coast of the U.S. and Canada. It’s the last act in their life before they die, their carcasses providing a valuable nutrient-rich resource for the local wildlife. Salmon fry hatch and can remain in the river for just a few weeks or more than a year before migrating back to saltwater. These ocean fish are tough predators that spend their lives foraging on rich baitfish resources that allow them to grow up to 50 to 60 pounds. Sometime between ages 3 and 6, king salmon repeat the spawning process by migrating back to their natal streams.

Craig is ground zero for North Pacific salmon fishing.

“Southeast Alaska is the top of the funnel,” said Endsley. “They migrate from north to south, from here to British Columbia, Washington and northern Oregon. Large numbers of kings migrate through the waters around Craig.”

While epic ocean migrations are part of what anglers love about king salmon, catching them is the real treat.

“They’re the largest of the salmon species, so that’s part of it,” said Endsley. “They’re just powerful. They get big. And I think the allure of Alaska is you never know what you’re going to catch when you hook one. It could be a 20-pounder, or it could be a 50- or 60-pounder.”

Alaska salmon fishing aerial phooto

Fishing Tactics for King Salmon

Endsley and the guides who operate with him typically rely on two styles of fishing to catch king and silver (coho) salmon. They troll, or they mooch.

Trolling with a Mercury ProKicker outboard is a consistent, reliable way to find and dial in a school of salmon. Once the captain finds the fish, he might spin around and break out the mooching gear for some rod-in-hand fishing.

Mooching is done with a 4- to 5-ounce sinker, a 6-foot leader and a cut plug herring that’s cut at an angle that makes it spin just right. The top anglers have their own spin, their own brines and unique ways of drifting over the salmon at just the right speed to get them to bite. 

Despite their predatory nature, salmon don’t just hammer the bait. This is where some skill – and expert coaching from the guide – will come in handy.

“If you set the hook as soon as you feel it, you’ll miss them,” said Endsley. “There’s a little technique to it where you have to be patient. You’ve got to have nerves of steel.

“Then when you hook up, it’s just straight power. The line evaporates off the reel, and you can’t stop them. You’ve just got to hang on.”

Salmon Conservation: Protecting a Cherished Natural Resource

King salmon, and all salmon in Alaska, are valuable resources in so many ways. Because they’re migratory, salmon are jointly regulated by the U.S. and Canada through the Pacific Salmon Commission.

Natural populations of fish are supported by stocked fish, with harvest regulations set based on a long history of research and immense amounts of data.

“We’re checked nearly every single day when we get back to the dock,” Endsley said. “They take scale samples to determine life history, and the heads of hatchery Chinook are sent to a lab that can determine what hatchery the king came from.”

It’s fascinating and necessary work, and Endsley and his crew are happy to support the efforts of the state to generate data on these fish. Because of these efforts by biologists and the angling community, Alaska offers the rare opportunity to interact with these fish.

“If you’re lucky enough to keep one,” Endsley added, “you have to cherish every bit of it.”

The mystique of king salmon is a force so powerful that thousands of anglers from around the world flock to places like Craig every summer. It’s a four-month celebration of angling and adventure.

All to experience the magic of fishing in Alaska.

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female fishing salmon
fresh catch
fileting salmon

How to Fish with Rob Endsley

When to go: Prince of Wales Sportfishing operates from late May through early September. The peak for king salmon usually runs from May through early August. Silver salmon fishing typically occurs from July through early September. Silvers school in big numbers and offer fast-paced, high-intensity fishing. Halibut and bottom fish are available all summer long.  

How to book a trip: Visit PrinceofWalesSportfishing.com to book your fishing adventure. Book early because slots fill up quickly.

Salmon fishing rules and regulations: Visit the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website for licensing information and fishing regulations.

Enter to win a trip: If you’d like a chance to win a trip to Alaska, including airfare, lodging, fishing with Rob Endsley and more, visit MercuryMarine.com/Getaway.

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