Global Journeys with Jill Dutton

Ketchikan, Alaska Series: An In-depth Look at Alaska Fishing at a Remote Lodge with Waterfall Resort and Steamboat Bay Fishing Club

August 22, 2023 Jill Dutton Season 1 Episode 8
Global Journeys with Jill Dutton
Ketchikan, Alaska Series: An In-depth Look at Alaska Fishing at a Remote Lodge with Waterfall Resort and Steamboat Bay Fishing Club
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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Welcome to Part 2 of the Ketchikan series. This week takes us deep into the heart of Ketchikan, Alaska, known globally as the Salmon Capital of the World. We give you a backstage pass to two of its top-notch fishing resorts, Waterfall Resort Alaska and Steamboat Bay Fishing Club. We promise you'll be hooked as we dive into an animated conversation with Chuck Baird, the director of corporate business development for the Waterfall Group. Chuck unravels the thread of the resorts' exceptional amenities, services, and accommodations. He also shares his personal journey, deeply rooted in Ketchikan, and takes us aboard the unique custom-designed North River Sounder boats. 

Our Alaskan adventure does not end there, as we charter the culinary and lodging landscape of Waterfall Resort and Steamboat Bay. The flavors of the seafood-rich buffet, the rustic charm of the cabins, and the camaraderie of picnic-style boat lunches will leave you savoring the essence of Alaskan hospitality. Experience the enchantment of winding down the day, exchanging tales of the day's catch, and the joy of onsite fish processing that lets you take home your prized catch. 

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The Ketchikan series continues next week where we’ll meet Joe Williams, Jr. who was born and raised in Saxman, Alaska. He is of Tlingit descent and is from the Eagle Tribe within the T

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Speaker 1:

Welcome to Global Journeys with Jill Dutton, the captivating travel podcast that takes you on an extraordinary adventure around the world. I'm your host, jill Dutton, and I am thrilled to be your guide through the mesmerizing tapestry of cultures, landscapes and experiences that await us. Global Journeys with Jill Dutton is more than just a travel podcast. It's an exploration of humanity itself. Through the power of storytelling, we illuminate the lives of the remarkable individuals we encounter along the way, whether it's through the eyes of a fishing guide, a distillery owner, a mixologist, a historian, chef, or even a farmer. Each person we meet adds a rich layer to the narrative of culture and place. In this podcast, we embark on a transformative journey where the focus goes beyond the typical tourist attractions. Instead, we dive deep into the hearts and souls of the places we visit, uncovering the hidden gems and untold stories that make each destination truly unique. Join me as we venture off the beaten path, seeking authenticity, connection and a deeper understanding of the world we inhabit. Together, we'll unravel the tapestry of cultures, one story at a time. Although my writing career began in the late 90s, when I created and launched a wellness publication called Evolving Magazine, since 2015 I've worked as a travel writer on a mission to seek out the locally celebrated foods, liquor, trends, outdoor activities and stories of those I meet along the way. My work has been published in Wine Enthusiast, a far woman's world, first for women, insider road trippers, modern farmer chilled magazine and many more digital and print publications. I'm also the creator of Global Plates the people we meet, the food they eat a syndicated column. Creating this podcast is the next step in my journey of sharing the stories of the people I've met along the way. So pack your curiosity, leave your preconceived notions behind and let's embark on Global Journeys with Jill Dutton, where each episode promises to inspire, educate and awaken the wanderlust within us all. Today's episode of Global Journeys with Jill Dutton is part two of a series that looks at the culture, food and drinks, fishing and beauty of Ketchikan, alaska. In the first episode, we met Sean Heisman, owner of Ketchikan's Only Craft Brewery. If you're interested in listening to that episode, be sure and go to the show index and hear his exciting journey as an Alaska Brewerer. Today we'll discover Ketchikan's claim to fame, known as the salmon capital of the world sport fishing. There are numerous fishing guides and companies, but today we look at two exclusive resorts that cater to every level of angler, from families to avid fishermen. Southeast Alaska, where both Waterfall Resort Alaska and Steamboat Bay Fishing Club are situated, is famous for its world-class fishing. The rich ocean waters are teeming with King Salmon, silver Salmon, pacific halibut, linkod and Rockfish, not to mention the humpback whales, orca, otters, bald eagles, puffins and other sea life you may see, easily accessible from the lower 48,. It's just a 90-minute flight from Seattle to Ketchikan. Then both resorts require a short float plane ride with stunning views that take you to the resorts. All resort is on Prince of Wales Island, renovated from a historic cannery, now fishing resort on fishing grounds that helped establish Alaska's economy for over 100 years. It offers a variety of accommodations, from townhomes to suites and individual cabins, plus a saloon and scenic walk through the Pungus National Forest, the world's largest temperate rainforest, to its namesake waterfall. Steamboat Bay is on Noyes Island, a small island close to prime fishing grounds, with its primary luxury lodge that holds up to 16 guests and the neighboring smaller residents that accommodates up to 8 guests. Steamboat Bay Fishing Club is known for its personalized, family-like service, including an open bar, private chef, sauna, hot tub, huge porches overlooking the bay, plus comfortable private accommodations for each guest. A fleet of 27 custom-designed 26-foot North River Sounder boats is shared between the resorts, built for safety, performance, comfort and convenience, all feature heated cabins, air suspension seats, private heads, powerful fuel-injected mercury outboards and a full complement of Furuno Marine electronics. Expert US Coast Guard license guides share well over 200 years of guiding wild Alaska fishing trips and put the four guests entrusted to each captain on the bite. I've been fortunate to fish at both Waterfall Resort and Steamboat Bay Fishing Club. Although similar, each has a unique vibe, so be sure to check the show notes to find links to their websites. I've written numerous articles about Ketchikan as well as my experiences fishing at the resorts. Visit Global Journeys with JillDuttoncom and check out the Alaska tab located under destinations to read more. As a novice angler, I was awed by the experience at both fishing lodges. I took home between 25 and 50 pounds of fish each time Kohou and King salmon, halibut, ling cod and black bass that I enjoyed fresh from my freezer for nearly a year each time. The float plane experience is bucket list worthy on its own and nothing compared to the complete immersion in nature you experience on the islands. I feel truly blessed to have experienced a once-in-a-lifetime trip twice. Today we will meet Chuck Baird. Chuck has for many years had one foot in Alaska and one in Hawaii. After graduating from the University of Hawaii with a focus on travel industry management, chuck worked as regional director of sales for Sheridan Hotels in Hawaii. In 1988, when Waterfall Resort Alaska completed its transformation from a historic cannery to a fishing resort, chuck started working with the Waterfall Group. One of the first customers Chuck brought to the resort was the Southern California Association of Four Dealers, now going on their 41st year of visiting Waterfall Chuck as director of corporate business development. Chuck grew up in Ketchikan with a mom who owned and ran five restaurants downtown. As a result, he has deep roots in Ketchikan, with many lifelong friends and a deep appreciation for both the town and for Alaska. Ever since, he has been an active advocate for Alaska as a unique and exciting destination for both leisure and corporate guests. So, without further ado, please join me in welcoming Chuck Baird to Global Journeys with Jill Dutton. Chuck, thank you for joining us today and sharing your insights on Alaska fishing. We can't wait to embark on this incredible journey with you. Chuck, how are you today?

Speaker 2:

I'm doing pretty good.

Speaker 1:

I've got to say your job just sounds ideal, like for someone who loves to fish. It just sounds like a perfect mix. Can you maybe start out by introducing yourself and sharing a bit about your background, kind of what brought you to the Waterfall group and your passion for fishing?

Speaker 2:

Well, yeah, thanks, jill. I grew up in Ketchikan and grew up in a restaurant atmosphere, so it didn't do a whole lot of fishing except down in the local docks and that sort of thing. But after spending several years in Hawaii in the travel industry I wanted to get a little closer to home and I knew a waterfall resort is actually created. A couple of guys from high school were involved in the early days back in. I think it was 1982 or so when they started launching. So I reached out to them and said hey, you know, I want to get a little closer to home, my mom's getting a little older and we put something together and I joined them back in 1988.

Speaker 1:

Wow, that's great, oh my gosh. So if we could, let's talk about the two different destinations. The Waterfall group has Waterfall Resort as well as Steamboat Bay Fishing Lodge, right, is that correct?

Speaker 2:

Yeah. So Waterfall Resort got started in 1982 and it had lived its life as a fish processing cannery, starting in 1912 and growing up through the 20s and 30s. There was a big fire out there back in the day, but it was one of the largest canning facilities in Southeast Alaska. It was originally owned by the A&P markets. Some of your folks on the East Coast back in the 50s and 60s will remember A&P markets at Landing and Pacific Tea Company and they opened up operations. They had six canneries in Southeast Alaska and they branded them under various names and they shipped throughout the world. And so We've had a great run since 88 when I came on board. We're now celebrating 40th year with Waterfall as an operational lodge and some exciting sport fishing there. And then Steamboat Bay came on about 10 years ago and it was a smaller resort. Waterfall could host 92 guests a day. We've got 27 boats all the same type. Steamboat Bay was just our next level up. If you determine things like airline seats and such, if you go first class or business class, waterfall would be business class. Steamboat Bay would be your first class operation and we host 24 guests there in two facilities. The club is made up of the lodge for 16 guests, and then the residence is made up of eight guests, total 24.

Speaker 1:

Wonderful and I'm just curious are most groups? Are they groups of four that come in then?

Speaker 2:

Primarily again with Waterfall, groups of two all the way up to buyouts. We have corporate buyouts, family buyouts and things like that. You can imagine a large group of 90 guests. Definitely With Steamboat Bay it's always groups of four and that works out pretty well. We fish four guests per boat, two guests per room. So we kind of like those numbers.

Speaker 1:

That does make sense. Wonderful, well, how would someone get there? Is it are most of your guests? Do they fly into Seattle and then make their way to each individual fishing lodge?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, basically guests will fly from hometown USA via Seattle the Seattle is your hub to Ketchikan. Last year lines features probably four or five flights in and out every day of Ketchikan. In the summer Delta has a flight in there. It's actually very easy to access Ketchikan from all parts, especially the Western region. Guests can fly in and land in Ketchikan at 11 am in the morning and that's a perfect match for our float planes at 1230 going out to Waterfall. So you virtually can say wake up in LA and be fishing and catching fish at Waterfall by 230 in the afternoon, alaska time.

Speaker 1:

That's fantastic.

Speaker 2:

And then it works pretty well. It's kind of a fun thing and it is easy travel to Alaska from all parts.

Speaker 1:

Yes, I agree, it was very enjoyable on our trip and, like you said, the first day we were on the water. And so then in Ketchikan they pick up the seaplane and that's. Is it usually four to six? I guess that they hold yeah.

Speaker 2:

We've got a couple of the two or three float plane companies, the seaplane companies that we utilize here Seawind and Misty Fjords and they have two types of plane. They have a Beaver, which is the workhorse around Southeast Alaska, and they will hold five, maybe six guests. Everything is all on weight and balance. And then they have a larger aircraft called a Turban Otter and that can hold up to 10 guests as well, and so we're flying people crossed from Ketchikan out to Craig, alaska or Waterfall, depending on which lodge they're going to. But it's a fun, a flight-sea tour. I mean you get to cross over the inside Passage Waterway, you get to cross over Prince of Wales Island.

Speaker 1:

And aside.

Speaker 2:

No, prince of Wales is the fourth largest island in the United States, so it's a big island, but you start edging out in what I call the, you know, almost to the edge of the earth. You're heading out to the West Coast, or Prince of Wales Island, where both Waterfall and Steamboat Bay are located. And they've just traditionally been huge sport fishing and commercial fishing grounds, obviously why they built the Canaries Air.

Speaker 1:

Yes, yes, and I must say the scenery from the sea plane was the most spectacular I've ever seen from an airplane.

Speaker 2:

It was just yeah, it's nice they don't fly too high and they get to see some great vistas at that level.

Speaker 1:

That was beautiful. So, as far as the type of angler should get his guests because, like I said, when I came in it was a group of four women and when I was there I saw families, I saw groups of men. Obviously, some of them are corporate retreats as well Do you just get this variety of guests or is I would think? I guess I had the misconception that it was all going to be experienced professional anglers, but I was really impressed with the mix of experience that people had.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, no, it is a destination, and I think when you travel into Alaska, a lot of the sport fishing destinations are set up for, yes, who may be a fish bass in their backyard with their tad or something like that, but all the lodges are keenly set up to teach folks that have not fished these kinds of waters be able to handle the gear and that type of thing. So we attract all types and levels of people who want to fish to people who fish all over the world. I think what is important is the areas that you're fishing are legendary for good quality fishing, both in numbers as well as quality and categories of fish that you can maintain in one day on the water. And so everybody, even if they haven't fished, they catch that first King salmon. It's amazing how hooked they get, so to speak. That's unintended.

Speaker 1:

It literally was just thrilling to catch that first fish or to get like a massive halibut. They just they go flat and they fight you the whole way up, and so it's very, it's satisfying, it's, you know, I mean it's really an experience unlike anything else I've ever experienced. Can you tell me about the accommodations and amenities, I guess the difference between waterfall well, not necessarily the difference, but just you know what's the experience like at Waterfall Resort versus Steamboat Bay Fishing Lodge.

Speaker 2:

Well, the both lodges are very common in certain areas. We're about 20, 25 miles apart, so we generally fish the same areas. All the boats and everything are basically that are indeed for several years, and so they are well equipped and safe. They're 27 foot aluminum boats. They got four shock absorbing seats kind of like the E-Ticket at Disneyland back in the day, but we've got complete electronics radar. We have two communication systems on there and everybody, all the guides, stay in contact with each other. So the fishing platform, as we call it, for guests, very comfortable. They also have heads on board, which is a natural feature that we have over a lot of other destinations as well. So comfort, enjoyment, so they have the best time for the experience out in the water. And in terms of accommodations, well, I was just going to say in terms of accommodations, waterfall Resort being that old cannery style, when you have a chance to take a look on our website we've got two big rolls of cabins, some 26 cabins. They were the early workers cabins, that kind of like New England cottages, but will house a lot of guests there. We have, above the general store, we have eight rooms there and we have about eight different suites as well, at Waterfall Resort, steamboat Bay is set up a little bit different. It's kind of like a big ski lodge type of a thing. You have a center lodge area, big fireplace, big dining room, and your rooms are located to the left and to the right wings of the facility.

Speaker 1:

Okay, and what I was going to say when you were talking about what all there is available on the boats. The lunches were fantastic and it just really stuck with me. As far as you know, we each had a. They would pack a picnic lunch, basically, but you could have fried chicken or you could have a sandwich or a wrap. It was wonderful and the food overall at Waterfall it's buffet style, is that correct?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, no, thank you for that. One of the things that is important beyond sport fishing is getting back, having a hot shower, comfortable rooms and some good food to eat, and so we've worked very hard on that. But yes, at Waterfall Resort it's a with 90 guests in the dining room and we have a seating reservations and things of that we set up for everybody, but it is a large buffet. We have an appetizer area that's set up and you can have a dungeonous crack crab on the appetizer area. You'll have sashimi, you can have oysters that are grown locally. Just to kick things off for you, you can have a soup full on salad bar and then we always feature that old term surf and turf. We've got a good meat, but a lot of times we will have in rotation. We'll have elk duck, things like that. Definitely, seafood could be ling con, halibut or salmon, but the best of all is the soft service ice cream with all the sprinkles. It's amazing how people are if they're away from home and they're not supposed to eat that. They're right there getting a mix between the vanilla and the chocolate.

Speaker 1:

That's great. It was amazing food and then after this is at Waterfall, after dinner people would go to the saloon and you'd walk down the boardwalk. I mean it was really a coin. I mean I know it was a larger group, but it was such an intimate experience and all of the fishermen or anglers you know, you bond together after a day of fishing and sharing stories and it was really an amazing experience. And set on an island, so I mean it's just so unique. I guess was my point.

Speaker 2:

You're absolutely right. It is a bonding experience and although you have 90 guests, everybody's there for the common understanding that they're going to experience not only sport fishing but the wildlife out there. The whales. Occasionally you'll see a pot of orcas but puffins and sea lions and places of bounding with eagles. So they all have that and they're all taking pictures and they're sharing their pictures and different things, but the highlight is when everybody comes in off the water at 430, both that steamboat and waterfall and everybody. All the fish boxes are being unloaded. We have two fish stations where we can hang the fish. People can take pictures. You know you got a special large King salmon caught, special photos and things like that. So it's that 430 timeframe. Everybody's enjoying everybody's catch of the day.

Speaker 1:

Yes, and speaking of which, so tell me about the processing of the fish then, so the guests don't have to do any of that, right that it just comes off the boat and is immediately processed on site.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, fortunately. I mean, we built our program around being all inclusive and one of the features is that we have about seven or eight guys in the cutting room as each one of the totes come in their ice down and then one tote from one boat goes up on the cutting table and everything is clean, cut clean to get in and they're cut into what I call family portions, meaning that they're like a pound, maybe pound and a half, depending on the type of fish, whether it be a King salmon, coho, halibut, ling, cod, that type of thing. They're all individually wrapped, vacuum packed, and then they're marked for what the type of fish is and then they're flash frozen, takes about four or five hours, gets good and hard and each guest has their own fish box and so if you're a group of four fishing together, you're pulling your fish and then we just make sure that each guest has same amount of weight roughly, and the categories of fish to take home. We wrap those boxes up 50 pounds. When you still got you're still out there fishing then we'll open up another box as well.

Speaker 1:

It is such a treat, I just have to say, to be able to pull that out and have you know, cuz I'm in Kansas where we we don't have good fresh seafood here, and so to pull that you know a king or a coho salmon out of the freezer and and cook it up, or the halibut or the cod or the black bass, I mean all of it was just such a treat to have that at home.

Speaker 2:

You know it's funny. Guess, guess, we'll get back home. And all of a sudden he got neighbors coming out and say hey, I heard your went back to Alaska, did you? Did you go fishing by chance?

Speaker 1:

Oh, my driver Always helps me bring the box in so that he can get some one of each.

Speaker 2:

That's good and just a side note on getting your fish home, jill, you recall that at waterfall we have an Alaska Airlines ticket counter. We we employed two Alaska Airlines personnel. We have a Alaska Airlines computer that spits out both luggage tags for check luggage and your boarding pass. So virtually just like you would at an airport counter at Waterfall, guests can check in, get a boarding pass. We tag their fish boxes and their check luggage and we move that. We're fortunate. We have TSA approval badges, all that kind of stuff. So when you check in at waterfall for departure we manage all of your luggage and fish box behind the scenes directly to the Alaska Airlines plane. You have your boarding pass, you fly into catch can on the float plane and you head right up through TSA check-in and Pony up for your flight home.

Speaker 1:

That is so handy it really is. Can you can walk us through what like a typical day would be then? So Not the first day, the first day you get there by sea plane and you get out on the water, but you know for the additional days what time does it start and how long are you on the water, and just kind of what's what's a day like?

Speaker 2:

Well, we like to get you up early. Breakfast starts at five. You don't have to be there right at five, but all the boats want to leave at 6 30. The guides are Set up, ready to go do your lunches on board. Like you said, everything is ready to go at 6 30, so you'll fish from 6 30 in the morning until 4 30 in the afternoon and generally through the night the guides are talking to each other, they know what areas this should been hitting, they know the tides, they also watch the weather as well and so Basically they have, they mentally start off with a game plan in the morning where they want to be and where they want to fish first and where they want to move on. And so there might be going after King salmon early, or they might go after the coho, or maybe it's bottom fish If you want to get out a little bit further out, and the weather and the and the water conditions are just right. So it's it's kind of a work in process and then, with the communication going on between boat to boat and we find out that there's a little bit more action in a certain area and it's close by. Well, you know the boats, the boat guide will figure out, say, hey, let's head on up there and see how well we can do there. So it just kind of morphs through the day and of course, if you run across Some whales and things like that, a lot of times will Will just stop fishing a little bit and chase a little whale there in the distance and and be able to take some pictures.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I, on my first visit, our guide took us and he just shut off the boat and we just sat and and Listen, you know, I mean listen and took it in. It was just this incredible Experience of seeing and being in the space, you know, when we weren't fishing. So thank you for that. So let me see here. One of my favorite parts was, like I said, the Gathering together at the end of the day for the happy hour, first off the Steamboat Bay. The happy hour was just amazing, you know, and but everyone came together and would share their stories. There were stories of, like somebody getting catching a hitchhiker, and you know different things like that. So I'm just curious, do you have a great fishing story from any of your times?

Speaker 2:

You know I've been fortunate. I've been on board now 35 years and so I've been fortunate to have been on the water out there with with very various guests and things like that. It's not so much a fishing story for me but for me the excitement being on the side of the fence that I work for the resort. I get excited, especially for the families that come up, especially three generation families.

Speaker 1:

Yes.

Speaker 2:

And if there's ever a story, it happens with them on the water together sharing that time. It could be a grandson, a father and a grandfather. That, to me, is really kind of the story.

Speaker 1:

I agree. I met a group that who was there, that, like you said, three generations and I believe the grandfather had been coming for 20 years and it's something that they shared together every year as a family and it was very important to them. So I agree, thank you for that and anything that I forgot to mention that you might want to discuss.

Speaker 2:

No, I think a lot of your listeners out there in Alaska has been a great destination. It's always on everybody's bucket list. I think it's easy to get to. There are a lot of places in Southeast Alaska, all through to the interior. There are so many little nooks and crannies that we get a tremendous amount of cruise ship passengers coming to Alaska every year and we get a lot of people off the cruise ships that say, within five years, return back to Alaska and they do that because they want to go to the smaller towns, they want to go to the visit of the smaller villages, they really want to spend time in the town overnight and really enjoy, say, the totem parks, some of the local things to do, and so we see an increase more of people wanting to spend two and three days in various little towns up and down the coast. In the interior you really get to know Alaska and it is easy to get to, and so it just creates that ongoing experience and we've been fortunate with a lot of our guests that keep returning every year and they return because the experience generally is different every time.

Speaker 1:

Wonderful. Well, chuck, thank you so much. I myself can't wait to return again and bring home up to 50 pounds of fish. It's just, it's something absolutely unique. I mean, it just stands out because I've been on a lot of trips in the past eight years and it's just in the top three probably, but it's, it's one of my favorite destinations. So thank you so much for being here and talking to us about Steamboat Bay, as well as Waterfall Resort.

Speaker 2:

Well, good Thanks, Jill. We look forward to having you get back and All the best to all of your listeners.

Speaker 1:

The Ketchikan series continues next week where we'll meet Joe Williams Jr, who was born and raised in Saxman, alaska. He is a Tlingit descent and is from the Eagle tribe within the Tlingit tribe. Joe was the first Tlingit Alaska native to be elected as mayor of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough and previously served as the city of Saxman mayor, making him the first elected official to hold both the borough and city mayoral positions in the state of Alaska. Joe also served as Saxman's tribal president for 12 years and on the Alaska Intertribal Council and National Congress of American Indians. During his career, joe has brought people and organizations together for the betterment of Alaska's native communities and people. Joe has also owned and operated his own tour company, where the Eagle walks. For 31 years. He offers historical walking tours through Ketchikan and lectures on cruise ships and at other venues, weaving together history and stories about life as a Tlingit in Southeast Alaska. So stay tuned for this series as we uncover the hidden treasures of Ketchikan Alaska, one fascinating local story at a time. Let the captivating narratives, authentic voices and unique perspectives paint a vivid portrait of a community that thrives on tradition, innovation and a profound connection to its roots. Until next time, may your travels be filled with endless curiosity, open-hearted encounters and transformative adventures. Safe travels, fellow explorers, and keep wandering.

Alaska Fishing and Waterfall Resort
Chuck Baird and the Waterfall Experience
Waterfall Resort Accommodations, Dining, and Fish Processing
Fishing and Travel in Alaska
Uncovering the Hidden Treasures of Ketchikan