I am braced and furiously cranking my fishing line when the humpback whale bursts from the Pacific Ocean. Just a few hundred yards from the boat, the massive mammal arrows upward, throat pleats flared, and swallows the better part of a school of herring, washed down with a few thousand gallons of water. Its meal nearly comes with a side of fowl, as a bald eagle soars dangerously close to the titanic beast’s mouth.
“Alaskan traffic jam!” Everett Athorp says after the whale crashes back into the water. The head guide from Steamboat Bay Fishing Club—an 18-room resort and angling out-fitter located on Southeast Alaska’s Noyes Island—is a native to these parts, raised like his ancestors as a fisherman on some of the world’s most salmon-rich waters. “Once a whale came up and got the bait ball plus a bird,” he says. “It spit out the eagle, which popped up and swam to shore.”
Athorp’s tale momentarily takes my mind off my catch, causing the reel to spin away from me. With a stern “keep reeling,” however, my guide encourages me to fight on, and I soon hoist a wild king salmon, shiny and silver as the morning mist, onto our cabin cruiser.
“How big?” I ask as Athorp examines my prize; guests of Steamboat Bay regularly claim trophy fish of 50 pounds or more. “Maybe 28,” he exaggerates kindly, though a closer look reveals that my catch is hardly large enough to tip the scale.
Luckily, size isn’t everything at Steamboat Bay. Opened in 2013 on the site of a former salmon cannery, the lodge is as exclusive as it is isolated, accommodating just 16 guests in its great timber cabin adorned with fieldstone fireplaces and original works by Alaskan artists. Last year, the resort debuted the Residence, which offers eight additional suites set atop a fin-filled stream. Inside, transparent floors are a window to the salmon swimming below. In the vaulted great room, gourmet meals are a showcase of the sea’s riches, with fresh halibut, prawns, salmon, and oysters regularly on the menu.
After my mildly successful morning chasing king salmon with Athorp, I sip bourbon mellowed with alder-smoked ice in the great room and watch the first drops of an evening rain blur the ocean views into a luminous gray-on-gray watercolor. Suddenly, in the distance, a whale spouts and heaves, offering a fitting salute to another fine day in the Alaskan wilds.
Steamboat Bay Fishing Club, steamboatbay.com