Heading north to Alaska’s Waterfall Resort is no ordinary fishing trip. The legendary spot is on many an angler’s bucket list. And for good reason: The former salmon cannery turned sport-fishing lodge, a 52-acre property set amid Tongass National Forest on Prince of Wales Island, has been the top place to chase the elusive king for nearly four decades.
The story begins in 1912, when the historic Waterfall Cannery opened its doors. It survived Prohibition, a labor strike and changing ownership before business began booming. The facilities expanded and operations grew over the next several decades before the cannery ultimately shuttered its doors in 1969. The property sat unused for the next 15 years, until it was eventually converted into a sport-fishing lodge. In 1980, the Waterfall Group (based in nearby Ketchikan) took ownership and began the restoration process.
Today, the original clapboard buildings are in full use. What was once an office with crew quarters above has become the general store and lodge rooms. Additional crew housing has been converted into a village of waterfront cabins. And the Egg House, the former site of the bustling roe-processing operations, today serves as Waterfall’s premium suites.
The only way to get there is by floatplane. And the all-inclusive adventure begins quite literally the second you disembark. In a whirlwind assembly line of sorts, you get your rain gear, your license and your king salmon tag — and off you go.
Each boat holds one experienced guide and just four fishers, making for a superb ratio. Novices quickly learn the rules of the water. The silvers put on a spectacular show, leaping into the air while on the line. The large, flat halibut are like reeling in a barn door. And there’s nothing quite like hooking a king, watching your line run out and having to battle the beast into the boat.
Back at home base, the fish are weighed and the bragging rights confirmed. Anglers swap stories at dinner, a convivial affair featuring irresistible cuisine from Dungeness crab to filet mignon to elk tenderloin. The fish tales continue at the Lagoon Saloon, then it’s time to hit the hay to start all over again the next day.
Best of all, you get to take a part of the experience with you. Your daily bounty is immediately processed, flash frozen, vacuum packed and placed in a wet-lock box that gets checked as luggage on your flight home. Months later, you’ll still be serving wild Alaskan salmon you caught yourself — that is, if you can practice some restraint and ration it out along the way. The stories, on the other hand, are guaranteed to last a lifetime.
Read this article as it appears in the magazine.