You arrive at the Ketchikan Airport and quickly transfer to the Island Air Express counter. You excitedly secure your seatbelt and headphones inside the tiny nine-passenger aircraft. Within five minutes you’re soaring with the eagles over nameless snow-capped peaks, lush evergreen and a blatant lack of signs of population.
Seemingly uninhabited landscape stretches for what looks like forever. You think, perhaps this is what the rest of America was like at one time – perhaps this really is the final frontier.
You land at the Klawock/Craig airport. Your lodging options include the famous Fireweed Lodge in Klawock, Ruth Ann’s in Craig, or the secluded Northern Spell located on Wadleigh Island across the water. After choosing newbie Northern Spell, you are transported from floatplane to island in an open skiff. You march up the lodge’s steep dock and begin to curse the hour’s low tide, but are shortly interrupted when you catch a glimpse of the most grandeur display of stars you’ve ever seen.
Your wakeup call arrives at 4:30 a.m. The early bird catches the worm, they say – or in your case, the salmon. After the lodge fits you into some durable Xtratuf boots and fisherman overalls, you begin the pilgrimage every salmon-seeking city slicker must take. Your guide heads to Eleven Mile, where you patiently troll until the line finally pulls.
You begin to reel in what seems like a 70-pound beast. It’s an ongoing battle between man and fish, powered by sheer adrenaline. When he finally surfaces, you catch a glimpse of his silver scales. Maybe he’s no 70-pounder, but you love him just the same because he’s yours. He is netted and lands in the boat bottom with a loud thud.
Exhausted after a long day of fishing, you head home but make one last stop. The boat cruises past a lonely buoy out in the middle of the water. The buoy’s 100-foot rope is pulled until a metal cage surfaces. Seven Dungeness crabs and a single starfish – so fat from eating your catch that it’s spewing crabmeat – are visible. The crab trap is emptied and re-baited, the starfish and female crabs are returned to the sea, and the males are reserved for tonight’s dinner spread.
After a feast of Dungeness, king salmon and bull kelp martinis, you retire to bed feeling much like the starfish from earlier.
In the morning you’re awoken, and you load the aluminum dinghy. Today is sightseeing day, beginning with Canoe Point Falls, a 130-foot drop in the middle of a mossy, wooded forest. The next few hours are filled with krill-happy whales, mollusk-chomping sea otters, salmon-guzzling seal colonies and fish-in-talons eagles. Like a Thanksgiving that never ends, all tiers of the animal hierarchy feast constantly here.
At low tide, your guide makes a stop at a nearly submerged rock island. You’re thrown a five-gallon bucket and shovel and instructed to dig. The first fifteen minutes feel like unpaid labor. But you quickly abandon this idea when you strike gold. Mollusk gold, that is – clams. The burning sensation in your arm muscles lessens with each Walkman-sized clam you uncover. You, too, will feast like the sea otters tonight.
Before heading home you dock at Craig Harbor and venture through the "Golden Triangle." Named “triangle” after the town’s only three watering holes, all within 30 strides of one another, and “golden” perhaps after the color of the liquid in the bottles and glasses of loggers, fisherman and tourists alike, this area is the place for socializing or hell-raising, depending on the nightly level of testosterone.
Luckily, no fisherman vs. logger duels are in the mix tonight, and you’re free to roam between The Hill Bar, Ruth Ann’s and the Craig Inn without worrying that a barstool may going flying past at any moment. Post-cocktail you retire to the lodge for a meal of fresh steamed clams.
Stuffed, you sit relaxing under the star-studded sky by the fire on your last night in Alaska, wondering how you will return to the Lower 48 after this.