A last-minute trip to Alaska gave Dawn Houser, director of nutrition services at 43,000-student Collier County Public Schools in Naples, Fla., the opportunity to deep-sea fish. She quickly fell in love with the environment and thrill of Alaska’s wilderness.
Dawn Houser, Collier County Public Schools“I absolutely love going to Elfin Cove, Alaska, for deep-sea fishing. You’re out there in 700 feet of water and Glacier Bay is right there with the iceberg. There are orcas swimming by the boat. It’s so beautiful and wild. You can see sea lions at a distance. It’s just an absolutely amazing, pristine place to go. It’s the best fish you are ever going to eat. I think the rockfish and the halibut are better than the salmon.
I’ve fished in the Gulf of Mexico and down in Mexico off the coast. That is exciting, but it’s a different kind of fishing because you’re trolling, which is kind of boring as opposed to fishing in Alaska. I’ve always liked to fish, but I like big fish that taste good. When you’re fishing for bass or bream it’s not the same excitement. We fish in small boats in Alaska. There are only four people to a boat. The biggest fish I’ve caught was a 121-pound halibut. When you’re bringing them up from 700 feet, it’s like bringing a garage door up from 700 feet, so it’s very challenging.
I found out about Alaska because my mom and dad were supposed to take a cruise up there. My dad had melanoma removed from his back. The cruise was paid for and everything was ready to go. This was the day before they were supposed to leave for the cruise and I got a call from my mom saying everything was great except that my dad couldn’t go on the cruise because he would potentially be exposed to some germs and there wasn’t a doctor on board. She’d never been on a cruise, and I said, ‘I’ll by a plane ticket and go with you.’ My brother worked for the cruise line so he had gotten a really good deal for her. He was getting ready to leave the cruise line, so it was her last chance. That’s when I saw Elfin Cove.
When you throw your line into water that deep, you can hook anything. You don’t know what you’re getting until it comes up to the side of the boat. I caught a shark and got rid of that. I caught a lingcod, and they look like something out of the Ice Ages. You’re fishing in this really cold, deep water and there are all kinds of large, weird things down there. Primarily what you’re fishing for is halibut, rockfish, salmon and Pacific red snapper. It’s incredible. They have pictures in the lodge where I stayed of 300- and 400-pound halibut.
There was a whole pod of orca that came into the bay area of Elfin Cove. You see things that you see on National Geographic, like bears walking along the beach. We went all the way out to where the sea lions were and we were throwing fish to them. The wildlife is absolutely gorgeous. Where else could you be where you’re in a boat and a pod of orcas goes right by you with their fins out of the water? At one point we caught this rockfish that was poisonous to eat. We threw it back and watched a bald eagle swoop right down in front of us, pick up the fish and go back up to its nest.
I’ve been to Alaska three times. I suggest you go in the summer. I’m from Florida and I had on long underwear, jeans, a turtleneck, a good-sized jacket and my rain gear on over that with wool socks and the heater things you put in your gloves. That was in August and I was just comfortable. It was a little bit off for us because you get up there and it’s still light at 10 o’clock at night.”