The Reign of Waterfall

Whether booked for individuals or groups, this resort reels them in

By: Christopher Batin

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Waterfall Resort, on Prince of Wales Island,
specializes in upscale fishing trips.
Agents who arrange sport-fishing trips for their clients know that one fishing lodge does not fit all. Having covered the Alaska lodge scene for over 33 years, I have visited camps where the chef’s rusty cooking skills were worse than the rustic accommodations, and a five-star lodge with its luxurious teak furniture and smoked pheasant on rye made me contemplate the life of a fishing guide. Each lodge caters to a different client, and the agent who knows how to accurately match client to lodge will reap big profits, year after year.

Waterfall Resort, on the outside edge of Alaska’s Prince of Wales Island, is a saltwater fishing lodge that has broken all the rules of the fishing lodge business and succeeded where others have failed, especially in a region that receives over 160 inches of rain a year. Agents would be wise to know it.

“Waterfall has built its core business on large corporate clients like Ford Motor Company,” general manager Steve Cockrell told me as we sipped a beverage at the lodge’s general store. “Individuals come up as part of the group, and invariably, they return on their own, bringing friends and family, who bring theirs. We soon have four generations of families, from youngsters to 70-year-old diehards, making a stay at the resort a very high-quality family experience. The spin-offs we get from these corporate guests is significant.”

Waterfall is a saltwater fishing lodge, meaning anglers venture out in modern cabin-cruiser boats and pursue a variety of fish found in the fish-rich passages off Prince of Wales Island’s remote west coast. The resort requires neither long hikes across tundra nor refined fly-fishing skills to catch fish. The guides make catching fish easy much to the delight of first-time anglers like Deborah Cox Wood.

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Author Christopher Batin with a king
salmon caught at Waterfall Resort.
Wood takes in the scenery as our boat eases into a side eddy off the main current outside Bucareli Bay. Our guide is Sean Roberts, and few can match him at catching king salmon. We drop down herring rigs and in a matter of minutes, Wood’s rod bucks wildly from a rampaging, 30-pound king salmon.

She grabbed the rod from Roberts and began to reel.

“I’m a reeler, not a hooker,” she deadpanned.

Indeed, there’s a lot to hook. Salmon here are superb for both catching and eating, especially king salmon that range from 20 to 90 pounds. Halibut can reach over 400 pounds, although the average catch is 30 to 50 pounds, with lots of fish taken in the 80- to 200-pound range each month. In addition to coho, chum and pink salmon, Waterfall offers spectacular fishing for rockfish and halibut. Big ling cod also cruise the depths.

The Waterfall experience is more than just fishing, but exploring the marine wonders of Prince of Wales Island. After catching our limit each day, we cruised rugged wilderness shorelines, checked out seals, sea lions, whales, eagles and abundant marine birds.

Meals are buffet style with more food than clients can possibly eat in a sitting. Expect exquisite meats and fresh Alaska seafood each night, a soup, salad and fruit bar, fresh-baked breads, desserts, crab and oyster appetizers, assorted beverages and complimentary wine.

Breakfast selection includes fruits, bakery goods, yogurt, scrambled eggs, several types of breakfast meats, blintzes, pancakes or waffles. The quality of these all-you-can-eat meals seems more suited for foreign dignitaries than anglers in a remote area of Alaska.

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Waterfall features saltwater
fishing from boats.
I had caught my limit of king salmon each of the last two days. On day three, the halibut action continued nonstop until noon, when we anchored off a wilderness coastline and had lunch. Meals are ordered the day before from six different sandwiches and wraps, with myriad accompaniments.

Each guest also has an individual Thermos. Thanks to the skills of chef Stu Campbell, the daily hot item of soup, chili or stew can match any five-star restaurant. Waterfall marketing director Chuck Baird was fishing with me that day and said few high-end hotels can match the resort’s service.

“We have about 95 employees to 96 guests in a 90- to 100-day season,” he said, “which provides an employee-to-guest ratio of about one to one.

Occupancy rate is around 90 percent all season. We have a list of guests who have been returning each year for over 20 years, with some more than once a year.”

As Chuck hooked a fish, and my rod also doubled over, it was easy for me to understand why.


Waterfall Resort

Waterfall Facts
Check-In: It’s common for clients to have two or three, 50-pound boxes of fish fillets to take home. An Alaska Airlines representative works at the lodge to assign seats and check in luggage and fish boxes. These services help clients avoid airport hassles in Ketchikan.

Massage: In addition to treating “fishing fever,” Waterfall offers several massage options.

Fish Prep: All fish are filleted and vacuum packed, labeled, flash frozen and hand packed into fish boxes suited for FedEx or airline transport.

Fish Derby: Anglers compete in the $100,000 King of Kings Salmon Tournament that is open to all guests. Weekly and monthly prizes are awarded.

Accommodations: The resort’s 26 waterfront cabins are great for most clients. Groups of two or more might opt for the Egghouse Rooms or condo suites, many of which have their own fireplace, a great ocean view and kitchen facilities.

Phone and Internet: The lodge offers a land line phone, Internet service and satellite TV, but no cell-phone service or wireless Internet.

Lagoon Saloon: A popular after-fishing destination for guests, complete with full-service bar, phone, computers to check e-mail and view the day’s photos and a large-screen satellite TV, as well as ping pong, darts and pool table.

Rates: Prices range from $3,095 to $3,795 for three nights, four days. Price includes roundtrip Bush plane flight to resort from Ketchikan. Resort is commissionable to travel agents.