Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Fresh Alaska

As promised, pictures from this past weekend.

My bosses wife owns a rental cabin in Girdwood, about two hours from here or a long half hour from Anchorage, nestled at the end of the the Turnagin Arm. Girdwood is home to Aleyeska, Alaska's premier ski resort. (for the record, Alaska's premier skiing and riding is not lift serviced) After several weeks without any time off, and a vacant weekend at the rental, my boss thought it was about time I take a day for myself. On Saturday afternoon after finishing cleaning the day's catch, I, along with one of the guides, Roger (not his real name) and his wife, Annete (ditto), the camp cook, headed off.

The chalet

With plenty of snow on the upper slopes, I originally considered bringing my board and boots and getting some runs in. They would have been short however, and I already hiked Aleyeska a few weeks ago when I went to Girdwood to clean the the chalet. Instead I opted to hike Crow Pass.

The 14 trail connects two ends of the Chugach National forest, but I was content to crest the pass and take a look at Raven Glacier on the opposite side.

An early view back down the lower Crow Creek Valley

Columbines were still growing aplenty even in the trail's lower reaches.

A helicopter flew overhead on my way up, just remember that...

Below treeline variably sized patches of snow remained in areas deluged by avalanches this winter. Here a few plants emerge from the frozen ground like it's late April.

A view back down the pass as I began to hike out of the treeline

Higher up, the trail crossed large patches of snow in the gullies. There's only two ways these patterns get imprinted in them too!

Twin falls below the pass

Just below the pass is an A-frame forest service cabin. A massive snow field hat the top made me wish I'd brought a pair of skate skis. Here, the outhouse sits buried in 5 feet of snow. If La Nina keeps it up, there'll be a glacier here real soon!

Crystal Lake at the top of the pass, still partially under ice

From the top, I hiked a short ways down in to the Eagle River Valley

After dropping down a couple hundred feet I debated crossing the gully and having lunch next to the glacier or going up for a better view. Roaring water, audible even from my vantage encouraged me to try up.

I headed up the scree field to this medieval looking protrusion
Here's the same view of my route up to the cliff from the trail. Cameras just can't do these mountains justice. I even thought it'd be a quick 20 minutes, 45 minutes of steep scrambling later, I was happy to sit down and have a little lunch.

Remember that helicopter? He came back, this time I was looking down on them. That was something else, I could even see one of the occupants point at me. Weird

Full with some of my own smoked sockeye, bagels, and cream cheese, I moved back down the slope, taking my time on the loose rock. One slip could really change the course of an afternoon in these mountains.
Not sure

On my way back the clouds lifted a bit.

Looking back

Weekly update:
Last week was our best ever for kings. We had two over 70lbs in the same day, along with three in the 60 lb range, and over a half dozen 40+. None of our clients got skunked all week. Unfortunately the red fishing slowed down big time. Daily runs calculated by the sonar readings down river never topped 15,000, and several were under 10,000. rumours abound that the river will be shut down, and already the salt has been closed. Hopefully, with the nets out of the water, we'll see a strong rebound.
The weather has been less than impressive with rain six of of seven days, most the time constantly, and a typical high of 58 or 59. Snow was reported in the Chugach outside Anchorage mid week.
Time is ticking up here, I need to spend less time fishing and blogging, mostly fishing though, and start trying to nail down a job for the fall.

Saturday, July 19, 2008



My arms hang limp at my sides, my shoulders slouch forward. I've cleaned, vacuum sealed, and stored an easy 500 pounds of fish. 170lbs of halibut is enroute to camp with a group of happy clients, but I'll have them put it on ice.

I walk into my trailer to check email, sleep could come easily, instead I drink a coke and munch on some of the salmon I smoked this past weekend.

Shorts and a warm fleece, I'm knee deep in the icy Kenai. The moon, bright orange, spotlights a sea of swirling dorsals all reflecting the moons glow. My line goes taught, ten feet away a sockeye leaps three feet into the night air. I'll have my day's limit just in time to for tomorrow.
You can walk on water in this river right now, if you know how.

A friend of camp, aged beyond his years, silhouetted in the moon's glare on the water, rod bowed, fish leaping in the distance. I stand nearby, net in hand, the water lapping up to my waist, watching a fish fight a battle it lost long before it ever entered this river.
Limited out, again

I crawl into my bunk, so tired, I can't even force myself to roll over and change positions

The morning light has already begun to creep in as I drift out of consciousness, though even in my sleep, I keep fishing.

It's official, I'm coming out and saying it here and now: I have an addictive personality. Once, I was addicted to bicycles, before that, perhaps it was nutella. Now, it's fishing. I'm finishing this post at 2 AM, after a day when I probably should have passed out hours ago from a long days toils.
The update for the week, the sockeye, or ed salmon are in. Thursday saw 68,000 enter the river, since then the numbers have stayed below 30k a day, and no longer can we "walk on water" but suffice to say, the fishing is good. The guides take clients out around 4 am and have them back by 7 at the latest. I' greeted with several hundred pounds of fish to clean each morning, and depending on how good the fishermen and women we have in camp are, and how thick the reds are running, I may be busy cleaning fish until late at night. These are the toughest days to be a fish cleaner, but the most exciting for fishing nuts.
The brown bear headed across river last week, perfectly timed before the flood of reds, (the river bed below my cleaning deck is red with carcases). I watched him walk along the opposite shore last week. Hopefully he's found a reason to stay as I'm much more comfortable watching him from across the big river than across the lawn.
King Salmon season ends in only a week and a half!
I only have about a month left of steady employment, I gotta start fishing for jobs; the big question is, up here or back down in the lower 48??

Monday, July 14, 2008

10:15 on the Kenai

Well this week saw a host of fish landed in camp. Ryan brought in a 46 inch king for some clients on the lower river, while Angelo caught a 40 pounder on Sunday. The week's biggest catch was a 120lb chocolate lab Angelo, Joe and I rescued from the swift current on Saturday. Some clients at a camp a half mile upstream let their dog wade too deep and off it went. By the time we reached the pooch with the boat he was nearly beat, and had only a few minutes left in the icy waters. Additionally we've got a half ton problem wandering around camp. A bruin is rummaging through trash cans in our and the neighbour's camps as well as pulling carcases out. Only an hour before I made this post he went charging through the scrub behind my trailer. I've seen him twice now, and his pillaging has pulled me from sleep more than once. Fortunately he's pretty timid; the two times I saw him he took off, and has done the same when my boss and a client saw him in the early morning. We're all hoping as camp begins to fill up that he'll move on and not become a problem. Until them, I tend to stay in the open as I clean up camp in the dim twilight before heading to bed each night.

Here's a story I wrote the night I landed my first Kenai King all by myself from shore. It's a bit dated now, but hope you enjoy.

It's 10:15 Monday night on the Kenai River in Sterling, Alaska.
Two hours ago the sun emerged, and for the first time in almost a full week, blue skies dominate above. A warm peach gold light hangs on the very tops of the spruce across the river and on the horizon, rolling magenta clouds travel out to sea through the solstice night.
Camp is quiet this week, the few guests we have are either out or sacked out, so with my responsibilities done for the day, I decide to take a couple casts and see if any of the kings rolling out front are interested.Though you wouldn't know it if you watched the hundreds of fish surfacing in front of camp, this year's been a slow one for salmon fisherman all over the state. Last week our guides struggled to bring but a few fish back to camp, and without any exaggeration, we did somewhere between well and phenomenal compared to the competition. The kings have been slow and a bit small this year I'm told. I've yet to see anything comparable to the fish caught when I arrived, and I'm beginning to wonder if by 60-65 pounder (thanks again Larry) will stand as this year's biggest. More, the fish seem unaggressive. Ryan, Angelo and I have managed to coax a few strikes out front, I even hook set a decent fish Saturday night only to have it shake me 30 seconds later.The short of the long fisherman's tale, is I don't expect to do anything different tonight than I've done the past few; watch a few nice kings breach, get excited for a while that tonight will be the night, slowly lose interest, and maybe throw a hook with shrimp in the water on an ultra light and catch a few trout before heading to bed.After about five minutes I've already begun to lose interest and stop paying attention to what I'm doing, when of course, WHAM! My rod bows, for a second nothing happens, I must of snagged on a submerged log floating along with the current I think, but the line suddenly cuts the water chasing a 25 pound king throttling up river before banking a sharp 180, slamming her maroon tail on the surface and heading back down river. She does this, back and forth several times, there's no boat to chase this hen down on, and for a moment I think of yelling, someone is bound to hear. Forget it, this is my battle, this is my fish, the hook is in both of us. Changing tact, the king comes to the surface, shaking her head wildly, she looks right at me as if to size me up, before charging directly at me. I reel at mach speed and she comes within five feet before rolling another 180 and screaming line back off, slapping a spray of cold snow melt at me. back and forth she does this over and over. I grab the net and jump in the icy water wearing only shorts and tevas, though I really don't notice the cold. It's been at least a full three minutes now and the hen is tiring. Slowly I reel, cruxxing the awkward net under my shoulder while keeping tension on the line. Every 10 seconds she catches her wind and runs out a few feet of line. By the time I'm up to my knees the water is turbid around my legs, and I'm ready to make the strike. The line goes slack for a second and I pull the rod back, I see a flash of her white under belly in the murk as she attempts to make another roll, there she is, the net nearly flies from my hand on a will of its own and I feel as I scoop it back the heavy weight of victory, not a second too soon either, the slack I felt was my hook releasing, it dangles five feet away on the surface of the water, suspended from my still outstretched arm. The hen sensing the closeness of the shore begins to struggle as I rush it through the water back to shore, in only a few feet of water her thrashing nearly drenches me. Of course, I've forgotten a stick, to knock her out, so I do the only thing I can. With one hand pressing firmly on her side I slip my hand behind her gill plate. Flopping back and forth her sharp teeth immediately begin to make gouges along fingers, the blood across my knuckles may be hers or it may be mine, it doesn't matter, with her tail at face level I scramble as fast as I can up the steep embankment and throw my fish up on the grass.This isn't the biggest fish I've ever caught, nor the first fish I've caught by myself. But after weeks of slow fishing, and catching my only kings from motorized floating platforms with a second set of hands at the net, this fish is something of an Alaskan vindication.

Watch for a bonus post this week featuring fish I've caught, or hooked for clients.