Chilkat Fishing.

Got home from the slope Thurs night and off on the ferry to Haines Friday to net fish for sockeye in the Chilkat River with Ron. His brother Roy lives in Haines, and we use his net and boat and beds.

We arrived Friday evening, and got up on Saturday morning to blue skies and mild temperatures. The river was high due to all the rain in recent weeks, and chocolate brown. We had to launch a hundred yards from the normal launch area, in the flooded road. The outboard didn’t want to fire, either. We tried the usual – check the gas can, squeeze the bulb, make sure the kill switch is off – and still it would not fire. Next, I pulled the cowling and pulled the top spark plug, which looked fine. I replaced it, and pulled the wires on the other two plugs, pulled the middle plug, and put in next to the engine block to check for spark. When Ron cranked the engine, the engine started on the top plug alone – for what reason, I don’t know. He killed the engine, I replaced the middle plug and wires, and we were off.

That stretch of the Chilkat River valley is one of the most spectacular places in Alaska. Mountains rise from nearly sea level not far from the river, with snow and circe glaciers in the mountain tops. The vegetation up the mountainside was beginning fall colors of various shades of red and orange. It’s almost too spectacular to be real. I told Ron I was glad the fishing was fair and the net small so we could catch only a few fish each drift and spend the whole day on the river.

We got to the river, and set what was left of Roy’s 50′ net. About 10 feet on either end was ripped and missing. We caught 2 sockeye our first 2 drifts, and a single fish on the third. We got nothing the next drift, and only one or two more fish in later drifts, so we headed down stream, past Klukwan, to a spot we had luck in last year. We caught 5 the first pass.

I ran the net and Ron drove the boat. After I hauled the net, Ron would run back up to the start of the drift while I pulled fish from the net, broke a gill to bleed them, and put them on a stringer. The stringer went over the side when we set again, as the fish will continue bleeding, rather than have the blood coagulate, if they are in running water. Plus, the water keeps them cool.

You can put about 5 fish on the stringer, and after that the weight of the fish starts to rip their lower jaw. If the jaw rips through, the fish comes off and is lost. So, after bleeding 4 or 5 fish, I would pull them off and put them in our cooler, which had a couple bags of ice. We continued fishing until the cooler was full, and we had full stringers on both sides of the boat.

At the boat haul out, I made sure all the fish had the dorsal fins removed, according to the rules. We then loaded Roy’s boat, did some minor repair to his boat trailer, and then it was back to Roys to pressure bleed, dress, and ice the fish. I had a home pressure bleeding kit. I first cut off the heads, pressure bled the fish, and then dressed them. Ron then rinsed them off and put them on ice.

Roy came in from his Fairbanks moose hunt while we dressed fish. He did not get a moose, but enjoyed good weather and did see some moose. He, Ron and I ordered pizza for dinner, and watched the Michigan-Notre Dame football game, where 3 TD’s were scored in the last 2 minutes, with Michigan pulling it out in the end.

We boarded the ferry with our coolers full of fish on Sunday morning to another bluebird day. It was the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and we reflected on what our country had become as a result of the terrorism. Our nation’s waging of war justified by “God Bless America” after every presidential speech. Raised Catholic, I don’t remember anything in church that encouraged the killing of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis during our invasion of their country. Or the thousands of 19 to 25 year old US soldiers dead in Iraq and Afghanistan. Or the anti-Muslim fervor across the country. One hand holds the cross and the other the drone bomb launch lever.

Mark Stopha
Alaska Wild Salmon Company
4455 N. Douglas Hwy
Juneau, AK 99801

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