24 hrs

Ron and I went on our annual subsistence sockeye salmon fishing trip to Haines over Labor Day.  I picked up ice at the fish processor the day before.  I picked up Ron at 5 am on Monday and we drove out to the ferry office.  We picked up our tickets, then drove to our assigned lane to get on the ferry.  Lots of people heading to Haines.  Some to go moose hunting up north.  Others likely ending their seasonal jobs and driving home either north or south from Haines. The Chilkat River had been behind in reaching its escapement goal early in the season, but then things picked up late and escapement was okay.  So we thought we might get lucky with these late fish. It was a flat calm ride to Haines.  The weather is still warm.  In the 60s.  Also on board were 3 retired biologists from ADF&G who Ron had worked with. I knew them all.  Lots of stories over breakfast.  They’ve been moose hunting together for decades and this was not our first year coincidentally traveling with them on the same ferry to Haines.   We arrived at Roy’s house, hooked up the trailer, and headed for the river. Ron had tied up a new net using an old commercial net and we were excited to try it.  We got to the river by 2 pm.  The fall colors of the cotton woods was spectacular- yellows and reds – with that cottonwood smell wafting about. And no one else was on the river.  The Chilkat River and its valley are among my favorite places in Alaska. We got 6 sockeye in each of our first two drifts.   Ron ran the boat and I fished the net.    Then only two more on subsequent drifts so we called it a day at 14 fish.  We broke a gill on each fish and placed them in a tote of water to bleed out.  Then I rinsed each fish and placed them in a cooler with ice to keep till we could get back to Roy to clean them.  We dressed the fish at Roys and iced them.  I then started cherry picking.  Roy and Brenda had not picked at all this year, so this was the first year I could mostly pick the low hanging berries from the ground without a ladder.  I picked till nearly dark and got about 4 gallons. Brenda is a great cook, and made us dinner of halibut, beets from their garden, and rice. We got up first thing the next morning and were at the river not too long after sunrise.  No one else on the river.  We got 8 keepers our first pass.  Seven the next.  And 6 sockeye and a coho the next.  The last pass we got a bunch of spawning sockeye and chums so we called it a day.  Ron thought maybe others had been fishing before us the day before and that was why it was slower.  I doubted that, but later on the ferry I heard others saying they’d been fishing so realized Ron was probably right.   We were back to Roy’s late in the morning. We did the same routine as Monday.  We pressure bled and dressed all the fish, then put them in the ice.  I resumed cherry picking and got several more gallons. At some point I realized I wasn’t going to pick all the cherries and had picked most of the easier ones I could get up to with Roy’s little step ladder, so called it a year.  I took the fish guts to the river, dropped off our fishing permits with the fish totals to ADF&G in Haines, then went to the ferry terminal to get my lane assignment.  When I got back to Roy’s, Ron was packed up and ready to go.   We got lunch at the Bamboo Room.  As usual, the waitress was exceptionally pleasant like the rest of Haines.  We had time to kill before meeting the ferry so we drove up to Chilkoot Lake.  I’d never been out there.  After seeing no concentration of people much in Haines, after a several mile drive out the road, we found a crowd of people on the Chilkoot River.  They were standing right in the road, taking photos.  Must be bears somewhere.  Sure enough, at the fish counting weir, a sow and two big cubs were doing their thing with the salmon.  There were people everywhere, except for a buffer zone on either side of the weir.  And unlike the rest of the roads around Haines, this one was in terrible condition, with pot holes everywhere.  This place is begging for a bear viewing stand to get people off the road for safer crowd control and a better experience for the viewers.  The gawkers really had no other place to stand with a tiny shoulder off the road that slid off to the river.    I knew the ferry was booked solid with vehicles so wasn’t sure if I wanted to pit cherries on the way home.  I parked the truck, then went up and saw what kind of crowd was on board.  It was pretty full, but not too bad, so I went down and grabbed a pile of cherries and the pitter.  I pitted all the cherries in a few hours, and really liked the pitter.   As always, people like to stop and chat about cherries and the season and Haines.   When I got home and tried a few cherries, I realized many still had the pits in them.  The pitter was not getting all of them.  So I will have to squeeze them when I package them to see if I can detect pits and then be careful eating the pies or jam when I get to making something from them. So, 35 sockeye, a big coho and 5+ gallons of cherries in 24 hours in Haines, America.  Already looking forward to next year.

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