Leon took me up the Taku River to subsistence fish. After a couple days of really heavy rain that followed days of just plain rain, we were welcomed to the trip with partly sunny skies and no rain. The river was very high with the earlier torrential rains, and as we traveled at high tide, it was tough to see where the channel was and where the submerged sand bars were. The first part of the trip in the saltwater is easy. As we got near the first of 4 or 5 glaciers, we collected some glacier ice to keep the fish cool. Then the fun starts.
Once you leave the ocean and enter the mouth of the river, the river widens and it’s hard to tell where it’s shallow and where there’s a channel to run a boat. Many Juneauites have cabins up the river near the Canadian border, and they have big jet boats that are tailored for this trip, but not as efficient for an all around boat since jet boats are less fuel efficient than prop boats.
GPS has certainly helped things as once you run the river without touching bottom and record it on your gps, you can follow your track with pretty fair confidence for the rest of the season. If you only go up once a year like we do, you can plan to try to vaguely remember earlier trips, and also have confidence in your partner that if we find the shallows, I will hop out in my chest waders to push us to deeper waters and then hop back in to feel our way upriver.
We moved up the river, picking our way and finding shallows. Then a year-round river resident passed us in his boat, and we quickly followed him. We cruised past 5 or 6 glaciers, some that come right to the river edge. We picked up some glacier ice chunks floating in the water for our ice chests to keep our fish cool. It’s like another planet.
We made our way up to our fishing site to find flooding like we’d never seen before in earlier trips. There was no beach to fish from, so I lived in my chest waders, which was fine as the air temperature wasn’t too hot and the water not too cold. We set our net after greeting the fish technicians operating fish wheel operation, and settled in for an overnight trip.
We scratched a few fish here and there, mostly sockeye, but with a coho here and there, a surprise king once in awhile, and a few pinks. Leon had me bring a smaller meshed net than his as he’d heard that the sockeye – our target fish – were running small. We set our net off a point 20 yards from our net. It sunk out of sight in about 10 minutes. We pulled on both the shore line and the buoy line, and it was solidly stuck. I didn’t feel any give to make me think it could have been a tree, and thought it must be wrapped around a rock, and maybe when the river subsided, the net could be retrieved. When Leon mentioned this to the young men at camp, they were having none of it. Soon, they had the net pulled up and out of the river. It had snagged on a submerged cottonwood tree. It was so twisted up I didn’t try to unravel it, but will when I have more time.
About an hour later, the tree dislodged, and the top of it popped up out of the water. And right into Leon’s net. The boys again came to the rescue, and separated the tree from the net, tied the tree off to their boat, and got it out into the main current and sent it on it’s way.
We set up Leon’s tent, and he cooked us beans and sausage on a bun for dinner. We napped through the short darkness with the fish wheel below our tent, croaking and groaning away in the river.
We fished till about 230 the next afternoon so we could catch the high tide home. We caught enough fish for Leon, an old timer he was proxy fishing for, and a friend I was proxy fishing for. I took home one small sockeye for us to eat for dinner, as I already had plenty of king salmon from June in the freezer.
Still no rain for the ride home, although the clouds were moving in. We make it down to the glaciers without incident, but were confused as which channel to take when we reached the first glacier. Getting stuck in shallow water going downstream is bad because the current may force your water onto the shallows, making it difficult to move the boat back upstream to deeper water and jump in and get going before you’re pushed into the shallows again.
Luck was on our side again, as here comes a river boat on step coming our way. We pull over and let the boat pass, then try to keep up behind them. We tracked through some of the narliest areas, but the boat was much fast than we were, and we finally ground out on a gravel bar. I jumped out, and luckily we were on the upstream side of the channel. We soon found the channel, I hopped in, and we tried to track the boat that was now just a speck on the horizon.
The rest of the trip was uneventful. The water was flat, there was no wind, and the gillnet opening had closed so no gillnets to dodge.
We stopped at Leon’s in the channel to get his proxy’s cooler, then continued to the harbor. I took my proxy’s fish and headed home. Only then did it start to lightly rain.
Once home, I cleaned the 10 sockeye for our proxy and the one for us, and delivered the fish to our friend. Another trip of a lifetime.