Spring Kings

Spring 2022 in Craig

Came down to rustle up some bear meat for the Contehs. They tried it last year and love it in their African dishes.

When I got to town, I stopped at Mike D’s with some maple syrup. He had 3 kings laying in the bed of his truck and gave me the hot tip on where to go.

When I got to the container, all was well. Sara had buttoned up everything just fine when she was here at Christmas. I told my inlaws I was ready to send bear meat up to the Contehs. Friends of my inlaws came over to Howard with their bear hide for tanning, and dropped the meat to me. Already butchered!  All I had to do was hang it overnight in the cool temperatures, then load it into the totes I brought down for shipping meat, and send it up to Andrew the next morning.

Before I shipped the meat the next morning, I went fishing based on Mike’s tip. I got fishing later than I’d liked – 6 am ish. I fished for an hour or two and didn’t see any fish caught by the other boats. Then I looked over and saw – I had a fish on!  It came to the net. Just over 28 inches, so a keeper.

I brought the fish home, butchered it, and then put it in the fridge to cool. The next day, I brined it according to Nevette’s Yakutat recipe, then put it into the smoker. Funny I can’t remember not to put the first batch in right on the metal mesh racks and think it won’t stick!  I should have turned it sooner so a pellicle would form on each side, or cut strips and hung them from a rod in the smoker rather than flat on the racks. Either way, I was scraping later on, but it still worked out fine. I’ve been eating the fish after I canned it, and it’s edible.

Kurt came down a day or two later from Juneau. So fun to have him here finally. We fished several days. Got a king on 2 of the 3 days he was here, and I lost one on the other day. He showed me how he fishes a lure called King Kandy, and we caught all the fish on those lures. We fished in heavy fog the last day. We could see the shore about 30 yards away, and wondered why the eagles were either in very low branches, or were on rocks on the beach. Then it hit us: they have superb vision, but like us, they probably can’t see through fog either, so had to get right down to the water’s edge to hunt.

Kurt insisted on eating out every night. We got Papa’s Pizza the first night, and had extra for lunch the next two days on the boat. The next two evenings we ate at the Dockside Cafe, which was doing a brisk business. The first night it was fun to see a couple tables of cannery worker families chatting in Spanish and enjoying their fellowship.

The outboard started overheating when we were trolling. It was peeing a stream out the water line, but it was kind of weak. This vintage outboard had a history of needing an expensive exhaust rebuild, and that’s what Chet, my neighbor and outboard mechanic, feared, but I distinctly recalled the former owner Brad telling me it had been done, and I was able to confirm that. Miraculously, Chet got me in two days later, and replaced the only other thing he could – the water pump impeller – and that did the trick. Or so I thought. The over heat issue eventually returned.

Kurt left when I took the boat in for repair, so I thought I’d try hand trolling during the upcoming opening. I got up at 230 am, and was launching the boat about 345 and was out fishing at about 415, which was sunrise. I put two spreads of lures on each of my two down rigger wires. All king kandy. I put whole king kandy on the bottom spread by itself, and above it, a cut plug king kandy behind a flasher. I was the second fisher on the drag, joining a power troller.

I thought this was my lucky day. I caught two keepers and 3 shakers in the first hour or so. More action that I’ve ever had. Another 5 or so power trollers showed up. And then nothing. Not a strike or anything, til about 1130, when I caught a shaker. That caused it to be a sucker pass, and I fished another couple hours of nothing again. Unlike the old days, I just couldn’t stay at it with no action, and I went to the dock and sold my 2 fish to Kenny. 27 lbs for 270 dollars. Not bad.

Brian invited me to go fishing with him and Howard the next day. They had had a 23 king catch day when Kurt and I had only caught 1 between us, so of course I had to join them. Brian and Howard also set a subsistence halibut skate on the way out to king fishing. Well, we only caught one shaker and there were no halibut on the long line. That was sad, but made me feel not so bad about catching only a couple fish with Kurt. As I told Kurt, fishing technique is only part of it. Alot of it is hearing what the catch is around the whole area from a network of friends that Brian has, and I don’t. Still, it was a great day of fishing and calm seas. A humpback whale cruised right by the boat while we were fishing, and there were dozens and dozens of sea otters all over.

As we got back near town, Howard checked his phone. Another mass murder.  Buffalo last week. This week, a lot of elementary schoolers in Texas. What are we doing to ourselves. We arrived at Brian’s dock. I thanked him for the great morning of fishing. I headed home, got my gear together, then headed to the store for a bottle, peanut butter and fly paper. The vodka was for later. I hooked up the boat, and fished the cliffs where I caught a fish the second day in town, and listened to the Texas tragedy on my XM radio app. 18 elementary kids gunned down by an 18 year old. So much like the Buffalo shooting. Body armor. An AR. Now Buffalo will be all forgotten and this new carnage in the news til the next one happens.

I had to do something or I’d be hitting the vodka right now. My God. The senator from Texas is saying thoughts and prayers with the family but 2nd amendment rights are second amendment rights. He could have just condemned it all, but had to stick the politics in. How does he keep getting re-elected?? Or sleep at night?  And then I think: just like our senators and representatives do from Alaska. It’s who Texans are and who Alaskans are. Like it or not. We’ve decided this is our price of freedom.  It’s a hefty toll.

We’ll soon embark on making our schools like reverse prisons – secured to keep the bad guys out. And what will that mean?  A boom to gun sales for the school security, and lots of ammunition because if you’re gonna be on gun duty, you gotta practice. The gun manufacturers profit again. And all that money that could go into classrooms will go to security, or be added on to our tax bills to pay for it. I’ll never get the protection of the ARs. Who needs an military assault rifle except to kill people?  I don’t even like seeing the police carry them, but how can they be less armed than the 18 year olds killing grandmothers where they shop or 10 year olds where they learn.

When I quit fishing and got back to the dock, my neighbor was launching his boat, so I helped him. He had to take his boat over to the harbor, then was going to call me after I took my boat home to come get him and retrieve his truck and trailer. I picked him up and when we got to the harbor, my inlaws were there. Brian was pulling his boat out, and also picking up octopus from a shrimper.

Another friend launched his boat to take to the harbor. So I went and retrieved him from the boat harbor. Then Ellen and I drove the short distance to the ramp to the fuel dock, and I carried four buckets of octopus up the dock to the truck in two trips from one of my niece’s classmates who is now shrimping.

On Wednesday afternoon I was heading fishing when I met Lew at the launch. He was helping Mike launch his troller. Lew gave me a tip on where his kids caught fish. When I looked it up on the chart, I saw it was right near where we anchor to deer hunt. When I got to where I thought I was supposed to fish, I made a couple passes and nothing. It was pretty calm in here, but I could see it blowing down the channel further out. Then a skiff appeared in the choppy channel water. I saw him bobbing up and down and then it looked like he got his fishing gear in and headed downhill, passing out of sight behind an island. I thought – maybe that’s where I was supposed to be fishing. So I trolled across the top of the island the skiff had passed and just as I was about to turn downhill with the wind, whamo. A nice king. I’ve been fishing white King Kandy cut plug lures behind a red flasher with white tape as this is Kurt’s favorite and what he was fishng when he was here. I think it’s like using a deer call – you may not believe it works until it does, then it’s your best friend.

I couldn’t really fish the area again as the wind picked up, so I moved to the other side of the big island in the lee. I fished the drag there for the afternoon. I saw a humpback tail lobbing, then it was slapping it’s pectoral fins. Then it breached about 5 times. Later I saw it lunge feeding, I think, right along the shore, sometimes right in the kelp. Just me and the whale with no one else around. It never gets old.

Well, now I had the fever. I was up the Thursday morning and out to my favorite spot, as the wind had laid down so it was an easy 20 minute ride there from the launch. I soon had a keeper on and in the boat. Then another shaker not long after. Doug then showed up, just as I got another shaker on. I rounded the point with the cross and Doug was right behind me. He hadn’t had any strikes so he picked up and moved a little further west. I turned around, and as I got to the cross point, I was bouncing on the bottom. I sped up a little to lift the cannonball off the bottom, and whamo. My second keeper of the morning. Just like the old timer told me at the boat launch the day before. He said he saw me hand trolling and asked how I did. He said the good sized kings were right on the bottom, while the shakers were up shallower off the bottom. He’d caught 14 the day I caught 2. Great to learn from  a nice local troller.

Friday the fever was really bad. I was up at 340 and out with the gear down at 415. What a day this morning would be. As I came east to the cross, what did I see but a wolf. I could immediately tell by it’s gait. Then it went around the corner. Wait. No it didn’t. I  could see its head above a log on the beach. It was checking me out. I slowly continued trolling around the point. The wolf went into the woods around some cliffs, then came out on the beach again.  As I rounded the corner, there it was. Waiting for me again. Now it perched on a flat rock, just staring at me. And then whamo. there goes the fishing rod. It wasn’t a big strike, and when I grabbed the rod, I thought it was a shaker. Then it started taking drag. I could feel it’s weight. Then it just stopped near the bottom. A halibut!

I reeled in the downrigger ball, then worked the fish around to the opposite side of the boat. I looked to be sure I had the gaff close at hand. It took awhile to coax it to the surface. I could see my flasher, then the king kandy cut plug slid up the line. It was a second before I saw the halibut, as it’s dark on the top. Not sparkly like a king salmon. It was big enough to keep for sure. When I got it to the surface, I came down hard on its noggin with the back of the gaff. Then quickly spun the gaff, put the business end of the gaff through the fish, and hauled it aboard. It was about a 40 lber, give or take. I bonked it again, put my gear back down, then found the heavy knife, cut gills on the fish, put a rope through its gill and out its mouth, and then over the side to bleed the fish. It was already a great day and not even quarter after 5 yet. I fished til 915 without another strike and called it a morning after the over heat alarm was going off once in awhile on the big motor.

I cruised the 20 minutes back to the launch ramp dock. Craig has beautiful fish cleaning stations, complete with water hoses. Luckily I had the right knives with me. I filleted the halibut, skinned and portioned the fillets, then rinsed off the white halibut meat and dropped it into the bucket. Now just to drain the fillets when I get home and they’ll be ready to vac pack.

Bob is sending down the spare kicker i got off Craigslist last summer on Ak Seaplanes. Should get here tomorrow. Hopefully it’ll run like it did when I bought it. I’m hoping to get Chet to change out the thermostats on the big engine, and see if that helps with the overheating at low speeds.

Well, the thermostats got changed. I headed out Saturday morning hoping that was the cure. It wasn’t. It actually made it worse. When I dropped to idle to troll, I no sooner got the gear in when the overheat alarm went off. So, I came back in. My kicker was in, so I went out to the air service and got it, slowing by all the runners for the Prince of Wales marathon race today. Saddest sign I saw was “Cheer up. You only have 23.5 miles to go”. Ida quit right there. Before I left, I brined the frames, bellies and collars from the 2 kings I caught on Thursday and put them in the smoker.

I brought the kicker back and it would not start. It took awhile to diagnose. I started by just cleaning the carb after it look like nasty puss coming out of the carb bowl. Still wouldn’t start, so I took off the carb for more cleaning, and then. Finally. I did a systematic trouble shoot. I pulled the fuel line off the fuel pump and cranked the engine. Fuel was pumping so that wasn’t the issue. I then thought – Bob had drained the bowl when he sent it down, so I’ll try priming the bowl with fuel, then give it a try. That was the solution. It fired up and ran for 20 minutes. So hopefully the kicker is gonna be a go. I swapped out the good prop from the dead kicker with the chipped and bent prop on this one.

Then my neighbor hollered. I gotta a bear for you. So I got my butchering knives and totes together and went to his garage, where the carcass was hanging from whick he had removed the hide. I got the bear quartered, put the meat into pillow cases and the remaining bear frame into the truck bed, then brought it home and divided it into totes for shipping this evening to the Contehs.

I shipped the bear meat north to Juneau, and was gonna go fishing this evening. The handle on my trailer winch rounded out and no store in town sold the handles. Mike said he thought there was one on his old trailer, so I thought I’d do that first to get all my chores done before fishing. Well, there was no handle on the old trailer carcass, so I returned home to try to rig a handle with what I had. My final decision was to use a crescent wrench to wind the winch strap in, and then find a handle or whole winch set in my garage in Juneau for next trip down here.

As I looked out to go fishing, I saw it had blown up. Not too bad, but enough for a bumpy 20 to 30 minute ride to the fishing grounds. So, I just hooked up to the boat, drove it up onto the highway so I wouldn’t wake my neighbors when I left in the morning, and called it a day. My final chore was to fix the door on the shed, which I did, and then I took the salmon out of the smoker and put it in the fridge after a taste test, which was perfect. I’ll hope to get some more fish this week so I can have a case or two of half pints of smoked canned salmon parts left over after filleting the sides for freezing.

I headed out to fish the next morning, hopeful the kicker would make fishing possible. When I got to the point, herring were on the surface, and eagles diving on them. I soon had a fish on. The drag was screaming. But when I grabbed the rod, it got off. Not long after another fish on. This one came up to the surface on a diagonal behind the boat and zip, right through the prop. Good bye flasher and king kandy. The kicker, however, was working well. My inlaws and friends showed up after 8. And then it happened. All of a sudden, the kicker just quit. Didn’t sputter or surge. Just died. And it wouldn’t start. I was drifting towards the beach, so thought I better wind up the downrigger and get the gear off the bottom. Then I saw the rod bobbing, and thought I had a rockfish on. Then it ran. That’s no rockfish. A king salmon had hit the gear on the way up or as it was drifting. Just legal. Wow. That was lucky.

Now I had to fish on the big motor again. I got a couple hours more fishing in as the big motor had had time to cool all the way down while I was on the kicker, so took a long time to get hot.

Back to the dock. I remembered to bring my knives, and butchered the salmon on the nice cleaning stations here. I brined the collars and bellies and put them in the smoker, then vac packed the fillets. As I vac packed them, a knife fell off the counter and I felt a pain on the top of my foot by my big toe. I thought the butt of the knife had landed there. A few seconds later, I looked down after moving my foot, and saw blood on the floor. Turns out that pain was the tip penetrating my skin. I took off the sock expecting the worst, but it was a tiny puncture. Put a bandaid over and the sock back on and all was good.

Then to work on the motor. The motor died so quickly I thought maybe it was some kind of ground from a wire that got in the wrong place when I was working on it yesterday. I removed a spark plug and left if in the spark plug wire next to the block to check for spark. I tried disconnecting the kill switch. Still no spark. I scavenged the coil from the dead motor at Chets, and still no spark. Then I got online and looked for threads of repairs similar to this one. A boater had what sounded like exactly what happened to me, and said he changed the CDI computer module and that fixed it. I went back and scavenged that off the old motor. The CDI has lots of wire connections to it, so I carefully unplugged a wire from the old one and into the new one, one at a time. The outboard fired right up. That was it!

My neighbor said he had a bear to find a meat home for. The Contehs were plugged, so I texted my former co worker who grew up here and she was all over it. I quartered the bear and got it out to Ak Seaplanes freight so I would be able to fish tomorrow and not have to worry about it.

Well, another low after a high last evening repairing the kicker. When I got out fishing, it would not start. It would fire, and run a bit, but not keep going. So I tied off a bucket on each side to slow the boat, and trolled on the big motor, keeping it at 900 RPM to avoid overheating. Mid morning, I wasn’t paying attention, got to shallow water, turned hard to port, gunned the motor so the weights would swing back. But this time I was too late. The troll wire broke the bungee at the end of the downrigger shaft, then went under the boat, wrapped in the prop, seizing the engine. Fortunately, this wasn’t the first time this has happened, so I threw out the anchor and got to work. Both wire and the soft ganion line backing from the downrigger reel were wrapped. I put the spoon end of the cleaining knife in the end of the pike pole, and used it to reach out with the knife to cut the ganion. I was able to retrieve the free end of the wire, and hauled in the wire, leads and fishing gear by hand. Didn’t lose anything except the tattle tale bell from the bungee that broke.

I patiently worked unwrapping the ganion and wire from the prop, and finally got it all clear. I pulled the anchor, and motored out. I dropped the gear in from the other side, and just fished one side for awhile while I straightened out the wire and gear for the other. Soon I had that gear out too.

I fished from about 415 am to noon without a bite. I know having to fish faster than I wanted may not have helped, but I didn’t see any commercial or sport trollers catch a fish around me so not sure how much an effect it had. Mikey and Cheryl caught 2 power trolling, so there were a few fish out there.

On the way to the house, I stopped and took the carb off the dead motor, as I know Chet and Sal had cleaned that out and had that motor running. I swapped carbs, and it fired right up. I let it idle for a good 10 minutes without it missing a beat. Maybe the CDI needed to match the carb. We’ll see if it will run tomorrow.

Heavy fog on Tuesday morning. I decided I’d see if  could get to the pressure control valve on the big motor and if so, see if Chet had the part. Turns out, it is easy to get to. And, Chet had the part. This was the last thing to change cheaply in the engine cooling system before the dreaded exhaust repair, which has already been done once. I replaced the valve, and by then, the fog had lifted, so I headed out fishing.

When I started the outboard, the pee stream from the engine was not any stronger. So, not a vote of confidence that it was the valve I replaced. The big engine never overheated today, but I didn’t have it at low idle for long enough to know one way or the other.

I put the gear down at the cross. Mike was out there, too. He had caught a couple fish already this morning.

The kicker started right up, and when i got shallow, I started the big motor, gunned it with a hard turn to port, and this time I lost the wire on the starbard downrigger, along with the 70 dollar cannon ball and 40 dollars worth of lures and flashers. I decided to just fish the other side, which I did the rest of the day.

The kicker ran flawlessly for about 4 hours. Then just quit. Just like the day before. Only this time, it would restart, so it wasn’t a spark problem, but a fuel problem. By now it was really lumpy with west wind that wasn’t forecast. I kept going down wind, and Mike said to go back into Trocodero, which I did, and it was much nicer back there. I started to check the fishing gear, and when I cranked up the gear,  it was really hard to crank up the wire. I got up to the last spread, and then realized the last hooks had hooked up with something. The wire I lost!  I couldn’t figure out what was going on at first. Then realized that the wire was wrapped in the big prop, which I didn’t notice, because it wasn’t visible when I checked right after I lost the wire, and it hadn’t wrapped tight to kill the engine. I yarded all the mangled wire up, and got back my  cannon ball and all the gear. Only loss was the wire. No big whoop.

I realized now I had to come up with another plan or just not hand troll from this boat. I realized Kurt was right – I need to move the downriggers to the rear of the boat so the wires can’t get in the prop. I can still use them forward for sport fishing, but need to put them to the rear for hand trolling. I fished the rest of the day and shook an undersize ling cod and a little rockfish, but never ran into a salmon. I think it’s time to button up the container and head home to Juneau.

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