String Cheese

Tom Morgan, who I trained and served with in the Peace Corps, and his nephew Jasper, were here for a week. Tom and his wife Sarah and I don’t see each other all that often, but, like the others in our group that trained at the University of Oklahoma in 1986, we are all family.

Jasper is the same age as my nephew who was here a few weeks ago, and the same age as the twins were when they were here last year from Mount Vernon. When I asked his grandma what he ate, she sent me a list of 5 things, but I thought this was just what he liked. Nope. It’s all he eats.  Doesn’t eat salmon. Or crab. Or moose. The primary food he consumes is string cheese. From day 2 of the trip to this hour, his nickname is String Cheese. He seems to like it.  Last year, I dubbed Odessa as Chicken Boots from her boots with chickens on them. I didn’t think I’d ever top that, but then along comes String Cheese.

The boys arrived just after midnight. Sara and I had provisioned the boat, and I parked it right near the bottom of the ramp for easy loading. She drove us to the harbor from the airport, where we settled in on the boat for the night. I was up at 6 am, and was surprised to see both boys up and ready to go. Now they were seeing Alaska in the daylight. We untied and steamed for Chatham Strait.

When we rounded the tip of Admiralty Island, we put out the fishing gear and fished our way south. I showed the boys how the downriggers worked with the fishing rods. At first they helped each other set one side, with one holding the rod and the other working the downrigger. Soon, they could run each side on their own. It was the same for the fishing part. I showed them how the drags work, coached them on bringing in fish, removing the hook with the gaff, and bleeding fish by breaking a gill and putting them on a stringer over the side or in a bucket of water.

We lost several fish the first day, but as the days went by, the two were quite a team, with one fighting the fish, and the other working the net. I’d often come back to take off the fish and bleed them while the two of them got the gear back in the water. I did all the fish cleaning.

Our best days fish wise were the first and last days, with about 7 fish on each day. The other days we caught 3 or 4. But the best days over all seemed to be the days we caught few fish. On those days the two watched whales and other sea life and just enjoyed each other’s company on the back deck as we had nice weather everyday.

We tied up the first day in Funter Bay, and String Cheese got to meet my good friend Gordy, who was out hand trolling. Gordy seemed to make a good impression on SC, as he’d ask how Gordy was doing every day thereafter from texts I’d receive from Gordy. Other old timers at the dock were eager to help SC bait and set a crab pot and then showed him what they caught in their pot the next morning. We also saw a brown bear on the beach, and I told them about the residents from St Paul Island, who were interned in Funter Bay during World War II under terrible conditions, and not brought to nearby Juneau, where there would be shelter and care for them, due to racism. Tom and I had my canned smoked salmon and cheese on crackers for dinner, while String Cheese had, well, string cheese and Ritz.

We left about 630 the next morning. String Cheese pulled the crab pot, but it only caught starfish. We fished south of Funter Bay and caught about 4 nice coho. I decided to cross over to the other side of Chatham Strait while the seas weren’t too bad and tie up at the Swanson Harbor dock so we’d be in the area of the Clover Islands DNR cabin, which we had reserved the next day.  A friend came in with his family to tend to a pile of crab pots he had stored here, and another couple arrived with a springer dog that String Cheese soon befriended. We set a crab pot near the dock. All was good, except it was buggy back in here and the mosquitoes kept me up until late in the evening, when it seemed that once it cooled down below a certain temperature, that they were not active anymore. Tom and I ate some trout-sized coho for dinner.

We got up early again and headed out to fish. No crab in the pot.  Again.  We fished along the mainland shore of Icy Strait all day. We caught 3 coho, and had a spectacular display by breaching humpback whales. The seas were a little choppy and the fishing was kind of slow, so we quit in the early afternoon and headed back to Chatham Strait to the cabin, setting the king crab pot along the way. I’d spent two days here last year with Andrea’s twins, and so knew there was great anchorage and berry picking around the cabin. I also planned on this being a great place to teach String Cheese to run the little portabote and 2.3 hp Honda outboard. And he took an immediate shine to it. We lightered several loads of string cheese, other foods, cooking and sleeping gear to the cabin, with me longshoring on the beach and Tom as crew for captain String Cheese in the punt. They also made a check later on the dungeness crab pot we’d set on the way in.  Tom and I gorged ourselves on fried coho salmon frames left over from filleting fish, which Tom had wrapped in plastic and we’d put in the freezer.

The next morning we slept in and enjoyed another nice morning. When I asked String Cheese if he liked pancakes, he looked at me dumbfounded. Of course I like pancakes, he said.  Everyone likes pancakes. While he and Tom went for a walk around the bay, I took the berry rake and went up behind the cabin a short ways to find a bush loaded with red huckleberries. I soon had enough for pancakes, and returned to the cabin to start breakfast. I made patties of venison breakfast sausage I made last fall, and cooked those first. By this time, the boys were back. Tom and I enjoyed some of the sausage while I cooked pancakes one at a time. Tom warned me that String Cheese wouldn’t eat the pancakes if there were berries in them. Turns out, he wouldn’t eat them if they were plain either.  So, it was string cheese for String Cheese, and pancakes and sausage for Tom and I.

We pulled the dungy pot on the way out of the anchorage. Nothing. Then we pulled the king crab pot. Nothing. I’m really lacking in the crabbing department. Seas were calm, so we steamed back across Chatham Strait while the getting was good.

We put the gear down after noon, and fished south from Funter Bay. We caught 4 nice coho, and saw several whales fishing right next to shore. Tom also spotted a big black tailed doe on the beach still in her shiny reddish-orange summer coat. We set the king pot again in about 300 feet of water in a little nook of calm seas, then anchored for the evening in a cove between Piledriver Cove and Game cove near the entrance to Hawk Inlet, where the boys could see buildings of Greens Creek mine in the distance. We set the dungy pot on the way in.

Although the forecast called for southerly winds, the winds here were northerly. Just a slight chop, but the boat did not want to turn into the wind, and stayed sideways to the little chop, and it was a little sloppy on the boat. The boys were soon fast asleep though, and eventually the boat turned to the wind in the middle of the night.

We awoke to a light rain in the morning. Our first real precipitation all week. And viola. Finally. A huge male keeper crab in the pot, along with several large females. I showed the boys how to identify gender in the crabs as I tossed the females over and put the male in a bucket on deck.   Next we checked the king pot. Empty again. The sea conditions were the predicted southerly winds at 15 kts with about 3 foot seas, so we’d just fish our way north today. I thought the fishing might be good with the overcast and change in weather. And it was. We caught 7 or more coho with steady fishing all morning. I made Tom a lunch of a trout-sized coho and the whole dungy crab. He ate it all.

We reached Point Retreat at mid-day. I gave String Cheese the option of going to our cabin or our house. When Grandpa mentioned the wifi at the house and not the cabin, SC opted for the house. I finished cleaning our catch for the day, iced the fish with the last bits of ice in the cooler, and we pulled the gear and headed to Auke Bay.

We lucked out and were able to tie up in the loading zone right where we had left earlier in the week. I rounded up a couple carts while Tom and String Cheese piled the gear on the deck to offload. We got our clothes and the foodstuffs and fish from the freezer and fridge, and the cooler with dressed fish on ice from the last 2 days of fishing, onto the carts. Then we moved the tug to a tie up spot nearby.

I’d texted Kurt earlier in the day and guessed we’d be ready to go from the harbor about 5 pm. We were 15 minutes early when we got the carts to the top of the ramp. Just as Kurt pulled in. Kurt took us to see the glacier on the way home and gave the boys ideas for sight seeing in town the next day.

When we got home, I got the boys immediately onto vacuum packing the frozen fish wrapped in plastic wrap while I started to fillet the fish from the past few days. We had plenty of fish already frozen for a full 50 lb box for the boys to take home to grandma Sarah, so I would smoke and can the fresh fish later in the fall. I cut whole fillets and put them in the fridge and called it a day.

The next morning, String Cheese got a call from one of his buddies back in Iowa. From the vivid descriptions he was giving his buddy, it’s apparent he had a good time.