Today’s Short History

I finally made it to Baranof Warm Springs.  I was working on the new boat when Larry called at about noon and asked if I could go with him to BWS, as a group of people were weathered out with their scheduled sea plane service and hoping to get there by boat. A couple hours later, off we go.
It’s a 90 mile run to BWS.  Seas were up to 4 feet going down Chatham, so it was a long slog.  The group was a hearty bunch and nobody got sick.  They were heading for Baranof Wilderness Lodge, where most or all of them, it seemed, had spent many weeks over the years.  You could tell they were anticipating returning to a familiar, favorite place.
We arrived near sunset.  Before we left, Larry warned me we might have to spend the night, so I wasn’t surprised when we decided to do so.  The decision was not difficult. We were greeted at the dock by a thankful lodge crew, relieved their guests had arrived for the week.  The kitchen staff handed us bags of cookies before we had the boat tied up.  Soon, the owner, Mike Trotter, greeted us like long lost friends, invited us to dinner and to spend the night in one of his spare cabins.  We eagerly agreed.
We mingled with the staff and newly arrived guests.  Lots of beer on ice in the cooler.  We felt right at home. Mike was busy taking people’s orders for steaks, and then tended the grill of fresh salmon and a load of steaks.   Turns out Mike had guided out in Bristol Bay on the Nushagak River, just as I had.  We talked of the tremendous king salmon runs to the river back in those days.
As I talked to the age 20 something guides and asked them where they were from, I smiled thinking of my own guiding years in my 20’s and the home states – Minnesota, Montana, Idaho and northern California – were the same home states as guides and staff I worked with then then as these kids now.  All of them to a person seemed happy and content- a sign they worked for a good lodge owner, especially this far into a long, rainy summer season.
Dinner was fantastic.  Perfect steaks, perfect salmon, salad, mashed potatoes, rolls – then ice cream with triple chocolate brownies for dessert.  We ate our fill and more.  
Well after dark, one of the guides ran Larry and I and Jon, the other boat’s captain, up to the little town proper, where we were let in to Mike’s spare cabin.  It was right next to the falls that drain the lake above.   After a long day on the water, we were soon asleep in comfortable beds, with the rushing water from the waterfalls to put us to sleep.
The bay is like a cathedral, with steep treeless mountain tops and a commanding water fall of sorts that cascades down a steep rock face into the head of the bay.  I bet it’s dark and cold here in the winter.  The place is also somewhat magical for me since it was the home for Wayne Short and his family growing up.  He’s the author of several of my favorite books, including The Cheechakoes and This Raw Land, about coming to Southeast Alaska in the 1950s and coming of age in a new land.  The family bought the store and property in Baranof Warm Springs, including the main lodge house compound we were dining in.  I’ve read the books so many times I felt like I’d already been here before many times.
We awoke at 6 and a guide came back for us right on time.  As we walked across the docks on our way to the boardwalk up to the lodge, I studied the fishing gear the lodge used.  The halibut set ups had spin and glos on one side of a three way swivel, with a circle hook on a stout leader on the other, and a snap hanging down to clip on a weight.  The hootchies were white with red in the head – a similar pattern to those I’d had success with further up Chatham this year.
When we got up to the lodge, we were greeted by kitchen staff with plates full of breakfast before we could even sit down.  We ate our fill with the guides as they talked about the day to come.  The cook rang the bell to call the guests to breakfast, and we said our goodbyes and headed down to our boats.  Soon, we were on our way back to Juneau at full speed and fair seas, and tied up in Auke Bay before noon.  I didn’t get a hot soak in the hot springs on this run, and look forward to doing that on the next trip.

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