End of Season 1, part B.

Finished out the coho season in north Chatham Strait.  I have the fever again.  And feel 20 years younger.  Tweaking the gear every day to try to improve how my boat fishes, changing spoon colors, adding flashers and hootchies, changing leader lengths, etc.  All to catch 20+ fish on a good day.  It’s like trapping – you only do it because there’s some money involved, and there’s not a point to do it otherwise after you feed (or clothe yourself trapping) but the money isn’t the end game, it just makes it so you can go do it.  And with no pressure to catch fish to make a living from it, it’s even more enjoyable this time around.  I have no desire to get a big fishing boat again, and there’s no extra work to process my catch and ship it out- I just sell to fish tender like everyone else.

I soon got into a routine of camping out in my 20′ hewescraft soft top at the dock each night and could make the side benches into a bed and crawl into my Wiggy’s sleeping bag in no time.   The Mr. Heather propane heater heated up the little cabin in the eve and morning and the Jet Boil is a Godsend for making coffee and reheating frozen stews/soups Sara had in the freezer.

Now on to winter king salmon season and getting that gear together for next month’s opening.

3 day trip

Back at it for my second trip hand trolling. I feel like I’m 40 again.  I was fishing day 1 and only had one clatter of 4 fish between 8 am and 5 pm. At about 5 pm, the tender came into Funter Bay and everyone but me went in to sell.  Then I saw a cluster of gulls diving on feed.  I headed their way. Next thing I know, I’ve got 16 fish on board.  The wind had picked up from the south, so when I had trolled out of the fish, I pulled in all my gear and headed south to where I started catching them, turned north, put in the gear, and trolled north again.  I got 5 more the second pass, then wrapped the port wire in the kicker prop.  That stopped everything for awhile, but it came out quite easily.  Only having to lift a 10 lb cannon ball is easy. I remember having to lift 60 lbers on the Dutch Master during mishaps and how much fun that wasn’t.   I got two dozen fish in all for the day, and might have made 30 if not for the wire in the prop.  I quit on the third pass as it was getting dark and I headed to the dock to tie up.
I saw my first sea otter in North Chatham today, and I also saw a shark swim by at the surface with it’s dorsal fin out of the water, just like in the movies.  Also, saw a deer hide and offal float by, and reminded me deer season is open and glad someone got some winter meat somewhere. 
I tied up in the back dock and as soon as I shut off my outboard, I heard the golden pipes of Gordy.  He grew up a couple doors down from our house, and I used to take clams to his parents.  I worked with him during Hazardous Household Waste days, and he borrowed my fish tote when he was out trolling. Then another kid came by.  He was the son of a trolling mentor, and his uncle was a mentor to me in Kodiak.  This is what I missed about trolling.
The southerly wind was worse the second day.  I started at sunrise, but the wind kept building all day.  I made several more runs at the same place I had yesterday, and managed 14 before the waves were more than I wanted to bear in my little boat, and I headed to the dock for a nap and hoped it would die down later in the day and I could get back out.  Instead, it only blew harder.

At the dock at the back of the bay, I met another troller who lived on an island near Craig.  He’d helped replace my brother in law’s engine in Craig, and replaced an alternator for Paul once in Port Protection.  That’s Southeast Alaska commercial fishing for you.  I didn’t realize I missed it that much til I came back to it.

It was pretty lumpy at the dock.  I told the Craig troller there was another public dock, and he didn’t know about it.  I said I’d run over to it and let him know if it was better. It was.  I called the Craig troller to tell him to come over, and he did.  The tender showed up and I was the first to sell.  The captain was a favorite student of Sara’s who went on to play on the women’s basketball team at UAA and then came back to Juneau to coach the women’s team at the new high school.  I sent a photo of her on her boat to Sara.  She and her crew member worked for several hours into the night offloading the Funter Bay fleet.  They earn their money.
Today, the wind was still blowing, but I thought I could get my gear in and fish with the wind all the way north to Pt Retreat, and then head home, as I had to deliver fish tomorrow for our fish selling business.  When I got up, there was a live mouse/vole in one of my empty buckets.  How did that get in there?  I dumped it out on the dock.   I caught a few fish on the way to Cordwood Creek, but not sure where as it was so lumpy I couldn’t tell I had fish on the gear.  When I ran along the shore from Cordwood to False Pt Retreat, it was really lumpy.  And fishy.  There were lots of fish here and I was again the only one there.  I pulled my gear once past False Pt Retreat, and beat my brains in against the 3 foot waves back down to Cordwood to start again.  I did this 2 or 3 times.  I scratched 16 fish, and 14 of them were hogs.  
I called in to the fish processor at Auke Bay and they said to bring the fish in and they’d be glad to buy them.  My last tack north I continued from False Pt Retreat to Point Retreat and then pulled in all my gear as I was at the open/closed border, then cleaned the last two fish, and headed for the processor.  I kept one seal-bit fish back for Chris, sold the rest to the processor, loaded my small fish tote with ice for the next trip, then headed for our crab pots.
The pots were loaded.  Boy this was my day.  I had saved roe from 3 female fish to rebait the 3 pots, plus the head from the fish for Chris.  Then I headed for the boat ramp.  I refueled the boat, then brought it home, and delivered the fish and crab to Chris and his crew.
I had boy scouts at 7, and had about an hour and half to do some chores.  I pulled off my dirty laundry, and when I looked into a dry bag – there was another live mouse!  I dumped it out to run into the woods. Now I’ll have to pull everything out of the little cabin to be sure there are no more.  I wonder if they got onto the boat in my driveway and were with me all the time, or did they jump on at the dock in Funter Bay?  A serious mystery.
Mark and Andrew fishing on a boat

Berries and salmon

Mark and Andrew fishing on a boat

Andrew started his new job after working two jobs, supporting two families, and getting his masters degree. His new job leaves more time to fish and overnight out of town, and he was ready to go to the cabin for fishing  and berry picking. My boat is in the shop so we borrowed Jeff and Kurt’s skiff. I always feel like a 20 something again on the tiller handle of a skiff. We fished in the rain all day and not a strike.

We headed to the cabin. Andrew was soon down for a nap and I steamed the crab from the pots. I’d noticed some big red huckleberries on the hike in, and told him I was off to berry pick. He perked up and grabbed the other berry rake and away we went. I had him pick blueberries and blue huckleberries and I soloed on the red huckleberries. We picked for about an hour and got a quart or two each.

I used the blueberries in the pancakes this morning and Andrew was impressed. They don’t really have berries in Sierra Leone that I remember- just the bigger fruits like oranges, pineapple, guava and mango. He was also impressed at the volume of berries in the woods. It’s really incredible this time of year. He asked how else he could eat them, and when he mentioned smoothies, I said yes, that’s a common use. Samuel loves smoothies he said, and they’d try them. I told him berries are like salmon – you can pretty much fill your freezer with them. So maybe I’ll get a berry picking partner now.

We pulled the pots in the morning and had more crab. Andrew was getting the idea. I rarely leave the cabin without some food stuff going to the freezer.

We headed north to try a spot nephew John and I fished daily years ago. We put our gear down and in less than 5 minutes, Andrew had a nice chrome coho on. We got it to the net and into the boat. I put it on a stringer, broke a gill, and put it over the side to bleed.  We fished the rest of the morning in dry weather and not another strike.

We pulled our gear a few hours later and headed to the dock, just as more rain hit.  It was pouring down now, but the dock was not far and we had our rain gear on so we just grinned and bared it.

I cleaned the crab and salmon at the dock. I cut off the tail section for Sara and I for dinner, and gave Andrew the rest of the salmon and the crab we caught this morning. The other crab and some king salmon we caught in Craig in June are going to a friend who recently lost her husband to sudden sickness a few months ago and her son before that a few years back when the crabber he was on went down in the Bering Sea. I know she will appreciate it.

Pandemic Whales

I took an old friend and her friend fishing. We were headed out to Hand Trollers Cove after coho salmon. On the way through North Pass, I saw a whale blow. And then another. A mom and baby. We stopped to watch. My two passengers had moved to Anchorage from Juneau and Kodiak, so didn’t see whales like they used to.

We were the only boat there, unlike the summer, when there could be 20 whale watch boats lining the short of the pass. The water was flat calm. Then the calf breached. Again and again. It was just us. Watching. When I was a whale watch captain, I could see the whales, but aside from hearing them blow, I could hear nothing else over the engines. Now we could hear the splash of every leap. Mother was nearby, and humped her back to dive. We could even hear the tail come up and out of the water as she dove. The calf breached for about 15 minutes, and we continued watching for another 15 minutes and then motored down to the cove.

We caught a nice coho for the day, but just the one. The whale show made the day, and with the tourist economy all but shut down, I felt like we were stealing from someone, having all this to ourselves.

Rhubarb Bagels

Along with my own patch, I have a trapline of people in town who let me pick their rhubarb. I think most inherited their plants with their homes and just don’t use it.

After I harvest, I dice it up and vacuum pack in about 4 cup bags. The freezer is filling up with rhubarb. I’ve made jam with rhubarb alone, rhubarb and cherries, pies, and chutney.  But after canning cases of all of these, the rhubarb still continues to grow in the freezer.

I started making bagels when the pandemic started. I’ve tried making bread many times in the past. I can do all of the mixing and kneading and rising with the bread, but bake time was always a wild card. The recipe might call for 50 minutes, and I’d pull the bread out then. When we’d go to eat it, it was soft in the middle. Probably needed 5 or 10 minutes more.

Bagels are different. You make the dough, let it rise a couple times, shape bagels, and let it rise again. The cooking part is alot more fool proof: First you boil, them you bake. The bagels are supposed to be chewy. And chewy is a big range. They always come out okay.

So, how to use the rhubarb. I’ve tried adding some to batches, and have gradually increased the amount of rhubarb. The last batch, I used 4.5 cups of flour with teaspoon of salt. 1 cup of sourdough starter with a 1.5 teaspoons of yeast, and 2 cups of rhubarb puree. The rhubarb puree is 2 cups of diced rhubarb with sugar sprinkled on top, baked in the toaster oven at 450 degrees for 20 minutes, and then pureed in the Vitamix.

I put the puree in the bottom of the kitchen aid bowl, then poured in the dry flour and salt, and then the sourdough starter with yeast, and mixed with the kitchen aid bread hook. I added a little water as the hook worked the dough as needed until it was just moist enough to form a mass of dough that looked right, then let it knead with the bread hook for 10 minutes or so.

I did two, ~ 2 hour rises of the dough, and it had a slight reddish hue from the rhubarb.

After the second rise, I made rings of dough, and put them on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper and let them rise a bit longer.

On the stove, I put on about a gallon of water with a 1/4 cup of sugar and 2 teaspoons of baking soda to boil.

When the water was boiling, I boiled the bagels for a minute on each side, then put them on a rack drip dry.

I brushed the tops of them with egg white wash, put them on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper, and baked them for 20 minutes at 425 degrees.

The bagels came out nice and chewy, and you can’t tell or really taste the rhubarb.

I’m going to try to increase the rhubarb volume to 3 cups for the next batch and see how that goes.


Blueberries are at their peak now.  I don’t seem to have the gusto to pick that I used to.  I used to pick steady for the day.  Now, I pick a couple berry rake fulls of berries, which I found takes an hour, then come in and drink coffee and read and listen to the radio for an hour.  I did this four times so got a few gallons of berries.  Our blueberries and blue huckleberries have worms in them and so you can put the berries in water and this makes them come out.  It takes awhile to get all the leaves out and then pick the berries out of the water little by little by hand and flick away any worms.  I’m sure you never get them all, and I’m sure the berries are healthier for you with the added protein.
I did some good reading of 1970’s era Alaska magazines, when the pipeline was being built, before the permanent fund dividend existed and long before it became the focus of state lawmakers and their constituents, and when the magazine was as much for Alaska residents as it was for Outsiders.  Regular people writing about their canoe trip down the Yukon or the elder basketball game between Kotzebue and Noorvik.  
The blue huckleberries weren’t even much started two weeks ago and now are coming on strong and will be ready to pick in another couple weeks.  
Got a half dozen crab in the pots, most of which I gave to a city worker who has been running ragged helping to manage the covid virus situation. For the most part, it seems our town has pulled together to try to control the virus, and it’s good to see.