Whales and Salmon

Took Andrea, Christopher and Odessa whale watching and sea lion watching today after leaving for the cabin yesterday afternoon, catching a coho, and spending the night at the cabin.  After the watching, we put the gear out for coho fishing.  We caught 4 or 5 coho in an hour or two.  The kids are a well oiled machine now.  I butchered the fish, and the kids rinsed and bagged and vac packed while I ran to find a new fridge as our old fridge acted up again.  We had white king salmon for dinner with corn Andrea brought, and then I took off the doors to the new fridge to get it into the house, swapped the way the door opened at Sara’s request, then plugged in the new fridge.  We had rhubarb crisp for dessert while the new fridge was cooling. 

I wish I was 13 years old again

I’ve had 13 year old boy (Christopher) and girl (Odessa) twins here for the week.  We went fishing the day they got in, caught a coho, had it for dinner, and they were hooked on fishing.  Are we going fishing tomorrow is the question each evening.  We stayed at our cabin a few days, and the day it was too windy to fish, we picked berries.  Most years, the island is covered in blueberries and blue huckleberries, with red huckleberries here and there.  This year, red huckleberries are the only game in town, and we picked for a couple hours til we had enough for a batch of jam.  We caught 4 big coho the next day and butchered and vac packed those back at the house.    We also caught some huge dungeness crab – my first decent catch of the season – and had those for dinner.  These kids are lucky.
The next 3 days we went to Chatham Strait.  There’s a new ADNR cabin there I’d rented from Mon to Wed.  We got an early start as the kids wanted to get fishing.  We arrived at my spot at about high tide at 8 am or so.  I put the first rod out, and as I was rigging the second rod, we got a coho on.   Odessa reeled it in, and I put that rod back out.  As I was getting the second rod ready to go, the first rod hit again.  This happened at least a third time.  The rest of the fish were shaker kings, though, so we were still on the first coho when I finally got the second rod out.  The kids got to fighting over who was driving and who was fishing as we got on fish after fish.  We caught a dozen cohos and a nice white king, over the next several hours.  By early afternoon, I’d filled one of the coolers with dressed coho and ice,  and we were ready to go find our cabin across the strait.   I texted their mom.  Time to get a freezer, which she did the next day.
We found the cabin and got ourselves settled in.  The kids love salmon so we had fried salmon and venison pepper pieces for dinner with instant potatoes and beach asparagus.  It was supposed to blow the next day, so we were sort of expecting a cabin day on Tuesday.  We did try to fish for about 30 minutes, but it was too rough, so back to the cabin.  Odessa was tormenting her brother, and then me, and I put my rain gear on and went looking for some berries to pick.  The weather picked up as predicted, and I had to move the boat twice over the next 12 hours.  The kids made dinner with bagels and cream cheese and jarred smoked salmon.  
Today, we slept in and packed up as the winds laid down.  We headed back to our fishing hole, and the crossing was a little lumpy.  Both kids were a little sea sick, so I said we’ll just fish the drag from one end to the other and pick up and go and they agreed to that.  We got 3 more nice coho, and headed for home.
The kids are constantly bickering over 13 year old things, but the twins sure do make a good work team.  I filleted and sectioned the fish, Odessa rinsed the pieces, Christopher put the fish into bags, and when I was done butchering, I started vac packing.  When Odessa was done with the rinsing, she took over vac packing.  They are good workers.  And good fishing companions.  Mom gets here tomorrow for the next three days then they will all leave together.

Mark’s Alaska Blog

Back to the good.
We had to call off the scout boat trip to an island cabin because the weather is just too marginal, so we’re going to camp at a local camp ground.  And we’re gonna get wet.  Again.  Real wet.
There was a lull between lows and I already had the boat hooked up to the truck from when I drove out the road today to check on the weather, so I ran down the road to the boat launch and headed to a spot in sight of the ramp.   I caught a small coho in the first 15 minutes and thought – I’m in to them.  Then the wind slowly rebounded as forecast, and I didn’t get another strike for an hour.  Porpoises were slashing around me.  They didn’t look like Dall’s porpoise, but were the color of harbor porpoises.  Only they looked a little big for harbor porpoises, so not sure what they were.  I pulled up the line once and the flasher and hootchie were gone and I wondered if one of the porpoises cut it.
I put on new gear as the wind continued to increase.  I got a larger bright coho on this time.  When I got it to the surface there were other big coho with it.  I thought.  Now I’m really into them.  When I conked the fish with the gaff, I knocked it off the leader.  As it floated away, I gaffed it right in the middle of the body and brought it aboard.  I staggered in the chop to got more new gear on, but thought- I can’t fish too well in this wind, so I turned toward the dock and fished into the cove til I was out of the wind.  Then I cleaned the fish and pulled my gear in.  Fish for dinner tonight, and some for the freezer.   Felt good to be fishing.  Like it almost always does.

Family in Town

Family in Town
My sister, her husband, and their grown daughter and son were here last week.  Fishing was pretty good.  Everyone caught fish.  Everyone went fishing but didn’t want to go everyday.  Which was great for me, because of course I did want to go and so got to go almost every day and I got a lot of fishing in.  
We started the week as crew for my friend Larry’s landing craft.  We spent the day traveling to Tenakee and back.  We saw whales bubble net feeding down near Tenakee and Larry was more than happy to stop and watch awhile.  Everyone who wanted to drive for awhile was welcome to do so with Larry by their side for conversation and instruction.  I sent the crew ashore in Tenakee to explore the town while Larry and I offloaded.  Everyone in Tenakee is happy to see Larry coming to town with their freight.  
We spent most of the rest of the week out fishing.  We got enough coho and pinks from our boat, and bought  some sockeye from Chris, to fill a couple smaller fish boxes for the parents for the winter.  I took some of the crew up to Little Island to see the sea lions.  We cooked what we normally do – salmon and halibut and venison – and everyone seemed to enjoy it.   
Nephew Matthew stayed on for an extra week before leaving for graduate school in Hawaii.  We hand trolled out in Chatham and caught a few fish every day. Matthew was content driving while I ran the gear and cleaned the fish.  It is purely a pleasure to be able to just fish with someone else at the wheel.  Matthew was a natural at driving, avoiding kelp and other boats, and always asking if he had a question.  
He’s had quite a life in in his 20 something years, having lived in Canada, Vietnam, Haiti,  and most recently South Korea.  As a result, we hadn’t ever spent much time together and so slow days hand trolling were a perfect setting to catch up.  

Alaskan Cruise

Sara and I took our first Alaskan cruise last week. We flew out to Unalaska and took the ferry to Kodiak. We flew down a few days early to see Dutch Harbor and Unalaska. I’d never been there before, and it exceeded my expectations.  The nice weather didn’t hurt. Our flight was scheduled for 3.75 hours, but we got there in under 3 hours because the weather was so nice they did not need to refuel on the way.

We stayed at the Grand Aleutian Hotel, and rented a car and traveled most of the fairly extensive road system around the town.

Dutch Harbor is not a small boat town. Most of the boats were trawlers and crabbers.

Net menders worked right out our window on a trawl net. The net and rigging was flaked out over a 300 yard strip between the hotel and the road, and that gave us some sense of how big those nets are.

One surprise was the number of 40′ containers in town. Thousands of them. Many were refrigerated units, and were plugged in an running. It obviously takes a lot of cold storage to house the largest seafood port in the country.

One thing not so surprising was the thousands of king crab and tanner pots stacked around town.

The Aleutian landscape is stunning, with grassy mountains rising right up out of the sea. Lots of ground squirrels, and I saw the first snow bunting since I worked on the north slope. Lots of wild flowers were in bloom, and the salmon berries were still green. We saw rafts of ribbon kelp along the road, with a little bull kelp mixed in. There was a sea otter or two in the bay, but just a few. The ADFG biologist there now came from our shop in Juneau 7 years ago, and I could tell she really loved the place and I was glad to see that.

The town is a melting pot of colors and  races and cultures with all the fish processors and fishing boats and support businesses.

The schools and library looked well maintained, as well as the two museums we visited. The library has free wifi and computers and is open long hours.  Gasoline was $4.09/gallon at the pump.

We boarded the ferry Tustemena a couple days later for our trip north. I’d guess about half the passengers were Alaskans doing the same thing we were and local residents riding the ferry to another destination.

The ferry stops at several towns on it’s way to Kodiak and then to Homer. The stops are an hour at each stop, but if we arrived early, we stayed until the scheduled leave time.

Our first stop north was in Akutan, and this town was one of my favorite stops. The tiny community has a fish processor on one side of town and the community on the other. Like almost every community in the area, there was an old Russian Orthodox Church and cemetery. We were able to walk to the end of the town boardwalk in about 15 minutes, and the little Akutan School looked well maintained. There was also a brand new Catholic Church between the town and the fish processing plant, and apparently built at the behest of the cannery workers if we got the story straight.

The next stop was Cold Bay. Although we had fair weather our whole trip, one downside to this was we had hours of fog a day. Cold Bay was socked in and so I didn’t see anything of the town as it’s somewhat distant from the ferry terminal.

The next stop was King Cove. King Cove seemed like a prosperous community with well kept houses and processing plant. There’s also apparently a popular Chinese restaurant in King Cove, and people from Chignik (I think) ordered food from the restaurant and had it delivered to the ferry for delivery to Chignik.
The fog broke out of King Cove, and I was able to sit on the bench on the side deck of the ferry and just watch the beautiful Aleutian scenery of emerald green. Real wilderness here with no sign of civilization. We passed Pavlof Volcano, which is one of the many active volcanoes in the area, and we could see a vent whole in the top and ash on the snow below it.

At Sand Point, the state fish and game biologist met us and gave us a quick tour around town. With the beautiful weather, we arrived early so got a little extra time. Sand Point was my second biologist job with ADFG 30 years ago. I would later find out that the biologist was the cousin of an old friend from Fairbanks. She grew up in Kodiak, and this position winters in Kodiak and she was glad to back home after several years working in  Anchorage. I also met an elder seiner on whose boat I’d worked as a biologist test fishing 3 decades ago. He didn’t remember me, of course, but I remembered him and his boat. The town hadn’t changed all that much in 30 years. The roads were now paved, and ADFG was in a new office. Sadly, a new memorial was erected at the harbor dedicated to the crew of a boat that included the son of a co worker who was about 4 when I worked there 30 years ago. He and  4 other crew members were lost at sea when their crab boat sunk inexplicably a couple years ago near the Pribilof Islands. The town looked like it was doing well, with well maintained houses and fishing boats.

The last stop before Kodiak was at Chignik, another place I worked right after graduate school. The bugs were so bad I didn’t get off with Sara. I had heard there was a donut maker in town, and noticed several donut boxes showing up. I got to sample a donut with the Captain of the ferry on our way to Kodiak, and it was excellent.

Kodiak was our last stop. I lived in Kodiak for a couple years when I worked summers in Sand Point  and Chignik, and it’s always a pleasure returning. The only problem now is so many of the people I worked with and hunted with as a young biologist there have passed away. Many before their time due to cancer or heart attack or disease. We were lucky to have an old friend and his wife invite us over for breakfast and it was fun catching up with them. They are in their mid  70’s now, and in good shape. Another old friend took me to the airport for my flight home, and it was great catching up with him and scheduling my stay with him in October when I’ll return to elk hunt. Sara stayed in town for a few days to visit with her fellow legislator and friend Louise.

What a great way to see the state with nothing more to do than watch the world go by. It might be boring for some people, but not for us. By the end of the trip, we of course met several of our fellow passengers, found common acquaintances with some of the Alaskan passengers from Fairbanks, and enjoyed eating in the ferry dining area and meeting the staff that served us.

Late spring greens

Laura and I went to our spot at Eaglecrest looking for nettles and late fiddleheads.  It was a glorious day today of sun and temp in the 60’s.  We made it across the log that crosses the creek, and took our time threading our way up through the devils club.  We followed a dry creekbed uphill as these usually hold nettles.  We soon found lots of young nettles plants.  Most of the ferns had unfurled from their fiddlehead stage, but we still found some fiddleheads emerging.  This was the latest we’d ever looked up here I think, and we noted that maybe in the past when we thought there were no nettles in a spot that maybe they just hadn’t come up yet.  We also found what we thought maybe currants amidst the devils club and salmon berry bushes, so I may have to look later in the summer to see.  Supposed to rain hard starting tonight so glad we got out today.