Trophy Harvest

Got over to the cabin after not getting over there since May. I was hoping there’d be a few berries left as I hadn’t picked at all this summer, except for the Haines America cherries at Roy and Brenda’s.

Boy, was I surprised.

The huckleberries – blue and red – were as prime as I’ve ever picked. It seemed late for them to be this prime, but it sure wasn’t. A few blueberries were left, too. Just like the cherries were the best I’d picked in Haines earlier this summer.

I picked about 6 to 7 hours over the weekend, with lots of coffee drinking and reading old Alaska magazines and reading an old book about contact with the Tlinghit in the mid-1800’s in between.

The murder of crows over there around the island is something else. There are about 30 of them. And they will sort of swarm over an area – sometimes me – and caw and caw and caw – about nothing. Kind of like the sea lions do at Little Island. I can’t recall seeing this behavior anywhere else.

I looked up in the log and saw I was only over there for 11 days last year, and this would be my 6th to 8th days this year.

Might be time to sell the place to some younger people who will use it more.

Now the not fun part of discarding all the leaves and sticks in the berries a handful at a time.

Luckily, lots of football on the XM radio to listen to.

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.
Boat with small craft in front going toward shore

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.

Young man fishing off side of boat

Aug Boat Trip

Young man fishing off side of boat

My nephew Eaton arrived the day after we got the boat to Juneau. He’s my youngest nephew, and was here a few years ago. He was here for 2 weeks, and he was ready to fish.

We got the boat provisioned, picked up Dorothy, and took the boat around Douglas Island from the downtown harbor to Auke Bay harbor, where we took on fuel and water.. With nothing else left to do, Sara met us out there, where she picked up Dorothy to take her home, and Eaton and I headed west. I thought about going to Funter Bay for the evening, but it was pretty late in the day, and so we anchored in Barlow Cove near the lighthouse. Bad choice. Although Eaton slept like a baby, I was awaken hourly by cruise ships coming and going around Pt. Retreat.

The next morning, I was up early and we rounded Pt. Retreat and headed for East Point, where I fished for king salmon July 1-2, as well as in my past years power trolling in the spring. North Chatham was the usual. Forecast for light winds and seas, and kicking up 3 foot seas, just because. As we headed towards Funter Bay, I could see my deck hand was getting a little green. We arrived at Funter Bay about noon, and I pulled into the dock to wait out the wind and waves. Also at the dock was the main clerk from Harri’s, where I get my trolling, boating, and plumbing supplies, and Mac, who ran for Mayor when I ran for assembly and his deckhand Bobby, who I know from fish politics. All at the dock to wait out the wind.

We tied up for a couple hours. Eventually, everyone else left, so we figured the wind had laid down. We left and when we got to Chatham Strait, it was a duck pond. We cruised south to Freshwater Bay on flat seas.

We arrived at Pavlov Harbor, where we joined a sailboat, a small yacht, and a couple small cruise ships. I could see a bear fishing just up from the creek mouth.. As we settled in for the night, my nephew watched movies on the DVD player. I sat on the back deck and watched humpback whales bubblenet feeding right at the entrance to Pavlov Harbor.

We fished the next day at East Point. Normally, I try to avoid pink salmon. But there were pinks. Lots of pinks. Really bright pinks. And not much else. And my nephew loved catching them. So pinks it was. Turns out my nephew also loved eating them, as he had a half a side of pink salmon from one we caught the first day for dinner and would have ate more.

I figure out a little more about the boat everyday. I learned how to access the transmission oil check. As long as I have my skinny nephew, that is. How to position rods in the back so I can see them through the windows at the helm. That the freezer I bought for the deck works great and does not unduly tax the batteries. That the windlass is slowwwwwww pulling up the anchor, but if you put water on for coffee before pulling the anchor, it will be right at boiling by the time the anchor is up. That you can kick and move the battery selector switch without knowing it when exiting the port side door. That although the stern is in need of scuppers to allow water to exit more easily, if I clean the fish in a cleaner tied over the side, I can keep most of the fish innards out of the boat.

On Day 2, I was up and had the boat out to East Point to fish.. Eaton got up about 9, and just as he got to the back deck to pee, a pink is on the line, and he lands it in his pajamas. We watched whales lunge feeding close to us and the wind was just right that we could smell their breath. I’m always nervous fishing around whales. I stay away from them, but once they dive, you never know where they’ll resurface.. The fishing action was good with the pinks. And the fish so bright and decent size this year that they weren’t all that hard to clean.

We anchor in Wachusetts Cove and set the dungy pots near others in the bay.. One of them came with the boat, and was a folding type with no escape rings. So, I scrounged a couple large hose clamps left in the boat. I showed Eaton how to adjust the clamp to size according to the regulation book onboard for dungeness crab pots, and then tie them into the mesh, and finally cut the mesh inside the clamp. I then taught Eaton how to cook a pink salmon fillet in butter with some seasoning, which is about as hard as boiling water. He cooked a whole fillet of pink salmon and wolfed it down watching another DVD. The Big Lebowski. For the second night in a row. I sit up in helm writing and looking over manuals, and enjoy just listening to a funny movie like TBL. Like Pavlof Harbor, pink salmon are jumping everywhere.. I also look out at the cool geology in Wachusetts. Rock formations that stick up out of the beach like a chef’s high hat, with caves eroded out underneath that would make for a perfect camping shelter.

Day 3, I wait for Eaton to get up so we can check the crab pots. Although sunrise –  4 am ish- is my favorite time to fish,  I contemplate that helping out with Scouts over the past several years, as well as having Eaton’s older cousin John here several time, has trained me well for traveling with a teenager. I make a pot of coffee and write and look around me and look at more manuals. Then I make another pot of coffee and continue the routine until I hear him rustling down below. I pull the anchor as Eaton tends the wheel, which is our routine now. He sets the anchor in the evenings, and as many times as I tell him, he’s not careful with the chain going out after the anchor and it jumps out of the bow roller and then tries to chew up the nice gunnel rail on our nice boat. I think to myself : maybe I just can’t have nice things….. We idle over to the crab pots,  As we coast by the crab pot buoy, Eaton whiffs with the gaff. Like I knew he would. He grimaces while I shout encouraging words of “if I was going any slower, we’d have going backwards”, and we go round again. He gets it this time. And every time he needs to in subsequent days after that.

The pots are full of crab. But they are small. And female. I show him the tell tale female tails and explain we can’t keep them. He accepts that with no argument, and I’m happy he doesn’t rationalize that we could keep them and cook them and nobody would know, as he’s practically drooling since crab are his favorite seafood. Good boy.

We put down the fishing gear and are fishing soon out of the harbor. The seas are choppy, and it’s pretty sloppy as we round East Point. This isn’t going to be a day of fishing in these conditions. Eaton hurls over the side. We catch a couple shaker kings and a pink, but it’s not something I want to fish in. So I tell Eaton we’ll pull up the gear when we get a ways into Tenakee Inlet, and go see town. Then it happens. One of the rods has a fish. We’re just about in the lee of the point across the bay, and the seas are lessening. Eaton yards the fish in, and when I see it, I see a nice big king salmon. Now I whiff with the net the first pass, then on the second the hooks catch in the net, but I manage to roll it into the net and get it on board. That made the day. Not many fish, but this one was worth the try and he forgot about being sea sick.

As we’re pulling the gear to go to town, a seiner is steaming full ahead towards us. I yell “sorry!” as he passes, but he wasn’t upset and greeted me happily. He was just going to make another set. The inlet was full of seiners after the pink salmon jumping everywhere, and I explain how a seiner fishes as we head towards Tenakee. We pass boats in all stages of seining, and it’s good to see boats catching fish and knowing the miracle of the annual salmon migration looks fruitful for yet another year and know there’s not many place left in the world where this is so.

We make it to Tenakee and tie up to the little dock below the store. It was about 130 pm, and the website for the store says they are open from 2 to 430 pm, so we relax for half an hour. At 159 pm, we head up the dock and arrive just as the store is closing.. The volunteer from the little museum across the boardwalk sees us and says – “Oh that- yeah, the webmaster is pretty busy. They changed the hours. They change the hours all the time.”. We didn’t need anything in particular from the store. It was just something to do. She sees the store clerk walking back into the store and asks if they’ll be open again at 3 when a little cruise ship will be in. He says yes, and we’re welcome to come in now as he’s not going anywhere.. So, in we go. We look over all their goods. Eaton grabs a couple candy items, and I tell him to get a coconut ice bar for each of us.

We exit  the store and head down the trail towards the head of the bay. The museum volunteer tells us about the brown bear situation. They had to kill a bear the evening before, and this seemed to make the other 2 bears around town take off for awhile.. The houses and cabins on either side of the trail are well kept. Many Juneauites have second homes in Tenakee. I point out the various berries along the trail. Some trails bushwacked through the thick berry bushes look like they were made by bears. We walk maybe a quarter mile and turn back. My back is stiff and my leg joints sore from just being on the boat. By the time we head back, things have stretched out a bit and I feel better.

I look on the chart and see a Crab Bay across the inlet. Gotta be crab there!  So we untie and head in that direction. As we entered the bay, seiners were still fishing. We head up the bay, and I immediately see it’s a blow hole. The wind is blowing directly to the back of the long narrow bay, which has spectacular cliffs and steep mountains rising straight up from the bay. When we get to the back of the bay, we haven’t seen a crab pot to think there were actually any crab here now. And it wasn’t going to be a good place to anchor. So we turn around and head back to Tenakee Inlet.

I think maybe there will be crabbing at the mouth of the Kadasan River, and we can anchor or tie up in Corner Bay, where I know the Chew logging and construction family from hauling their lumber from there to Juneau with Larry. As we pass the Kadashan Delta, I see crab pots. So we toss our pots out near them. I see a nice little island towards Corner Bay with a nice spot in the lee of the wind to anchor. Soon, we are anchored in a little 60 foot deep hole behind the island. I shut down the engine – the best silence of the day – and start getting the back deck ready to butcher fish.

I fillet our catch to date, except for the king salmon, which I steak. I set Eaton up at the kitchen table with plastic wrap, and show him how to put some fish pieces in a colander in a bowl to let them drain, then transfer those fish to another container, and put more pieces in the colander. While those are draining, he then wraps each piece of fish in plastic wrap and stacks them in a pile. I continue butchering and feeding him fish to wrap. When I’m done butchering, I come in and start wrapping fish in butcher paper. A vac packer for the boat is on the list of things to get. As I wrap, Eaton tears off pieces of masking tape to seal the paper wrap. We are a good team. Then he starts to write the fish species and year on each package. When we’re all done, I tell him about freezing salmon.. That you want to spread the fish out so they are not in a bunch and so each piece will freeze as quickly as possible. I put as many fish is I can spread out in the freezer to freeze, then put the rest in the cooler on top of the ice. The fish in the freezer were frozen the next day, and I then put in the fish in the cooler on top of them to freeze. The freezer was working out  great, and it was such a pleasure to tie up at the end of the trip with just the day’s catch to butcher, and not a week’s worth.

Now that I have plenty of bait from fish heads and frames, I bait up a halibut rod and put it over the side in our 60 foot anchorage. I set the drag so it’s easy for a fish to pull it out, and put the clicker on so we can hear the line paying out if a fish bites. We were about half way through wrapping fish when we hear the line going out. I get to the rod, and let the fish take it out further, then set the hook. Oh yeah. It’s a halibut. I hand the rod to Eaton. He’s been used to yarding in pink salmon that he can just skip over the top of the water once they are to the surface. So he tries to yard in this halibut. Then the halibut yards back. And yards back. Eaton is not used to this. And he likes it. He plays the fish skillfully to the boat. It’s a nice halibut about 30 to 40 lbs. I conk it on the head, then gaff it aboard. What a day. What started out as a day of sloppy water and few fish turns out to be a king salmon and halibut day. Mom and Dad are gonna be happy with Eaton.

After the brief excitement,  Eaton exits stage right to his bunk and more DVDs. I put out two halibut rods with our new found luck. He passes the pile of dishes I’ll be doing after I clean the halibut and finish wrapping the salmon. The Scout master training kicks in. I’m just gonna let him go and know I don’t have anything else to do anyway the rest of the night. And, I like taking care of salmon and doing dishes while listening to KCAW on the radio from Sitka,  and he likes watching TV, so everyone wins. It’s been a particularly rainy day. The kind of Southeast Alaska day that can soak you to the bone, and I’m happy to get into some dry clothes.

On Day 4,  I’m up early and Eaton late again. Now I’m used to the routine. We had no more action on our gear over the side. However, I did have some excitement. A bear swam across from Chichagof Island to the little island we were anchored behind. An island you could walk around in 5 minutes that had a little copse of evergreen trees in the middle. We were so near the island I could clearly see it without binoculars. It was not exciting enough for Eaton to leave his bunk and look, however.. Eventually, the bear walked over the spit out of sight and I expect swam back to Chichagof.

When Eaton finally got up, I pull the anchor and we check the crab pots. No luck.. We head out Tenakee Inlet back to Chatham Strait. We travel straight down the middle to stay out of the seiners’ way fishing on either side of the Inlet. We fish from one side of East Point to the other, and not even a pink salmon. Yikes!  So, we decide to go to explore the head of Freshwater Bay. My former workmate and her family have a cabin there, built with their friends and featured on a reality tv show. They are bringing us out some salmon rods and a chartbook, so I look at her directions to their cabin so I’ll know where it is when they arrive. We find it perched on a short cliff, and it looks beautiful.

We anchor at the head of the bay at the mouth of a creek – I think it’s a creek. I looked for a little whole like we anchored in behind the island in Tenakee Inlet to see if there’d be halibut there, too.. After we set our crab pots, get the anchor set, we see our friends neighbors come out to check whatever it was they had under some big buoys. Turns out it was a halibut line, and we see them haul a nice 40 pounder of the side of their skiff.

I realize after we set the anchor we put all the bait in the crab pot!  I figure we’ll let them soak a couple hours before we pull them to get some bait out for halibut. During that time, our friends arrived with the gear, and we talked for about 15 minutes about what we’d been doing and what gear they had set on the way in.

After they leave for their cabin, we pull the anchor and go pull the pot to get some bait. We check the pots and ooh!  We have some crab. And then we see a big crab that was hanging onto the outside fall off!  When we look at the crab on the inside, they are males but too small. We toss them back and hope for some bigger ones in the morning. At least we see some male crab in the area.We re-anchor and  I put our lines over the side, but we have no interest for the rest of the day.

On Day 5, at about 5am the next morning, though, I hear line screaming out.. I get up from my bunk, out to the rod, and pick it up. Nothing there. As soon as I jig it once, back the fish comes. I set the hook, and after one or two lunges by the fish, the line goes limp. I reel up, and the line had parted. Not sure if it was rotted there or could have rubbed against something on the boat or what.

Well, I was up now.. And it would be hours before Eaton would be up. Our bait was gone. So, I find a mooching jig in the box left by the former boar owner, tie it to my salmon rod using  leader line from the same rod, and try jigging. It didn’t take long and i had a fish on. It swam straight to the surface.. So not a halibut, I think. I get it to the boat and see it’s a shaker!  I release it, and try again. I get another fish on, and it feels bigger. It too swims to the surface, but throws the hook before I saw it. Another nicer king, I think.

I’d tied the treble hook directly to the line threaded through the jig, and though maybe I needed to put a ring and swivel on the hook so it hung down a little further. When I cut the line to the hook to retie everything, I realized I’d put the jig on upside down!  Well, we’ll see how it works when tied on properly.

I fish for another hour or two. I caught a bullhead and some very small pollock or cod. Then a big one. I knew I had a good halibut on. I roust Eaton, and ask him to put together the harpoon to tie to the small buoy over the side.. We fumble with lines as I get the fish to the surface. It’s a nice one. A little bigger than the one we got earlier. I can gaff it. I ask for the gaff, and when he hands me the short one, I ask for the long one. Now the fish is just laying at the surface, not doing much. Eaton has to get the gaff out of the cleaning table, and struggles to pull it out of the tight space. Then the fish shakes it’s head. Just a little. And the line parts. Right at the jig. I should have used a heavier leader, as the halibut’s teeth must have nicked the 30 lbs test line on the reel. Eaton then got an education in four letter words as Uncle Mark swore up and down at himself for not using heavier line. Again the scout training kicked in. I was careful not to blame anything on my nephew, as of course he was not to blame. I told him: you don’t remember all the fish you catch, but you remember all the fish you lose. I tried another jig with heavier leader and caught some more tiny cod, but did not get another halibut on.

We decided to try the raft on the back of the boat to check the crab pots for a little adventure. I lowered the raft, and mounted the little 2.5 kicker. I then had Eaton get in the boat and instructed him on how the outboard worked. How to start it and how to stop it. When he got it fired up, I flopped into the front of the raft, and off we went to check the crab pot about 100 yards behind us. Eaton figured out how to steer the motor, and how to control the speed with the throttle. He was clearly pleased with himself. I pulled the pot up and when Eaton could see it, I stopped pulling so as to not possibly puncture the raft, and we motored back to the boat. Eaton said he saw crab in the pot.

When we got to the boat, we indeed had 2 crab in the pot. Both keepers, and one hog that was as big as dungeness get. Finally, we got some of his favorite. I’d planned to motor up to our friends cabin to visit, but had seen them leave to check their gear, and I couldn’t raise them on the radio, so we decided to head to Funter Bay. I did reach them on the radio on the way out, and told them my sad fishing story.

On Day 6, we steamed towards Funter Bay in a following sea, which was pleasant. When we got near Lizard Head about 4 hours later, I put the fishing gear out at the two cabins south of LH.. I soon had a nice coho on, and Eaton brought it in. It was big. September sized. Not long after, we got another one on. This one was even bigger – 12 or more lbs I’d guess. I wanted to turn back to fish the drag line again, but it was too sloppy to want to buck the waves, so we kept going towards Funter. After no more fish past Lizard Head, I pulled up the gear and found I did have another small coho on that had not tripped the release. I dressed the fish, and then we steamed in to tie up at the Funter Bay dock.. I dropped the crab pot over the dock, as I’d seen people catch crab here and there were other pots nearby. Later in the evening, a small brown bear walked right along the shore about 20 or 30 yards from the dock as if it was on a Sunday stroll with not a care in the world. When he got further up the beach to some old cannery (I think) ruins, he stopped and sniffed the air. Then he took off at a job across an open patch of beach that led to the woods. I’m guessing he smelled a bigger bear.

I awoke early on Day 7, and left a little after 5 am with no need to wake Eaton. But he yelled up from his bunk not to forget to check the pot, which I had but no crab.. We steamed up to a spot south of Cordwood, and I put out the fishing gear. We had a couple hours to fish, then would steam to Auke Bay, where Kurt would be getting in from a boat trip and give us a ride home.. I caught a couple smaller coho as Eaton slept. Then I got a double on. And lost them both. When we reached Point Retreat, I pulled the gear and we headed for Auke Bay.. A great week with my nephew.

Tug

I found a boat Sara might like. A Sundowner Tug. Kind of like a Nordic Tug, but in our price range.

The boat had come up for sale a less than a day before and I just happened to see it on Alaska Boat Brokers. It was a similar situation with our house 25 years ago. We passed our house on our way to work. One morning there was a for sale sign in front by owner. At noon, the sign was now for a realtor. We called him to try to be the first to look. A little house on a big lot. Not a common occurrence in Juneau. We looked, and Sara liked. I told her we needed to offer full price now or it would be gone if we hesitated. We’re still here today.

The one difference with this boat was that I had already scheduled my fish delivery for the following day. I could not change the delivery date now. So I told Sara if she was really interested, she needed to fly down to Ketchikan and look at it. Somewhat surprisingly, she did. And the report was two thumbs up. Looks like we were going to buy a tug.

We had 2 weeks to close the deal with a haul out and inspection, and the next time the broker, who was a friend of our friends in Ketchikan – could get a haul out date was for 10 days later. That worked for me. Sara would be out of town then at a conference, so I asked my friend Kurt, and he was excited to go.

Our flight arrived in Ketchikan a little after 8 am, and Jeff was there to meet us. A little after 9 am, we were at the harbor launch, with a haul out service pulling out the boat on a trailer on the ramp. The hull bottom looked like it had never been even scratched. The mechanic who was a friend of Jeff that we hired to look at the boat with us was familiar with these Yanmar engines and a tug owner himself. Like Sara, he  gave it two thumbs up. He also checked the shaft and propeller, and said the prop showed some signs of electrolosis. Peter, the owner, said he thinks the prop had the pinkish hue when he bought it, and he thought he had addressed the electrolosis issue with bonding. I paid the mechanic, and we put the boat back in the water for a sea trial.

We toodled down Tongass Narrows for a mile or two. Peter went through the controls and electronics with me. Soon, we were back to his stall in the harbor. A done deal.   Money was transferred by wire from my bank to the documentation company, and it was now our boat.

I texted our good friends Jen and Bill, and soon Jen and her car arrived. She took a tour of the boat, then we took her home and borrowed her car. We went to Walmart to look for a small freezer, which Peter said he used on the boat when out fishing and I thought was a good idea. Kurt talked me out of getting it there, but we did find all the groceries we needed. We had an excellent lunch of Mexican food from a food truck near Walmart, then stopped for a half rack of PBR at the liquor store, and back to the boat. Off we go. Just like that. It was only 130 in the afternoon.

We steamed north on calm seas and made our way up Clarence Strait. We thought we’d tie up at the dock in Meyers Chuck for the evening, as neither of us had been there. When we got into the bay, the dock was full, but it was great to see the place.

We continued up Clarence Strait and decided to anchor in a cove in Onslow Island off the channel with Eagle Islands.

The next morning we were up early. I checked the oil and coolant. This was my first check. The engine looks brand new. Never had something like this before. Engine hardly turns over before it jumps to life. Much quieter than the old two stroke Jimmy motors I’ve had in the past. We steamed north and picked out some spots to fish.

We fished near Mabel Island on the advice of my inlaws, but no halibut. We traveled further north to Snow Pass, where there were humpback whales all over the place. The tide was really running, and it was hard to get the salmon gear down very far and still try to make any headway. We caught a pink and a coho here.

We decided we’d travel to the entrance to Wrangell Narrows, and then run the narrows in the morning. I’ve never known anyone having a problem in the narrows, but it’s legendary for tide currents and groundings. As we got to the narrows, we still had plenty of light, so decided to head on to Petersburg. We were traveling at the last two hours of the flood tide, and this may be the best time to go. I thought it might take us 3 or 4 hours, but we made it in about 2 hours with the tide whisking us along.

I called the night attendant at the Petersburg Harbor, and got my stall assignment. We picked our way in there, and when we tied up I realized we were right across from Paul’s boat, Cisco, and right at the bottom of the ramp. We had pizza for dinner. The galley in the boat is as nice as our house. A 3 burner propane cook top and a stove.

We went up to the harbor office and paid our moorage. Then stretched our legs the short block to the liquor store, and back to the boat. We took care of our purchase, and had a restful sleep tied up to the dock.

The next morning, we met Paul and Eric for breakfast at the Salty Pantry restaurant. Paul and Eric had brought 2 vehicles, parking one at the harbor and the other at the fuel dock. We all went back to the boat for their tour, then headed over to the fuel dock to give them a little ride. We took on about 50 gallons of fuel, and Paul and Eric departed up to their car. I suggested we fill the water tank, but Kurt said we’d be fine with what we had.  For some reason I had thought Petersburg was most of the way to Juneau from Ketchikan, but it’s only half way. About 117 miles from Ketchikan to Petersburg, and 115 miles from Petersburg to Juneau.

We made our way out the narrows and into Frederick Sound. Another calm day. On Paul’s advice, we fished at Cape Fanshaw, and caught a pink and a coho. We then steamed over to Five Finger Lighthouse, which used to be leased by a good friend of Kurt’s, and Kurt had been to the place. There was a sailboat full of tourists on site at the lighthouse, and I wasn’t sure if there were residents at the lighthouse or not. A humpback whale was feeding right next to the shore of lighthouse island. I mean right next to the shore such that if you were casting from shore, you might cast over it. We anchored up in a spot that looked like money for halibut, and tried for a couple hours. There were several humpbacks feeding around us, and one came right next to the boat to check us out before diving and being on its way. We had a few nibbles but no halibut. We picked up and headed north.

We made the cove at Point Ashley at dark. There were two smaller cruise ships and a yacht in the anchorage. We ran the heater and it was pretty luxurious sleeping on a heated boat. But we ran out of water in the last washing of dishes. Kurt said “I told you we should have got water in Petersburg”.

The last day there was a little tail wind and chop.  We traveled up to Taku Harbor and tried trolling for salmon. We got a fish on soon after putting the gear out, and it was a 23 inch undersized king salmon that we released. We were in our country now, and recognized our geography. We made our way with a 1 to 2 foot sea the rest of the way to Juneau.

Back home, we got a slip in Aurora Harbor. Jeffy had dropped Kurt’s truck at the harbor, and soon he was dropping me off at the house. I returned to the harbor office to register the new boat, and later signed up for the waitlist for a slip.

The next morning, I was up and got started on my priority project: installing mounts for the downriggers. My nephew Eaton was arriving tonight, and so I needed to get these on so we could fish for salmon. I had been thinking of lots of different ways of doing it, and took supplies from the garage for the different options. In the end, the simplest seemed the best: I bolted a piece of 2 x 10 across the curve of the stern rail, and then put the downrigger mount on the board. Simple and stout. The boat was already starting to look more like a hand troller than a quaint tug. Sara was not surprised.

What is surprising is that there are no scuppers in the stern. Just two little floor drains about an inch in diameter, with a grate over the mouth of the drain. They get clogged just looking at them. So, that’s the next project. There’s lots of free board in the stern. I’m just a little nervous cutting through Sara’s new boat.

Fish Sale Day

Friday was king salmon delivery day. I had the most orders ever, I think. One hundred and one king salmon. Dorothy, my 10 year old Sierra Leoneon niece, was to help me. Her first job.

I’d washed out the fish coolers, then headed to Jerry’s Meats, now the town’s lone fish processor for people’s personal fish, to collect a pile of their fish totes. I would return the totes filled with king salmon ordered by my customers with their instructions for filleting, smoking, or steaking their fish. It was a lesson learned over 20 years of doing this. I used to deliver to my customer’s homes, and then found out many of them took the fish to Jerrys. So, I just take them there now, saving me and my customers an extra trip. I used to take the fish in and have the attendant fill out the paperwork and weigh the fish for each of my customers. As Scott, the owner, and I grew to know each other, Scott allowed me to weigh the fish and fill out all the paperwork at Chris’s plant, so all I have to do when I arrive at his place is put the fish on a cart that is rolled into their cooler, which saves alot of labor time for them and is much more efficient for me.

Scott, the owner, looked very tired when I stopped by. Again. I’d asked him if it was okay to bring the fish in in the days preceding the delivery so this was not a surprise to him. He, like me, knows people depend on us to get their fish and get it processed. But Scott, like so many other businesses in town, simply cannot find workers – and one of his new workers was a no show that morning. The business owners – and their families – pick up the slack until they can’t. And then some, like my friend Marc, have to close their cafe on the weekends, because you can only do so much. Or Dick, a mentor to me like Chris since I started this business over 2 decades ago, can’t find enough workers to process people’s personal fish this year so he won’t be doing that for people – the first time in probably 30 or more years. A few years ago there were 3 fish processors who processed people’s personal fish. Now there’s just Jerrys.

Like many of my friends who are either retired or work for the government, we don’t really know about this product of the pandemic. Many just complain that “nobody wants to work” when they can’t get what they want. But many do want to work, And are working. All the kids old enough for employment in the scout troop that want jobs have them. Those of us not in the private sector full time, but who depend on it, have an obligation as good neighbors to be understanding, and if you don’t like how it is, then take the job that’s causing your problem.

Unlike her big brother Sam, Dorothy is all business. She’s only been in the US from West Africa since September, and so lots of things are still brand new to her. Like seeing the deciduous trees leaf out, and the bare bushes produce salmon berries. And the new birds returning for the summer. I try to point out things she’s seeing.

Her brother was only worried about how much money I was going to pay him, and he inevitably would start messing around at the processing plants where I was delivering fish. Dorothy didn’t ask about money at all. Her job is to write down the weights of each customer’s fish on their processing cards, which I’d pre-filled days before, and also write down the weight on my business sheet so I could bill them. This may seem like small assistance, but be assured it is not. When I do this alone, every time I put a fish on the scale with my gloved hands, I then have to unglove to write the weights down so as not to slime the paperwork. Having a diligent assistant, with good hand writing no less, is a dream come true.

We slogged our way through the long list of orders for Jerrys first. I sorted through king salmon iced in totes that came from Pelican, where Seth had bought them from salmon trollers. I’d look at the fish and look at the orders, and select fish that fit a customers order for size or number of fish, and there was no order to it. Dorothy dutifully and patiently found the customer’s cards from Jerrys and then wrote down the weights, and I kept a sharp eye out that she was also writing down the weights on the business sheet so I had a record to bill my customers. After an hour or two, we had the orders ready and delivered them to Jerrys.

They were not all that enthused to see more work coming in the door, as I knew they were already swamped. I felt like I was piling on, but hoped it would be okay. They were cordial as always to me, knowing I’d already cleared it with the boss. We then back tracked to the Breeze Inn store, where I bought a dozen donuts and a twelver of Rainer, and returned with it for the crew to show my appreciation. That went over well.

We returned to the plant to put together the home delivery orders. I’d brought my 4 big coolers, so we could divide the orders into out the road residents, valley residents, downtown residents and Douglas Island residents. I showed Dorothy how we needed to write the customer’s name on a piece of flagging tape, which I’d tie to the jar of each fish, and then layer the fish in the cooler so the fish on top would be the first delivery, and so forth. She did not need to be shown more than once, and started writing down the customer’s names on the tape while I weighed the fish and when I was done weighing the tape was ready to be tied in the fish’s jaw. We are a good team.

After another hour, we were on our way for delivery. This was a great journey for a new resident like Dorothy, as we traveled all over the Juneau road system, her new home town. I drove over 100 miles for today’s deliveries. People were to leave coolers out for me to put their fish in if they weren’t going to be home, and all but one had done so, and that person was home so she just got a bag for the fish.

We finished our last stop a few blocks from the Conteh’s apartment. I asked Dorothy if she wanted to get McDonalds (like we do at cross country ski practice this winter) or just go home if she was tired. McDonalds, it was. So we traveled to the drive through. I ordering my usual – an ice cream cone and a coffee – and Dorothy her usual- a quarter pounder with cheese and fries. When we got our food, there was no coffee. I asked the server, and she said there was no coffee ordered. I looked at the receipt, and see when I said “small coffee” the cashier heard “small fries”, so now I had ice cream and Dorothy had two orders of fries. When we understood what happened, Dorothy proclaimed  “This is my lucky day!”

I ate my ice cream cone on the way to the Contehs, and Dorothy didn’t touch her food – she liked to eat it at home. When we got to her apartment, I told her to open her bag, and I dropped two folded 50’s on the fries, and she wrapped the top of the bag tight again, not seeing the amount of money she earned. I’m not even sure if she thought she was going to get paid. As I suspected, she was very happy with her first day’s work and pay, according to her dad, and he was glad to hear a glowing report of his youngest daughter after years of many less than glowing reports of her older brother.

Speaking of her older brother, Sam is now over 6 feet tall, and has found his stride. I always knew he had the brains and skills to get somewhere. I just didn’t know when he’d get on the bus. Well, he has. He got himself a full time job a a shop downtown in the heart of the cruise ship district. He stocks shelves with tee shirts. His dad says he’s up early to shower and is ready for work, has a group of friends there, and his boss says he’s doing well. It’s been a long road, it seems, but this has made me as happy as about anything has since he got to town, and I’m genuinely proud of him. I gave him a ride home from hauling aluminum cans for scouts a few days ago, and I realized when I dropped him off that I had been talking to a young man now, and not a surly adolescent.

Today, I got a spinning rod together that would be a size for Dorothy. Unlike Sam, she has been willingly shadowing her Dad when he fishes from shore at various locations around town for returning king salmon. He caught 4 this morning with Dorothy at his side, and that makes at least seven fish for him in the past few days by my count. Now Dorothy will have a rod of a length that fits her 10 year old size to fish, too. I don’t know if the smaller rod will handle a big king salmon, but I loaded the small spinning reel with spider wire line that is about 30 lb test or more, just in case….