Blueberries

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.  

Pandemic Bears

A friend from Haines sent her car down to Juneau for service, and this morning we put the car back on the ferry to get it back to her.  I drove out our only highway from downtown to the ferry terminal.  No one was going my way at all, and I passed only a handful of cars heading to town.  Early am or not, this is not the usual during a non-pandemic, cruise ship filled summer.  As I neared Lemon Creek, I saw something black moving out in the grass a couple hundred yards from the road.  Two young black bears were sparing in the early morning quiet.
After I put the car on the ferry, Sara picked me up for the ride home, a couple miles from the ferry, another bear strolled across the road.  Then it squatted wayyyyy down on all fours to squeeze under the guard rail, then sauntered up the bike path.  

Another Trip of a lifetime up the Taku River

Leon took me up the Taku River to subsistence fish.  After a couple days of really heavy rain that followed days of just plain rain, we were welcomed to the trip with partly sunny skies and no rain.   The river was very high with the earlier torrential rains, and as we traveled at high tide, it was tough to see where the channel was and where the submerged sand bars were.  The first part of the trip in the saltwater is easy.  As we got near the first of 4 or 5 glaciers, we collected some glacier ice to keep the fish cool.  Then the fun starts.
Once you leave the ocean and enter the  mouth of the river, the river widens and it’s hard to tell where it’s shallow and where there’s a channel to run a boat.  Many Juneauites have cabins up the river near the Canadian border, and they have big jet boats that are tailored for this trip, but not as efficient for an all around boat since jet boats are less fuel efficient than prop boats.  
GPS has certainly helped things as once you run the river without touching bottom and record it on your gps, you can follow your track with pretty fair confidence for the rest of the season.  If you only go up once a year like we do, you can plan to try to vaguely remember earlier trips, and also have confidence in your partner that if we find the shallows, I will hop out in my chest waders to push us to deeper waters and then hop back in to feel our way upriver.
We moved up the river, picking our way and finding shallows.  Then a year-round river resident passed us in his boat, and we quickly followed him.  We cruised past 5 or 6 glaciers, some that come right to the river edge. We picked up some glacier ice chunks floating in the water for our ice chests to keep our fish cool.  It’s like another planet. 
We made our way up to our fishing site to find flooding like we’d never seen before in earlier trips.  There was no beach to fish from, so I lived in my chest waders, which was fine as the air temperature wasn’t too hot and the water not too cold.  We set our net after greeting the fish technicians operating fish wheel operation, and settled in for an overnight trip. 
We scratched a few fish here and there, mostly sockeye, but with a coho here and there, a surprise king once in awhile, and a few pinks.  Leon had me bring a smaller meshed net than his as he’d heard that the sockeye – our target fish – were running small.  We set our net off a point 20 yards from our net.  It sunk out of sight in about 10 minutes.  We pulled on both the shore line and the buoy line, and it was solidly stuck.  I didn’t feel any give to make me think it could have been a tree, and thought it must be wrapped around a rock, and maybe when the river subsided, the net could be retrieved.  When Leon mentioned this to the young men at camp, they were having none of it.  Soon, they had the net pulled up and out of the river.  It had snagged on a submerged cottonwood tree.  It was so twisted up I didn’t try to unravel it, but will when I have more time. 
About an hour later, the tree dislodged, and the top of it popped up out of the water.  And right into Leon’s net.  The boys again came to the rescue, and separated the tree from the net, tied the tree off to their boat, and got it out into the main current and sent it on it’s way.  
We set up Leon’s tent, and he cooked us beans and sausage on a bun for dinner.  We napped through the short darkness with the fish wheel below our tent, croaking and groaning away in the river.
We fished till about 230 the next afternoon so we could catch the high tide home.  We caught enough fish for Leon, an old timer he was proxy fishing for, and a friend I was proxy fishing for.  I took home one small sockeye for us to eat for dinner, as I already had plenty of king salmon from June in the freezer.  
Still no rain for the ride home, although the clouds were moving in.  We make it down to the glaciers without incident, but were confused as which channel to take when we reached the first glacier.  Getting stuck in shallow water going downstream is bad because the current may force your water onto the shallows, making it difficult to move the boat back upstream to deeper water and jump in and get going before you’re pushed into the shallows again.
Luck was on our side again, as here comes a river boat on step coming our way.  We pull over and let the boat pass, then try to keep up behind them.  We tracked through some of the narliest areas, but the boat was much fast than we were, and we finally ground out on a gravel bar.  I jumped out, and luckily we were  on the upstream side of the channel.  We soon found the channel, I hopped in, and we tried to track the boat that was now just a speck on the horizon.
The rest of the trip was uneventful.  The water was flat, there was no wind, and the gillnet opening had closed so no gillnets to dodge. 
We stopped at Leon’s in the channel to get his proxy’s cooler, then continued to the harbor.   I took my proxy’s fish and headed home.  Only then did it start to lightly rain.
Once home, I cleaned the 10 sockeye for our proxy and the one for us, and delivered the fish to our friend.  Another trip of a lifetime. 

Snaggin’ Again

Andrew picked me up to go snagging at the release site pond out our road about 7 miles.   Unbelievably, Sam came along.  Perhaps by force….  Lots of people around the pond snagging.   An older man with a cart full of salmon said the fish were at the far end – where I caught them a couple days ago.  Andrew walked around one side of the pond, and I the other.  Another immigrant, from Sudan, said hello to me and waved to Andrew across the pond.  He already had 3 fish on the beach.  I waded across to my spot, and not long after, he caught his fourth.  I casted and casted and not a fish.  Then Andrew got one on.  As he landed it, Sam came down from his spot in the woods where he was on his phone, and helped land it with the gaff.  Then Andrew got a second.  Then a third.  And me.  Still not a bump.
I decided to join Andrew.  I stood next to him and cast.   Nothing for me.  Number 4 for Andrew.  Sam came down again.  By now, the no seeums were relentless.  Even with bug dope on, they were getting into the creases of my eyelids.  I knew now that what I thought was some sort of skill my first night was nothing but luck.  And glad for it.  I am happier to clean fish than to catch them, and I started in on the pile, and Andrew cleaned his last fish.
Sam was less than enthused to carry the bucket with 3 of the fish, but just like scouts, when it’s time to go, he’s first in line and off he went.  Andrew carried his last fish on a stringer, and I carried my rod and our gear.
Sam declared  he was not going fishing tomorrow when his dad indicated he was.  Andrew then reminisced how different his life was growing up in a village in Sierra Leone, and how lazy his son was living here in the US.  Andrew said his dad would take him hunting when he was 8, and place him in a spot in the forest and tell him not to move.  At night.  He and his dad each had a head light, and his dad said when he signaled with his light to Andrew, Andrew was to signal back that he was okay.  Then his dad would walk through the bush with his head lamp and shot gun, hunting for deer or monkey or whatever else moved in the bush.  Andrew said of course he was scared at first, but over time he got used to it and so is not afraid in the forest.
When Andrew was 14, the rebels came to his village during the civil war in Sierra Leone.  Because his dad had his ancient hunting shotgun, the rebels shot him in front of Andrew.    Sam is not far from 14, but in a completely different dimension growing up in Alaska with it’s running water, electricity, and free education, and not a care in the world.   Part of Andrew (and me) is glad for that.  But part of Andrew wishes his son had more skills than working a cell phone.  By the time Andrew was his son’s age, he had worked on his family farm for 10 years, as well as gone hunting with his father.  Part of him misses that life.
As he’s said many times, he’ll never leave Alaska.  Where can you live and fill a freezer snagging salmon from the beach, he asks?  And he hasn’t even started hunting with me because he’s not had the time, but he soon will with his new job.  While supporting his family here, and his family back in SIerra Leone, he managed to earn a master’s degree in addiction counseling, and he starts a new job doing that on Monday.  
I’m not sure about his kids.  His daughter is putting herself through college and having grow up until high school in Sierra Leone, she is a go getter and all she sees here, like her dad, is opportunity.  For Sam, Alaska is all he knows, and is just the place he lives, not a special place to be, and he may want to go to some other exotic places like Chicago or Miami and make his own way. 

Snaggin’ with Andrew

Andrew fishes most nights now, and I thought it was time to go along.  He catches fish from the beach along Gastineau channel, by snagging, which is legal.
We went to the pond at Fish Creek and Andrew led the way to his favorite spot – where the pond feeds into Fish Creek.  We casted for awhile, and had no luck, nor saw anyone catch anything.  There was evidence of fish entrails all around the pond that were either left there by fishers or pulled out by eagles, a dozen of which surrounded the pond, swooping back and forth.
I saw fish rolling at the end of the pond towards the other side.  I wore waders, and so I walked across the outlet of the pond to the point opposite Andrew, and cast out to where the fish were rolling.  This spot would also be reachable by walking all the way around the pond, but it would be a hike.  Clearly, people fished from the site as there were some fish entrails there.  
I had an extra large snagging hook and could cast 2/3 of the way across.   I cast and cast, but no luck.  I took a break and sat on a crooked tree and watched the water go by and the eagles fly.
Andrew was getting discouraged and yelled across that we could go at any time.   “One more cast” I said, and I let it fly.  
I felt a bump with a fish – my first of the night – but I didn’t connect.  I cast again, and about the third pull, the rod bent over and I knew I had one.  I quickly loosened the drag and tested it so the fish could take line as needed.  I worked the fish to the beach and conked it with my gaff.  The fish had another snag hook and wire leader it in.  Score number 1.  As I pulled the plastic jar out of my pack, my pack moved, and there in the gravel was a knife in a sheath!  Score number 2.   I got out my stringer, broke a gill, and put the fish in the stream to bleed.  The next cast I had another one on, but lost it.  The next cast, I got another one on, and this one was a bigger fish.  I finally landed it, and it was about a 20 lb fish, and ended up being a white king.  Another cast or two, and I had another one on and lost it.  The last fish I got on I landed, and it was a smaller one like the first.  
Three fish in about 20 minutes, and the only one catching around the pond.  And my first time fishing there.  
The no see ums were now in full mob mode, and the school moved.  It was also getting dark at about 10 pm.  I cleaned the three fish, and carried them across the outlet and put them in Andrew’s bucket for him to take home.  We already have all the king salmon we need for awhile after our trip to Craig.  And I was already ahead with the snagging hook, wire leader, and knife I’d found.
Andrew was beside himself with taking me to his spot and me having good luck.  

Juneau Camp Out

We hiked the mountain above Juneau – Mount Roberts – for our first scout camp out since the pandemic began.  All the scouts had to pack their own tents and cookware and food.  Only stoves would be shared. Sam had a full pack, but he made it.  The hike is uphill to nearly the top of the mountain.  Keith planned the camp out so we could watch the big fireworks show put on by the city, but the fireworks were cancelled.  However, the camp out was already planned, and we knew there would be plenty of people lighting off their own fireworks.
We from the trail head about 4 pm and hiked uphill for about two and a half hours.  I’d been up to the tram on the trail once, but never past it to the camping spot a half mile further.  Our site looked up to the top of Mount Roberts another half mile away, and over looked the bowl under the face of the mountain.  The bowl was like our own little zoo.  We saw a sow with cubs, some black tailed deer, mountain goats, a ptarmigan and brood, and marmots were whistling all day.  We could see everything with the naked eye.  
Sam had his tent set up by himself first, then crawled inside, at the dinner his dad cooked and sent with him, and was down for the count and in recovery.  He was up a couple hours later, running around with the other scouts.  I inflated my sleeping pad, laid it out on the grass, and laid down for a couple hours and then went up to the edge of the bowl to look at the wildlife and talk with some of the parents.  I slept in the open with a light blanket and tarp as there was no rain in the forecast.   We looked down on the fireworks and it was very pedestrian, although lots of noise.  The fireworks continued til long after midnight, but did not keep me up.
We rose about 8 am, and the scouts quickly had their tents down and packs packed and ate breakfast.  It took about an hour and a half to climb back down the mountain.   As Sam and I drove through town on what is usually the busiest day of the summer, with about 7 cruiseships in town and the big parade with locals packing the streets, the place was a ghost town.  No one was on the streets.  Like a science fiction movie.   I wondered if this would be the same scene next year, or the pandemic would pass.  I know by this time next year, we’ll have had a presidential election, and it may be a new normal all the way around.