Second Hand Crab Pots

Jeff and I have the same affliction. We both like look at other people’s stuff and buying other people’s stuff. With no garage sales and the thrift store closed due to the virus, we made a plan- to cruise the beaches where people set their crab pots and see if we could find any derelict pots ghost fishing.  I’ve happened along pots a few times when I would just happen to be out at a minus tide. The pots are not hard to spot – buoys and the crab pot line are covered with mussels and seaweed. Sometimes you can’t even see the buoy, but the clump of seaweed growing on it doesn’t look quite natural.

As we launched the boat, I could hear a hooter up the hill. I thought I’d go try to find him when we got back. We’re in for a stretch of beautiful May weather – in the 60’s and sun for several days.

The first pot we found was a commercial dungy pot. It had been there so long most of the framing had dissolved so it was just a circle of stainless steel mesh. We cut out the escape rings for use on other pots, and took the line and buoys.

The next pot we found was a jackpot, really. It was clearly a commercial pot because it had a special tab required by law for these pots. The buoy was covered with algae, but not seaweed or shellfish, so I figured it was not too long lost – probably from the most recent commercial opening last fall. We could read the numbers on the buoy. When I looked them up, I was happy to see I knew the boat. It was the same boat that saved Bob and I several years ago when my skiff capsized at anchor while we were out deer hunting. Talk about karma.

Jeff and I continued our tour, and saw a big shiny black bear on the beach, then a sea lion, a humpback whale, but no more pots.  Nobody was out and about except for a few local kayakers. Fishing is closed for king salmon and the cruiseship season is cancelled.

As soon as I got home, I called the crab boat skipper. Turns out he lives just out the road from us a couple miles, so delivered his pot to him. He wanted to give me the pot, but I refused- this was great partial payback for me.

Hooters. Again. Finally.

Finally got out hooter hunting after, if I remember right, I didn’t go at all last season. It seems like years are passing in 100 days now.

Bob and I went to a spot I hadn’t been since my Bolivar classmates came years ago. It was Bob’s first time hooter hunting. He’d harvested spruce grouse up north, but not these big grouse in Southeast Alaska.

We found a beach to anchor that was fairly protected from the 1 foot chop. The winds weren’t to come up today,  so I thought it would be okay. When we beached the boat to offload our gear, there was a beautiful plastic boat dock cart that somehow floated to this remove beach. In great shape. We were already making money for the trip.

We couldn’t hear many birds hooting as I anchored the boat and rowed to shore in the punt. It was a beautiful day. Partly cloudy, dry,  and on its way to about 50 degrees.

As soon as we got out of the white noise of breeze and waves on the shore and entered the big woods, we heard birds. We got to the first one after a short hike. We looked for this bird for 45 minutes or so. It wasn’t in the worst place I’d ever seen, but the bird was sitting somewhere up there that we just could not detect it.  At least that’s what I hoped it was, and not that I have 56 year old eyes and Bob’s eyes are a decade older.

We finally gave up and side-hilled  to the next bird, again a short hike on about the same elevation  This bird, too, seemed to evade us. We looked and looked and I thought – is this how it’s gonna be all day?  That we never see a bird?  After 20 minutes or so, I finally spotted the bird. When Bob looked at it, he didn’t think it was a bird. Then it moved.

I forgot to stop to get my 12 gauge shotgun I’d stashed at another skiff I have stashed in the area, but as Bob had a .410 over .22 and his .44 pistol, and because there were two of us, I didn’t go back to get it as I felt we were okay for the birds and protection from bears. I got this bird with the .410, and we side-hilled again a short hike to the next bird.

This time, it took us 5 minutes or less to spot the bird. He was high up in the tree, right next to the trunk, and facing away from us. I positioned myself below the tree in case the bird flushed, so I could see where it landed, and on the third shot with the open sites, but hit the bird with the .22. The bird immediately glided towards the ground about 50 yards to the right of Bob. I couldn’t see where the bird landed, but Bob did, and he mentally noted some land marks to where we’d search. He got to the spot, and I joined him about 5 minutes later from my position. There were blueberry bushes under the trees and a couple little creeks and the open green of the forest floor. I was very doubtful we’d find the bird since it went so far. It could run on the ground, and I’ve seen wounded birds crawl under a deadfall or into a hole to hide. We kept looking. I went a little further away than Bob was looking and as I crested the side of a little creek- there it was. I couldn’t believe it. Bob came over and collected his bird and we were both relieved, and I especially happy that Bob got a bird. On my way back to get our packs, I found a 3 point with eye guard shed as a bonus.

We went downhill to the next bird hooting, again a short hike. We found an almost full set of deer bones on the way. The bird was in a tree located in a muddy little flat that had lots of skunk cabbage. There were several deer tracks in the mud. And a very recent brown bear track. We saw this bird even faster than Bob’s bird. I laid down and had my back against a log and shot. And missed. The bird flushed, and went to a nearby copse of tree tops, but we didn’t see exactly where. No feathers fell from it, and it looked like the bird was flying in good health. We hoped it would start hooting again, but it did not. We decided to call it a day and head back to the boat.

I’ve hunted the side of this ridge for 20+ years, but rarely, if ever, happen to get to this section during deer season. I’ve been here a few times hooter hunting. We came to a series of beaver ponds. We weren’t sure if the ponds were active or not. Then we saw some fresh beaver sign. The beavers were working on a big tree 2 to 3 feet – maybe more-  in diameter. One side was about chipped to the middle, and on the other side  the beavers had stripped the bark and started in.  Almost look out of place in the wilderness where we were standing. Like it was man made.

We ambled our way along the ponds, and found our way down to the beach, right where we came in.  The boat was just about to go dry, and we got there too late to skid it into the water. We figured we had 3 hours to wait til the tide went the rest of the way out and came back in. We pulled the birds out of our packs, and plucked and dressed while we sat in the beach grass in the evening sun. As we lauched the boat on the rising tide, two mink ran by, one chasing the other and chirping. Spring is in the air.

Ten years ago I would have thought two birds for the day wasn’t that much and how I need to get back and get more before the season ends. Now, it was just a perfect day in the woods. I had some expected leg cramps overnight, but other than that, I slept like a baby. Luckier than ever to live here and still be able to get around, stiff knees and all.


A little surprise in my deer

So, I just went into the garage this morning and noticed 3 of these grubs laying under the road kill deer I dressed for the food bank (see pic) and wondered- where did they come from??


Did some critter come in and leave them?  No tracks in the blood or any sign of disturbance.

Something in the ceiling that was dislodged when I pulled the line up through the pulley? No sign of that.

Then I saw it – something in the deer’s nose sort of peeking out of a nostril. I got the grabber off my workbench and reached up and pulled it out and realized – they are coming out of the deer’s nose!  The don’t seem alive when you touch them on the ground, but they are obviously are, as they are moving up and out of the nose.

First two words that came to mind were Nas  Tee.

I looked them up on the web and of course, they are common – bot fly larvae.

So Why The Bot Fly?

I’ve never seen them on any deer I’ve ever harvested or cut up. I think I remember a different phase of the bot fly larvae under some caribou skin once, but never blacktailed deer. Could be their life cycle is such that the larvae only exit the nose during months of the year when we don’t normally harvest them.

Jam, Sausage and the Flu

Finally got out to set some crab pots earlier in the week. I set them, spent the night at the cabin, and checked the next day. Just a couple tanner and a dungy but all the bait in the jars eaten up so must be lots of sand fleas down there. I rebaited and will let them soak a couple days. Not much going on at the island. No snow under the trees but about a foot in the open area of the trail to the cabin. Had a peaceful night reading old Alaska magazines and drinking coffee.

When I got home, I decided it was time to do some canning to get ready for next year. I pulled out 42 cups of blueberries – I bag them in 4 cup batches so I don’t have to measure when I take them out, and got to making jam. I didn’t use pectin and tried to duplicate the jam my nephew Eaton and I made last summer, but the jam was runny. I think I tried to make too big of a single batch instead of smaller batches.  I let the jam sit a few days thinking I could just use a spoon instead of a knife to use it, but I finally couldn’t take it. I bought some pectin, poured all the runny jam into the pot, and put it to simmer. I then pulled off 8 cups at a time and added pectin, sugar, and lemon juice from a fix for runny jam I found online, and redid it all. Came out good this time. Jello-y but not too stiff. I noticed when I was in the store, the shelves were full, including toilet paper, as I’d heard things were low due to the mass panic over the coronavirus.

After the jam was done, I got to making something from the Stikine River geese and ducks in the freezer. I knew Sara had picked up some organic pork fat on her way through Seattle at a farmer’s market, so I decided to make breakfast sausage.  I found the waterfowl has to be frozen well or it will come through the grinder pasty. When I saw that happening from some of it that was pretty well thawed, I stopped and put it back in the freezer till it was frozen but just barely pliable enough to cut through. The frozen fat ground beautifully. I made two 10 lbs batches, with 16 lbs of waterfowl and 4 lbs of pork fat. I first mixed the ground fat and fowl together. And no way to do it really than by hand, but  it’s easy to tell when it’s well mixed since the fat is so white and stands out from the reddish bird meat.  One batch was to be kind of an Italian blend with fennel and parsely and the other sage and thyme and . I measured the spices for each, and put them in a little food processor to mix them well.  Like mixing the fat, the spices have to be well worked throughout the meat by hand. The meat was so cold I had to pause a few times to let my hands warm. After both batches were done I made a little patty from each batch and fried it to test the recipe. It’ll work.

Sara wanted me to get some frozen vegetables in case something happened to supply of fresh vegetables. I’ve got enough canned salmon, deer, jam, high bush cranberry ketchup, fiddleheads to last a year, along with some canned shellfish and kelp relish from Sara’s sister. That’s not counting any of the moose, ling cod, salmon, deer, blue berries, cherries and cranberries still in the freezer. We’ve got rice and flour and sugar and other staples here and there. I’m not worried about any food supply. But seems like lots of people are. When I went for the vegetables, Costco was mobbed. Long lines at all the registers. And this is mid-day on a Thursday. Not a Friday night.

During President Obama’s term, somebody got someone to start a rumor that gun ammunition was going to be restricted or outlawed or something, and suddenly – and then for a long time – it was hard to get .22 ammo. Stores were putting limits on how much you could buy. And the tighter the limits, the more the demand, even if you wouldn’t shoot that much ammo in your lifetime.  The power of the NRA.

Under President Trump?  It’s toilet paper! Our Costco here is actually limiting the amount of TP per customer because people are going crazy buying 20 cases at a time, according to one of the checkout people.  The media has people in such a panic they are worried that somehow what- TP is going to be outlawed?  And, unlike .22 ammo, there are alternatives. Tissues. Paper towels. We used Newsweek Magazine pages in the Peace Corps.  The power of NPR.

The panic is complete. I’ve got .22 ammo and toilet paper currently in stock. If I was a prepper, I’d have my gun loaded next to the door  and my TP in a safe underground. Luckily I’m not, so the guns stay in the safe, and I look forward to helping my neighbors if they run out of ammo or need a roll.

December Shrimping

We went to the container house in Craig for Christmas with Sara’s sister’s family. Lots and lots of wind and rain. This was Sara’s first time spent in her container house, and she immediately went to work organizing. She liked it a lot more than I think she thought she would, as do I. The more time I spend in it, the more I like it.

After several years of finishing the container after receiving it mostly constructed, we’ve got the place dialed in pretty well for living.  There’s a bathroom with sink and shower and small hot water heater, a kitchen sink and cabinets, two futons to use as couches during the day and beds at night. Most of our cooking is done with an electric frying pan and toaster oven. I put in shelves along the front wall that are about 7 feet above the floor where we can store boxes or duffle bags with our clothing and spare bedding. We have a shed that my brother in law gave us where we keep a chest freezer and dorm-sized fridge. It’s warm and dry with hot showers. It’s simple. I have a cell signal booster so we have good cellular service now. We have good reception for XM radio to listen to ballgames when we’re not listening to KRBD from Ketchikan, which is one of my favorite public radio stations ever, alongside KDLG in Dillingham.

I’d replaced the old, bigger Toyo stove with a practically new smaller Toyo stove. Perfect size for the container. The only problem – I came to find out – was when the power goes out and comes back on, regardless of what temp the stove was set at, it resets to 70 degrees. This isn’t a problem when you’re in town, but it is if you’re not. I set the stove at 50 degrees when I left, and there must have been a power outage shortly after I left in November based on the number of gallons of fuel burned heating an empty building to 70 degrees for over a month. I figured all this out only after we got there and I experimented with unplugging the stove and plugging it back in. I hope an uninterruptible power supply battery will fix it. I also put a big thermometer in the window so my neighbor can see it and asked him to adjust the heater if he sees the thermometer too warm or worse yet, below freezing, although that’s a rarity here.

I also brought down a dehumidifier after not being able to dry things out much when Charlie and I were deer hunting in November. The place is warm and dry, but clothes didn’t dry very fast with the humidity contained in the small space. The dehumidifier really did the trick, as  I could see how fast wet boot prints on the door mat evaporated when the unit was running versus when it was not.

My brother in law had not checked his shrimp pots in quite a spell due to the weather and the distance the pots were from town. When the weather broke for a day, he and Sara’s sister, my two nieces, and a cousin of the nieces recently graduated from UAS, all headed to check the pots at first light. It was the last week of December and the temperature was in the 40’s. Not much winter in this part of Alaska, at least at sea level. For some reason, varied thrush birds were all over the place along the coast.

The trip to the pots took about an hour and a half. We saw several humpback whales along the way, feeding in groups of up to six or seven whales.  Groups of sea lions were at their regular spots along the way as well. At a couple narrow passes, water rushed so hard with the tide and current that marker buoys can be taken under water.

As we checked the pots, they had some shrimp, but not the usual bonanza they see at this spot. It looked like a combination of the bait being consumed in the pot and some of the shrimp escaping, as well as an abundance of shrimp-eating octopus, as we caught one in about every other pot.  Everyone on the boat had lots of fishing and sea time under their belts, so there was always a hand to help the captain handle a pot or remove bait from jars or move gear around the deck.

Lots of hands made the shrimp cleaning easy. We pinched the tails off the shrimp in between pulling pots, and ended up with about 6 gallons of tails, along with the octopus, so it wasn’t a bust by any means.  Gale winds were forecast for the afternoon, so we headed straight home. The crew shucked their rain gear and went inside the boat cabin. I left my rain gear on, pulled up a half barrel full of crab line, set it next to outside wall of the cabin for a back rest, and took a seat for the ride home. It was comfortable in the 2 to 3 foot chop.

As I looked at our wake behind the boat, I saw a humpback breach. Then it breached again. Then did a tail lob.  As we put more miles between us, I could see it slapping the surface with it’s long pectoral fins. All these behaviors I’d seen when captaining the whale watch boats near Juneau, but they seemed especially wild now out here with only me watching. I could still see the whale pectoral slapping the water when I finally lost sight of it when we were some 5 (?) miles away. I settled in for the rest of the ride home, out of the spray and snug and warm in my layers of clothes and rain gear.

As we got closer to home, we were protected by islands and some of the water was almost flat calm, even though I could see the trees along the channels bending in the wind higher up. As we neared town, we lost much of our protection and had some more chop, but I knew we’d beat the blow and would be in port before it hit.

We entered the harbor just as the wind picked up. As I wrapped the stern line around a cleat at the dock, a big gust shook the harbor.  Then the gusts became just wind and the blow was here just as we secured the boat. We gathered armfuls of rain gear, fishing gloves, and buckets of octopus and shrimp tails and fought the wind and rain for the short climb up the dock ramp to the parking lot .

Sara picked me up in our truck and I stripped off my rain gear and climbed in. The rest of the crew went home in their truck. Back at the container, I welcomed the rush of warmth as I entered the house and began putting my gear away. I hadn’t spent this much time with my nieces in many years and it was good to reconnect with them.

Life on the Flats

Stikine River

Finally got over to the Stikine River after our initial plans were delayed by the weather. We borrowed a floathouse on the flats that I went to 20 years ago almost to the day with Don and Alan. That cabin since burned I’m told, and the replacement cabin was very tidy with an oil stove and four bunks.

We got to the cabin on a high tide that was also the higher high tides of the month. We pulled right up to the cabin. When we climbed onto the porch, we could see through the decking that the logs underneath looked alive. With mice – more specifically as far as I can tell – voles. We’ve since concluded both meadow voles and long tailed voles. The voles were flooded out from their burrows by the huge tides. When we looked around, we could see voles swimming and climbing into willows or anyplace above water level. We also saw a small buck deer about 75 yards from the cabin but I’d left my rifle back in Wrangell and none of us had any slugs so he’s still out there.

When we walked out into the flooded flats, voles were scurring everywhere. The swimming voles looked like windup toys plowing their way through the water to someplace dry. The flats were alive with predators. Marsh hawks, ravens, owls, bald eagles – even sea gulls – were all hunting the voles. The ravens seemed like the most efficient with the bonanza. We’d see a raven with a mouse in its mouth fly by, land on a log, cache his catch, then repeat this over and over until the tide receded and the activity waned. The bald eagles, on the other hand, looked to eat their voles one at a time, first taking off the fur, then eating the remainder. The gulls didn’t seem all that successful hunting the voles but got a few.

The next few tides were very high and the scene played out each time. All the birds up and hunting for an hour or two, then they’d all disperse when the tide ebbed.

We did get in some hunting. It was the first time using the big shot gun Paul gave me – his Remington 1100. It’s got about a 30 inch barrel and felt like driving a sports car. I still didn’t hit much but did get my first two Canada geese and a nice drake mallard.

We moved up to the cabin we usually stay in after a couple days to do some work. Right at dark, we heard wolves start to howl – I think only my second time ever hearing them, as the first time was near Juneau 25 ish years ago. My sister in law was going out to the outhouse before daylight the next morning and saw 3 sets of eyes in her headlamp beam. It took awhile before she was relieved to see the eyes belonged to deer and not wolves.