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Published: August 17th 2018
Tom at Work -- Again
Fishing for halibut in the Cook INlet.
It’s August 13, and we’re “boondocking” at Denali National Park. Outside, the wind has dropped to a breeze from the 70+ mph gusts we had yesterday, but it’s in the mid-fifties and it’s COLD out there. “Boondocking” means that we’re camping without “conveniences” – we’re not linked to water, electricity, or sewer – but modern times are with us. We can carry 45 gallons of fresh water and have two waste tanks: a gray tank for kitchen, sink and shower water, and a black tank for toilet waste. We have a generator (fueled by the truck’s gas tank) and two solar panels for electricity. A propane furnace heats us fast, the refrigerator and stovetop run on propane, and, if we run the generator, I can even bake in the convection oven. We have no cell phone or internet, but that gives me a chance to catch y’all up on what we’ve been doing. I’m sitting on my bed in the cozy Cruiser, drinking tea and looking out the window at the trees around our campsite waving in the breeze.
Back in mid-July, we drove into Alaska and entered the Kenai Peninsula. This is the most heavily populated part of Alaska
King for a Day Campground
Our campsite REALLY near the river.
and the most popular with tourists. Fishing is a big part of the economy, whether by the commercial fishermen, the tourists, or the Native Alaskans, who are granted special allowances to take fish as their ancestors did. Lots of disagreement about that, but I won’t go into it, as I know way too little about the issues.
On July 18, we went fishing for king and sockeye salmon on the Klutina River – I wrote about that a few weeks ago. The salmon “run” has been very bad this year, for all sorts of reasons that are debated loudly, and we were lucky to get the fish we did. We filled our freezer halfway with the fish from that one day.
Next, we drove through Anchorage (notable only for its Costco store) and down the Turnagain Arm to Seward, which is on the southern coast, hoping to fish in the ocean for silver salmon. The Turnagain Arm is a long thin bay (I can’t think of a better term) that stretches from the ocean almost to Anchorage. It has a very high tidal change: you can see what looks like sand far out from shore, but it’s actually
mud that can kill you. If you don’t sink down into it to the point that you can’t be extracted (gory stories), you can be killed when the bore tide sweeps in faster than you can run. The only
road from Anchorage to the peninsula is two lanes crammed between the mountains and the Arm and is always clogged with traffic. A combination of clueless tourists driving the RVs they just rented in Anchorage and impatient resident Alaskans make it more dangerous than the Arm. Alaska does have one great traffic law: if you accumulate five vehicles behind you, you MUST pull over as soon as possible to let them pass.
Our fishing hopes were dashed by a small craft warning, and we spent our time in Seward wandering around town with all the other disappointed tourists and visiting the excellent Sea Life Museum. Seward is a small town on one of the many fjords and earns its money from fishing and tourism. I took a picture of the outside of the excellent public library, just for my library friends.
After that disappointment, we drove back up the peninsula to Cooper Landing and the Kenai River for more
Tom caught this fish, but it looks much bigger when I'm standing next to it.
salmon fishing. We stayed in one of the best campgrounds of the trip, the Russian River Campground run by the National Park Service. It was beautiful and quiet. Fishing was poor – Tom caught one sockeye salmon; I caught none. It’s clear that we’ve had a dismal impact on the health of the salmon fishery. Things have been so bad that the state government cancelled all king salmon fishing on the Kenai River in early June, then stopped all sockeye fishing in the lower Kenai basin and reduced the limit on the upper Kenai from three per person to one in July. They had also (mistakenly) shut down all sport fishing for sockeye salmon on the Klutina River in June – and then realized that the run was just late, which hurt all the businesses that count on fishermen. There’s a huge relationship between the salmon runs and businesses in this area – not just the fishing charters, but the campgrounds, the groceries, the beer stores, and the motels. On the other hand, there have been record salmon runs in Bristol Bay, which is much harder to get to and fish.
Our next stop was in Homer, at the
On the Kenai
Tom working hard for one sockeye salmon.
end of a long spit of land that runs along Cook Inlet. The route to Homer has everything from views of the three active volcanoes across the Inlet to small towns begun by Russian immigrants searching for religious freedom in the 1700s. Old Order Russian Orthodox churches are still active, with congregants who still dress as Russians did hundreds of years ago. As you drive south, you can take a quick western detour to the literal end of the road in North America – as far west as you can drive. As you near Homer, you see snow-covered mountains all around you. The weather prevented us from taking pictures of the area, so this is one place that you really need to Google.
We’d had bad weather for days and days, but had hopefully scheduled two excursions: one to watch grizzly bears hunt salmon and one to fish for halibut. Bingo – we got the only two good days they’d had for weeks. On day one, we flew from Beluga Lake in the middle of Homer across the Cook Inlet to Brooks Lodge in Katmai National Park. The flight in an Otter float plane from lake to lake was
We were blown off the water. This was about as good as the weather got that day.
amazing, showing us the beauties of the volcanoes and the huge national park, but the opportunity to watch bears fish for salmon with absolutely no regard for humans was unbelievable. When you land at Katmai, you’re sent to “Bear School”, where you’re told how you’ll be interacting with the resident population of grizzly bears. The park rangers have made it possible for us to see these marvelous animals by controlling the humans, not the animals. Rules are strict (no food, gum, tobacco, bear spray and stay 50 yards away from the bears) and there are rangers everywhere to enforce them. There’s a footbridge used by humans and bears and people do NOT have the right of way. We left for home about 90 minutes late because one of the passengers was caught on the wrong side of the bridge while a mama bear and her cubs decided to hang out by the bridge.
Day two was halibut fishing day, and started with a 2 ½ hour ride into Cook Inlet and instructions on how to fish for halibut. Rule one: never, ever set the hook. Folks, like me, who don’t know how to fish, have much better success than
Seward Public Library
The whole building is covered with these iridescent tiles.
those who can’t break themselves of this habit. Again, over-fishing has resulted in much smaller limits than eleven years ago: two fish per person, with one being less than 28 inches long. Most people were coming in with very small fish. However, our captain, Captain Jim of Silver Fox Charters, took us out about 35 miles so that we could catch larger fish. Tom was the most successful, landing a 75-80 pound halibut. The next day, he went out again, catching his limit of halibut and rockfish, and then helping others on the boat. At one point, Tom knew he had hooked a big fish so gave the rod to a grandfather and his son to reel in. He told me later that he thought the grandfather might be suffering from dementia, as he wasn’t able to do much, so he made it possible for the man to catch the big fish of the day. Doesn’t that just sound like Tom?
Our total catch of halibut and rockfish: 85 pounds of fillets. We filled the Cruiser’s freezer and a small portable freezer, then sent home via FedEx a box of about 30 pounds of fish. Again, we have to
The tide was out, and you can see the tempting "land".
thank Chase, who took delivery and put the fish into our freezer at home.
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