Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Fish Stories

020(Chuck) One of the many things that we hoped to accomplish on this Alaska trip was to experience Alaska Salmon fishing. Alaska Salmon come in five species. Chinook Salmon (Kings), Sockeye Salmon (Reds), Coho Salmon (Silvers), Chum Salmon (Dog), Pink Salmon (Humpies). I don’t know why they have two names, but I do know that the Reds have a very red meat. Kings are the largest and considered to be the most tasty. Reds are far more plentiful and are also excellent to eat. Silvers return in August and provide great acrobatics. The Dogs are used for sled dog food, and the locals don’t seem to think the Humpies are edible. 021

Each of these Salmon species hatch from eggs fertilized and deposited in certain Alaska streams and lakes. The fry may spend a season in the fresh water and then venture out to the ocean for several years. When mature they will swim thousands of miles back to the same river and follow the very stream that they were hatched in years before. They then go through the mating ritual and soon die. This process is repeated each year.

Kings are quite large. They will commonly be twenty to fifty pounds and the record is 97 pounds. IMG_0114King Salmon numbers in the Kenai River have been severely diminished in the past years. There are probably several reasons for the lower numbers and it is a great concern for the commercial guides and sport fishing in Alaska. People pay thousands of dollars to travel to the state and hope to tie into one of the best fighting fish in the state. While fishing for Reds in the Kasilof River I hooked a King. It was one of the most exciting times that I have had with a rod in my hands. The drag screamed as he took off into the current of the river. I slowed him down and fortunately he turned my way and we had a tug of war for quite some time. I was fortunate to be able to get him to shallow water and Jack expertly netted him. I did not have a King stamp and it was a natural raised fish, so it was returned to the water. Rules state that the fish should not be removed from the water so the photo does not show the fish well. Jack said it was about twenty five pounds. It was a thrill to have landed him. They will commonly get into the current of the river and break the line.002

The Reds come to the Kenai River in two major runs. The early run is the last three weeks of June. The majority of these fish go to the Russian River and provide sport fishermen with the first taste of “combat fishing”. They stand in close quarters and employ the “Kenai flip” to toss out the weight and hook. The second run is the last three weeks of July and the fish count is much larger. The limit of three fish was expanded to six as the numbers revealed a very large run of Sockeye (Reds). We nearly filled the freezer and have also smoked some of the catch. It is a thrill to hook a Sockeye. They weigh about twelve pounds and give an exceptional fight. They are very acrobatic and will jump in the air and splash water all around.

006Jan and I each purchased an Alaska fishing license. A non-resident license costs $145 and it was easily worth the experience for us. We each caught our limit on this trip to the Kenai River.

The salmon that reach the sport fishermen in the rivers are survivors. The bulk of the fish have been harvested in the ocean by large factory boats. Next are the drift net fishermen in the Cook Inlet. They employ gill nets up to a quarter mile long. Next are the family oriented set net fishermen who use gill nets of 300 feet which are set near the mouth of the rivers of the Cook Inlet. Alaska residents also have the opportunity to capture large amounts of salmon at the mouth of the rivers with dip 001nets. This is derived from the historical use of the salmon as subsistence food. Alaska Fish and Game provide an excellent web site to monitor the fish counts and to determine run timing at It is an excellent resource for determining fish activity. According to Alaska Fish and Game the resource of Alaska Fish is worth over six billion dollars per year. The industry is well regulated to provide for the sustainability of the resource. This is a serious matter to the state and is written into the constitution of the state of Alaska.

(Jan) Okay, so we got a fishing licenses and I decided to give this salmon fishing thing a try.  For over 2 weeks Chuck & I, along with our other friends, went down to the Kenai River either at Centennial Park or near our camping spot to learn how to navigate the fast flowing water in hip or chest waders and practice our Kenai flip. I did get good enough that no would laugh and point but I didn’t catch any salmon. Chuck did catch several. 012

Well, then it happened! The second run started, half the population of Anchorage moved to Soldotna to fish and our local friend Jack said, “it’s time to get serious’. Jack, Chuck, Ron and Gregg got their limit of 3 salmon very quickly last Tuesday morning at Rotary Park access and I decided to join them on Wednesday morning. However, my hip waders weren’t going to work to get to the ‘good’ fishing hole at Rotary. You have to hike about 1/2 mile and go down 45 steps into a hip deep part of the river. 007Thanks to Jack and Robin’s loan of Guide Pants & Boots, I navigated (holding hands with Chuck) the stream out to the Island and was set for one of those thrills of a life time! Amazing!  I managed to ‘hook up’ several times before I actually managed to get a salmon firmly hooked on my line! It pulled so hard! My rod bent way over & I wondered if I was going to be able to bring it into shore. ‘Start backing up’, ‘Hold Firm, Rod tip up, Don’t let your line go straight, You’re in shallow water now, Rod tip down & to the side’ and I did manage to drag that fish on shore! Oh My! What a thrill….Chuck took care of the fish & put him on our stringer and then said, ‘go out there and get another one’! Second fish, same as the first but this one fought harder and as I was backing up, I landed on my backside in a foot or so of water but I did land my fish! Fish #3 was shortly added to our stringer along with Chuck’s catch!  Cleaning the fish came next and then the climb/hike back to the Jeep. Thursday and Friday we were back out there at 5 A.M. On Saturday we took a break. The limit was raised to 6 that week-end so Jack, Chuck & Ron went out at 3:30 A.M. on Sunday.  Others in our group came with us or fished at our camp site last week and were all successful! Each fishing venture ended with time in the kitchen trimming & vacuum packing fish. Our freezers are pretty full of salmon and the halibut from Ninilchik.

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Sunday Dean & Judy, Ron & Bernita, Gregg & Sally and Chuck & I were invited to Jack & Robin’s home to smoke salmon. We all brined fish the night before and then rinsed the fish, racked them and then used their smoker. We combined smoking with a Pegs & Jokers and Jigsaw Puzzle day and later a delicious potluck including salmon caught that morning. Jack & Robin have been so good to us and the smoked fish is delicious!

P1040630Girls lunch SoldotnaLast Thursday evening we had a fun gathering for Sandy’s birthday with salads & salmon dishes. Also we had a girls luncheon on Saturday at St. Elias Brewery, pastries for desert from The Moose is Loose and a tour of several gift shops that were featuring marvelous quilts for the 2013 Quilt Show. Lovely Day!

(Chuck) After 30 days at a wonderful boondock spot near the Soldotna Airport, we have moved down the Kenai Peninsula to the Homer Spit. We are on a beautiful spot overlooking the water in Mariner Campground which is run by the city of Homer. The cost is a modest $15 and well worth every penny. We will be here three nights and then return to Soldotna for the week-end before heading on to Seward.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Kenai notes

014(Jan) For some time I’ve been meaning to add a photo of 3 much used resources that we’ve used on this trip.  The Milepost - often referred to since 1949 as the ‘Bible of North County Travel’, has given us mile by mile info as we traveled through B.C., the Yukon and Alaska. The Alaska Tour Saver - a two-for-one coupon book that we order from Amazon or can be purchased locally. We used it for the Halibut Charter plus admission to several museums. There are many 2 for 1 lodging and adventure offerings. The Tide Chart - has remained close at hand to check tides for fishing and clamming.

New Friends– Mutual friends of ours, Mary & Elaine, sent Escapee Members Jack & Robin over to see us. They have been wonderful to get to know. Chuck & Jack have been fishing several times. They’ve, also, been generously sharing their rhubarb with us. The group here has turned it into sauces, jellies and crisps. Today Chuck and I were able to go over to visit and see their beautiful home near here at Soldotna. Thursday they will join us 021here for our weekly dinner gathering.

Fishing- Chuck had caught 2 salmon earlier this week and today the fish have clearly begun their run. This morning Jack, Ron, Gregg and Chuck went out and caught 9 quickly and then filled out their limit for the four fisherman. The daily limit is 3 per license.004 This afternoon Chuck & I went down to Centennial Park where I was able to have the thrill of my first salmon catch.

Parade in Funny River – Last Saturday 3 of us couples drove over to Funny River for their annual town parade and celebration; very down home, small town with a touching opening ceremony by the V.F.W.

Solar power – Our Boondocking spot here has been wonderful and thanks to our Solar power we’re not lacking for energy. We are running a basement freezer, computers continually and also, able to watch a little television when we want to. 007It was cloudy for a couple of weeks but we still managed to be solar powered. The weather has changed again and we’re back to mostly sunny days.

016Moose & Eagles – We’ve seen lots of each. For the first several weeks we were here, three cows and their calves roamed our area daily. It has gotten more crowded and busier since the fishing has picked up and the moose have moved elsewhere. We’ve been watching the eagles along the river as we fish & saw some down near Funny River.

IMG_0292Earthquake – We felt one! About 1 A.M. several days ago a 4.4 Earthquake centered 10 miles away woke us up from a sound sleep and shook the rig for 10 + seconds!

Sunset & Sunrise – 11:15 Sunset and 5:05 Sunrise today in Soldotna. So it is actually getting dark at night a little. We have gotten use to going to sleep when it’s light out now though.

027Birthday – The gang here helped me celebrate my birthday last week! Thanks to Judy and Sally for the decorations, Gregg for the incredible smoked turkey, Judy for the delicious german chocolate cake and Chuck, Dean, Sally, Sandy & Keith and Ron & Bernita for all of the yummy side dishes. What a fun time!

(Jan) And in closing.  A week ago Sunday was a tragic day here in Soldotna. As Chuck and I came back from church services headed to our RV, a large dense black cloud billowed into the sky that looked very near to where we are parked. It was coming from the airport which is less that a mile away. A 10-seater de Havilland Otter was taking off from the Soldotna airport, crashed and burned. No survivors. The experienced pilot and nine others, two families from South Carolina, died. So very sad. Each day as we drive out to the Main Road and see the airport, we say a little prayer for them.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Soldotna, Alaska

996718_10200184636240162_242504048_n[1](Jan) It’s raining again! It’s been rainy and cloudy and in the 50’s most days for the 2 weeks that we have been near Soldotna. What a change this has been from our June weather in Denali and Fairbanks!  We found a terrific boondocking site outside of town near the airport with 30 or so rigs. We’re close to town and close to many locations on the Kenai River for fishing so we are happy campers! Kenai is known as the Salmon Fishing capitol of the world and we’re pretty excited about being here. 007Unfortunately we got here just as the first run of salmon headed up the river but the next run should start in a week or so. We have gotten in quite a few hours of ‘practice’ fishing but so far no catching. We made one trip up to the Russian River to fish.  As stated, the first sockeye salmon run was pretty much over but there were locals with lots of experience catching some fish. Chuck caught a King Salmon at the Kasilof River last week but had to release it. (There are severe restrictions on Kings.) We had a very successful clamming day on the Cook Inlet near Clam Gulch. Dean & Judy, Ron & Bernita and Chuck & I dug over 100 razor clams. It’s hard work but we had a fun time and sure enjoyed having some of them right off of the grill that evening.

One day last week we headed out to Ninilchik and Homer. It’s a pretty 70 mile drive down through the forest and then along the Cook Inlet. We toured a Russian Orthodox Church and Cemetary at Ninilchik which was built around the turn of the last century. Next up was a drive through the town and a stop at Deep Creek to watch the Halibut boats being launched and then retrieved by log skid tractors. That was fascinating!

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The town of Homer sits on the SW corner of the Kenai Peninsula on the Kachemak Bay and is famous for the 4.5 mile long Homer Spit. We walked around the spit, enjoyed Halibut Fish & Chips, strolled the Homer marina and visited several T-shirt Shops. I loved the Lupines & Queen Anne’s Lace very much along the highway.

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Chuck - Yesterday we took a Halibut charter out of Ninilchik. It was in the Alaska Tour Saver book which means that it was a two for the price of one. Our trip was a little disappointing due to the fact that Jan and I did not hook a fish. The charter company did supply us with twenty pounds of previously caught halibut to tide us over. It is vacuum packed and in our freezer. We were on the boat with Dean and Judy and another couple. DSC02692Dean and Judy each caught fish and they have 24 pounds in the freezer. We launched our boat at Deep Creek and it is a sight to see the big tractors back the boats into the surf. The tractors are actually John Deere log skidders which are used in the logging industry. The real excitement comes when the boats are recovered. The captain of the boat calls ahead and the tractor hooks up to his boat trailer DSC02688and backs into the surf. The boat comes in at near full throttle and hits the trailer and the tractor pulls the trailer out of the water with the boat on board. We proceed to the parking area and dis-embark with stepladders. 

Our trip out on the water was very rough. Our boat hit the waves with bone jarring impacts and it was a difficult ride. As we settled in our fishing area we could maneuver around the boat deck with care. Each of us had taken our preferred anti nausea medications. In spite of that I had to lean over and yack once and soon felt better. Unfortunately Jan found that she was seasick for quite a long time. She did perk up when Judy had her biggest Halibut on the line and helped her to hold the rod. Each day is different and the group that went out today found that they had calm water and a good trip. They caught bigger fish and more of them. That is fishing!

(Jan) We have enjoyed lots of walks, a trip into Soldotna to hear Alaska’s official balladeer Hobo Jim and several gatherings with our group here at our ‘Fish Camp’. It’s been a good home for us.

048Gregg’s BD Party on June 27 066Hobo Jim at Hooligan’s July 4 2013July 4th- Dean, Bernita, Gregg & Sally and Judy in front, Ron, Jan & Chuck, Keith & Sandy in back.

Chuck - At this time we are waiting for the Sockeye Salmon to start their second run. It is the biggest run and promises to be a great time. The Sockeye is known locally as the Reds. The flesh is very red and firm. Their flavor is second only to the King Salmon. In about a week we will be in the Reds literally up to our knees. We are looking forward to it.

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