Game On

Heading out to Chilkoot today, I spy Sea Lion’s feasting on the influx of early season Herring. Then at Chilkoot lake, Eagles are gathering in numbers…. It’s game on in Alaska; spring is here! Rumor has it, a Humpback was patrolling the entrance to the Haines Harbor yesterday. Soon the Hooligan run will start, and then the big fish. Chinooks then the Sockeye. It’s gonna be another great year, I can feel it! Here’s a Chilkoot Baldy from today…

Chilkoot Baldy

Chilkoot Eagles

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The Need For Speed

Last week while my Mom was visiting Haines, we decided to head out to Chilkoot and check in on Speedy the Bear and her new cubs. Angela joined us and we were treated with a nice viewing of one of Haines’ most beloved and well known Bears. Last winter she birthed 2 new cubs and seeing them for the first time frolicking in the river and eating Salmon was really something to see. Here’s a short video of what we saw…

Run For The Border

Anticipation of the upcoming Sockeye run has been getting me excited. The freezer, now devoid of last year’s catch and sitting unplugged awaits. Set netting these critters opened legally on June 1st and will close again on the 15th for six long weeks in order to protect the mishap harvesting of the rarer and rarer King Salmon.  Just because the season is open, does not mean neccesarilly that the fish are actually running. Truth be told, after spending a number of hours attending the net at various points along the mighty Chilkat, I have not brought home a single fish.

Today, I pack the truck with camera gear and fishing gear and head for the hills, as it were. I decide to drive up to 18 mile where the previous winter I had bushwhacked and post holed into the deepening forest to discover a Salmon stream where Bears had their way with many a Salmon, judging from the months’ old Chum carcasses Lying about. Today, I wanted to see if there were any signs of both Bear and Salmon in this very spot. Once again, I bushwhack into the now overgrown and spooky, and potentially Bear populated forest, bound for said creek. Soon I am billowing through five foot tall grasses and thickets, talking to myself and singing softly in hopes of deterring any Bear encounters. Soon I am at the splendid little creek, running clear and strong. No fish. No signs of Bear. I make my way back to the truck and head north.

This time, I aim to get to the braided confluence of the Klehini and Chilkat river’s where I had fished last year for Coho. At that time, I had seen the biggest Grizzly tracks of my life there and felt a presence of great and large beasts around me. Today, after sifting through the maze of dirt roads in the area, I come to the place where I take off on foot to inspect what the creatures are up to. As expected, I see large Brown (Griz) Bear prints. There are two sets, a mother and adolescent cub I believe. I bounce back to the truck and meander along a series of dirt roads not previously traveled by me, and soon the highway comes round again and it is decided to head up to Dalton Cache at the Canadian Border where there is a beautiful pond next to the Haines Highway and often portraying a pair of Swans I hope to shoot footage of.

Heading up the highway, I spy magnificent views of the peaks of the upper Chilkat and Boundary ranges. The Jarvis Glacier comes to view and I marvel at it’s presence. The clouds have parted just enough to cast an epic nature on the scene unfolding.

I feel blessed, and the underlying nature of these mountains and glaciers become me once again. Summer is unfolding and the Bear and the Salmon are just now emerging in an unstoppable and exponential fashion. It is a glorious time of year in Alaska…

Jarvis Glacier
The Jarvis Glacier at the U.S./Canadian Border

Chitina

Alaska is renowned for many things; big mountains, big rivers, and big Salmon to name a few.  In fact Alaska has many, many of each. The Copper River is one such crick, born of the glacier and thrust knowingly towards a great and mighty sea to the south. It’s waters fast, deep, silty and cold; all the hallmarks of a great and fearsome Alaskan River. Being the tenth largest river in the United States, it is also home to one of the greatest Salmon runs in the world, and in a place festering with mighty river’s running full of the hardest working fish in North America, that’s saying something.  July and early August are the time of Red Salmon or Sockeye as it is known;  to me, the very tastiest of all Salmon’s. Theses beautiful fish congregate in large numbers at the mouth of the Copper, near Cordova, at the Gulf of Alaska. Over the course of a few short weeks, they swim, upriver, in search of their ancestral spawning grounds, to the place of their birth, to continue the cycle of life. Along the way, people have been harvesting these fantastic creatures for sustenance for thousands of years.

2 o’clock in the afternoon, Sven, Billy, and I pile into Sven’s truck and head south for the 6 hour drive from Fairbanks to Chitina, a tiny hundred year old fishing and mining community, born from the days of the mighty Kennicott. Chitina is a beautiful place indeed; nestled in a deep valley, surrounded by high forested and craggy walls, giant glaciated peaks of the Wrangell Mountains, festooned with wildlife, and situated at the confluence of the Copper and Chitina Rivers’.  On the drive down, we stop at a pullout with mind numbing Alaska scenery, an eyeful of the central and eastern Alaska Range and it’s plentiful glaciers. It had been a couple of years since I had been to this place and it was as magnificent as I had remembered. We arrive in Chitina later, and meet up with Sven’s friends Cynthia and Diane. We will be crashing at Cynthia’s cabin and they will be joining us tomorrow, at the river. The last time friends were here, a couple of weeks past, they had caught their limit between the 4 of them: 70 fish! That’s a lot of cleaning and filleting, but in  the end, it is a freezer full of the best eating there is.

The trail in from the road to the good dip netting spots are 5 or 6 miles down river, however, Sven’s four wheeler ATV makes fairly quick work of ferrying 4 people, dip nets, gear and ice chests to the chosen location. By 8 o’clock, we have our ropes tied to the shore trees and to ourselves, and the nets are in the water. The river was intimidating at first; it is the sort that, if one fell in, you might be a goner. It is super fast and cold, with hidden logs, rocks, and all sorts of strainers, waiting to snag anything that happens to be in the water big enough to catch. It is also full of glacial silt; it’s appearance is that of fast, cold mud. It’s visibility is zero. But it is full of Salmon; I hope. After a couple of hours, Diane has managed to net 2 fish, a small one and a good sized one, and for the next 5 hours we were only able to land 3 more, for a total of 5 fish. Not the fish bonanza we had hoped for, as the cost of the trip necessitates a good yield. The river was definitely higher than normal; this probably attributed to the low numbers. One never knows when it comes to the Salmon running. One day they could be so strong that, could you see through the murky water, one might be able to walk across the river, supported only on the backs of the working Salmon. On other days, scarcely a few seem to be near by. Perhaps when the water is so high, they hide out in the eddy’s and holes, saving energy, awaiting the lower water and easier swimming, upriver and towards their goal.

By mid afternoon, we, with our 5 fish, decide to head out as it is a long drive home. As Sven is ferrying loads back to the truck, I clean the fish, pour the last bits of diesel fuel into the truck, and clean up. While the fishing was of limited success, the day was a fulfilling one, hanging with friends, taking in the best Alaska has to offer, and generally enjoying ourselves all around. Additionally, 3 of the 5 of us had seen bears today. Sven and Diane had seen a big Blackie earlier, and in the afternoon, Billy had come across a Griz crossing the trail and headed to the river, no doubt attracted the pungent odor of the Salmon. Afterwards, we say goodbye to our Chitina friends and hit Uncle Tom’s Tavern in Chitina, for a celebration beer; and afterwards, a long and tiring drive to Fairbanks, but with smiles on our faces.

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