Sunday, August 24, 2008

I don’t know what is exactly about fishing in the ocean on a charter, but it really leaves you exhausted. I woke up clear and awake at 2:45 am and we pulled out of the driveway at 3:30 on the dot. Even with going to bed at 10:30 that is still a brutal start to the day. I had eaten a full dinner the night before and planned on eating a decent breakfast. I have never has full blown sea sickness before and didn’t want to start now. At the very least, having a stomach somewhat full of decent food is probably wise. Too much or too little seems like taunting the monster. We crept through Anchorage in darkness, watching random people wander around the Mountain View neighborhood as they tend to do. I believe we passed Bird Creek around 4:30 as a few glimpses of dawn started to peak over the Turnagain arm while there were probably half a dozen fishermen standing in the creek hoping for a Silver salmon yet undoubtedly catching a plethora of Pinks. I’m leery of bears there on a bright and sunny day with 50+ anglers about. Brave men, indeed, though if the fish are running and this is the time in your schedule you have to fish, then have at ‘em. In the past few weeks a strong and pervasive attitude has infecting everyone up here – winter is coming soon so get out there and pedal, fish, and hike now! Sleep is not an option. There will be plenty of that in a few months.

I believe I began dozing when we poked into the Kenai Peninsula, only to be awakened by the exclamation of ‘Bear!’ as we made it just beyond Moose Pass, AK. I shrugged off the fog and watched a 2 year old Black Bear scooting along the side of the rode in the near dawn light as we slowed and gazed. After a few moments he shot into the forest and we resumed our 65mph push towards Seward, AK.

I bought my ticket for the Seward Silver Derby for $10 at 6:30 am before lugging our gear down to the Grubstake to meet our captain. We were told that the captain Marv is “not an early riser”, so we thought nothing of watching the other boats zip out of the harbor while we walked up and down the docks, ogling other fishing vessels quietly docked for the day as 7:15 slowly passed. Two guys, a father and son from California, walked up the dock to the boat, completing the 6 that would be going out that day with ‘ol Marv. Marv walked up at 7:30 with a bag of dead herring and a thermos of coffee. He made a few jokes, advised our smallest fisherman to put on a life vest, and quickly started digging into his engine. He poured a little oil in, closed the engine, and gave us a quick speech before heading out for fuel. Why he can’t top off the boat the night before I do not know. I also do not know why we couldn’t have left around 6:30-6:45 like everybody else in Seward. Obviously, if we catch a lot of fish nobody will care anything about these complaints. I know a great deal needs to be done before taking a group out for a day, but it is nice as the client to see all of that hidden. Get there early, get your handshake and smile, and find yourself quickly booming off for Halibut. Then again, if the guy has been in business for a while and operates this way, he must be doing something right. I guessed that something was bringing back a lot of fish so I shrugged and happily accepted the terms.

I found one of the few seats in the cabin and settled in as the diesel motor opened wide into Resurrection Bay. As 30 minutes passed and we approached the opening of the bay I studied the interactive map Marv had operating on his console and asked him how far we were heading. Marv pointed at a bay far south along the coast and from meager calculations I said, "another one and a half hours?" "Yep. Had some big Halibut there yesterday."

I have never felt fully blown seasickness before, but I've heard horror stories from many. I came pretty close in 8 foot waves on Lake Superior while headed for Isle Royale a few years ago, but I never went over the line. I take that as a good sign. It seems like the key is to avoid the smell of the burning diesel more than anything else. At the very least, that is one of the major factors one can control. It all seems like a crapshoot in the end though. We hit some big waves as we crept along the National Park and I preemptively put my head down. Aside from getting sick, I hate traveling hours with a diesel motor screaming. It's just boring for me. I like it for the 30 minutes we're leaving the harbor and the 30 minutes at the end when we can see the destination. I didn't feel sick but I was tired and bored so this was the plan of attack. By the time 2 hours had passed my stomach was a little uneasy, but I wasn't getting worse and I really wanted to catch fish so I decided to just muscle through it all.

As we worked for Halibut and I kept answering the "You look a little grey?" question with "I'm just a little tired" I started to get frustrated. I've caught Halibut before (it's easy) and everybody was catching them in front of me at the time, so why was I unable to get one on? I could feel them swallowing and chewing the bait all the way down there at 200 feet, but I could not get them to take the whole circle hook down. Eventually I reeled in a Skate that we promptly let go before landing a Halibut of my own. We were only 1 fish away from our limit so I was quickly handed a pole with a set hook on it and I reeled in the 25lb fish from the bottom of the ocean. Bam!, the captain locked everything up and we peeled out for the Silver Salmon grounds. We had taken about 2.5 hours to limit out on Halibut (2 a person -- 8 total for our group) and needed to really put the pedal down to get on those silvers. Marv looked at my grey face. "You'll feel better soon." The water was clear, I put my head down, Marv opened up the 'ol Grubstake, and I promptly dozed off.

When I awoke 30 minutes later I felt great, the water was calm, and I took the spring in my step to those silvers. After about an hour I limited out with 3 good sized fish (maybe 14-15lbs?), bringing our total up to 7. Not bad. Silvers fight like crazy and make my heart soar. Marv helped us get our limit and may have even cured my flaky stomach. Pictures are still in my camera, but they will be coming soon.

We ended up with 8 Halibut, 7 Silvers, and 2 Pink Salmon. I believe after they were cleaned we loaded up 100 lbs of meat into the coolers -- plenty for a long winter. I stumbled into the building in Anchorage around 11:15, crawled into the shower, and fell asleep at 12:30. 22 hours straight and loving it. I'll sleep more in December. The fish are out there now.

Monday, August 11, 2008

This has literally been the coldest summer on record here in Anchorage. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s been in the 40’s with occasional snowstorms on random days – it’s been in the high 50’s to the low 60’s most days. Attach that to most days being cloudy and a fair amount drizzle and you have a bit of a dud summer. Now, it being my first entire summer up here – I don’t know any better. It’s Alaska, I’m finally local, and I’m sort of running on perpetual adrenaline as long as there is fishing, cycling, and hiking to enjoy. There are occasionally glorious days, like this past Sunday.

We were off for fishing in Bird Creek at 8:30 am, but along the way we decided to drive 20 minutes past it and hit Ingram Creek instead. It has just as many Pink Salmon right now, though not as many people. If there were more reports of Silvers showing up at Bird Creek we wouldn’t have entertained the switch, but it was really more of a question of where we wanted to catch Pinks. Along the drive down Turnagain Arm we pulled over for a minute to watch a pod of about 9 Beluga Whales. If you glance past the white bumps cycling in and out of the water you’d easily miss it. Even in all of the wildlife Alaska allows to be readily seen, this was a bit of a lucky coup I understand -- a good start to the day.

We geared up at Ingram around 9:15 and began the 5 minute walk to the creek. As we approached the creek, making noise all along in the thick woods, we were struck with a strong scent of something rotten. We quickly winced before agreeing that it must be rotten fish on the bank, which is either a sign of some random dead fish or carcasses of fish the bears have left after feasting – either way it meant there are fish in the creek so we were happy. As we starting to wind through the dense forest towards the creek, slightly off the main trail, we came headlong into the source of the stench – a rotten yearling black bear. It looked dead almost a month. We examined it a bit and decided the skull was a bit too small and maggot infested to take for bleaching and display. Maybe it was clipped on the Seward Highway before wandering in the woods to die? Maybe it surprised some fisherman that were packing? We shrugged it off as it is Alaska and all and headed down to the river, though I snapped a picture on my phone while we passed. You are practically elbow to elbow on Bird Creek and fully live the combat fishing paradigm, but here on Ingram we were entirely alone. Glancing at the narrow braids of water we could immediately see enormous schools of fish. The clouds yielded to a blue sky and 65 degree sunlight and we proceeded to settle in to catching an obnoxious amount of fish. In 3 hours I caught about 35 Pink Salmon while also squeezing in a break and a hike down towards the ocean. My record was 6 fish caught on 6 casts in a row. Too bad Pinks taste bad, though they are plenty big and have a lot of fight. Even though we motored home towards Anchorage with nothing in the cooler, it was quite honestly a postcard/commercial day for Alaska.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

My bid on a townhouse was accepted last night so I now enter a 3 week sprint to close on it. All should go smoothly, but I remain cautiously optimistic.

On the Coastal Trail last night I found a $20 bill and then a little later had to wait 10 minutes while a large bull moose just stood in the center of the trail eating leaves, before eventually meandered into the brush. It reminded of the Northern Exposure episode where Chris keeps finding gifts from a Caribou in the forest.

So, a very lucky day it seems.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Cross season is in about a month and I hope to take part. There looks to be about 6 races across a few weeks, which means weeknight races. Winter comes quick here so you have to get it in. Cross is so fun and the environment surrounding it is infectious so I suspect a compact season will only increase the intensity. So I’ve been more diligent in my daily riding, hoping to get my fitness a bit higher and my legs a little stronger.

My main route takes me from midtown Anchorage down the creekside path towards the ocean, where I turn left and head to the end of the Coastal Trail at Kincaid Park. 11 miles each way and no cars. Perfect to put your head down and set a strong pace, though you do need to be careful when snaking through the Frisbee golf course. It is far too easy to crash into the groups drifting across the path as they move towards the next hole. And then you have a few scrapes and walk away smelling like Patchouli from the collision.

I saw a few moose on the trail when I first started using the trail in mid May, but this past week has been en explosion of wildlife. I have always been told that the moose are always around, it’s just that when the trees get really full and green you cannot see them if they are even a few feet behind the tree line.

On Friday I came pedaling around a corner to see a large cow and calf lying in the grass, maybe 10 feet from the path. Beautiful to stumble into, and even better when added to the cow and 2 calves I saw on the way back. 5 moose isn’t bad. I guess it has the charm of seeing deer in Wisconsin, yet without the skittish response. Moose just sit there and chew on leaves, only really getting annoyed if you come too close or near their calf. Simple and very easy to enjoy and observe from a close distance without pressuring the animal. Saturday I saw 2 more moose and Sunday gave me 4 (2 calves). One on Saturday was a large male with full velvet. It’s hard to top seeing moose up close on your bike ride, but I did on Sunday. While tucked in on a downhill in Kincaid Park I passed 4 riders climbing the hill. They chatted with each other and pedaled smoothly. Just as I zipped by the last of them I saw a large black bear emerge from the brush on my left (which would have been to their immediate right) and hustle immediately further into the brush on the left, away from me. I went by at about 20 mph and he never considered me as he scooted away, but it did make my heart jump a bit. Very cool.