All posts by Chris Cocoles

What’s Up With The Hooves On This Moose?

 

Photo by Becky Grady

Photo by Becki Grady

 

Check out this report from KTUU in Anchorage on a moose with hooves you have to see to believe. 

Battle said the copper deficiency causes moose hooves to grow faster than they can wear away. The condition results in an elongated and curved hoof, commonly known as ‘sleigh hoof.’

“We see them every so often here in Anchorage and I know sometimes on the Kenai Peninsula,” Battle said. “We get reports of them in Anchorage about once or twice a year at best … it’s not very common.”

According Battle, the southcentral region of Alaska has low levels of copper in the soil and vegetation that moose commonly eat, which could explain why more reports of the phenomenon are made here than in other parts of the state. 

Why don’t a higher number of moose in the region display this deformity? Natural selection, Battle said. “When you have a deficiency of a needed mineral in a particular area, some individuals will be more efficient at absorbing it than others.”

Alaskans Featured On New Discovery Channel Series

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Keep an eye on the August issue of Alaska Sporting Journal to read our profile of Jeremy Whalen, one of the stars of Discovery Channel’s  new series, Treasure Quest: Snake Island, which premieres on Friday.  Whalen is one of two members of the gold-seeking crew with ties to Alaska.

Here’s a Discovery Channel release and video sneak peek at Friday’s debut:

 

Hidden somewhere off the south eastern coast of Brazil, could lie hundreds of millions of dollars-worth of lost Incan gold.  For 400 years, many have searched, fought and died looking for this elusive bounty.  But all have failed to hold onto it.  TREASURE QUEST: SNAKE ISLAND, an all-new series premiering Friday, July 17, at 10 PM ET/PT on the Discovery Channel, will take viewers along an epic journey with an elite team of treasure hunters who have a new theory on where the treasure lies – a remote spot home to 1,000s of deadly vipers.

“Every kid hears these stories about treasures and pirates and going off on adventures around the world with dreams of finding lost gold.  And that’s what I do. That’s what I’m doing right now,” said Cork Graham, the team’s expedition leader.

In 1524, a horde of Incan gold – known as the “Treasure of the Trinity” – was stolen.  For 500 years, Jesuits priests, privateers such as Thomas Cavendish and mathematician Paul Thiry have all searched the coast of Brazil for this legendary bounty, but in all that time, no one has cracked the code as to where the treasure might have been hidden… until now.

Discovery Channel will follow the adventures of these real-life treasure seekers who set out for two months in search of this priceless booty.  The team includes –

  Cork Graham, Expedition Leader:  Cork has dedicated his life to searching for lost treasure.  At the age of 18, he participated in a covert search for Captain Kidd’s treasure off the coast of Vietnam but was captured and accused of being a spy.  He is now focused on the Treasure of the Trinity and determined that it will not escape his grasp.
 
  Mehgan Heaney-Grier, Expedition Dive Master: Whether it’s free diving, swimming with sharks, or documenting alligators in their natural environment, Mehgan is no stranger to high-pressure situations—natural or man-made, especially among a crew of testosterone-fuelled alpha males.  The true value of the Treasure of the Trinity for her lies in its historical and archaeological significance, not its monetary worth.
  Jeremy Whalen, Ship’s Mechanic: Give him a few tools and he can build it, fix it or replace it. While he respects the historical significance of lost treasure, his real reasons for participating in the expedition are twofold – the adrenaline rush and the promise of a huge payday.

 

 

  Bryan Fry, Herpetologist:  An Aussie, Bryan has 25 years of experience dealing with deadly reptiles and the battle scars to prove it. He’s been bitten by snakes 26 times, yet eagerly keeps coming back for more.  For him, the real treasure is the chance to study the deadly golden lancehead viper up close. 

 

 

  Keith “Cappy” Plaskett, Boat Captain: Cappy has always dreamed of searching for sunken Spanish galleons off of Brazil’s coast, but navigating these treacherous waters and the brutal storms that unexpectedly form without warning will test the limits of his sailing skills.

The team will stop at nothing – scaling peaks through the jungle, exploring treacherous caves and diving among the galleons that sunk to the ocean floor centuries ago.  Treasure hunting is nearly impossible and the team will face dangers both on land and at sea.  It’s a place where modern-day pirates still exist and word has gotten around that they are looking for treasure. 

But they’re going to need more than pure brawn on this quest.  The team will need to solve complex mathematical clues and puzzles protecting the treasure – the same ones that have thwarted countless others before them.  But most of all, they’ll need nerves of steel as they brave one of the most deadly places in the world – where one careless step could not just cost everyone incredible riches, but ultimately their lives.

 

Baseball Brawling In Alaska Summer League

Photo by Tom Reale

Photo by Tom Reale

Last summer, our associate editor Tom Reale checked out some baseball when he profiled some of the college players’ experiences in the Alaska Baseball League. Reale caught up with a couple of the players’ outdoor adventures. Here’s a little taste:

“You go from being a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in a big pond,” says Conkle, who excelled both pitching (4-3, 3.28 earned-run average) and hitting (.328, 2 home runs, 37 RBI) at North Alabama in 2014 as a junior. He was batting .225 with 11 RBI for the Chinooks in mid-July.
His host family is very outdoorsy, and he’s been able to get out for some hiking trips. “We did a hike to Mt. Baldy and had a moose walk up to within 50 years of us! I was even able to get some video of it – very impressive,” he says. He’s also been able to spend some time at the family cabin near Talkeetna.
“There’s no electricity, no cell phone coverage, no running water, and an outhouse,” Conkle says. “It’s important to get away from everyday society, away from all of the modern conveniences and to just clear your mind once in a while.”
Shane Armstrong is a right-handed pitcher from Hillsdale College in Michigan, which, like Conkle’s North Alabama team, is a Division II school. He’s also been very impressed by the level of talent in the ABL.
“This is definitely the best league I’ve ever played in. It’s not common for guys from D-II schools to be able to play against players from the SEC and other D-I schools,” he says.
Armstrong’s been salmon fishing on the Kenai River and Russian River once apiece this summer. “We caught one fish, and we’re still working on eating it,” he says.
He’s also gotten out to go hiking on Baldy and Flattop, and learned on a hike on the Matanuska Glacier that “shorts and tennis shoes aren’t the best gear for hiking on ice.”

I also contributed the following sidebar about some of the coaches’ experience coming to Alaska (full disclosure: in my previous jobs as a sports reporter I was on the college baseball beat, so I have a lot of background covering the sport):

College baseball coaches are a pretty tight fraternity. I learned this firsthand being a college baseball beat writer at two newspapers, the Los Angeles Daily News and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Baseball coaches are rivals when they are in opposing dugouts and have every intention of beating the guy on the other side of the diamond, but unlike other college sports like football or basketball, feuds are rare. They get to know each other at conventions, camps, the recruiting trail, and in outposts like Alaska.
In 2009, Arkansas was scheduled to meet Cal State Fullerton in their opening game of the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. It was a reunion of then Arkansas assistant coach Todd Butler and Cal State Fullerton head coach Dave Serrano. The two were once young coaches who worked together on staffs in the Alaska Baseball League in the 1990s.
Both grew up about as about as far away from the Last Frontier as you can get: Butler in Louisiana, Serrano in Southern California.
“It’s 20 hours of daylight and four hours of darkness,” Butler said that day in Omaha, just before he caught up a little bit with his fellow Alaskan alum, Serrano. “I remember when I flew into Kenai in 1991, we went to the field and we had no lights. How were we going to play night games? They said it’s never dark.”
Butler, who’s now the head coach at Wichita State University, quickly adapted to the summer in Alaska routine. After coaching a 6 p.m. game, he’d head out to the Kenai River and cast for sockeye salmon in 10 p.m. summer sunlight.
Butler’s Arkansas Razorbacks got the best of Serrano’s Cal State Fullerton Titans in Omaha, but they enjoyed meeting up again. Serrano is currently the head coach at Tennessee, where his son Kyle, a pitcher, just finished his freshman season for the Volunteers. The Alaskan connection has gone full circle; Kyle Serrano spent this summer playing with the ABL’s Matsu Miners.
“I was kind of leery going to Alaska,” Serrano told me back in 2009. “What am I going into? You hear Alaska and you think snow and think igloos. I left Alaska feeling like everybody in the world should experience Alaska one time in their life. It’s a beautiful part of the country.” 

You may wonder why I’m bringing up all of this feel-good mumbo jumbo. Well, check out this report and video about camaraderie gone awry when two opposing managers duked it out earlier this week in a game:

From KTUU in Anchorage:

Peninsula Oilers head coach Kevin Griffin and Anchorage Bucs head coach Mike Grahovac ignited a benches-clearing brawl late Wednesday night when the two exchanged words and then blows in the top of the 14th inning of their Alaska Baseball League game

Grahovac was ejected for arguing balls and strikes, and as he approached the Bucs’ clubhouse on the third base side of the field, Grahovac and Griffin started their argument.  Griffin was coaching third base for the Oilers, who were at bat at the time of the incident.

Such fights in the Alaska Baseball League, especially between coaches, are extremely rare.  The umpires in the game gave a full report to the league office based on theiraccounts of the incident and video replay supplied by KTUU-Channel 2.  There is no word as of yet from the ABL office on how severely any of the participants in Wednesday’s brawl would be disciplined.

So there is some fight in these guys, and let’s face it: these college players and coaches are simply following in the footsteps of the big-leaguers they want to emulate! Happy days on Alaskan diamonds!

Game Warden Campers Learn About The Job

 

Game warden camp 3

Photos and Story By Steve Meyer 

 

“What a great job!”

It seems sportsmen and –women around the world share that sentiment as the game warden walks away after contacting a hunter or angler. Well, except maybe those who have reason to dislike the game warden, such as the poacher. What could be better than spending your job in the outdoors, interacting with those who pursue recreational activities and helping to ensure the future of those activities?

Unless one is not behaving appropriately, experiences with game wardens can and should be pleasant ones. For children growing up in a world that may not include a lot of interaction with the outdoors, perhaps they have already formed opinions and contain fears about those who enforce our fish and game laws that do not mirror the real world of wildlife enforcement.

WITH THAT IN mind, there are several programs nationwide that seek to introduce youngsters to the real workings of protecting our nation’s wildlife resources.

Maine and Oklahoma are two of the more prominent places that have developed these “game warden camps.” It was these camps that caught the attention of Jim Hjelmgren, chief refuge enforcement officer for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska.

Hjelmgren, a very community-minded man, thought a similar program introduced to Alaska would be a great vehicle to form local ties with children and their parents. Knowing refuge manager Andy Loranger of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge to also be committed to his community, Hjelmgren contacted him, and the latter embraced the concept and set to work making it come to fruition in spring 2014.

Developing a program that brought children in and provided a comprehensive introduction to what really goes on in the world of wildlife protection wasn’t easy. Loranger is quick to point out that refuge officer Kelly Modla became the driving force in getting the program started. Modla is well known among local outdoor enthusiasts and is tireless in her work with local youth in various aspects of her position, another community-focused individual (do you see a theme developing here?).

The program took shape in the form of catering to kids of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade ages. Keeping this age group interested is a challenge that was met by developing numerous stations, each a different aspect of life as a game warden, that the kids would rotate through and be able to actually participate in. That is a lot to cover in two days, but the refuge employees have done a great job of orchestrating the event.

Game warden camp 4

DAY ONE STARTED with the gathering of participants and assigning groups with their stations to begin the course. Having an introductory icebreaker is always good for these types of events, and what better way for kids than with horses?

Retired backcountry ranger Rick Johnston brought out two of his own horses and the kids gathered around while Rick explained some of the ways game wardens use horses on the job. The kids all have the opportunity to get close and pet these iconic animals that are so closely tied to our outdoor heritage. From there, the kids break into groups and head for the various stations that are staffed with refuge officers and biologists, U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service officers, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officers, Alaska Wildlife Troopers, Alaska State Park rangers, and Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists.

When developing the warden camp, refuge representatives realized pulling it off successfully would require a lot more staff than normally available. Scheduling it while annual regional in-service training for Alaska’s refuge law enforcement officers was in session in Soldotna provided the perfect venue to have many officers on hand without incurring additional expenses of travel and lodging. Those with the various local state and federal agencies were quick to volunteer assistance, which resulted in plenty of professionals attending the event.

Game warden camp 5

TAKING A TOUR of the course finds one observing game wardens showing the kids remote control decoys used to enforce various wildlife and safety regulations, including shooting a prohibited species or shooting from the road. Moving on to the station found refuge manager Loranger and ADFG’s Jeff Selinger explaining the intricacies of migratory birds (namely ducks and geese), big game and furbearer management and enforcement. There was plenty of waterfowl taxidermy on display, as well as numerous skulls, hides, horns, and other artifacts from the wildlife world for the kids to examine.

The next station featured Rex, the golden Labrador retriever (ASJ, April 2015), putting on a show of his talents for wildlife detection and his ability to enhance successes in the field with his partner, officer Rob Barto.

Next door, KNWR law enforcement supervisor Chris Johnson was donning a RedMan suit, a padded suit used for baton training, and showing the kids the equipment carried daily on the duty belt. They had the opportunity to try on a ballistic vest and a duty belt; then they got to beat up Chris with batons. Well, not really, but he explained some of the situations where a game warden might have no choice but to use force to subdue someone and then gave them a chance to use a baton and “subdue” him. The kids obviously had a great time at this station.

Game warden camp 2

THE KNWR HEADQUARTERS sits on a hill surrounded by wooded acreage. A trail down the hill through the woods leads to Headquarters Lake, a picturesque body of water surrounded by spruce, birch, and alder woods and muskeg swamp. The lake teems with all sorts of bird life, and the trails in the area often exhibit grouse and moose; it’s a terrific setting for learning about the care of wildlife resources.

On the lakeshore officers explained some of the issues with boating accidents and how officers can be called in to assist boaters in trouble. The kids experienced some hands-on experience throwing life rings and ropes used for rescues.

Just up the hill from the lake, an archery station, which would continue through both days, was bustling with activity. The idea with these stations is to introduce the kids to some of the nuances of archery and shooting, not to mention some of the problems officers face with those who are not conducting themselves appropriately in their world.

The last event on the tour for the first day of camp was a wildlife forensics station. Here, the kids learned how game wardens use technology and outdoor skills to find/preserve evidence for solving poaching and other wildlife violations. They made plaster casts of shoeprints along a trail, used a metal detector to find spent cartridge cases and were challenged to find evidence near a wildlife crime scene.

A stark bit of realism was on hand in the form of a brown bear cub that had been struck by a motor vehicle,  and which was used to show some of what wardens would look for/do in the event of an animal believed to have suffered an illegal demise.

Day two’s itinerary included scenarios where the kids were able to participate in checking, questioning and subsequently deciding whether to issue a violation notice to both duck hunters and a fisherman along the lakeshore. They learned some basic GPS and map-reading skills as well as issues surrounding cold water survival. The air rifle station was busy and one of the favorites of attendees.

Game warden camp 1

THE ATMOSPHERE OF the KNWR game warden camp is clearly one of respecting the wildlife resources shared by everyone. For those who love the outdoors, the importance of building relationships with nature in the next generation is critical to our outdoor heritage. The first KNWR Game Warden Camp was conducted in 2014, and of course, it was a learning opportunity for all involved.

This year’s camp was even better, and judging by the interest will continue into the foreseeable future. This has been the pilot program, the first for the National Wildlife Refuge System. With the success, according to Loranger, other refuges around the state and the nation are looking into having their own camps for prospective game wardens.

One side note: before this article comes to print, the KNWR will have celebrated the grand opening of the new visitor’s center adjacent to the current refuge headquarters facility. It is a fabulous place to visit and worth taking a look.

The efforts of the KNWR in involving the community in our outdoor heritage should be applauded.

There was a time when outdoor activities in Alaska centered on hunting and fishing. Now there are all sorts of outdoor interests that take place within the bounds of wildlife refuges. The KNWR has done a good job of seeing that all of those interests are accommodated and respected, which is not an easy task. ASJ

Editor’s note: If you have a youngster who would like to participate in next year’s camp, be sure and check with refuge officer Kelly Modla (907-260-2851) as soon as possible. The nature of the camp limits the number of participants to 40 and it fills fast. For more information on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, go to kenai.fws.gov or facebook.com/kenainationalwildliferefuge.

 

How Alaskans Celebrate July 4

Scott Hamman puts on a show every Fourth of July around the Kenai's Cook Inlet. (SCOTT HAMMAN)

Scott Hamman puts on a show every Fourth of July around the Kenai’s Cook Inlet. (SCOTT HAMMAN)

 

Happy Independence Day, everyone! As we celebrate our nation’s birthday for the 239th time today, be safe with your fireworks, don’t drink and drive and take some time to embrace the struggles of the Founding Fathers to forge a nation out of a ragtag bunch of once British colonists fighting a world power across the Atlantic.

Our Steve Meyer filed this report that’s appearing in the July issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:

By Steve Meyer

There are simply not many things that cannot be accomplished when one has an adequate amount of explosives. At least that was what we all thought when in days past, there was always a case of dynamite and several hundred feet of det cord stashed in the shed.

Yep, it hasn’t been all that long ago when you could get those things pretty much when you wanted. And it hasn’t been that long since a get together on the Fourth of July would include them.

Reminiscing from past Fourth of July holidays, blowing stuff up on a small scale was what it was all about. Oh sure, where it actually got dark the fireworks were okay and running around the yard in the dark with a sparkler lit up was sort of fun. It was a lot more fun when you had a compadre willing to sword fight with them.

But mostly it was the firecrackers. Perhaps that should be qualified with “for young boys” it was the firecrackers. With firecrackers there were innumerable things that could be blown up such as ant hills, dirt clods, pop bottles; basically if it looked disposable or otherwise something that wouldn’t draw the ire of parents, it got blown up. A rite of passage was having a firecracker go off in your hand. The little ones, called “Lady Fingers” if memory serves correctly, were fairly anemic and you could get use to and even enjoy them going off in your hand. Granted, they hurt, but there is that pain/pleasure thing.

The bigger ones, “Black Cats” is what I remember, that were about an inch-and-a-half long weren’t so much fun. All sorts of bad stuff could happen with one of those detonating in your closed hand. The fun part with those was grouping them together and trying to get them to go off simultaneously and blow up something really big, like falling a small tree or if you were lucky the swollen stomach of a long dead animal.

The fallout from those episodes didn’t make you popular with your mom, but dad usually thought it was pretty funny – no doubt from previous experience as a youngster.

 

Christine Cunningham prepares to fire a cannonball into Cook Inlet on the Fourth of July. (STEVE MEYER)

Christine Cunningham prepares to fire a cannonball into Cook Inlet on the Fourth of July. (STEVE MEYER)

Of course, as time has passed and folks seem to have less responsibility, a fair amount of disasters with fireworks occurred. Given that largely it seems we have become a nation that is willing to trade freedom for “safety and security,” the Fourth of July doesn’t seem to garner the celebration of why our country even exists anymore. Many places and more specifically, many places in Alaska, fireworks are prohibited.

Alaska being one of the last strongholds of personal freedom has a more specific reason for prohibiting fireworks than just wanting to take away the fun. Forest fires. With many forested areas of the state inundated with beetle-killed spruce trees the potential for easy ignition of wildfires is a clear and present danger. While there are still some places where fireworks can be used in Alaska, it seems folks here have taken a greater responsibility and generally are pretty careful with their use.

For Alaskans, fireworks are largely now a winter function when fire danger is minimal and it actually is dark enough to see them. Municipal entities around the state put on fireworks displays around Christmas and New Year’s Eve and some, Seward being one example, does have a Fourth of July fireworks display late in the day after the Mount Marathon run. The display is set off over Resurrection Bay, where there is no fire danger.

Alaskans being generally rather patriotic and a bit different breed than most can be rather inventive in ways to celebrate in the absence of fireworks. The proliferation of legal owned automatic weapons is never more evident than the evening of the Fourth. The staccato bursts of M16s, AK-47s, Uzis, Browning automatic rifles, Thompsons and even the occasional M2 Browning .50-caliber machine gun can be heard across the landscape. For those bent that direction the sound of automatic weapons is inspirational and pulse throbbing. And for some, that just doesn’t quite do it.

Fireworks are easier to watch in Alaska in the darker days around Christmas and New Year's Eve. (STEVE MEYER)

Fireworks are easier to watch in Alaska in the darker days around Christmas and New Year’s Eve. (STEVE MEYER)

In the American tradition of “bigger is better;” what could one do that is legal and yet better to celebrate our country’s founding?  For our friend Scott Hamann, a larger than life supporter of American freedoms, not the least being the Second Amendment, who’s work and generosity in the field are legendary, it was easy; artillery!  The ownership of modern artillery is somewhat problematic, the shooting of same even more so but black powder artillery is legal and so Scott obtained a replica Civil War cannon and parked it in his front yard, which overlooks Cook Inlet, the perfect place to lob artillery shells without endangering anyone.

Each firing of the canon requires a pound of black powder and a projectile that Scott makes himself, weighing three pounds. Observing the process is a step back in time and appears pretty much exactly like the old photos from Civil War encounters. The dumping of the powder in the bore, tamping it down, seating the ball with the ramrod and capping the firing mechanism are absolutely authentic and in itself a commemoration of our country’s storied history. In the wake of the smoke from the shot and the whistle of the canon ball over the water the carnage of distant battlefields are felt to the core of the soul.

A magnificent tribute to the men and women who have fought and won the freedoms we enjoy. It seems our freedoms are dwindling away but they don’t have to. It all comes down to “want to” and folks like Scott are an inspiration to where we come from and why we must preserve our way of life at any cost.

Happy Birthday to America.

 

 

 

Giant Chinook One Of The First Catches Of Season

Steamboat Bay's resident manager, Brandi Cornelius, shows off an almost 57-pound Chinook. (STEAMBOAT BAY FISHING CLUB)

Steamboat Bay’s resident manager, Brandi Cornelius, shows off an almost 57-pound Chinook. (STEAMBOAT BAY FISHING CLUB)

Thanks to Steamboat Bay Fishing Club’s (800-354-3474; steamboatbay.com) PR rep Emily Briner for the report on this massive Chinook, caught near the lodge in Southeast Alaska. (Briner reports this was a native Chinook and not an adipose fin-clipped hatchery fish):

On Steamboat Bay Fishing Club‘s opening day in Southeast Alaska, Dan Sobek of Southern California reeled in the first catch of the season, a trophy-size king salmon weighing in at 56.8 pounds. A Chinook of this size this early in the season indicates that big king salmon will be abundant at Southeast Alaska’s legendary fishing spots all season long, now through mid-August.
 
Guests at the closest lodge to the best fishing in Southeast Alaska are enjoying 2014’s increased limits for king salmon, as set by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The season limits mean nonresident guests at Steamboat Bay can keep up to two king salmon per day during peak season, doubling the allowance from earlier years. Combine these copious limits and signs of plentiful fish with Steamboat Bay’s recent accommodation expansion and new upgraded fishing fleet, and this season is set to be one for the record books.  

For more information on Steamboat Bay Fishing Club, click here.

Kachemak Bay’s Feeder Salmon Frenzy

 

Meyer king salmon 6

Photos by Steve Meyer 

The following story appears in the June issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:

By Steve Meyer 

Four minutes into the troll, my rod slammed down, releasing the 14-pound downrigger ball and signifying that the fight was on.

The fish made one decent run and came to hand in the bobbing seas typical of lower Cook Inlet. Shane Blakely, of Driftwood Charters and the captain of the day, looked at my fish with a bit of a jaundiced eye and asked, “Do you want to keep it?”

By king salmon standards the fish would impress no one, and clearly there were much bigger fish to be caught. “Hell, yeah, I want to keep it” was my not so subtle response.

Meyer king salmon 2

AT HOME IN HOMER

Months before, my partner, Christine Cunningham, had told me that Ruth and Louis Cusack and Emily and Matt Shock wanted to book a trip to fish for feeder kings out of Homer. Groaning to myself I thought, “Great, another day of mindless trolling for fish with someone who doesn’t know how to catch them.” So I replied, “I’ll go only if we book with Shane.”

You see, we had been feeder king fishing on numerous occasions with several different boats and captains and, frankly, it sucked. True, the scenery in lower Cook Inlet is magnificent and, depending on weather, always a bit different. But after about four hours of listening to the throb of the engines cruising at 2½ mph, the scenery ceases to be all that interesting, and could we please catch a damn fish now?

We had come to know Shane by way of a duck hunting buddy when Shane towed our boat across Kachemak Bay for sea duck hunting in December a couple years ago. Shane hunted with us for a while and then said he probably should go catch a couple kings and would be back for the return across the bay. Yeah, sure, whatever, we thought – until he came back an hour later with two very nice feeder kings.

The next week, the process was repeated, eliminating the chances it was a fluke. Since then, we have sort of kept track of Shane; inevitably, no matter the time of year, he was knocking them out.

Meyer king salmon 4

WATER FIT FOR KINGS

The feeder king fishery in Kachemak Bay (often referred to as winter kings, or blackmouth in the Pacific Northwest) was at one time primarily a winter event, with the Homer Winter King derby in March being the highlight. But the kings that come from California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia are there year-round.

They feed and then leave when they are ready to make their spawning run.

Some of the kings caught in Kachemak are hatchery fish, as evidenced by their lack of an adipose fin. Some have tags (Shane caught some hundred or so of these last year) that can be sent in to various government agencies, which will return information about the fish. On our trip we caught several hatchery fish and two with tags.

A question that comes to mind is what effect our targeting these fish has on the other end where they spawn; it seems like none. The runs these fish come from continue to increase, as do the numbers of feeder kings in Kachemak Bay. Of course, there are no hard and fast scientific numbers to support that, as no studies of the population in Kachemak Bay have been done. That is simply from observations of anglers who have fished them for a long time, and if anyone knows, it is them.

So with that in mind, we had no qualms about keeping them. One thing that has kept these kings targeted primarily in late winter and early spring is that anglers are not required to record them on the license until April 1. In years past, when kings were rather prolific and fishermen didn’t want to waste the precious slots available on a small king, it was understandable. Now that one is lucky to catch any returning king of any size, these smaller fish are gaining attention throughout the season.

Meyer king salmon 5

SALMON FOR ALL

With the first fish barely in the fish box, it was Ruth’s turn, as her rod slammed down and she quickly had it to hand. “Throw that little guy back,” Ruth said. Ruth and Louis are consummate game and fish cooks and generously share with others, including the local homeless shelter in Anchorage, and they look for fish that will feed a family, not just themselves. “When the tide turns, the fish will get bigger,” said Shane, who is the most unobtrusive captain one could imagine.

They did. Looking for the secret formula for catching these kings, it quickly became evident there was no “secret.” Using the standard set-up for trolling – a small bait herring that had been toughened with salt brine – there seemed to be no magic involved. During the course of the day there were other boats near our boat, and each time a fish would come to hand the radio would announce some good-natured ribbing about catching all the fish.

As the sun rose over the Southeastern peaks, the fish continued to snatch the preferred herring presented, and all on board had fought at least one of these dime-bright spirited kings back to the boat.

Even the best of times on the water have lulls in the action. Being prepared to enjoy yourself during the breaks in action is critical to having a good day that will include around 12 hours on the water. There were no worries when you were with this group.

The midmorning entrée included Ruth’s delicious salmon dip, mountain goat summer sausage, waterfowl pepperoni and various Cajun concoctions that Louis dreams up, which never disappoint. Well-fed anglers are happy anglers.

PROS OUTWEIGH CONS

Saltwater fishing always comes accompanied with weather – good, bad, and sometimes ugly. No matter how good the weather is, there are always ground swells that may get to those who are prone to succumb to seasickness. Preparing for the worst is a constant in Alaska. Raingear, warm layers of clothing, rubber boots, a knit cap of some sort and wool gloves or ones that equally stay warm when wet should be the bare minimum. Typically, charter boats have some sort of heated cabin, but if you are going to catch a fish sooner or later, you have to get out in the elements.

There are never any guarantees in fishing, but it is a near mortal certainty that you’ll be coming home with fish, assuming you keep them with the intent to eat. The fish will be filleted and placed in plastic bags for you.

To preserve the fish in the best possible way until they are processed, you’ll want to have a decent-sized cooler for the trip from the dock to where will be processed.

You don’t want to have the good fortune of a really nice summer day and have to throw your fish in the back of a hot vehicle. Your charter operator can direct you to local fish processors who will often accommodate vacationers and those in a time crunch.

Nearing the end of the day, we had a boatload of kings, small halibut and some other odds and ends in the fish box. I still hadn’t figured out what Shane does that makes him so successful, but we had brought some 20-odd kings to hand during the course of the day, a remarkable achievement by anyone’s measure in the feeder king arena.

Matt was the holdout of the group; he had one king and was saving his remaining tag for a chance at a bigger fish. Shane took us to a spot just off the Homer Spit, where our lovely deckhand would fillet the fish while Matt continued to troll for his big kings.

Patience rewards, it seems, as Matt finally hooked the king he was hoping for and finished off the day in the best possible way. ASJ

 

Editor’s note: For more information on Shane Blakely’s Driftwood Charters, call (907) 235-8019 or go to driftwoodcharters.com.

 

Patriot Act: Get ASJ for one year at $17.76

An Alaskan celebrating Fourth of July. (SCOTT HAMMAN)
An Alaskan celebration of the Fourth of July. (SCOTT HAMMAN)

Our Steve Meyer is writing a story for our upcoming July edition of Alaska Sporting Journal about celebrating Fourth of July in Alaska. To get this story and others that depict the excitement and breathtaking outdoors scene in the Last Frontier, subscribe to Alaska Sporting Journal for the patriotic price of $17.76 for 12 action-packed issues. The Founding Fathers approve of this price!

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Alaskan, Canadian Native Leaders Meet In Toronto

The Stikine River's large salmon run would be at risk if the proposed Canadian mine suffers an accident. (SAM BEEBE/WIKIMEDIA)

The Stikine River’s large salmon run would be at risk if the proposed Canadian mine suffers an accident. (SAM BEEBE/WIKIMEDIA)

Seabridge Gold, the Canadian mining company proposing a mine in British Columbia that could threaten wild salmon runs in both B.C. and Southeast Alaska, will be greeted by native leaders this week when it hosts its annual company meeting in Toronto this week.

From the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Working Group:

British Columbia and Alaska indigenous leaders today are calling upon Seabridge Gold’s leadership and investors to prevent more disasters like Mount Polley. Seabridge Gold (TSX:SEA)(NYSE:SA) is a junior mining company proposing what would be North America’s largest open pit mine near British Columbia’s northwest border with Alaska. The mine is located under an active glacier, as well as upstream from major salmon fishing waters and the Misty Fjords National Monument, a popular tourist destination.

“In the wake of the worst environmental disaster in Canadian history, Seabridge is still planning to use risky, discredited technology to store its mine waste.” said Annita McPhee of the Tahltan Nation. “We don’t need any more Mount Polleys. The Mount Polley disaster changes everything.”

Seabridge is facing increasing opposition to the proposed KSM mine sited at the headwaters of a key salmon fishery upon which indigenous peoples on both sides of the border rely on for subsistence. Seabridge proposes risky plans to:

  • Use outdated mine waste storage methods discredited by the Mount Polley disaster investigation.
  • Mine under an active glacier.
  • Manage and treat an unprecedented amounts of mine water, possibly forever (up to 20.8 billion gallons per year) that could still result in water pollution at the Alaska border – 24 km or 19 miles from the mine.

“We’ve come to Toronto to ask Seabridge whether it will publicly support an International Joint commission review,” said Frederick Olsen Jr., representing the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Working Group, a coalition of thirteen southeast Alaska Tribes. He continued, “We’re deeply concerned about the unprecedented downstream risks to our people, who rely on the health of our rivers for their livelihoods. As with the Pebble Mine, the long-term risks outweigh the rewards.”

The State of Alaska and Alaska’s congressional delegation are calling for bilateral discussions and Alaska Tribes and the capital City of Juneau have requested a full International Joint Commission review to address transboundary water pollution issues.

US-based Earthworks and MiningWatch Canada and are also attending Seabridge’s shareholders meeting to support the call for an International Joint Commission review of the KSM mine proposal.

Earlier in June, PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) forecast a prolonged period of low metals prices, raising questions about the feasibility of large multi-billion mine projects to attract financing. A risk report on the proposed KSM mine, released last week, found that water treatment at the mine would constitute significant financial and operational risks, and the financial surety for the post-closure water treatment alone — not including reclamation of the mine site — would likely cost US$1 billion.

‘Hollywood Hunter’s’ Alaska Adventure

The following story appears in the June issue of Alaska Sporting Journal (photos courtesy of Freddy Harteis/The Hollywood Hunter)

 

Hollywood Hunter 4

By Chris Cocoles

Freddy Harteis, big game hunter with central Pennsylvania roots, couldn’t be more of a fish out of water than in his home base of Los Angeles, which is, as his hunting show states, “a place that isn’t too kind to hunters … Hollywood may not like what he does, but they will respect him.”

Harteis was more in his element when he filmed an episode of his Sportsman Channel TV show hunting bears in Southwest Alaska. But the California lifestyle is what Harteis chose after marrying Jeannie Mai, a Golden State native, makeup artist, fashion expert and cohost of a talk show targeted towards young women, The Real. The couple has settled in with the (mostly) gun-abhorring Los Angelinos.

His series, the cleverly titled Hollywood Hunter, chronicles his global adventures of chasing big game and depicts his conservation views. He assures the audience that just about all the meat from his harvested animals gets distributed to those in need.

“It’s not so much hunting, but the conservation behind it or the good behind it,” Harteis says of his fish-out-water existence in famously anti-hunting Hollywood.

He’s become a voice for hunting and conservation in his adopted hometown.

“L.A. is all about going organic. But most of them believe when you walk into a grocery store meat just comes from a grocery store … Believe it or not, a few generations ago everyone did what we are doing. So get off your high horse and accept the reality that this is the world we’ve come from.”

He fit right in when he went to Alaska and filled tags for black and brown bears.

“You hear a lot of places around the country and the world that they say are ‘God’s country.’ Well, I believe (Alaska’s) the ultimate,” says Harteis, who has hunted in Africa and throughout North America. “Just the freedom of wide-open space – and you have some of the biggest mountains in the world there. You see the eagles flying so free everywhere. And so much wildlife beyond belief – I couldn’t believe how many animals we saw in five days of hunting. Just an incredible place.”

Hollywood Hunter 1

AN ALASKA HUNT has always been on Harteis’ bucket list. He grew up in Harrisburg, Pa. His father, businessman Fred Harteis, was a also a hunter who made three bear pilgrimages to Alaska, finally harvesting a brown bear on his last trip (Fred passed away in June 2013). Freddy listened intently.

“He told me many, many stories about the terrain, the intensity, the wide-open wilderness. And really, specifically, he told me about brown bears,” Harteis says. “As I saw him go up to Alaska and hunt Kodiak Island and many other places, he would come back unsuccessful, yet so thrilled and excited to be out there in the middle of it.”

What really stuck out for an adrenaline-chaser like the younger Harteis was Dad’s tales of charging bears racing through the brush and how to stay safe in such a frantic scenario. The thought of such a visual – dangerous and all – was mesmerizing, so Hollywood’s hunter was obsessed with making it to Alaska.

An old high school buddy from Pennsylvania, Dave Kiser, moved to Alaska in 2005. He and his wife, Joni Kiser, own Full Curl Archery in Anchorage (907-344-2697;fullcurlarchery.com).

“They started talking to me about coming up there. As we started discussing the idea, I got more and more excited because, No. 1, I could connect with old-time friends; and No. 2, I knew I would be in good hands,” Harteis says.

The trio hunted with two guides in a secret location about an hour’s flight from Anchorage. Nonresidents were allowed to hunt brown bears in that zone for the first time, so it was a completely new experience for the guides, for Harteis and for the crew shooting footage for his show.

And given the setting and the unpredictable nature of bears in Alaska, it was a humbling experience.

“I think if we’re honest with ourselves, there is always fear and in the back of our minds the what-ifs?” Harteis says. “But as I prepare for trips that are very intense and dangerous, I try to prepare in a fashion that becomes instinct – to be able to shoot on instinct and think on instinct. To do the things so repetitively before I get there, the odds are in our favor to do the right things. But it’s healthy and good to have a little fear, because it’s a respect; fear keeps you on your toes.”

Hollywood Hunter

FRED HARTEIS TAUGHT Freddy a lot about hunting, dating back to their roots in rural Pennsylvania. The area around Harrisburg is full of outdoors enthusiasts, and as a boy Freddy carried a BB gun around the property and hunted plenty of deer and birds with his dad. The two made their first big trip to British Columbia when Freddy was 12, and after he graduated from Pennsylvania’s Clarion University, father and son went on a safari hunt to Africa. Harteis knew he wanted to be a professional hunter even with his business degree in hand and after starting his own networking business in Colorado.

When he met his future wife and eventually moved with Jeannie to Southern California, in 2007, it was time for a change.

“I realized if I was going to live in the city as a country boy who’s not belonging, then I was going to have to get back to doing something that I was passionate about,” Harteis says.

“One of the greatest things I’ve been taught is to chase my passion and not my pension. I thought this was the chance to build something and stand out in a culture and a city that doesn’t get it, and I’m tired of it not getting it. And I didn’t care if they were with me or not, but they’re going to have to respect the fact that I was going to stand out, which was kind of the vision for Hollywood Hunter.”

The show has taken him to various points on the map, and he spends whatever free time he can at Harteis Ranch (harteisranch.com), a lush forested Colorado property that hosts big game hunts for bull elk and mule deer.

Arriving in Alaska and embarking on a similar brown bear to his father’s adventure was an experience dripping with nostalgia. And the stories he’d heard were about to come in handy.

“One thing that (Fred) said rung in my head every day I was in Alaska: ‘One grizzly, one bear; one wounded grizzly, 10 bears.’ It was just the idea of being extra cautious,” says Harteis, who has tried to push the envelope when it comes to the hunts that appear on his program.

This excursion, hunting with guides who were more experienced chasing black bears and opting to use bows rather than high-powered rifles, was sure to test everyone’s skills and nerves.

“We knew it would be a challenge,” Harteis says. “We knew it would be intense; and we knew we would be up against elements that we’d never experienced.”

Hollywood Hunter 5

THE EPISODE PROFILING the hunt will air in the third week of July, and it was highlighted by what everyone who hunts or fishes tends to experience: expecting the unexpected.

Without spoiling too much, the black bear portion of the trip was particularly harrowing for Harteis, who injured his knee in a confrontation with a black bear that was more aggressive than anticipated. The pain has lingered to the point where Harteis will probably eventually go under the knife to fix the problem.

“I realized I let my guard down too much; I’ve hunted black bears a lot and have always thought they’re pretty docile and you can chase them away,” he says. “To see the one time that did not happen, I didn’t respect the intensity of a black bear and what it could be in its personality. So definitely the black bear encounter was one of the most memorable pieces of that hunt.”

It’s safe to say the overall experience and brush with the bruin – watch the episode when it airs for more details – “will probably save my life in the future, as I run into black bears,” Harteis says with a laugh.

Another lasting memory he’ll have is his persistence. The long hours of daylight allowed for long stretches waiting for bears to come within range of his bow. Toward the end of the hunt, someone wasn’t ready to go back yet with the brown bear tag remaining unfilled.

“At midnight, we had sat there for 12 hours, and my cameraman, ‘Thunderpants,’ and the guides were getting anxious,” Harteis says. “So I called him off and said, ‘Hey, boys, go ahead and leave the gun. I’ll stay and I’ll be here until tomorrow noon. Pick me up, because the floatplane is coming in at 1. My deal is, I can’t kill that bear if I’m not out here. So I need to maximize that opportunity,” he says. “They said, ‘You know what? You’re crazy, but we’ll stay.’ And about a half-hour later, that (brown) bear was standing beneath our tree.”

At that point in the trip, Harteis was tired, ailing from his knee injury, wondering if, like Dad, his elusive brown bear harvest wasn’t destined to happen on his first trip to Alaska.

More than once during his journeys around the globe, Harteis has been called obsessed with the sport he loves. Perhaps that’s the secret to his success.

“It almost gets personal to where I have to figure this out. It’s one of those things where you want it so bad and when your mind’s telling you no, you find it and stay anyway. It’s kind of in my DNA and one of those things that I grew up with,” he says.

“I didn’t realize as a hunter how it would have come full-circle and be a big part of why I do succeed in the field.”

With the clock ticking and his knee aching Harteis was in his tree stand, waiting for the brown bear it took Fred so much patience to finally put down; so Freddy turned spiritual.

“I said a little prayer to my dad and said, ‘Dad, if you could send a brown bear … I don’t need to kill it; just prove to me you’re listening.”

Fred Harteis would have been proud of Freddy’s big brown he bagged, despite some distressing moments.

“It definitely goes down as one of the top hunts that I’ll forever cherish,” he says. “And that’s because Alaska is so unique to its own. When you go to Alaska it’s not only views and not only wildlife; it’s just wild. It’s so free and untamed and uncharted. You just feel so small and so insignificant against such a massive wilderness.”

 

Harteis and his wife, talk show host Jeannie Mai

Harteis and his wife, talk show host Jeannie Mai

THERE ARE MYRIAD lands on earth Freddy Harteis hopes to hunt on someday. For a future episode of Hollywood Hunter that will be filmed later this year, he’ll head to South Africa to pursue lions. On the 2016 docket is water buffalo safari to Australia.

He wants to go back to Alaska and bring Jeannie along to share the Last Frontier with his wife. But any to-do list will be difficult to top this Alaska bear adventure, if for no other reason than it fulfilled Harteis’ dream of matching what it took Fred so long to accomplish: the conquest of a
brown bear.

Hunting Alaskan bears for the first time won’t soon leave the memory banks.

“One thing I learned from this hunt that I have not learned from any other hunt is that if you pay attention to other people’s stories,” Harteis says, surely thinking back to Fred’s tales of disappointment before finally metaphorically sipping from a Stanley Cup-like trophy brown bear victory.

“You take your life experiences alongside of others. You can walk into situations of hunting animals that you’d never hunted, and figure it out yourself. To see it all kind of work when things were not working, that’s rewarding.” ASJ

Editor’s note: New episodes of Hollywood Hunter will air later this summer on the Sportsman Channel on Sundays at 7 p.m. Pacific, Mondays at 1 p.m. and Saturdays at 12 a.m. Check out hollywoodhunter.com and follow Freddy Harteis on Twitter (@FreddyHarteis) and at Facebook.com/hollywoodhunter1.