All posts by Chris Cocoles

Wolverines: An Alaskan Icon Among Wildlife

(Photo by National Park Service)

(Photo by National Park Service)

 

When I was growing up, about all I knew about wolverines came from the movie, Red Dawn, and that the Wolverines played football on Saturdays in Ann Arbor, Mich.

But the real wolverines, those fierce carnivores that are officially members of the weasel family but far more befitting of a big cat or wolf, are mythical creatures in places like Alaska.

Riley Woodford of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game paid homage to the wolverine with a profile worth the read.  

Here’s an excerpt:

Wolverines are weasels, Golden said, and have the weasel nature. “That whole family is pretty similar, just the size is different. Ermine can be bold; weasels are an intelligent family of animals and they know how to survive.”

While wolverines are usually solitary, the “bad tempered loner” stereotype gives the impression they are downright antisocial. Golden visited a facility in Washington that’s home to about 40 wolverines. They shared a large common area and he said they were quite tolerant and social with each other.

“If resources are limited that can cause conflict, but they can be social,” Golden said. “If food is plentiful, they’ve got no reason to worry about each other. We’ve seen them in April from the air wrestling and playing with each other, they weren’t fighting, they’re socializing.”

They are territorial, in the general sense of the word, but Harrington and Golden use the term “home use area” to describe the area they favor. “They pick areas they maintain and keep to themselves, males will overlap with females, but males don’t overlap much with males, or females with females,” Harrington said. “They need resources, and they pick an area where they can make a living and survive.”

They have scent glands, a ventral gland near the belly button, anal glands, and they also have little scent glands on the bottom of the pads of their feet, and when they walk they leave scent. They also scent-mark through urination. “They basically maintain territory this way through active marking,” Golden said. “We have found some that have been in fights and are scarred up, they do get into tussles. “

He said a wolverine can defend itself pretty well, but it’s no match for larger predators.  “Two wolves can kill one,” he said. “You hear stories about them chasing bears off, I’ve never seen that happen, or known anyone who has.”

caption follows

Mike Harrington holds a young female wolverine. Wolverines are sexually dimorphic; males are about 30 percent larger than females – 30 to 40 pounds compared to females in the 20 to 25 pound range. This female, CWF006 has a blue ear tag and was pregnant when she was caught on March 7, 2012. In this picture she had just been recaptured to retrieve her collar and is about to be released. 

 

“They’ve got a pretty good set of tools on them; a really good nose, they can smell food over long distances or buried well under the snow,” Golden said. “They can climb trees. They have a really warm coat. They’ve got strong claws for digging and defense, and incredibly strong jaws for biting and crushing bone and frozen meat – not the same crushing power as a wolf, but they’re not as big, a big wolverine is 40 pounds and small wolf is 60 pounds.”

“You look at them, they’re mostly built for scavenging,” Golden said. “But they’re very opportunistic and regularly kill small game. They’re not as fast as wolves, and they don’t work in packs, but they can be more predator than scavenger if the situation allows for it.”

Holiday Greetings, Alaska Style

Photo by Steve Meyer

Photo by Steve Meyer

I’ve been mostly living away from my family ever since college,  and while I come home a few times a year, I usually enjoy my time most visiting the homestead around Thanksgiving. It’s simply a superior holiday to the chaos of Christmas. The traditional feast, the football and no Christmas gift drama to fret about (I don’t plan a Black Friday shopping excursion either; I’ll give up a few bargains to take care of my presents on another day).

So it’s not surprising that one of my favorite stories that ran in this month’s Alaska Sporting Journal was correspondent Steve Meyer’s homage to how Alaskans might spend their Thanksgiving (spoiler alert: it involves getting outside).

Here’s Steve’s story and Happy Thanksgiving!

By Steve Meyer 

Where are you going for Thanksgiving,” someone asked. “The mountains,” I replied.

“Who lives there?” They genuinely wanted to know why. In reality it was ptarmigan that lived there. Since childhood the Thanksgiving holiday has only meant one thing to me, hunting. Before reaching the age when carrying a gun was allowed, hunting was a mainstay of the Thanksgiving holiday in my family.

The game we went for was always of the small variety as big game hunting seasons were closed by then. Pheasants, ducks, geese, and sometimes rabbits would fill the game bags

A tradition of hunting, gathering

The first Thanksgiving, in 1621, was one of game taken and provided by the hunters in the group, plus fruits and vegetables provided by the gatherers. There was no turkey, at least according to the history of that first feast. Now, if those folks could have gone to the grocery store and bought a couple of frozen birds for the event, even odds say they may have done just that.

Nevertheless, the symbolism of Thanksgiving was a celebration of all that the New World provided. It was a place where individuals could go forth and provide for themselves and share in the takings to provide a feast. It’s now a rare and precious commodity in today’s world – one that has become unique or even antiquated or simply unknown to many.

Times change and the common denominators for the Thanksgiving Day celebration are football, turkey and a whole lot of guilty pleasures to gorge on for one glorious November Thursday.

And there are a lot of families across the country that honor the day of giving thanks with a hunt before the festivities begin. For many that also include wild game taken before Thanksgiving – wild turkey, venison, duck, goose and pheasant roasting in the oven while the family takes in a morning hunt.

The hunting tradition, with some exceptions, has been primarily fathers, uncles and granddads taking sons, nephews and grandsons out into the field and enjoying the outdoors.

Times are changing and not only for the better; personally, I believe that the changes will be critical factors in the future of our hunting heritage.

Not just the guys 

Female hunters are embracing the hunting lifestyle as the largest growing segment of the hunting population. They are doing it in ways that the nonhunting public embraces. This isn’t always the case with their male counterparts.

The primary reason females are taking to the hunting fields is harvesting healthy, sustainable food for their family. They also view it as an opportunity to share the clean air, the exercise and the relationship with nature that only hunting allows with their families.

What better time to engage the entire family than the Thanksgiving holiday? Kids are out of school and most folks at least have the day off and in many cases a long and leisurely weekend. The shorter daylight hours don’t demand the intensity of 4 a.m. wakeup calls and 16 hours of light to hunt.

Small game is going to be the primary quarry on the menu and does not require much in the way of travel to get to a choice hunting spot. Practically anywhere in rural Alaska houses rabbits, grouse or ptarmigan.

On the other hand, a long holiday weekend can allow for a Sitka blacktail hunt or a serious waterfowl trip to some of the really productive areas throughout Alaska.

Don’t discount angling. By late November, many of the lakes are frozen enough to allow ice fishing. Fish is certainly a mainstay of an Alaskan’s diet and offers the same opportunities to share the outdoors and the honest utilization of renewable food sources with the family.

For the youngsters  

Much is written about introducing kids to hunting, with one of the primary issues being the outing must be successful (something successfully shot) to keep the youngster’s interest.

Even when hunting was a necessity for survival, and in the days when game was much more plentiful, there was still only a bit over 10 percent of the population that hunted. That number had been in fairly steady decline in recent years, though women are hunting more than they once did.

That said, kids may or may not gravitate to hunting, but the absolute best shot a hunting family has at keeping the children interested into the future is getting them out there immediately. The salient point of early involvement is they still want to be with the family. It doesn’t really matter what the activity, they just want to go and be a part of it.

This is one area where female hunting involvement will make a difference in the future. Alaskans like Becky Swanke of Tuff Kids Outdoors took her son, Caden, on his first moose hunt at age eight months! Heather Wilson, a biologist for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Alaska, shot a moose with her 1½-year-old son, Coal, in the backpack she carried (see Alaska Sporting Journal, Issue 1, 2013).

Most moms will go the extra mile to keep the children close and have a much better record of patience in everything that child-rearing involves, than fathers do. No slam on dads, it’s just the nature of things.

Photo by Steve Meyer

Photo by Steve Meyer

A day of fun 

What’s in store for Thanksgiving in our part of the world? Since the setters get more time in the field, the Labs will be hunting mallards and goldeneyes on the upper Kenai River. This area is tough to hunt during most of the season since so many anglers are working the rainbows there. By Thanksgiving weekend the crowd has thinned some, and finding a cove to tuck into and throw out a few decoys is feasible.

We typically don’t hunt spruce grouse in November – by then we have enough for the freezer and they are settling in with a diet of pine needles for the winter  (When peeling the breast skin back on a late-November spruce grouse prepare to be assaulted with a scent reminiscent of a freshly cut Christmas tree. It’s edible with some doctoring, but not the best table fare).

If there has been a decent snowfall the willow ptarmigan will be down lower in the willow and alder patches. Just be careful of avalanche danger; moderate temperatures and periods of rain in Southcentral Alaska can make the steep, upper reaches treacherous for the hunter. Rabbits are always a mainstay; just look for tracks, as where there are tracks there are rabbits.

Preserving a legacy

Perhaps at no point in history have there been more threats to our hunting heritage. The importance of involving families and continually involving future generations of hunters cannot be overstressed in preserving our hunting traditions.

Happy Thanksgiving. 

Bristol Bay’s Expected Big Sockeye Run In 2015

 

 

 

Photo by Katrina Mueller/USFWS)

Photo by Katrina Mueller/USFWS)

 

Hey, here’s some Bristol Bay news that isn’t centered around the Pebble Mine controversy (but if you, like, here’s this to peruse).

The 2015 sockeye salmon forecast is projected to be one for the books: 

From the Alaska Dispatch:

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game last weekforecast a Bristol Bay run of 54 million sockeye. That’s up by more than 50 percent over the long-term average of 32 million, biologists said.

 “Bring them on!” one man posted on a Bristol Bay commercial fishing Facebook page. 

A group that represents the Bristol Bay driftnet fleet,Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, linked to the forecast on its website.

“Spoiler alert: It’s big,” the association said.

 If the forecast is borne out, next year’s return of one of Alaska’s most lucrative fisheries will be the biggest since 1995. Bristol Bay’s red salmon runs are the biggest in the world. Protecting them has been a central theme in the fight against the Pebble prospect, the massive gold and copper mine proposed for the region.

 The exciting prospect of a huge fishing season is tempered by the reality that it hasn’t happened yet.

 “They are paper fish until they show up,” said Robert Heyano of Dillingham, who has fished Bristol Bay since he was a boy at Ekuk Beach, helping work his family’s anchored-down setnets along shore. Since 1972, he’s fished with driftnets from his boat and now is president of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, which represents more than 1,800 fishermen who driftnet in Bristol Bay. About half live in Alaska.

 

 

TrackingPoint Firearms’ Black Friday Contest

LVTP

Pflugerville, TEXAS (November 28, 2014)—TrackingPoint™, creator of the world’s first and only Precision-Guided Firearm systems, today announced it will gift customers a free 3-day trip to Las Vegas with select Precision-Guided Firearms purchased between Black Friday (November 28th) and December 8th. The Trip will include free tactical training at the renowned Front Sight Firearms Training Institute.

Elite Experience Las Vegas is a 2-night, 3-day bonus gift that includes airfare, hotel and meals all covered by TrackingPoint. All TrackingPoint Precision-Guided Firearm models qualify for the gift except the Semi-Auto 5.56.

For more information about the Las Vegas Elite Experience, starting Black Friday (November 28th) visit: http://www.tracking-point.com

About TrackingPoint:
TrackingPoint, based in Austin, Texas, created the first Precision-Guided Firearm, a revolutionary new shooting system that puts fighter jet lock-and-launch technology in rifles, enabling anyone to make extraordinary shots on moving targets at extreme distances. www.tracking-point.com.

CASTING FOR KIDDOS, REBEL INTRODUCES NEW MICROCRITTER LURE LINE

REBEL MICRO CRICKHOPPER

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM REBEL LURES

Statistics show that number of anglers in the country is growing at a slow-but-steady rate. These new fishermen need help and guidance from experienced anglers to make the jump from enthusiast to full-fledged angler, but one look at “kid-friendly” fishing equipment shows a big lack of quality. Cartoon character rods and low-quality lures with dull hooks don’t win over many hearts.

Ever inspect the “soft” plastic grubs that come in the “Free Tackle Pack!” that comes with those cartoon rods? They’re so stiff they don’t even swim. Many fishing gear companies talk a good game about reaching young anglers, but when time comes to put up or shut up, all you hear is crickets.

REBEL MICRO CRAW

REBEL MICRO CRAW

Rebel Lures knows kids, and crickets, too, for that matter. The company has long manufactured lures that kids naturally gravitate to, like little crawfish and amphibian floater/divers, small minnow imitations and assorted insect baits, including crickets.

REBEL MICRO MINNOW

REBEL MICRO MINNOW

So it’s a natural that Rebel takes the first serious step to creating an industry niche for kids’ tackle. Unlike what’s currently available, though, Rebel’s new kids’ line of lures is not just cheap, downsized versions of larger baits. Rebel engineers looked at the problems kids face when making the transition from worm-and-bobber to artificial lures, and corrected those issues with the creation of the new Rebel MicroCritter lineup.

REBEL MICRO CRICKHOPPER

REBEL MICRO CRICKHOPPER

“Young anglers need lures that are safe for them to use by themselves. That’s what we made with the MicroCritter series – a high-quality line of lures that are fun for kids to use and safer than what’s on the market,” said Rebel Lures general manager Bruce Stanton. “And, they catch plenty of fish.”

The MicroCritter series consists of a tiny MicroCrawfish, MicroMinnow, MicroHopper and a MicroPop-R. One problem with most ultralight lures is the tiny treble hooks, which often require needle-nose pliers to remove from the fish, and can end a trip in a hurry if one sticks in the angler’s skin past the barb. Rebel replaced these barbed treble hooks with a single, barbless hook. Many youngsters want to unhook the fish themselves, and a slippery, flopping fish with multiple treble hooks thrashing back and forth can be dangerous.

REBEL MICRO POP-R

REBEL MICRO POP-R

“Kids love these baits because they look just like little insects and fish, and adults appreciate how we made them safer,” Stanton said. “The single barbless hook gives anglers an easier hookset, easier hook removal, and no emergency room visits to get hooks unstuck from a youngster’s skin. With barbless, the hook pulls right out. Kids catch more fish, and in a safer manner, all by themselves.”

Rebel’s Micro Critters series catch almost all species of fish, another plus for young anglers who don’t care if it’s a bass or a bluegill. These super-realistic mimics of crawfish, grasshoppers and minnows represent common forage for fish everywhere they swim.

“We talk about these lures being safer for kids to use, but they’re also better for the fish, too,” said Stanton. “With easier hook removal, a youngster can get the fish back into the water faster, ensuring it’s there to help create another angler in the future.”

 

Jake’s Camp A Premier Nushagak Destination

IMG_5377
This year’s season on the world-famous Nushagak was some of the best weather we’ve seen in the past 10 seasons.  Hardly any rain and beautiful blue skies greeted us each day.

Lots of kings greeted us too.  The quality of fish this year was outstanding with our average fish size well over the long term size average.  With many other rivers in Alaska suffering low king salmon counts, the Nush continues to be ‘the place to be’ going into the 2015 season.

IMG_5391

Come join us in celebrating over 30 years on the Nushagak.  Go to our website:  jakesnushagaksalmoncamp.com and then call camp owner Eli Huffman at 1-(866)-692-9085 to reserve your spot now.  We are only open during the peak of the run, so space is limited.

Lending A Helping Hand To Our Troops

As we honor our troops on Veteran’s Day, our Tom Reale wrote this for our November issue about a special fishing trip:

 

Wounded Warrior 1 Wounded Warrior 2

 

Story and photys by Tom Reale
When someone asks you if you
want to go on an eight-day
fishing trip down a remote
river in Alaska, helping to
guide a group from the Wounded Warriors
Project, what is the range of possible answers?
For me, they went from “Yes,” all the
way to “Hell, yes.” This was in spite of
the fact that my river guiding experience
was, shall we say, limited. And
by limited, I mean nonexistent. But
when Steve Schaber, one of my wife’s
colleagues at Providence Hospital in
Anchorage, asked if I’d be available
for the trip, I made sure I had the time
and took him up on the offer before he
could reconsider.
It turned out that Steve, along with
his friend, Karl Powers, had been running
these trips for a few years. Karl
owns and operates Bethel-based Papa
Bear Adventures (907-543-5275; papabearadventures.
com), hunting and
fishing outfitters and transporters.
Several years ago, the two of them
contacted the Wounded Warriors to
ask if it would be possible for “Papa
Bear” to take some of the GIs on a float
trip out of Bethel.
Steve and Karl initially had no sponsors
and no financing, so they did
the trip on their own. Karl supplied
the rafts, the camping gear and the
transportation out to the river in his
floatplanes. Steve supplied food and
more gear, and they made their first
trip in 2011 with two boats and four
passengers on the Kwethluk River out
of Bethel.
In 2012, they switched to the Kanektok,
on the southwestern coast of the
state. Since then, they’ve patched together
sponsorships, donations and
discounts to the point where they’re
no longer funding the trips out of their
own pockets.
That’s not to say that it’s all smooth
sailing. The logistical and supply challenges
of finding guys suitable for the
trip, arranging transportation and gear,
and getting all of the material from Anchorage
to Bethel are big. Then there’s
flying the whole shebang into a remote
lake for dropoff, making it downstream
without catastrophe, and, finally, getting
it all back safely.
After Steve contacted me, we made
plans to get to Bethel. Steve had already
spent untold hours arranging
gear and food before I signed on; for
me, this was a cakewalk. In addition
to buying food, he also solicited help
from his co-workers at Providence
Hospital in Anchorage, where Steve
is a pharmacist. People there gave
cash donations, made and packaged
meals and sent along cards and letters
to the guys.
“I’m surrounded by the kind of people
who get the feeling that they’re
making a difference with these guys.
With big charities, we put the money
in an envelope and never really see
the effect,” Steve said. “With this project,
people get to see the pictures of
the trip, hear the feedback and know
that they put a meal on the table for
the guys or bought some fishing tackle; they can kind of feel like they’re out
there with us.”
And as Steve was making final
plans, the inevitable monkey wrench
was thrown into the mix. Just days
before leaving, one of his prospective
guides wound up in the hospital and
had to bow out.
In a mad scramble, Steve called
the Alaska Flyfishers and asked if they
knew of anyone who would be both
qualified and available as a late fill-in.
Fortunately, someone there recommended
Mike Morelli, who turned out
to be perfect for the job. Mike is an accomplished
fly fisher and rafter and a
volunteer for Project Healing Waters,
an outfit that offers services such as flyfishing
outings to injured and disabled
service members and vets. He is also
a retired Air Force first sergeant; Steve
couldn’t have ordered a more suitable
prospect from a catalog.

Wounded Warriors 3 Wounded Warriors 4

 

ON JULY 21, we all flew into Bethel for
the unavoidable last-minute scramble
to get items left behind and to get
gear sorted out. For example, a couple
of the guys had gone to a sporting
goods shop and bought stocking-foot
waders. However, nobody thought to
tell these guys that they’d also need
wading boots. Yikes. Karl had some
stuff available, to avoid catastrophe.
Our cast of characters included
four guys still on active duty (three
Army, one Navy), and two guys who
were out – one Army, one Air Force.
One had flown up from Montana; the
rest were either living or stationed in
Alaska. It would prove to be an interesting
collection of citizens.
As far as the levels of fishing experience,
it ranged from moderate all the
way down to nearly nonexistent. Flyfishing-
wise, one of the guys had spent
a short trip at a remote lodge in Alaska
and received some instruction there,
but that was about it.
On the 22, we were due to fly everyone
in by shuttling groups of guys and
gear in Karl’s two Beavers and a Super
Cub, all on floats. The weather looked
iffy, to say the least, and remote lakes
in the Y-K Delta don’t exactly have
control towers and weather stations.
Figuring out flights involves talking to
other pilots who have been in the area
and keeping a weather eye out.
Karl’s brother Steve flew me in on
the first trip in the Cub. We unpacked
the plane and Steve showed me how to
set up the tent. He left me with a survival
kit and a satellite phone – in case nobody
else got in – and took his leave.
After playing Robinson Crusoe for
about an hour, I heard approaching airplanes
and waited for them on the beach.
Two of the Papa Bear Beavers landed and
unloaded five guys and their gear.
We got the gear squared away, set
up the tents and waited for the last of
our crew to make it in. Alas, it was not
to be. The weather refused to cooperate,
and we gave up on the last three
guests as evening deepened.
The next day one of the guys was
complaining about the rocky beach
and how his Thermarest pad was terrible.
I looked at the beach, and having
spent a lot of nights on some iffy terrain,
I was surprised that he’d been uncomfortable
– the rocks just didn’t look
that bad to me.
“Did you have the pad all the way
inflated?” His blank stare told me
all I needed to know. “The pads we
had in Iraq, you just threw them on
the ground and that was it. I had no
idea you had to blow these things
up,” he said. A short instruction
session followed.
After breakfast we decided we
might as well fish while we waited –
fortunately the tackle wasn’t on the
plane in Bethel. We rigged fly rods and
light spinning rigs and headed down to
the river.
We quickly started to catch fish.
Small Dolly Varden and grayling were the
order of the day, and the guys got into
the mood quickly. Nathan, who’d had
some fly-fishing experience, was helping
his brother, Wayne, learn the nuances of
fly fishing. Pat Upchurch, Thermarest
boy, started out using the spinning rods
before switching to fly rods.
Never have you seen such a quick
and immediate convert from flinging
hardware to presenting flies and beads.
The fish were very cooperative, and, after
landing a few Dollies, he was literally
hooked. There’s nothing like lots of quick
positive reinforcement for converting
hardware flingers into fly casters.
As the day progressed, we kept
an eye on the sky and our ears alert
for airplane sounds – nothing. So we
fished, got the guys familiar with the
tackle and had a very relaxing day.
When dinner approach and no airplane
around, Steve cobbled a meal together
out of our supplies (one of the
coolers was still in Bethel); we ate and
awaited our missing comrades. By the
time evening rolled around, there was
still no Beaver.

Wounded Warriors 5 Wounded Warriors 6
THE NEXT DAY, at breakfast we found
out that “Church” slept much better
on a fully inflated pad. While the guys
honed their fly skills, we waited.
Around 4 p.m., eureka! Airplane
sounds. The last three guys arrived
along with the rest of our food; we
quickly packed everything onto the
three rafts and were underway in
an hour.
The extra days in camp played a
bit of havoc with Steve’s trip plan, but
nothing that couldn’t be overcome.
He’d wisely planned on a lay day so
we could spend one day not having to
break and set up camp and pack and
unpack rafts, but that idea went south.
But, we persevered.
The top of the river was, as the real
river guides like to say, boney – lots of
shallow water and searching for sometimes
nonexistent channels, I ordered
my guys out of the boat to push. Soldiers
make really good pushers!
In addition to the shallow water, it
doesn’t help when the guide misses a
turn and goes on an inadvertent jungle
cruise or two. My guys were very
good-natured about the detours and
the extra work. Frankly, if everything
goes smoothly, you’re left with no stories
to tell and no insulting nicknames
to give to the guide.
From the beginning, sorting out the
levels of fishing ability, backcountry
and wilderness comfort and camping
know-how was interesting. A few lessons
were necessary in things like tent
setup, kitchen hygiene and the inevitable
lessons in how to efficiently and
cleanly do what comes naturally to a
bear in the woods. No “surface mines,”
as one of the guys said.
Quickly, personalities emerged. The
level of profanity and trash talk started
out high and ascended rapidly as the
trip progressed. To someone unfamiliar
with military acronyms, large portions
of some conversations seemed unintelligible.
Rosetta Stone should come
up with a military-to-English program
for civilians.

Wounded Warriors 8 Wounded Warriors 9

THE RIVER ITSELF was a learning experience.
After the first couple of days
there was a lot less getting out and
pushing, but the meanders produced
some alternate routes that weren’t
always easy to dope out. Occasionally,
the boats would get separated for
a bit, but the walkie-talkies and GPS
units were invaluable. On a GPS with
good maps, you can follow your progress
down channels and figure out if
you’re in the main stem or hopelessly
turned around.
As far as tackle, Steve supplied
7- and 10-weight fly rods, and medium-
and heavy-action spinning rigs.
We were anticipating using the lighter
stuff for rainbows, grayling
and Dollies, and the heavier
outfits for the salmon we anticipated
running into as we
drifted downriver.
The thinking was that, for
the less experienced guys,
the spinning rods would be
more forgiving, and if anyone
wanted to transition into fly
fishing, we’d have the gear
necessary. As it turned out,
there was a range of reactions
from jumping right in
to casting flies to gradual
and/or intermittent use depending
on circumstances,
all the way to a couple of the
guys just having no interest
in making the leap. Getting
guys to warm up to the
whole flyfishing idea isn’t
easy-making fishing harder
isn’t an easy sell for some.
For terminal tackle, we
had floating line on the
7-weights and sinking line on the
10s. Leaders were mostly 15-pound
Maxim fluorocarbon for the trout and
20-pound for salmon. Mike used 1X
and 0X on his rod, the same sizes that
he uses on the Kenai River.
For the fly rigs, we had Wooly Buggers,
leeches, egg-sucking leeches
and some streamers, plus a variety of
bead sizes and colors. By far the most
productive were the beads. Steve had
boxes of them, and once we got the
right sizes and color dialed in, they
were dynamite.
It seemed like the size choice on
the beads depended on where we were
in the river. The bigger, 14mm eggs
worked pretty well, for me at least, in
the upper river, and as we got farther
down, the 8mm and 10mm sizes performed
better. The best color was a
pale pink, but anyone fishing a remote
spot would be well-advised to bring a
variety of sizes and colors – this is not
a place where you want to pinch pennies.
Tackle shops are in very short
supply out there.
Streamer and leech patterns
worked well too, especially on rainbows,
but after a while, most of us just
quit experimenting and stuck with
the beads. We pinned the beads a
couple of inches above size 8 or 10
barbless hooks.
Strike indicators worked well to the
point where, at times, the fish were hitting
them at least as well as they were
hitting the beads. And all of the fishing
was catch-and-release style, except
for some salmon on the lower river.
For the spinning rods, we used a
variety of sizes and types of Mepps
spinners – the Flying C was outstanding
– especially once we started seeing
silvers.
Since we went in late July, we
didn’t start seeing silvers until the last
few days. We saw kings at times, but
they were looking pretty ragged, as
were the chums.
An earlier float than late July would
get you into kings in better condition,
but going a bit later will have silvers
more evenly distributed throughout
the river. Humpies are an even-year
phenomenon, which puts a lot more
eggs in the river and gets a bit of a
feeding frenzy going on, as will having
more silvers in the upper reaches.
This makes for even better rainbow
fishing than what we had, which is
kind of hard to imagine.
But the Dollies were the hot ticket
for us. Occasionally, we’d find spots
where there were just scads of them
hanging in clear pools, and we’d get
into places where literally every cast
would ensure a hit.
Again, there’s nothing like loads
of positive reinforcement to keep
guys who are only occasional fishermen
to jump into the action, especially
when they’re just learning to
handle a fly rod.
The rainbow fishing was intermittent,
and finding them was a real bonus
for us. When just catching Dolly
after Dolly got too boring, occasionally
we’d tie on a leech or a streamer
and go prospecting for ‘bows.
Some very nice ones were landed
on flies; then again, we caught
more than a few on beads, so there
were no sure things.
The other occasional break in the
constant stream of Dolly Varden was
when we’d hit a grayling. Most were
average size, but one of the guys
caught a very nice one in the upper
river. Again, they were hitting beads,
and I’m sure if you’d target them with
dries you could have an absolute field
day with the little sailfish.
Speaking of grayling, Nate earned
himself a bit of ribbing when he landed
a whitefish in the upper river and
told his brother he’d caught a “female
grayling.” While lots of groups
might have let something like that
pass, with these guys, any possible
excuse to embarrass or humiliate a
companion doesn’t go unnoticed.

ON THE FIRST full day downriver, one
of the guys caught the first fish of his
life. This is a guy who has done several
combat tours, been fishing a few times
when he was younger, but this really
was his first. “Thomas, you’re way too
country to have never caught a fish before,”
Nate joked.
On the second day out, our guys
were in for a surprise. In mid-afternoon,
we heard helo sounds. “Hey, that
sounds like a Blackhawk” changed to
“Hey, look, a Blackhawk – they must be
having training missions around here.”
Finally: “Holy (cats) – they’re landing”
and “They’re bringing us pizza?”
Steve and Karl had arranged for the
National Guard base in Bethel to bring
pizzas to the river and deliver them to
the guys, who were understandably
blown away. The Guard guys thanked
our soldiers for their service and posed
with their bird for a truly unique Kanektok
River photo op.
As for working with the guys, when
you have a group dynamic such as this,
you learn that every situation is unique.

“After 10 years as a first sergeant,
I found that it takes a few days for
the personalities to sort themselves
out,” Mike said. “I learned to figure
out the different guys, to learn how
to work with them and to just let
them all be themselves.”
And while everybody didn’t mesh
perfectly with every other individual,
things settled into a good working relationship;
you learned who could take
a joke and who couldn’t.
One thing that was a bit disconcerting
to the more knowledgeable anglers
was that after a few days, some
of the guys were getting pretty jaded
about the fishing. Some got tired of
just catching fish after fish and were
content to just loll around in the raft
and watch Alaska scroll by. Those of
us who knew exactly how spectacular
this world-class opportunity was kept
urging them. “Get your damned line in
the water” was often said to no avail.
It’s like some of them thought that
this was just a typical fishing trip and
that this was a normal set of circumstances.
Well, unless they’re extremely
fortunate, chances are their next trip
will prove to be eye-opening.
“Wait, you mean there are places
where you don’t catch a nice fat fish on
every cast?” It was a rude awakening
for some.
Of course, there are worse problems
to have on the river than a couple
of guys not fishing every possible
minute – like bears. And while we didn’t
see any brown bears after the first few
days, on literally every sandbar we
fished from or camped on there were
lots of bear tracks. So sightings weren’t
an issue, but that sort of thing definitely
keeps you on your toes and your head
on a swivel at all times.
As we got further down the river,
by day five we began to hear and see
some other boats. There are a couple
of fishing camps along the way that
move their clients up and down the river
via jet boat. This was a reminder that
we were getting closer to what passes
for civilization in this part of the state.
While it was nice to stop in at one of the
camps for coffee and some new faces
to see, it still tended to negate some of
the uniqueness of our situation.
However, the guys at Duncan’s upriver
camp radioed to their downriver
camp that we were coming, and they
had fresh-baked cake waiting for us.
It was a pleasant surprise.

 

Wounded Warriors 7
ON DAY SEVEN, Steve had a brilliant idea
– Guide Appreciation Day. The idea
was this: the guides didn’t have to do
any work except fish, while the soldiers
rowed; then they’d set up camp
and do the cooking and cleaning up.
Since they’d had a week to watch the
real professionals in action, they took
to it pretty well.
We got to fish and give whoever
was on the oars a ration whenever
things didn’t go perfectly, and we were
able to relax in camp while the guys
took care of camp chores. The only
glitch came up in the cooking, when we
heard, “Patrick, how the hell can you
burn beans that were already cooked?”
Otherwise, it was smooth sailing.
Eventually we got down to where we
were seeing boats coming upriver from
Quinhagak on a regular basis. While
the salmon fishing picked up nicely, it
was obvious that the trip was coming
to an end. On July 30 we got to the
village and the work began – hauling
out rafts, unpacking everything, repacking
for transport, making sure
everything was loaded properly.
Then it was off to the airport to
fly back to Bethel. Once there, the
Bethel chapter of the VFW hosted
us for a steak dinner. We were able to
play a montage of photos from the trip
for everyone on a big screen, and they
voiced their appreciation for the guys,
for their service and for all of the sacrifices
they’ve made for their country.
After that it was one last night at
the Papa Bear guest house, then back
to Anchorage. As everyone scattered
to their destinations, everyone made
the usual promises to keep in touch,
and that was that.
So what does the future hold for
trips like this? Steve plans to keep it
going as long as he can. And while one
of the earlier trips was on a different
river, he feels like now that he’s got the
Kanektok dialed in, he’ll probably continue
to stick with it. “It’s been a phenomenal
river,” he said, “And too many
things have worked out too well to
make a change. If we have a presence
on the same place every year, there’s
more continuity with sponsors and the
other people who help us out.”
The range of companies and individuals
it takes to put on an expedition
like this is phenomenal. Steve,
Karl and Papa Bear Adventures have
given time, effort and resources to
make this happen, and their level of
commitment is impressive. In addition,
Steve solicits help from local
businesses and his co-workers for
help, which people supply unselfishly.
It’s a humbling experience to be
allowed to participate.
So a phenomenal trip went into
the memory banks. We had good
weather, excellent river conditions,
and other than the small scheduling
snafu at the beginning of the trip, all
went according to Steve’s excellent
master plan.
And of course, there was the fishing.
To be able to access such magnificent
fishing over such a long period of time, to
hook and land literally hundreds of eager
big fish was truly an experience to savor
and remember always. And to be able
to get to know six guys who have given
so much to all of us was truly an honor.
I was thankful to the Wounded Warrior
Project for allowing me this opportunity.
I was talking to Steve, and he said,
“I think it was a pretty good trip,
don’t you? Would you so it again?”
I replied, “Hell yes, I’d do it today!”
Editor’s note: For more information on
the Wounded Warrior Project, go to
woundedwarriorproject.org.

Multiple Bears Attack Kodiak Hunters

Alaskans understand that bear attacks are a part of life in the Last Frontier. But most of the time, a single bear is the culprit. But this week, deer hunters on Kodiak Island encountered multiple bears in separate attacks. U.S. Coast Guard officers came to the rescue of the hunters:

A Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew medevaced an injured 65-year-old man near Kodiak, Tuesday.
The Jayhawk crew safely transported the hunter to Kodiak Municipal Airport where he was transferred to awaiting emergency medical services.
Coast Guard 17th District watchstanders received a call from the master of the fishing vessel Mary J who reported that a group of hunters had been attacked by a sloth of bears and one hunter needed immediate medical assistance.
The duty flight surgeon recommended a medevac and a flight corpsman to accompany the Jayhawk helicopter crew to the scene.
The master of the fishing vessel reported that he had transported the hunters to Sally Island and was waiting nearby for the hunters to return when the attack took place. The bears had come upon the hunters while they were carrying a deer they shot. No other hunters were injured.
“These hunters were extremely prepared for the environment and circumstances they found themselves in,” said Lt. j.g. Joseph Schlosser, operational unit watchstander, Coast Guard 17th District. “The fact that there were five bears was an abnormality and this serves as a reminder that anything can happen and we need to be aware of our surroundings.”

The Alaska Dispatch provided more details on the incident:

Michael Snowden and 38-year-old Jeff Ostrin, of Camas, Washington, set out to hunt deer Tuesday on Sally Island, a small island in Uganik Bay. Shortly before encountering the first bear, the two men walked through dense vegetation on the east side of the island, roughly 30 miles from Kodiak. Behind them, they dragged the carcass of a deer, said Nathan Svoboda, an area wildlife biologist with Fish and Game.

Svoboda — relaying information from an interview he conducted with Ostrin — said the men began traversing down a hill. About a quarter of the way down, they dropped their packs, walked about 20 feet farther and prepared to eat lunch.

“They pulled out sandwiches, took a couple of bites and heard rustling in the brush,” Svoboda said. “They chambered a bullet and almost immediately a sow charged out of the brush and attacked.”

According to the skipper of a nearby fishing vessel, who said he could see the men from shore, the sow was traveling with two large cubs. The bears “basically winded the deer and the sow bolted, as the skipper put it, ‘like a Tasmanian devil’ — running and charging through the brush headed for the deer and obviously the hunters,” Svoboda said.

The sow attacked Snowden, biting and scratching at his body. Ostrin stepped back a few feet and fired a bullet from his rifle into the bear’s hindquarters and then again into its chest. Ostrin told Svoboda that Snowden and the sow rolled down the hill where they briefly separated and Ostrin shot the bear a third time, killing the animal.

Ostrin checked on Snowden and then walked back up the hill to grab their packs. He used their radio to call the fishing vessel that had originally taken the pair to the island to hunt. Ostrin asked the skipper to contact the U.S. Coast Guard, Svoboda said.

Then, a second bear appeared out of the brush. Svoboda said it is believed to be one of the cubs, which he estimated was about 2-3 years old. Ostrin shot and killed it with a pistol.

Wild Salmon Is An Alaskan Thing

Katrina Mueller/USFWS

Katrina Mueller/USFWS

This is probably not a surprise, but per Alaska’s reporting fish guru, Laine Welch, a lot of the nation’s wild salmon comes from Alaska:

 

Here’s Welch, in the Homer Tribune:

Alaska claimed the nation’s top three fishing ports for seafood catches last year, and wild salmon landings – 95 percent from Alaska – topped one billion pounds. It’s an all-time record and a 70 percent increase from 2012.
That’s according to the annual Fisheries of the United States report for 2013, just released by NOAA Fisheries. 
Dutch Harbor topped the list for landings for the 17th year running with 753 million pounds of fish crossing the docks last year, valued at nearly $200 million. The Aleutian Islands region ranked second for landings, thanks to the big Trident plant at Akutan; Kodiak ranked third for both seafood landings and value. 
For the 14th year in a row, New Bedford, Mass. had the highest valued catch at $380 million. That’s due mostly to pricey sea scallops, which accounted for more than 80 percent of New Bedford’s 130 million pound landings.
In all, 14 Alaska ports made the top 50 list: the Alaska Peninsula (8), Cordova (9), Ketchikan (10), Sitka (15), Petersburg (16), Seward (20), Naknek (21), Valdez (24), Bristol Bay (26), Kenai (38) and Juneau (41). Most ports showed huge increases in fish landings and values, meaning a nice return in local and state tax dollars.

 

 

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