All posts by Chris Cocoles

ASJ Cover Boy Defends Iditarod Title


Cover image courtesy of Albert Lewis,

This is shaping up to be a great week for Dallas Seavey. The cover subject of our March issue of Alaska Sporting Journal  just defended his 2014 Iditarod title with his third overall championship.

Here’s some of the Associated Press report via ESPN:

The Alaska musher crossed the finish line in the Bering Sea coastal town of Nome at 4:13 a.m., completing the route in eight days, 8 hours, 13 minutes and 6 seconds. That’s about five hours longer than the record he set in winning the 2014 race.

“Obviously going into this race, the big hubbub was all about the new trail, right?” Seavey told a packed convention hall. Concerns were about the “warm, warm, warm winter” and conditions on the Yukon River.

In fact, a snowmobile sank on thin ice on part of the route mushers were about to take. Some were considering buying rain gear.

But then winter came back to Alaska, and the trails became much more like one would expect for the Iditarod.

“We saw a lot of 40-, 50-below zero, snow,” said Seavey, of Willow. “This was a very tough race. It was not the easy run that a lot of people had anticipated for the Yukon River.”

Seavey’s father, Mitch, finished in second place Wednesday, followed by Aaron Burmeister. Behind them en route to Nome were Jessie Royer and Aliy Zirkle.

To win this demanding race three times in four years – his dad Mitch won the other – is a testament to not just Dallas Seavey but the dogs in his team (Alaska Dispatch has video of him crossing the finish line in Nome).

Seavey’s adventures in Alaska continue this Sunday night at 10 p.m. Pacific in the season finale of his National Geographic Channel series, Ultimate Survival Alaska.  Seavey’s Endurance team was in last place among the four teams, but anything can happen in the final challenge. But he’s already won the show’s season competition already, so his legacy is secure. And winning another Iditarod by the age of 28 puts him among the sport’s elite mushers, with seemingly plenty of races ahead of him.

Here’s Seavey to the Fairbanks News-Miner:

“The wins are a result of doing what we love. It takes a whole team to get us here.”

Finally, here’s our story on Dallas (Photos by Dallas Seavey and National Geographic Channel):

Dallas 2


By Chris Cocoles

Not including Dallas Seavey’s “home” squad – with wife, Jennifer and daughter, Annie – he is a vital leader of two teams that are a huge part of his life.

Seavey, who turns 28 this month, is a veteran of the National Geographic Channel series Ultimate Survival Alaska (the season finale will air on March 22 at 10 p.m., 9 Central, with new shows on Sunday nights). He’s appeared on all three seasons, leading Team Endurance to the title in season two last year and welcomed two new teammates for season three, which wraps up this month.

“It was intriguing because we were traveling across Alaska, living out of a backpack and seeing some of the most unique and strange terrain that this state has to offer,” Seavey says. “And that always takes a level of creativity and ingenuity to work your way through that environment. And it was particularly intriguing to us because that’s what my family has grown up doing.”

And for essentially the entire year, particularly the 10 or so days of the Iditarod that define the sport starting on March 9 when the race will start from Fairbanks due to low snowfall, Seavey is carrying on his family’s distinguished tradition among Alaska’s sled dog-racing community. He’s mushed his dog teams to win the sport’s premier event,  in both 2012 (when, at 25, he was the race’s youngest champion), and 2014 (when at 8 days, 13 hours, 4 minutes and 19 seconds, he won the race in record time; quite a contrast from inaugural winner Dick Wilmarth needing over 20 days to complete the course in 1973).

It’s quite the busy life, but it’s exactly the way Seavey prefers his days to go: raising and racing dogs throughout his home state, conquering mental and physical challenges in the Alaskan bush, and introducing Annie to dog mushing, which three generations of Seaveys have thrived on since the 1960s. The family has dominated the last three Iditarods, Dallas’ two titles sandwiched around his father Mitch becoming the – wait for it – oldest winner of the 1,000-mile, “Last Great Race on Earth” at age 53 in 2013, his second title. Dallas’ grandfather and Mitch’s dad Dan Sr. was one of the founding fathers of the Iditarod’s inaugural race in the early 1970s. With Seaveys winning the last three races, it’s a golden era for the family

“There something to competing with your dad. And especially since my dad and I were very close,” Dallas Seavey says. “When I was with my dad in 2013 at (the White Mountain checkpoint), only 77 miles to go and him within striking distance of his second Iditarod win, it was a neat experience.”

It wasn’t the first time Seaveys had shared the stage.

Dallas Seavey 3

WHAT’S A PRODUCER’S dream? Cast two brothers in a live-action series where contestants are thrown into the middle of nowhere and given a challenge to get to a destination faster than their opponents. At 26, Dallas was already a household name in Alaska based on his 2012 Iditarod win and, when approached by National Geographic to do Ultimate Survival Alaska, convinced older brother Tyrell, then 28, to join him.

Surely, the siblings would provide compelling conversations and, maybe, if the show was lucky, some epic arguments as they decided on a plan of attack for whatever rivers needed to be crossed or mountains needed to be climbed. Except it wasn’t quite a family feud.

“We’ve always worked together,” says Dallas of his and Tyrell’s jobs at their dad’s kennel. “And that’s a different relationship when you work with somebody rather than having to co-habitate in the same building. And a lot of siblings are, I suppose. They don’t force you to interact beyond a certain degree. But we were always solving problems and being forced to work together. So I think we hatched out most of our differences by the time we were 12.”

Dallas called it “silent communication,” when conversations about how to approach the tasks at hand would almost become telekinetic mojo between he and Tyrell. Dallas considered this as two battle-tested Alaskans who knew exactly what problems lay ahead in the area’s topography, potential weather issues that confront them or the odds of accomplishing the goals with the limited tools and supplies they were given.

So in sync with each other were the Seaveys, when they plotted their course, they were encouraged by the cameraman to interact a little more. But that “we may not be flashy, we are effective” technique fit well into the equation. Bring together a small group of alpha-type personalities who all feel like their way is the best way, and you’re sure to get disagreements.

“It’s the Seavey way to just get the job done; not a lot of flair, not a lot of extra conversations,” says Dallas, who came back the next season. As one of three members of Team Endurance, Dallas and his mates, Eddie Ahyakak and Sean Burch, beat out the other three-person teams to win the competition with complete strangers he’d never met before filming began. For season three, there’s another entirely new team in place – mountaineer Ben Jones and heli-ski guide Lel Tone. But for Seavey, the spirit of the show as far as he is concerned is intact.

While everyone has a background in some semblance of adventure sports to, in theory, handle the terrain – an earlier third-season episode saw the teams try to cross the swift currents of the Talkeetna River – it’s as much a mental as it is a physical grind. Seavey went so far as arguing the psychological effects can sink you more than having the fitness to traverse the Alaskan bush.

“Yes, you have to have the physical talent to do this stuff. And that’s not easy, but we almost take that for granted. The people who are out there are outdoor, active people,” he says. “But the real game comes down to the mental side. One of the major factors that gets often overlooked in these group situations: Here we are, warm and well fed and watered. But now let’s try it when we’re cold and miserable, and probably haven’t slept properly in several weeks, and are severely malnourished. Hunger is one of the biggest attitude changers out there.”

All the factors combined provide a thinking player’s game that has brought Seavey back for more of his second career on Ultimate Survival Alaska on top of success as a professional dog musher.

“Creativity and challenges are what I thrive on. That’s what I do when racing the Iditarod. We try to recognize a problem, break it down to its most basic elements and solve it,” he says. “Whether it’s building a new racing sled or coming up with new strategies in the Iditarod, it’s problem solving. There’s definitely a mad -scientist aspect for when you come to a crossroads of a problem that you don’t have an answer for.”

Dallas dogs side shot

DALLAS SEAVEY WAS at a crossroads once. Though his promising wrestling career was pinned by injuries, he knew the family business of rigging up dogs to a sled and traveling fast through the snow. Grandpa Dan did it; his father Mitch did it. It was what the names Andretti and Unser were to motorsports, Sutter to hockey, Williams to tennis and Manning to football. A Seavey is expected to successfully race dogs through the treacherous Alaskan wilderness.

“My granddad moved to Alaska in the 1960s to be an ‘Alaskan.’ When he helped start the Iditarod, it was as much fun to plan the race as it actually meant to go do it,” Dallas says of Iditarod Hall of Fame inductee Dan Sr., who as recently as 2012 competed in the race, at 74 years old. “They were trying to figure out if it was possible to run 1,000 miles across Alaska.”

The race has now gone international after its early years usually featured Alaskans only. Most of the members of the Seavey family, including Dallas’s wife Jennifer, have competed in at least one Iditarod. The Seavey kids were home-schooled, mostly so they could have access to the tasks of maintaining the Seward-based family business of raising and racing sled dogs (it’s now known as Seavey’s Ididaride Racing Team and Sled Dog Tours).  Mitch cared for more than 100 dogs at his kennel, and oldest brothers Danny, Tyrell and Dallas – they also have a fourth brother, aspiring singer Conway Seavey – were given various duties to make sure the dogs were fed and exercised.

Dallas made his Iditarod debut in 2005 at just 18 (the minimum age to compete) and was the youngest musher to finish the race, coming in 51st. But it wasn’t until 2009 that he was actually “competitively” racing in the event. He still seemed like a longshot to win the 2012 race, given that most previous winners were in their 30s, 40s or even 50s (Seavey said the average age of the previous 20 winners was 42). Conversely, his kennel, made up of dogs he purchased from his dad and other fellow mushers, was just 3 years old at that point. So it wasn’t as if he was known for grooming championship dogs.

“I was competing with these teams that had been going for 20 or 30 years. It’s a refining process, where you’re continually breeding from the best to the best of the best for the dogs. These dogs are just insane athletes. We were way behind the eight ball there,” Seavey says.

“It certainly seemed like from the outside, a 25-year-old racing in his fourth competitive Iditarod saying, ‘I’m going to win it and become the youngest winner ever,’ must have seemed either extremely arrogant or naïve; probably both. Maybe I was just naïve enough, just dumb enough, to believe that I could win the Iditarod. It doesn’t mean we have a lock on this race. But this was the first team I had that I knew had the potential to win – if we did everything right.”

Check. Seavey’s win was remarkable given the historical odds were so against him. This had been a sport where Father Time – like his dad – was an advantage over youthful enthusiasm. But here was the 25-year-old, a year before his father was dismissing the trend of mushers his age, winning the Last Great Race on Earth. He sat below Nome’s famed Burled Arch, sharing the stage with two of Seavey’s five lead dogs from the race, Diesel and Guinness. They were covered in yellow roses and showered with cheers from the crowd on Nome’s Front Street. Man and dogs were exhausted after such a grueling race (talk about ultimate Alaskan survival). He hugged both dogs, feeling as though winning the race was simply a bonus for appreciating what they accomplished.

It’s what this race is all about and carrying on the family’s legacy as some of Alaska’s storied sports’ personalities.

“It’s an incredible feeling. For 355 days a year I’m a dog musher, and to develop these dogs to their highest potential and to make each dog the best athlete that their genetic potential has allowed them and help them maximize that potential. That’s what a dog musher is, in my mind,” Seavey says. “For the other 10 days a year, give or take, we are focused on not necessarily winning the Iditarod, but running the best possible race. And if I run the team to the best of their ability, that is a goal met.”

Dallas 3

UAF Rifle Team Places Second in NCAA’s

Photo courtesy of Alaska Fairbanks athletic department

Photo courtesy of Alaska Fairbanks athletic department


In this month’s issue of Alaska Sporting Journal we have a package on the University of Alaska Fairbanks rifle team, which has quietly been a dynasty with 10 national championships. The Nanooks were ranked second in the nation when they hosted the NCAA Championships last weekend in Fairbanks.

UAF finished second to No. 1 West Virginia:

Many members of the team are also hunters. (UAF )

Many members of the team are also hunters. (UAF )


Alaska won the smallbore championship last night, holding off West Virginia by an impressive twelve shots, but it was unable to overcome the top air rifle team in the nation, as the Mountaineers rallied to defeat the Nanooks by two overall shots, 4,702 to 4,700.

“Coming in we knew that we were probably the top smallbore team in the country,” said head coach Dan Jordan. “We shot really well yesterday, but we came up just short today. West Virginia shot a phenomenal air gun today. We can’t do anything more than what we did. Both teams shot really well this weekend.”

In third place overall was Texas Christian University, who matched Nebraska’s 4,667 points, but hit 13 more 10x-shots to clinch the tiebreaker. The Cornhuskers did place in the smallbore competition, as they were in third place after last night’s action. Jacksonville State was the Championships’ fifth-place team and also went home with a trophy, as it finished in third place in the air rifle portion. Kentucky’s tally of 4,657 was good for sixth-place, while the United States Air Force Academy and Murray State placed seventh and eighth, respectively.

Alaska’s Tim Sherry placed eighth overall after finals, to lead the Nanooks, following up on his fifth-place individual finals in smallbore, last night.

Maren Prediger of West Virginia was the top individual following finals, as she topped a full contingent of Mountaineer medalists. West Virginia’s Michael Bamsey placed second overall and Garrett Spurgeon was the third best shooter. Spurgeon was also named the NCAA Championship’s Top Overall Performer.

Sherry’s 596 was the highest shot total of any Nanook, qualifying him for finals. Mats Eriksson and Ryan Anderson were Alaska’s next best shooters, as they each scored 592 points. Lorelie Stanfield and Sagen Maddalena rounded out the Nanooks, with respective shot totals of 589 and 588.

Here’s our story on the team’s coach, Jordan, who was paralyzed in a climbing accident but does not let his physical limitations slow him down from coaching or enjoying the outdoors:

Photo by Dan Jordan

Photo by Dan Jordan


By Chris Cocoles
University of Alaska rifle team coach Dan Jordan says he really hadn’t been challenged much by the time he’d reached the summer after his sophomore year at the same school.
In May 1999, Jordan had just completed his sophomore year on the Nanooks rifle team when he and a close friend and teammate, Amber Darland, went rock climbing north of Fairbanks.
“I was climbing and my safety pieces broke out, so I fell about 60 feet,” says Jordan who was asked by rescuers, was he allergic to anything. In a Denver Post story from a few years back, he recalled deadpanning an answer that would reflect on his ability to handle such a life-altering tragedy: “Rocks.”
He was paralyzed throughout his lower body.



JORDAN GREW UP in rural Franktown, Colo., not far from Colorado Springs. His family wasn’t into hunting or guns, but young Dan “was infatuated with hunting and shooting from the time I was a little kid.”
His parents put Jordan into the local 4-H club so he could learn gun safety from those who did know something about firearms
He would spend endless hours shooting targets attached to hay bales in nearby cow pastures. He’d hunt with a fellow football player and his father, who was their high school coach. Jordan referred to his coach as a “mountain man” who took the boys on an epic elk and deer hunt and slept in teepees; they wore buckskins and lived out a Grizzly Adams/Jeremiah Johnson experience.
“In the winter we shot in cow and chicken barns at the fairgrounds,” Jordan says. “When I went to the state fair and saw Olympic-style shooting, I was enthralled by it.”
Jordan went to Alaska for college and was an All-American in both smallbore and air rifle in 1998 and 1999. He didn’t have a care in the world – until May 23, 1999, the date of the accident.
“I’ve always looked at it as my life was very easy before that,” he says. “I was pretty athletic and school was always easy for me. I never had to work hard at anything. So I looked at it as I finally had a challenge in my life; it’s something I’m going to have to work at.”

Dan Joordan and his wife, Amber

Dan Joordan and his wife, Amber

THREE DAYS AFTER his fall, Jordan was flown closer to home in Colorado, but after surgery and spending almost two months rehabbing in a Denver hospital – “I got tired of being there,” he said – he told his parents he wanted to return to school in Fairbanks that August. Mom and Dad understandably wanted him to delay going back so soon and adjust to life in his wheelchair and skip a semester.
“My kind of mentality was, I would rather come up in August or September and learn how to negotiate my way around, rather than come back up in January where everything was snowy and cold,” Jordan says.
“I came back somewhere around Aug. 26, got all settled in and told my parents I was leaving to go moose hunting. So one of my teammates took me and we went moose hunting and slept in the back of his Suburban. So I guess you can say I got right back into it.”
That included training for and competing in the Paralympic Games. At the 2004 Athens Paralympics, Jordan left Greece with a silver medal in the smallbore three-position shoot.
The drive to regain the post-fall form and be accurate enough to compete in the Paralympics, let alone make it to a medal ceremony, became an obsession, much like every other obstacle he suddenly had to dodge.
“I never did it for anyone else,” he says. “I love shooting.”
And now he regularly hunts and fishes around Alaska from his wheelchair.
“One of the biggest things in life that makes me happy is just being outside,” he says. “Even when I was in the hospital days after surgery, my parents would get me in a wheelchair and just take me outside just to sit and see some sunshine.”
Steve Jordan would take his son fishing in the months after the fall, so you can imagine how emotional even a stoic Dan became on that first Alaskan moose hunt.
“Being able to come back and get back into hunting again, that’s what recharges my batteries.”

2010 Bear Hunt 057
GET TO KNOW Dan Jordan and you hope you can come away thinking similarly to his attitude. To hell with the challenges his condition might have prevented. To hell with the “why me” reaction so many of us might have screamed out if something of this magnitude was inflicted upon us.
“I never had a depression phase; I never went through any kind of anything,” Jordan says. “After surgery when I woke up, nobody had to me that I was paralyzed. You knew it. It was just, ‘OK, now what?’”
It started with the friend who watched his fall in horror. Amber Darland and Dan Jordan were already close friends, and it was Dan who had been futilely “kind of chasing her at the time” before the accident.
“Then when I got hurt, she kind of started chasing me and I didn’t want anything to do with her,” says Jordan, who was a year ahead of her in school and moved back to Colorado after graduation. They were separated again for a time being, but eventually their paths crossed back in Fairbanks for good.
“It took about 10 years of chasing each other,” he says.
Now they’re married, and Jordan has happily accepted that his accident wouldn’t define who he is.
“Things may take a little bit longer and I may have to get creative with how I do some things,” he says. “And there are some things I just flat out can’t do. But that’s part of it. So be it.”


Bering Sea Gold Returns Tonight!

Bering Sea Gold 2


I’m currently working on a profile of the father and daughter dynamic between Bering Sea Gold dredgers Steve and Emily Riedel (above) for our April issue. Until then, take a peek at tonight’s fourth season opener of the popular Discovery Channel show.

Here’s a sneak preview of my story, about Steve Riedel’s sometimes frustrating experiences when after suffering a serious shoulder injury he struggled to find riches in Nome:

Ironically, when Steve did make his life-altering decision, he swears he was never blinded by false promises, or prone to having unrealistic expectations. In other words: there was never the disillusioned sense of getting rich quickly, if ever.
But even still it hasn’t gone liked he even hoped it might, despite at the time it being “the fresh start” he craved.
“It had been a three-year ordeal, and so just before we came up it was at the end of the healing cycle, so I was feeling pretty good about my body. I really hadn’t been able to use my shoulder for three years,” he says. “It had been very depressing so I felt really good. I wanted to do something in did sort of fit in. I just wanted to get a real job. Of course, gold mining is probably the total opposite of a real job.”
But reality did set on the last season of Bering Sea Gold. He eventually got his own dredge, the Minnow, but he and his crew never got off the ground and mined just $11,000-plus worth of gold, one of the lowest totals in the third season.
“There are people who come up and dump $30-, $40-, $50,000 into an operation and they leave, sell everything off at 20 cents to a dollar. There are a lot of people up here like that,” he says.

Here’s the release from our good friends at Discovery, with a couple preview videos:

Photo by the Discovery Channel

Photo by the Discovery Channel




Friday, March 13 at 10 PM ET/PT on the Discovery Channel

Good Morning, Veit-Nome: The summer dredging season has officially kicked off in Nome, Alaska – ground zero of the great American gold rush. With warmer weather brings jam-packed claims, unexpected storms and rising tempers where gold fever is a family affair. With more competition and a short Alaskan summer, the miners battle treacherous conditions and each other in hopes of finding gold, and with the stakes greater than ever, it isn’t long before drama hits the Bering Sea. Captain Shawn Pomrenke is on the hunt for the series’ first-ever thousand ounce season, but his father Steve’s return to the Christine Rose causes their rocky relationship to turn explosive. And back for her second year as Captain of the Eroica, Alaska’s first and only female dredge owner Emily Reidel aims to fight her way back from financial ruin.



Gold Rush Season Finale Tonight




In 2014, we profiled Parker Schnabel, the whiz kid gold dredger on the Discovery Channel’s hit series, Gold Rush. Tonight, the show closes its fifth season with Schnabel as one of the key storylines.

Here’s the release from Discovery:

Discovery Channel’s #1-rated series, GOLD RUSH, wraps up its record-breaking fifth season on Friday, March 6, with a 2 hour super-sized finale.  It’s been a cold winter, but nothing compares to the Klondike at the end of gold season. Having set bigger goals than ever this season, the mine bosses push their crews to the limit and risk friendships, pride and money to get every last ounce of gold. Kicking off the night at 8 PM ET/PT is a historic episode of ‘The Dirt’ where passions will flare as Executive Producer Christo Doyle gathers all three mine bosses to discuss their mad dash to find gold.  Then following the ‘GOLD RUSH’ finale kicking off at 9 PM ET/PT, the miners will share their reactions as they watch from the set of THE DIRT.



 Episode listings below —


THE DIRT – Pre-Show

Friday, March 6 at 8 PM ET/PT on the Discovery Channel

Parker’s grandfather, John Schnabel, makes his Dirt debut and for the very first time, Executive Producer Christo Doyle gathers all three mine bosses, Parker Schnabel, Tony Beets and Todd Hoffman to discuss their mad dash to reach their season’s goal. The season was full of gold and as a result, the tension on set was palpable.


GOLD RUSH – Season 5 Finale

Friday, March 6 at 9 PM ET/PT on the Discovery Channel

Millions in Gold: In the season finale, with the Klondike winter closing in, Parker Schnabel faces mutiny when he announces one last push for 400 ounces. The Hoffman crew gets the largest dozer in the Klondike to secure land for next season and it’s hell or high water as Tony Beets has one last shot at getting his 75-year-old dredge mining for gold.Following the finale, Todd, Parker and Tony come together on the ‘Gold Rush’ after show to react to the exciting end of the season.

Headed To California? Fish For Big Bucks At Lake Isabella Derby


Sorry to slip in a California-ish story on the blog, but if you’re going to be in California at the end of the month, check out the  Lake Isabella Fishing Derby, which is put on by our friends at the Kern River Valley Chamber of Commerce. The folks there provided us with this press release with some information on the trout derby at the Kern County Lake near Bakersfield. and scheduled for March 28-30.

Despite the drought and a lower lake level, the Kern River Valley Chamber of Commerce and ReelChase are happy to announce that there will be a fishing derby this coming year. The 2015 Isabella Lake Fishing Derby will be held on March 28, 29 and 30!
According to the Chamber’s Fishing Derby Committee, some adjustments to the profile of the derby have been made, but they are confident that everyone who enters will have a great time. One of the changes this year, are a number of guaranteed winnings. According to the committee, the Chamber is looking forward to having the opportunity to give away some very good prize money. As always, Lake Isabella will have some of the largest trout in the area for the Derby and whether yours is a moneymaker or not, it will still prove to be a good diner size trout for you to enjoy.
This year’s big money prize trout will be worth a guaranteed $18,500! There will be 10 Longest Trout awards starting with the highest at $5,000 and descending to a $500 10th Longest Fish! The prizes will be structured in the following order; (1st Longest Trout) $5,000, (2nd) $4,000, (3rd) $3,000, (4th) $2,000, (5th) $1,000, (6th) $900, (7th) $800, (8th) $700, (9th) $600, & (10th) $500. That $5,000 catch will be worth $10,000 if it is caught by an angler wearing n official 2015 Derby T-shirt!

Measuring will be taking place during Derby hours at Derby Headquarters only, which will be at the Lake Isabella Moose Lodge located at 6732 Lake Isabella Blvd. Along with these prizes, there will be a possibility for anglers to win in the always popular, Bobber Bowl Sweepstakes. Several, huge one pound plus trout with an official 2015 Derby tag will be worth up to $100 each, generously sponsored by local merchants, organizations and individuals.
Also this year, any registered fisherman will be able to win a Vacation Voucher worth $6,000 if they have the winning ticket! Tickets for the Voucher are only $20 each or six for $100.
More prizes and drawings that will be available at Derby Headquarters during the three-day event will be announced as March approaches. This year the entry fees will be $30 per individual and $65 per family. The Derby will start at 7 a.m. on Saturday, Mar. 28 and continue until 4 p.m. on Monday March 30, and the winners will be announced shortly after that the close of the derby.
Thank you in advance to all of the anglers from across California and beyond who will be coming out to the Kern River Valley for the derby. We welcome you and your families, and warmly invite you to have a great family weekend. Updates on the Isabella Lake Fishing Derby news to follow in the coming months before March! We’d also like to thank all of our sponsors for their support! This derby would not be possible without your continued generosity.
For additional information or to join the rest of us in registering call (760) 379-5236, e-mail us at or friend us on the Lake Isabella Fishing Derby Facebook page for the latest posts.
GOOD LUCK!!!!!!!!!

Seattle Wild Salmon Advocates To Host Rally

Photo by Brian Lull
Photo by Brian Lull


We’ve dived into the wild salmon versus farmed salmon debate among restaurants and grocery stores in previous Alaska Sporting Journals. It’s a critical issue in terms of long-term effects on the Pacific fishery and it’s very important and dear to the hearts of many Alaskans who have worked hard to preserve wild salmon and question the potential impact of salmon farms that have popped out throughout nearby British Columbia, Canada.

This weekend in Seattle, a rally will bring together pro-wild salmon supporters to send their message. Here are the details:

 A broad coalition of progressive groups, concerned Costco customers, and fishermen will demonstrate this Saturday at the Seattle Costco to challenge the grocery chain to publicly commit to not sell GMO salmon. Due to a campaign by Friends of the Earth and local, regional and national allies, more than 60 retailers, including Target, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Safeway and Kroger, representing more than 9,000 grocery stores across the country, have made commitments to not sell this genetically modified fish. As one of the largest retailers of salmon and seafood in the U.S., and headquartered in the Northwest region home to Pacific wild salmon, Costco’s stance on GMO salmon will factor heavily in national retail decisions.

Nearly two million people — including scientists, fishermen, business owners and consumers — have written to the FDA in opposition to the approval of genetically engineered salmon due to the risks GMO salmon pose to human health, environment and wild salmon. Despite this outcry, the FDA is still considering GMO salmon’s approval. If approved, this would be the first genetically engineered animal allowed by regulators to enter the U.S. food supply, and it will likely not be labeled.

What: A rally and petition delivery of more than 50,000 petition signatures demanding that Costco commit to not selling GMO Salmon.
Where: In front of the Seattle Costco (Sodo neighborhood), 4401 4th Ave S, Seattle, WA
When: 2-4 p.m., Saturday, March 7
Who: Representatives of Alaskan Native American Tribe, UFCW Local 21; fishermen; members of the Washington environmental community; and Seattle residents will speak at the rally.
Visuals will include people holding banners, and salmon art and boxes of petitions.
Background on GMO salmon and market rejection of the GMO salmon is available at

For more information, contact Danielle Friedman, organizing director at the Community Alliance for Global Justice, and Dana Perls, food and technology campaigner for Friends of the Earth.

Danielle Friedman, (206)
Dana Perls, (925) 

Alaska BOG: No Drones For Commercial Salmon Fishing

Photo by Nicolas Halftermeyer/Wikimedia

Photo by Nicolas Halftermeyer/Wikimedia

The controvesy over drones has already affected hunting in Alaska. Now you can include commercial salmon fishing.

Here’s the Alaska Dispatch:

The Alaska Board of Game, which sets wildlife regulations, a year ago approved regulations blocking hunters from using remote-control aircraft to locate big game, and the Board of Fisheries has now moved to prohibit commercial fishermen from using drones to spot schooling salmon.

The latest action came Sunday at the Fish Board meeting in Sitka. Board members shot down the use of drones for economic reasons.

 “I’m for keeping pilots employed and not using unmanned aircraft for fish spotting,” the station reported him saying.

Board chairman Tom Kluberton agreed, according to KCAW, saying he tends “to look very hard at existing patterns of areas and fisheries, and I do like — whenever possible — to promote economic stability. We’ve had aircraft in this region for a long time. There are folks who stake their livelihoods and contribute to local economies flying their aircraft. I feel it’s just an unnecessary move” to allow drones.


Lost Blind Dog Reunites With Owner



I’m a sucker for inspiring stories about dogs, and this is a remarkable one out of the Fairbanks area:


A blind dog who wandered away from her Ester, Alaska, home during a cold snap has been reunited with her owner.

The 11-year-old Labrador retriever named Madera ventured away from home on Feb. 6, when the temperature dipped to 40 degrees below zero.

Her owner, Ed Davis, said he didn’t expect to find her alive. “My best hope was to walk those trails and look for a track that might be hers,” he said. “My best hope was to find a frozen dog.”

A man riding a bike accompanied by a bell-wearing dog located Madera in the woods last week, about a half-mile from the Davis’ home, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported. Madera let out a whine when she heard the dog’s bell.




D. Atkins As we pushed our way through the waist-deep snow, the big snowshoe hare just sat there and waited. His “white” camouflage blended perfectly with the snow, but not quite good enough to keep my 8-year-old son, Eli, and I from pushing forward. With each step I figured he would bolt; he didn’t so we decided to keep moving towards him. I slowly raised the BowTech bow and settled the pin.

In most states, hunting small game usually takes a back seat to hunting big game, especially in Alaska. With moose, caribou and sheep practically around every corner, most people forget that the state also harbors some of the finest small game pursuits in the country.

As hunters we all live for the fall, and rightly so. Bears, sheep and goats are constantly on our minds, and we absolutely cannot wait until the season opens. Like most people who chase animals either with a bow, rifle or shotgun, it becomes a total obsession that drives us not only throughout the year, but also throughout our lives. Some of that year can feel empty though, but there are solutions.

ABUNDANT GAME  In the unforgiving Arctic, winter can be a long time going. It starts pretty much after the seasons for big game are over and extends all the way through late April when the bears have decided enough is enough and exit their dens. During this time, usually starting in March, life for a hunter can really start to heat up, literally. Bright, sunny days with 14 hours of daylight combined with good snow, frozen ground and a good cabin or tent to hang out in can be as grand as any moose camp, especially if a group is involved.

The author and son Eli, 8, revel in the harvest of small game in Alaska. Taking your kids on a small game hunt is an ideal way to introduce them to not only the outdoors, but also conversation, shooting and so many aspects of the hunting life. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

The author and son Eli, 8, revel in the harvest of small game in Alaska. Taking your kids on a small game hunt is an ideal way to introduce them to not only the outdoors, but also conversation, shooting and so many aspects of the hunting life. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

It’s during this time that small game in Alaska run abundant: everything from ptarmigan to the big snowshoe hare and a list of predators a mile long that roam the frozen tundra. The opportunities are endless, and being able to get out and chase these critters with your family is priceless.

Ptarmigan and Arctic hare, for example, are formidable targets with a bow. Their white fur and plumage are perfect camouflage against what Mother Nature has left us, and getting to them can be a very tough challenge. For the most part you will miss more than you will hit, but it provides some of the greatest times a family outing can provide.

FAMILY AFFAIR Last spring, my family and I loaded up our snow machines and went north, crossing 13 miles of frozen ocean. The trail was good, and within the hour we pulled into camp along a winding creek that was pretty much frozen solid. The bright sunshine was a blessing and the break from windy conditions provided by the tall spruce made things quite comfortable.

Crossing the frozen Arctic Ocean via snow machine is safe given the sea is frozen solid with anywhere from 6 to 8 feet of ice. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

Crossing the frozen Arctic Ocean via snow machine is safe given the sea is frozen solid with anywhere from 6 to 8 feet of ice. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

After unloading our gear, guns, bows, arrows, and packs, we set up our tent. There’s always something special about taking your kids outdoors; I can think of nothing better than a day spent hunting small game. I wish all parents would do more of this.

After a quick warming up in our Arctic Oven and downing some hot chocolate, we began our hunt along the narrow creek, carefully eyeing the banks and adjacent willow flats for any kind of movement.

It was great fun. The first rabbit we saw was a bust, but we didn’t have to go far when suddenly something white flashed in the willows. We trudged through the alder in snow that was up to my waist and Eli’s shoulders and we quickly climbed the bank. I told Eli to try and walk on top of the willows and keep above of the snow; it worked somewhat, but the snowshoes I left at home would have been a blessing.

We could see the big rabbit in front of us when it finally came to a stop. We weren’t in range and had to get closer.

I figured like the first rabbit, he would break and run but did not. It has been my experience that snowshoe hares will actually stop and hope that the snow will camouflage them and blind their enemies to their presence.

A rabbit’s den in winter; snowshoe hare tend to run in cycles in the Arctic. For a couple of years they will be abundant, then taper off for several years. Years when numbers are high hunters will see a huge increase in predators, such as lynx, fox and wolverine, which can also be hunted. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

A rabbit’s den in winter; snowshoe hare tend to run in cycles in the Arctic. For a couple of years they will be abundant, then taper off for several years. Years when numbers are high hunters will see a huge increase in predators, such as lynx, fox and wolverine, which can also be hunted. (PAUL D. ATKINS)


This rabbit, however, made the mistake of stopping on a small snow pile. With Eli right on my heels, I got the bow up and drew, placing my 20-yard pin on his head. It was awesome; we had our first rabbit and I don’t know who was more excited – Eli or me.

After gathering our kill we walked on down the creek, only to take another big rabbit not too far from where we took the first one. It was a great time, with not only hunting but also being able to identify the many tracks that lined the creek. Everything from lynx to moose to wolf were there, and the ability to share those with my son was priceless. I have hunted all over the world, taking hundreds of big game animals, but this was by far the best experience of my life.

We continued down the frozen creek, only to spot a third rabbit in the willows. Like most of my rabbit hunts I only wanted to take three or four, enough for a good meal, and with any luck this would be our third. (Rabbit, if cooked right, is some of the finest meat available to man, rivaling venison in my opinion.)

The third rabbit ran into a hole beneath some overgrown willows. I pointed him out to Eli and we slowly began our stalk. Eli was excited when I handed him the .22 and told him that this one was his. Thinking he was safe the rabbit stayed in place only to have Eli bear down on him and squeeze the trigger. The rabbit didn’t move. I was so proud of my son, and even more when he trudged on ahead to claim his trophy. He reached in,  grabbed the big snowshoe by his hind legs and exclaimed this was the greatest day of his life. I quietly said it was mine too.

In addition to rabbits, ptarmigan provide good winter hunting for Alaskans. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

In addition to rabbits, ptarmigan provide good winter hunting for Alaskans. (PAUL D. ATKINS)


YEAR-ROUND FUN As far as small game goes, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game list three species of small game in the regulation manual: grouse (spruce, sooty, ruffed and sharp-tail), rabbits (snowshoe and Arctic hare) and ptarmigan (willow, rock and white-tail). All can be found in different parts of the state and can be hunted at different times throughout the year, depending on the unit you choose to hunt. Some units are closed to certain species; others are open all year. Bag limits are pretty liberal, but most have a possession limit. Check the ADFG website ( for more information.

Personally, I like to hunt in winter. The snow pack in and around willow thickets are a prime location for the bird hunter while the alder-choked riverbanks provide excellent cover for the big snowshoe hare. Hunting small game this season can be very challenging. All are camouflaged in their winter apparel and can be tough to locate, but with a little practice you will quickly pick up on an eye here or an eye there, or a slight shifting in the snow.

Shotgunning for ptarmigan is also a very popular sport in the Arctic. Like snowshoe hare, they can be found about anywhere, and being able to pick out the white bird is tough, but provides some great excitement. I use a 12-gauge shotgun with No. 4 steel shot. Getting in close and flushing the covey is a rush and you usually get your limit pretty quickly.

For small game, the author replaces broadheads with rubber blunts or judo points. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

For small game, the author replaces broadheads with rubber blunts or judo points. (PAUL D. ATKINS)


If you plan to bowhunt any of the small-game species, there are many options, from traditional archery to compounds and they will all work as long as you don’t mind losing a few arrows. Less heavy bows work best, as it doesn’t take much knockdown power to kill a rabbit or a ptarmigan. I set my bow as low as possible and use arrows tipped with rubber blunts; they fly great and prove to be a killing combination.

Chasing Alaska’s small game can be big fun, no matter your weapon of choice. All are great eating and don’t require much in terms of expense. Whether you pursue ptarmigan, grouse or the big snowshoe hare, they all provide that much needed break after a cold, dark winter and will fill the freezer with something besides moose and caribou. ASJ

Editor’s note: Paul Atkins is an outdoor writer and a contributing writer for Alaska Sporting Journal. He has written hundreds of articles on hunting big game throughout North America and Africa. Paul lives in Kotzebue, Alaska.



By Dennis Musgraves 

Grabbing the pull-cord handle and giving it a couple quick rearward yanks, I fired up the power ice auger.

I made a quick adjustment on the choke lever, which allowed the rough idling engine to keep running, warming up in the cold, crisp morning air. To prevent it from dying while I cut into the thick ice, I took extra time to make sure the machine reached a good operating temperature. I patiently waited for a familiar purring kitten sound, which indicated when it would be time to squeeze the throttle and put more holes in the lake.


The sun sets on Harding Lake, a  deep fishery near Fairbanks that has a reputation for skunking ice fishermen. (DENNIS MUSGRAVES)

The sun sets on Harding Lake, a
deep fishery near Fairbanks that has a reputation for skunking ice fishermen. (DENNIS MUSGRAVES)


Fellow Alaskan Salmon Slayer member Chris Cox and I had already been ice fishing for lake trout for more than an hour on Harding Lake. I had become restless from the lack of activity on the Vexilar sonar monitor we were using to spy fish swimming 100 feet below us. Marking only a couple uninterested fish during the first stint of the day was not unusual while fishing for elusive “cheetahs,” but I had decided it was time to try a different location. Putting in some fresh ice holes a short distance away would give us a change in depth, and maybe a responsive fish.

I left Chris to watch the display on the fishfinder. I wanted him to continue jigging at our initial location, while I set off to drill the new holes. I intended on shifting about 100 yards, prepping the position and returning  to move all the equipment with Chris. The auger’s sharp blades worked quickly, evidenced by an accumulating pile of shaved ice on the surface. We would be fishing again very soon, boosted by a renewed promise for success.

Harding Lake regulars refer to it as “Hard Luck” due to the challenges of not just fishing it but getting to it through huge snow drifts at entry points. (DENNIS MUSGRAVES)

Harding Lake regulars refer to it as “Hard Luck” due to the challenges of not just fishing it but getting to it through huge snow drifts at entry points. (DENNIS MUSGRAVES)

But just as I was about to punch through the remaining inches of a third ice hole, I heard what sounded like someone crying out in the distance. Actually, maybe it was more like I felt someone crying out in the distance, since the noisy machine deafened my hearing abilities.

The faint noise sounded panicky, so I let off the auger’s accelerator. As the motor hushed to an idle, I began to hear the distant yelling more clearly. It led me to look over my shoulder.

Somewhat shocked, I realized it was Chris. He was screaming at the top of his lungs, trying to get my attention, frantically holding a rod in each hand. Both sticks were doubled over and flexing wildly.

It appeared he had his hands full, literally.

At some point while I had been drilling out the new holes, Chris hooked up. Judging by the twerking rods it seemed to be a good-sized fish (or maybe two?) and I probably should have stayed with him.



My friends and I have affectionately nicknamed Harding Lake, “Hard Luck.” It’s a fitting name since winter fishing is normally brutally slow and challenging. Even for the most avid ice angler, a bit of good luck is required when vertically targeting fish at this large lake.

But even with that reputation, it’s no secret what attracts me to Harding:
gigantic fish.

Finding fish at Harding Lake is made more difficult when you consider the small size of an ice fishing hole, and the lake’s 2½-mile width and 2,500 acres. (DENNIS MUSGRAVES)

Finding fish at Harding Lake is made more difficult when you consider the small size of an ice fishing hole, and the lake’s 2½-mile width and 2,500 acres. (DENNIS MUSGRAVES)

About 15 years ago, when I first moved to the Tanana Valley, I heard legendary stories and saw numerous pictures of enormous lake trout and Arctic char caught out of the lake. Pics posted on local sporting goods stores’ brag boards, tacked up to neighborhood gas station windows, and published in the outdoor section of the Fairbanks newspaper left me in awe. All of the angling evidence had me intrigued and excited about catching my own fins of glory one day at Harding.

The photos made it look easy, but I soon found out just how difficult the reality of hauling a lunker onto the surface would actually be. Hard Luck almost broke me – I went several winters without even a nibble. My relentless efforts, however, would eventually pay off. My theory was, if I didn’t go, I certainly would not catch anything – that was a guarantee.

Investing in a quality sonar device and filling my funnel full eventually allowed me to finally catch my first fish there. Harding has now become one of my main staples during the winter fishing season.



Located only about 45 miles from Fairbanks, Harding Lake is reached by the Richardson Highway. The lake is large, deep, spans 2½ miles across and reaches depths of 145 feet. You can access the lake at two different locations: following the signs from milepost 321.5 to the Alaska State Park Recreational Area boat launch, or continuing to travel a little further down the highway for the lake perimeter road turnoff, which leads to a lakeside residential community boat launch.

The author reels in what he hopes is a trophy lake trout or Arctic char. Anglers will be aided in finding fish with sonar with the lake at such deep levels; in some spots Harding Lake is 145 feet deep. (DENNIS MUSGRAVES)

The author reels in what he hopes is a trophy lake trout or Arctic char. Anglers will be aided in finding fish with sonar with the lake at such deep levels; in some spots Harding Lake is 145 feet deep. (DENNIS MUSGRAVES)

Arctic char and lake trout are the fish I search for here during the winter. Expect the majority of both to be around 20 to 25 inches long, with some running from 28 to 36 inches. There are also burbot and northern pike present in the lake, but note that fishing for the latter is not permitted per Alaska Department of Fish & Game regulations.

Equipment plays a vital role in success at Harding. Vertically fishing in a 10-inch hole on 2,500 acres in 130 feet of water can be random, at best, if you’re actually trying to catch something. It is more like the proverbial fishing a needle in a haystack.

In order to compensate for the dynamics that Hard Luck presents, I prefer to use a Vexilar-brand electronic fishfinder. With it, fishing becomes more like stalking. I use the electronics to locate depths I want to fish in an area of the lake that’s usually between 100 and 130 feet deep. The finder will not only determine the depth, but also detect and display objects in the water column. When fish move under the transducer – at any depth – a mark turns up on the display.

The idea is to move your lure to the depth of the marked fish to entice a strike. Electronics will not guarantee you catch fish, but having a fishfinder will greatly enhance your ability to determine which depth to bring the lure up or down to.

Having the proper rod, reel, line and lure selection are other factors that you need to take into account to avoid failure at Hard Luck. I use a custom 32-inch medium/heavy-action rod designed for ice fishing for bigger catches. The  rod’s spine and the action of the tip allow you to fish lures of up to 1 ounce. It also gives you the ability to set hooks at deeper depths and handle the pressure of a large fish.

I use a low-profile baitcasting reel, strung with 20-pound braided line. I add a heavy-duty swivel at the end of the line with a 3-foot leader of 15-pound-test fluorocarbon. Off the leader, I tie on large spoons, plastic tubes on jig heads and, occasionally, herring.



You won’t see a hard-sided hut city on this lake, and there are no rental shanties from the state either. That and very slow action makes most fishermen drive right by Harding to waters down the road. The lake is also very difficult to access most of the season because of large snow drifts at the entry points. Expect to either walk or snow machine out on the lake most of the winter.

Once you get on the lake there’s no guarantee you will hook up. I have a habit of rolling more doughnuts fishing Harding than you can find at a bakery. Avoiding the skunk takes patience, persistence and, of course, a little good luck at Hard Luck. Once in a while, when the stars align correctly and Lady Luck lends her hand, anglers are able to catch a mammoth fish from the dark depths.

Investing in good equipment and spending hours on the lake will definitely give you an edge on dialing in and catching a beast, but it won’t be easy. I have managed to catch my share of trophy lake trout and Arctic char from the lake by using good equipment, making numerous outings and, of course, having some good old-fashioned luck.

The one constant is an inconsistent catch rate. The fish present an ever-changing pattern of here one day, gone the next. But that’s what makes pulling a 3-foot-long laker out of a 10-inch circle in the ice so rewarding: it’s simply not done every day.



Watching Chris battle the large fish and listening to his whooping and hollering, I knew he might want some help surfacing the trophy-sized fish. Without hesitating, I killed the engine on the auger and quickly made my way towards him. Chris had flown north from his home in Anchorage to specifically spend the weekend fishing with me at Hard Luck. (It seemed like I had just picked him up at the Fairbanks International Airport and here he was catching a big fish less than three hours later – man, some guys have all the luck!)

I was a little breathless and excited when I finally reached Chris. As I stood next to him and surveyed the situation through the ice hole, it appeared to be a mess – jigging two rods in such close proximity had left fishing line  tangled under the ice. The laker had hit Chris’s jig like the proverbial freight train, taking off and pulling line off the reel, and then getting wrapped in the other line a short distance away. I reacted quickly by cutting the line on the fishing rod without a fish to eliminate further confusion.

With only one rod in play now, Chris gained control and slowly brought the fish toward the surface. I peered into the ice hole, trying to get a glimpse of what he had hooked. Then I saw it. In the clear water, the color and patterns were unmistakable. Chris was surfacing a beautiful lake trout that appeared to be at least 10 pounds.

He guided its head carefully up through the hole, lifted the big fish from the water and cradled the trout’s underbelly with one hand. He quickly cast his rod aside with his other hand and grasped around the peduncle of the trout’s tail, which was now totally out of the water.

Chris Cox was one of the lucky ones at the lake they call Hard Luck, landing a 30-inch laker before releasing it back into the icy water. (DENNIS MUSGRAVES)

Chris Cox was one of the lucky ones at the lake they call Hard Luck, landing a 30-inch laker before releasing it back into the icy water. (DENNIS MUSGRAVES)

Chris beamed from ear to ear with his accomplishment.

“Take the picture!”

I immediately obliged, and after a few quick snaps, we took a length measurement. The laker taped out at just over 30 inches, a little bigger than most fish we pull from Hard Luck.

“Not too shabby,” I told Chris.

Although not the stuff of 20-pound-class folklore, the fish was a very respectable lake trout, a fish any Harding angler would be proud to catch.

Chris did not want to harvest the beautiful old lake trout.

“Let’s get him back in,” he said.

He submerged the trout’s head back into the water, allowing it time to regain strength from the battle. That would hopefully allow the fish to swim off with a strong kick. Chris held the tail just out of the water as the fish revived, gathering strength. It did not take long for the fish to feel reinvigorated, and Chris let go. We both watched as the big fish kicked downward, disappearing into the deep.

Reflectively, I could not help thinking how easy this catch had seemed for Chris. Fewer than two hours had passed between his arrival at the airport and the hookset. For sure, this was not normal at Harding, but there was no hard luck for Chris.


The next nine hours on the ice was far less exciting. We moved several times, jumping back and forth between different holes, feverishly jigging our lures, yet nothing we did induced another fish to bite. As the sunlight faded on the horizon, we packed up the sled for the last time.

There is nothing strange about a one-fish day at Harding. Indeed, I was happy for my friend’s angling success, despite finding myself fishless, dejected, and wondering what else I could have done on the day to hook into my own trophy. My feelings slipped out as I left the ice-covered surface.

“Hard Luck, I hate you.”

But I’m relentless, and I will be back. There be beasts in Harding.  ASJ


Editor’s note: Author Dennis Musgraves is one of the Alaskan Salmon Slayers, who fish throughout the state. Check them out on Facebook and at