Category Archives: Featured Content

Another bear mauling in Alaska

You never know when a wild animal will appear in the wilderness.  But it’s a risk hunters are willing to take. During a bear hunt at Beaver Mountain in the western Alaskan interior, 46-year-old Charlestown, R.I. resident John O. Matson, Jr. was injured by a bear he and his hunting party had shot it 90 minutes earlier. He was listed in fair condition.

From the Associated Press:

“He’s got a hell of a headache,” said his father, John O. Matson Sr. of Hopkinton, R. I., adding that his 46-year-old son was recuperating after head surgery. “His spirits are great.”

The younger Matson was attacked by the bear Monday during a guided bear hunt near Beaver Mountain, about 40 miles southwest of the interior town of McGrath. Bad weather prevented rescuers from quickly reaching Matson’s party of three. Matson was finally rescued from the remote spot on Tuesday.

Matson’s father credits the two other hunters, also from Rhode Island, with saving his son. The guide, Steve Persson of Charlestown, and another man the father wouldn’t identify were packing to leave the hunting camp. They planned to visit their wounded friend later at Providence Alaska Medical Center.

“He’s very grateful to his friends,” the elder Matson said.

His son, a construction contractor, does not want to speak with reporters about his ordeal, but he does want people to know he’s OK, the father said.


Sept. 11 always a surreal anniversary

By Chris Cocoles on Sept. 11

It’s strange how days like today sneak up on you until you remember what we should think about.  I would imagine my parents’ generation eventually started to remember but not always deeply reflect on Dec. 7, and how in 1941 how everything changed in Hawaii, let alone America. Sept. 11 will also live in infamy, and during a time when attacks on Syria appear to be imminent, it’s difficult to fathom where we are 12 years later following such a dark chapter in history.

I know that life goes on, but when I stop to think back about that day and really think, it’s just an eerie feeling. I flew on Sept. 10, 2011, from Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, where I visited a friend, to Memphis, and then back to my home (at the time) in Los Angeles. Then, you wake up the next day and hear of atrocities and tragedies you never imagined would be possible.

I woke up this morning, walked my dog quickly, and reached my Seattle office navigating congested traffic as I have for last month since starting this new job. Just another typical Wednesday, right? But there’s always a sense of loss on this day. That’s the way it needs to be.

Angler not about to release 231-pound halibut.

By Chris Cocoles on Sept. 10, 2013

Give Dirk Whitsitt credit for not losing track of his trophy. It was a struggle for the construction worker from Kansas to land a monster halibut, which weighed in at 231 pounds, during a trip to the Cook Inlet. When Whitsitt, with an assist from the guides he was aboard with, finally landed the massive fish, he was given the option of releasing his catch or getting another free trip. But he chose to take his trophy back to Kansas.
Being so far from home, it had to be tempting to opt for another day on the water in the Cook Inlet. Who knows? Maybe another monster fish would be on the end of his line.
And after all, how often does a Kansan get to fish for free in Alaska? Then again, 231 pounds worth of halibut might neve
r bite Whitsitt’s line again.


Our October issue of Alaska Sporting Journal also features some big halibut caught around the  Sitka area (shown above). To subscribe and get $10 off a full subscription -we’re going monthly in October- click here.

Miss Alaska: A preview

By Chris Cocoles on Sept. 9, 2013

Melissa McKinney, Miss Alaska, 2013, who went on to compete for Miss USA in Las Vegas in June, chatted with me for a Q&A session running in the October issue of Alaska Sporting Journal. To subscribe, click here:

Much of that interview focuses on the outdoors and how it has shaped Melissa’s life. But she also is proud of her humanitarian contributions.
When she was younger, McKinney spent about a year volunteering in Sudan, which has been ravaged by civil unrest and a genocide that claimed 400,000 lives in the early 2000s. Here is a little bit of my conversation with Melissa describing the horrors and uplifting scenes she witnessed while helping to co-found a school a and support center for local villagers:

“It was incredibly fulfilling that I was there during such a historical time. And I knew when I went there I might have a one-way ticket. We were kind of in the thick of what was going on with the genocide. We started a primary school, a cultural training center that really uplifted the young moms. It was enriching. We had no running water, no electricity. You’re in a very rural area that was populated. That was the irony of it. Just very third world. It was one of those things where you walk into it and know that you’re living history. When the opportunity came I really had to live out that ‘OK, this is one of those things where if I say no I’m going to regret it for the rest of my life. If I say yes, I hope I have the rest of my life’.”

I asked Melissa if she experienced both horrible scenes and conversely stirring positive moments:

“There were all kinds of atrocities. There were landmines, and a lot of the kids that we had were orphaned, losing parents due to the war or genocidal issues. You could walk down the street and just see the trauma in some of their faces. But I think the most rewarding and interesting part for me, was walking into a situation and seeing children that were not laughing or would even talk open up and just become kids again. I had a lot of the [United Nations] workers who would stop in and tell us ‘This is a happy place, and you can’t find a lot of happy here’. We created an environment where you can be allowed to be a real person. You could leave your pain behind and do something different.”

Did she shed a lot of tears while there?
“Yes. I’m definitely a strong woman, but I’m human. I buried children that died in my arms. There were a lot of things that go on that change a person for the better. But life is real. The thing that I could walk away from is I made a difference when others ran in the other direction.”

Inspring story for hunter who lived his Alaska dream

By Chris Cocoles on Sept. 6, 2013

As someone who has struggled with weight gain after losing pounds off and on, I can relate to this Minnesota hunter. Bob Ball of Albert Lea, Minn. was chronicled in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune after he got himself in better shape to prepare for the rigors of a big-game hunt in Alaska. Well done, Bob!

Here’s a link to his story, which included him getting what he really came back to Alaska for: a grizzly bear:



WalMart, Alaska salmon industry at odds

This is Chris Cocoles, working on my first issue as Alaska Sporting Journal editor. My plan is to be more active posting tidbits as I get more accustomed to my duties. But I found this interesting story out of Anchorage regarding WalMart’s possible pulling of Alaska salmon off the retail giant’s shelves. Protests are taking place at stores Alaska, and state officials plan to state their case at the company’s retail headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.

Some of the key points in this Anchorage Daily News report:

“There’s tremendous demand for high quality, wild Alaska salmon,” said Tyson Fick, communications director for the state-supported seafood marketing institute. “We absolutely would like to get this behind us. I think we are on the path of getting there.”

Wal-Mart says it wants a solution.

“Let’s be honest. I don’t think Wal-Mart wants demonstrators in front of supercenters. I don’t think we want fisherman upset about what is going on or in the dark about what our policy is or how we’re going to move forward,” said Chris Schraeder, Wal-Mart senior manager for sustainability communications. “As much as it’s in Alaska’s interest to find a resolution to this quickly, it’s in Wal-Mart’s interest to find a resolution to this quickly.”

Wal-Mart won’t say how much Alaska salmon it sells, or how much of its seafood comes from Alaska. But it’s obviously an important line for the world’s biggest retailer. Seafood is the primary protein source for 3 billion people, Wal-Mart’s executive vice president for food, Jack Sinclair, wrote on an Aug. 8 blog post addressing the Alaska controversy.

“Our sustainable seafood commitment seems to have made waves recently in Alaska, where the state is proposing an alternative standard for sustainable fisheries management,” his blog post began. “It’s generated a lively debate on how to best ensure sustainable seafood for our customers today and for generations to come.”



Needless to say, whenever locals get involved in a dispute with big corporations like WalMart, it can get pretty heated.

Read more here:

Don’t Feed the Moose’s

mooseIn Anchorage, Alaska, residents’ trash is becoming more of moose’s treasure. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game currently reported that the moose activity of rummagin through for food has steadily grown in the past 15 years.

March and April are usually the worst months because the winter food supply in the wild grows scarce and hungry moose trod into the city in numbers.

Moose can be like humans, moose often turn grumpy when hungry, and if there isn’t any food around when they come looking, they’re more likely to lash out at people.

Moose’s aren’t more dangerous than bears, but they can be a greater threat of injuring you due to their population size. Moose outnumber bears nearly three to one in Alaska, injuring five to 10 people in Alaska annually. That’s more than grizzly bear and black bear attacks combined according to Smith.

Moose is the largest species of the deer family, Alaskan moose are the biggest in the world. But their size betrays their generally passive demeanor. Feeding off plants and tree bark, these herbivores munch on willows, birches and grasses by the pound. During the harsh winter, when moose can’t find their natural foods, Anchorage watches the garbage-seeking moose population inflate to around 1,000.

So when does Bullwinkle start bullying you? In September and October is when moose attacks spikes because of the mating season. Early spring mothers are protecting their young calves so they can be aggressive. However, moose often do not confront people unless they are provoked. For that reason, it’s important to not throw anything at moose and keep any dogs away from them.

As mentioned earlier, feeding a moose can also make them more dangerous. When their stomach starts talking, and they instinctually return to a place where they were once given food, they may attack if the food isn’t there again. To lower the chance of food-related attacks, Alaska has made moose feeding a crime its a $110 fine.

Moose can outrun humans at top speeds, most of the times, they won’t chase you far if you run away from them. If you’re not fast enough, and a moose knocks you down, don’t fight back. Curl into the fetal position and cover your head with your arms. Trying to move or beat it off will only cause the moose to continue kicking and stomping you.

Tell Tale Sign of Aggressiveness
Here’s some cues when a moose may charge at you, if you notice its hairs raised, head down and ears back, that’s your cue to hightail it in the opposite direction. And when a moose licks its lips, that doesn’t mean it finds you attractive. That’s your signal to run.

How Moose Size Up in the Animal Kingdom
Taller than a horse — 5 to 6.5 feet tall (1.5 to 2.0 meters) from ground to shoulder.
Heavier than a bear — male moose, called bulls, weigh up to 1,500 pounds (680 kilograms).
Faster than a kangaroo — moose run up to 35 miles per hour (56 kilometers per hour).

[source: Alaska Department of Transportation]. From 1996 to 2006, 17 people died from moose-related car crashes [source: Alaska Department of Transportation].

These accidents happen in spite of many efforts to keep moose off the Alaskan roads. About 130 moose die each year from car crashes in Anchorage alone [source: CBS News].

Driver awareness, following traffic laws and using high-beam headlights at night can likely reduce your chances of a moose crash.

Cristen Conger –
Alaska Department of Fish & Game. “Moose Increasingly Attracted to Urban Garbage.” March 25, 2008. (April 7, 2008)
Alaska Department of Fish & Game. “What to Do About Aggressive Moose.” (April 7, 2008)
Alaska Department of Natural Resources. “Bears and You.” Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation. Updated March 24, 2008. (April 7, 2008)
Alaska Department of Natural Resources. “Common Sense Survival.” Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation. Updated March 24, 2008. (April 7, 2008)
CBS News. “Alaska’s Urban Moose Adjust to Heavy Snow.” Jan. 31, 2007. (April 7, 2008)
CNN. “Worst states for auto-deer crashes.” Nov. 14, 2006. (April 7, 2008)
DuFresne, Jim and Spitzer, Aaron. “Lonely Planet Alaska.” Lonely Planet. 2006. (April 7, 2008)
National Parks Service. “Bear, Moose & Wolf Warnings.” (April 7, 2008),%20Moose,%20Wolf%20Warnings.pdf
Smith, Dave. “Don’t Get Eaten: The Dangers of Animals that Charge or Attack.” 2003. The Mountaineering Books. (April 4, 2008),M1
Stadem, Catherine. “Moose in Our Midst.” Alaska. 1994. (April 4, 2008)

Brown Bear Shot and Killed on Kodiak Island

A brown bear sow was shot and killed at the Old Harbor landfill on Kodiak Island on Monday, orphaning four cubs. Alaska State Troopers say the sow was shot in defense of life and property (DLP). The community’s residents are no strangers to trouble with the area’s numerous bears.

Around noon on Monday, the Kodiak brown bear — classified as a distinct subspecies from mainland Alaska brown bears — was shot after it charged multiple people, troopers reported.

Prior to being killed, the mother bear dug under the landfill’s electrical fence, entered the dump and began eating trash, something she had been doing at the landfill for several months, said Kodiak trooper Sgt. Eric Olsen.

Old Harbor’s tribal council received grant money to erect the electrical fence — in some spots two layers of fencing. The bear deterrent has been up for about a year, but some bears, including the sow, have refused to let the obstacle stop them, Olsen said.

“It will take the bears a couple years to become accustomed (to the fence),” Olsen said.

Old Harbor’s Village Public Safety Officer, members of the small town’s tribe, and landfill workers hazed the bear in an effort to get it to stop. The safety officer on previous occasions had approached the bear in his patrol vehicle with the sirens blaring. At other times, the bear was shot with rubber bullets, Olsen said. The methods worked in the past, troopers reported.

U.S. Marine Corps personnel located in Old Harbor also helped try to stop the sow by using heavy equipment to place large rocks in the holes the bear dug under both fences and through gravel to get inside the landfill.

Despite all the efforts toward dissuasion, the bear repeatedly entered the landfill, according to troopers. On Monday, it charged locals, landfill employees and Marines who approached it with a Humvee. And a volunteer with the community’s “bear protection team” ended up shooting the sow.

“The locals know the behaviors of bears in the area; killing it was a last resort,” Olsen said.

In accordance with DLP shootings, the sow’s skull and hide have been sent to Fish and Game in Kodiak.

The sow was found to be “very emaciated with no layers of fat, and she was blind in one eye.” The cubs haven’t been spotted at the landfill since the shooting, troopers reported.

Kodiak brown bears generally raise two cubs each year, so the extra cubs as well as the bear’s health likely stressed the animal until it became dangerous, Olsen said. “It was malnourished. It wasn’t getting a proper diet from the trash,” he said.

The sergeant added the sow could have been coming to the landfill since it was a cub. Its mother may have brought it there, and the bear eventually taught its own cubs to use the dump as a food source.

Olsen recalled the Old Harbor’s long struggle with the area’s many bears — there’s approximately one bear per square mile on the island. In the early 2000s, he said, there were so many bears the locals wouldn’t let their kids go outside. Then, the community began to proactively protect itself from bears. It established the bear protection team, a group that works to keep the community safe from the brown bears, avoiding defense of life and property shootings as much as possible, Olsen said.

Source: Jerzy Shedlock at jerzy(at)

Ancient Rockfish Caught in Alaska

Ten miles off the coast of southern Alaska, an insurance adjuster from Seattle caught a neon orange rockfish that is probably more than 100 years old.

The fish, a type of rockfish called a shortraker, was caught in 900 feet of water, weighed in at 39.08 pounds and is just under 41 inches long. It is the largest rockfish to have been caught by a recreational fisherman in this part of the world and it might be the oldest as well.

For those wondering why the fisherman Henry Liebman did not throw the ancient fish back into the sea immediately after catching it, the answer is that the fish was almost certainly dead by the time he reeled it in.

“When a rockfish caught in 900 feet of water is brought to the surface it usually dies,” said Julie Speegle, a spokeswoman for NOAA’s Alaska region, in an interview with the L.A. Times.

Rockfish have a gas-filled organ called a swim bladder that helps them control their buoyancy. When they are brought up to the surface, the gas in the bladder expands and can cause the bladder to burst, which can kill the fish.

Scientists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game will determine the age of the fish later this week by slicing through its head and removing two small ear bones called otoliths that float in a cavity beneath the fish’s brain.

The otoliths have rings like a tree, and scientists can get a pretty good estimate of how old the fish is by counting these rings.

So far, the oldest shortraker on record is more than 150 years old.

Shortrakers live along the ocean floor at depths that range from 84 feet to 4,000 feet. They snack on crabs, shrimp and the occasional small squid.

These long-lived fish don’t become sexually mature until they are about 10 years old and often live to more than 50 years old.

“Their life strategy is to have babies year after year after year,” said Kristen Green, a ground fish biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “They might have some years where their larvae do really well, and some years where they don’t do well, but if they are reproducing for 50 years or more, they will definitely have some good years in there.”

While the fish pictured above is the largest shortraker to be caught by a sport fisherman off the coast of Alaska, it is not the largest shortraker to have ever been found. That record is held by a 62-pound giant caught by a commercial fishing net in the Bering Sea in 2007. Scientists say that fish is 95 to 115 years old. (And yes, they used the otolith method to determine its age.)

The mean size of shortraker fish in the inner waters of southeastern Alaska is just over 26 inches and 10.9 lbs, but Green said it is likely that commercial fisherman catch shortrakers over 40 pounds every day in their nets.

“There is always a feeling that it is sad when something this old is taken from the sea, but this is a drop in the bucket compared to what the commercial fisheries take,” Green said. “He just happened to be fishing at a really deep depth. Most recreational fisherman don’t fish that deep.”

Source:Deborah Netburn –

History of Valdez Fish Derbies: 55 Years of Fabulous Fishing

History Written by Laurie Prax

When it comes to a fish story, everyone has a different tale. And when the story begins more than 50 years ago, there are many colorful and varied details. To re-create the history of the Valdez Silver Salmon Derby, started in 1952, Chamber records were scoured and interviews were conducted with previous organizers and officials as well as local anglers and business people.

Different people have been credited with starting the Silver Salmon Derby, but everyone agrees it was started by local business people and later picked up and run under the auspices of the Chamber of Commerce. When the Chamber closed its doors in the late 1990s, a small group of volunteers ran the derby using the Gaming Permit of the Valdez Convention & Visitors Bureau. The derby currently is its own non-profit corporation run by seven volunteer committee members.

In the early days, anglers were fishing for wild stock Coho salmon in the derby. The traditional return of wild stock Cohos to Corbin Creek was about 9,000 fish annually, according to Dave Cobb of the Valdez Fisheries Development Association. Cobb said the derby has grown exponentially with the silver return over the years.

The Silver Derby ran for 30 years before the inception of a Valdez Halibut Derby, which was started in the mid-‘80s by Darrell Shreve and Jim Heston. In the late ‘90s the halibut derby was changed from a large fish derby to a target weight derby. In 2002, the big fish derby returned with a $10,000 prize for the largest fish caught.

The Pink Salmon Derby started in 1991 as a four-day derby with a $500 prize each day, and a Kids Pink Salmon Derby day was held in 2001. The Pink Salmon Derby was discontinued due to low ticket sales, but in 2008, the Kids Pink Salmon Derby made a comeback with a free one-day tournament open to kids age 5 through 16, and continues to this day.

As we look back through the years it’s remarkable to see how the Fish Derbies have grown. With $80,000 in cash and prizes at stake, it’s refreshing that most anglers are fishing for the sport of it. Sure, the prizes make it more exciting but it’s one of the few contests where you get to spend a wonderful day on the water win or lose.

Go to for more information.