Category Archives: Featured Content

Meet ADFG’s New Deputy Commissioner



Apologies for not getting this out sooner, but press deadlines have been a challenge this month. Alaska Department of Fish and Game last weeknamed Charles Swanton as its new deputy commissioner.

Here’s ADFG’s release:

Acting Commissioner Sam Cotten is pleased to announce the appointment of Charles O. Swanton as Deputy Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Swanton has been Director of the Division of Sport Fish since 2007. Governor Walker has also nominated Mr. Swanton as the State of Alaska’s Commissioner for the Pacific Salmon Commission, which is a presidential appointment.

“Charlie’s professional and educational background, as well as his long history with the department, makes him uniquely qualified for these positions,” Acting Commissioner Cotten said. “He has dedicated nearly his entire 33 year career to the research and management of Alaska’s fisheries and is highly respected throughout the state. I am very pleased to have Charlie serving as our department’s lead on Pacific salmon issues and representing Alaska in other issues of significant importance to the management of our valuable fisheries resources.”

Swanton’s public service career began as a Fisheries Technician for the Division of Commercial Fisheries in 1981. Since 1981, Swanton has held key research and management positions in geographic areas that span the state.

In 2010, Swanton completed his residency as a Fellow of the highly selective National Conservation Leadership Institute, a world-class leadership development program. Swanton also received the 2012 University of Alaska Fairbanks Alumni Achievement Award for Business and Professional Excellence.

Swanton earned Bachelor of Science degrees in biology in 1983 and in fisheries science in 1984 from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and a Master of Science degree in fisheries with an emphasis in salmon population dynamics and statistics from the University of Washington, Fisheries Research Institute.

Swanton has been an Alaska resident for more than 34 years. He and his wife, Deborah, have two sons, and they reside in Juneau.

Deputy Director Thomas Brookover has been named as Acting Director of Sport Fish Division.


As for the status of interim commissioner Sam Cotten, an Alaska Journal of Commerce report stated he’s closing in being appointed to permanent status on the job:

Cotten passed the initial interview recommendation with a unanimous vote. He had broad support from both boards for his breadth of experience in Alaska public management as well as his track record as acting commissioner over the last six weeks.

The interim commissioner outlined his priorities and plans during the interview process. The two most pressing concerns for Alaska fish and wildlife involve Alaska’s shriveled budget and to improve the department’s ability to function alongside federal agencies and agendas.

The most common points involved focusing on a science-based rather than economic-based approach to resource management, a desire to have more public involvement within the department’s decision-making process, and a need to find new ways to cooperate with the U.S. government for subsistence governance.

Cotten says the science and conservation measures, when necessary, should trump commercial concerns, as in the case of declining chinook salmon runs or the issues regarding commercial halibut fishing. Cooperation with the federal government will be key for resource management, and Cotten made mention of the availability to the ADFG of federal funds as a softener for Alaska budget cuts. He also hopes to find ways to mitigate the dual management of Alaska subsistence communities, a system that receives scrutiny for its conflicting interests and methods.


Solving A Halibut Issue



In our February issue of Alaska Sporting Journal, look for a story on charter boat captains working together to in a program known as Every Halibut Counts, which strives to ensure safe and proper releasing of halibut amid tight Alaska Department of Fish and Game regulations in terms of slot size.

Also in the news right now: Alaskan and Canadian delegations this month in Vancouver to discuss the Pacific halibut fishery. 

From Yahoo Canada:

Fishermen in the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska are tossing back millions of kilograms of dead halibut they’ve caught unintentionally while scooping up other stocks.

The longtime practice, known as bycatch, has become the focus of intense scrutiny in Alaska and will be the subject of debate at a meeting at month’s end of the International Pacific Halibut Commission in Vancouver.

What’s at fault depends on who is talking. Some blame government regulations that forbid fishermen from keeping bycatch, others say it’s because of fish sorting-and-recording methods, and still others point to Alaska’s failure to follow the lead of British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California.

Chris Oliver, executive director of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, one of two U.S. agencies that manages the Alaskan fishery, said the public shouldn’t forget the market, either.

“Yes, it’s a lot of halibut thrown over.” he said. “But again, you know, it supports a two-million-metric-ton groundfish fishery worth billions of dollars to this U.S. economy. In fairness, yes, there’s a lot of wastage of halibut.”


Alaskan’s Journey From Anchorage To NHL

Matt Carle 1 Tampa Bay Lightning Headshots


Editor’s note: The following story ran in the January, 2015 issue of Alaska Sporting Journal. 

By Chris Cocoles

Photos courtesy of Matt Carle, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Icon Sports Media 

You can take a young man out of Alaska, send him zigzagging across the Lower 48 starting at the age of 16, and groom him to be a successful professional hockey player.

You can take him out of the snow-shoveling winters of traditional hockey territory – locations like Ann Arbor, Mich. (he spent a couple seasons with the United States National Development Team); Omaha, Neb. (a year of junior hockey); Denver (three dynamic years of college hockey); and Philadelphia (where he nearly won a National Hockey League championship) – and find a home in, of all nontraditional markets, Tampa, Fla.

But you can’t fully take the Alaskan out of Matt Carle.

Almost every summer, Carle heads north from Florida – he and his wife, Clancey, live in her native Minnesota in the offseason – and returns to his roots in Anchorage, where he’s among a recent surge of NHL imports from the Last Frontier.

Carle’s passion for the outdoors, specifically fishing, provides him and a group of childhood friends – some NHLers like himself – with an opportunity to get out on a river or lake and reminisce about growing up in Alaska.

Carle, a 30-year-old defenseman for the Tampa Bay Lightning, displays his love for fishing in his Twitter (@mattcarle25) profile photo, where he’s holding a colorful rainbow trout caught in his native state.

“I do like filling up my freezer with salmon,” he says. “Fortunately for me, my grandparents have a boat out of Homer and they do a lot of halibut fishing. So they do all the work, and I get to reap the rewards of just picking up the meat.”

Such are the benefits of coming from a state where loving the outdoors and taking advantage of some of the world’s best fishing is part of the curriculum.

“I take a lot of pride in where I grew up,” Carle says. “My heart is always going to be there.”

NHL: NOV 17 Lightning at Rangers

PLAYING THROUGH PAIN. It’s the battle cry of hockey players. Get cross-checked into the glass? Shake it off. Take a puck off the kisser and lose a few teeth? Go see the dentist between periods and get back on the ice. When Matt Carle was 5 years old, he almost knew what his destiny was when he fished with his family on the Little Susitna River west of Anchorage.

“We’d go over to the Little Su all the time. My dad had, and I’m not sure what year the boat was, a C-Dory. There was a cabin with a door that would go out toward the back of the boat where we’d do all the fishing, obviously,” Carle says. “We had a fish on and everyone was racing around the boat to try and get to the pole. And when I jumped up from inside the cabin (to run out) my thumb got stuck in the door jamb. I smashed my thumb, and I’m sitting there crying my eyes out but still trying to reel in that fish. I ended up landing the fish, and a couple days later my fingernail ended up falling off. So I considered myself being pretty tough for going through such a dramatic experience. So I started pretty young dealing with pain.”

But that’s what made growing up in Alaska so much fun for Carle: the winters made it a natural environment to play hockey, and the summers provided enough daylight and surrounding water to grab the fishing gear and drop a line.

Matt’s the oldest of three boys, and all of the Carle brothers are hockey players. One of Matt’s younger siblings, David, was also a prospect whose career was cut short in 2008 when he was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a potentially fatal condition for athletes. David is now an assistant coach for the men’s hockey team at the University of Denver, his and Matt’s alma mater. The youngest, Alex, played junior hockey in Youngstown, Ohio.

The Carle family, uncle and cousins alike, spent plenty of time traveling the Cook Inlet out of Anchorage to the Little Su. They also bought a cabin on Nancy Lake, 90 minutes north of Anchorage. That became a summer fishing and jet ski retreat – “I’m still shocked I would swim in water that cold,” Matt jokes – but also the occasional winter playground where snow machines were ridden around the frozen ground when Matt and his brothers had no hockey commitments.

Carle dabbled in snow skiing for a bit, but both the conflicts with hockey and fear of being injured on the slopes essentially eliminated breaking out the skis and boots.

”We’d do a bunch of salmon fishing. Those are some of my earliest memories of being in the outdoors. My dad really wasn’t much of a hunter, so we didn’t do a lot of that,” he says. “But we were big fishermen and it was something I was introduced to at a pretty young age.”

As was hockey. Bob Carle, Matt’s, David’s and Alex’s dad, had no experience playing the game, but Matt flourished right away.

“Sometimes, we could clear up the ice that we had our cabin on when the weather was nice,” he says of playing outdoor hockey, which is every young player’s dream in climates that allow for frozen ponds and lakes in winter.

“I’m not sure up until what age, but I remember some mornings parents would like us to practice outside because the ice outside made it a lot cheaper to practice on (than renting indoor rinks). And obviously, you’d just get your buddies together and get out and play. There was marsh in south Anchorage called Potter’s Marsh that sometimes we’d go out and skate around on. I do have a lot of memories of playing outdoors, and it’s been cool that I’ve been able to play in two (NHL Winter Classic outdoor games as a Philadelphia Flyer).”

At 15, he played on a talented local team, the Alaska All-Stars (along with good friend and future NHL teammate Nate Thompson), and then headed down to Michigan to play with the U.S. National Team’s Development Program.

“Fortunately for me, hockey was something that I was pretty good at as a kid. And I had a lot of fun playing it,” Carle says. “It was always about making it onto a team and then making the next level.”

What Carle wanted more than anything was to play college hockey. As a youngster he’d watch the hometown University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves, players who became idols. His performance with the U.S. National Team Development Program and a season of junior hockey in Omaha earned him a scholarship at the University of Denver (where he also met his future wife, Clancey Kabella). In 2006, his junior year at Denver, he was one of the nation’s top defenseman prospects. Carle was such a dynamic player, he won college hockey’s version of the Heisman Trophy, the Hobey Baker Award.

“As you get older your goals kind of change a little bit,” Carle admits of his rise to one of the best young American players by the time he was drafted.

The San Jose Sharks had drafted him in the second round in 2003, but after playing two full seasons there San Jose  traded him to the Tampa Bay Lightning in July 2008. Twelve games into the next season, the Lightning flipped him to Philadelphia. With the Flyers, Carle had a memorable 2009-10, both on and off the ice. His team went to the Stanley Cup Finals before losing in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks (Carle chipped in a goal and 12 assists in 23 total postseason games). That summer, Matt and Clancey were married in Minnesota and honeymooned in Bora Bora.

But even such a whirlwind schedule like that didn’t prevent an annual tradition of fishing and friendship in Alaska, even in this instance a combination fishing trip and bachelor party.

Matt Carle 4

Matt Carle 5

THEY HAVE GONE their separate ways now. Some of them, like Carle, have played at the highest level of hockey. But their Anchorage roots are never forgotten for long. A group goes back after the hockey season ends in late spring.

Thompson, the fellow Anchorage product and onetime teammate with the Lightning, makes appearances there. Ditto Tim Wallace, another Alaska Stars teammate who has played in the NHL.

“It’s been a year or two since I’ve been able to go, but I know the guys went last year. My wife and I had just had our first baby and I had to get my priorities down a little bit,” Carle jokes. “But we’ve all had great friendships (with each other). You look back on those trips, going fishing with your buddies, there’s no better time to spend, especially up in Alaska out in the middle of nowhere. It’s just a great time.”

Carle has struck up a friendship with Brian Kraft, the owner of the Alaska Sportsman’s Lodge ( on the Kvichak River in Bristol Bay.

“If I’m going to go fishing, that’s usually where you’ll find me,” Carle says. “They have so many different options there, depending on what time of the year you go. I’ve really gotten into fly fishing, and that’s my passion when I get out now. We’re trying to land a 30-inch rainbow. That is something I’ve been trying to go after since I started fly fishing.”

Carle compares the ups and downs of fly fishing to golf, a popular pastime for hockey players. Even if he had more opportunities to cast flies without any practice, he wouldn’t be very good at it. But like always wanting to break out a bucket of range golf balls that will, in theory, improve one’s swing and game, there’s an expectation that tying on a streamer and hoping something big devours it will become easier to master after getting into a groove.

“It’s something you have to stick with. When I go on a fishing trip I’m going to be terrible the first day or so. But by day two or three I’ll pick it up again,” Carle says. “When you’re fly fishing, it’s always more satisfying catching a fish on a fly rod. There’s nothing better.”

Unfortunately, getting out on a river is made tougher by the demanding schedule hockey players must adhere to. And Carle surely doesn’t mind when seasons extend well into June when teams are vying for the Stanley Cup. He came so close with Philadelphia, which fell in overtime of Game 6 to the Blackhawks in 2010. Carle returned to Tampa in 2012-13, when he signed a six-year free-agent contract worth $33 million.

“He’s not a big, flashy personality. He understands how the game is played. He plays lots of games, lots of minutes,” former Lightning teammate and defense partner Eric Brewer told thePhiladelphia Daily News. “You just get used to him playing, moving the puck forward. He handles the puck well, he makes a lot of good pinches, and he’s comfortable moving the puck in traffic. A lot of our guys have been able to get good looks from him.

He’s turned into a steady defenseman; he’s a fast skater, moves the puck in and out of the offensive and defensive zones – a must-have for quality defensemen – and is a reliable scorer. He entered this season with 41 career goals and 220 assists, plus 36 career playoff points.

Tampa Bay’s promising 2013-14 season ended in disappointment: the Lightning were swept in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs by the Montreal Canadiens, who benefited from a few questionable calls along the way over their four wins.

“The series just didn’t go our way,” is Carle’s diplomatic, no-excuses response, perhaps understanding the positives that carried over from the loss to Montreal. Tampa Bay seems focused on redemption.  “In a way, I think it was more of a blessing. A lot of us went into the summer with a chip on our shoulder – go out and prove some people wrong.”

In mid-December, the Lightning were tied atop the Atlantic Division and led by some of the game’s best young forward talent, headlined by superstar Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat. At 30, Carle is an anchor of Tampa Bay’s defense core, along with Anton Stralman, Jason Garrison and Victor Hedman. Tampa feels like a third home for Carle, after his Alaska roots and life in Minnesota with his family.

“I feel fortunate to be in this league for nine years now. The moves that I’ve made and the trades that have happened, I don’t want to say they’ve made me a better person. But you don’t take things for granted,” he says. “Any day you’re playing in the NHL is a good day.”

The same can be said for fishing back in his roots to the north.

“To me,” Carle declares, “Alaska will always be home.”

Mat-Su Outsoorsman Show’s Vendor Applications



Shows2006 153  reduced size

The 2015 Mat-Su Outdoorsman Show is now accepting vendor applications for its 10th Annual Show, happening March 27-29, 2015 at the Curtis Menard Sports Complex in Wasilla, Alaska.

As the first outdoor sports show of the year in Alaska, the show annually attracts 5,000-6,000 customers who shop and talk with 100 vendors over the three day event. Thousands of customers with pent-up anticipation from a long Alaska winter come to this show each spring eager to buy, learn about, and talk about outdoor equipment and services.

Visit ourwebsite or call us now to reserve you space at Alaska’s first yearly trade show for outdoor gear and service dealers. Call Tony at (907) 376-6474; or email at





New Year, But An Old Obsession

Lund steelhead 1


Happy 2015 everyone!

This is the start of my second full calendar year here at ASJ, so I hope the ride continues to be (mostly) smooth as we attempt to bring a taste of Alaskan adventure. Our January issue is now available, and in the next couple weeks we’ll tease a little more on our website with a story on Anchorage native Matt Carle, a fishing fanatic who just happens to be one of the more reliable defensemen in the National Hockey League. Our first issue of 2015 had a winter theme, also featuring ice fishing, a ptarmigan hunt on snowshoes hunting sea ducks in the unforgiving Aleutians.

Our Southeast Alaska correspondent Jeff Lund of Prince of Wales Island also contributes a winter story this issue. But one of Jeff passions is also a big part of the Lower 48’s West Coast anglers: winter steelheading.

Here’s Lund’s full story, which captures the obsession that overcomes so many of us this time of year:

Lund steelhead 2


By Jeff Lund 


It’s finally here.

They might not be, but it’s that time of the year that you won’t know for sure unless you go.
Special care is put into assembling the suit because you’re a steelheader now. The warm days of summer salmon are over. You dressed warm during hunting season, but you weren’t standing in water in the dead of winter. This is a different program.
The socks are wool – high-quality wool that will stay put, stay warm and isn’t so thick as to cause crowding in the boots. The boots might be new along with the waders. If not, the holes better be patched because cold water is colder when you have time to notice it. And anyone who has fished for winter steelhead knows all about time.

The excitement of being out slowly wanes after a little while. The initial focus is numbed. You tricked yourself into believing that by being the only, and probably the first, one out there, there was a good chance that there was a chrome hen waiting to be caught. But when that doesn’t happen after the first cast, the first 15 minutes, the first half-hour, the first hour – eventually, the cold becomes more palpable. You were hoping to get lucky. As much as you know and are willing to put in the time, it sure would be nice if you didn’t have to.

You cast and watch your warm breath get overwhelmed by the sharpness of the heatless air.

Then, on an otherwise unremarkable cast to a spot that doesn’t look any fishier than the others, comes the tink. Was it bottom? You didn’t hit a rock on the previous swing, so why would there have been that disruption on its path that time? Frozen guide? You cast again. Nothing happens. Maybe it was on a different line. You try to replicate the cast you made two casts ago which is starting to fade into memory. Three casts. Four casts. Seven casts. By cast No. 11, you’re sure that one of them had to replicate the one that hit the rock you now know is a fish.
That was your chance. If you were going to get one pull the entire day, this was it. The hot girl let down her guard for a second, but you asked her for directions to the bathroom rather than her heart.

So you continue to move downriver, maybe a little more careless and sloppy than before. The pressure is off. The chance has passed.

You’re back to the routine when the line stops, then runs. Fish on.

You wonder what you did but don’t have time to analyze because the excited panic sets in.

It’s all happening. It’s now. A month ago you were hunting for deer. You walked for hours, saw one and it was over in a matter seconds. This is taking minutes. There is a fight you feel in your body, not a pull you feel in your finger. You forgot what this felt like and all you can think to do is focus and keep tension.
Nothing is cold anymore; you feel your way over rocks downriver and toward shore in those clumsy boots. You hadn’t planned a place to land it because it seemed a little presumptuous to do so, as if calling your shot.

Lund steelhead 3


The fish leaves the water; it’s heavy and mean below the surface, then it’s running. It works through a variety of tactics, but you’re still connected. The line comes in slowly. Then it leaves. Back in, back out, more in. You’re gaining. The fish doesn’t break, but it does tire. The first grab around the tail is rejected sternly and the swish of its tail sends icy water up your sleeve. You don’t care, at least not yet. You get the line back, reach for the tail and it lets you. You drop the rod, turn the fish on its side and stare at its flanks. You caught fish during the summer because there were so many around. You were just hoping for one chance at one fish today; luckily, you got two.

As overwhelmed as you were by the tussle, you know that it can’t stay half-submerged on this sandbar for long. You wanted to catch it, not kill it. So as much as you want to admire it, you only deprive it of water for a few moments, or however long it takes to document the moment digitally. You let it slide from your grasp, feeling the slickness as it leaves you. You follow it move swiftly.

It slows, puts its snout into the current and then becomes part of the river. You keep staring right at it, but can no longer see it.


Lund steelhead 4

You haven’t thought about being cold for a long time. Rather than go right back to fishing, you stand for a few minutes or even find a log to sit on. You’re still alone – the only person out, maybe the first one out. This moment doesn’t happen often. You catch steelhead, but that first winter fish is always special. You’re a year older, but you’re still at it.

You hope every winter starts like this. If it does, you’ll forever feel like you’re living, not just breathing.


Merry Christmas From Alaska Sporting Journal

Kristy and Anna 1

Whenever December rolls around and you’re watching a college football bowl game or even broadcasts of It’s A Wonderful Life, you see that iconic Budweiser commercial.

Even for a California native, moments like this scream out how Christmas should be: snow covering the ground amid twinkling lights and a pastoral scene. So this wherever you’re spending Christmas this season, enjoy yourselves. In our December issue, we profiled the dog-sledding Berington twins, who are now veteran mushers in the Iditarod, “The Last Great Race On Earth.” It made me think of Budweiser commercials. Happy Holidays!

Twin sled dogs 1

By Chris Cocoles
When their sleds and beloved dogs crossed that hallowed ground known as the Iditarod Burled Arch finish line – at almost the exact same time, mind you – in Nome during their first such race together in 2012, twin sisters Anna and Kristy Berington both had numb toes, literally.
Sure, completing the 1,000-plus-mile brutal course from Anchorage to Nome would give any musher cold feet. But given that Anna Berington actually lost some of her appendages from a frostbite incident in her pre-Iditarod career, this was a special moment for the sisters.
The 30-year-olds have become respected competitors in their sport. When they take off from Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on March 7, 2015, it will be their fourth Iditarod together (Kristy, five minutes older, has five appearances to little sis’s three) as part of their Seeing Double Sled Dog Racing organization.
“There are so many times during the race when you want to sleep,” Kristy says, “but so many more when you’re in awe of the scenery and the athletic ability of your dogs and how far you’ve come. That’s when the happy emotions outweigh the crummy emotions.”
It’s safe to say losing parts of your toes would be considered the crummy side of this labor of love.

Twin sled dogs 2

THREE YEARS BEFORE completing her first Iditarod, Anna and her dogs were scheduled to run in the Knik 200, an Iditarod qualifying race in Southcentral Alaska. Having already completed other mid-distance races, Anna wasn’t expecting the ensuing ordeal.
About 10 days earlier, she was on a training run on a rough and unfamiliar trail with Kristy and a longtime mentor, Paul Gebhardt, when her sled tipped over and Anna’s leg was sliced open by a hook used as a sled anchor. The open wound was a 22-inch gash along the front of a thigh.
The twins’ sixth sense had taken over when Kristy, who’d been the rear sled, feared her sister had an issue. Anna had the bloody leg to prove her big sister’s premonition correctly.
At the hospital as the wound was patched up, Anna’s doctor just happened to be a former Iditarod musher; he concluded she’d be OK to participate in the 200-mile race as long as the leg wouldn’t be hit directly and open the stitches.
“I taped some cardboard around my leg as sort of armor, but part of my problem was it got to 55 below (zero) during the Knik 200, and when I stopped at (the halfway mark) I wasn’t active or moving around a whole bunch because it was sore,” Anna recalls.
“I felt like my feet never got warm and looked at my feet were kind of gray. There were no people doctors at the race, but there were vets. And I asked them what I should do. They told me don’t thaw it out if you’re going to keep going.”
(Spoiler alert: she was going to keep going.)
Kristy, also competing in the race, decided if Anna was to go on they’d run together just in case over the final 90 miles. They were rather painful, and at the end of the race she had to go back to the hospital. Doctors eventually had to amputate tips of her toes that were affected by frostbite.
“I was scared and worried about her. I couldn’t believe that she kept going. But when you get to the halfway point, there’s no real way back because you have to get your dogs back anyway,” Kristy says. “I tried not to panic because I didn’t want her to be in any fear or concern for her safety.”
Anna’s attitude was, “If you can’t take of yourself, you can’t take care of your dog team.”
She had become Alaska tough.

Twin sled dogs 4

WHEN KRISTY BERINGTON was born in February 1984, her new mom, Janet, was not expecting a second daughter’s appearance minutes later.
“Obviously we were there, but I don’t remember,” jokes Kristy, “but I know my grandma called and asked how my mom was doing; my dad said, ‘Oh, Janet’s fine and so are the babies, and they’re with their mom.’ My grandma said, ‘Wait, wait, wait – what did you say? Babies?’ We only had one crib that our older sister, Kat, used. It was just enough for one baby, so everyone in the town chipped in and got another crib.”
That was the down-home closeness of the Beringtons’ tiny hometown, Port Wing, Wis., which is in the extreme northern part of the state along the coast of Lake Superior, about 60 miles due east of Duluth, Minn.
It was a great place to grow up for another reason. Anna calls Port Wing, population 250 or so, “a vast playground.”
“Our mom kind of trusted us to take care of each other, so we would go down and play at the lake,” Anna says. “We were pretty independent and go out on our own and ride horses or go swimming in the lake.”
There were also brutal Wisconsin winters to find activities befitting such a cold climate. And while Anna and Kristy played basketball and volleyball at South Shore High School, a neighbor, Lisa Chaplin, dabbled with dog sledding and recruited 10-year-olds Anna and Kristy to help out with feeding of her dogs and learning how to drive a sled. According to the Beringtons’ website (, “they figured they would try it out with a set of skis, a milk crate, and a slightly perplexed dog team made up of a border collie and a great Pyrenees.
“Lisa was our first mentor,” Kristy says of their neighbor. “She had us over there feeding the dogs and running small teams. Our dogs, whether they liked it or not, were harnessed as sled dogs overnight. The rest of them were sheep dogs and other herding dogs.”
Anna and Kristy loved the camaraderie with the animals and they were mesmerized by a Disney movie, Iron Will, about a young man who honors his late father and helps his family’s financial woes by competing in a grueling and dangerous sled dog race.
A couple years later, the girls participated in their first junior race with four dogs and covered 4 miles. Little did they know it was the foundation that would eventually transform the sisters to the Last Frontier and compete in the “Last Great Race on Earth.”

Twin sled dogs 5

THINK ABOUT WHEN you were 18, fresh out of high school with boundless opportunities but unsure of what you wanted to do with your life. Kristy and Anna Berington felt that way.
“We were both kind of indecisive on if we wanted to go and study in college and then having to pay for it. Looking at a military option like the National Guard felt like a great choice,” Kristy says. “We both loved adventure, and the recruiter did a good job on selling that part of the military. And there was adventure, and it taught us a lot of good skills that you would apply in your life as far as discipline and taking responsibility.”
It wasn’t going to be a lifelong career choice, but there were some memorable moments. The 6-foot blonde sisters’ identical looks even created a bit of confusion at boot camp as they weren’t in the same unit. The punchline turned out to be on them.
“Our drill sergeants didn’t even know there were twins in our unit,” Kristy says. “I remember getting yelled at by one of her drill sergeants because I was in the wrong spot at the wrong time. When I said he wasn’t my drill sergeant, he got really upset. I started doing pushups until my arms were falling off. Anna came up with her platoon and he figured it out. He was embarrassed and he made both of us do pushups.”
When their service time ended, the Beringtons quickly found out after a couple college semesters, they had the urge to search for more adrenaline. They eventually matriculated not on campus, but in the backcountry of Lake Tahoe in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. They’d spend their winters working for a dog sled touring business, and summers literally living in a tent atop a mountain and helping out at a horse stable.
“We wanted to see what else was out there,” Anna says.
“What else” would become Alaska.

KRISTY BERINGTON VISITED Alaska in 2007 and met Dean Osmar, a legend among dog mushers and the 1984 Iditarod winner. He offered Kristy an opportunity to learn the competitive side of raising and racing sled dogs.
“When she got back down she said, ‘I got us a job in Alaska,’ and I was like, ‘OK, when are we leaving?’” Anna says. “We packed up what we had. We landed in the right spot, so we were pretty lucky; I guess Alaska had always been calling us.”
Osmar is just one of several Berington mentors in the tight-clad dog musher community of Alaska. Veteran sledder Gebhardt took Kristy under his wing and Anna trained with Osmar and Iditarod regular Scott Janssen.
They first settled down in Kasilof on the Kenai Peninsula. They have since moved to Knik, north of Anchorage. Where in summer they’ll work several odd jobs to pay the bills, their winter season is all about racing their dogs.
Under the tutelage of the Osmars, Gebhardts and Janssens, Anna and Kristy learned the little details and idiosyncrasies of the sport. Gebhardt would take them on long-distance overnight campout trips with the dogs into the Alaskan bush; it was a phenomenon the twins never experienced. Gebhardt went through his routine of preparing his team to get started again for a potential race situation, again giving Anna and Kate behind-the-scenes access to a true professional.
“You pick that up. By watching Paul on these camping trips and in mid-distance races, you think to yourself, ‘OK, that’s how he’s so fast at that, or that’s how he saves so much time,’” Anna says. “So it really helps us get better at what we do.”
Kristy says Gebhardt offered valuable advice on how to properly care for these magnificent working dogs and preventing ailments that are part of the grind of sled dog racing (she’s won multiple veterinarian awards after several races).
“It takes years of experience to look at a dog and see that if the gait is off that there’s something wrong, or if they’re not having a good day that something is bothering them. You have to try and figure it out what is and give them the best treatment possible to get them back running again.”

Editor's note

SLED DOG RACING is not a get-rich-quick deal. The sport’s premier event earnings for the champion equates to about $50,000 plus a new truck. But the cost to care for the dogs year-round, pay for the race’s entry fees, equipment and transportation would cancel out the winnings in a hurry.
For less heralded mushers like the Beringtons, there’s little money to be made (Anna’s career earnings in her three Iditarods: $3,147; Kristy’s won $6,947 in five tries). Yet, spend some time chatting with the twins and they might as well be millionaires for how fired up they are to participate in the upcoming Iditarod prep events before competing in their sport’s World Series in March. They’ve come a long way since the skis, milk crate and hooking up their border collie and Great Pyrenees to that makeshift sled in Port Wing.
When Kristy made her race debut in 2010, she could count up the miles ridden in the qualifying races to equal the Iditarod’s approximate 1,000 miles.
“I always felt like I was so underprepared. I was pretty nervous over everything,” she says of her 39th-place finish. “But it all turned out to be a great experience, and that’s why I did it four more times.”
Three of those were extra special because of who joined her among the last three finishers. The 2012 race will always carry heavier sentimental weight.
They ran together from checkpoint to checkpoint. They encouraged each other, helped each other when there was an issue with a dog or equipment problem.
“It helped us to have some support. We’ve heard other people disagree, that maybe one of us was holding our dog team back to run with the other,” Anna says. “But you really had to be there to see what was actually going on.”
And as the Beringtons’ times two completed checkpoint after checkpoint, sometimes leaving behind a candy bar or other items along the course for the next sled to pick up, they decided to finish this one together.
Fans watching on Front Street in Nome literally did see double when the two sleds full of determined dogs and the lookalike blondes piloting them side-by-side headed for the finish line. They clasped and raised their hands in unison and stopped at the finish line, but it was determined that Anna’s lead dogs were already across the timing spot just before Kristy’s reached (Kristy was running just 11 dogs to Anna’s 12 after one suffered a minor injury and was with the vets).
It was a storybook 43rd- and 44th-place showing for the sisters, who are now making this uniquely Alaskan tradition an annual event.
“I think there was a moment of ‘we made it,’ from all of our little dreams when we were kids,” one twin says.
Adds the other: “I think if we could go back in time and tell our 10-year-old selves, ‘Hey, you’re going to run five Iditarods with your own dogs,’ we wouldn’t have believed it.”

Editor’s note: For more information on the Berington sisters or to donate to help fund the expenses of sled dog racing and care for the dogs, check out their website,

Avian Flu Discovered In Wild Birds Shouldn’t Affect Alaska Hunts

Photo by Yukon National Wildlife Refuge

Photo by Yukon National Wildlife Refuge

 As our Northwest Sportsman editor du jour Andy Walgamott pointed out, birds in Washington and Oregon have been diagnosed as carrying avian flu and for hunters there to err on the side of caution when it comes to handling birds. Alaska Department of Fish and Game sent out a release stating hunting will likely not be affected by the outbreak. Here’s the release:

Avian influenza has been confirmed recently in wild birds in northwestern Washington and southwestern Oregon, but risks are negligible to waterfowl and waterfowl hunters in Alaska where hunting seasons remain open in some regions.

“This is primarily a waterfowl issue in Washington and Oregon, but can be a threat to domestic poultry,” said Alaska Department of Fish and Game Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. Kimberlee Beckmen. “It’s unlikely to pose any threat to Alaska’s waterfowl populations and these strains have never been found to infect humans.”

Two strains of highly pathogenic H5 virus – H5N2 and H5N8 – were found earlier this month in Whatcom County, Washington. The H5N2 strain was confirmed in a northern pintail duck, while the H5N8 virus was verified in a captive gyrfalcon that had been fed hunter-killed wild birds. In Winston, Oregon, the H5N8 avian influenza was identified in a small backyard poultry flock that had open access to a pond and marsh that wild waterfowl commonly use.

“The term ‘highly pathogenic’ means it is highly pathogenic to domestic poultry and says nothing about its potential impacts on wild birds or pets or humans,” said Dr. Beckmen. Outbreaks of H5N8 have occurred in domestic fowl across Europe and Asia over the last year with no associated cases in humans.

Avian flu concerns have prompted increased surveillance of wild birds in Alaska in the past. Between 2006 and 2010, nearly 57,000 birds were tested for H5N1, and none tested positive for the virus. The Alaska Departments of Fish and Game, Environmental Conservation, and the U.S. Geological Survey are performing surveillance testing for avian influenza.

“Neither H5N2 nor H5N8 have been found in Alaska,” said DEC State Veterinarian Dr. Bob Gerlach.

Alaska waterfowl hunting seasons remain open through December 31 in Southeast and through January 22, 2015, around Kodiak Island and the Aleutian Chain. While no public health concerns have been associated with either H5N2 or H5N8 avian influenza strains, these cases serve as reminders that wildlife can carry pathogens of many kinds. As always, Alaska hunters should practice routine hygiene when handling, cleaning and cooking wild game. The Department of Fish and Game recommends the following:

  • Do not handle or eat obviously sick game.
  • Wear rubber or disposable latex gloves while handling and cleaning game.
  • Wash hands and thoroughly clean knives, equipment and surfaces that come into contact with game.
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke while handling animals.
  • All game should be thoroughly cooked (meat internal temperature of 165 °F).

Poultry owners can protect backyard flocks by taking measures to prevent them from interacting with wild birds. Neither H5N2 nor H5N8 have been found in any commercial poultry flocks.

Dead or sick domestic birds should be reported to the DEC at (907) 375-8215; for more information, contact Dr. Bob Gerlach in Anchorage at 375-8214. Dead or sick wild birds should be reported to ADF&G Wildlife Health and Disease Surveillance Program, phone: (907) 328-8354, email:; or to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Avian Disease Hotline at 1-866-527-3358.

Bristol Bay Spared From Oil, But What About Mining?


We’ve been on deadline for the last few days, so apologies for just getting to this, but President Obama announced Bristol Bay, which has been in the news from an environmental standpoint for a while now, will be spared of any oil and gas drilling, but what this means for the proposed Pebble Mine?


The resource of Bristol Bay is “too precious to be put out to the highest bidder,” said the President.  The Obama order applies to the bay, and not to the multi-billion-dollar proposed Pebble Mine, which would be located between two of Bristol Bay’s most productive salmon spawning streams.

“This action safeguards one of the nation’s most productive fisheries and preserves an ecologically rich area of the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska that is vital to the fishing and tourism economy and to native communities,” said the President.

The news was applauded by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., a longtime opponent of both oil and gas leasing in Bristol Bay, and a critic who helped persuade the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to study impacts of the Pebble Mine.

“This decision affirms that we will not put fishing jobs at risk in the home of the nation’s most productive commercial fishery,” said Cantwell.




ASJ Correspondent Wins Award


Apologies for not getting this out yesterday, but a hearty congratulations are in order for our correspondent Christine Cunningham.

From the Kenai Peninsula Clarion: 

Kenai resident Christine Cunningham was still unable to process the announcement that she was the 2014 winner of the Prois Award hours after receiving the news Monday.

The Prois Award celebrates female hunters who are passionate about hunting and dedicated to their community, conservation and the betterment of hunting in the future, according to the Prois website. Cunningham will receive Prois hunting apparel, boots, game bags, packs and spend a five-day, two-species hunt in Namibia, Africa with Mogwadiri Safaris.

Longtime hunting partner and close friend Steve Meyer said when he introduced Cunningham to the sport in 2006, she immediately showed some natural skill.

“It was like creating a monster,” Meyer said. “She just fell in love with it.”




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.”