Category Archives: Featured Content

When It All Goes To Hell

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The following appears in the March issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:

BY KRYSTIN AND BIXLER MCCLURE

Be prepared. Those are the best two words of advice we can offer anyone planning a trip in Alaska.

Most of the time, our fishing and hunting adventures in the wilds of Alaska run smoothly, making us wonder why we cart around so many extra supplies. Then we have one of those adventures, the type with compounding problems where we make it out safely due to our preparations and a bit of Alaskan ingenuity.

Our trip to Tolovana Hot Springs was one of those adventures. The area is a remote wilderness resort some 105 road miles north of Fairbanks and 10 miles down a difficult up-and-down trail. There are three cabins to rent and three tubs fed by natural hot springs in the area. The setting is extremely remote and the trailhead is simply a turnout at Milepost 93 of the Elliot Highway. Surprisingly, though the hot springs are popular, we managed to squeeze in a midweek reservation in early February. And the die was cast.

 

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BIXLER AND I brainstormed potential problems we might have while loading up our truck. Our new-to-us snowmachines were Polaris RMKs, circa 2000, that were running great. Bixler grabbed extra coolant, two-stroke oil and tools, just in case. I checked the weather.

Fairbanks and the area north was forecast to be about 0 degrees F or slightly below, so we packed warm clothes and grabbed a generator for the block heater on our old diesel truck.

We grabbed our satellite phone and GPS. We packed guns and snowshoes and a shovel. Bixler checked over our snowmachines and trailer. Everything looked good and soon we found ourselves on the 10-hour drive north to Fairbanks to stay with friends before heading to the hot springs.

Somewhere on the highway near Cantwell, the windshield on my snowmachine broke off. Not a big deal since I have a full face helmet, so we simply ripped it off the snowmachine. After a night in Fairbanks, we headed north to the trailhead through the remote and lonely wilderness of the Steese and Elliot Highways. The Elliot Highway was rough, but the trailhead was easy to find since the turnout contained the only other cars on the entire road.

Bixler unloaded the snowmachines while I prepared the trailer. Because of the cold, much of our food that I did not want to freeze went into a cooler inside the truck, along with our water and other clothing. For some unknown reason, while I was packing the sled I felt nervous, as if I was having a premonition of things to come. Bixler felt the same, especially when he warmed up his snowmachine and realized it was idling high.

“We are going anyway,” Bixler said as he packed snow on the rails of the snowmachine to help with the cooling, and then hitched up the sled.

As we hooked up our gear, another couple who had been to the hot springs before came up and said, “Good luck.” Bixler and I looked at each other, wondering what they meant.

I felt better as we zipped down the trail, well-packed and easy to follow. We stopped a few times to repack snow on the cooling system since Bixler’s high-revving snowmachine was overheating. Our last stop was when we climbed to the top of the dome towering above the hot springs.

We were greeted by sweeping views of the Interior – the powerful sight of Denali shining on the horizon. A few other hot springs users were enjoying the view, but gave us the odd comment of, “You came all the way from Seward for this?”

The comment churned in our heads for the duration of the trip. Was it a premonition or a curse?

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AS WE HEADED downhill, the brake on Bixler’s snowmachine overheated and started seeping brake fluid since the idle was so high. We stopped on a downhill slope to rest the snowmachine while the fluid returned to Bixler’s brake lines.

He was frustrated by the high idle. Since we were less than a mile from the cabin, we decided to push onwards. Bixler used the choke switch to control speed and stopped when his brake was acting up again. Thankfully, we made it safely to the cabin. Bixler inspected his snowmachine and realized the throttle cable was caked with ice, causing the cable to not release all the way. A quick removal of the ice and the snowmachine was back to idling properly.

The cabin was a one-room wonder, well-stocked and comfortable. We spent four days leisurely following a regimen of eat, sleep, soak, read, view the northern lights and snowmachine. The weather was bitterly cold and made worse due to fierce winds, so we dressed warmly in our Arctic coveralls (used by oil workers on the North Slope) and brought our satellite phone everywhere when venturing far from the cabin.

Ever since El Niño arrived in Seward, our snow has been dwindling, so we took advantage of the many snowmachine trails in the area. We followed a trail and Bixler shot a sharptailed grouse, the first of that species for us. We followed the trail onward to a frozen riverbed and stopped to look for more birds.

When we returned to our snowmachines, I found that mine would not start. No amount of pulling the pull-start would get it to budge. We carry numerous spark plugs and a toolset in the seat of our snowmachines, so we started pulling spark plugs.

Eventually, we got the thing started, but then I got it stuck again and it stalled. We repeated the changing of the spark plugs and the clearing of the excess fuel and I sped back to the cabin.

Bixler did some light maintenance and found some ice caked around the kill switch. My snowmachine fired right up the next day with no problems. Bixler took his up to the top of the dome to look for birds and returned, noting a coolant leak in his snowmachine.

“I left the coolant in the truck,” he said with a big sigh. His coolant was low, but the leak abated. We contemplated how to get my excess coolant out of my snowmachine into his and headed back inside when we were too cold and windblown to continue.

Sitting inside the cabin, I noticed a bottle of Windex sitting on the shelf. I grabbed the bottle and removed the squirting part of it, cleaning out the excess Windex. We dipped the tube into my coolant and squirted it into a cup. Bixler fashioned a funnel out of a paper plate and evened out the coolant between the two snowmachines.

The problem seemed to be solved, but both of us still woke up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat (for once, not caused by overloading the wood stove), and worrying about the ride out.

 

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WE DID ONE last check over the snowmachines and hooked up the sled. Everything appeared to be working as we headed back up the steep hill to the top of the dome. Bixler and I sped up the trail with little problems, though I swore my snowmachine was struggling in places. Bixler got ahead of me and stopped on the trail to wait. I came up behind him and threw on the brake.

My snowmachine died.

Bixler continued ahead and got stuck in a snowdrift and realized I was not behind him. He walked down the trail to try to help me restart my snowmachine. No luck. I walked up with him and got his snowmachine unstuck. After digging out his mode of transport and dragging the sled uphill by hand, we started to devise a worst-case plan. Bixler would drive our gear back to the truck while I tried to restart my snowmachine. If I could not get it started, I would walk back towards the truck and meet him on the trail when he came back.

I grabbed water, food, ice cleats and something warm for my head – hiking in a helmet is impossible – and gave Bixler one last push uphill.

I walked back to my snowmachine and managed to get it restarted. It struggled for power and died again in the same snowdrift. It would not restart. I took off my helmet, put on ice cleats for traction and a hat and facemask to combat the weather and started the walk out.

When I reached the top of the dome I again ran into Bixler, who had dropped off our sled and topped off his coolant. He planned to try to unstick my snowmachine and ride it up to me so I could ride it out.

He sped downhill and I followed on foot. Bixler unstuck my snowmachine from the drift, but it died again. He restarted it and sped uphill, screaming at me to run after it. My trek to the top of the dome wore me out and I ran as fast my legs could push me. As soon as I reached my snowmachine, it sputtered and shut off.

As a last resort, we tried to use our tow straps to tow it out, but Bixler’s snowmachine could not pull it up the steep icy hill. We made the executive decision to abandon it in place with a note stuck in the brake handle, still 9 miles from the trailhead.

We rode two-up on Bixler’s snowmachine back to the truck. During the trek, we ran into a family from North Pole on snowmachines and explained the situation. They offered to try to get mine out since we had to return to Fairbanks.

“Oh yeah, we’ll help. We’re all Alaskans, right?” he joked as he explained that their touring snowmachines had enough power to tow just about anything.

We returned to the truck and loaded the one snowmachine into the trailer. Bixler went to start the truck, which was sluggish.

“Will anything go right today?” he yelled through the fierce winds at the trailhead as we wrestled the generator out of the truck. We plugged the generator into the block heater and 20 minutes after warming the oil we had the truck started. It was that kind of a day.

 

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DRIVING BACK TO Fairbanks, we contemplated what to do about the abandoned snowmachine. Bixler decided to call our friend Neil, a student at University of Alaska Fairbanks and a snowmachiner, to see if any of his friends wanted to rescue a cheap and abandoned snowmachine in the wilderness. Neil jumped at the idea, and while we nursed beers at Silver Gulch brewery, Neil organized a lightning-strike rescue operation with some fellow friends from UAF.

The next morning, we loaded up Neil’s new Polaris RMK on our trailer and headed back to the trailhead with Neil and his friend, Adam. The four of us drove up to the trailhead, laughing at an abandoned trailer parked in the middle of the Elliot Highway with a broken axle.

We parked back at the trailhead and went to pull the snowmachines off of our trailer. Bixler stepped out of the truck and spewed a string of expletives. Our axle had cracked on both sides of the trailer, causing the tires to lean inward. At this point all we could do was laugh because everything could go wrong did go wrong in a classic case of Murphy’s Law taunting us.

I stayed behind at the truck, restarting it every hour for about 15 minutes to circulate the oil. Bixler, Adam and Neil started down the trail. A few hours later, the family from North Pole arrived and updated me on the situation. They had ridden my snowmachine up and over the dome and the guys had taken over from there. Bixler arrived first on my snowmachine, which made it back to the trailhead after a combination of towing using Neil’s new Polaris RMK, and the fact that it started for the final uphill trek to the trailhead.

Adam followed on Bixler’s snowmachine, which had broken a ski strut and was held together with a piece of rope that we also carry with us during these adventures. Neil came out last and inspected his snowmachine, which had a slight crack because he had run into a tree.

“This trip is cursed,” I said when the three arrived back at the truck, which was warming up.

Contemplating what to do with the two snowmachines, we decided to load them onto the broken trailer since our trailer was insured. Bixler used our satellite phone and called his mother, Sue, who went to our house to check over our trailer policy. Roadside assistance was covered.

Before loading Neil’s snowmachine into the bed of our truck, we had to get the trailer hitch off the ball. I suggested we lock it up for safety and we struggled with the frozen lock. The antifreeze did not do the trick, so out came the trusty generator. We used the exhaust to thaw out the lock and dropped the trailer in its final resting place.

Bixler talked with the insurance company and arranged for the $500 tow to a trailer repair shop in Fairbanks (the tow truck driver spent 10 hours towing our broken combination back to Fairbanks thanks to a rough road, so he wasn’t spared either). We organized a shuttling mission with Neil and Adam to shuttle our broken snowmachines to Adam’s house, where they would be put on sale on Craigslist.

We loaded up our truck with the remaining gear and had a flawless drive back to Seward. We all came out of the ordeal unscathed – less a trailer and two snowmachines, of course – because of proper planning and anticipation of what could go wrong.

In Alaska, be prepared for anything. It helps to have some great friends, too. ASJ

PREPARING FOR THE WORST 

Alaska can be a harsh place, and it’s hard to anticipate what can go wrong in a cold and remote wilderness. We got out of our situation because we were well-prepared for a variety of scenarios. If you are planning an adventure in Alaska, consider some of these preparation tips, especially if you’re adventuring in the winter or going remote:

TAKE IT FOR A TEST RIDE

Before we left Seward, we tested our truck and snowmachines and checked essential fluids in both. Oftentimes, a problem will present itself with a simple test ride.

REDUNDANCY

We had two snowmachines similar in size, two tow hitches, two tow straps and eight spark plugs for a reason. Redundancy allows for a safe return from the wilderness, because if one thing goes wrong, you have a backup to work with. If you are a snowmachiner and want to go remote, bring a friend with one or be prepared for a long walk out.

BRING TOOLS, FLUIDS AND ROPE 

A basic set of tools, a few feet of rope and essential fluids can save a snowmachine trip. Most snowmachines have a small storage place for these items. If not, throw these into a backpack. You never know when you might need them.

CONTEMPLATE THE COLD

Cold makes everything infinitely more difficult, especially with a broken snowmachine or sluggish truck. Check the weather before you go and dress accordingly. Bring clothes for all parts of your body, including your face. If you are carrying water, consider an insulated container or zipping up your water bottle in your jacket. If you are worried about your car starting, a generator and extension cord can do wonders (it also unlocks locks, too!).

INVEST IN A SATELLITE PHONE 

Alaska does not have statewide cell service like most places. Satellite phones can be rented or you can purchase one with an Alaskan-specific plan to cut down on costs for minutes.

BECOME AN ALASKAN MACGYVER

Use your brain and the supplies you have. You’d be surprised what you can fix with rope, a Leatherman and the weirdest of items, like a Windex bottle and a paper plate! –KM

Play Bracketology For Anglers

Courtesy of Trout Unlimited

Courtesy of Cheeky Fishing

 

This is such a fun time of year to be a sports fan. Pro basketball and hockey are into the stretch drive toward the playoffs, and baseball teams are preparing for the season at spring training. But in March, for me most other sports take a backseat to college basketball and the NCAA Tournament. March Madness – which I eventually found out the NCAA swiped from the Illinois high school basketball state tournament – has become a national obessiion. Filling out a bracket to choose the winners of the 68-team hoops orgy has become must do, not just by fans like me but my Bob in accounting and Betty in human resources. One of my colleagues here asked if March Madness involved hockey last season (she suprisingly didn’t win our office pool; then again, neither did I!). But she isn’t the only one who bases her picks off nicknames, school colors or whatever else one who doesn’t watch the game uses for the logic of picking UAB to beat powerful Iowa State (of course that happened last March, which is the point of the whole Madness thing).

Anyway, back to the point of this, which is fishing. Such a big part of pop culture has March Madness become that you can find a “bracket” to pick in just about any category you can think of. Check out this list that includes staging a tournament to decide, best Will Ferrell flicks (I have a Final Four of Old School, Talladega Nights, Anchorman and in one of the few times he actually “acted,” Stranger Than Fiction; candy brands (Reese’s vs. peanut M&M’s in the final); Muppets (those smart-asses from the balcony could pull off a first-round upset over Miss Piggy or Gonzo, but Kermit the Frog is the Kentucky of this tournament); and boy bands (do the Beach Boys qualify?).

So we give you CheekyFishing.com, a rod and reel retailer, which is staging a March Madness-style bracket tournament – “The Road To The Final Fish” – to determine the national champion of gamefish. It’s a great cause – the $10 donation benefits Trout Unlimted and Casting For Recovery, with several prizes. So enter here and make your picks. Watch out for that possible second-round matchup of king salmon vs. rainbow trout; that’s more like an Elite 8 game!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gold Rush Season Finale Is Friday

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From our friends at the Discovery Channell:

GOLD RUSH – SEASON 6 FINAL
Airing Friday, March 4 from 9-11 PM ET/PT on the Discovery Channel

As the Klondike winter closes in, the final race for gold intensifies. Todd runs two massive washplants, Tony pushes to get his dredge out of the water before it freezes and Grandpa John comes to see if Parker has beaten his rival Todd. Then, Parker, Todd and Tony appear together on the set of the Dirt to discuss the epic season finale.

 

 

 

 

Deadliest Catch Captain Sig Hansen Suffers Heart Attack

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We’ve written two stories on Deadliest Catch crab skipper Sig Hansen, including a cover story (with the above photo) of Sig and his daughter Mandy, who has followed in her dad’s footsteps.

Unfortunately, Sig Hansen suffered an apparent heart attack aboard his ship, the Northwestern, during filming.

Yahoo news has more:

Hansen regained consciousness and wanted to continue fishing for crab, but crew members convinced him to seek medical attention. He was then airlifted to a local hospital.

Hansen’s daughter posted a picture on Instagram (later removed) of herself, her father and her mother at the hospital where Hansen is recovering. The caption read, “Capt survived the ‘widowmaker’ !! Beating a heart attack ain’t easy. Welcome back boss.”

“Deadliest Catch” premiered on Discovery in 2002, with Hansen serving as a star and technical adviser on the show since it began.

Back in August, Tony Lara, another captain who had appeared on the show, died of an apparent heart attack while attending the annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota. He was 50.

Best wishes for a speedy recovery to Sig.

 

 

 

Alaska Parks In Running For Premier Wildlife Viewing

 

 

Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge (Lisa Hupp/USFWS)

Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge (Lisa Hupp/USFWS)

Arctic NWR (Robin West/USFWS)

Arctic NWR (Robin West/USFWS)

 

Becharof NWR (USFWS)

Becharof NWR (USFWS)

 

Denali National Park (Lian Law/NPS)

Denali National Park (Lian Law/NPS)

 

USA Today has a fun poll that allows visitors to vote for the best place to see wildlife in the country.

Not suprisingly, Yellowstone National Park leads the voting. Even less of a shock: three Alaska national wildlife refuges and a national park are in the Top 20 so far. Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge leads the way at No. 4, followed by Denali National Park (fifth), Arctic NWR (ninth) and Becharof NWR (13th).

Voting continues through March 28.

 

 

 

 

Chefs Teaming Up To Protect Wild Salmon

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From our friend Mark Titus, director of The Breach film that we featured last year in ASJ.

 

A Tale of Two Toms

Two of America’s most vibrant and dynamic chefs are stepping up to help save Bristol Bay’s storied wild salmon runs.

Tom Douglas – (aka Tom D – or West Coast Tom if you prefer) has been an active supporter of The Breach from the very beginning.  Tom D appears in the film, is a co-producer on it and has supported us time and again as we’ve moved the movie and our message out into the world:  #EatWildSaveWild.  As a high profile restaurateur, Tom has long been an enthusiastic booster of regional food sources, such as local organic farms, Washington wines, and Pacific Northwest fish and seafood. The company’s goal of “deliciousness served with graciousness” includes a commitment to the future of wild salmon. Wild salmon is a treasured, sustainable resource that this company considers to be economically, ecologically, and culturally essential to the Pacific Northwest region.  Tom D is partnering with The Breach yet again to help save the legendary sustainable wild salmon runs of Bristol Bay.  25% of each rental or sale of the film goes directly to Save Bristol Bay.  You can join Tom in his efforts by clicking right HERE.  (You’ll also get a super easy + delicious how-to video we shot on the fly to make a delicious wild salmon dish with wild Bristol Bay salmon from a CAN!)

Tom Collichio – (Tom C to keep things straight, representing the East Coast) was awarded his first three stars from The New York Times as executive chef of Mondrian. Since 2006, Tom C has been applying his experience and expertise to cable television as the head judge on Bravo’s hit reality cooking series “Top Chef.”  Tom appears in and served as executive producer on the 2012 documentary, A Place at the Table which has become the starting point for a national movement centered on ending hunger in the United States. Tom co-founded Food Policy Action in 2012 in collaboration with national food policy leaders, in order to hold legislators accountable on votes that have an effect on food and farming. He has been an outspoken voice on issues like GMO labeling and the use of antibiotics in food sources, and he continues to lobby for better anti-hunger policies in America.  I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Tom C and his team in their headquarters in New York last year, discussing the vital importance of saving Bristol Bay’s wild salmon runs and supporting them by eating them!  Last night, Tom tweeted out his support for Bristol Bay’s wild salmon by renting or buying the Breach.  Same deal as Tom D.  25% of each transaction will go to Save Bristol Bay.    Here’s Tom’s Tweet right HERE.

 

Tom Douglas – “West Coast Tom”
Tom Collichio – “East Coast Tom”
Upcoming 2016 theatrical screenings for The Breach can be found by clicking right HERE.

TONIGHT, the film will screen at the legendary Bijou Art Cinemas in Eugene Oregon as part of the inaugural PIELC film festival.  This is a thrill, as I used to go to many-a-movie at the Bijou when I was a student at the U of O in the early 90’s.  Click for details right HERE.

Of particular excitement for me is a trip back to Eugene next week to participate in the 2016 Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC). I’ve been asked to deliver a Keynote Address on Saturday March 6th.  We’ll screen the film later that day.   You can find all the details about that by clicking rightHERE.

Thank you for your continued support and passion for wild salmon.  We hope to  have one last round of fireworks with The Breach in 2016.  Stay tuned for details and remember to #EatWildSaveWild….

Safari Club Alaska Banquet Coming Soon

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Here’s some info on the Alaska chapter of Safari Club International banquet in Anchorage, and the feature that is running in the February issue of Alaska Sporting Journal. 

Come on out and join us on February 26th and 27th for the 40th annual Alaska Chapter of Safari Club Internationals Hunting Expo and Sportsman’s Banquet.
Tons of great hunt auction, gear and rifle raffles.
It’s a great time to meet and reunite with fellow hunters from around the state.
Tickets: http://www.aksafariclub.org/ or call (907) 980-9018

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BY EDDIE GRASSER AND 

DAVE MELLUM  

Alaska became a state just over 50 years ago, and the Last Frontier remains the last great mecca for America’s anglers and hunters. However, there are storm clouds on the horizon.

It’s true that while outdoor traditions remain strong here in Alaska, there are those who would deny us our cultural traditions that date back thousands of years. Those of us who were here at statehood in 1959 could have never imagined that our way of life would be subjected to determined attacks to end those ancient traditions. Fortunately, for much of our existence as a state we’ve had effective organizations that have held the line in the battle to preserve the freedom to hunt.

One of those organizations is Safari Club International (SCI) and its Alaska Chapter (AKSCI), which has been standing up for hunters for much of Alaska’s existence as a state. SCI is the world’s largest hunter-conservationist nonprofit, and, as its motto so clearly states, is “First for Hunters.”

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PRESERVING TRADITIONS 

SCI has four mission areas, with the three most important being preserving the freedom to hunt, conservation of wildlife and education of the general public and future hunters. The fourth mission area is humanitarian services.

In Alaska, AKSCI led the fight to defeat anti-hunters at the ballot box twice in the last decade.

We’ve successfully worked with SCI National to take on the feds, where they have misinterpreted the law, and we are currently the only hunting conservation group to file an amicus brief on the very important Sturgeon Case, which is now before the U.S. Supreme Court (SCI member John Sturgeon has challenged the National Park Service’s regulations on waters in Alaska’s national preserves).

We maintain full-time lobbyists in Juneau and in Washington, D.C., and SCI is the leading champion of political candidates who support hunting through our political action committee, SCI-PAC.

AKSCI is a major supporter of conservation in Alaska and abroad. Perhaps the best example of our commitment to wildlife was our leadership role in re-
introducing wood bison to the Alaskan landscape. We’ve also funded several wildlife management projects such as the chronic wasting disease study on Kodiak Island for Sitka blacktail deer.

Our efforts for education and humanitarian services are also well established. Every year we sponsor youth outdoor education programs, the Becoming an Outdoors-Woman program, National Archery in the Schools program and the Youth Education Leadership Program. Along with the numerous outdoor and conservation education programs, AKSCI is heavily involved in providing outdoor adventures to disabled veterans and our Friday evening banquet at our annual Hunting Expo is fully dedicated to America’s heroes.

As a leading chapter within SCI, ours has been recognized as the premier chapter worldwide four times in the last decade, winning four Top Gun Awards and one Diamond Conservation Award. We were excited this past fall to learn we just won our fifth Top Gun Award for 2014 and also our second Diamond Conservation Award, to be presented at the national convention in Las Vegas. Each of these prestigious awards is given to only one chapter from nearly 200 in the world.

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A CELEBRATION OF SUCCESS

This month will mark the 40th anniversary of AKSCI’s annual Hunting Expo and Sportsman’s Banquet. From its humble beginning to its current status as the world’s “Top Gun” chapter, AK
SCI continues its fight to protect Alaskan hunter-conservationists. This year’s event will be held Friday and Saturday, Feb. 26 and 27, at the Dena’ina Center in Anchorage.

The event will consist of banquets, silent auctions, raffles, taxidermy competition, photo contest, gun drawings, hunting seminars, visiting outfitters from throughout the world, and perhaps the most incredible live auction you will ever witness.

This two-day live auction event is unparalleled in both size and offerings, and will feature over 80 hunting and fishing trips valued at over $500,000. There will be trips from North America (Alaska Governor’s Dall sheep tag, muskox, moose, whitetail deer, mountain lion, elk, antelope, aoudad sheep, wild hog, javelina, pheasant, plus many more); Africa (both plains game and dangerous game, including elephant, Cape buffalo and darted rhino); New Zealand (red stag, chamois, tahr); South America; Europe; Belize; Australia and more.

If you have ever wanted to be a participant in what can only be described as the ultimate sportsman’s “bucket list” auction, you simply must attend this event.

NEW SCI LOGO_MASTER copy

 

FOR THE NEXT GENERATION

As Alaska’s sportsmen and -women living here, we are able to experience the finest hunting and fishing the world has to offer. The Alaska Chapter of Safari Club International is working hard, as evidenced by the Top Gun and Diamond Conservation Awards mentioned above, to preserve the freedom to hunt for us and for
future generations.

Our annual fundraiser allows us to give all hunters the opportunity to continue their heritage. We would ask you to please help us in our effort by becoming a member of AKSCI and by joining us at our upcoming
banquet. ASJ

Editor’s note: For more information on available hunts and other adventures, or to purchase tickets, please visitaksafariclub.org. You can purchase tickets or full tables online or by calling (907) 980-9018 or email admin@aksafariclub.org. For sponsor tables call (907) 841-0358 or email eddie@aksafariclub.org

 

From Florida To Alaska

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The following appears in the February issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:

 

 

BY CHRIS COCOLES 

TV filmmaker Graham Morton is reeling up something big from deep below the surface off Sitka. He and his guide, Capt. Klinton Chambers, share theories about what exactly is on the other end of the line.

“I think there’s a boot on the end.”

“A concrete block? Jimmy Hoffa?”

Nothing that dramatic – just another of these waters’ monster halibut that Morton and his Sport Fishing Television crew pulled up during a three-day trip to Sitka that’s airing this month on the Pursuit Channel and Destination America series.

This wasn’t Morton’s first trip to Alaska, and he’s also fished and hunted throughout the Rockies and Pacific Northwest, but there was something about documenting every step of this three-day trip to catch halibut, salmon, yelloweye and other bottomfish amid a spectacular backdrop.

“The conditions are finicky and unpredictable,” Morton narrates, with the notion that some rough seas and weather can’t deprive a Floridian of enjoying an Alaskan adventure. “Ear-to-ear grins when the drag screams and the fish come in. And the spectacular sights make you forget when they don’t. Maybe that’s why nature keeps the lights on all summer long in this part of the world.”

Morton had evolved into a respected filmmaker when last year he drew the attention of Bonnier Corporation, which publishesSport Fishing magazine and recruited Morton to reshape its television brand.

“It took four to five months of prep work, and our first show that we tried it on was our Alaska show,” Morton says. “So it was a pretty exciting time up there.”

Some of the early episodes for the show’s season included outings for snook and redfish off Florida’s Treasure Coast (on the Atlantic side around Port St. Lucie) and the Gulf of Mexico waters off Venice, La. But it was the Sitka trip last September that Morton says was the defining moment so far in this project.

We spent a little time chatting with Morton about his passion for saltwater fishing and some of the play-by-play of his Southeast Alaska adventure.

 

 

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Chris Cocoles What was your introduction to fishing down in Florida?

Graham Morton My grandfather is probably the easiest answer. We primary did light-tackle inshore stuff, lots of speckled perch and bass and down here. That was mainly when I was a young kid. And then I started watching fishing TV shows and didn’t think they were very good, except for a handful, which were Flip Pallot’s show (outdoorchannel.com/flip-pallot-master-fishing-guide) and Jose Wejebe [a Florida legend who was a Cuban immigrant and hosted a show named Spanish Fly before he died in a plane crash in 2012]. I figured I wanted to do that – not so much to be a host, but more or less build a show of that caliber. And I just kind of taught myself that, and that correlated with me learning about fishing and traveling around when I was younger.

CC What part of Florida did you grow up? Gulf of Mexico side? Atlantic side?

GM Right smack in the middle of downtown Orlando [laughs].

CC Lots of great bass fishing in the lakes of interior Florida. But were you much more into saltwater fishing still?

GM I think (saltwater fishing) had more mystery and was more exotic. Bass fishing around Orlando is kind of the easiest thing in the world and it was just something I didn’t really consider was anything special. I definitely always liked saltwater, though I didn’t really get into the bigger waters and offshore stuff until later on. But the inshore fishing was something I had been doing since I was a kid. And pretty much all my friends weren’t people who I went to high school with, but people I met through fishing or through videoing fishing or something of that nature. It’s kind of what draws us. But it wasn’t something that I was raised into. It was just something that I happened to like and got into on my own. And once I got a car of my own, you turn 16 and it’s off the races.

CC Where were some of your earliest fishing memories?

GM A lot of it was in Mosquito Lagoon [east of Orlando], which is a big body of shallow water that you actually walk in and wade, so I did a lot of that. I also did some trips to the west coast of Florida to Boca Grande, and that was all in my teen years. When you’re young, you also don’t have any money, so it’s not like you can go out and charter a boat, and it’s not like you can pay for fuel for a boat. But [inshore fishing provided] an easy access point for me to enjoy it and be able to do it within a couple hours’ drive. As a young man you don’t get to access a lot of stuff, but you learn a lot and have some neat places that you can travel to by vehicle. But once you get older, the whole world opens up when it comes to why Florida is one of the few places in the states that has tropical-style fishing. That was definitely a location-based opportunity.

 

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CC It does look like you’ve spent some time out here in the West, though. Did you do lots of fishing?

GM Believe it or not I mainly hunted. I fished a little bit up there [in Idaho and Colorado] with some trout stuff, but mostly in mountainous areas, really, all I did was hunting [mostly elk] until I was about 25 or 30. I started doing a lot of filming out there with random people. But for fishing, you kind of grow up in saltwater and don’t want to leave it.

CC So tell us about the Alaska trip and what is was like for you.

GM It was the best episode from a personal standpoint that we’ve had all year. Everything was provided for us in terms of the accommodation; all we had to do was provide the tackle. They had their 30-foot aluminum boat and we ended up with a young guide who’s been doing this for about eight years. Coincidentally enough, (Chambers of Kingfisher Charters and Lodge) lives in Idaho, and since I’ve hunted up there we got along really well.

CC How was Sitka?

GM Just the experience of being in town there is pretty unique. It’s the third time that I’ve been to Alaska, the first that I’ve been down to the Panhandle. I’m not saying it was better or worse than the mainland. I fished in the Kenai area before, but this was almost like being in something that (Lord of the Rings author J.R.R.) Tolkien would have written – just between the mountains and the dormant volcano (Mount Edgecumbe) there. It’s a pretty big industry town for the short time their season is open. Everybody there was just a nice human being and it seems like a happy place to live. It’s a big area, don’t get me wrong, but in a small, one-day trip in a boat you can see whales, sea lions and otters, bald eagles and bears. For us flat guys, it’s overwhelming almost. It’s just a really easy trip to enjoy.

 

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CC Can you compare and contrast fishing in Alaska to your home base in Florida?

GM The kind of biomass (in Alaska), it’s almost like you’re guaranteed to catch something for the amount of fish and everything that’s going on. Something’s going to happen. In places like Venice (La.) that really don’t do proper offshore fishing, it’s a pretty big run to get out into the deep water – about 70 miles. The grind out is part of the adventure there. In Alaska, it was more along the lines of me being almost allergic to cold weather. As long as I was warm, I was happy. The stuff that we do in Florida is not so much easier or harder in any way, shape or form; it’s more intimate, and maybe that’s the way to think about it. You’re more focused on what’s in front of you and what’s going on with your line than being distracted by the amazing beauty around you in Alaska or by this structured monolith oil rig that’s off Venice.

CC How was being in front of the camera and not behind? That had to be a treat to be actually fishing.

GM It’s hard for me personally – which is different than most anglers – because I spent the past 10 years without a rod in my hand. I spent more time on the water than most people because I was doing nothing but filming. So to make that transition was a little difficult. Not that I hadn’t done that stuff before, but if you have to relearn everything you had spent years of fishing, I’m just trying to translate that back onto film.

All my friends who I’ve known for all these years, they laugh, because they know that I have the knowledge to do this stuff. It’s just that I’ve turned down opportunities to go fishing so much just so I can get that one last spot. It’s not an ego-based thing to have a checklist of catching this species or this big of a fish. It’s more about translating this for the younger generation and showing what’s possible out there. The normal fishing shows just don’t do it for me. They never have. I’m trying to show the reality and share the story of why you should love this stuff. I feel like fishing has gotten a bum rap lately and I want to show the truth of it.

CC What was the fishing like? Lots of salmon?

GM We caught kings and silvers, though we didn’t catch any monster kings that you guys are probably familiar with. But we got maybe one 30-pound fish, and there was the transition from that to bottom-dropping on some shallow-water stuff to like 50 feet. It was one after another on black rockfish and the yelloweyes and lingcod. We did a little bit of flyfishing in the creeks because the pinks were running and we could have something tugging on the lines. My wife loves salmon. But I love really fresh halibut and it’s really hard to get that.

CC You had plenty of those to catch as well. What was it like pulling in a big halibut?

GM We didn’t catch any of the giant ones, but we caught one over 100 pounds, and (to hook one) is really fun … for about 30 seconds [laughs]. Then you start appreciating how to work it and everything that goes into it. It was a big thing for me to see the rigs that they’re using to catch them, because they’re almost like giant gut piles.

CC Is fighting an Alaskan halibut comparable to fighting something like a tarpon in Florida waters?

GM I’m trying to think of the best way to say it with the halibut versus the tarpon: The tarpon is aerial and you see it from start to finish right in front of you. It’s not a big muscle exertion and not something that will wear you out, but it’s extremely tricky, especially on a fly because you have to watch your fingers so you don’t get line wrapped. Plus, once you get the fish up there, they’re super green when they get to the boat.

To me, with halibut the hardest thing is in the beginning, trying to get them off the bottom and out of the rocks. You’re trying to get that fish up, and then once you get them boat-side, they came alive again and went back down [laughs]. It was like a bottle rocket versus a diesel motor. For a tarpon fight (compared to a halibut), the only way I can equate it is one is really fast, strong and violent. And the other one you really have to put the work in even to get (a halibut) up, and then you have to do it all over again.

CC Was there an excitement factor in fishing water that deep with the anticipation of not knowing what was coming up?

GM That was probably the best part of not knowing what you have. Down here we can guess what we have when bottom fishing, for the most part. But over in Alaska, it could have been a giant lingcod for all we knew. When you’re 400 to 600 feet (down), that’s a lot of line to pick up when it’s straight down on a giant fish. You’re exhausted by the time you bring it back up top and you don’t know if it ends up being a chicken or barndoor (halibut). That level of excitement right there is probably equal to when a tarpon is coming and charging on a fly.

CC What kind of film crew did you bring for this episode?

GM I had the opposite of what you might think, where you’d have a professional video team. I wanted people who have fished their entire lives and know what to look for, know the excitement of it and know the terminology. And I trained them how to run cameras; our entire crew has more experience fishing than I ever will have. These guys want to help fishing grow … And it’s not really work when you have the passion for it.

CC Do you find when you go Alaska it feels like the trip of a lifetime?

GM It really is, and I can’t think of a bad memory or a bad time that we had. You go out to some places and get bad weather; it kind of ruins the trip. The weather varies so often (in Alaska), but that’s just part of a great experience.

CC Can you share one last memory from the trip?

GM My favorite thing was catching a yelloweye rockfish. Just to find out how old they are and what their range is, and also their color. It’s a fish that you would think you’d see in the tropics somewhere on a reef. And seeing the whales and sea otters (was memorable), how close they would get within the boat. They were all around you constantly. ASJ

Editor’s note: Check your local listings for air times of Sport Fishing Television. Go to sportfishingmag.com/sportfishing-television for more information. 

 

Gold Rush’s “Grandpa” Turns 96 Today!

 

 

 

Our friends at the Discovery Channel and Gold Rush provided this report on star Parker Schnabel’s grandfather, John, who turns 96 years young today! Happy birthday, John!

 

As anyone who watches Discovery Channel’s mega-hit series GOLD RUSH knows, John Schnabel has been a guiding force to his grandson Parker. Born in 1920, John is the son of a Kansas wheat farmer. His father brewed bootleg alcohol during prohibition and the family had to leave the farm when the US Marshals came looking for him. At 19 years old, John packed up his possessions and took a steamer north to Haines, Alaska, where he joined his father, who had set up a sawmill.

John has certain seen and experienced much of the world. The day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, he volunteered to join the US Navy, but was placed in the Air Corps. After the war he returned to Haines and bought Porcupine Mill, which he renovated to produce 10,000 feet of board wood per day. John went on to open a local hardware store and was later even elected mayor of Haines!

At 68, John suffered heart problems and underwent a triple bypass. His doctor recommended that he keep active so John bought the Big Nugget mine and started gold mining. He taught his grandsons Payson and Parker how to prospect, pan and operate equipment and passed on to them his passion for gold mining.

Today John – affectionately known as Grandpa – turns 96 years old. He continues to be a guiding force to all those who know him (as well as the millions of fans of GOLD RUSH). He lives his life with optimism and believes a positive attitude improves your chances of longevity and quality of life.

We recently caught up with Grandpa to hear what advice he has to share. Check out the video below. Wishing him a very happy and healthy 96th birthday!

What would you tell a young person is the most important virtue to have?
I think the most important virtue to have is honesty. You have to be honest. When you tell the other member who you’re addressing that you love them … that you’re being honest. When you tell the other person you love them – if you’re honest in what you’re saying – you’re going to be a winner. If you’re telling them because that’s what they want to hear, then you’re a loser.

What is the best way to deal with difficult people?
Don’t give up on them. If a person is being difficult, try to find out why. If you can develop an ability to have some measure of empathy with them that will enable you to understand why they act the way they act …you can be a very valuable element in making their life better.

If you could go back 50 years and choose to do something different, what would it be and why?
It’s a thought I’ve never entertained for the simple reason that I am pleased with what I did. I’ve raised a beautiful family, I’ve helped a lot of people overcome their difficulties, I’ve tried my best to be a contributor to others — never to ask them to give something to me. If they want to give me something, I want to feel I’ve earned it. Because whether it’s their time or their help, I have to feel I’ve earned it. Or I don’t think I have done the right thing.

Be sure to check out Discovery’s #1-rated series GOLD RUSH airing Fridays at 9 PM ET/PT

K9 Police Deaths Are Increasing, Unfortunately

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska –Photo from 673rd Security Forces Squadron K-9 explosives training at Hillberg Ski Area on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Monday, June 20, 2011.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Justin Connaher)

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska –Photo from 673rd Security Forces Squadron K-9 explosives training at Hillberg Ski Area on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Monday, June 20, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Justin Connaher)

If you’re a dog lover like me, read this report at length at your own peril, because it’s sort of sad but important. At least take a look at this sample:

Should killing a police dog be punished more severely than killing another animal? There’s a movement underway by animal welfare advocates to increase the penalties for K-9 murders: Last month alone, five police dogs died at the hands of criminals around the country.

“We’re only in February and we’re already equal to all of 2015. There’s really been a troubling increase in canine officers being killed. It’s a spike. It’s very unusual to see so many K-9s killed in such a short period of time,” Steve Weiss, a New York police lieutenant and director of research for the Officer Down Memorial Page, said in an interview with Yahoo News.