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Study: Finding Large West Coast Chinook Getting More Difficult

Photo by ADFG

A University of Washington study that was published in the journal Fish and Fisheries says that Chinook salmon are getting smaller in size in Alaska and throughout the West Coast. Or at least the big ones are becoming less frequent to find.

Here’s more from the university’s findings:

The largest and oldest Chinook salmon — fish also known as “kings” and prized for their exceptional size — have mostly disappeared along the West Coast.

That’s the main finding of a new University of Washington-led study published Feb. 27 in the journal Fish and Fisheries. The researchers analyzed nearly 40 years of data from hatchery and wild Chinook populations from California to Alaska, looking broadly at patterns that emerged over the course of four decades and across thousands of miles of coastline. In general, Chinook salmon populations from Alaska showed the biggest reductions in age and size, with Washington salmon a close second.

“Chinook are known for being the largest Pacific salmon and they are highly valued because they are so large,” said lead author Jan Ohlberger, a research scientist in the UW’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. “The largest fish are disappearing, and that affects subsistence and recreational fisheries that target these individuals.”

Chinook salmon are born in freshwater rivers and streams, then migrate to the ocean where they spend most of their lives feeding and growing to their spectacular body size. Each population’s lifestyle in the ocean varies, mainly depending on where they can find food. California Chinook salmon tend to stay in the marine waters off the coast, while Oregon and Washington fish often migrate thousands of miles northward along the west coast to the Gulf of Alaska where they feed. Western Alaska populations tend to travel to the Bering Sea.

After one to five years in the ocean, the fish return to their home streams, where they spawn and then die.

Despite these differences in life history, most populations analyzed saw a clear reduction in the average size of the returning fish over the last four decades — up to 10 percent shorter in length, in the most extreme cases.

You can check out the full report here. 

More Alaska Fishing Updates

Photo by Paul D. Atkins


The following reports are courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game:


Monashka Creek and Monashka Bay Closed to Sport Fishing for King Salmon

(Kodiak) – The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) is implementing the following sport fishing closure for the entire Monashka Creek drainage and the waters of Monashka Bay shoreward of a straight line from Miller Point to Termination Point for king salmon effective 12:01 a.m. Friday, June 1, 2018. This closure prohibits sport fishing for king salmon, including catch-and-release. During the closure, king salmon may not be targeted, possessed, or retained; king salmon that are caught incidentally while fishing for other species may not be removed from the water and must be released immediately. In addition, only one unbaited, single-hook, artificial lure may be used in the waters of Monashka Creek which otherwise remains open to sport fishing. The freshwaters of Pillar Creek remain open to fishing for king salmon; however, this does not include the saltwater’s immediately adjacent to Pillar Creek.

“The Monashka Creek drainage supports an enhanced run of king salmon that ADF&G uses as a broodstock source for its annual hatchery king salmon release into Monashka Creek and three other streams located on the Kodiak Road System,” stated Area Management Biologist Tyler Polum. “Since 2011, there have been inadequate numbers of adult king salmon available from Monashka Creek for an egg take. Therefore, to ensure broodstock needs are met and to help sustain future king salmon runs and fishing opportunities for anglers on the Kodiak Road System, ADF&G determined it necessary to close the king salmon fishery for the entire Monashka Creek drainage and the waters of Monashka Bay.”

King salmon angling may be restored for the Monashka Creek drainage and the waters of Monashka Bay by a subsequent emergency order, if king salmon returns to Monashka Creek indicate that broodstock collection goals will be achieved. ADF&G staff will monitor these fisheries closely as the season progresses. Anglers can still fish and retain king salmon in the Olds River, American River, Salonie Creek, and Kalsin Bay.

Karluk River Closed to Sport Fishing for King Salmon

(Kodiak) – The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) is implementing the following sport fishing closure in the Karluk River for king salmon effective 12:01 a.m. Friday, June 1, 2018. This closure prohibits sport fishing for king salmon including catch-and-release. During the closure, king salmon may not be targeted, possessed, or retained; king salmon that are caught incidentally while fishing for other species may not be removed from the water and must be released immediately. In addition, as an added measure to reduce incidentally hooked king salmon, the use of bait is prohibited and only one unbaited, single-hook artificial lure may be used in the Karluk River drainage below Karluk Lake.

“Although escapements have occasionally improved slightly since record lows in 2008, the recent trend of poor runs and very low king salmon returns warrant closing the Karluk River sport fishery,” stated Area Management Biologist Tyler Polum. “Since 2006, the Karluk River king salmon broodstock has only been achieved three times, even with management actions to reduce king salmon retention in sport, commercial, and subsistence fisheries. In January 2011, the Board of Fisheries designated Karluk River king salmon a stock of concern.”

King salmon angling opportunities may be restored in the Karluk River by a subsequent emergency order, if an in-season assessment indicates the king salmon run is stronger than anticipated. Beginning late May, ADF&G staff will be closely monitor this fishery at the Karluk River salmon counting weir as the season progresses.

Ayakulik River King Salmon Sport Fishery Catch-and-Release Only

(Kodiak) – The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) is implementing the following sport fishing regulation restriction in the Ayakulik River drainage for king salmon effective 12:01 a.m. Friday, June 1, 2018. During the closure, king salmon may not be possessed or retained; king salmon that are caught may not be removed from the water and must be released immediately. In addition, as an added measure to reduce incidentally hooked king salmon, the use of bait is prohibited and only one unbaited, single-hook artificial lure may be used in the Ayakulik River drainage.

“Even with management actions to reduce king salmon retention in sport, commercial, and subsistence fisheries, the king salmon broodstock has not been achieved six out of the last ten years,” stated Area Management Biologist Tyler Polum. “The recent trend of poor king salmon returns warrants the regulation restrictions of the king salmon sport fishery in the Ayakulik River drainage.”

Retention opportunities may be restored in the Ayakulik River drainage by a subsequent emergency order, if an in-season assessment indicates the king salmon run is stronger than anticipated. Beginning late May, ADF&G staff will be closely monitor this fishery at the Ayakulik River salmon counting weir as the season progresses.

Ice Fishing Opportunities In Haines/Skagway Area


The following press release is courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game:

Winter fishing opportunities

Ice has grown thick on area lakes this winter, especially Mosquito and Chilkat Lakes, so this is a good time to try ice fishing. These two lakes support cutthroat trout populations, as well as Dolly Varden and a few rainbow trout.

Regulations specific to Mosquito Lake and Chilkat Lakes are:

  • Bait is not allowed.
  • 2 fish bag and possession limits for cutthroat and rainbow trout.
  • 14-inch minimum and 22 inch maximum length to keep a cutthroat or rainbow trout.

Dolly Varden and cutthroat trout will start feeding more aggressively in the mainstem Chilkat River as salmon fry start emerging from spawning gravels.

Steelhead are rare in the Haines and Skagway Area. If you happen to catch one, remember that steelhead must be at least 36 inches in length to be harvested. There is a 1 fish daily bag limit and 2 fish annual harvest limit per angler. Steelhead anglers must record their harvest immediately on the back of their license.

Pot fishing for Dungeness crab and shrimp is open year round in the Haines and Skagway area salt water.

Residents of Yukon Territory in Canada may purchase an annual Alaska sport fishing license for the same price that Alaska residents pay. However, Yukoners are not Alaska residents, so Yukoners must comply with the non-resident regulations such as number of shellfish pots, shellfish bag limits, and king salmon bag and annual limits. The Yukoner license is available from license vendors in Whitehorse, Haines, and Skagway.

Alaska residents under 18 years old do not need a sport fishing license. Non-Alaska residents under 16 years old do not need a sport fishing license.

For Alaska residents only, the southeast Alaska red and blue king crab personal use fishery is open July 1 through March 31. In the Haines/Skagway area, the bag and possession limit is six legal size male crab.

Chilkat River king salmon abundance in salt water is very low, so retention of king salmon will not allowed in the Haines and Skagway area from April 15-December 31, 2018. Most wild king salmon runs in Southeast Alaska were very weak in 2017. Despite fishery closures, 2017 Chilkat River king salmon inriver abundance was 1,300 large fish, which is well below the goal range of 1,850 to 3,600 large fish. We expect Chilkat River king salmon run to be smaller than the escapement goal again in 2018.

Homer Winter King Salmon Tournament Will Allow One Fish Entry

Champion Ron Johnson, center, holds his 25.65 lbs king salmon that won the 24th annual Homer Winter King Salmon Tournament, March 25, 2017. He’s flanked by 2nd place winner, right, Gino Del Frate (25.10 lbs), and 3rd place winner, left, Gary Deiman (24.30 lbs). Johnson’s king was also the largest white king.
Jim Lavrakas/Far North Photo

The following press release is courtesy of the Homer Chamber of Commerce:

The Homer Winter King Salmon Tournament is Alaska’s premier fishing tournament with large payouts and statewide participation. The tournament is also the biggest fundraiser for the Homer Chamber of Commerce and provides the community’s small businesses with a much-needed shot in the arm at the end of a long winter.

In the interest of being good stewards, the Winter King Committee and Chamber Board of Directors are committed to the long-term sustainability of the winter king fishery and have made the decision to limit the number of king salmon caught at this year’s tournament. Each registered angler will be allowed to enter one fish in the tournament. We encourage you to harvest just one fish and join us in solidarity; in being good stewards of our resource and the long-term sustainability of our fishery and the Homer Winter King Tournament.


The tournament is scheduled for March 24. Here is the release that’s running in our March issue:

The Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center will host its 25th annual Winter King Salmon Tournament on March 24. Every year, anglers have taken to the waters of Kachemak Bay in search of king salmon, as we consider this is the premier fishing tournament of Alaska.

So mark your calendar, get your boat ready, buy your

fishing license and prepare to fish in one of Alaska’s largest fishing competitions. It’s also a chance to win some great cash prizes.

In 2017, champion Ronald A. Johnson of Homer took home winnings totaling over $53,000 for his 25.65-pound white king salmon.  Payouts for the top 10 anglers totaled over $120,000. This is one of the Kenai Peninsula’s most popular events as last season’s participation showed: 299 boats with 1,007 anglers entered. That group combined for 216 fish caught and weighed.

There are also additional opportunities for side bets and prizes offered every hour of the tournament on the radio and Facebook. After the fishing lines are pulled from the water, join the festivities at the weigh-in stations that are located at Coal Point Trading company on the Homer Spit (4306 Homer Spit Road) Join us for music, food, vendors, beer, and huge fish!

The tournament is successful each year because of the support of volunteers and sponsors.

For more information about the tournament, please contact Kim Royce at the Homer Chamber (907-235-7740; jhd@homeralaska.org. You can also check out website (homerwinterking.com) and like us at facebook.com/homerwinterkingsalmontournament.

Honoring an Alaska Aviation Legend

The following is courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Widlife Service’s Alaska Region:

N754 in flight

Headed to Alaska? You can soon catch a glimpse of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service history at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

The above plane (N754), a testament to human ingenuity, is being installed at the airport and should be ready for its close-up in mid-November.

N754 started out as an ordinary deHavilland Beaver built in 1952, and it flew military missions in Cuba.  Its transformation into something extraordinary began when the Service acquired it as surplus in 1964.

PHOTO GALLERY: A One-of-a-Kind ‘Bird’

We planned to use it for aerial waterfowl surveys in Alaska, a dangerous job because survey flights are usually at low altitude, so our pilots and mechanics made some serious modifications to improve safety and visibility. Check them all out! Because we knew what was needed and modified it to do one specific job – waterfowl surveys – N754 was a one-of-a-kind aircraft with an excellent safety record.

And fly surveys it did. Our pilots flew N754 for survey work in Alaska, Canada, Mexico and Russia, with N754 logging nearly 15,000 hours of waterfowl surveys by the time it retired in 2011

In 1972, while flying N754, FWS pilot-biologist Jim King evaluated waterfowl breeding areas across Alaska. This effort later helped set the boundaries for Tetlin, Yukon Flats, Nowitna, Koyukuk, Selawik and Innoko National Wildlife Refuges.

Rod Drewien with SwanRod Drewien with a swan. Photo by USFWS

There is a photo of N754 on flickr and the user calls it an “ugly duckling.” It was also called “Pinocchio.” Form definitely took a back seat with N754, but when it was flying, it was considered a safer and more reliable waterfowl observation platform than any other aircraft in the fleet. So unlike Hans Christian Andersen’s ugly duckling, N754 never turned into a beautiful swan. Instead, it did what it was built for, surveying waterfowl,  including swans.



  1. Turbine powered Garrett TPE-331-2 engine to climb fast to allow for waterfowl survey missions surrounded by high terrain
  2. Front doors eliminated to strengthen engine mounts and accommodate large side windows with narrow transition posts for enhanced wildlife viewing  (pilot could actually see the tips of both floats)
  3. Downward exhaust to eliminate blurred visibility for waterfowl survey counts
  4. Direct drive, reversible propeller for improved maneuverability on the water
  5. Custom long-range wing fuel tanks for survey missions in remote bush locations
  6. Relatively high cruise speeds for efficient transiting between survey locations
  7. Relatively low stall speed for safe operation during survey counts
  8. Airframe strengthened for high gross weight operation
  9. Widened amphibious floats for increased flotation and improved performance during water operations
  10. Rugged amphibious landing gear with good soft field capabilities to land and take off from almost anywhere
  11. Upgraded avionics including multiple Global Positioning Systems to pinpoint locations of waterfowl observations
  12. Panel mounted data collection computers specifically designed for waterfowl surveys
  13. Organized flight controls and instrumentation to reduce burden on pilots during low-level surveys
  14. Independent power supplies for laptop computers and other portable accessories
  15. 5-point shoulder harness restraints at all four seat positions for increased aircrew safety
  16. Photographic port for large format camera
  17. Intercom-equipped at all four seats for effective communication among members of aerial survey crew


Mishaps In The Unforgiving Arctic

Photos by Paul Atkins

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


Crossing the tundra was painful. The constant pounding of hard snow on steel was sending sharp pains up and down my spine, making it miserable. 

It was cold too, 40 below zero, and the snow was practically gone. The wind had done its job. In the back of my mind I could hear my father, 6,000 miles to the south, talking to me. 

“Watch what you’re doing,” he would say. And as clear as day, I could also see my son’s face – home, warm, happy and waiting for me. Will I ever get back? Deep down I was scared in this place.

THERE HAVE BEEN MANY of these experiences during my time in the Arctic – dangerous situations that should have been avoided but weren’t. Let’s go anyway, I would say. I was younger then and had a lot to learn. Luckily, I have since then, but only after several close calls. Maybe that is what experience hunting in the high Arctic does for you. It gives you experiences that most can’t fathom or even want to.

A few of these experiences stand out, most happening in the deepest depths of winter, when conditions are the most dangerous, especially when it comes to predicting the weather and what it will do. Yes, you can try, but once you leave the security of home and venture “out here” things can and are usually quite different. The windswept tundra and the cold, hard river can play hell on your decisions like no other, but you go anyway.

The best and worst experiences have come during February and March. All have had to do with muskox or subsistence hunts, and later, grizzly. Occurrences evolved into situations, but only until later or after the fact. Some of those dangerous instances rode on decisions that would decide whether you lived or died. If it sounds serious, it’s because it was serious.


Probably the biggest near-tragedy I’ve ever been involved with was the time Lew Pagel and I decided to chase muskox on the Alaska Peninsula. Being outside wasn’t ideal, but it was the last day of the season and we had to get it done. Muskox tags are hard to come by and it was Lew’s first one. We had to try. 

As usual it was cold, but it was clear and calm when we left home. Seventy-five miles south it wasn’t. The wind-scarred tundra combined with dropping temperatures made it quite miserable, but we were lucky and did find a herd of muskox. Lew took his bull late in the day, and even though we were happy we knew it was going to be a cold, dangerous ride home in the dark, especially having to cross the ice. 

Snowmachines work great in most weather, but not so much when it’s approaching 50 below. A busted gas can didn’t help and the constant fogging of goggles made things worse. Open leads in the ice while driving in the dark scared the crap out of me, but there was no other choice. 

We had 25 miles to go to the nearest shelter cabin, placed along the trail for weary travelers to use during the winter, and if we could get there we would be fine. As we inched along I could feel the burning sensation of frostbite inside my nose and the cold numbness seeping through my snow gear. It was getting serious.

Eventually we got to where the cabin should have been, but our GPS was frozen and the batteries were dead. In the light of a snowmachine I watched Lew frantically trying to change the batteries, but with no luck. Freezing to death, I told Lew, “Let’s ride the coast and look; it’s our only choice.”

Luckily for us it worked out; when the headlights shined on the green paint of the cabin, I knew we were saved. Broken, but saved.


There have been other instances of close shaves, like the time I was hunting grizzly in March. I was young then and had newly arrived in the Arctic, so to say I was a novice is an understatement. 

As a native Oklahoman, I had never even seen a snowmachine before – let alone ridden one – and the experience I did have only included riding in front of town to go ice fishing. My first snowmachine, which was an old Polaris I had picked up used, did OK, but this was my first long excursion into the unknown, which created a mixture of excitement and nervous anxiety. 

The 100-mile journey went well at first. We saw sheep, caribou and moose, plus the side-hilling and deep snow wasn’t too tough to get through. I only got stuck a few times, and with the help of others I was out in no time, even though they were starting to get frustrated with me. 

However, it was a different story once we got into the trees, where the snow turns to sugar. I buried that machine so many times and it took what seemed like hours to get it out. I was soaked in sweat from digging, only to get stuck again and again. It wasn’t fun; it was miserable. 

Finally, we found some harder stuff to make the ride through the trees more manageable. As we cruised along at a comfortable speed, I was keeping one eye on the guys ahead of me and the other on my surroundings when I noticed my comrades had disappeared and the tree line ended just ahead. 

A bad feeling swept over me just as I came to a cliff overlooking a drop onto the river. My team had made it down and across and were coaxing me onward. I didn’t want to go off the edge, but I didn’t have a choice. I hit the throttle and eased down the bank. 

I didn’t know it at the time and couldn’t even see it, but the river was soft and covered in overflow and seeping water. I made it down only to bog down in the middle. 

I was sinking and sinking fast, scaring me beyond belief. I had heard of overflow (water on top of ice, sometimes called aufeis) but didn’t have any experience with it. (It still scares me to this day.) Luckily, there was an ice layer underneath that stopped me, leaving the front of my machine sticking up through the frozen slush. I climbed up onto the cowling and wanted to cry. 

But my buddies were experienced and in no time inched out using a wooden sled and rescued me. We then tied a strap onto the front of my sno-go and winched it out. Since I was wet and shaking uncontrollably, they built a fire and warmed me up, which also allowed time for the machine to dry out a bit. When I felt better we tried the starter; to our surprise the machine fired up and we were on our way. I never did get a bear, but that was OK; I was just glad to get home!

Having the right person or persons with you makes all the difference. If you’ve read my stuff before, you may have remembered the piece I wrote on hunting partners. Be picky and choose wisely, because you never know what circumstance will require help and teamwork to get you out of a situation.


One of the scariest situations occurred several years ago, on a trip up north to look for sheep on a subsistence hunt. Because it’s a long way to those mountains, getting there is way more than half the battle. I’ve done it many times before, each trip with the right person, and with each occasion ending up as a successful hunt. 

Weather played a big factor on a couple of those trips, but we were prepared, had the right gear and handled it just fine. However, there was the one time when things didn’t go right and the wrong person was with me, which takes me back to my opening paragraph …

I was surrounded by burnt tussocks, charred to shades of black and charcoal after a lightning storm-ignited fire. The landscape looked more like an eerie picture from a distant planet rather than the flats up to where the sheep were. 

With little to no snow my machine bucked and bounced me through them, and then it happened. The bright silver snowmachine ski that I had been staring at for hours suddenly caught on one of the tussocks and brought me to a dead stop. Like a horse throwing its rider, the machine was on top of me. It pinned me to the ground like a wrestler. I was stuck.

With winter twilight fading in the western sky, I peered up at the moon through my plastic windshield. My mind kept telling me to panic, but I resisted. The machine was heavy, but I had a massive dose of adrenaline and in one desperate shove the machine was off of me and I was free. Covered in sweat, legs hurting and back aching, I got up to inspect the damage. Everything was in place so I instinctively reached for the starter, a tiny knob just above the seat and turned the key.

Silence; I wasn’t going anywhere.

My only salvation lay in my sled, a long blue flat piece of plastic that has followed me around for years and over many miles. I looked at it like a life preserver and begin untying the orange rope that held the tarp surrounding what would save my life. Frantically, I found the grey tote that held the one thing I knew that could save me and my hunting partner’s life. My tent. 

But my partner began to freak out at this point and had a different idea: “Let’s leave the machine, grab some gear and head back the way we came as quick as we can on my machine.” 

It was getting dark and we were 80 miles from anything that resembled civilization. I didn’t want to do it, plus a storm was blowing in. 

The tent would be our safest bet, but I couldn’t convince him. We were going, or I should say, he was going and I could come along. I’ve never felt dread but did at that moment. I had no choice; I had to go. Leaving my machine, sled and gear behind bothered me a great deal. Would I ever see it again? Would I ever be able to get back up here and retrieve it? And with little to zero snow, would it even be possible until next year? I was sick to my stomach.

Darkness and wind were setting in and my hesitation was wasting time, which we didn’t have much of. I grabbed what gear I could and built a bed in the back of his wooden sled, but what would I take? I couldn’t take it all. I felt ill again. 

I grabbed my rifle, the one possession I would not leave without, and my tent. It took me years to acquire both, using savings and skimping to buy them. I left the rest – old friends left behind in the dark.

It would be a rough ride but I thought I could handle it; I was mistaken. My partner’s urgency to get out of there, combined with panic, had set us both on edge. He wanted to leave – and I mean leave now – and I tried telling him to calm down. Hindsight is a funny thing, but we should’ve stopped and thought things out. Even though there was zero wood to build a fire, we had good sleeping bags and would have been fine staying in the tent, but we didn’t.

I jumped into his sled and felt the sharp edges of gear poke into my back. Tubs, wood and other necessities that come with an adventure like ours surrounded me. I arranged each in order to smooth out a place to lie. I thought, “This is going to be miserable, but at least I am alive and heading south towards home.”


The snow was cold but dry as it hit me in the face. I pulled down my facemask and beaver hat – thank God for their fur! The next 80 miles would be no problem, I said; I can handle it. I was wrong. Within the first mile I was in pain from the pulling and jarring of the sled. My back and kidneys felt like I was going 10 rounds with a prizefighter. But I had no choice.

The storm increased in intensity and the trail back was almost unrecognizable, making travel a guessing game. I did have the one thing that I do not leave home without, my satellite phone. If nothing else, we could call and let somebody know where we were and what our situation was. 

Luckily, I had a worthy partner back home who knew how to read coordinates, and my GPS worked too. So every 5 miles or so we dared to stop and call. My buddy back home received and sent back info to guide us to safety. It was miserable, and the cold wind and snow were excruciating, but we made to a shelter cabin 60 miles from where my mishap occurred. I was bruised and battered but so happy to be alive and in one piece. We made it the rest of the way home the next day.

I did eventually get back up there to retrieve my machine and gear, but it was a month later – and with the help of good friends who know how to take care of business. It was just as we left it. Even though I figured the bears and wolves would have destroyed it and ravaged the food we left behind, they didn’t.


Would I trade these experiences? No, I wouldn’t, they are part of who I am, and if not for them I wouldn’t have learned the things I needed to know in order to survive here in the Arctic. I still don’t know everything and even if I did, you never know what lies around the next corner or through the trees or down the river. Just make sure you’re ready, prepared and have the right people with you with the right attitude. ASJ

Editor’s note: Paul Atkins is an outdoor writer and author from Kotzebue, Alaska. He has written hundreds of articles on hunting big game and fishing throughout not only Alaska, but all of North America and Africa as well. He is a regular contributor to the Alaska Sporting Journal.

Break The Winter Ice To Fish Alaska Refuges


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


Alaska’s national wildlife refuges are open year-round to winter-based recreation, including fishing. Safely accessing and enjoying Alaska’s wildlife refuges in winter takes careful planning.

The National Wildlife Refuge System (fws.gov/refuges) is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and a host of other refuges offer ice fishing in the Lower 48, while year-round quality fishing opportunities are available on more than 270 national wildlife refuges. 

In the Last Frontier, there are three such refuges that should be on any ice angler’s bucket list. 

These two were both happy to pose with a nice Kenai NWR rainbow. (MATT CONNER/USFWS)


Alaska residents know that fishing on Kenai National Wildlife Refuge changes with the seasons. Winter brings many anglers who pursue native trout through the ice. 

The refuge’s Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area, featuring lakes like Hidden, Engineer and Kelly, can be reached by road and offers an easily accessible day of fishing. 

More hardy souls willing to travel by foot, snowmachine or cross-country ski are rewarded with backcountry lakes that see little angler pressure but have high fish concentrations. 

A few remote lakes that offer incredible winter fishing and have refuge cabins for rent include Trapper Joe, McClain and Snag. Each year, a few winter anglers will make the trek to one of these remote cabins and experience some truly amazing winter fishing in blissful solitude and surrounded by the beauty of the refuge.

Getting some fishing time at sprawling Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, which features several iced lakes right off the road system that make for easy opportunities. (USFWS)


Fishing opportunities are many and varied on Selawik National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge’s rivers, streams, ponds and sloughs give visitors a chance to harvest fresh fish at almost any time of year. 

Ice fishing is common, especially in March and April, when the days are longer and temperatures milder than in midwinter. Anglers most frequently target inconnu (sheefish) on Selawik Lake and Hotham Inlet. These areas are most easily reached by snowmachine from Kotzebue or nearby villages. On rivers, sloughs and smaller lakes, northern pike and burbot can also be caught through the ice. 

The refuge has no developed tourist infrastructure. Most visitors access the refuge by commercial aircraft from Anchorage to Kotzebue. In Kotzebue, small scheduled commercial flights can be taken to nearby villages or chartered directly to the refuge. 

USFWS ice fishing 5
USFWS-sponsored ice fishing events bring friends and families together on Alaska’s wildlife refuges. (USFWS)


Togiak National Wildlife Refuge, with 2.3 million acres of designated wilderness, offers visitors the challenges and rewards of remoteness. That’s why the staff urges visitors to be prepared to handle any situation on your own. Bring emergency survival supplies and carry and know how to use a map and compass or GPS. 

The refuge adjoins other public lands. To the east is the nation’s largest state park, Wood-Tikchik . To the north lies the massive Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Together, these lands cover more than 24 million acres to form one of the largest protected areas in the world.

If fishing is your passion, Togiak Refuge might well be your place to catch Dolly Varden, Arctic grayling, northern pike and rainbow trout. Access to the refuge is by chartered airplane from Dillingham. ASJ

Editor’s note: Martha Nudel is the chief of communications for the USFWS. For more, go to fws.gov/alaska.


Follow these guidelines when ice fishing:
Dress appropriately for the weather. Winter conditions can include extreme cold, high winds and precipitation (snow, sleet, rain). Getting/staying wet in freezing temperatures can result in frostbite, hypothermia and death. Make sure you have enough spare dry clothes.
Bring extra food. Being in cold weather burns extra calories. Weather delays and emergencies can happen – so make sure you have enough food for several extra days.
Bring extra water. Keep extra hydrated in cold weather. Be sure your water is stored in a way so that it doesn’t freeze or that you have a way to heat it. Always make sure you have more than you think you might need. Emergencies happen.
Travel with someone. Having someone with you is a bit of an insurance policy in case of an emergency or if you’re injured.
Communicate your plans. Leave a detailed plan with someone. Be sure to include where you’re going and when you plan to be back. Your point of contact will need to know who to contact in case of an emergency. Bring something to signal rescuers along on your trip.
Have a reliable way to communicate. Cellphone coverage can be poor or nonexistent, depending on where you travel in Alaska. Other options, like satellite phones, may require practice before you can use them.
Be knowledgeable in first aid. Bring a first aid kit.
Be familiar with your destination and weather conditions. Thoroughly research your destination and listen to weather advisories. Talk to local sources about terrain and conditions.
Carry maps and other tools to help you find your bearings.
Be familiar with ice. Ice is strongest where it’s clear. Five to 6 inches of clear ice is recommended for foot traffic. Inflowing streams or creeks can cause layers of slush, water and ice.
Overflows are sometimes hidden under snow, and may suddenly give way. Underwater springs may also cause sections of ice to be thinner than surrounding areas. Because spring activity thins the ice from underneath, this type of thin ice is sometimes undetectable. Ice thickness can vary on flowing waters as well, such as on creeks and rivers.
Have a shelter. At a minimum, bring a space emergency blanket. A small portable bivvy or four-season tent also make for good options. Your shelter should be able to keep you dry and protect you from the wind. Katrina Liebich


Alaska Longline Fisherman’e Association Gets Grant To Improve Fisheries’ Technology

The following press release is courtesy of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association: 

The Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) has been awarded a major grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to improve at-sea monitoring of Alaska’s longline fisheries through the use of electronic monitoring technologies.

At-sea electronic monitoring (EM) technology uses video cameras aboard fishing vessels to monitor catch and bycatch in lieu of a human observer.  Since many small boats do not have the capacity to take an additional person aboard during fishing trips, EM can be more operationally compatible for the vessel, and potentially more cost effective. After several years of research and pre-implementation, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council approved electronic monitoring as an option for small fixed gear vessels in the partial coverage sector of the Observer Program in 2016. The grant, awarded by NFWF, with funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Kingfisher Foundation, will provide ALFA $577,959 to improve Alaska’s longline electronic monitoring program for vessels participating in sablefish, halibut and Pacific cod fixed gear fisheries.

With this support, ALFA will assist the National Marine Fishery Service’s work to provide electronic monitoring hardware and field service support for vessels joining the EM program, and also support stakeholder engagement in the program’s development. The project will result in electronic monitoring of up to 120 hook and line vessels and will improve the utility of electronic monitoring data for fishermen and fishery managers alike.

“In Alaska, fishermen pay a large part of the at-sea monitoring costs needed to support our fisheries. By offsetting start-up costs and helping fishermen equip their vessels with EM systems, we can meet at-sea monitoring needs in a way that is more compatible with small vessels and improve cost effectiveness,” says Dan Falvey, Program Director at ALFA.

This is the second NFWF grant that ALFA has received to assist with EM implementation, which will help provide the equipment and field services needed to expand the program to the new vessels.

Over the next two years, 120 longline vessels in Alaska will use electronic monitoring while fishing.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundations’ Electronic Monitoring and Reporting Grant Program seeks to catalyze the implementation of electronic technologies in U.S. fisheries in order to systematically integrate technology into fisheries data collection and modernized data management systems for improved fisheries management. This year, it awarded a total of more than $3.59 million in grants. The 12 awards announced generated $3.15 million in match from the grantees, providing a total conservation impact of more than $6.75 million.

From Nashville To The North

Photo by Sub7


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


He lives on a sprawling Tennessee farm, but Craig Morgan’s home is a quick drive from Nashville’s bright lights of the honkytonk joints of Broadway Street, the Times Square of the country music cosmos. 

But when Morgan, who has 17 singles that have reached the Billboard country charts – including a No. 1 hit and six more in the top 10 – wants to literally get away from it all, he heads to Alaska.

And while he finds it funny that his cabin in the Interior gets better cellphone service than his Tennessee property in Dickson, 40 miles west of Nashville, it’s about as wild a setting as a diehard sportsman like Morgan could ask for when he wants to unplug from his hectic life of making music, hosting an outdoors television show and running a family business back in the Volunteer State.  

“It’s one of those deals where if you’re there, you know that you truly are in the depths of Mother Nature,” the 53-year-old says. 

He’s been hunting and fishing in Alaska for roughly two decades, though he’s owned his cabin for just about three years. The Last Frontier is one of Morgan’s first choices to satisfy his outdoor cravings. 

“Oh, god. It was probably 20 years ago I guess for my first visit. And since then we’ve done everything from fishing to hunting to cruises,” he says. “And I’ve been from the lowest southeast point to all the way up to the Yukon. So I’m just absolutely fascinated with that part of the world. It truly is the Last Frontier.”

Photo by Joseph Llanes

GETTING TO MORGAN’S HIDEAWAY isn’t super easy for anyone who wants to tag along on one of his trips. Fly into Anchorage, then either board a floatplane for a 50-minute flight onto a lake adjacent to the cabin, or fly to Talkeetna and drive three hours on a gravel road to the end of the line for a 6-mile, 4½-hour walk or – in winter – snowmachine journey to get there. 

“It’s off the grid completely; there’s no electricity, no running water. The closest town is Talkeetna. Actually it’s Trapper Creek, but I don’t know if Trapper Creek is considered an actual town,” Morgan says. 

So yeah, this getaway allows him to really get away. That’s what this intrepid hunter was looking for when he began getting serious about investing in an Alaskan home (“It’s more of a trapper’s cabin than a house,” Morgan says). It took him about year and a half of looking around to finally settle on what he owns now. 

He says it’s actually easier to get there in winter via snowmachines. But it’s exactly what he hoped for: a place in the wilderness in one of his favorite outdoor playgrounds. 

“I just wanted a place to go that we could call ours. It’s quite an effort to get there, but when you get there it’s just an awesome thing. And I’ve always wanted to be a bigger part about what’s going on there,” Morgan says.

He identifies himself as far more of a hunter than an angler, but the nearby lake is teeming with trout, Arctic char and grayling, so he makes sure to have fishing gear close by. Yet it’s the big game and other wildlife as the main event that keeps him occupied when there is a season open during his visits. 

Morgan’s native Tennessee is chock-full of sportsmen and -women who secure their tags and stalk everything from deer to turkeys to black bears. And his assignments as host of a TV hunting show have sent him all over the map. But Alaska is Alaska and there’s no other place quite like it. 

“The thing that you really understand is the gravity and intensity of Mother Nature when you’re up there. You don’t get that when you’re in the woods in Illinois or Iowa or Texas, or anywhere else because you know that you can generally walk in some direction and come across some form of civilization,” Morgan says. “In that part of the world, you can walk in some direction and may walk for a month and not come across civilization. If you go in the wrong direction, you might never find it. It’s just a super-intense outdoor experience.”

And what Morgan loves about the Last Frontier is it’s the last place you want to be if you run into trouble. Not that he’s eager to be in harm’s way, but it’s the thrill of the unknown you’re walking into that attracts the Lower 48 outdoors lover to these parts in the first place. 

On one trip, one of Morgan’s buddies suffered a deep gash while they were cutting wood, which could have been a lot more serious if they weren’t prepared.

“We were 45 minutes from getting anybody to help us. So you have to be extra careful. An accident up there can turn from a simple one into a catastrophic event pretty quick if you’re not careful,” he says. 

The cabin has only a generator for power, so satellite phones and emergency medical equipment come in handy in a beautiful but potentially hazardous front yard. 

“You can have the most peaceful moments in your life sitting atop a mountain, and then in 15 minutes have the most horrific experience as you’re going down that mountain,” Morgan says. “And that terrain can absolutely beat you up. It will just take you before you know it. So many obstacles that just make you truly appreciate how that moment of beauty can turn to something ugly.”

“In everything else that we do, for the most part, you feel like you have a sense of control a little bit and a sense of security, I think, to some degree. In Alaska all that goes away. You know that you are not necessarily at the top of the food chain in where you’re at and what you’re doing.”

Morgan’s Alaska getaway. Photo by Chelsea Greer.

CRAIG MORGAN GREER’S FAMILY made do with what it had in their Tennessee home. Kingston Springs is a don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it town of about 2,000 along Interstate 40 west of Nashville. Craig’s family – like many in that part of the country – had a passion for hunting. But it was far more than just the sport of it that got his parents outside. 

“As much as they enjoyed it and  that was it was local and on public land, it was really for the meat,” Craig says. “My family and parents weren’t trophy hunting; they were hunting for the meat.”

“We were eating organic before organic was a term. But it was out of necessity more than a choice. When you’re born into a lower-middle class income family, you have to do those kinds of things. So we grew up eating wild game or pork from pigs that we had raised ourselves. We had a better idea of what was going into our bodies than most.”

That lifestyle never left Morgan’s mind as he progressed on into his own path – first during 17 years in the Army and then his singing career that elevated him into a fixture on the Nashville music scene.

“Now I’m in a position in my life where I can afford to go buy what I want to eat, but I choose to hunt because I know the meat that I’m getting is going to be better for me,” he says. “It’s going to be cleaner. We try to use that term a lot in our house: eating clean. But it was very much a part of my life and still is, probably more so today than it was then.”

As his career took off, Morgan’s outdoor roots scored him a gig as host of Craig Morgan: All Access Outdoors, which chronicles fishing and hunting adventures from around the globe. 

Among his most memorable episodes was a Northern California turkey hunt with friend and former major-league baseball player Ryan Klesko.

“We donated a hunt with he and I to the (National Wild Turkey Federation), and I’ll never forget the lady who bought the hunt; she was so excited to be out hunting with Ryan and I,” Morgan says. “We all killed turkeys and it was just a phenomenal hunt (near San Francisco). It was awesome because we hunted for a few days and then got to visit all the wineries.”

Indeed, those early days of subsistence hunting with his family in rural Tennessee spawned quite the dedicated sportsman.

And around the turn of the century, he cut his first album to kick off a successful career that’s included 17 singles that reached the Billboard country charts and a No. 1 hit, “That’s What I Love About Sunday,” that tops his discography.

Ironically, making records, touring, hunting in exotic locales around North America and abroad and all the other perks that go with celebrity status have complicated Morgan’s personal life.

“My family is always going to come first and a lot of people would question that, just because of the amount of time that I spend with them, which is so little,” he says. 

“But I tell my kids all the time that I make a choice as a dad to make certain sacrifices in order that they and my wife and family are better off. And one of those choices was choosing this occupation, which requires me to be away from home a lot.”

The Morgans have also started a family business, the Gallery at Morgan Farms in their hometown of Dickson. They make various items out of recycled and reclaimed materials (the UP TV network is working on a series revolving around the family juggling an already hectic schedule to make the business work). 

But having so much access to the beauty of the outdoors has also been a blessing in that Morgan’s family has joined him on so many of his outdoor adventures, both on camera and off (he and his wife Karen Greer had four children but lost their son Jerry to a tragic swimming accident in 2016). 

When asked about his favorite episodes of Craig Morgan: All Access Outdoors, while he’s enjoyed the tributes to veterans – Morgan’s Army background made it only natural that’s been heavily involved in giving back to the troops through charitable causes – his mind came racing back to his family, where his own hunting passion’s roots grew. 

“Probably my favorite hunts to do throughout the filming are the ones that I do with my family, in particular my kids. I’ve always loved spending time with them in the outdoors and trying to educate them on the process,” Morgan says. “And I have something that a lot of people that get to do that don’t, and that’s the footage of it. So I get to go back and re-experience that with my kids, which is a real blessing.”



IF THERE’S ONE ALASKA adventure Morgan is still hoping to cross off his bucket list, it’s to harvest a muskox (he also wants to hunt one of those near-mythical creatures in Europe someday if not in Alaska).

“A friend of mine just did it and the reason why they loved it was the weather. There’s nothing like hunting in the Arctic,” he says. “It’s a little more entertaining, weather-wise. But I would suffer the cold in the Arctic for a muskox.”

When he does make his periodic pilgrimages from Tennessee to Alaska, Morgan appreciates the value in his purchase. Alaska, like his TV show and family time amid a busy schedule recording and performing music, is another facet in a life where few hours of the day aren’t taken advantage of. 

It’s clear that heading north makes for a spiritual moment of clarity.

“I try to go at least two or three times a year, and I think in the last couple years I’ve been up four times a year. Every time I land in Anchorage I get this excited feeling – like a little kid at Christmas about to open up a present,” he says. 

Early in 2018 Morgan is working on his 11th album and expects he’ll continue to make new music until his fans no longer want to listen. But while it’s his primary job, he really does enjoy it, likening the process to those backyard grillmasters who live for cooking that perfect steak on the barbie. Songwriting and performing feels like a hobby, and even if he’s not earning a paycheck Morgan will likely always channel his musical gifts. 


Of all the songs he’s cut and hits that made the charts, the tune that makes him most nostalgic is 2008’s “Lookin’ Back With You,” in which he pays homage to growing old with wife Karen.   

“When we’re sittin’ on our front porch,”

“In our cracker barrel rockers.”

“And we don’t long to dye the grey out of our hair,”

“We’ll sit and laugh and talk about all the things that we went through.”

“Yeah, I look forward to looking back with you.”

It could be sitting on a porch in a trapper’s cabin in the isolated but magnificent Alaskan Interior. 

“It just talks about when we get older, and I look forward to looking back on my life – my wife and I in particular,” he says. “I don’t know if we’re quite there yet, but it’s one of my favorite songs.” ASJ

Editor’s note: For more on Craig Morgan, check out his website craigmorgan.com, follow on Twitter and Instagram (@cmorganmusic) and like at facebook.com/craigmorganmusic.

Photo by Sean O’Halloran.



There’s something about a glass of wine after a long Alaskan hunt that makes Craig Morgan smile. It’s also a reason why this country music star and outdoors TV host is now a celebrity vintner.
“I just became a wine guy who loved wine about 20 years ago. And as my knowledge grew, so did my desire to be more involved,” he says of this grape-infused project. “Having said that, I never want to own a winery. I never want to be a winemaker or nothing like that.”
Still, it’s difficult to not consider Morgan a bit of a wine savant. So when he collaborated with a company called Lot 18 to create Old Tattoo (lot18.com/craigmorgan), which is being released this winter, it only strengthened a passion for good wine, particularly enjoying a glass or two with some of the wild game this outdoorsman has harvested for years.
Old Tattoo – its American flag logo matches the ink that’s adorned on Morgan’s left arm – is flavored by grapes from Paso Robles, California, along the central coast and one of the state’s hidden gems for wine lovers.
While Morgan helped in determining the cabernet’s flavors – “hints of coffee, cocoa, currant, dark cherry, graphite and plum,” the wine’s introductory press release explained – he was mostly in tasting mode as blends were tested. But the entire approach was based upon his name being attached to as close as you can come to producing an organic wine.
And for someone who prefers to eat his own harvested game and fish, Morgan’s fascination with wine was one that was a more natural blend.
“One in particular that kind of started it was a wine called PlumpJack, which is a partner of the Cade Winery in Napa (California). The one thing that I loved about the PlumpJack was that it was organic,” he says. “It’s very rare that you find an organic wine against one that isn’t. And I just fell in love with it – a fabulous wine.”
Morgan also took to heart the message of another of his favorite California winemakers, Sonoma County residents and avid sportsmen whose brand is known as Ammunition Wines. Their reds and whites are catered to fellow anglers and hunters and specifically blended to pair with not just traditional dishes but also wild game like venison, duck and upland birds.
While Morgan’s idea wasn’t to market his wine for a specific audience – “I just wanted to have a wine that at that price point ($22 a bottle) you would be super excited,” he says – it’s clear he wanted Old Tattoo to showcase who he is as a hunter and organic eater.
When Morgan returns to his Alaska trapper’s cabin and spends some time hunting, fishing or just enjoying the solitude of the surrounding quiet, he’s never without a bottle of Old Tattoo or another favorite wine.
“My kids and my friends make fun of me that even in Alaska I have a good cab glass or at least a glass of some kind (to drink the wine),” he says with a laugh. “It may be a tumbler, but how bad is that I don’t want to drink the wine out of a Solo cup or Styrofoam cup? It has to be a glass.” CC

Alaska Fishing Delegation Heads To Washington


The following press release is courtesy of the Fishing Communities Coalition: 

Photo by Jeff Pike.

 Representatives of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association and the Alaska Marine Conservation Council– both members of the nationalFishing Communities Coalition (FCC) – were in Washington, DC, this week urging lawmakers to resist shortsighted efforts to weaken fishing communities by undermining key Magnuson-Stevens Act accountability provisions.

In meetings with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Sen. Dan Sullivan, Rep. Don Young, NOAA fisheries, and others, members of both organizations underscored thatMagnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) reauthorization legislation will only strengthen fishing communities if Congress recommits to science-based Annual Catch Limits across all sectors and strengthens other key stewardship provisions within the Act.

“Alaska’s small-boat commercial fishermen are proud to sustainably harvest seafood enjoyed in restaurants and homes across America,” said Linda Behnken of theAlaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA). “The future of Alaska’s fishing communities depends on healthy fish stocks and sustained access by coastal residents to productive commercial fisheries.”

“The MSA is working in Alaska and around the country because all sectors adhere to scientifically-sound annual catch limits. Reauthorization will only provide a bright future for our nation’s young fishermen if all sectors—commercial and recreational—recommit to sustainable harvest through improved stock assessment, better catch accounting, and strict adherence to annual catch limits,” continued Behnken.

“Eliminating accountability for recreational catch will lead to over harvest and reductions in quotas that hurt all fishermen,” said Shannon Carroll, Deputy Director of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council (AMCC). “To secure our fishing future, it is critical that Congress clearly apply accountability standards, including annual catch limits, to all sectors.”

ALFA and AMCC representatives also thanked the Alaska congressional delegation for its leadership on the Young Fishermen’s Development Act, and urged them to ensure the bipartisan initiative to support the next generation of commercial fishermen is signed into law.

Both ALFA and AMCC are engaged in efforts to address the “graying of the fleet” in Alaska by attracting younger entrants into the fishing industry through training and apprenticeship initiatives. The Young Fishermen’s Development Act would give fishing communities a needed boost at the national level by addressing steep and growing obstacles – including high cost of entry and limited entry-level opportunities – facing the next generation of America’s commercial fishermen.


The Fishing Communities Coalition is the united voice for small-boat, community-focused, commercial fishermen from around the country who strive to bring their stewardship vision to bear on national issues. We believe that together, fishermen from around the United States who believe in community-focused ideals, science-based management and forward-looking policies can build a national movement that protects fish, fishermen and fishing communities for this and future generations.