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First Alaska Copper River Salmon Hit Seattle

 

Copper River sockeye photos by Doug Noon/Wikipedia

As is the annual tradition, Alaska Airlines flew down the first haul of Copper River salmon to Seattle today.

Here’s KOMO News with more:

The first shipment of 22,000 pounds arrived Friday morning on an Alaska Airlines 737 from Cordova, Alaska, marking the start of the summer salmon grilling season. Three more shipments will arrive Friday, bringing about 77,000 pounds to Anchorage and the rest of the United States.

“Our Cargo employees are working around the clock to ensure we deliver the first catch of the coveted wild Copper River salmon to market, often within 24 hours of being pulled from the water,” Jason Berry, Alaska Air Cargo managing director, said in a statement announcing the delivery.

And as also become a recent tradition, the first fish to arrive will be the subject of an annual “Copper Chef Cook-off” right there at the airport. Three top Seattle chefs will battle “Iron Chef” style, making 3 dishes in 30 minutes to decide whose salmon dish reigns supreme (recipes available here). This year’s not-so-secret ingredient is a 45-pound king salmon. The chefs competing this year includes Executive Chef John Sundstrom of Lark, Executive Chef Stuart Lane of Spinasse and Artusi and Executive Chef David Yeo of Wild Ginger.

 

Family Fishing Day In Fairbanks Area Saturday

 

Tanana Lakes Photo courtesy of Fairbanks North Star Borough

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

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game will be hosting Fairbanks Family Fishing Day onSaturday, May 20, from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM, at Cushman Lake in the Tanana Lakes Recreation Area.

The lake will be stocked with over 6,500 rainbow trout. Kids under the age of 18 are invited to participate in a derby to win a rod/reel outfit, if they catch a tagged fish. No fishing license is required for residents under the age of 18 and nonresidents under the age of 16. Youth must be accompanied by an adult.

Participants are encouraged to bring their own fishing gear. For those without fishing equipment, there will be a limited number of rods to lend. Non-motorized boats, canoes, and rafts can be used on the lake.

All anglers can sign up at the pavilion for their chance at a door prize.

For more information, call 907 459-7228.

Giving Pike Some Love

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

STORY AND PHOTOS BY CHRISTOPHER BATIN

When most anglers think of Alaska fishing, they envision huge runs of salmon migrating up crystal-clear gravel streams that shimmer enticingly at the bases of rough-hewn, snow-capped mountains. 

Yet there are those of us who forsake such images. 

We find our piscatorial treasures in mosquito-infested flats, meandering tannin-stained rivers, and marshy oxbow lakes. This is flat-line country, void of a jagged mountain contour that signals a geological heartbeat. Such country is neither for the petite of rod nor tenderness of skin. While some view it as a boreal hell on earth, I see it as a Tolkienian-themed destination for anglers searching for adventure.

The reason is obvious. But once you go, you’ll never be the same when you return.  

For this be dragon country, my friend, and you confront them, one by one, not to slay them, but to do battle, to count coup, and release the fish in order to be victorious. While the quarry is formidable, the battlegrounds are just as challenging. 

It’s a place of survival-scenario nightmares, and rightly so. Miles of black-muck swamps suck moose to their bellies and refuse to let go. A stranded angler can wander the surrounding swamps for weeks and never find civilization. Clouds of mosquitoes would suck him drier than a spouse’s bank account after a divorce. Any survivors would need to dodge the 4,000-plus lightning strikes that pummel the area during midsummer. Smoldering timber from weeks of forest fires create an abstract reality starved of vibrant shapes and colors. The sun becomes a dim flashlight bulb, an impotent orange orb that is neither warm nor bright. In this Land of the Midnight Sun, the forest-fire haze provides neither clues to day or night. 

 

 

ONE FISHES ENDLESSLY, BASED on wakefulness to arise and to sleep when fatigued, because time has no meaning here.  

Yet don’t expect to find the winged dragons of myth and legend. The quarry here is the water wolf, or big northern pike. Be not coerced into ambivalence: They are a frightening lot.

Big ones measure 45 inches, the beasts of legend stretching to 50-plus inches, tail not included. A mature pike uses its 700-plus sharp, snaggled teeth to impale, chomp and paralyze prey. They are always watching for an opportunity to quickly cripple and devour fish, ducks, muskrats and birds. To hook and land a fish this size, let alone several, is an angling event of a lifetime.

Water dragons are no pushovers. Mediocre anglers who engage this adversary will lose big. Water dragons exhibit no remorse in pounding the strongest angling combatant into a mincemeat of shame and defeat, an introverted head shaker who questions his angling skill sets. 

I am confident in my quest – but humble in my approach – as we approach the pike oxbow, a wilderness sanctuary where nature and religion are one. All warriors – from the Knights Templar to King Arthur’s Knights – are introspective before battle, a purge of shortcomings, and a bolstering of actions that bring victory. I am no different when I battle big water dragons.

I vow to strike with precision and lightning speed. I dig deep within my psyche to ensure every cast is my best. Distractions are powerless against me as I focus on tying a perfect knot each time. My hand is a hair trigger, ready to unleash a cocked arm that will generate a 7-foot-pound hookset into one of the toughest, strongest jaws in freshwater sportfishing. 

Confidence oozes from my arms like morning dew off barbed wire. I challenge the beast beneath the lily pads and taunt him to come forth to prove he is worthy of the name: water dragon.

I tie on a steel leader and rig my 10-weight fly rod for battle. I take a deep breath, focusing on the dragon’s lair. The cast lands perfectly in a pocket of water surrounded by horsetail reeds. The flashabou pattern flutters enticingly as I twitch it to taunt the dragon I know is holding there. A water drake’s weakness is a love for all that glitters, and I have arrived with a fly box full of temptations.

Then it happens; a maneuvering fin creates a ripple; a larger swirl follows. The brown tea-like water convulses – then swirls to a washtub-sized boil – as the dragon attacks. A bucket-wide toothy maw erupts from the gossamer pondweeds and engulfs a square foot of water that contains my glittery, sacrificial fly. 

I strike hard and grit my teeth. This is no country for old men.

The enraged dragonfish feels the sting of a solid hookset and quiet backwater becomes a tsunami of destruction. The waves obliterate a swath of horsetail reeds, which lie whiplashed and broken in the bubbly, boggy foam. Bottom muck bursts upward like angry underwater thunderheads, as a foot-wide tail churns in thunderous retaliation. My fly reel handle rakes my knuckles into numbing pain that nearly breaks the vice-like grip I have on the rod.   

From its watery realm, 4 feet of water dragon twists and writhes violently, reaching for sky with gills flared in a rage that would send dainty, dry fly trout anglers running for cover. Blurred, violent headshaking atomizes the lake into a spray that floats like a million pieces of cottonwood fluff in the morning air. It’s real time, but I experience it in slow motion, frame-by-frame memory, hoping my endorphin-fueled resolve prevents the dragon from throwing the hook. My legs go numb, and I tighten my grip and pump the rod, a move that angers and awakens the beast. My 10-weight’s beefy spine whips, bounces and bends, like a puny blade of grass battered in a piscatorial typhoon. 

THE ANCIENT NATIVE AMERICANS of the Pacific Northwest believed the fish gods know one’s heart. For over a century, the water dragon’s reputation has been undeservingly sullied by the bombastic legions of rainbow trout and salmon anglers who blaspheme pike as unworthy of their efforts. Perhaps what happened next is what a trophy water dragon demands in return for being caught.

I bow to the fish to ease tension on the leader. My act of fealty shows respect and honor to the dragon, as well as puts slack in the line. Hopefully, my action makes me worthy enough in body and spirit to win the battle. 

After 14 minutes of a back-and-forth slugfest, where the hope of landing the fish was lost several times, I subdue the dragon onto its side and ease it to the boat. A sinister, primordially intelligent eye tracks my outreached hand. 

I reciprocate the honor of this battlefield concession with a thought. 

Religion aside, Darwinian-minded scientists say fossil records show ol’ Esox has remained virtually unchanged for over 60 million years. I had just battled over 4 feet of an evolutionary wonder, and soaked in the biological adaptations of this perfectly marvelous killing machine.  

While I had won the battle, I would not kill this fish.  

The 49-incher continues to eye me with precise calculation as I ease needle-nose pliers to release the barbless fly in the corner of its mouth, a harmless coup to show I won. The dragon jaws jerk up and snap tight as a bank vault on my gloved hand, and won’t open.  The response makes my victory even more satisfying. This is no ordinary predator, but a fish with heart, one worthy of the quest as the Holy Grail of pike anglers the world over. Mean. Indefatigable. Proud. 

After extricating my punctured glove and hand, I release a much-wiser water dragon to fight again another day, and doctor my hand with antiseptic salve so it can do the same.  

Fishing for big northern pike is exciting, drag-down dirty fun, and one of my top three Alaska sportfish species to catch. On three separate trips to Alaska’s Innoko National Wildlife Refuge, I’ve caught pike over 45 inches. This claim is no big deal for some but a lifelong dream for others. On a week-long trip, friend Larry Suiter and I caught 247 pike in five days, with four reaching 47 inches, a 48-incher, 48.7-incher and 49-incher. That’s roughly 50 pike a day per boat. While I didn’t catch that elusive 55-incher the occasional – and lucky – angler catches, I’m not disappointed. I’ll be preparing to find and battle a record-breaking 59-inch pike on my next quest.

PIKE TRULY EPITOMIZE SURVIVAL of the fittest. Its temperament, build and traits make it the perfect predator that has embraced the Darwinian ethic of survival of the fittest. 

Historically, Canada has been the hot spot for large northern pike in North America. That honor is now being bestowed on select pike stocks located in Alaska riversheds with prime habitat and salmon and forage fish populations. Some of the best include Minto Flats and the Innoko, Mulchatna and Nowitna Rivers.

In these food-rich waters of Western Alaska, northern pike grow far larger and more numerous than previously believed. Research conducted by fisheries biologist Brendan Scanlon with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game confirms that select western and interior rivers provide healthy pike fisheries that few people currently enjoy. I suspect biologists will keep discovering how large the river-based northern pike population is in Western Alaska. I recall my conversation with Scanlon when I first planned an expedition pike fishing trip to the region.

“Low fishing pressure, abundant food supply and ample and various types of water systems found in the tributaries of the Yukon River contribute to growing the large size and numbers of pike,” he says. “On average, a 40-inch pike is about 20 years old.”

For instance, his research has shown Innoko River pike can appear anywhere at any time, their migratory habits perhaps a key to their continued growth and proliferation.

“Pike will move out of the main rivers and spawn, and perhaps move a few miles to spend the summer feeding in a slough or lake,” Scanlon adds. “Others decide to head elsewhere.”

Elsewhere can be a long swim. One 30-inch fish traveled over 243 miles in eight months. A 42-inch fish moved 34 miles in one month, overwintered in the Yukon River and was found in the original tagging location the following spring, a distance of over 90 miles. 

The vast interconnectivity of Yukon River oxbows, lakes and sloughs allows these migrations to take place and, in effect, grow large, healthy populations of pike that have been little studied – or fished – until now.

I’m convinced pike in the Yukon-Kuskokwim drainages are more numerous and larger than elsewhere in North America.

WHILE FISHING FOR THESE monsters from moose camps to float trips, there is water here that has received little if any fishing pressure. Indeed, some remote waters have never been fished because of sheer number and difficulty of access. Lodges that specialize in pike boast that their clients catch and release from 500 to 1,000 or more pike a week, which is about right, as during our trip, we caught about 250 pike over 36 inches, which is saying a lot. 

In such areas, wildlife is abundant and relatively unafraid of people. During our journeys into these remote sloughs, black bears ignored us as they tried to fish for pike in the shallows. Moose remained and fed in lakes at our approach, requiring us to change course to prevent a possible aggressive charge.

The problem with exploring new waters is that sometimes a big-fish location turns up dry. One day we spent an entire morning catching hammer-handle fish, pike less than 20 inches. 

I remember one trip, where we motored and push-poled our way up the channel to the remote tundra lake. It was wilderness like I’ve experienced in the Amazon or Southeast Asia. No planes flew over, no other boats or signs of people were in sight. Baitfish scurried across the surface, indicating a feeding frenzy was taking place. A moose remained in the lake and was intent on chewing water plants. Mosquitoes blackened the back of our jackets and covered our waders as densely as chocolate sprinkles on an ice cream sundae. 

After my fishing partner Larry released a mammoth pike of 45 inches, we couldn’t keep the smaller 20- to 30-inchers off our flies and lures. We pulled anchor and continued downriver, where we had no big pike action. We decided to change our tactics.

Catching dragonfish on topwaters is exceptional fun and worthy of another feature, but even this action paled in comparison to the sheefish we found ambushing migrating salmon fry at a river mouth. Big sheefish to 30 pounds hammered our lures and flies on nearly every cast. There were no wakes telegraphing an impending strike. The fish often jumped completely out of the water, grabbing the lure or fly on the way down. It was a gift from the water dragons and a suitable way to end this particular quest. 

I OFTEN END A week of pike fishing with fly boxes depleted, leaders chewed to shreds and hands red and callused from the nonstop action. It takes me weeks to block out the pike fishing anthem I play over and over again in the MP3 player of my mind while fighting these fish: The legendary John Mellencamp, the everyman’s philosopher, might be referring to pike fishing, as well as relationships, when he sings, “Come on baby, make it hurt so good.” 

Nothing else needs to be said.

Fishing for water dragons in Alaska’s no-man’s-land  – of swamp, mosquitoes and forest fire smoke that often blocks out sunlight to twilight levels – is as close to fishing “the dark ages” as you can get. But with trophy pike action like this, please leave me in the dark indefinitely. Just be sure to stockpile enough flies, plugs and wire leaders for me until the lights come back on. ASJ

Editor’s note: Chris Batin is editor of The Alaska Angler, and author of numerous award-winning books on Alaska fishing and hunting, including Advanced Alaska Fly Fishing, and The Alaska Hatch DVD, which shows step-by-step instructions on tying five of Alaska’s most-effective fly patterns and details on how to fish them for salmon, trout and pike. Alaska Sporting Journal readers can receive free shipping when ordering any DVD or book by ordering online at AlaskaAngler.com, with promo code ASJ57.

The Breach Director On Speaking Out Against Pebble Mine

The Breach director Mark Titus (left) hopes those opppsing the Pebble Mine will let their concerns be voiced. (THE BREACH)

The following is courtesy of our friend Mark Titus, director of the fabulous documentary, The Breach:

There’s a lot been happening behind the scenes with The Breach.  And we are about to launch a major new endeavor for a new version of the film update the story and highlight the perilous times we are in for wild salmon.

The timing couldn’t be more critical.

As you likely know, last Friday, May 12, It was announced that President Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt struck a backroom deal with a foreign mining company that wants to build an open pit mine near some of our nation’s most precious waters.

This announcement could remove proposed protections for Bristol Bay, Alaska – the most featured segment for wild salmon in The Breach.  Bristol Bay provides 14,000 American jobs and 1.5 billion dollars to the American economy with the 30 – 60 million wild sockeye salmon that return there each summer.

Please – take 3 minutes to of your day and call EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt to tell him compromising an irreplaceable ecosystem, our food supply, the last greatest sockeye salmon run on the earth and our grandchildren’s future is unnaceptable.

The Office of Scott Pruitt:  202.564.4700

And watch The Breach FOR FREE for the next 48 hours through this link here:

http://ow.ly/8kiZ30bMJf4

Lastly, please spread the word and pass this along.  Our wild salmon depend on us.

In solidarity,

Mark

PS – A significant announcement about a new version of The Breach coming soon.

Stan’s The (Yukon) Man In Tanana

Stan Zuray drives up river from his fish camp to his home in Tanana.

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

BY CHRIS COCOLES

PHOTOS BY DISCOVERY CHANNEL  

It took a tiny dot on the Alaska map – in one of the state’s most isolated communities – for Stan Zuray to escape his loneliness and despair.

Consider the irony dripping from his story when you learn Zuray’s first home is New England’s center of the universe – Boston and its five million or so metropolitan residents. Now 67, Zuray grew up with loving parents and a loyal circle of friends who he went to Red Sox baseball games with, partied with and, at times, raised hell with.

Yet he was miserable, lost and in danger of self-destructing there. So now you can understand a bit more why he’s spent the last 40 years living the rugged yet simple life in Tanana, home to the trappers and subsistence hunters who are featured on Discovery Channel’s series Yukon Men.

Unlike the chaos and buzz of Boston, Tanana’s population hovers around 200 or so, and even for Alaska it’s about as far off the beaten path as one could ask for. Boston seemed to unearth a path that Zuray feared treading down.

“People all over, but a lot of my friends were gone; people had died, others joined the service,” says Zuray, who spent his early and young adult years in the turbulent 1960s. “I had older friends in jail and friends getting jobs and starting careers while getting married.”

In a phone interview, he admitted that escaping the torture he seemed to be enduring was the only way to find peace. 

“I found myself alone and with no future where I wanted to live,” Zuray says. “I just wanted something else for myself. I wanted something, something better. I was definitely lost.”

Finding his way took him way out of the way.

ZURAY’S SOUTH BOSTON HOME, Dorchester, is not only the city’s largest neighborhood, it’s also a big part of Beantown’s rich history. On March 4, 1776, George Washington-commanded Continental Army troops drove away the British from the Dorchester Heights area of Boston for good, helping pave the way
to independence. 

Dorchester eventually became one of the city’s most diverse areas. Its famous residents include a wide range of celebrity – from actor Mark Wahlberg and his brother Donnie’s boy band New Kids on the Block, to one of the country’s most infamous gangsters, Whitey Bulger. 

Stan Zuray was just another son of Dorchester growing up. He didn’t lack a supportive family, so there was no broken home to shake free from. 

“My parents were really good hard-working parents, and you know how it is when you’re a little kid: They took you to the beach and other places, and it was good,” Zuray says. “But when you get a little bit older and become a teenager, you start rebelling and doing things without your parents and getting in trouble.”

That was during the 1960s, when two of the Massachusetts Kennedy brothers – John’s and Robert’s parents Joseph and Rose have ties to Dorchester – were assassinated and the Vietnam War escalated. Zuray wasn’t a war protester, but he was nonetheless defiant during those days. His friends were just as mischievous and only got into more trouble as they aged. 

Zuray’s inner circle included guys significantly older than he was, providing more opportunities and access to the wrong side of the tracks. 

“There were times when I was in trouble with the law; it wasn’t anything major,” he says. “But the thing is, I always say the trouble that a teenager gets into and up to the age of 21 is one thing. But the 21 to 30 years of age, that’s the kind of stuff that puts people in jail. That’s where I was heading. That’s where my older buddies were. I had a lot of friends over 10 years older than me. And they had gotten into that type of trouble. You just saw that life ahead of you. And it wasn’t what I wanted.”

His parents had also changed young Stan’s life for the better. Just south of the urban sprawl of Dorchester is Blue Hills Reservation, a 7,000-acre outdoor playground of hiking trails and flora and fauna, a perfect place for a city kid to get away. Young Stan was mesmerized and preordained to bolt the concrete jungles of Boston. 

One of many jobs he took as a teenager and into his early 20s was as a commercial fisherman.

“I did fish out of Scituate (a fishing community south of Boston) on a dragger (trawler). That was a job and it was outdoors and the kind of thing that I liked,” Zuray says. “But I don’t think there was anything I was doing like I’m doing up in Alaska. I just liked the outdoors.”

“I loved fishing; even as a little kid I’d always asked to go fishing. And you’d see things in magazines and read about people moving into the woods here or there. But you had no concept of what it is like. It wasn’t like I could put my mind on it and say, ‘Well, I’m going there.’ I didn’t know what ‘there’ was. I mean, I grew up in Dorchester. You had a one-track mind, but there was that thing. And in my mind, I gravitated to it.”

And the Blue Hills Reservation and a Massachusetts fishing boat gig was a good start to get out of the dark cloud hovering over him on the streets of Dorchester. Going west and north seemed like the most logical way out. 

Albert Kangas learns how to listen for spring water using a stethoscope from Stan Zuray.

IT’S A LONG WAY from the troubles of New England to the junction of the Yukon and Tanana Rivers, where one of the storylines that Yukon Men has followed is the trappers’ vehement opposition to a road. While providing the villagers an easier opportunity to get to the outside world, it’s a treacherous path with limited parking because of surrounding private property, and the terminus on the Yukon just upstream of Tanana is described as only a “turnaround.”

While Zuray left all the necessities behind in Boston – the rest of those featured on the show like Charlie Wright, James Roberts and Courtney Agnes grew up in Alaska – he can understand the argument of why a road in and out of town is a reasonable idea.

“To get a snowmachine into Tanana, it’s about $800 by airplane, because they double freight them and charge you twice as much because it’s a big thing. And that’s a big deal. If the road was open, you can drive on in and get there in about four hours to the big city and get on back,” he says. “Just getting a vehicle into town can cost $1,500.”

But it’s the idea that anyone else with a sense of adventure can come into town that’s put Tananans at odds with each other. For Zuray, who prefers to take advantage of the salmon that run in Tanana’s confluence of rivers – the Yukon and Tanana – and the moose that congregate around the area, anyone else having access to the same fish and game decreases his harvesting odds.

Charlie Wright and James Roberts have spotted a moose in the distance and prepare to take shots.

Courtney Agnes points to where she thinks she sees moose tracks.

(In one episode from this season, Wright and Roberts were hunting in the final hours of moose season when they regrettably stumbled upon the remains of a slaughtered bull. The animal’s horns were cut off and much of the meat left behind. “This is not the work of Tanana people,” a morose Wright said.) 

“There are a lot of people in the village who do the trapping, hunting and fishing lifestyles, and others who don’t do it as much. But the ones who do, they’re the ones who are going to be impacted by people coming in and taking over fishing spots and traplines,” Zuray says. “There are other people who just want to use their trucks and go to town and aren’t as concerned about it.”

But despite their protests and pleas and the challenges that are portrayed on the show as critical to surviving the winter, this is the life Zuray and his cohorts have chosen. And while so many cable TV shows depict “life in Alaska,” many are questioned for their authenticity and honesty, so Zuray hopes his experiences provide a glimpse of “reality” about how difficult it is to fend for yourself in a place like Tanana. 

“I do think the show showcases the lifestyle. Often hunting, trapping and fishing traditions get portrayed negatively, and I feel if given a chance to see some of the good sides of it, people would think better of it,” he says. “Yukon Men reached a nationwide audience with that message and I’m thankful for that.”

Albert Zangas waits to see if Stan Zuray is able to hear a new source of spring water.

IF ZURAY WAS GOING to find his happy place, it was going to be through adventure and the challenges a homesteader would take on. So he left Boston for good in the early 1970s. 

“It was a long process to go from Dorchester to the West Coast, and then to (British Columbia) in Canada and the progression into the woods, and then eventually to Alaska and the Tozitna River (his cabin there has been featured frequently on YukonMen) and where I started living,” he says. 

“And now I’ve been living around there for the last 40-something years. When I got there I realized that’s what I wanted. Once I was there I thought, ‘This is it,’ and something I’ve wanted for a long time, from when I was a little kid in a vacant lot catching snakes at 8 years old.”

As you can imagine, it wasn’t easy at first. (“Those early years in Alaska were the toughest,” he recalls.) Even for someone as resourceful and in his element fishing, hunting and foraging for food, life in Alaska was full of challenges, setbacks and near misses. 

But being in an area surrounded by Natives who knew a lot about the subsistence way was invaluable (Stan’s wife Kathleen is also an Alaskan Native). 

“I didn’t know what I was doing, although I had some experiences and had been around some people and found myself trying to copy them,” Zuray says.

“You’re around Native people who made some stuff out of the woods: The drills they drilled the wood with; the moose hide and webbing. But when it came to doing it from scratch with no help at all, it was hard and you’d make mistakes. We made a lot of mistakes, which I really wouldn’t trade for anything. But it caused us a lot of difficulty and do a lot of things that were pretty crude.”

Now some of his best friends aren’t his cronies in Boston but of the four-legged variety. In the sixth season premiere episode, Zuray is preparing to leave his riverside salmon camp, 40 miles from Tanana. He chops up chunks of chum salmon, throws them into a pot for cooking so he can feed his dogs, not just companions but also a lifeline for transportation in an area where fuel for snowmachines can be scarce.

“Short of family, these dogs are the most important thing; they’ve been my life for 40-something years,” Zuray says on the show. “When I moved here, I recognized dogs are a pretty necessary part of surviving out here.” 

Say what you want about his lifestyle choice so far away from the hustle and bustle of Boston and the plank walk he seemed to be taking there. But there was never a case of buyer’s remorse from Zuray betting on Alaska. 

“Oh, there were times when you had to do things that you were sad about. But again, I can’t say that I would trade it because it might have changed the outcome. And it was never something where you said, ‘I may as well leave here and go back to the city,’ or something like that,” he says. “Because what I had gone through in the city, you never want to repeat that. Nothing that I did was ever worth giving up what I saw as potentially a good lifestyle. So you just kept working at going through the hard times with patience. You just keep trying again.” ASJ

Editor’s note: New episodes of Yukon Men appear on Friday nights on the Discovery Channel (check your local listings). For more, go to discovery.com/tv-shows/yukonmen. Like Stan Zuray at facebook.com/stanzuray and follow on Twitter (@stanzuray). Look for an exceprt of Stan’s new book, Carry On: Stan Zuray’s Journey From Boston Greaser To Alaska Homesteader, in the June issue 

Stan Zuray is busy at his fish camp preparing food for his dogs.

Sidebar

Q&A With Stan Zuray

Stan Zuray on … 

Racing in the Iditarod in 1982 (it was Zuray’s only entry in the race, where he set a record finish by a rookie that wasn’t broken for 10 years):

“In those years I was just a trapper with a very limited amount of worn-out dogs out on the trapline, barely keeping them alive and feeding them. And I was out on the trapline when a plane landed close to me and it was a friend of mine. He lived about 40 miles away and his wife had landed and said, ‘Get into town sometime and talk to my husband. He wants to sponsor you in the Iditarod race,’ and that’s how it all started. It was a humble and meager start, but we ended up doing really fantastic and was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my life.”

How hard the training was for he and his also inexperienced dogs:

“Most people at that point have one or two years of experience of training and assembling dogs just prior to the race. And even the professionals have been training all winter up until that point and had full kennels, at least 50-dog kennels and maybe 100-dog kennels. And I’ve got seven dogs on my trapline. So I had to gather up another seven dogs somewhere and get them in shape. It wasn’t like I had access to a lot of dogs, but the dogs that I had were so tough. And I guess it was the bush skills that I had were so hardened that I was able to get in the race and figure it out. I didn’t know about the Iditarod and it was a 16-day race. And at the end I found myself right up with the leaders. There was a time I was actually in the lead, then fell back and had a little bit of difficulty but finished in ninth place. That was the only time I’d ever raced it, and I’ve been out in the woods ever since.” 

Why meeting his now wife, Kathleen, changed him:

“Kathleen brought stability to my life. The family we raised gave both of us a real purpose in life. We live healthy and bring up the kids in a subsistence lifestyle.” 

When being creative to solve problems is a necessity:

“In the city, if you are not creative or mechanical, then money can solve your problems. But in a place like Tanana, there is usually no one to hire to do things for you, even if you could afford it. If one wants things in life, one better get figuring out how to make it work.”

The dwindling amount of big game available around Tanana for subsistence hunting:

“I think it has always been hard. Many parts of Interior Alaska have way less game per acre than more heavily populated states such as Vermont and Pennsylvania. The cold and barren areas make for hard hunting at times. Outsiders hunting in our traditional subsistence areas don’t make it easier.”

His love for Boston sports teams and reacting to the New England Patriots’ remarkable comeback win in Super Bowl LI over the Atlanta Falcons:

“All summer and in some of winter I am away from the village where there is TV (available). People usually tell me how the Boston teams are doing and my heart is always with them, of course. But I don’t get to watch as much as I’d like. I did watch the Patriots game and saw the whole thing; it was absolutely incredible. They made everyone proud to be from Boston that day. I know our executive producer at Paper Route Productions is a huge Red Sox and Bruins fan. He even went to a Red Sox game with my brother a couple years ago.” ASJ 

EPA Green Lights Company’s Pebble Project Plans Toward Next Step

 

. (BECCA ELLINGSWORTH)

 

The Environnmental Protection Agency provided a green light for the Pebble Limited Partnership mining operation to apply for a federal permit and its proposed copper and gold mine in salmon-rich Bristol Bay.

Here’s the Alaska Dispatch News with more:

The Environmental Protection Agency has settled an ongoing lawsuit with the Pebble Limited Partnership and says the company can apply for a federal permit for its proposed massive gold and copper mine in the Bristol Bay watershed.

Friday’s settlement announcement marks the end of a legal battle ongoing since 2014 between the mine company and the EPA. But salmon fishermen and Native groups in the Bristol Bay region have been fighting the proposed gold, copper and molybdenum mine for more than a decade, and significant funding partners pulled out of the project in 2013. The area’s deposits are some of the largest in the world, but it also rests among tributaries for the world’s largest salmon run.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said early Friday that the agency is committed to allowing the process to move forward, but isn’t prejudging the outcome.

“We understand how much the community cares about this issue, with passionate advocates on all sides,” Pruitt said. “The agreement will not guarantee or prejudge a particular outcome, but will provide Pebble a fair process for their permit application and help steer EPA away from costly and time-consuming litigation. We are committed to listening to all voices as this process unfolds.”

Ron Thiessen, president of Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., the sole current owner of the Pebble Limited Partnership, said the mine company is now planning a “smaller project design at Pebble than previously considered, and one that incorporates significant environmental safeguards.”

Despite Pruitt’s and Thiessen’s comments, social media reaction was expectedly toxic:

 

 

 

Join Deadliest Catch Skippers And F/V Brenna Crew In Seattle

Deadliest Catch Capt. Sean Dwyer with his sister, Breanna (far left) and mom, Jenny. (F/V BRENNA A)

The following is from our former ASJ cover subject and Deadliest Catch crab boat skipper Sean Dwyer of the F/V Brenna A:

Will you be in Seattle on Saturday, May 20? Along with fellow captains featured on the Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch, my family and I will be at Fremont Mischief Distillery for the Captains, Casks and Cocktails Storm Tossed Fundraiser Party from 12-3pm. There will be live music, barbecue, plenty of whiskey, and live auction items like a drag race pit crew experience, a private summer party at Mischief Distillery for you and your friends, lunch with me on the deck of the F/V Brenna A and a whole lot more!

Deadliest Catch fans can purchase and donate un-aged whiskey at the event, to fill their favorite Captain’s barrel; hopefully that Captain is me, and if it is, the barrel gets loaded onto the F/V Brenna A just before we head to Alaska and the Bering Sea in June. Participants can track the journey online and get updates on how the whiskey is aging. If you can’t make it on the 20th, you can still participate and help me fill our barrel by ordering your own bottle.

The proceeds from the F/V Brenna A barrels will be going to the ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALS TDI). My family and I support the work of ALS TDI in memory of my father and expert fisherman, Pat Dwyer.

Tickets are available online and don’t forget to share the event with your friends on Facebook.

I hope to see you there!

Captain Sean Dwyer

 

 

A Message From Save Bristol Bay

Anti-Pebble Mine supporters have further hope of the blocking of the mine given the EPA’s latest proposal (CHRIS COCOLES)

The following press release is courtesy of Save Bristol Bay.

I know we say this a lot, but we need your help now more than ever. This week we’re expecting a big announcement between the EPA and the Pebble Partnership. Based on recent reports, the Trump Administration may be brokering a deal with Pebble to remove proposed protections for Bristol Bay that we worked so hard to achieve over the past decade.

Click here to tell Administrator Pruitt NOT to put foreign jobs over American interests.

Please tell Pruitt and Alaska’s leaders: do NOT pave the way for the Pebble Mine. A majority of Alaskans, including 80% of Bristol Bay residents, do not want the Pebble Mine and we urge our leaders to understand the importance of protecting this unique region and fish-dependent economy.

Please send a message to our leaders to stand up for Bristol Bay.

We are counting on them to not cut a deal with a foreign mining company that risks our salmon, cultures, jobs, and communities.

Here’s also a great blog post from Bristol Bay conservationist and Trout Unlimited president Chris Wood, and a sample of that post:

For the past decade or so, I have had the pleasure of visiting and fishing Bristol Bay for salmon and (very large) native rainbows. Lodge-owners, commercial fishermen, people from the native villages, and guides all impressed upon me the importance of protecting this remarkable $1.6 billion fishery that supplies half of all of the world’s wild sockeye salmon, and nearly 12,000 jobs.

Within a few days, we’re likely to get our first glimpse of how the Trump Administration will deal with Bristol Bay and the proposed Pebble Mine. It is an opportunity for the Administration and the EPA to stand with Alaskans and defend high-paying, family wage jobs in the sport and commercial fishing industries not to mention the families that depend on the fishery for sustenance. What we cannot allow is the construction of a massive, open pit mine, complete with the industrialization of the landscape and several-mile-long earthen dam to be built in a seismically active area. …

… The campaign to protect Bristol Bay is made-in-Alaska, and Alaskans overwhelmingly recognize that industrializing the Bristol Bay watershed with the Pebble Mine is a short-sighted and bad idea, and we remain dedicated to defending Bristol Bay’s world-class fisheries.

Well said.

 

 

 

Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center To Open On May 1

Mendenhall Glacier photo by Wayne Owen/U.S. Forest Service)

The following press release is courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service: 

Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center has completed its winter renovations and opens for the summer on May 1. With the opening, the center will also celebrate a new publication called Alaska’s Mendenhall Glacier by Juneau photographer Mark Kelley and Haines writer Nick Jans.The center’s new bookstore, operated by non-profit partner Discovery Southeast, is hosting a special event for the book release on May 10 from 6-8 p.m. Kelley will give a short presentation from 6:15-6:45 p.m. in the center’s auditorium featuring some of his favorite images from the new glacier book. Discovery Southeast will have signed copies available.
The 80-page book contains the latest information about Mendenhall Glacier, while providing historical context to present the many meanings of Juneau’s famous glacier to visitors and residents. Color photos illustrate seasonal change, plus the significant landscape changes at Mendenhall caused by glacial recession.
The Forest Service’s new partnership with local and nature education oriented Discovery Southeast produced a fresh and welcoming appearance upon entry, in addition to an operational bookstore.
“This new partnership with Discovery Southeast will bring the work of more local artists to the visitor center,” said Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center Director John Neary. “It fits well with our desire to build a strong community connection with Juneau residents while offering relevant interpretive items for everyone.”
For more information contact the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center at 907 789-0097 or follow on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MendenhallGlacierVC/.

Hella Good Halibut Ports

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

STORY AND PHOTOS BY DENNIS MUSGRAVES 

Sportfishing for Pacific halibut in the Last Frontier is always a popular activity for both Alaskans and visiting anglers. You only need to know two things to understand why.

First, halibut can get huge, and I mean huge. Iconic images and countless stories of lucky fishermen catching triple-digit flatfish serve to fan the flames of desire for others who want to hook up with their own saltwater trophy. Who doesn’t want to catch a big fish? 

Second, halibut meat is delicious. The mild white-fleshed fillets need little to no seasoning and can be prepared using a variety of methods, including grilling, broiling, baking, and deep frying. I am certainly hoping to catch my limit on any saltwater trip I make. A big and tasty fish is a no-brainer goal.

My firsthand experiences chartering boats in Alaska for halibut over the past two decades has allowed me to gain perspective and insight for knowing when, where, and who to go out with to make the best of my entire trip.  

Valdez, Homer, Whittier, and Seward are certainly not the only destinations available in Southcentral Alaska where anglers can hire a sportfishing vessel for halibut fishing, but they are certainly among the most popular as well as on the road system. (Kodiak, Cordova and Yakutat, venerable flattie ports in their own rights, require flights.) Each one of the quartet is unique and provides visitors a different local flavor, landscape, and in addition to great halibut action, various sportfishing opportunities.

VALDEZ  

The seaside city of Valdez sits at the very end of the Richardson Highway. The scenic drive sends travelers over the summit of Thompson Pass (elevation 2,805 feet) and down into the narrow pass called Keystone Canyon before finally reaching the small fishing community. The canyon features steep towering cliffs and splendid waterfalls. The Port of Valdez is also the final destination of the 800-mile-long Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

Something to consider about Valdez is the driving distance from Anchorage, about 300 miles one way. It’s the furthest port from the big city on our short list of four. Travel time is about six hours, so an overnight should be planned.

That variable aside, you can’t go wrong when you book a trip for halibut out of Valdez Harbor. I prefer to coordinate my chartered fishing in conjunction with the returning salmon; that way I can maximize my time on shore while still getting in some great fishing with each incoming high tide.

Abundant returns of pink salmon (July) and coho (August) made shoreline fishing a popular activity. Anglers can experience excellent fishing from the shore or by boat during peak months for each species every summer.

Sportfishing charter boats are normally filled during the season and openings for a walk-on angler are rare. The city hosts multiple annual fishing derbies for silvers, pinks and also halibut. Additional popular recreational activities in the area include trail hiking and mountain biking, wildlife and sea life viewing/photography, and ocean kayaking.     

More information: ci.valdez.ak.us; Valdez Convention & Visitors Bureau: valdezalaska.org

HOMER 

Fishermen taking the highway to the southernmost point of the Kenai Peninsula will find Homer, where plenty of flatfish opportunities exist at land’s end. The “Home of the Halibut” can be reached in less than five hours from Anchorage by car. But there is no sense in rushing the scenic 225-mile drive. Take time to view the rugged wilderness, its variety of wildlife and the emerald waters of the Kenai River while keeping an eye out for a volcano on the far side of Cook Inlet. Of course, there is some terrific freshwater fishing to be had for both resident species and migrating salmon, depending on trip timing. 

Tent camping and RVs are both welcome right on Homer’s spit, which serves as access to the small boat harbor, commercial boats and several boardwalks of charter boat services.

A distinctive feature also found on the spit is the Homer fishing hole. The Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon provides shore anglers a chance at hatchery kings and coho.

I’ve taken many boats out of Homer between May and September, and I have yet to not catch a flatfish on a trip. My largest halibut, a 92-pounder, was caught in late May.       

More information: cityofhomer-ak.gov; Homer Chamber of Commerce: homeralaska.org

WHITTIER 

Whittier is a small seaside community less than 60 miles straight-line distance from Anchorage. Situated on the northwest shoreline of the Kenai Peninsula, the city and its unique deep-water port is known as the Gateway to Prince William Sound. Although there are less than 250 full-time residents, hundreds of thousands of tourists visit, most during the warmer months, arriving via cruise ship, train and automobile.

Surrounded by icy glaciers and steep mountains, the area is breathtaking to see and also requires a unique journey by land. Visitors coming by train or car take the 2.5-mile-long Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. The tunnel is officially the longest rail-highway combination in North America, and a schedule of alternating train and one-way travel for passenger vehicles keeps the traffic flowing year-round.

The short travel distance from Anchorage makes it possible for fishermen to take a charter boat, catch a limit of halibut and return, all in one day. Although a day trip is nice if you’re limited for time, I suggest you stay overnight and take your time to enjoy the small port community.

I highly recommend visiting this terrific place after July 1, when lingcod season opens. There is some amazing saltwater fishing to be had on a multispecies excursion, with several species of rockfish, as well as lingcod and Pacific cod available. Make sure you research the boats and book early. As with any port discussed here, the better charter captains fill up well before the fishing season even begins.

More information: whittieralaska.gov; Greater Whittier Chamber of Commerce: whittieralaskachamber.org

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SEWARD  

Seward rests on the Kenai Peninsula’s southern shore, at the head of Resurrection Bay. Breathtaking views of steep snow-capped mountains and dense green alpine forest surround the small seaside community. Visitors can reach the destination by train, plane, automobile or cruise ship. Most travelers go by car via the Seward Highway, which is designated by the U.S. Forest Service as a scenic byway. The 125-mile roadway runs from Anchorage through Turnagain Arm, Chugach National Forest, the Kenai Peninsula and the Kenai Mountains before ending in Seward.

Although hiring a fishing boat for halibut is among the most popular attractions to the area, Seward provides a variety of things to see and experience. For instance, Alaska SeaLife Center, Alaska’s only public aquarium and ocean wildlife rescue center, generates interest from thousands every month during the summer season. The institute was established to execute a mission of sea life research, oversee animal rehabilitation and promote Alaska’s marine ecosystem. Stopping there is a must for anyone visiting.

There is plenty of outdoor action after touring the ASLC, including ocean kayaking, bicycling the pathways or hiking the numerous wilderness trails around Seward, just to name a few.

I’ve found late May to early June to be almost ideal since it coincides with the timing of sockeye salmon arriving to Resurrection Bay. Saltwater salmon snagging is legal and popular with locals near Nash Road, normally providing a healthy bag limit of six fish.

More information: seward.com; Seward Chamber of Commerce: sewardchamber.org

THE BEST OF EVERYTHING 

The one common denominator among these four ports is that each can offer great experiences fishing for halibut and outdoor activities that meet any agenda. I admit, it is difficult to find a bad location in Alaska for saltwater fishing, and I feel spoiled and very thankful that I live in such a wonderful place. With these four spots, I know I’m just a bait drop away from hooking a halibut.

Whether you’re looking for the glory of a trophy barndoor fish, just trying to fill the freezer with some of the state’s most delicious table fare, or simply seeking a unique opportunity for an adventure with family or friends, the more information you have about the port you’re going fishing out of, the better you’ll be able to better take advantage of everything that can be found on an Alaskan saltwater fishing trip. ASJ

Editor’s note: For more on Dennis Musgraves’ Last Frontier fishing adventures, check out alaskansalmonslayers.com.