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Former Alaskan Takes On Snake Island




Editor’s note: The following story appears in the August issue of Alaska Sporting Journal 

By Chris Cocoles Photos by Discovery Channel

Venomous vipers. Marauding buccaneers. Buried gold. Sunken galleons. Sound like a rough draft for yet another edition in the long overexposed Pirates of the Caribbean franchise?
Not quite, but Alaska, which barely has any snakes of note within its state borders, has a backstory in the Discovery Channel’s new adventure show with a catchy title. Treasure Quest: Snake Island premiered in mid-July and continues this month, and it should draw attention from two keywords that permeate with viewers: serpents and gold.
A crew of adventurers heads to the rugged Atlantic Ocean just under 100 miles off the coast near São Paulo, Brazil, to Ilha da Queimada Grande (the Portuguese translation of Snake Island), which is home to a dangerous and deadly version of the pit viper, the golden lancehead. Modern-day pirates also are said to cruise these waters as another potential danger.
The Smithsonian magazine referred to Ilha da Queimada Grande as having “the highest concentration of venomous snakes anywhere in the world.” It’s also – legend says – full of a large colony of resident treasures – gold stashed there during the heyday of South America’s iconic Incas.
TV executives can’t get enough of such a storyline of danger and dollar signs, so Discovery sent a motley crew of experts to South America: freediver (and fashion model) Mehgan Heaney-Grier; the obligatory (and possibly insurance-company-mandated) reptile expert, Aussie herpetologist Bryan Fry; vessel captain and treasure hunter Keith “Cappy” Plaskett; expedition leader Cork Graham; and mechanic and Swiss Army knife-style handyman Jeremy Whalen.
Graham and Whalen are no strangers to Alaska, having both spent time here. We caught up with the personable Whalen, who shared some of his adventures in The Last Frontier and a wild motorcycle ride from the U.S. to Peru.

Discovery Channel

Jeremy Whalen

Jeremy Whalen

Discovery Channel

Chris Cocoles How did you get involved with Treasure Quest: Snake Island?
Jeremy Whalen A call out of the blue, actually. Capt. Keith was recruited for the expedition and recommended me to participate. He and I are close friends who have worked on various underwater archeology/treasure-hunting projects in the past.

CC It sounds like from an early age you had a passion for metal detectors. What got you into that?
JW I definitely have a passion for getting outside and exploring. Discovering new and interesting things is exciting, and metal detecting is one way of doing it. When you get in the zone metal detecting, it’s almost meditative. When I was 14 my dad offered to reward me for keeping my grades up in school. My response was that a metal detector would do. So I acquired my first metal detector, a Sears TR Discriminator made by Whites. I took the bus to Idaho and spent the summer metal detecting with my uncle, Dennis Higbee, who, in any circle, is considered a metal detecting god. I was hooked.

CC What was your first experience in Alaska like?
JW Well, getting off the plane in Alaska the first thing I saw were rows of bald eagles in the trees. I’d never seen a bald eagle except on TV and in magazines. You were literally surrounded by wilderness. I grew up at the base of Mt. Si (the backdrop to the cult TV show Twin Peaks) in Washington state and the forests were my stomping grounds. Alaska forests were even bigger and surrounded by ocean and with huge trees. I spent that summer exploring. In my mind I can still see the bears, salmon, sea otters and moose. That was huge to me at 9 years old.

CC You seem like a diehard adventure guy. Were Alaska’s wild and wide-open spaces a perfect fit for you?
JW Topographically, Alaska has so many virgin areas to explore. There is something special knowing that you are probably the first person to set eyes on an area. Alaska is what is left of the United States in its most original state. I would say it is one of my favorite places in the world. Summers in Alaska are surreal with the northern lights and everything buzzing with life.

CC You also have worked as a logger in Alaska. What was that experience like?
JW That wasn’t actually my first job in Alaska. I worked for a month with the Metlakatla tribe emptying out their huge ocean fish traps – huge traps that ran from the shore way out into the ocean. Each had a floating cabin that someone lived in.
I lived with an uncle on the reservation, then got a job logging in Rowan Bay for Alaska Pulp Corporation at the ripe old age of 17. I might have embellished a little when asked how old I was. I spent one summer setting chokers, then two summers working as the “pimp,” also referred to as a second rigger. Basically, I climbed trees and set up the yarder cables that hauled the logs up to the landing where they were loaded onto trucks. I was in the best shape of my life. We worked six days a week, 12-hour days. Living at the logging camp I was able to save every penny. Funny, but some of the things I remember most: the T-shirt I always wore – Hard Rock Cafe-Hell; and also my boss, the hooktender, Jim Miller. He taught me how to race horseflies, climb trees and splice cable.

Cork Graham

Cork Graham

CC Fellow treasure seeker Cork Graham also has a lot of Alaska ties. Did you share a lot of stories with him during this project?
JW We did swap a few about different places we’d been, and especially about fishing the backcountry. Unfortunately, we were so immersed in the expedition – it was intense – that a lot of those conversations were put on the back burner till we meet again.

CC I’m fascinated by the Alaska/Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s, especially the stories of obsession of those who came to Alaska and the Yukon. Is that a time in history when you would have chased gold there?
JW On one hand I think I’d feel the draw. On the other hand I hate following the herd. I do enjoy prospecting. I’ve always hiked my sluice box and pan into wherever I was exploring in Alaska and spent a good bit of free time hiking and panning for gold. Even with my gypsy lifestyle I still have a huge old bottle full of black sand and a little bottle of placer gold from Alaska.

CC Do you have a love for the outdoors like fishing and hunting?
JW I do. But growing up, fishing and hunting for my family and I was for sustenance. My dad and I would go deer hunting. We’d butcher and package it all ourselves and make sausage. I have some memories as a 5-year-old looking out the screen door on the back porch and seeing a deer hung up with its eye glowing red in the kitchen light. It obviously left an impression. My dad would also bring a bear home once in a while. Mom would render it and make lye soap with lavender – horrible soap! One bar would last years for lack of use. One of my favorite pastimes as a teen was tracking. I’d sketch every type of animal print I could come across. I’d spend all day in the woods, watching and tracking animals. I still have my sketchbooks. My teenage idol was Tom Brown, “The Tracker.” I must have read his book 20 times.


CC You rode your motorcycle all the way to Peru. What kind of memories from that trip can
you share?
JW Funny story: at high school graduation the honor students had a luncheon where each one of us stood up and shared what we were going to do after graduation. Everyone basically shared what college, university or military branch they were going into. My turn came and I stood up and said, “After logging in Alaska for five months, I’m going to ride a motorcycle from here to South America. I’ll take about a year. After that I’ll sort out the rest.”
I started the ride with a buddy from the logging camp; I sold him on the idea. But once we got to Mexico and crossed the border he got cold feet and headed back north. I finished the trip myself – the only rule being, no heading north. If I liked a place, I stayed. If I got hungry, I ate. I made some great friendships. I was always sad and happy to be on my way again. I made a point of using only backroads and staying out of cities, even in the U.S. I stuck to small towns and country roads, and I think I had a better sense of the people and culture because of it.
Traveling by motorcycle is incredible – the sense of freedom and being out there. In eight years my brother and I are planning a yearlong motorcycle trip through Eastern Europe, then the east coast of Africa. I’m counting down the days.

CC Your bio describes you as a “modern-day MacGyver.” What is one of your proudest MacGyver-like moments of creativity in a pinch?
JW As a bush mechanic, you have to be creative. I’ll share a MacGyver moment that helped Peru save face with Ecuador. A little background: Ecuador came into possession of a 54-foot sailboat named Karisma that a corrupt politician used to escape from Lima to Ecuador when an arrest warrant was put out for him. All of his property was seized. Except Karisma, of course – she stayed in Ecuador. It has been a point of contention for 10 years between the two countries.
Last year, Ecuador decided to show some good faith and return Karisma to the Peruvian government. It was a big deal. A whole Peruvian Navy fleet showed up with admirals in tow to escort Karisma back to Peru. It was a big ceremony. They contracted us to snazzy up the boat while their two navy mechanics worked on the engine, which was an old and rusty Westerbeke. It wasn’t seized and would turn over, but they couldn’t get it going and worked at it for two days. The ceremony was fast approaching so they brought in a third mechanic. Still no luck.
The night before the ceremony they called me at 10 p.m. and asked if I’d give it a go. My brother, who was visiting, and I went down to the marina and crawled into the greasy, rusty engine room and started tinkering with it. Long story short – we ended up patching a pinhole leak in a hard fuel line with two-part epoxy and electrical tape. It started. They gave me a couple of bottles of pisco in appreciation. Not wanting to chance it not starting at the end of the ceremony, they kept it running all night and through the ceremony until they motored away with the fleet. That was my diplomatic contribution.


CC It looks like you have an obsession with South America. Is there a lot of Alaska to that continent in terms of the vast space and I would assume unexplored areas full of beauty, nature and danger?
JW Alaska and South America in general have a lot in common, I believe, topographically and culturally. People there I believe are more self-reliant and independent. There are potholes and animals to contend with. Weather can be extreme. You can’t go into either without being prepared. You are responsible for yourself and have to depend on it. South America isn’t just tropical – it has all the climates. There are a lot of mountains over 15,000 feet. One is Chimborazo (in the Andes Mountains of central Ecuador); my wife and I hiked for a week around the base of Chimborazo at 12,000 feet. We were totally off the trail. There were wolves, vicunas (a cousin to the alpaca) and pumas. We were freezing, with spectacular scenery. The granite rock faces there would make Yosemite jealous.

CC Without giving away too much from what we’ll see on TV, what was Snake Island like for you and your fellow treasurehunters?
JW It was controlled chaos. There were only so many elements that you had control over and just had to roll with. Again, it was extreme nature. Also, the only way we could gel and work as a team was to complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. That takes time and circumstance. The learning curve was sharp, but in the end I feel like we’re a hell of a team.

CC This is a pretty interesting and diverse group you worked with. Your prospecting and road trips, Cork’s days in a Vietnamese prison to Mehgan’s freediving background, Bryan’s work with snakes and reptiles and Cappy’s zest for treasurehunting. You must have engaged in some pretty good conversations on the boat and when not dodging snakes and looking for gold.
JW Fortunately, no one had any prison time in common with Cork! Cork and I had Alaska-ing and prospecting. With Mehgan it was freediving (I’ve been a freediver for 15 years). I’ve also had my share of reptiles and herp friends, so Bryan and I had that in common. With Cappy it’s everything – we’ve been friends for about eight years. There was a common ground with everyone and never any silence. Lots of near-death conversations with graphic descriptions.



CC Were you born a couple of centuries too late? I have a feeling you would have fit in well as an explorer in the 1500s and 1600s sailing into the unknown and seeing what you can find.
JW I love that era in history. Right after the Dark Ages: the Renaissance. I’m a history buff from between the years 1450 and 1700. That was a time of discovery. It actually formed modern society, but it was also a brutal time in history. Ignorance and religious fervor fueled most of it. I think I’d be more comfortable in the early 1800s.

CC You have a family. Do you ever want to just settle down with a nice house and relax? Or is being on the move looking for another adventure in your DNA permanently?
JW I tried to settle down three times. Mentally, my mind kept going places and my body eventually followed. The first time I bought a house and settled down I had to take sabbaticals for two to four months every year from the company I worked for to stay sane. They were able to hold onto me the longest. When I got back they would always ask me when I was coming in. My son says I have a two-year expiration date. I believe my kids are actually better for it. They relate to any age group, are bilingual, nonjudgmental and outgoing. My son Tristan, from age 7 to 11, traveled with me for three years on the ocean. We bought a sailboat in (Puerto Vallarta) Mexico and sailed for three years through Central America till we landed in Ecuador. He learned more in those three years than he ever would in a conventional school. Currently he is 16 and going to community college, and it’s not because I’m good at home schooling. I have all the worst traits for a
teacher. I think it’s because he is a balanced person. He knows who he is and feels it.

CC You’ve spent a lot of time in Arctic Alaska and in the tropical jungles and waters of Brazil. Do you prefer one climate to the other?
JW Not really: I enjoy both extremes. I think most people live their lives detached from nature. Air-conditioned or heated. Car to house, car to store and car to work. That’s fine, but it’s good to get out and feel part of Mother Nature. It makes you feel alive and part of something bigger than yourself. It makes one appreciate the world we live in. It’s an incredible planet, and being born is like winning the lottery. The odds are over 14 million to 1.

CC Do you have an ultimate goal in what you want to accomplish, or is there no method to the madness? Are you just taking every day that comes at you and adjusting on the fly?
JW There actually is a method to my madness. I always make sure that financially I have options if any opportunities present themselves. What I’d like to accomplish in the end is this: an old me dying on some foreign beach; I’m totally broke but with a smile on my face and the tide taking me out
to sea. ASJ

Fish Turning Up Dead In Warm Alaska Waters

Photo courtesy of Mark Titus/The Breech movie

Photo courtesy of Mark Titus/The Breech movie

It’s been a  warm summer in Alaska (but enough to play the dreaded “heat wave” card?). But manufactured or not, warm water temperatures have taken a toll on fish:

Here’s the Alaska Dispatch with more:

Unusually warm water temperatures and low river levels are killing salmon in the Matanuska and Susitna valleys. Hundreds of Arctic char, recently stocked by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, have also gone belly up in Campbell Point Lake, also known as Little Campbell Lake, inside Anchorage’s Kincaid Park.

 Habitat biologists are calling the conditions “almost a perfect storm,” but don’t believe the die-offs will have lasting effects on fish numbers in Southcentral Alaska.

 “It will have some impact but in the long term for species that return multiple age classes, I wouldn’t characterize it as a disaster,” said Mike Bethe, Mat-Su area manager for the Habitat Division of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

 Fish and Game biologists have reported water temperatures as high as 74 degrees in Jim Creek — a small tributary of the Knik River. Some dead salmon have been found near the river’s weir, where Fish and Game staff count incoming fish to monitor and manage the run. Combined with low water levels, which make it difficult for salmon to move upstream to spawn, the fish die-offs have forced Fish and Game to close Jim Creek to all fishing on Mondays and Tuesdays. And dead fish have been turning up in other Mat-Su streams, including Lucille CreekFish Creek and Cottonwood Creek.

 This summer has been among the warmest on record for much of Southcentral Alaska, and a lack of winter snow and summer rain have contributed to low water levels.

Deadliest Catch Crew Reacts To Super Bowl Failure Like All 12s

Photo courtesy of the Discovery Channel

Photo courtesy of the Discovery Channel

Our publishing company’s office is in Seattle, and coincidentally, despite growing up in the Northern Calfornia, my Seattle Seahawks’ fanhood dates back to the days of Dave Krieg, John L. Williams and – ugh – Brian Bosworth.

I watched the NFC Championship game with friends and people I barely know at a West Seattle pub, but it seemed like I hugged and high-fived every single person at the bar that day. I’ve rarely been part of such a wonderfully spontaneous chaotic reaction to the final minutes of regulation and the Seahawks’ winning touchdown to complete an insane comeback against Green Bay.

Of course, here in the Northwest (and Seahawks-friendly Alaska), we all know how Super Bowl XLIX turned out.

But imagine what Deadliest Catch Capt. Sig Hansen – a Seattle native and one – and his crew of “12’s” felt when they were far away from Glendale, Ariz. and crabbing in the Bering Sea. As this week’s episode of Deadliest Catch showed, the crew of Hansen’s crabbing vessel, the Northwestern, had the same what-the-hell-were-they-thinking-moment when Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson threw an interception at the goal line in the final minutes when everyone rooting for Seattle was assuming running back Marshawn Lynch would pound his way into the end zone and finish off back-to-back NFL titles.

Here’s how the Northwestern crew had to find out the result, courtesy of our friends at the Discovery Channel:


Another Southeast Monster Halibut

Check out this monster halibut – a 200-pounder – caught by a self-guided angler out of Chinook Shores Lodge in Ketchikan:


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The fishing IS great in Ketchikan, Alaska!
…we still have a place for YOU!
September 3-9, 2015
September 25-October 1, 2015
For more information about self-guided fishingor guided chartersemail info@chinookshores.com or call (907) 225-6700 today!

How To Hit An Alaskan Salmon Grand Slam

Salmon slam 1 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Salmon slam 4 Salmon slam 5


Editor’s note: The following story appears in the July issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:

Story and Photos By Dennis Musgraves 
Sportfishing for salmon presents a fresh challenge for me every summer in Alaska. I can thank a longtime friend, Mathew Splechter, who many years ago issued a fishing challenge to me that I try to complete every season.
“The Alaskan Salmon Grand Slam” was the term Matt used, a badge of honor accomplished by catching each one of the state’s five eastern Pacific salmon species. Furthermore, you must use five different lures at five different locations before summer’s end.
Splechter’s unique take on fishing fueled a salmon-crazed obsession in me. It’s been a journey that’s taken me along more than 3,000 miles of roadways – exploring many places never visited – and making thousands of casts with my rod and reel in order to hit the five-fish plateau.
I captured both the entire experience and each fish-catching milestone with photographs. I often enjoy reflecting back on the images and replaying the splendid adventure. Since landing my original slam, I have been fortunate to repeat the five-fish feat virtually every year over the past decade. Basically the task has turned sportfishing for salmon into a science.
Endless options and variables are available for fishermen going after a summer slam. One common aspect with fishing the road system in Alaska is dealing with crowded conditions. Productivity and people go hand in hand, since the better fishing locations are naturally going to attract the masses. If you’re a highway angler like myself, expect to be sharing the water.
Anglers looking to narrow down a formula to complete a grand slam of Pacific salmon in Alaska need to look no further than my proven list of choices.
Anglers will find one of the most productive king salmon fisheries in Alaska very close to the heart of downtown Anchorage. Ship Creek attracts a hatchery run of returning Chinook starting in late May through mid-July. This legendary urban fishery is significantly influenced by tidal changes, especially the extreme lower end near the mouth. Peak fishing is a couple hours before and after a high tide.
It’s affectionately named “the ditch” by some local fishermen, since low tide will bring the water flow down to a trickle and reveals a thick muddy mess of soft sediment, which is not unlike quicksand. The deeply cut banks on both sides of the creek were formed by retreating water and make it appear like a washed-out canyon; this is virtually impossible to navigate without sinking up to one’s hips in the sludge. You’re going to want to make sure you bring rubber boots to fish this iconic mud hole, even at high tide.
Soaking roe under a bobber is by far the most popular technique for king salmon in the creek. I prefer to take a more active approach by casting large, bright-colored inline spinners. Size 5 and 6 seem to work the best. I am able to cover a lot more space horizontally in the creek and at least feel engaged in trying to attract a bite.
Typically, fishermen can expect to catch kings that range from 10 to 25 pounds, though occasionally larger fish are caught. A 2005 Ship Creek King Salmon Derby fish weighed 50.2 pounds.
Fast-action medium-heavyweight fishing rods of 8½ feet or longer is a good choice to use, and help avoid problems when an angler does wrangle up a bigger king.
In 2014, anglers got a banner return for the hatchery kings at Ship Creek. Uncertainties of wild king salmon stocks all over the state make this location a respectable choice for anglers trying to harvest a Chinook. Try going early in the season to avoid the crowds.
I was fortunate enough to catch a respectable king salmon last year onMay 23, which made me a fool for the city! It also gave me an early start on my Alaska salmon slam.
The confluence of the Kenai and Russian Rivers is the most visited sportfishing destination for sockeye salmon in Alaska. The fishery draws huge crowds of visitors every season for two simple reasons: relatively close distance to the most populated city in the state, and thousands of tasty red salmon swimming upstream. Expect elbow-to-elbow combat fishing conditions on this sportfishing battlefield.
Fishermen venturing to the Russian River from Anchorage take a two-hour drive south by way of the scenic Seward Highway, and then merge onto the Sterling Highway to Milepost 55. Access the river by either taking a private ferry across the Kenai River or by entering the Russian River Campground. Both require a fee, though paying to drive into the campground for a parking area is my usual choice.
Avoiding the congestion is possible by staying further upstream. Although it won’t offer total seclusion, it will provide an escape from the madness at the river’s mouth. I have found plenty of room and open water for fishing on the river by simply heading upstream, even on the fishery’s insanely crowded opening week.
Some of the best fishing is by “flossing” the fish in the mouth with a hook. The technique is debated heavily, since fish are not actually biting and it is viewed by some as simply a form of legal snagging. Casting is more like flipping, because the fish run very close to the riverbank.
Most fishermen like myself use a recognized standard coho fly tied to a leader about 2 to 3 feet in length. The leader line is attached to a sinker (lead weight), which is heavy enough to get the hook and leader down deep in the water, but light enough to drift with the flow of water.
There are simply so many sockeye that eventually you end up drifting your line or hook right into a fish’s mouth.
The Russian has specific gear restrictions, recognized open and closed areas, and special openings that apply. Familiarizing yourself with current rules and regulations for sportfishing is prudent. The river confluence and surrounding area is also home to a large population of bears. Situational awareness for big bruins and standard practices for bear country should be taken at all times.
Flowing under the George Parks Highway near milepost 96.6 is Montana Creek. The clear-running water welcomes four of the five salmon species each summer. Chum salmon, often called dog salmon since they develop a protruding snout (kype) and large canine-like teeth in freshwater, start showing up mid-July The fish can be also distinguished by dark calico coloring – typically green, red or gray – and uneven striping that appears like camouflage.
The creek is divided into an upper and lower section by the highway’s bridge. I prefer to fish the lower section of the creek, but since this location is known for fishing, don’t expect to be alone. There is public parking and access alongside the highway just south of the creek and also a private campground adjacent to the water.
I normally approach chum fishing in the mainstem of the creek using a fly rod, but conventional spinning and casting rods work well also. I like to wade the creek using a 7-weight fly rod with sinking line on a matched reel. Try fishing the deeper holes and slack areas where fish have a tendency to rest. Salmon are attracted to bright streamers, leech patterns, and large lures (spinners and spoons). I have found purple Egg-sucking Leeches seem to be a golden ticket when dead-drifting deep in the water’s current. Leech patterns can also be used with casting rods by fixing enough split shot about 18 inches above the hook. Don’t be surprised if you catch pink salmon instead of chum, since the timing of both salmon is the same in most creeks that have both species; humpy salmon typically take the same type of offering used for chum.
Fishing at the mouth of the creek where it flows into the Susitna River is also productive. It’s also easier to cast large hardware here because the water is much deeper at the confluence. Trails on both sides of Montana Creek are easy to navigate, and less than 1 mile from the highway.
Sheep Creek is another location in the Susitna Valley that benefits from the return of four different species of salmon. Fishermen have two choices with public access: the creek under the Parks Highway bridge at milepost 88.1, or by turning off the Parks Highway at milepost 85.8, and then taking Resolute Drive to the confluence area (where it drains into the Susitna).
Either location will have pink salmon showing up in mid-July with the chums. I prefer to fish the slough area near the mouth of the creek. A medium-action rod is perfect for targeting the smaller salmon, and the fish will respond to just about anything you swim in front of them. Pinks are not picky. I found casting a bright-colored large spoon or spinner in pink or orange is a safe bet to entice a bite. It also gives anglers lure options in hitting a salmon slam.
Fly fishing is also popular here. Streamers, leeches and yarn flies all work well. Many anglers wade the top portion of the creek and move downstream from where the water passes under the highway. Lots of fish and not a lot of anglers are bright spots for fishing pinks. Your odds at hooking up with chum salmon are also good during the same time frame.
There are quite a few rivers and creeks in Alaska that host all five eastern Pacific salmon species. Sunshine Creek is one of those places with a royal flush of fish; during the open-water season each different salmon may be present.
When I visit the tiny creek in August I’m after coho salmon. Sunshine coho are the last to show up in the shallow waterway, normally by the first week in August. Public access is at the Parks Highway milepost 102.5 by following a dirt road for a half-mile to a parking area, and then walking a short distance down a trail to reach the confluence.
Casting large spinners, letting them sink deep, and slow-rolling them across the narrow channel is very effective. I have seen fish darting some 20 feet in the clear water and hammering a slow fluttering lure. I suggest a medium-heavy-action rod; the salmon are aggressive and strong. Fishing roe under a bobber is another effective method when the area is open for bait.
I also like using a fly rod with a bright streamer, with pink or chartreuse working nicely. Casting and stripping fly line in sharp, short bursts, keeping the streamer below the surface, will do the trick. Using a 7- to 8-weight stick, sinking line, and a matched reel with a good drag system would be my suggestion for gear.
Upgrading and restoration projects at the creek in the last couple years have made great improvements to the roadside fishery’s environmental concerns. Construction of a toilet facility near the parking area has eliminated human waste issues; installation of a gate protects the trail from motor vehicle traffic to the creek’s shoreline; and elevated fishing platforms along the bank assist in stream erosion problems.
Over the years I have become creative with setting additional parameters to catching all five salmon. One particular season I caught all the fish on a fly rod, and in another year I used the exact same lure to hook all five on. My ultimate goal is to catch each species in a single outing – a one-day salmon grand slam. I noticed one completed in the saltwater last year while looking up fishing reports online. It was inspiring to see such an accomplishment. I may never get lucky enough to go five for five with the salmon in Alaska on a single day, but I do know I am going to have a fun time trying.
Inline spinners are hard to beat for catching salmon. Going salmon fishing without Kodiak Custom Fishing Tackle spinning lures is simply not possible for me. The G.I series skirted spinner model in size 5 or 6 is my favorite. These feature bright color selections and a big blade that attracts salmon like a magnet in both fresh- and saltwater applications. The spinner-style lure allows you to cover wide spans of water horizontally. KCFT is produced right here in Alaska, featuring quality control and guaranteed performance. Check out their complete line of spinners and bottom jigs (kodiakcustom.com).
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game started a new program last year for families sportfishing for salmon in Alaska. The 5 Salmon Family Challenge encourages salmon fishing as a family and recognizes families that accomplish catching all five different species. The program is inclusive and does not have a time requirement, and it is open to resident and nonresident anglers. Documenting your family member catches with photographs and sending the images with a completed application is all you need to do. Approved applications will be sent a handsome colorful certificate which depict the five Pacific salmon species and showcases your family name in bold print. More information and rules can be found online at ADFG website (adfg.alaska.gov.)



Life On The Refuge: The Last Alaskans

Last Alaskans 1
The following story appears in the July issue of Alaska Sporting Journal 
By Chris Cocoles
Photos courtesy of Animal Planet
Remember when you were young and daydreamed about what life in the future would be like, or at least could be like?
Heimo Korth has more Fred Flintstone in him than George Jetson. He’s more fascinated by the past and what the world around him used to be like; he’s not interested in Tomorrowland.
Korth’s is among a couple handfuls of families still allowed to maintain residency on Alaska’s lonely – that’s lonely, even for Alaska’s standards – Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, featured on Animal Planet’s rookie series, The Last Alaskans.
“This is an adventure; this is joy. You’re bound to nature; nature directs your path,” Korth says during the first few minutes of the show’s premiere episode. “I mean, that’s the way that man has been for nearly three million years. In the land we live in you’re part of the food chain. The only pressure you and all the animals have here is keeping yourself alive.”
In 1980, Congress banned new human occupation in ANWR, which at 113 million acres is about the same size as South Carolina. The owners of seven cabins on the refuge were allowed to continue residing there until their direct living descendants pass away, whenever that time comes.
Most don’t spend the entire year there – the Korths spend a few months out of the year at a cabin in Fort Yukon in the Alaskan Interior, but they trap and hunt through the fall to have enough food to get through the winter. It can be dangerous, regardless of how many months are spent on the refuge.
Korth and his wife, Edna, know all about how fragile life can be in their rugged northeast corner of Alaska, where your nearest neighbor can be hundreds of miles away. Thirty years ago, the Korths lost a child in a river accident when she was 2. It was the kind of unthinkable and horrific tragedy that could destroy a family’s resolve to live in such a primitive setting. But Heimo and Edna , and the others who remain on this beautiful but dangerous refuge – residents share their land with polar bears, brown bears and wolves – are filled with resolve, not regret.
And it’s the kind of fend-for-yourself approach they chose compared to past generations with no such choice.
“If you think about it, any anthropologist will tell you man has been the nomadic hunter for far, far longer than he has farmed in the world,” Korth said. “I guess I feel like me and my wife were kind of keeping up the tradition; I shouldn’t say tradition, but should just say (keeping up) a way of life – with the human population growing – that is dwindling. I’m glad that we live like that, and I’m proud of it.”
LIKE THE OTHER ANWR cabin owners who are the subjects of The Last Alaskans, Heimo Korth was a Lower 48er who migrated to Alaska with every intention of chasing the Last Frontier dream of freedom in a place where you can disappear, metaphorically at least. (According to the Animal Planet bios on the residents featured on the show, Bob Harte hitchhiked to Alaska from New Jersey 40 years ago; Ray Lewis, who has lived in the refuge for 30 years with his wife, Cindy, and three daughters, is originally from Michigan; Tyler and Ashley Selden, relative newcomers to the ANWR, met  at the University of Minnesota Duluth).
Korth’s hometown of Appleton, Wis., wasn’t exactly a major metropolis back in the late 1950s and early ’60s when he grew up. But consider that Appleton’s current population – 73,000 – is bigger than Fairbanks and Juneau combined.
“My dad and mom weren’t very outdoorsy at all. Even though my dad was born and raised on a farm, he wasn’t a hunter or a trapper, and very rarely fished. We lived at the edge of town, and I could walk a block away and be in a farmer’s field with dairy cows around,” he said. “So instead of going into town I always went out of town. There weren’t any cars there, but there were woods to play in. Probably 60 percent of the time I’d go by myself. I loved it and I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to go out with me.”
You can see where this quest for peace and quiet was going to take Korth. His odyssey began in Canada’s Northwest Territories in 1973. This was the during the final days of the Vietnam War and the perception was men Korth’s age (18 at the time) who came to Canada were draft-dodgers, so his presence there was greeted with an icy reception. Still, he longed to fit in somewhere in that corner of North America.
Korth found work assisting a hunting guide, earning just room and board. After two months he asked his boss about opportunities in Alaska to self-sustain as a trapper somewhere. The guide offered to fly Korth to a cabin he used to trap out of. But it was more Alaskan nightmare than American dream.
“I was a cheechako (a rookie outdoorsman, or tenderfoot); I had a difficult time, lost a bunch of my food and fell through the ice,” said Korth, who was unhurt but left the trapping game.
He wrote his guide a letter explaining his failures and got a rather unexpected reply: a check for $500 with two options – use the money to either outfit himself and go back to the cabin or come back to work for the guide. The man had moved to St. Lawrence Island, a middle-of-nowhere Eskimo outpost in the Bering Sea, 36 miles offshore from Russia’s Chukchi Peninsula. Almost every resident there is an Alaskan native.
So Korth was off again to one of the island’s only two villages: Savoonga. It was there he met Edna, though they didn’t start dating until five or six years later. (“Out in an Eskimo village on an island in the middle of a frozen ocean, where do you go out for a date?” he joked.)
Before they fell in love and married in the early 1980s, Korth was already living on his own in a rickety cabin on what is now the ANWR. This wasn’t exactly a romantic spot for young married couples.
“When you’re a single guy in your mid-20s you can live in pretty crummy conditions and you don’t care. I had a little cabin that you couldn’t even stand up straight in because the roof was so low,” Korth said with a laugh. “And Edna got out there and told me later, in her mind, ‘What am I doing out here? This is crazy.’ But she gave me direct orders to raise the roof. A week before winter I worked like a crazy man to raise the house up. I just got it up before the snow.”
But even Edna, no stranger to living in isolation from her island home, also embraced the solitude of the cabin. They could both sustain themselves there, and it was a life dictated on their terms. “Now that’s home,” Korth said.
SOMETIMES, IRONY CAN bowl you over with brute force and downright cruelty. Four months after getting married, the Korths named their first daughter together (Edna had a daughter, Millie, from a previous relationship) after the river that winds its way through the refuge they call home for most of the year. The Coleen is 52 miles long, a tributary of the Porcupine River and a vital artery for the Korths in their home on the refuge. Their first child together, Coleen Ann Korth, was born on May 29, 1982.
In June 1984, the family was in a canoe crossing the Coleen when the boat capsized. Coleen was caught in the river’s swift current and swept away. Her body was never found.
Yet, not only did Heimo and Edna remain strong despite their grief, they were defiant about staying the course in the setting they’d chosen.
“Let’s say a couple has a child and they live in, let’s say, Dallas, and they were born and raised there. They drive out on the highway and they get in a car wreck; the child dies but they live,” Korth said. “Are they going to move to another state to get away from that town? Why would we move away from where we live, even though we lost our daughter? Granted, to this day, many times when I’m walking by myself or me and Edna will be walking somewhere, and even though it was 30 years ago, tears will fall from our eyes out the blue when thinking about it. And it’s hard.”
They’ve carried on in Coleen’s memory. At the end of the debut episode of The Last Alaskans, the Korths make a familiar trip to a place where they both mourn and celebrate simultaneously.
“This is a very important day for us. We’re going to go up to the top of the hill where we put the cross,” Edna says. “Sometimes when we go up there it takes a lot out of us.”
They make the trek to the memorial for a life ended so quickly and abruptly. Flowers are left on the cross – “COLEEN ANN KORTH born 5/29/82; DIED 6/3/84” – as are Coleen’s parents’ tears; hugs are exchanged. “We still have each other,” Edna reminds.
“It’s a very important ritual for us,” Heimo says. “If you’re strong enough to live out here, the hardest part about living here is to keep your mind together.”
The couple went on to have two other daughters, Rhonda and Krin, who themselves grew up learning the hunting, trapping, gathering and survival skills necessary to make it in the bush.
Flash forward a few years later, when Heimo and Rhonda, then 8, were transporting caribou meat on the river.
“Somehow the current caught the canoe and flipped it over. All the meat and my gun sunk in this deep hole. There was ice everywhere; I said, ‘Rhonda, start a big fire; I’m gonna get all the meat,’” Korth said.
“I jumped into that cold, deep water and grabbed the meat and started taking it out. I got my guns out, and while I was doing that I turned around and saw that Rhonda had a big roaring fire going. She knew that I needed that or I’d be dead. She didn’t lose her cool and she just got (the fire) going. I gave her a big smooch on the cheek.”
IN THE CLASSIC novel and film Gone with the Wind, plantation owner Gerald O’Hara tells his daughter, Scarlett O’Hara, “Land is the only thing worth workin’ for … because it’s the only thing that lasts.” This is not Tara. In the Korths’ world, their land won’t last forever. Daughters Rhonda and Krin are now in their 20s and living in Fairbanks. When their parents pass away, the kids will also be able to live on the ANWR cabin, but with their deaths the United States Fish and Wildlife Service regains control after the property was “grandfathered in” to the families.
Heimo once asked the refugee manager if his grandchildren would also get their chance to live there. The answer was a resounding no. So now there’s a sense of finality looming, and Korth acknowledges his appears to be a dying breed.
“Nowadays, the youngsters have very little ambition or desire for the outdoors because everything is so computerized,” he said. “It’s kind of sad because you’re losing connection to the land, or actually the earth. We’re part of the earth – everybody is. People have become so urbanized – and I don’t mean to make fun of you – that they’re losing that. How many people in the big city like Philadelphia or L.A. or New York, when they see the moon, what does the moon mean to them? If they can even see it with the street lights and everything. But when you live in a place where there’s no town, moonlight means a lot. You can do things at night.”
But hope exists in Heimo’s and Edna’s youngest daughter, Krin, whose husband is in the Marines. They already plan to someday live a good part of the year on the refuge.
“I was happy they want to do that because they’re going to continue on what myself and Edna have done; our other daughter, Rhonda, there’s no way. But that’s fine,” Korth said. “(Melinda), my stepdaughter, would never live there again, but every one of them wants to go out once a year for a couple weeks or a month.”
But that’s in the future, and Heimo and Edna hope to have lots of years left together on the refuge. Korth hopes viewers of The Last Alaskans are left with an impression he thinks is lacking on the smörgåsbord of live-action shows meant to depict the excessive wildness and chaos of an Alaskan lifestyle.
Critics seemed to agree, albeit cautiously. The nearby newspaper, the Fairbanks News-Miner, wrote, “The Last Alaskans might be Alaska’s first real reality TV show. Maybe.” There will always be skeptics who don’t believe what they are seeing. Heimo Korth can only do so much to convince you otherwise that these are not actors or showmen (he does admit to the occasional vice from the mainstream world, such as a downing a daily Diet Coke when he spends time in Fort Yukon).
“It makes us look like idiots, like everything you do is on the edge, and that’s not real,” Korth said of other shows. “And I think the audience is going to say, ‘This is real.’ And it is.”
Editor’s note: Animal Planet has renewed The Last Alaskans for a second season.

Treasure Quest: Snake Island’s Big Debut




Alaskans Cork Graham and Jeremy Whalen had quite a smashing debut in their live-action adventure series Treasure Quest: Snake Island, on the Discovery Channel.

Here’s the release from the Discovery Channel, with other news about another show we profiled, Alaskan Bush People:

ALASKAN BUSH PEOPLEwas the #1 Prime Time telecast across all of television and cable in key demos in Prime Time, delivering a whopping 4.84 million Total Viewers P2+ on Friday, July 17 in L+3. The premiere ofTREASURE QUEST: SNAKE ISLAND was Discovery Channel’s most watched and highest rated non-spinoff series premiere this year and Discovery Channel was #1 in all of television in Men on Friday.

ALASKAN BUSH PEOPLE at 9PM delivered a 2.29 P25-54 rating with 4.84 million Total Viewers P2+ in L+3. It was the #1 Prime Time telecast in all of television across Persons and Men 25-54/18-49/18-34, no exclusions. This also marks the seventh straight week ALASKAN BUSH PEOPLE was cable’s #1 telecast across Persons/Men/Women 25-54 and Persons 18-49, no exclusions. 
The series premiere of TREASURE QUEST: SNAKE ISLAND at 10PM earned a 1.10 P25-54 rating with 2.24 million Total Viewers P2+.  It was the #1 program on all of cable in its time period across Persons/Men/Women 25-54 and Persons/Men/Women 18-49, no exclusions, and is Discovery Channel’s highest rated and most watched non-spinoff series premiere this year.

Driven by Alaskan Bush People and Treasure Quest, Discovery Channel was Friday’s #1 network in Prime across M25-54, M18-49, and M18-34.

Look for our Q&A on Whalen in the upcoming August Alaska Sporting Journal. Here’s a sneak preview of tonight’s new episode of Treasure Quest: Snake Island at 10 p.m. Pacific (check local listings):





Safety, Not Selfie, First When Surrounded By Wildlife

Photo by National Park Service

Photo by National Park Service

Summer in Alaska means visits to some of the most beautiful and diverse ecosystems in the world. But sharing the Last Frontier with wildlife comes with the responsibility to stay safe. In other words, don’t assume that taking a selfie with animals behind you is the smartest idea.

From Reuters:

 A Yellowstone National Park visitor was gored this week as she tried to snap a selfie photo close to one of the park’s famed bison, the fifth attack on a tourist who has ignored warnings to admire the mammals from afar, officials said on Thursday.

The 43-year-old Mississippi woman and her daughter were standing with their back to a bison when it charged on Tuesday, tossing her into the air and inflicting minor injuries, Yellowstone spokeswoman Amy Bartlett said.

She was the fifth Yellowstone visitor since May to be gored by one of the park’s popular bison, which can weigh as much as a ton, and the third tourist seeking to take a picture of a buffalo while crowding too close.

The millions of tourists who visit the park annually are warned when they enter Yellowstone, by handouts, signs and orally to keep a distance of at least 25 yards (meters) from bison and to give even more berth to creatures such as grizzly bears, said Bartlett.

Yet the message is clearly not getting through to some individuals who flock to a park that spans more than 3,400 square miles (8,800 sq km) of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

I get it. We all want to take that epic photo when we’re on vacation. But here’s the bottom line: don’t take for granted that animals couldn’t care less about making your Instagram feed and increasing your likes. Photobomb? Phooey!

Stay safe at our national parks.


Valdez Derby Buzz

Abby Wease with a 5.44-pound pink.

Abby Wease with a 5.44-pound pink.



The following report is courtesy of Valdez Fish Derbies:

Local boy makes good: Jase Branshaw with a 6.22-pound humpy.

Local boy makes good: Jase Branshaw with a 6.22-pound humpy.


VALDEZ, Alaska – The Valdez Kids Pink Salmon Derby brought hundreds of children to Valdez Saturday in hopes of winning a longboard, skateboard or fishing pole in the Valdez Kids Pink Salmon Derby. This is the 8th Annual Kids Pink Salmon Derby.
The weigh-in station gave away 300 free t-shirts to kids age 5 to 16 that got a line wet. The winner of the 5- to 7-year-old age division was 7-year-old Jace Branshaw of Valdez, who won his age division and took top honors for largest fish in the derby with a 6.22-pound pink salmon. Abby Wease took second place and had the third-largest fish with a 5.44-pound pink. And a Valdez local, 7-year-old Autumn Boone, sealed third place in her age division with a 5.36-pound fish.



Aaron Williams with a pink of 5.46 pounds

Aaron Williams with a pink of 5.46 pounds

In the 8- to 10-year-old division, Calvin Todd of Fairbanks took top honors as well as the first-place place prize of a longboard with a 5.40-pound pink. Aaron Williams of Fairbanks was back again to win the division for a second year in a row, in the 11- to 13-year-old age division with a 5.46-pound catch. Logan Heckathorn won the 14- to 16-year-old division with salmon weighing 5.28 pounds.

In the Valdez Halibut Derby, Fred Hyder still leads the way with the 253.8-pound halibut he caught July 10 aboard the Jaime Lynn. Milton Fujino of Hawaii is currently in second place overall with a 216.8-pound halibut he caught July 12 aboard the Jaime Lynn, and Candice Janke caught her first halibut ever and got on the board in third place overall with a 215.8-pound halibut. The Silver Derby started Saturday and hopes are high for a great year.

Victoria Herman took the early lead in the Valdez Silver Salmon Derby with this fish weighing 12.88 pounds.

Victoria Herman took the early lead in the Valdez Silver Salmon Derby with this fish weighing 12.88 pounds.

In the Silver Salmon Derby, Victona Herman of Montgomery, Texas took an early lead with a 12.88-pound silver she picked up July 19 aboard the Sound Affair. Bud Corbin of Santa Barbara, California is currently in second place overall with a 11.28-pounder he caught July 19 aboard the Martie Kay. Finally, Eloisa Saunders of Washington is currently in third place overall with a 10.34-pound silver she caught July 18 aboard Reel Nuts.

Halibut Derby – Overall Leaders
1st Fred Hyder Willow, AK 253.8 lbs. July 10 Jaime Lynn
2nd Milton Fujino Kaneohe, HI 216.8 lbs. July 11 Jaime Lynn
3rd Candice Janke Fairbanks, AK 215.8 lbs. July 18 Aleisha

Halibut Derby – Weekly Winners – Week #8
1st Sandra Smith Santa Fe, NM 143.6 lbs. July 19 Dan Orion
2nd Patrick Matt Salihor, AK 102.0 lbs. July 19 Dan Orion

Silver Salmon Derby – Overall Leaders
1st Victona Herman Montgomery, TX 12.88 lbs. July 19 Sound Affair
2nd Bud Corbin Santa Barbara, CA 11.28 lbs. July 19 Martie Kay
3rd Eloisa Saunders Jelm, WA 10.34 lbs. July 18th Reel Nuts
Kids Derby Winners on Next Page
Valdez Kids Pink Salmon Derby – 2015 Winners

5 to 7 Age Division
1st Jace Branshaw Valdez, AK 6.22 lbs.
2nd Abby Wease Salcha, AK 5.44 lbs.
3rd Autumn Boone Valdez, AK 5.36 lbs.

8 to 10 Age Division
1st Calvin Todd Fairbanks, AK 5.40 lbs.
2nd Gracey Garrett Fairbanks, AK 4.94 lbs.
3rd Camden Masson Fairbanks, AK 4.78 lbs.

11 to 13 Age Division
1st Aaron Williams Fairbanks, AK 5.46 lbs.
2nd Brad Baker Valdez, AK 5.10 lbs.
3rd Liberty Gum North Pole, AK 5.00 lbs.

14 to 16 Age Division
1st Logan Heckathorn Valdez, AK 5.28 lbs.
2nd Caleb Hughes Wasilla, AK 5.10 lbs.
3rd Kailey Fowlkes North Pole, AK 5.04 lbs.

For more information on the Valdez Derbies, visit: valdezfishderbies.com



What’s Up With The Hooves On This Moose?


Photo by Becky Grady

Photo by Becki Grady


Check out this report from KTUU in Anchorage on a moose with hooves you have to see to believe. 

Battle said the copper deficiency causes moose hooves to grow faster than they can wear away. The condition results in an elongated and curved hoof, commonly known as ‘sleigh hoof.’

“We see them every so often here in Anchorage and I know sometimes on the Kenai Peninsula,” Battle said. “We get reports of them in Anchorage about once or twice a year at best … it’s not very common.”

According Battle, the southcentral region of Alaska has low levels of copper in the soil and vegetation that moose commonly eat, which could explain why more reports of the phenomenon are made here than in other parts of the state. 

Why don’t a higher number of moose in the region display this deformity? Natural selection, Battle said. “When you have a deficiency of a needed mineral in a particular area, some individuals will be more efficient at absorbing it than others.”