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Giving Thanks To Our Veterans

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Happy Thanksgiving from Alaska Sporting Journal. We didn’t get a chance to post this on Veteran’s Day earlier this month, but we thought on a day where we give thanks to share this story that’s running in the November issue. I’m thankful for our veterans and people like Randy Houston, who’s trying to make a difference for these American heroes.

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BY CHRIS COCOLES

 It was one of those “trips of a lifetime,” as Randy Houston calls them, but one of the lucky participants called him with some bad news for the most irrelevant of reasons.

“We had one gentleman who is a Vietnam veteran. His health is down a little bit and he’s on his own now. He called me up the day before we were getting ready to leave,” Houston says of a charity fishing getaway to Southeast Alaska for disabled veterans. The man lived in the San Francisco Bay area, about 45 minutes south of the airport the party was flying out of.

“He said, ‘I don’t know if I can go.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ His ride got canceled and he was stuck.”

As innocent as that seems, the man was typical of many of the servicemen and -women Houston has encountered, proud veterans who have at times struggled to make it all work. For the last seven years, Houston has run a Northern California-based nonprofit organization, Purple Heart Anglers, that arranges for fishing and hunting outings for vets. 

Houston and other volunteers had already taken a small group of wounded warriors to Costa Rica and Alaska. So via a random draw, seven vets who’d served in wars from Korea to Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan were chosen for the trip north to Ketchikan in September.

But the fact that the man without a ride was questioning whether or not he’d have the means to make it to San Francisco International Airport didn’t surprise Houston. Many of the men and women he’s encountered along the way are not just hurting physically but also mentally. Houston immediately assured the man his transport to the airport would be taken care of, and in many ways he epitomized the spirit of Purple Heart Anglers.

“I’m not going to say all of them are by themselves, but there are a lot of them,” Houston says. “Many of these have come back and they’ve divorced, suffered from PTSD, and in many cases their spouses have passed away. Just all kinds of different reasons.”

Purple Heart Anglers founder Randy Houston.

Purple Heart Anglers founder Randy Houston.

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RANDY HOUSTON DIDN’T FOLLOW in the military path his older brother, Jerry, embarked on. Jerry Houston fought in Vietnam and was wounded twice starting in 1966, once from a sniper’s gunshot and, after going back, when a booby trap exploded. He lost some fingers and his body was filled with shrapnel, and Jerry was awarded two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star for Valor.

Jerry, who was also exposed to Agent Orange during his tour of duty, passed away at 75 on April 21, 2011. Randy, 12 years younger than his brother, always looked up to Jerry but felt like he didn’t get to know him well enough until he was gone. The seeds of Purple Heart Anglers were planted while Jerry was still alive, but the support of so many volunteers who have assisted Randy along the way has been even more of a posthumous tribute to his big brother. 

“I discovered a long time ago through this program that my brother had a lot of other brothers who I didn’t know about,” says Randy Houston, a retired carpenter. “The military family is part of my brother’s family, and I learn a little bit about who (Jerry) was every time I’m out with these guys. When it gets personal I walk away; I don’t want to intrude on their conversations with other veterans.”

Through all these years of fishing and hunting adventures with the veterans – often daytrips around his home in the San Francisco area – Houston says he considers himself “the youngest brother” to all of his brother’s brothers.

And if one of them strikes up a conversation with him and wants to open up, Houston has heard some of the most too-outrageous-to-be-true-but-they-are stories of both triumph and horror that veterans returned stateside with. It only reinforces that Houston feels like the fundraising work he’s done and the growth of his 501(c)(3) nonprofit is making an impact – even if it’s just a few hours (or days) of peace in the great outdoors.

“I started this because I wanted to do something with my big brother – a simple thing,” Houston says. “And it’s gotten to a point now where if you ask, ‘Why do I do it?’ We’ve had over 1,700 disabled veterans out (in the field) since this program started. So I have 1,700 good reasons why I do this.”

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KETCHIKAN PROVED TO BE everything these American heroes hoped to experience. The group was very competitive on the water – the vets split into teams and fished out of separate boats. This year’s trip surpassed the numbers that were landed from the previous year’s trip to Southeast Alaska. In all, almost 600 pounds of halibut and salmon fillets were packed up. (As per a tradition from the year before, Houston will freeze a lot of the wild salmon and halibut and have it served at a Purple Heart Anglers fundraising banquet next April.)

And the catch rate was high when factoring that the first day of fishing was wiped out by a storm that blew into Ketchikan. But even that day and throughout the trip, the warriors got to take in some sightseeing and wildlife viewing, both on land in the form of bald eagles and big game, and on the boat, spotting hundreds of whales.

“They didn’t get any giant fish; they just had a lot of fun. These guys were able to experience the country that they’ve served, in a way that they had never been able to,” Houston says. “Some of the guys were talking about how they could scratch something off their bucket lists.”

Houston prefers to be in the background and behind the scenes during excursions in California, where he’s been the master of ceremonies for everything from rockfish charters off the Bay Area coast to upland bird hunts in the Central Valley, but the veterans implored him to get in on the action when a silver bit the trolling set-up.

“All the guys on the boat said, ‘You’re up, dude.’ I was the guy who was holding onto the guys who were catching (fish). I’m helping them hold their rod in the chest and helping them stabilize themselves against the railing,” Houston says. “The guys were inside the cab on the six-pack boat to get out of the drizzle, and I’m standing at the door waiting for the next guy to come out. The fish hit the rod and I grabbed a hold of it and set the hook, turned around and said, ‘Come on.’ They all said, ‘No! Your turn.’” 

But the traveling party, which also included a California fishing guide who helped on the boat, was far more excited when one of the veterans reeled in a silver or halibut. When one salmon was brought to the boat, Houston jokingly asked the man if it was his first from Alaskan waters.

“First salmon ever,” was his reply. 

It turned out to be a trip of firsts for almost all of the servicemen: first halibut, first salmon, first bald eagle, first caribou, and first time in Alaska (six of the seven had never fished in the Last Frontier before).

The group, which helped keep the costs down by using Alaska Airlines buddy passes, got the royal treatment in Ketchikan from the historic Gilmore Hotel (907-225-9423; gilmorehotel.com). Oasis Alaska Charters (206-909-6126; oasisalaska.com) provided the boat trips for fishing.

“They went completely out of their way to make everyone comfortable and happy,” Houston says. “When we were ordering rooms, we wanted to do two beds to a room to keep costs down. But the hotel gave everyone their own room and gave us a discount.”

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It turned out to be the kind of adventure most will never get to experience, particularly for these guys, many of whom don’t have the means financially or the spirit physically, and even mentally to do a DIY vacation.

What’s been satisfying for Houston over the years that he’s arranged to get disabled vets out for hunts and fishing trips is the mutual trust that’s evolved.

“A lot of these guys haven’t trusted a citizen from the United States since they got back from Vietnam,” Houston says. 

And that lonely vet who thought the worst when his ride bailed on him? He’ll join Houston this month on a salmon fishing trip on California’s Sacramento River and be reunited with his son, who lives a couple hundred miles away in the northern end of the state.

“These guys were treated so well by the public in our program, when they come back it’s truly one of those trips of a lifetime,” Houston says. “They just can’t believe what people do for them because of their service.”

“One of the Vietnam vets told me, ‘I’ve never been told thank you since Vietnam.’ That’s something that he’ll never forget and something that maybe his attitude toward our country has changed.” ASJ

Editor’s note: For more information or to donate to Purple Heart Anglers, check out purpleheartanglers.org, and like at facebook.com/Purple-Heart-Anglers-120269434661712.

 

“DOZIER DAVE” AND THE QUEST FOR GOLD

Dave Turin by stacker.

Photos by Discovery Channel

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

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BY CHRIS COCOLES

As Dave Turin grew up in a suburb of Portland, Ore., he had plenty of interests, whether it was dominating on the football field or enjoying the Pacific Northwest’s spectacular hunting and fishing.

But little did he know that another love would eventually define who he is today: the passion to take on a challenge. That would morph into his place as one of the hard-nosed miners obsessed with striking it rich on Discovery Channel’s series, GoldRush.

Turin, who once starred in football at the junior college level and walked onto Oregon State’s team, would call the audible of a lifetime. He and his family started a successful paving and rock-quarrying company that would grow into a Pacific Northwest staples in the business.

But there was something about this stable career that had Turin restless. That brought the ups and downs of living the life of a miner, and it begs the proverbial question, “Do you sometimes ask yourself what you’ve gotten into?”

“Yes, I do; I ask myself that a lot. In our second year of gold mining (one of the early seasons of Gold Rush), Fred Hurt kind of took over our claim and we got bumped out of there,” says Turin, who early on was considered the brains of the operation when it came to mining, even if it hadn’t been for gold.

“So we go to the Yukon Territory and Todd (Hoffman) found some ground. I’ll never forget this: Todd and I walked out to this piece of ground; Todd looks around and says, ‘Here you go, Dave. Get started.’ I had never, never thought I’d been in over my head more than at that time.”

Turin, like most of the miners on his team, relies heavy on his faith. So he did what comes naturally and prayed. God, I have no idea how to do this and what I’ve gotten myself into. I’m going to be watched on TV and I have no idea what
I’m doing.

“So yeah, there are a lot of times when I think to myself, ‘Why in the world am I
doing this?”

Discovery Channel

Dave Turin.

Dave Turin.

THE DISCOVERY CHANNELS OF the television world have always been fascinated by Alaska when it comes to programming. While many focus on Alaskans living off the grid and their perceived hardships, Discovery struck – uh – gold with character studies on the obsession men and women have with finding Au 79 (that’s the symbol and element number for goldfor those of us who struggled to get through high school chemistry). Hence, the ratings-friendly series Bering Sea Gold andGold Rush that are still going strong (Gold Rush’s seventh season premiered in mid-October and was cable TV’s top-rated show that night for most younger demographics).

The latter show’s breakout
star became Parker Schnabel, the Alaskan high school basketball player-turned teenage mining whiz kid (Alaska Sporting Journal, December 2014). But arguably the heart and soul of the franchise has been the Todd Hoffman-led Oregon crew that first mined Southeast Alaska’s Porcupine Creek in Season 1.

“We weren’t growing and I was doing the same job for 28 years. I was not being challenged,” Turin says. “And then Todd Hoffman entered
my life.”

Turin knew and could relate to Hoffman, who also hailed from Turin’s same Oregon hometown and longed for a career change – Todd and his dad Jack were in the aviation business together – so it became fate they would reunite in the gold game.

“(Hoffman) told me I was going to go gold mining in Alaska, and I’ll never forget – he’s all set up and I was there on the day they left (Oregon); I helped them pack up and load up,” Turin says. “And my heart was longing and yearning to go to Alaska, which is kind of our last wilderness and our last frontier. Think of the allure: You’re going gold mining and you’re in Alaska, in the wilderness! I want to go
do that.”

“And he left, and I went back to my job and didn’t think much of it. Then about three months later he calls me and said, ‘You need to come up here and help me set up my wash plant because I can’t get it going.’ And I said, ‘All right, I’ll go.’ That was the first time I went up there and it was pretty cool.”

The next year, Hoffman made a formal offer to his Oregon buddy to join the crew. Initially, Turin juggled mining with Hoffman and continuing to work the paving and rock quarry business with his brothers. But in year three, he became a full-time goldminer, Hoffman’s right-hand man and one of the staples of Gold Rush’s storylines.

“At first I didn’t understand Todd; he’s very ADD (attention deficit disorder) and I’m the guy who loves to plan and stick to a plan. But what Todd has taught me – I’ll be honest with you, he’s one of the best business negotiators I’ve ever met. And he taught me it always has to be win-win. A lot of what we do is, it has to be good for us but also for them. He doesn’t want to do a deal if it’s not good for the
other people.”

Hoffman too has Christian values, so the duo has formed a strong partnership, professionally as well as spiritually. And they’ve ridden the good times and rough seas together.

As is the norm for an industry that’s the epitome of high risk, high reward, Turin has experienced a carnival ride of emotions, a rock-based Tilt-A-Whirl that’s seen his crew rack up 803 ounces of Klondike gold – worth a cool $1.28 million – in one season. But also a now-infamous and humiliating fourth-season trip to the jungles of Guyana, where the ill-fated experiment in South America unearthed all of 2 ounces and almost bankrupted Hoffman’s operation. But that’s what these guys signed up for. Gold
doesn’t discriminate.

Turin’s also become something of a wily mentor to his fellow miners. It could be argued that no one had the background in geology, the business sense or the experience that Turin, 57, could list on his resume (he also has a civil engineering degree from Portland State).

“That’s one thing I enjoy about this job, teaching younger guys about a profession. I consider myself a professional miner; for whatever reason that’s how my life has gone,” he says. “And I want to instill in the young men that it’s a good job; do your job to the best of your ability. Take the ground and put it back into something useful. We need to extract the natural resources, but we also have the responsibility to put the ground back. And I love teaching the young men to not only be good operators and good miners, but to be good men.”  

 

Greg Remsburg, Dave Turin and Todd Hoffman.

Greg Remsburg, Dave Turin and Todd Hoffman.

Hoffman crew on bikes.

Hoffman crew on bikes.

BEFORE THE FATEFUL MOMENT in 1969, when Jim Turin’s driveway needed paving and he put his young sons to work and triggered the idea for Jim Turin and Sons (now known as Mt. Hood Rock Company, mounthoodrock.com), the Turin patriarch was a teacher and high school football coach.

“My dad was a risk taker. He had six kids and he quit teaching and coaching, which is one of the most secure jobs that you can have,” Dave Turin says. “When my dad quit, my oldest brother was 13, so he’s got six kids ranging from 13 to about 4, and he quits the one job he went to college for. So that same thing was instilled in me; I’ve also always been a risk taker. It’s one of the reasons I gold mine, probably one of the riskiest things you can do. But in the end I love it because it’s so unpredictable.”

And in many ways, Turin is something of a coach on Team Hoffman, and thus his career has come full circle, though he’s already had a headstart on blowing whistles.

“I’ve inherited that trait. I coached my children in sports, and it’s funny that I enjoyed it so much I ended up coaching other people’s children when mine moved past that age and into high school – that’s when I’m like, ‘Let the guys who are good at it (coach them).’ And after I’d stopped coaching them in eighth grade, I enjoyed it so much. It’s not just to win games; it’s teaching kids life principles and I loved that part of it,” he says. “And I still find myself to this day teaching the people I work with.”

It could have been a much different life for Turin these days. He knows he probably wouldn’t be a pro football player or anything, but he could have remained in Oregon, spending all the family time he’s missed and living well as a partner in his family’s company.

“It was the best thing I ever did. I was able to work with my brothers and my mom and dad,” says Turin, who experienced some rocky times in the business world. The family had to borrow money to just make payroll, but Jim Turin had a profound effect on the boys. “The things our dad taught us were such good lessons; you pay your workers first. And the other thing that Dad taught us as a life lesson, if you take something from the ground or your community, you give something back. Be involved in civic things, and I’ve tried to do that, whether it’s church or help at local fundraisers. Give back.”

He grew up in Sandy, a tight-knit community in the shadows of Mount Hood about 25 miles southeast of Portland. It was a place where a young kid could really embrace
the outdoors.

“I was always the guy that got my hands dirty. I loved hunting and fishing, and I loved rocks,” Turin says. “I studied engineering and geology and to this day, I’ll drive by a mountain or a unique rock formation and I’ll tell my wife, ‘Hey, look at that cool thing.’ She’ll look at me and say, ‘It looks like a pile of rocks to me.’”

The beauty of rural Oregon was “our playground,” Turin says. He remembers his mom ordering young Dave out of her kitchen and get outside and play. He and his brothers wouldn’t come back until dark, sometimes hiking nearby trails and camping out for the night. “A can of beans and some hot dogs; and we loved it,” says Dave, who hunted and fished whenever he had the opportunities.

He also excelled in sports.

“At one point I thought football was life,” Turin says. “I played two years of junior college football; I was – believe it or not – an all-conference linebacker. And there were eight or nine of us who walked onto Oregon State in 1981 (under coach Joe Avezzano, whose Beavers teams in the early ’80s struggled mightily). We were horrible and I didn’t make the team but walked on, gave it my best shot and realized I was a little bit over my head.”

It’s all worked out in the end. Turin found his calling as a gold miner and serving as a father figure for his colleagues. And despite the frustration of being away from his actual family for long periods of time (see sidebar below), Turin just knew his destiny was awaiting him in Alaska, South America or wherever those rocks were calling his name to explore and dig.

 “I had always had envisioned our company expanding and growing. And that was part of the issue why I left the family business,” he says. “We bought our mother and father out and the four brothers became equal partners. We did all our decision-making on a consensus basis. But it stifled all our growth, and I was the guy who was always pushing to grow the business and try to open new quarries. I love and live for challenges.” ASJ

Editor’s note: New episodes of Gold Rush can be seen on the Discovery Channel on Fridays (check your local listings). For more on Dave Turin, like him at facebook.com/grdozerdave

Gold Rush Season 3. Credit photographer Justin Kelly.

Gold Rush Season 3. Credit photographer Justin Kelly.

Group portrait of all the miners at the claim: James Harness, Jim Thurber, Todd Hoffman, Jack Hoffman, Chris Doumitt, Dave Turin.

Group portrait of all the miners at the claim: James Harness, Jim Thurber, Todd Hoffman, Jack Hoffman, Chris Doumitt, Dave Turin.

Dave Turin.

Dave Turin.

 THE GOLD STANDARD

Dave Turin on all the reasons why he does what he does (and drives him crazy in the process):

“It’s funny; now that I’m on TV people think I’m smarter than I am. I get to speak a lot and I speak to doing the right things. Our show is kind of about taking chances, encouraging people to take chances and staying in this business; it’s a good business. Mining has taken some hits throughout the years, and it’s not the most popular profession. But I want to encourage people that is a good business, we need the natural resources and if we do it responsibly, it’s a great profession.”

“(But) gold mining is an extremely difficult business. And one of the things that makes it so difficult is anywhere you go to mine gold, it’s a difficult, harsh climate. We’ve been to Guyana, we’ve been to Chile and we’ve been to the Yukon Territory, where we were 300 miles south of the Arctic Circle. I’ve been to Alaska looking for claims.”

“It’s a very competitive business, because there’s not a lot of ground that has good gold on it. So the prices – what we pay for the fees to the landowner – those percentages are going up. So our percentages are going down and everything’s more and more difficult – the laws, the environmental restrictions are getting tougher and tougher.”

“What makes it difficult for us is the long hours we spend. We’re always away from our families, and that’s the most difficult thing for me. We go for six and sometimes seven months, and all you can do is talk to your family over the phone or by Facetime kinds of things. And that’s OK a couple times, but not for six or seven months.”

“I’ve always been a hunter and a fisherman, and now our season goes through the fall and I never have a chance to hunt or fish anymore, and that stinks.” ASJ

Shocking Discovery: Brawling Moose Found Frozen In Ice

The above photo is shocking, to say the least. But that’s ineed two Alaskan moose frozen in ice while apparently locking antlers with each other.

National Geographic has more:

Two bull moose ended up locked in mortal combat forever, their final battle literally frozen in time.

Two hikers found the animals earlier this month encased in eight inches of ice in Unalakleet, Alaska, along the Bering Sea.

“Two bulls got in a tussle over some ladies … and ended up being put on ice,” Jeff Erickson, who was invited to see the moose by the hikers, wrote on Facebook. “The plan is to remove [them] intact for a very unique head mount.”

In fact, Erickson wrote a few days later that the moose had been removed from the ice. “Now to get them cleaned up,” he wrote.

Finding and removing the moose was “likely [a] once in a lifetime experience,” he added.

The moose was first found by Erickson’s friend Brad Webster, a science and social studies teacher who was touring the grounds of a Bible camp that he maintains with a friend named Chris, who was new to Alaska.

 

 

Great New Clip From Alaska: The Last Frontier

From our friends at the Discovery Channel:

 

Sunday November 20th   

9PM ET/PT – ALASKA: THE LAST FRONTIER

It’s Thanksgiving on the homestead and the Kilchers show their thanks to the friends and family that have helped them out this past year by returning the favor, and doing something nice for them. Atz Lee and Jane battle an overgrown trail to help John Coila haul a refrigerator to his remote homestead. Eivin constructs a pressurized grapple canon for his childhood friend, Micah, and almost blows his foot off in the process. Eve learns that the excavator is not as easy as it looks as she gathers dirt to plant a garden for her sister, Elli. Atz Sr. builds his son a table. Otto relocates his man-cave to give Charlotte a view, and Charlotte helps August build his very first cabin before he leaves for college. Eivin and Eve host this years dinner in the Family Barn as they celebrate Sparrow’s first Thanksgiving.

 

And look for our conversation with Eivin’s wife, Eve Kilcher, in our December issue!

ADFG Forecasts 2017 Sockeye Run

Photo by user "echoforsberg"/Wikimedia

Photo by user “echoforsberg”/Wikimedia

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Photo by The Breach Film

 

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has released its 2017 sockeye salmon forecast for the Bristol Bay watershed. You can view the entire report here. But let’s take a look at some of the numbers projected:

Listed in millions

Total Run 41.47

Forecast Range 31.20–51.73

Escapement 12.46

Commercial Common Property Harvest 29.01

Bristol Bay Harvest 27.47

South Peninsula Harvest 1.53

Inshore Run 39.93

From the report:

METHODS The 2017 Bristol Bay sockeye salmon forecast is the sum of individual predictions of nine river systems (Kvichak, Alagnak, Naknek, Egegik, Ugashik, Wood, Igushik, Nushagak, and Togiak rivers) and four age classes (ages 1.2, 1.3, 2.2, and 2.3, plus ages 0.3 and 1.4 for the Nushagak River). Adult escapement and return data from brood years 1972–2013 were used in the analyses. Predictions for each age class returning to a river system were calculated from models based on the relationship between adult returns and spawners or siblings from previous years.

Tested models included simple linear regression and recent year averages. In general, models chosen were those with statistically significant parameters having the greatest past reliability (accuracy and precision) based on mean absolute deviation, mean absolute percent error, and mean percent error between forecasts and actual returns for the most recent three year (2014–2016) and five year (2012–2016) windows.

 

 

 

 

Sense Of Urgency For Kilcher Family

Look for our feature on Alaska: The Last Frontier’s Eve Kilcher next month in Alaska Sporting Journal. Above is a preview of tonight’s new episode from our friends at the Discovery Channel.

Sunday October 30
9PM ET/PT – ALASKA: THE LAST FRONTIER
Killer Repairs: With Otto’s surgery looming, the rush to complete projects becomes urgent. The herd’s food supply is threatened. Atz Lee and Jane reunite after a month apart when he brings her to his new homestead for the very first time. She’s less than impressed.

What Is This Mysterious “Monster” In The Chena River?

Update: Experts say this was just a very active and twisting piece of debris 🙁

Scotland’s Loch Ness has Nessie;  Vermont’s Lake Champlain has Champ; British Columbia’s Lake Okanagan has Ogopogo. Could Alaska’s Chena River have it’s on, uh, “Cheney?”

Check out the video on the BLM Facebook page and make your own determination.

It’s much more fun to claim it’s a prehistoric beast rather than just a giant sturgeon, right? Or what if it’s not a living critter at all?

 

Last-Chance Salmon On The Delta Clearwater

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

BY DENNIS MUSGRAVES 

The two pairs of wool socks under my stocking-foot waders did little to relieve my painfully numb toes as I shuffled along waist-deep in the icy river.

I’d been eager to tread into the water some 20 minutes earlier, but my throbbing feet were desperately trying to convince me I had made a mistake. The brisk morning air wasn’t helping much either, as my fingertips were starting to yap about feeling frosted.

Ignoring all of my aching digits was not easy, but I pressed forward against the current. A favorite section of the waterway was just around the bend, a deep hole where I knew the salmon would be holding. Anticipating the strike of a feisty fish and imagining my rod bending over helped persuade me to continue.

No, my final outing of the year for salmon wasn’t going to be interrupted by temporary discomfort from chilly conditions. Suffering through the elements wasn’t going to be easy, but I knew from past experience that the bitter cold would soon fade with each fish I caught.

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delta-clearwater-coho-3

WHILE THE SALMON FISHING deep inside Alaska’s Interior doesn’t compare to the iconic fisheries found elsewhere in the state, angling addicts north of the Alaska Range need not despair: there are still opportunities to find your fix. But you’re going to have to wait until summer is gone, and you’re going to need to embrace the cold.

October is the perfect month for Interior fishermen to pick up a rod and reel, as the largest return of coho found anywhere in the Yukon River drainage begins to peak. The annual congregation of salmon happens not far from the end of the Alaskan Highway near the small community of Delta Junction.

Diehard anglers willing to travel the distance and tolerate the precursor to the impending winter freeze will be rewarded with plenty of action from bold-colored coho swimming in this spring-fed waterway.

The Delta Clearwater River is literally the gem of Interior Alaska when it comes to coho fishing. Recent years have seen returns over 50,000, and as you might imagine, that many fish makes it difficult for my friends and I to ignore such a productive location.

The 1,000-mile journey of these salmon begins at the western edge of the state, where the Yukon drains into the Bering Sea. Their swim takes them up the powerful river deep into the heart of the state, and then they turn into the silt-laden currents of the Tanana River before arriving in the Delta Clearwater beginning in September.

The salmon are no longer the dime-bright silver they were in saltwater. Their sides are now colored a vibrant brick red, and males display large pronounced black kypes. Even so, the fish are often harvested by locals. Since the flesh is firm and acceptable for consumption, it’s not uncommon to see limits on stringers near the campground.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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FISHING THE CLEARWATER for coho is normally a catch-and-release event for me, although I have harvested fish in the past for a meal on the grill or so I can put them on the smoker. Current fishing regulations allow anglers to retain three coho per day from the river.

Some anglers may thumb their nose at the outward appearance of the bright-red fish, but I am no salmon snob. I find that Clearwater coho taste just fine and actually hold a certain majestic look in their spawning colors.

The fishery provides excellent action for anglers of all skill levels. Fishing is neither technical nor difficult. Catching coho has an almost consistent predictable conclusion, with terrific fishing lasting as late as November.

As you might imagine, locating schools of these red-coated salmon in the clear-running river isn’t too difficult. During peak timing of the run, catching and releasing a dozen fish within an hour is commonplace for most anglers.   

A boat will enable you to find deep holes that hold large groups of salmon, but you don’t need one in order to be successful. Casting from the riverbank or wading in the current near the state campground will also produce hook-ups with passing fish.

Bitterly cold air temperatures on some days make it cold enough to lock up fishing reels and smother rod eyelets with ice. Moisture dripping off the fly or fishing line from repeated casting accumulates quickly and hardens like cement. You’ll need to constantly chip it away if you want to cast. Indeed, cold-weather coho fishing isn’t for everyone.

delta-clearwater-coho-4

THE DELTA CLEARWATER IS a special place for me since it’s where I caught my very first Alaskan coho. I also cherish the many great memories of camping on the river’s banks with family and friends and spending time together fishing the late season just before the snow arrives.

The strong numbers of salmon present and terrific access to the river provides Interior anglers like myself one last chance to fish for open-water salmon. Just make sure to double up your clothing if you head to the river and you’re good to go. ASJ

Editor’s note: For more of author Dennis Musgraves’ fishing adventures in the Great Land, go to alaskansalmonslayers.com

Alaska: The Last Frontier Episode Sneak Peek

Otto Kilcher photo by Discovery Channel

Otto Kilcher photo by Discovery Channel

Here’s a preview of Sunday’s new episode of Alaska: The Last Frontier on Discovery Channel:

Episode Description:
Still reeling from the recent 7.1 earthquake, the Kilchers rush to make headway on time sensitive projects. Otto, Charlotte, and Eivin travel across Kachemak Bay to rescue a family relic. Atz Lee races the melting snow to transport a sawmill to his homesite before it’s too late. The first fishing trip of the year leaves Eve and Jane lost at sea.

Note: We’ll have a profile of Eve Kilcher in our December issue.

Sneak Preview To Tonight’s Gold Rush Episode

Group portrait of all the miners at the claim: James Harness, Jim Thurber, Todd Hoffman, Jack Hoffman, Chris Doumitt, Dave Turin.

Group portrait of all the miners at the claim: James Harness, Jim Thurber, Todd Hoffman, Jack Hoffman, Chris Doumitt, Dave Turin.

Discovery’s hit series Gold Rush returns tonight (check our local listings) with a new episode.

Our friends at the Discovery Channel shared some good news from last week when the show’s new season premiered:

Discovery hit ratings gold with the season 7 premiere of GOLD RUSH – ranking as the #1 show on all of TV on Friday night among M18-49 & M18-34. It was also cable’s #1 telecast across all 25-54, 18-49 and 18-34 demos. The series scored an impressive 2.12 P25-54 rating with 4.0 M Total viewers P2+ on Friday, October 14 in L + 3. It also beat TBS’s American League Championship Series game across all 25-54s, 18-49s and 18-34s. GOLD RUSH drove Discovery to rank as cable’s #1 non-sports cable net in Friday Prime across all 25-54s, all 18-49s, P/M18-34, P2+.

Look for our profile of Gold Rush miner Dave Turin in our November issue, and here’s a sneak peek at tonight’s new show: