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One In A Million: The Federal Duck Stamp Contest

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

1971-1972

1991-1992

Images courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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

BY CHRIS COCOLES

It’s as big a rite of passage for duck hunters as dusting off decoys, flooding fields and training dogs to retrieve downed birds from the swampy muck each fall and winter.

If you’re 16 and older and want to hunt ducks in the United States, besides your state’s general hunting license, you’re also required to purchase a Federal Duck Stamp (currently priced at $25). Ninety-eight percent of proceeds from sales fund America’s 5.7 million acres of U.S. Fish and Wildlife national refuges (USFWS says $800 billion has been raised over time).

Since 1934, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act – more commonly known as the Duck Stamp Act – a different artist’s rendition of a very specific species appears on the stamp.

Who cares? It’s just a stamp, right? Try telling that to Tim Taylor, Adam Grimm, DeeDee Murry, Rebekah Nastav and Rob McBroom. As the title of a new documentary set to make its television debut on Sept. 14 on Animal Planet explains, being named the artist who creates the annual Federal Duck Stamp design can change lives. Hence, The Million Dollar Duck was born.

The federal government doesn’t award the winner any monetary prize, but the winner holds the licensing to the art image to sell it on everything, as the movie depicts, from bottles of Jim Beam to bowties to limited-edition art prints.

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“They can make a million or more dollars from selling their art,” says Bob Lesino, former chief of the Federal Duck Stamp Program, in the film.

And even if it’s more about expressing yourself on canvas, reflecting a love for preserving our wetlands duck habitat or whatever rationale you can come up with, making money for painting a mallard, blue-winged teal, canvasback, gadwall or cinnamon teal can’t hurt the motivation factor.

But this film digs deeper into the souls of those who continue to track down the perfect shot and literally create their own masterpieces.

As its title suggests, the crazies, the oddballs and the dreamers who partake in this competition are chasing the riches that may come with the title of Federal Duck Stamp champ (who wouldn’t?). But you finish watching knowing they also care: about art, about ducks and about wildlife.

“I think that elevates it a little bit about to where it’s not just a desire for money,” the film’s director, Brian Golden Davis, says. “The idea is that it’s bigger than the individual. Saving wetlands and making sure that there’s habitat for ducks for generations to come makes that stamp so special.”

Tim Taylor and Adam Grimm set up duck decoys to attract birds to photograph. (MILLION DOLLAR DUCK)

Tim Taylor and Adam Grimm set up duck decoys to attract birds to photograph. (MILLION DOLLAR DUCK)

IF GOLDEN DAVIS REMEMBERS anything about his outdoors background, it is that he didn’t share his dad’s love of trout fishing back home in Virginia.

“It was always catch and release; I kind of preferred eating what we catch. My parents have a place on Chesapeake Bay and I was also someone who loved sitting on a dock and fishing,” Golden Davis says in a phone interview discussing his feature directorial debut.

What about duck hunting?

“It’s something I really didn’t know about after not having come into contact with anyone who was a duck hunter.”

Golden Davis, a graduate of USC’s School of Cinematic Arts – a who’s who of filmmakers are among its alums – came across a book written by Martin Smith, The Wild Duck Chase: Inside the Strange and Wonderful World of the Federal Duck Stamp Contest. Smith’s work was the driving force behind The Million Dollar Duck, and like Golden Davis’ movie, chronicles a year leading into the competition.

“When I read that, I was so shocked that it has this amazing history of this contest, the artwork and the conservation with this subculture, that I felt like the outside world didn’t know about it,” says Golden Davis. “For me, it was discovering something cool and hoping others thought it would be interesting to learn about as well.”

The 1996 movie Fargo, which won two Oscars, worked the Federal Duck Stamp Contest into its plot with its dark humor and satire that made the film an instant classic (Fargo even references multiple contest winners Joseph, Robert and James Hautman, who are all featured in The Million Dollar Duck).

Both the film and TV industry have carved out a niche for poking fun at these kinds of events in “mockumentary” form. But Golden Davis saw a compelling aspect in pursuing this project. This is a story of personal triumph, persistence, friendship, passion and even rebellion that at times can be funny, inspirational and a reminder of how critical sales from these stamps can be to maintaining a healthy population of waterfowl throughout the country.

“I had read the book and done some research online, but I really didn’t know how strong the connection to conservation and nature would be. Or was this just a thing where people could advance their (art) career,” says Golden Davis, who knew he found a far-more-interesting-than-it-sounds documentary during his first interview,  with 2010 contest champion Robert Bealle.

“Nobody would buy a salamander stamp or a speckled toad stamp, but they’ll buy a duck stamp. And when the (USFWS) take that money and buy all these thousands of acres of wetlands to protect it, all those little creatures come under that umbrella. That’s one thing that I’m so proud that I’m a part of this. It almost makes me emotional,” says Bealle, clearly becoming emotional as his voice cracks.

“I think the connection to the outdoors makes this something special,” Golden Davis says.

The hope is The Million Dollar Duck will introduce a whole new segment of the population to the stamp at a time when sales have sagged as hunter statistics declined, leaving less possible stamp purchases and spawning doubts about the program’s long-term viability.

“If we somehow lost the duck stamp and the revenue associated with the duck stamp,” USFWS Director Dan Ashe warns in the film, “5 million acres of habitat would disappear overnight.”

Image courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Image courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

“I’VE BEEN PAINTING WINDOWS since I was 15. So it’s 36 years now,” says middle-aged Tim Taylor in the film’s opening scene. Taylor brushes a Christmas-themed display at a Sunoco gas station in snow-covered Mine Hill, N.J., where you get the sense the monotony of painting Santa and his elves at donut shops and diners isn’t exactly the end game of the American Dream.

“So, I’m in the art field but I’m not doing what I really want to do. The ideal goal – just like the waiter who wants to be an actor – is to actually paint what you want to paint. I had seen a wildlife art magazine and it had an article in there about this contest where you could win a million dollars. So I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do. I’m going to enter that. But I didn’t know a thing about ducks.”

These artists are proud of what they do – Taylor says he’s entered since 1995 – what their work stands for, and, for some, what it could be worth. They compare the scope of the contest to global events like the World Cup or the Super Bowl. Adam Grimm, a husband and father of three from South Dakota who has already won the Federal Duck Stamp Contest previously (1999) but continues to enter, likens it to being an American Idol champion (and it’s not that far-fetched as it sounds; Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood were nobodies until we knew them when).

Golden Davis doubles down on how Taylor has changed. He might be the epitome of the spirit of this contest considering how he’s evolved over the years.

“It’s funny that Tim Taylor started doing the contest just because of the money aspect,” Golden Davis says. “But in the end, it was more about ducks, habitat and breeding than he’d ever expected. And that’s what happens. I honestly think you can’t really win the contest unless you have a pretty good knowledge of not just waterfowl anatomy but also waterfowl behavior. And that only comes with years of dedication. There’s not a lot of people who can say, ‘I’m going to enter this thing and I’m going to win it and make a lot of money.’”

Director Brian Golden Davis.

Director Brian Golden Davis.

KNOWING THAT A LARGE portion of audiences doesn’t hunt, Golden Davis made sure to stick up for the impact the FederalDuck Stamp has because of hunters. Remember that the film industry isn’t exactly known as being sympathetic to outdoor sportsmen and –women or much of anything that involves guns or death of wildlife.

As one person interviewed in the film says, “You can imagine where this conversation goes: ‘You’re collecting money, for what? ‘For wetlands to preserve waterfowl.’ And then some people say, ‘Wait a minute; you’re a hunter. Isn’t that a contradiction?’ And I say, ‘Of course it’s not a contradiction. Hunters care about the land and care about the birds.’”

The artists care too, and Taylor and Grimm became fast friends after years of submitting paintings.

In the film, Taylor visits Grimm’s family in South Dakota and they plan to head out in search of birds to capture on film. (Besides the fact that wild, migrating birds look far more dynamic and healthy than domesticated ducks one might find in a more urban setting, the rules stipulate that paintings of ducks must come from photographs created by the contestants themselves rather than other licensed works.)

“We’re going to look in every puddle, every lake, every pond, until we find them,” Taylor says as he and Grimm travel dirt roads in search of canvasbacks, one of the duck species approved for the particular contest featured in the film.

Grimm, a longtime hunter whose dad introduced him to the outdoors, and Taylor, who has no background shooting ducks, both don camo gear and put out decoys to capture the perfect image from massive camera lenses that they can base their contest entry on.

It’s that kind of obsession that drew Golden Davis to this project. Everyone seems to have his or her reason for coming back year after year, knowing that just one of hundreds of entries gets picked and simple math says you’re more likely to get knocked out in the first round than contend for the No. 1 spot. It’s a can of mixed nuts group.

“Some of the more traditional type of wildlife artist that enters is a duck hunter, has been a duck hunter (his or her) whole life and has a love for waterfowl,” Golden Davis says. “And then there are other people like DeeDee Murry, who’s just an all-around animal lover.”

Murry, a Centralia, Wash. resident, introduces her scene-stealing dog Hallie, a blind dachshund that is something of a painter herself (you have to see it to truly appreciate it, especially since Murry says, “I thought I had a pretty good year last year with my art, but my blind dog sold more art than I did”).

We also get to know three Minnesota-based Hautman brothers, who had combined to capture 10 titles and were described as the New York Yankees of the Federal Duck Stamp Contest because they always seem to win.

And then you have the outcast, Rob McBroom, another Minnesotan who’s never won and enters every year knowing damn well that he will likely never win. And he’s just fine with that. If every film needs a villain, a rebel and the anti-establishment, he’ll gladly accept that baton and run with it.

“My artwork has a lot of glitter and rhinestones and glow-in-the-dark aspects to it – nothing at all like they’re looking for,” McBroom says with a mischievous grin. “It’s not winning; it’s the degree in which I lose. I would say my percentage of winning this year – well, you can’t have less than zero percent, but it’s pretty close to that.”

He proudly displays past entries that, while always depicting the right type of duck, also include rather eclectic background details like the time he included a Morse code translation of dialogue from a porn film. McBroom has become Taylor’s nemesis and trolled him in some of his paintings after Taylor called him out on social media.

“It’s kind of funny because Rob is such a divisive character in that community. You have people who really love him and defended his right to enter the contest,” Golden Davis says. “And you have people who do not think he should have any involvement in the duck stamp contest. So just knowing that I was going to include him, I got a lot of emails.”

And while he sheepishly accepts the lightning rod title, McBroom is first to admit his approach won’t win him anywhere near enough love from the majority of the judges. That said, is his spirit more disingenuous than the next entry?

Of the five judges who got a glimpse of his – let’s call it, complex – paint scheme, one did provide an “in” vote. The rest sent him out of contention.

“But your painting is awesome,” he’s enthusiastically told by an admirer in the gallery of entries.

“A lot of people think that I’m doing this as a joke at peoples’ expense,” McBroom says. “It’s a pretty small group of people that I would have to be making fun of, and it’s a lot of effort in order just to tweak them. So I hope it helps the duck stamp competition, because it’s a good program that is getting less and less revenue coming in.”

Still, there are a lot less people in this genre’s world like McBroom and more like Butler, Mo. resident Rebekah Nastav, now in her mid-20s. When she was 15 in 2006, Nastav won the Junior Duck Stamp Contest and has made it a priority to someday win the big one and bask in the possibilities for those fortunate enough to survive an extremely subjective judging criteria.

“The Junior Duck Stamp Contest changed my life,” Nastav says. “Once I learned about the federal and how much of a bigger deal that is, it’s like this thing you want to spend your life pursuing.”

And that’s one reason why Golden Davis calls his debut as a filmmaker a “very American” production.

“It’s a weird idea and one of those stranger-than-fiction stories that a cartoonist comes up with this idea to have artwork on a stamp that will save wildlife habitat for the birds and other animals,” Golden Davis says. “And then it spirals into this weird American subculture that people dedicate their lives to winning. To me, these were real American characters.”

Shooting the movie. (MILLION DOLLAR DUCK)

Shooting the movie. (MILLION DOLLAR DUCK)

Artists Rebekah Nastav and Rob McBroom take different approaches to the Federal Duck Stamp Contest. (MILLION DOLLAR DUCK)

Artists Rebekah Nastav and Rob McBroom (below) take different approaches to the Federal Duck Stamp Contest. (MILLION DOLLAR DUCK)

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SO WE KNOW FOR every Rob McBroom, who understands he’s not in it to win it, and for every Tim Taylor, who deep down believes this is going to be his year, there’s a sense of purpose in the journey from blank canvas to individual artistic expression.

“Abstract painting is the realm of the intellectuals,” Taylor says. “Realistic painting, realistic duck stamps, are by people who have invested most of their lives in observing the wildlife, of learning how to become a painter. There’s no shortcut to being good.”

Winning a contest like this also is void of those shortcuts. The movie’s grand finale features the actual two-day judging, which in this instance was at Ohio’s Maumee Bay State Park on Lake Erie. Golden Davis manages to portray the process as taut, tense and nerve-wracking.

A roomful of artists – some who are true conservationists and wildlife lovers, others with $ signs dancing in their heads – await five judges’ decisions on which paintings progress and the others that get eliminated one by one.

“I was a little worried about being able to capture the tension in the room. I had other people describing it to me as watching paint dry, and I was a little nervous,” Golden Davis admits. “I wasn’t sure if we did, but when I first showed the film, people were yelling at the screen when people would get knocked out or move along to another round. You tend to have a fairly passive audience that’s watching documentaries. But when I saw that (yelling), it was a big sigh of relief.”

The survivors move onto the next round with a points system and a minimum total needed to make the final round. For contest lifers like Taylor and the determined Grimm, flanked by his wife and three kids, this is waiting for the envelope reading of the Oscars’ Best Picture, the Heisman Trophy or, as Grimm thinks, the winner of American Idol (cue judge Simon Cowell, the scourge of Idol hopefuls, asking Rob McBroom, “What the bloody hell was that?” when voting on his painting).

In a movie with a fast-paced 71 running minutes, the climax is the winning depiction of the judges’ choice for the perfect Federal Duck Stamp.

“I remember when I was young and just getting into buying the Federal duck stamps and looking at that artwork on there and thinking just how amazing it was that some artist out there painted that,” Grimm says. “Following in that path and being part of that history, that was a goal of my life.”

Isn’t that what an American story is supposed to be? ASJ

Images courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Images courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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Editor’s note: The USFWS website (fws.gov/birds/get-involved/duck-stamp.php) has information on the federal stamp.  Animal Planet will broadcast the film on TV for the first time on Wednesday, Sept. 14 at 9 p.m. Pacific (check your local listings). For more on The Million Dollar Duck, go to milliondollarduckfilm.com. Follow director Brian Golden Davis on Twitter @ golden_davis. 

 

 

From One Salmon Season To Another

Our friends at Jake’s Nushagak Salmon Camp sent this update:

 

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Thank You Very Much

We would like to just say thank you to all our guests from this 2016 season. Fishing on the river was great. We are looking forward to seeing you all again for the 2017 season.

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Taking Reservations For 2017
We are currently taking reservations for the 2017 season. We have already had a large number of people rebook so dates are filling up fast.

We will be extending the season for 2017. We will be offering discounted trips to stay in camp which will be no more then 10 people from July 6-25. We will be fishing for Kings and will also be targeting Rainbow trout farther up the river.

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Book Now For Our Exclusive Silver Season Pass
The Silver season for Jakes will be July 25th through August 10th. All trips will be 5 nights, 6 days, with only 10 clients in camp per each rotation. The introductory price for Silver fishing is $2450. This will include fully guided, meals, lodging, and flight from Dillingham to camp.

Contact us if you want to book for our Silver Season.

(435) 690-9650
jakesnushagaksalmoncamp.com

 

New Waterfowl Bag Limits Get Increased

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Photo by Scott Haugen

Sorry for just posting this now (I was out of the office for a few days around the Labor Day weekend!).

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

Waterfowl hunting season opened on September 1 over much of Alaska and several regulations changes—including increases to daily bag limits for canvasbacks, snow geese, and brant—spell good news for duck and goose hunters this fall:

  • Beginning September 1, canvasback limits statewide will increase from one to two birds per day, six in possession. The bag limit bump comes after 2016 breeding population estimates were determined to be 26 percent greater than the long-term average of the last 50 years. Canvasback populations in North America have increased recently to more than 725,000 birds.
  • The bag limits for “light” geese (snow and Ross’ geese) increase statewide this season from four to six birds per day, 18 in possession. Breeding surveys of light geese in the western Arctic, including on Alaska’s Arctic Coastal Plain, indicate these populations are increasing and have potential to reach undesirable population levels. The harvest increase is not expected to significantly reduce these populations.
  • Statewide bag limits for brant will increase from two to three birds, nine in possession. The 2016 winter brant survey counted 140,000 birds. An increased harvest was approved by the Pacific Flyway Council as part of a cooperative harvest strategy when the population exceeded 135,000 birds

Waterfowl hunters are reminded that amendments last year to the federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act raised the price of federal waterfowl stamps from $15 to $25 and redefined which hunters must have a federal stamp to hunt waterfowl. All waterfowl hunters 16 years of age or older must have a current federal Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp; exceptions include those who are permanent rural residents of an “included area” or permanent rural residents eligible for subsistence under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. “Included areas” are those areas where spring/summer migratory bird subsistence harvest is currently legal. Included areas and subsistence harvest regulations can be found at: http://www.fws.gov/alaska/ambcc/Regulations.htm .

For questions or clarifications, please contact the USFWS Office of Law Enforcement at (907) 786-3311.

A reminder to Palmer Hay Flats hunters: Hunters who plan to visit Southcentral Alaska’s popular Palmer Hay Flats State Game Refuge near Wasilla should be aware of a regional restriction to ATV use on the Cottonwood Creek ATV trail. All but the first mile of the ATV trail will remain closed to motorized vehicles through the fall season as the Alaska Department of Fish and Game works to protect wetlands and mitigate damage caused by expanding tidal guts and ATVs. The closure will affect waterfowl hunters and other recreationists who use ATVs to access remote portions of the refuge via the 6.5-mile-long trail.

Hunters, keep it clean: Waterfowl hunters are reminded that in 2015 several strains of avian influenza were detected in waterfowl in the Lower 48. None of these strains were transmitted to people. Although highly pathogenic avian flu has not been detected in Alaska, hunters should be aware that wildlife can carry pathogens of many kinds. As always, waterfowl hunters are advised to practice routine hygiene when handling, cleaning and cooking wild game. The Department of Fish and Game recommends the following:

  • Do not handle or eat obviously sick game.
  • Wear rubber or disposable latex gloves while handling and cleaning game.
  • Wash hands and thoroughly clean knives, equipment and surfaces that come into contact with game.
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke while handling animals.
  • All game should be thoroughly cooked (meat internal temperature of 165° F).

Monitoring for avian flu is ongoing in Alaska and early-season waterfowl hunters in the Cook Inlet region may encounter field technicians seeking samples. For more information, contact ADF&G Wildlife Health and Disease Surveillance Program, phone: (907) 328-8354, or email: dfg.dwc.vet@alaska.gov .

The Alaska 2016-2017 Migratory Bird Hunting Regulations Summary is available online athttp://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=hunting.huntingregulations .

Resurrecting A Salmon Tradition

Gulf of Alaska salmon 1

 

BY RANDY WELLS 

As a charter boat skipper, there is nothing that puts huge smiles on anglers’ faces like the aggressive bite and fight of silversalmon.

Each July, coho flood into the Gulf of Alaska and make their way to the streams from which they came.

The waters surrounding Seward represent one of the top destinations for these hard-fighting fish, and with a limit of six per angler inside Resurrection Bay, it’s no wonder that anglers follow these bright fish right to this amazing town.

Silver salmon usually weigh 8 to 12 pounds, but individuals weighing 20 pounds have been landed, and Alaska’s state record is a near 27-pounder caught in Icy Strait. Coho in saltwater and when they first hit freshwater are bright silver – hence their nickname – and have small black spots on the back and on the upper lobe of the tail fin. They can be distinguished from Chinook salmon by the lack of black spots on the lower lobe of the tail and by their white gums; Chinook have small black spots on both tail fin lobes and they have black gums.

Gulf of Alaska salmon 3 Gulf of Alaska salmon 4 Gulf of Alaska salmon 7

 

A SUMMER STAPLE 

Although each of the five Pacific salmon species has a similar life cycle, each has a different life span. All are similar in the way that a female digs a nest – known as a redd – and deposits thousands upon thousands of eggs, which are fertilized by the male’s sperm, known as milt. The eggs develop over the winter, hatch in early spring, with the alevin remaining in the gravel utilizing their yolk until emerging as fry in May or June.

The amount of time spent in the ocean is where each of the five salmon species differs. Pink salmon return at less than two years of age, thus their small size, while most Chinook stay at sea for several years. Male and female silvers stay in the salt for 18 months before returning as full-size adults. They usually weigh 8 to 12 pounds but often break 15 pounds in the waters surrounding Seward.

According to Alaska Department of Fish and Game, silvers enter their spawning grounds in Alaska from July to November. In the waters near Seward, silvers begin to show in the ocean as early as June and are regularly filling fish boxes by July 10 each year. Resurrection Bay is jam-packed with silvers by the middle of August, plus local rivers like the Kenai begin to produce these salmon as well.

Once these chrome beasts hit the rivers they are much easier to track down, but when targeting them in the salt it can be a bit more of a challenge. The first thing to do is locate bait, as is the norm in most saltwater fishing – as the saying goes, find the bait and you’ll find the fish.

A good pair of binoculars is a must to scan the water for birds hovering and diving or – even better – salmon jumping. Remember that these salmon are heading to their spawning grounds in various rivers, so studying your navigation charts is crucial. For example, Johnstone Bay, which leads to Excelsior Lake, is located in the Gulf of Alaska just to the east of Resurrection Bay and has a run of silvers that push into the lake and then into streams to spawn. I target these silvers every year as they stack up in the saltwater near the entrance to the lake waiting to push in and spawn. Moreover, I have found thatsilvers follow the shorelines or contour lines, which can be seen on your chart plotter. I believe it’s because the salmon are chasing bait that can be found on shelves and structures along the shore.

If you have fished Seward for silvers in the past, you know there are the regular, everyone-knows types of spots like Pony Cove. But trust me: There are so many more places to fish; just study your chart and you will find new hot spots and come home with some big and tasty salmon.

As for catching them, as a charter boat skipper who chases silvers over 60 days each summer, I have two strategies: trolling and mooching. When the salmon are just starting to show in June, I have found that trolling is the best way to find and catch. And once silvers are thick by mid-July, sitting atop a bait ball and dropping a mooching rig is the quickest way to fill the fish box.

Gulf of Alaska salmon 5

 

TROLLING 

The set-up for trolling silvers is simple: I use a Lamiglas
Kenai Kwik 803 Series rod, with the Tica Sea Spirit linecounter reel spooled with 40-pound mono. This rod-and-reel combo is perfect for trolling silvers and can double as a mooching rod. Just troll between 1.2 and 1.5 mph.

For hardware, there is no better flasher than the Yakima Bait Big Al’s Fish Flash (I use the No. 10 size). The reason I only troll with the Fish Flash is more than the high-quality components or huge selection of colors; when you hook a fish while trolling this flasher, you only fight the fish, not the flasher. Thanks to its design, it spins freely in the water – hence no flasher drag.

If you are not trolling with downriggers, use a B-N-R Tackle spreader bar ahead of your flasher. This set-up will keep your dropper weight down and away from your flasher.

Speaking of weight, I recommend a 6- to 8-ounce cannonball sinker. Use an 8-foot leader from the flasher to your bait or spinner and split your leader in the center with a bead-chain swivel to avoid a true mess.

The final step is the bait or spinner selection. Green-label plug-cut herring brined with Pro-Cure Brine-N-Bite is my bait of choice. For spinners, a pink Rooster Tail is hard to beat. When I am fishing more than one rod – and that’s 100 percent of the time – I split my gear 50-50 – half spinners and half plug-cut herring. This combination will fill your freezer!

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MOOCHING

Once the silvers are thick enough to mooch for, it becomes a crazy feeding frenzy – and one I often dream of. The first thing I look for are birds diving on bait, which is like a big sign that says, catch your limits here!

I make a straight track to the bait ball while stopping short to be sure not to run through the baitfish and push the salmon deep and possibly turn off the feeding frenzy. There will frequently be a few boats mooching a bait ball and having an amazing bite when another boat shows up and drives right over the bait, destroying the bite –don’t be that guy.

Even worse is when a boat gets their limit and pushes up on step, blowing past the other boats and right over the bait. Instead, slip atop the bait and slip out; everyone around you will appreciate it.

The mooching set-up is as easy as it gets. I use my same Lamiglas 803 trolling rod and Tica reel, a 4- to 6-ounce banana sinker with a bead chain connected to one end of the weight. Add a 12- to 20-inch, 40-pound-test leader with a Hoochie King hoochie skirt to the bead chain end of the weight. The plastic squid is such a versatile lure in the ocean. Color and size matter when it comes to your options, so check out hoochieking.com for a huge selection and the best prices I have ever found. You will lose a lot of these amazing baits, so buy in bulk. Pink and chartreuse are my go-to colors.

Once on top of the bait ball, drop your hoochie skirt down past the bait ball. Reel-stop-reel-stop-reel is the best way to work this bait. The bite can be soft, and you will often get bit while dropping your bait. If you’re fishing 200 feet of water and you’re dropping to 80 feet but your line goes slack at 20 feet, it’s not bottom. Close your bail, reel in your slack and set the hook – you have a fish on! With six lines in the water and a feeding frenzy under the boat, there is no better fishing fun in Alaska.

ATTRACTING SILVERS

An additional tip that will help make these sometimes nonaggressive fish bite is the Pro-Cure Chum Bomb. If you are marking fish, but they just won’t bite, it’s chum time. Many charters have learned the importance of a chum bag.

Cut about 10 pounds of black-label herring in thin and small chunks, put the chopped bait along with a 3-pound weight in a chum bag, and then soak the chum with Pro-Cure Herring, Squid or Sardine Oil. Place the bag in the water off your stern about 3 feet down. Be sure to shake the bag as you drift to let the scent and herring chunks float out.

You will bring the silvers right to your boat and start a feeding frenzy, plus the school will follow as you drift along. In addition, dropping chum bags will really put these fish on. Chop up 2 to 3 pounds of herring in the smallest chunks as you can. Put the herring chunks in a bag with Pro-Cure Herring Oil. Place a 24-ounce jig attached to a halibut rod in the bag as well – making sure to tie the bag to your line – and cut slits in the bag to let the air out. Drop the jig down to about 30 feet, jerk aggressively to break the bag and free the chum. I do this every 10 minutes at different depths to bring and keep the school at my boat. Using these techniques will bring on a bite, as my best trip in 2015 was 36 silvers for six anglers in 19 minutes. Trust me, it works! ASJ

Editor’s note: Randy Wells is a full-time fishing guide, TV host and outdoor writer. Visit his website or call to book a Seward fishing trip (fishsewardalaska.com; 907-947-3349). 

A Harrowing Alaska Fishing Boat Rescue

Photo by the Hartford Courant via Megan Potter

Photo from the Hartford Courant via Megan Potter

The Hartford Courant shared the story of a University of Connecticut student’s  harrowing brush with disaster at sea while working on her father’s fishing boat off the Alaska coast.

Here’s reporter Christine Dempsey with more from Megan Potter’s experience, when the boat began to take on water:

As the boat’s warning alarms began to sound, her father told the family to put on their survival suits — big, orange, top-to-bottom coverings that protect the wearer from the cold Alaskan waters, which are about 40 degrees at the surface at that time of year.

On the radio, he put out a “mayday” distress call.

A 19-year-old animal science major from Quechee, Vt., Megan grew up with her father spending summers on fishing boats in Alaska. He had worked on the boats for more than 30 summers, and for the last three she had joined him.

In the years she had been helping him, Corey Potter had taught her a lot, like about how boats create sinkholes when they slip under water — if people or another boat are too close, they get sucked down with it.

That could have happened to the Star Watcher, the fishing boat that was closest to the Ambition as it took on water. As the Star Watcher approached, Corey Potter made the decision to abandon ship — everybody but the captain.

The order prompted a quick exchange between the captain and his son.

“Kyle’s like, ‘No way, I’m not going in if you’re not going in,'” Corey said.

Megan and the rest of the crew went to the back of the boat, which was now nearly under water.

In his deepest, loudest voice, her father ordered Potter and Erin Tortolano to go first.

“You girls in the water, now!” he yelled.

Her mom and brother went next, and her father went last.

In the water, Megan thought about sinkholes and getting pulled under by a sinking ship. She could no longer make eye contact with her father.

“I look down into the water and it’s dark, deep, 75 feet down,” she said. “And you don’t know what’s down there.”

It’s an incredible story, so read it in its entirety.  Glad Monica and her family and the crew are okay. She’ll have quite the story to tell to her UConn classmates.

 

ADFG: Western Arctic Caribou Herd Decline Leveling

 

Photo by ADFG

Photo by ADFG

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

(Juneau) — A population survey conducted earlier this summer places the Western Arctic caribou herd at 201,000 animals, indicating the herd’s recent rate of decline has eased greatly.

“The results of this photocensus imply that the population has continued to decline since 2013, albeit at a much reduced rate, which seems to be improving each year” said Caribou Biologist Lincoln Parrett.

The summer survey supports information gathered earlier by state biologists indicating improved Western Arctic caribou herd calf recruitment and survival. Biologists and hunters at Onion Portage in 2015 observed that caribou were in very good condition compared to prior years with average body condition of adult females characterized as “fat.” Also, calf weights averaged 100 pounds, which is about 11 pounds heavier than the 2008-2014 average and is the highest average calf weight recorded in the eight years the department began collecting calf weights at Onion Portage.

Overwinter calf survival for the 2015 cohort of calves was 82 percent and the spring 2016 recruitment survey, with 23 yearlings:100 adults observed, was the highest calf recruitment into the population recorded since 2007. High calf survival rates are being mirrored in the adult female survival rate, which is on track to be among the highest recorded in this herd. Biologists documented near record calf production in 2016.

The July photocensus results come as the Federal Subsistence Board deliberates on a Special Action request by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to reverse the board’s April decision to close caribou hunting on federal lands in Game Management Unit 23 to all but federally qualified subsistence users. The closure, which went into effect July 1, 2016, is scheduled to continue through June 30, 2017.

State and federal advisory committees will be meeting this fall prior to January’s Board of Game meeting. The Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group – a cooperative body that meets regularly to reach consensus on research, monitoring, regulation, allocation and enforcement and to support education about the herd—will meet in December to discuss successful ways to keep the herd healthy and thriving. This new information will be essential to discussions about future management of the herd and how the Western Arctic Caribou Herd Cooperative Management Plan will be implemented.

The Western Arctic caribou herd is Alaska’s largest caribou herd. The animals roam an area of about 157,000 square miles that includes many landowners and management entities. Caribou availability and abundance has largely shaped the heritage and traditions of Native Alaskans living in some 40 subsistence-based communities region-wide.

Silver Streak In Valdez

Valdez salmon 5

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

BY DENNIS MUSGRAVES 

My pace was quick walking down the steep gravel path from the parking area. I was anxious to see how many people were out fishing the afternoon high tide and wondering if my favorite spot on the boulder-ridden oceanfront would already be occupied.

Overhead, the sun was shining brightly in a deep blue sky, the light showcasing the emerald, snowcapped mountains surrounding the saltwater bay.

Upon reaching the bottom of the hill, I was pleasantly surprised to find only about a dozen fishermen spread out intermittently and perched on top of the rocks. They concentrated on keeping their balance while casting into the incoming tide. I was surprised none of them had taken up residence on the flat platform of slate that I had my heart set on fishing from.

Without hesitation, I made my move, carefully traversing the loose shale and slippery, sharp edges towards the particular table-shaped rock I was so familiar with. It is a proven location for me – I have caught countless salmon from it during just as many outings.

After reaching the flat stone, I quickly shrugged off my tackle backpack and positioned myself to make my first cast. My graphite baitcaster was already prepared with a large pink spoon, and I was ready to go to work. I double-clutched the cork handle, pressed the spool release, and with one fluid motion loaded the rod and catapulted the lure as far as I could into the bay.

My second cast produced the distinct feel of a fish smashing down on the bait. I instinctively reacted, lifting the tip of the rod for a positive hookset. From the amount of resistance, the salmon felt like a good-sized one, and feisty to boot. Reeling it to the bank required the right amount of finesse to prevent an inadvertent long-distance release. Hooking a fish is the easy part; it’s the landing that can be unpredictable when fishing from a rocky shoreline without a net.

One thing was for certain: My beloved flat rock was again a perfect stage for producing angling drama at its best.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Valdez salmon 3

 

ANGLERS WANTING TO TAKE part in Alaska’s largest pink salmon sport fishery don’t need a boat to participate, but they will want to wear footwear with good traction, and almost certainly will need to bring an ice cooler to transport their fish home.

Shore-side saltwater fishing for pinks gets no better anywhere in the 49th state than at the Port of Valdez. During the peak of season from July through August, fishermen of all ages and skill level can catch a limit of ocean-fresh pinks almost effortlessly, right from the shoreline.

Public access can be found right at the Valdez City fishing dock. However, seasoned Valdez shorecasters know even better bank fishing is available directly across the bay at the end of Dayville Road on a small outcropping of land named Allison Point. It’s been my go-to location for catching chrome-sided humpies for more than a decade.

Navigating the obstacle course of slippery, jagged rocks along the edge of the water can be tricky. Having appropriate footwear and an equal amount of patience will help prevent a twisted ankle or gnarly knee scrape. Fishermen can be well rewarded for their efforts of fishing from the danger zone.

Large numbers of returning pink salmon swim by in large schools just off the beach. They are on their way towards the hatchery, creating a perfect situation for an ambush.

The bank at Allison Point is tidally influenced. I like to begin about an hour before high tide and work the water of the incoming tide. Pink salmon swim with the current, and the changing tide brings them closer to the shoreline. Good fishing can be experienced for about an hour past the high tide.

Large colorful spoons are my favorite option for Valdez pinks. Allowing the heavy, oblong-shaped lure to sink a few seconds, and then cranking it in with a slow retrieve to swim the bait is all it takes to entice a bite.

Valdez salmon 1 Valdez salmon 2

PINK SALMON SPORTFISHING IS spectacular at Valdez,  thanks to the Solomon Gulch Hatchery. Operating since 1981, the hatchery’s effort produces over 200 million pink salmon fry every year for release into the ocean. The Valdez Fisheries Development Association oversees management and operations at the hatchery.

In addition to pinks, the hatchery also incubates and releases coho smolts annually. Adult fish of both species return to the hatchery in abundant numbers every year. Silvers follow the pinks and begin showing up near Allison Point right around mid-August.

I did manage to battle a few more pinks from my special perch during the rest of my two-hour-long outing. Most of the salmon I hooked were lost back to the sea.

Valdez salmon 6

 

I wasn’t disappointed, however, considering that my trip was in the first week of July, still a bit early for the horde of returning humpies. So I was grateful to have managed a couple fish to take home. Walking back up the hill to my vehicle was much easier with a couple salmon; the fish were flawless representations of saltwater salmon, complete with sea lice still attached to their bodies.

Fishing the saltwater shoreline for salmon in Valdez isn’t always automatic, but I always have fun sportfishing outdoors anywhere in Alaska. No boat required.  ASJ

Editor’s note: For more on the Great Land adventures of Dennis Musgraves and his fellow fishing fanatics, go toalaskansalmonslayers.com

 

 

 

Clean Drain Dry App Strives To Prevent Invasive Species

The following press release is courtesy of Wildlife Forever: 

Brooklyn Center, MN – For years, static signs posted at entry points and boat ramps have educated people on laws, rules and regulations. Rightfully so, to protect natural resources, but a new mobile app developed by Wildlife Forever and the Clean Drain Dry Initiative, works to change that using Augmented Reality (AR) technology to educate, inform and inspire conservation stewardship.

The Clean Drain Dry app uses unique campaign marketing materials and graphics to transport users to a video experience that informs and empowers positive actions to prevent invasive species. A pilot project, based in Minnesota with funding provided from the Outdoor Heritage Fund and administered by the Initiative Foundation, has created unique signage, empowered with AR that when scanned with the FREE app, takes the user through a brief survey and ultimately an educational video that reminds people to Clean Drain Dry to prevent invasive species.

“This new app will be a great tool to engage younger audiences and anyone with a phone in their hand,” said Pat Conzemius, Conservation Director for Wildlife Forever. “This beta launch is just the beginning for a new dimension in communications and has tremendous appeal for regional and national outreach and education.”

Don Hickman, Vice President for Community and Workforce Development for the Initiative Foundation said, “Our goal is to press the envelope with new strategies that help prevent the spread of invasive species. The Clean Drain Dry app has great promise and I hope to see it take off.”

New signs will be posted at public boat ramps and entry points throughout northern Minnesota. Four styles will target different user groups all reiterating the common theme and campaign focus of the Clean Drain Dry Initiative. Wildlife Forever would like to thank the U.S. Forest Service and numerous partners for their forward-thinking support and continued investment in outreach and education.

The Clean Drain Dry Initiative™ is the national outreach campaign to educate all outdoor recreational users on how to prevent the spread of invasive species. Working with local, state, federal and the outdoor industry, coordinated invasive species messaging focuses on strategic content, marketing communications and outreach tools for how to prevent.  For more information and tips on how you can help, follow along at Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/CleanDrainDry/

About Wildlife Forever (WF): Wildlife Forever’s mission is to conserve America’s wildlife heritage through conservation education, preservation of habitat and management of fish and wildlife.  For over 27 years, WF members have helped to conduct thousands of fish, game and habitat conservation projects across the country. To join or learn more about the award-winning programs, including work to engage America’s youth, visit www.WildlifeForever.org.

RINGING THE VICTORY BELL

Prince William Sound salmon 2

 

The following appears in the August issue of Alaska Sporting Journal

BY KRYSTIN AND BIXLER MCCLURE 

As we pulled into the next cove in Prince William Sound, we watched as small fishing boats jigged and trolled furiously forsilvers.

Word on the street was that the salmon fishing was slow around the sound. The fish had decided not to congregate around the usual popular spots this year and most people were having trouble finding them. The marine radio was filled with endless chatter about silvers, and many boats were heading for home empty-handed. Rather than pursue silvers ourselves, we continued into the cove and dropped our anchor near some friends of ours on another sailboat.

The weather was hot and the cove was calm compared to the boat-to-boat combat fishing out on the point. Bixler and I waved to our new friends – fresh up from Tasmania – who were enjoying the heat way more than we were with our thick Alaskan blood. I hopped in the dinghy to make dinner plans with them, while Bixler tied up a mooching rig.

Prince William Sound Salmon 1 (2)

AMBLING ALONG AT 6 knots in a sailboat means you must fish opportunistically rather than target species. Many of our largest fish are caught by simply dangling a line over the side while at anchor. Usually, this works wonders for halibut in a cove that opens to the Gulf of Alaska, but we didn’t have much luck in Prince William Sound. With the number of salmon anglers out and about, we changed our strategy to the dangling slip-tie rig: a 2-ounce chartreuse banana weight with a double slip-tie hook and a whole herring on the end.

I came back to our boat, Carpe Ventos, with dinner plans that included our latest haul of spot shrimp, while Bixler affixed bells to the rods. We were tired from sitting in the sun all day and needed some relief inside the cool, dark boat.

As we finished the last chore and climbed into the V-berth, I heard the distinct sound of a jingle. At first I reminisced about those wonderful cold days of ice fishing, but then I realized there was a fish on one of our lines. I nudged Bixler, who ran to grab the rod.

The rod was dancing wildly in the holder as he grabbed it. As soon as he began to reel, the fish took off and performed underwater somersaults like a silver salmon. I grabbed the net off the deck of the boat and waited patiently for the fish. Bixler continued to reel and nudge the drag. Silvers are notorious fighters, and this feisty fish certainly was not giving up.

Bixler reeled up to the surface and, sure enough, a big fat silver had nabbed the herring. Ocean-bright and shiny, the fish had brought an entire school with it to the surface. The rest of the salmon disappeared as we netted this catch – and just in time too; the second rod was now jingling.

I grabbed the rig while Bixler untangled the first and excitedly dropped the slip-tie rig back down. After an equally exciting fight, I pulled up a bigger, plumper silver. In all the commotion, I looked over to our Aussie friends who were watching with much interest as we continued to yard silvers out of the water.

“We might be a bit late for dinner,” I yelled over to them as I hooked into another fish and Bixler pulled it onto the boat.

Prince William Sound salmon 1

THE FISHING STAYED HOT for us, and with the low rumble of boats leaving the point in the distance, we approached our limit. I plugged in the small freezer while Bixler began to fillet the fish. Compared to past years’ catches, each silver was deeply red and the fillets seemed twice the size of normal.

I was starting to tire and lose fish. Even though the slip-tie rig is efficient, silvers have soft mouths and often strip bait off of the hooks. I lost two in a row, and when Bixler finished filleting he took over the fishing to finish out his limit.

Instantly he was on and I dipped the net into the water to nab an even larger silver that we at first misidentified as a king. We again dropped it into the cockpit and watched as it spit scales and blood all over our sailboat.

Prince William Salmon 3 Prince William Sound Salmon 4

 

I dropped down to finish out my limit of silvers and happened to look at the time. It was the dinner hour, but our Aussie friends were enjoying the show so much they did not seem to mind. Carefully, I managed to pull up the last fish, which we filleted for dinner.

At this point we were hardly acceptable dinner guests. Bixler and I smelled like fish and we were covered with scales. We frantically cleaned our boat to remove the blood and scales before it baked onto the surface.

Then, in more presentable attire, we hopped in the dinghy and headed over to the other boat with the day’s catch of fresh fish and shrimp. We were dead-tired from the long day, but our Aussie friends welcomed the entertainment and the catch. The last fishing boat droned in the distance as we barbecued up our catch and cooled off under their boat’s awning.

“Hey, I hear the silver fishing is hot right now!” I joked to the Aussies in the manner of the radio chatter that was saying the opposite of earlier in the day. They laughed, repeating to us how much they had enjoyed the entertainment and that Bixler and I were quite the team for pulling up a pile of fish.

As much as we would have liked to relax in the boat that afternoon, I’m glad we checked why that bell on the rod was jingling.ASJ

Happy 100, National Park Service!

unnamed

 

The great Joseph Gordon-Levitt has it down!

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service (and if you haven’t seen Ken Burns’ documentary about the history of the NPS, it’s an incredible experience and as the title suggests, it is America’s Best Idea).

I remember my first trip to Yosemite National Park and driving in with my mom in our beaten-up Ford station wagon. It was a great experience. I had similar chills in some of my visits to other NP locales like Kings Canyon, Yellowstone and other National Park Service locales like Civil War battlefields, museums and monuments. I thought I’d share a few pics from some of my experiences with the NPS.

Cape Lookout (North Carolina)

Cape Lookout (North Carolina)

Kitty Hawk, N.C.

Kitty Hawk, N.C.

Shiloh National Battlefield, Tennessee

Shiloh National Battlefield, Tennessee

Saratoga National Historical Park, New York

Saratoga National Historical Park, New York

Gettysburg, Pa.

Gettysburg, Pa.

 

Independence Hall, Philadelphia

Independence Hall, Philadelphia

Valley Forge, Pa.

Valley Forge, Pa.

 

Some more folks paying homage via social media: