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The Search For Alaska’s ‘Poor Man’s Lobster’

 

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The following appears in the December issue of Alaska Sporting Journal 

BY DENNIS MUSGRAVES

Ice fishing after sunset on Alaskan lakes has typically been an uneventful experience for me. Trying to tease a bite out of a trout or char while vertically jigging in the dark seems random at best, and usually unproductive.

There are, however, certain creatures of the night that exist below lakes’ frozen lids that are eager to feed. These freakish-looking fish become active when the sun goes down.

Ice anglers searching for action during frigid winter nights can certainly find some by targeting the only freshwater cod found in North America: burbot. These weird flat-headed fish become increasingly active after dark, migrating to shallow water to forage for a meal. They’re enthusiastic and opportunistic feeders and will chomp down on just about anything natural or unnatural attached to a hook.

Alaskan sourdoughs familiar with catching the unusual fish shaped like serpents easily overlook their strange appearance for their flavor on the table. Sampling the fish’s delicate mild white meat willl provide instant understanding of why burbot are considered among Alaska’s most tasty freshwater species. Most people compare the flavor to that of a popular and delicious crustacean, hence the reason why the burbot is often referred to as a “poor man’s lobster.”

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MY FIRST EXPERIENCE ice fishing for burbot was several years ago with my longtime friend and fishing partner Chris Cox. We planned our outing at a popular roadside location along the Glenn Highway, and it did not disappoint.

After a short trek, we set up our portable ice fishing shelter on the snow-covered lake and waited for sundown. The spot we picked was the perfect choice: It featured  2-foot depths on a large flat section of lakebed. Like clockwork, our rod tips began twitching just after sunset. We enticed strikes using several types of ¼-ounce plastic and marabou jigs in various bright colors. Although most of the fish went under 2 pounds, we experienced a fun frenzy in the darkness. Turning the light switch off at sunset seemed to be like ringing a dinner bell for the fish; they showed up in force and could not resist our offerings.

Indeed, ice fishing for burbot is far from complicated. Fish can be easily located and are not difficult or challenging to bring to the surface with a rod and reel. Active fish can be found searching for food at depths of 2 to 5 feet during periods of darkness. Drill a hole through the ice, present your bait with some tantalizing jigging and wait for the bite.

Although this fishing is not technically difficult, there are a few aspects I learned over my winter burbot trips that helped add to my catch rate.

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INCREASING THE ODDS of hooking up with a burbot is directly related to water depth and the structure on the bottom of a body of water. If you know what the bottom looks like, you can set up over locations that will provide the best potential. A bathymetric map of a lake you’re planning on fishing will help prepare you for knowing where to go before drilling out a single hole.

Bathymetric maps are charts depicting an accurate, measurable description and visual presentation of the underwater terrain. The Department of Fish and Game is a good resource for the special maps and has many lakes available online (adfg.alaska.gov) to view and print. The maps won’t guarantee you catch fish, but they will provide a better insight to know where the shallow areas adjacent to deep drop-offs are at and where burbot can usually be found.

Another tool I use to find the actual depth of water is my fishing sonar, or a fish finder. My electronics allow me to see through the ice, without drilling a hole, and know accurate depth. The device can be a big time saver, especially if you are fishing a remote lake which may not have any charting information available.

I have used various types of lures and bait to catch burbot. I have never found burbot to be finicky; normally, if they are present, they will bite. Burbot are known to be aggressive predators; their wide jaws and small rows of teeth are designed for snatching prey and swallowing it whole. They depend on their sensitive lateral line and two large open nostrils to sense vibrations and smell when roaming the bottom for something to eat.

Indeed, your presentation should be kept near the bottom. I like to be about 3 inches off the lake floor, and I use irregular twitch-pause patterns to try and attract the fish. Shiny jigs, spoons, and glow-in-the-dark plastics are popular for attracting fish by sight.

Some anglers are more confident in teasing a burbot’s sense of smell and simply use a baited hook. Cut whitefish, herring and lamprey eel are commonly used baits and can be very effective. Make sure to change your bait consistently to provide a good scent. Bait can become waterlogged after soaking too long, decreasing the odds of stimulating hungry fish.

Maximizing your presentation can help your cause. My recommendation is to try using a combination of something flashy and smelly – a bright-colored lure tipped with a chunk of whitefish is a good bet. Call it a dual threat to encourage a bite.

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SINCE BURBOT ARE well-distributed in a large portion of Alaska, opportunities to catch them are reasonable. Healthy populations can be found in the lakes of the upper Tanana, upper Copper, and upper Susitna River drainages. A few lakes located alongside the Glenn Highway also have good possibilities and are manageable drives
from Anchorage.

Catching these odd fish out from under the ice is a fun adventure for me. It’s an opportunity to get outside during the long winter season and provide a harvest to enjoy.

Burbot are certainly more than just a good source of protein; they also represent another part of what makes Alaska so unique.Ice fishermen like myself rejoice in knowing that when daylight dims, the fishing does not have to end in the Great Land. ASJ

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

Powering The ‘Workhorse Of The Arctic’

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The following story appears in the December issue of Alaska Sporting Journal 

Story and photos by Paul D. Atkins

The only thing you could see was the hood above the icy cold water. I was still hanging onto the handlebars as thesnowmachine’s track settled on the hard ice below, which brought me to a complete standstill. My snow pants and boots were full of water and I was in panic mode, wondering if this was the end for yours truly.

Luckily, I made it out of the overflow (water on top of ice) and built a fire to warm up, easing the pain of what could have been a very bad situation. As I tried to dry out, the two guys I was with wrestled my machine from its slushy grave, all the while reminding me of what I should have done and the fact that I was wasting valuable hunting time.

That experience happened 20 years ago, but it’s still a constant reminder of what not to do when you’re riding in the far north.

The first snowmachine I ever saw, I rode. It was an awkward experience, to say the least, and something that I wasn’t comfortable with, especially as a newbie from the Lower 48. I buried it more times than I can remember, and instances like above happened more often than I can remember. It wasn’t until years later that I learned to ride one and came to realize the importance and significance of these incredible machines, especially to the people of rural Alaska.

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SNOWMACHINES, OR “SNO-GOS” as they’re sometimes called locally, are truly the workhorses of Arctic. Getting around without one can prove to be difficult, especially when most of the year the land is covered in snow and ice.

Starting in October, when the first cold spell hits and the snow begins to fall, a frenzy of snowmachine activity begins. Covers are pulled from machines and inspections start taking place in yards and garages around town. Tracks are inspected, grease guns emptied and new sparkplugs take the place of old ones. It’s time to get ready.

People rely on snowmachines for all sorts of reasons: For many living in rural Alaska, it’s their only mode of transportation. They don’t drive a car or truck, or even a 4-wheel-drive – just a snowmachine waiting to make its appearance once the white stuff starts to fly. All brands are represented too, and in all sizes. There is everything from the really big machines made for hauling freight and long trekking to the smallest, which can be seen loaded down with kids circling backyards all over town. It’s a great time and creates a new appreciation and a sense of celebration that only the cold dark months can allow.

I have seen my share of snowmachines over the years, but I’m still a novice when it comes to most. Here in the Arctic, being able to ride one is only part of the sno-go experience; to truly understand one you must know how your machine works and be able to fix it when and if the time comes – and believe me, that time will come.

Most hardcore snowmobiles that push the limits in the backcountry – where things can go wrong in a hurry – are truly some of the best mechanics when it comes to this endeavor. They have to be, especially when you’re miles from home in subzero weather and your machine breaks down. Being able to fix the problem and get back home before you freeze to death will give you a better appreciation for what you can and cannot do. Some guys go solo, which is even more demanding and the danger levels are a bit higher, while others choose to travel in bands, hoping that somebody in the group has experience. I belong to the latter group, and have good reason to be so.

 

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A FEW YEARS ago I was traveling north through miles and miles of snow-infested tundra with a hunting friend of mine. Our goal was to make camp that evening in hopes of taking a few wolves. If we were lucky, we’d also take home a sheep or two.

It was a 100 miles from town and would take us all day to get there if things ran smoothly. Everything was going well until we ran out of snow. The temperatures fell below zero and we were miles from any marked trail, so we did something dumb and tried to push through it. We shouldn’t have.

My machine immediately overheated, frying everything inside. It was scary, to say the least, but luckily there were two of us and we were able to limp back home on one sled. That was a long night, but we made it.

It was three months before I could get back up there and get my machine and gear, worrying the whole time if it would even still be there upon
my return.

My machine was old back then, but even the newest machines can have problems. Some of the old timers still swear that the older sleds are better, while the new generation only want the latest and the greatest.

One thing is for sure: snowmachines have evolved over time, especially in the last 10 years. Refinements include everything from four-stroke engines to super-wide tracks to digital controls with built-in global tracking systems that are the norm now. How did we ever do without them?

If you’re new to the snow-going world, deciding on a specific brand of machine to buy can become as important as selecting a soul mate and, at times, may be even more so. It’s a hot topic among those who love trekking through the snow on the back of one. When you do, it will forever seal you to a particular camp.

Much like the Ford versus Chevy debate, choosing what is best depends on what you like. There are many brands to choose from and many places throughout Alaska to buy one. Skidoo, Polaris and Arctic Cat are the more popular selections in the Arctic, each with their own pluses and minuses. Size is also important, and depending on what you plan to do with it, ultimately should dictate
your decision.

There are many places throughout Alaska that offer rentals as well. It’s a growing business and in some of the bigger communities it has become quite popular. Rentals can run anywhere from $100 a day to more, depending on the village you’re in. Most who rent are visitors or tourists who want to experience what gliding across the tundra or digging through deep powder
is like.

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MANY YEARS AGO I drew a muskox tag in a community other than my own. I didn’t have a way to get my machine there other than pay to have it flown in by aircraft; that was not a feasible solution due to the expense. I checked around and found a place that had a couple of older machines that I
could borrow.

At first glance I could see that these were early models, though they appeared to be in decent shape. But after 20 miles on the trail I could see that they weren’t. I did get my ox, but getting it back became a problem and we ended up having to call for help. We were fortunately found by a couple of true blue backcountry guys who knew snow and were riding machines built for the Arctic.  It was an incredible experience and made me realize just how important having the right snowmachine at the right time is, especially if you live in the Last Frontier. ASJ

Editor’s note: Paul Atkins is an author and outdoor writer from Kotzebue, Alaska. He has written hundreds of articles on big game hunting and surviving in the Arctic. Paul is a regular contributor to Alaska Sporting Journal.

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Miss Kansas Misfires On Bear Hunt

Photos courtesy of Theresa Vail via American Shooting Journal

Photos courtesy of Theresa Vail via American Shooting Journal

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In February 2014 our sister magazine, American Shooting Journal (it was still known as Western Shooting Journal then), profiled Theresa Vail, an avid hunter who just happened to be a beauty queen (she was 2013’s Miss Kansas and competed in the ensuing Miss America pageant, where she created a buzz for her tattoos.

Vail eventually scored an Outdoor Channel show, Limitless With Theresa Vail. But when she filmed an Alaska bear hunt (which was never aired by the network), Vail made a mistake during the hunt and she and her guides attempted to cover it up. 

Here’s Fox News with more:

“This May, during an Alaskan guided bear hunt, I unintentionally harvested a second bear while attempting a follow up shot,” Vail said in a statement. “I then followed poor advice and allowed the second bear to be improperly tagged. A few days later, the film crew and I reported the incident and have since fully cooperated with the proper authorities.

“I am deeply sorry for my mistakes.”

Alaska State Troopers say 25-year-old Vail, star of “Limitless with Theresa Vail,” and two hunting guides have been charged with misdemeanors.

Troopers say master guide Michael Wade Renfro and assistant guide Joseph Andrew Miller conspired to cover up the violation up by obtaining a second bear tag and submitting the wrong information to game authorities.

We’ll have a little more about the incident in the January issue of Alaska Sporting Journal, along with an update on the Alaska hunting incidents of another TV show host, Clark Dixon.

USA Hockey’s Alaskan Adventurer

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The following story appears in the December issue of Alaska Sporting Journal. Photos courtesy of Zoe Hickel, the NWHL and Andre Ringuette/USA Hockey

By Chris Cocoles

SO WHAT DEFINES a girl’s early years growing up Alaskan with parents who were ski racers, plus a hockey coach mom and the family’s collective love of the outdoors?

Let’s ask budding hockey star and Anchorage native Zoe Hickel’s mother, Cristy, for perspective.

“A backpack, file drawer for naps, ski hill or penalty box is where they grew up,” Cristy Hickel says of 23-year-old hockey forward Zoe and her younger sister, Tori, also a standout hockey player.

“While I was training for hockey trying to make the 1998 Women’s Olympic team, I would leave the girls in the (ice rink) penalty box with a blanket, Tupperware (container) of Cheerios and a box of apple juice. I would come to check on them and they would be batting at the Cheerios like hockey pucks and they filled all the holes with apple juice. Never a welcome cleanup.”

Being around a game that’s a big deal in consistently frozen Alaska made it a no-brainer for Zoe not only playing but eventually excelling at the highest levels. In the past year, she finished her distinguished college career at NCAA Division I school Minnesota Duluth, won a gold medal with Team USA at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships in Sweden, and began a professional career in the first year of the National Women’s Hockey League.

Through it all, she’s never forgotten her Alaska roots and her love for just about anything else that involves being outside.

“I think that growing up in Alaska, there’s so much that we’re exposed to such a young age, in terms of the climate and learning how to be comfortable,” ZoeHickel says from the East Coast, where she plays for the NWHL’s Boston Pride. “The way I was raised, I was definitely put in situations where I was really happy that I had things available at such a young age. I grew up enjoying things like skiing, hiking, camping, fishing, biking, hunting – all the kind of stuff that we’re are lucky to have in Alaska.”

Zoe Hickel (right) training with her sister, Tori, who plays college hockey for Northeastern University.

Zoe Hickel (right) training with her sister, Tori, who plays college hockey for Northeastern University.

Hickel is a forward for the Boston Pride in the first-year National Women's Hockey League

Hickel is a forward for the Boston Pride in the first-year National Women’s Hockey League

Playing for Team USA last year at the IIHF Women's World Championships in Sweden

Playing for Team USA last year at the IIHF Women’s World Championships in Sweden

AS WE GET older, it’s difficult to recall that we were, at one time or another, rascals as little kids. Zoe Hickel was downright fearless.

Her mom and biological dad, Lex Patten, were both scholarship athletes on the University of Alaska Anchorage ski team, so it’s not surprising that young Zoewas donning skis herself at 2 years old. A year later she was riding the lifts at Hilltop Ski Area in Anchorage by herself.

So she was a bit of a daredevil, huh?

“When she was around 3 years old, we were at a birthday party at the Service High swimming pool. I was sitting there and watching the kids, and out of the corner of my eye I saw Zoe sprinting to the high dive,” Cristy Hickel says.

Mom assumed her daughter was being a little defiant and “testing me,” so Cristy was subtle in seeing how far the kid was willing to take the dare. Pretending to ignore but watching her little girl like a hawk, Cristy Hickel was floored when Zoe, who already knew how to swim, raced up the ladder toward the top of the 3-meter (almost 10-foot) diving board.

“She will see the end and turn around so I should go help her,” Cristy thought.

Mom be damned, little Zoe kept climbing, plunged off the high board into the pool below, and before the shock of seeing a 3-yard-old submerged in the deep end of the pool, she surfaced, smiled and dogpaddled back to the edge.

“Typical Zoe,” Cristy says.

Zoe and Tori, now a senior defense-
man for the Northeastern University Huskies women’s hockey team, got exposed to the playground surrounding their Anchorage home fairly quickly. Cristy eventually married Vern Hickel, who became Zoe’s legal father through adoption when she was 8 (but she would later reconnect with Patten and hunted moose with him in September). Fishing and hunting were regular pastimes, though skiing was just as important.

“One of the favorite things I remember getting to do with my mom: we lived so close to Flattop (Mountain), since I was unable even to walk she was bringing me up on her backpack. We’d go off and have picnics with our dogs and friends and families,” Zoe says. “Honestly, I grew up on that mountain.”

Zoe’s first encounter with a king salmon on the Kenai came at age 8.

“The fish was bigger than I was,” Zoe recalls.

It weighed around 50 pounds and she cried while reeling, her arms burning during the fight. But this was one determined young angler. As Cristy says, “It was her fish.”

“She was hooked on bringing home the meat after that.”

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MALMO, SWEDEN - APRIL 3: USA's Zoe Hickel #36 looks on as Russia's Valeria Tarakanova #1 tracks the puck during semifinal round action at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)

MALMO, SWEDEN – APRIL 3: USA’s Zoe Hickel #36 looks on as Russia’s Valeria Tarakanova #1 tracks the puck during semifinal round action at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)

THE ALASKAN WAY of do-it-yourself fascinated young Zoe Hickel. Vern took her on a hunt for big game (caribou) when she was 12.

“It was pretty cool. We flew out to my dad’s place, which is up in the Talkeetna area with a nice little camp set up. And we spotted the (caribou) and hunted the thing down 3 miles up the mountain. And it was a double shovel,” she says. “We weren’t able to get everything down because it was too much for all of us to do. So we hid the head and the antlers and the bears got to it. They buried it somewhere. We couldn’t even find it. I was so bummed because it was my first big game kill.”

Fishing and hunting became the new normal for young Zoe because “it was a product of my surroundings,” she says.

It helped that hers and Tori’s mom was as gung-ho about staying active as the kids. Mama Hickel is a tireless worker and has coached junior hockey teams in Alaska for years.

”We loved to hike, and one of our favorites was to take a quick road trip late at night to Seward, sleep in the Suburban, climb Mount Marathon, eat an ice cream and drive back to town singing songs with the dogs,” Cristy Hickel says. “When Zoe was 8 she insisted she could run the (Mount Marathon Race) and, well, since she’s a boss, she did – and continued to race it 10 more years. She won her age group one year and was part of the ‘goat girl’ junior team that won it six years in a row with her sister.”

And remember that “product of your surroundings” thing that Zoe grew up in? Look no further than Mom, who made sure her kids were going to stay active.

“I was raised a traveling outdoor kid and I wanted to be sure my daughters grew up confident, strong and able to cope with the ups and downs of life,” Cristy Hickel says. “Zoe has an easy confident manner that comes from years of ‘being a boss,’ as I call it.”

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AT SOME POINT, Zoe was going to have to make a decision: skiing or hockey? Did she aspire to be the next Cammi Granato, a Hockey Hall of Famer and captain of the U.S. team that won the gold medal in the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, the first year women’s hockey was a medal sport? Or perhaps Picabo Street, who captured alpine skiing gold in the super-G during the same games?

“I was on skis before I ever started playing hockey. I loved ski racing growing up too and I was pretty competitive with that until a certain age, when I was about 13,” she says. “I grew up on skis and had both parents who were good ski racers. I was lucky to have parents who coached in that field, and then introduced me to hockey. I just fell in love with it.”

Hickel was clearly skilled in both sports, and given Alaska’s small population and growing up with fewer girls who played the sport than do now, she regularly skated with boys. While she looked up to iconic U.S. women’s hockey players like Granato, Angela Ruggiero, Julie Chu and Jenny Schmidgall-Potter, Hickel was particularly enthralled with a National Hockey League star, Detroit Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk.

“I can’t say I can handle a hockey stick like he can! I wish. He’s amazing, so I just really like his style of play and his ability – just a lot of things I like about him,” Hickel says.

When she wasn’t helping Cristy coach various teams in Alaska, Zoe was excelling enough on hockey rinks in and around Alaska to get the chance to head east as a teenager and attend the prestigious North American Hockey Academy in Stowe, Vt.

A scholarship to play for the Minnesota Duluth (UMD) Bulldogs followed, where Hickel eventually became team co-captain and scored 46 career goals. She got her first taste of Team USA competition on the Under-18 teams in 2010, and she made the cut for the 2015 World Championships and has a great chance to be a member of the USA Hockey squad at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

“It was amazing to just be part of that group and be in this player pool with these girls who are so dedicated and of course having the same stuff I’ve been striving for, for a long time. When I finally got my chance, I guess you can say I made the most of my opportunity that I had,” Hickel says.

“It’s fun that you’ve looked up to these girls and then get to play with them. And a lot of these girls I’ve played against or played with in the past, and women’s hockey is a smaller circle. Most of the time, at some point we’ve crossed paths. So you get at that level and it’s such a dynamic atmosphere to be involved with girls at that level.”

Zoe was such a rink rat Cristy recruited her to help her coaching duties. Considering she was jumping off the high dive at 3, teaching little sis Tori to ski at 4 and started coaching with Cristy at 9, what took her so long to start coaching herself?

“We’ve butted heads here and there, and I know it’s really hard to have a parent as a coach,” Zoe says of her mom, who’s become nationally respected as a teacher of the game. “But I have a lot of respect for her and we were able to have that kind of relationship where I was able to learn so much from her and what she was able to pass onto me.”

The influence was reflected during her senior year at UMD, when Hickel was a finalist for the NCAA’s Hockey Humanitarian Award, which honored the five men’s or women’s players vying to win the college game’s “finest citizen” award. Hickel’s nomination was due to various charitable endeavors – including coaching Alaska’s All-Star Girls Hockey teams, volunteering in Anchorage’s SPYDER (Sports Programs for Youth Development, Education and Recreation) nonprofit organization and running the SHARK (Strong, Healthy, Active, Responsible Kids) program in Duluth, Minn., to promote youngsters staying active.

“Despite the material shiny things,” Cristy says, “I would like to think of Zoe as a successful young lady who is a contributor to our youth and community.”

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MALMO, SWEDEN - APRIL 4: USA's Stephanie Anderson #18 and Zoe Hickel #36 celebrating with the Championship trophy after a 7-5 gold medal game win over Canada at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)

MALMO, SWEDEN – APRIL 4: USA’s Stephanie Anderson #18 and Zoe Hickel #36 celebrating with the Championship trophy after a 7-5 gold medal game win over Canada at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)

HICKEL’S HOCKEY CAREER is just getting started playing in Boston – one of four teams in the new league – with American stars such as Hilary Knight and Brianna Decker, plus another Anchorage resident, Jordan Smelker (who played with Hickel on Team USA’s Four Nations Cup championship team last month). She is also on staff as a volunteer assistant coach for the Merrimack College (North Andover, Mass.) women’s hockey team.

Zoe is so much fun to watch – she’s as dynamic and skilled as they come, as well as a stand-up teammate,” Pride general manager Haley Moore said.

Adds Cristy Hickel, “She skates with a natural grace and athleticism that is more like most boys than what I normally observe (from female players). Zoehas journeyed along the way coaching and being coached, and as such has become a student of her sport.”

But hockey is only part of what defines her. Her hectic 2015 also included a summer back home fishing and hunting in Alaska, where her busy childhood as a ski bunny, puck head and dedicated outdoors junkie was molded.

Cristy Hickel calls her oldest daughter “an ambassador for Alaska because she loves the land and the people who make up our community.”

“It’s huge for kids to understand all of those skills (I learned) when they’re young, especially living in Alaska,” Zoe says. “I think that’s great.” ASJ

Editor’s note: For more on Zoe Hickel, follow her on Twitter (@ZoeHickel) and go to nwhl.co/teams/boston-pride.

 

 

Police: No Foul Play In Juneau Mayor’s Death

 Juneau Mayor Greg Fisk's death is a mystery for now. (Greg Fisk for Mayor via Facebook)

Juneau Mayor Greg Fisk’s death is a mystery for now. (Greg Fisk for Mayor via Facebook)

 

Juneau-area invesigators in the death of mayor-elect Greg Fisk determined he passed away of natural causes.

From the Associated Press:

The police chief in Alaska’s capital city defended his department’s response after the newly elected mayor was found dead at home, bruised and bloodied, and speculation ran rampant as to the cause of his death.

But on Wednesday, preliminary autopsy results indicated that Stephen “Greg” Fisk, 70, died of natural causes and that the injuries he sustained were consistent with falling or stumbling into objects.

The speculation was fueled — and the attention surrounding the case grew — when police did not immediately rule out foul play in the death of Fisk, who went by Greg. Police deferred until autopsy results came back.

Sometimes, it’s obvious at the scene that a person died of natural causes. “In this case, we just can’t confirm that yet or rule anything out,” police spokeswoman Erann Kalwara had said Tuesday.

Fisk’s death made national headlines this week and garnered notice far outside Juneau’s remote location.

During a news conference, police chief Bryce Johnson said Fisk had a history of heart problems. He said it’s believed that Fisk had some issues with his heart and fell.

 

The Remarkable Moment When A Steelhead Hatches

From our sister magazine California Sportsman:

Steelhead hatching at Quilcene National Fish Hatchery. Source: US Fish and Wildlife

Of course, winter is on its way, and for those who live outside the state,  it actually gets cold in California. But the chilly weather that showed up around the Thanksgiving holiday also means that steelhead anglers will soon be flocking to Northern California rivers. Look for our steelhead preview in the January issue, but for now, check out this fascinating look at a steelie hatch, thanks to our friends at the  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Juneau Mayor’s Death Still A Mystery (Updating)

 Juneau Mayor Greg Fisk's death is a mystery for now. (Greg Fisk for Mayor via Facebook)

Juneau Mayor Greg Fisk’s death is a mystery for now. (Greg Fisk for Mayor via Facebook)

Update: From the Associated Press:

Police in Alaska’s capital city have not determined whether the city’s new mayor died from a natural event or foul play but have tentatively ruled out gunshots, drugs or suicide in the death.

Stephen “Greg” Fisk, 70, was found in his Juneau home with injuries that police did not describe. Police are awaiting autopsy results to announce a possible cause of death.

“It’s not clear what the cause of those injuries are,” police spokeswoman Erann Kalwara said Tuesday.

Fisk’s adult son of found the mayor’s body Monday and alerted police.

Fisk lived alone. There was no sign of forced entry into Fisk’s home above Juneau’s downtown, where a lone police vehicle sat outside the home Tuesday afternoon. Police tape kept the curious away, and a sign announced the sidewalk – which are really steps along the mountainside street – was closed.

 

Juneau mayor-elect  Greg Fisk had a lot of ties to the fishing industry. So his mysterious death earlier this week hits hard for Alaska’s outdoors community.

Here are some details of what happened via the Associated Press:

The adult son of Stephen “Greg” Fisk, 70, found the mayor’s body Monday afternoon and alerted police.

Juneau Police Department spokeswoman Erann Kalwara said Tuesday the cause of death remains unknown.

“It’s not clear what the cause of those injuries are,” she said. She could not comment on the nature of the injuries, she said.

Fisk lived alone. There was no sign of forced entry into Fisk’s home above Juneau’s downtown.

Fish handily defeated Juneau’s incumbent mayor, Merrill Sanford, on the Oct. 6 Election Day in Alaska’s capital city, so the timing of his death – which was not ruled to be a suicide per the early reports, does seem a little unsettling. Here’s KTUU with more:

Johnson said Fisk suffered injuries but the exact cause of the injuries is not known. Juneau authorities have declined to speculate on the cause of death.

“Could be natural. Could be an accident. Could be a lot of things,” Johnson said. 

The police chief would not talk in detail about the nature of the injuries. Fisk’s body was spotted through a window by his son Ian Fisk, who police say did not enter the home, according to the son’s account, Johnson said.

The body was found “just inside his front room area,” Johnson told KTUU in an interview at police headquarters.

Johnson said it’s unclear exactly how long Fisk had been dead when he was discovered but had “made some appointments earlier in the day.”

Asked if police have ruled out assault, Johnson said more information is needed to declare a cause of death are proceeding as they would in any case of an unattended death. “What we want to do is investigate everything.”

As for his fishing background, the Alaska Dispatch News  had this to say:

Fisk had a long history in the fishing industry, and was currently working as a fisheries consultant.

State Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, said he was in a “state of shock” about Fisk’s death.

“We talked about fish stuff a lot, and we were trading ideas on municipal policy after he got elected as mayor,” Kriess-Tomkins said.
We’ll have more on this when new details emerge.

 

 

A Fall Hunting Tradition

Happy Thanksgiving from Alaska Sporting Journal! 

As we all know, Alaskans have a style all to themselves, so Thanksgiving in the Last Frontier likely will be more unique than in other areas of the Lower 48 (as in, there’s a difference between a celebrating the holiday in Fairbanks compared to an old-fashioned Thanksgiving in Miami).

But here’s a hunting story that I think depicts the Alaskan lifesytle to a tee. It appears in the November issue of ASJ. Have a wonderful holiday weekend!

#1

Story and photos by Steve Meyer 

It seems safe to say that most hunters don’t wake up in the morning hoping for lots of other hunters to show up. That is, unless you happen to be hunting in the 268-square-mile Redoubt Bay Critical Habitat Area on the west side of Cook Inlet.

It’s especially true if the weather is unseasonably warm – bright blue sky, and only a slight breeze to suggest it was, in fact, the duck opener. This beautiful piece of real estate tucked away in the shadows of the Western Alaska Range is composed of tidal sloughs, freshwater and brackish ponds, and thousands of acres of wetland marsh. Home to thousands of nesting dabbling ducks, geese and cranes, and a steady influx of migrating birds, it is a waterfowl hunter’s paradise.

This much prime real estate, when coupled with weather that invites static laziness in your typical duck, means very little movement and also translates into not such great shooting over decoys. The best decoy spread in the world won’t draw birds that aren’t flying around to see them. Yet get enough hunters working the area and moving the ducks around and it’s a different story; hence the wish for lots of them.

#4

CHRISTINE CUNNINGHAM, OUR two Labrador retrievers, Gunner and Cheyenne, and I made our way in predawn light to a blind that sat on a favorite pond. Absent was the whistle of duck wings that announced the early risers of the waterfowl world wanting a prime spot in the feeding grounds.

The problem: when everywhere is a feeding spot and there is no wind or rain to stir them up, ducks just hang out where they are. An hour in the blind after first light passed with no ducks even flying by and no shots heard in the area from other hunters. Even the dogs were losing the zest for the chase.

Since this wasn’t the first time this had happened, we headed off across the wetlands to jump shoot. There was enough stunted vegetation throughout the area to allow an unseen approach to many of the shallow ponds in the area and we had always had success hunting in this manner.

There was a wetland about a half-mile away that had ponds and the vegetation surrounding the area usually had several inches of water that in the past had always produced ducks. It was halfway across this flooded plain and still no ducks when Christine said, “Hey, there isn’t any water here.”

We hadn’t been paying much attention, nor noticed that instead of walking in 6 inches of water, the land was dry beneath our feet. We continued on and found several of the ponds all but dried up, which meant, of course, no ducks.

It’s one thing to follow a pointing dog for hours, as they do what they do. But the show is worth the price of admission even when no birds are taken. For waterfowl hunting and retrievers, the shooting of birds is a key component of the outing, and watching the Labs retrieve is the icing on the cake when a duck is folded over a pond or field. Fortunately, there was one more option.

Pass shooting.

#16

BASICALLY, IF A waterfowler can find a route that ducks are moving on and station themself along the route within shooting distance of passing ducks, some really challenging wingshooting can be had. Redoubt Bay is somewhat perfectly suited for pass shooting. The large tidal sloughs and creeks that bisect the area have mud banks and bottoms.

As Cook Inlet’s massive tides flow and ebb into these places, the mud is covered every 12 hours. When the water recedes, it leaves behind an astonishing array of insect life on the mud surface. Ducks love bugs, and especially on sunny and calm days they sit along the mud banks and gorge themselves on insects.

When the tide is all the way out, the ducks will be on the mud near the outlets to the saltwater. As the tide comes in and covers up the mud, birds begin to move up the sloughs; this is prime time for pass shooting. When the tide goes out, the birds fly back down the sloughs and present another opportunity. The shooting is fairly steady for a couple hours on the incoming tide and about an hour on the outgoing. Patience is one of the keys to success. Another is being still.

These tidal sloughs are fairly wide near the inlet, some too wide to shoot clear across even at low water. Getting close to the water’s edge and moving up as the tide comes in keeps you closer to the flight path. A blind would be nice, but a blind won’t survive the tides. You don’t really need one as long as you (and your dog) can sit still until the birds are in range.

You can literally sit in one of those cheap folding chairs next to the water and the birds will come right by – as long as you don’t move. This is easier said than done, and certainly you’ll flare a share of them. But I’ve done this several different times over the years and know that limiting in an afternoon is very feasible.

Unlike decoying ducks or those jumped out of a pond ahead of you that aren’t going full out, in pass shooting the birds are moving along at cruising speed and shotgunning presents a bit more of a challenge. Experience – and that includes a fair number of misses – is part of the deal until you get the leads at distance figured out. Passing ducks at 40 yards need about twice what the mind initially tells you. It seems like it must be learned again each year, as Christine and I found with our first couple of shots clearly passing by the rear end of the ducks. I’ve heard plenty that if you can master this element of wingshooting, you can master any of it. I’m not so sure about that, considering I haven’t tried it all, but it definitely sharpens your shotgunning skills.

Perhaps the most critical element in the entire process is your gun dog, without which you’ll not be retrieving anything you shoot on these big sloughs. The tides are fast and either incoming or outgoing, a duck dropped 40 yards out is going away quickly. The retriever needs to be able to get out, get back and have enough stamina to repeat the process throughout the day.

One dog with two good shots is going to have all the work it can do, so it’s better to have a dog for each hunter, which we are fortunate to have. The water in these sloughs is very muddy and wounded ducks will dive and give the dogs fits trying to find them under the surface, as the current takes them away. It’s better to put a quick follow-up shot on the wounded ones, if you can get the shot off safely before the dog gets close to the wounded bird.

Pass shooting 6

SINCE CHILDHOOD, I would crawl behind my dad through wet stubblefields to get close to geese; those memories of waterfowl hunting have always been of wet, cold and sometimes miserable outings that left me feeling more alive than any other time.

Back at the duck shack by midmorning of the 2015 opener, we parked ourselves on the big slough out front. Amid warm, dry and bright sun and not yet a shot fired, it just didn’t seem like duck hunting. That is, until the first pair of wigeon came whistling past from 40 yards out; it was irrelevant that Christine and I missed fabulously.

The next flight of five wasn’t as lucky, as we each took one and the Labs were once again very happy to be gainfully employed. An hour later and not noon yet, we each had half of our limit and it was time to stop until the afternoon incoming tide. It is pretty easy to shoot oneself out of duck hunting early in the day in these places, leaving the balance of the day to hang out.

A leisurely lunch and a few hours of watching the numerous birds of prey that frequent the area was a pleasant way to wait for afternoon’s incoming and more fabulous shooting.

For two days we pass-shot the slough, easily taking limits while basking in the unseasonable warm of sunny September days. While not a typical duck hunt by any stretch, our 2015 opener only amplified the need for hunters to be flexible when conditions change the game.

One could do a lot worse than basking in the shadows of the Alaska Range towering in the background; just being there is enough.

 

#10 #11 #15

#14

Alaskan Hunter Killed In Wisconsin

Photo by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Photo by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

 

Tragedy in Wisconsin: an Alaskan hunter was killed there during a hunting accident last weekend.

Here’s CBS Minnesota via the Associated Press with more:

An Alaska man died after his hunting companion apparently shot him during opening weekend of Wisconsin’s gun deer season — the first firearm-related fatality during the season in three years, state officials said Monday.

The 39-year-old Fairbanks man was hunting with a 35-year-old Wisconsin woman in Columbia County on Sunday morning, state Department of Natural Resources Warden Jon King said. The man apparently tried to hand a loaded rifle to the woman, who was in a tree stand. The woman had mittens on and grasped the gun near the trigger when the weapon discharged. The man was struck just below the armpit, King said.

Both hunters had valid licenses to hunt in Wisconsin, King said. He declined to release either hunter’s name, saying the incident was still under investigation. He didn’t know if the hunters were related.

“It’s a very unfortunate case,” King said. “We tell people to never carry a loaded firearm in and out of the tree stand.”