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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!


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.


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.


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


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.”



Spreading The Word With Salmon


Photo by LaDonna and Ole Gundersen

Photo by LaDonna and Ole Gundersen

Great story from Ketichikan’s KRBD radio news director Leila Kheiry on a Southeast Alaska couple, LaDonna and Ole Gunderson. Both in the commercial fishing industry, the Gundersons have authored cookbooks but will take a more diplomatic approach in their latest venture, which will bring them (and a lot of salmon fillets) to the Middle Eastern nation of Oman to spread their livelihood abroad:

Here’s some of KRBD’s report via Alaska Public Media:

LaDonna Gundersen has written several cookbooks, and salmon – always Alaskan, always wild – is heavily featured. The two also have participated in the Live in Ketchikan’s Celebrity Chef cooking program – produced by KPU-TV.

That show is how she and Ole Gundersen ended up getting invited for a visit by the U.S. Embassy in Muscat, Oman.

“We received an email asking if I’d be interested in coming over and sharing Alaska culture and fishing and cooking salmon and like that,” she said. “When we first saw the email, we were like, ‘Hmmm. This is curious.’”

LaDonna said she wasn’t sure the email was legitimate, but she wrote back and asked for more details. A month later, they got a reply, and KPU-TV Marketing Manager Michelle O’Brien was cc’d on the email.

So, the Gundersens knew it was legit, and they wrote back to give a resounding “yes!” to the invitation.Turns out, “her friend, Ann Mason at the U.S. Embassy, they went to college together, I think around 20 years ago, and they kept in contact,” LaDonna said. “And they were looking to promote wild salmon in Oman, so she reached out to Michelle, and Michelle suggested looking at my Celebrity Chef stuff I’ve done.”

They worked out some details, and learned that the embassy wanted the Gundersens to share not only the joys of wild Alaska salmon, but also the business end of running a small family-owned commercial fishing operation.

Best of luck to the couple on their goodwill tour of Oman.




American Sniper Screenwriter On Movies And Veterans

Photo by Warner Brothers/TNS

Photos by Warner Brothers/TNS


Happy Veteran’s Day to all who have served our country (and a heartfelt thank you). Check out this Men’s Journal interview with American Sniper screenwriter Jason Hall on how movies can provide veterans with some perspective.

Here are some interesting points Hall made in the piece:

I hear that Warner Bros. is donating a portion of the profits from sales of the American Sniper DVD to the Wounded Warrior Project.
There is going to be a pretty decent donation heading that way. That’s a huge deal. That means a lot to these guys and their welfare. Movies like ours shine a light on some of the issues, but there has to be follow-through there with the public. People still don’t know how to participate or how to help. We’ve been talking about trying to push through a Veterans Bill Of Rights. I’m hoping the film i’m directing, Thank You For Your Service, will open that conversation again and address in a really true way what happens when these guys get home and how long that wait is for these families.

Are soldiers still reaching out to you?
I have a lot of families that are coming up there with stories they want to tell. What I’m realizing from all of this is that Chris’s story was his story. It may have been representative of the sacrifice of every soldier, but within that sacrifice is thousands of different stories that are just as important to tell or to document. Just a few weeks ago, I was participating on a stage reading of “The Sky Was Paper” at the Kennedy Center in D.C. You hear these letters from veterans. Not just U.S. soldiers, but soldiers from Germany, Russia, and Japan. What you realize is that war is this plague of destruction on mankind that reaps a toll on families over time.

War movies have been made for decades, but you seem to really be searching for a connection with the soldiers. What drives that?
There’s this incredible way that some of these guys are able to speak about what they’ve seen. They’re able to articulate it in a way we never could, they saw something and were able to bring back this understanding of the destruction of war. Some of the guys find hope in the experience. What they saw in war makes them want to live more, live better, because they’ve been so close to death — they understand the value of life more clearly.

Great insight frim Hall on what too many Americans forget about: when these brave men and women return home from the front, many are still involved in a fight, and say what you want about the role snipers have on both sides, American Sniper among the most influential films of this era that depicts what veterans must endure and how difficult it is for them to get back to a normal life.

Remember these brave Americans today!



State Of Alaska Cuts Could Affect Fishing Industry



As someone who spent about 15 post-college years working at newspapers, I can relate to budget cuts. Through runs at two once top 50-circulation publications, those papers are now shells of their former selves. Good, talented people were given “severance packages” – the modern-day way to give someone the heave-ho (laid off), and page counts are now absurdly small and overpriced.  I was just in a Dallas Walmart with a friend who wanted to buy a Saturday Dallas Morning News, which has traditionally been one of the best papers around. I knew the days of feeding a rack with a quarter were over; still, I sheepishly asked, ‘What’s that going to cost? 75 cents?” Try $1.50!

But I digress. Newspapers are not the only industry that’s suffered cuts during our long stretches of recession. A report on KFSK in Petersburg had some disheartening news for Alaska’s fishing industry:

Because of Alaska’s budget crisis, state agencies cut spending this year and are planning additional reductions in the next few years. For the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, those cuts have meant less monitoring of fish runs, a change that will lead to more conservative management and less fishing opportunity. That was the message from Fish and Game officials to a commercial fishing industry organization that met in Petersburg in late October.

ADFG commissioner Sam Cotten told the board members of the United Fishermen of Alaska at its fall meeting in Petersburg that the department is looking at several years of budget reductions.

“Last year I think we took an 18 percent cut and the governor’s asking for another 10,” Cotten said. “And the legislature’s not going to be satisfied with that. So it isn’t a matter of whether our budget’s going to get cut it’s a matter of how much. But we would like your help on the where part.”

The story also talked about the state “consolidating administrative staff,” so that’s not exactly a good sign for everyone involved. But it’s hardly a shocking development.





Alaska Ports Lead The Way In Seafood Landings

Dutch Habor led the way with 761.8 million pounds of fish landings last year. (US GOVERNMENT WORK)

Dutch Habor led the way with 761.8 million pounds of fish landings last year. (US GOVERNMENT WORK)

This just in: Alaska has a huge presence in the commercial fishing industry. So it shouldn’t be a major shocker that the three Alaska ports ranked 1-3 in the U.S. in terms of seafood landings last year.

Here’s the Alaska Dispatch’s Laine Welch with more:

“The Alaska port of Dutch Harbor continued to lead the nation with the most seafood landings – 761.8 million pounds, 87 percent of which was walleye pollock,” said Dr. Richard Merrick in announcing the national rankings in the annual Fisheries of the U.S. report for 2014.

It’s the 18th year in a row that Dutch Harbor has claimed the top spot for fish landings. Kodiak ranked second and the Aleutian Islands were third, thanks to Trident’s plant at Akutan, the nation’s largest seafood processing facility. In all, 13 Alaska communities made the top 50 list for landings: Alaska Peninsula (8), Naknek (10), Sitka (14), Ketchikan (15), Cordova (16), Petersburg (20), Bristol Bay (23), Seward (27), Kenai (34) and Juneau (45).

In terms of the value of all that seafood, Dutch Harbor was second at $191 million, coming in behind New Bedford, Massachusetts, for the 15th consecutive year. The relatively small 140 million pound catch at that New England port was worth nearly $330 million at the docks, due to the pricey Atlantic scallop fishery, with prices ranging from $12.50 to $14 a pound, according to the Portland (Maine) Press Herald.

Cool New App For Hunters Tracking Wildlife

SMT-Hunting-LifeStyle SMT-App-3Shot SMT-Fishing-LifeStyle

Sportsman Tracker Launches New Mobile App Featuring The World’s Most Advanced Prediction Formula To Forecast Wildlife Movement

New all-in-one hunting and fishing app allows users to track and follow more than 200 species of wildlife

GRAND RAPIDS, MI, October 25, 2015—Sportsman Tracker, the technology company that provides cutting-edge hunting and fishing tools for tracking wildlife, has announced the launch of its newest app, which inputs eight unique variables into a proprietary algorithm to help users know where and when to find the best hunting and fishing spots. The new Sportsman Tracker mobile app enables outdoor enthusiasts to track and forecast peak wildlife activity times for over 200 different species, to log fishing and hunting experiences and to connect with friends to share photos and successes. The app is free and is available now for Android and iOS devices.

The app features Sportsman Tracker’s new proprietary prediction algorithm, Wildlife Intelligence Technology™, that is based on scientific research in the field of wildlife behavioral patterns. The unique prediction formula analyzes different environmental variables, including key weather patterns and the solunar calendar, and applies these factors to the user’s location and specific species, allowing users to identify and track the best times and days to hunt and fish.

“Since launching our platform in 2013, we’ve made more than five million predictions for hundreds of thousands of users around the world,” said Jeff Courter, co-founder and CEO of Sportsman Tracker. “Now, with a completely rebuilt mobile app featuring the world’s most advanced forecasting algorithm, we can offer logging not just for whitetail and common fish, but for more than 200 game species. In addition, we can now more accurately predict when success is most likely to occur, whether you’re hunting whitetail or fishing for bass.”

The app also introduces logging capabilities that allow users to quickly and easily record details of their results, upload photos, add notes and rate their experiences. Current locations, dates, times, and weather information are automatically captured in each log to improve future predictions. Users may choose to keep their information and locations private or to share log details and photos with their close friends. Instant Buddy Notifications allow users to stay up to date with their friends’ fishing and hunting photos and to discover other great sportsmen in their area to follow.

The Sportsman Tracker app includes the following features for predicting, logging and sharing fishing and hunting experience:

Hourly, Daily & Weekly Predictions – A one to five star rating tells users when and where to hunt and fish. The company’s unique prediction formula, Wildlife Intelligence Technology, utilizes adaptive learning algorithms and analyzes the key factors that influence the behavior and specific movement of hundreds of hunting and fishing species for each GPS plotted location.
Hourly Weather – 10-day forecast with detailed hour-by-hour information lets users plan for wind direction changes, barometric pressure, temperature, weather conditions and precipitation.
Lake Contours: Comprehensive database of lake contours provided by Navionics in more than 18,000 lakes and rivers to help users pinpoint hotspots and plot fishing locations. Available via web only.
Log Activities – Capture memories from the woods and water by tracking and logging activities. Logs automatically include current location, date, time and weather variables, and users can choose to document their target species, number of game shot/seen, photos, notes and a star rating of their experience.
Instant Buddy Notifications – Instantly share logs with close buddies who will be notified of all log details. Enable push notifications to automatically share future logs with friends via push alert or email.

About Sportsman Tracker:
Sportsman Tracker is the ultimate hunting and fishing toolset that allows users to locate, log, report, and predict for all of their hunting and fishing activities. The company’s Wildlife Intelligence Technology prediction algorithm provides hunters and anglers with the most advanced and accurate forecast of where and when to hunt or fish. Hundreds of thousands of users have utilized Sportsman Tracker’s tools to forecast their success since 2013, logging in more than 5 million predictions in over 1.5 million locations. The company is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and was founded by Jeff Courter and Jon Schwander.

For more information about Sportsman Tracker visit www.sportsmantracker.com.