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Silver Streak In Valdez

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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:

 

 

Alaska’s Pink Salmon Record Shattered Times Two

Thomas Salas briefly held the state-record pink salmon, weighing in at 12 pounds, 13 ounces.

Thomas Salas briefly held the state-record pink salmon, weighing in at 12 pounds, 13 ounces. (ALASKA DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME) 

Robert Dubar then broke Salas' standard the same day, at 13 pounds, 10.6 ounces. (ALASKA DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME)

Robert Dubar then broke Salas’ standard the same day, at 13 pounds, 10.6 ounces. (ALASKA DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME)

A cool story from the Peninsula Clarion on two pink salmon state records being set – in the same day!

Here’s reporter Elizabeth Earl with more:

After 42 years, the Alaska state record for a sport-caught pink salmon was broken — twice.

Thomas Salas hauled a monster pink salmon out of the Kenai River near Big Eddy in Soldotna on Monday night. The California resident, who said he visits the Kenai every other year or so, was originally going to throw it back when a friend told him to hang on to it.

“(He) said, ‘You gotta keep it, that might be a record,’” Salas said.

As it turns out, he was right. When the anglers took the fish into the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office in Soldotna the next morning, it weighed in at 12 pounds and 13 ounces and 28.5 inches long, claiming the state record from the previous 12 pound and 9 ounce fish, caught in 1974. Multiple biologists certified it and sent Salas on his way, the new holder of the state record.

About three hours later, Robert Dubar brought in his own humongous pink salmon. He’d pulled the monster out of the Kenai River just downstream of Angler’s Lodge in Sterling on Tuesday morning.

“I thought it was hooked on a log,” Dubar said. “Then it started moving a little bit. Took about five minutes to get him to the shore.”

Dubar, who is visiting the Kenai Peninsula from Incline Village, Nevada, brought the pink salmon into the Fish and Game office in early afternoon. The biologists there again took its weight and measurements and certified it — 13 pounds, 10.6 ounces, 32 inches long.

The Dos And Donts Of Deer Season Prep Work

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The following appears in the August issue of Alaska Sporting Journal

BY JEFF LUND

I’m not one of those dudes who have been hunting for
30 years.

I don’t have a ring of racks in my garage or an elegant mount in my living room. I don’t have epic stories of 400-yard shots. My hunting career is littered with chaos.

I shot my first deer in the leg.

I was with my high school basketball coach and his daughter. She put one through the neck of a fork-in-horn at 150, and then dropped a 4-point at 250 to set up my beauty of a shot just above the knee.

My next shot dropped it but it was still pretty embarrassing.

Anyway, there are a bunch of “duh” things you have to consider when hunting, such as don’t shoot it in the leg, bring water and take responsible shots, but there are plenty of other things I’ve learned while hunting with some excellent experienced hunters in Southeast Alaska. Here are four tips, one for each of the four points on the buck you’ll shoot:

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1. PAY ATTENTION TO THE WEATHER 

Incredibly obvious, but it cannot be overstated. Check the forecast, but remember that the town in which you are staying is not the mountain on which you are hunting. Upon arrival, ask about the higher-elevation conditions. It might be sunny and clear all week according to your phone app, but the fog might never leave the mountains right behind town. Also ask about the latest weather patterns. Sometimes that fog will lift in the early afternoon rather than midmorning, and sometimes the wind turns off right after dinnertime.

I was on a hunt in which thick clouds shrouded the top of the mountain all morning. We stuck it out because things had been clearing up later in the day. They did and we bagged a couple nice alpine bucks. And I’ve almost gone down a mountain because the wind was so terrible. It shut off and the evening was clear and calm. But be smart with this one. At some point you must be responsible enough to say enough is enough and that returning safe is always the most important part. If the weather is making you uneasy, do the right thing.

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2. ASK QUESTIONS AND BE OBSERVANT

If you’re from out of state and have a hunting guide, listen to the hunting guide. If you’re going to act like you know more than the local, or otherwise do it your own way, why even bother to get a guide? (Note that big game hunting requires one for nonresidents.)

It baffles me how often my guide buddies report that the biggest issue they have with clients are the ones who say things like, “Well, in [insert state here] we…”

This isn’t California, or Delaware, or last year. If you want to tell a neat little anecdote, cool, but listen to the people you hired. Also, be mindful of the little nuance that the guide, your buddy or a local might show you, but not tell you.

It could be as simple as how they look over ridges, how they navigate terrain, what they bring to eat, how often and how much water they drink or where and how they get rid of said water. Experienced hunters just do what they do – most times they don’t realize their habit could be something that completely changes how you hunt.

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3. BUY TRAIL CRAMPONS 

Just getting to the alpine for an early-season hunt is a pain. There are slick logs with mossy slopes. And when you do get clear of the timber, there’s vegetation that even on dry days wants to send you rocketing down the slope.

My buddy, Beau, who is a bowhunting fanatic and as close to a minimalist as I know, put me on to crampons and I haven’t turned back. I bought a pair for $60 and absolutely love them. The steel spikes fit right over your boots and provide you grip when heading up those steep inclines or while side-hilling.

Some people use corked rubber boots for the waterproofness and grip, though you sacrifice ankle stability. Corked leather boots can be great, but what if you have to navigate rock? It takes just a few seconds to remove the crampons or put them over your boots. Get a pair. Today.

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4.  FIELD-DRESSING GLOVES AND A BUFF

A deer is down on top of a mountain. The gnats, no-see-ums, mosquitoes, blow flies and pterodactyls all know it and can’t wait to get at the human who is going to cut it up. Sure, you could “be a man” and just swat them away, but seriously, you just shot a deer and are elbow-deep in its chest cavity, hacking and pulling out organs.

Why not put on some gloves and spare yourself the blood smears that attract the bugs? The Buff brand of headwear is perfect to combat those flies that try to enter your skull through your ears or nose and bite you on your brain. A Buff hides all skin except your eyes, so you’re not waving a bloody knife around at bugs you’ll never hit.

Who cares what you look like? You just shot a deer. The picture of you with the rifle is going on social media, not the one with the blue gloves and covered face.

As a bonus tip, be at least somewhat honest about your kill. Yeah, you can hold the antlers out, lean back, and have your buddy take a photo from ground level so that the rack looks like a set of goal posts, but everyone knows what you’re up to.ASJ

Editor’s note: Correspondent Jeff Lund is the author of Going Home, a memoir about fishing in Alaska and California. For more, go to jefflundbooks.com.

Fantastic Hunting At Kodiak’s Afognak Wilderness Lodge

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A conversation with Shannon Randall of Kodiak’s Afognak  Wilderness  Lodge. 

Tell us about the property the lodge sits on?

Afognak Wilderness Lodge was built and is operated by our pioneering Randall family. It is located in the heart of a coastal state park with a wide variety and abundance of land/marine wildlife, plus outstanding fresh- and saltwater fishing and we’ve been one of Alaska’s favorite true-wilderness lodges since 1974.
To reach us, you fly to Anchorage, connect to and overnight in Kodiak, and then early the next morning, the floatplane service picks you up from your hotel lobby and the adventure begins.
How’s the Hunting and what can I hunt on the property?
We take hunters for Sitka blacktail deer, Kodiak brown bear, Roosevelt elk, sea ducks and small game. The deer hunts can be guided or unguided, Bear are only guided and elk are only unguided. Success rates are as follows:
Deer: 99 percent
Bear: 95 percent
Sea ducks and small game: 99 percent
Elk: 60 percent

Tell us about the Lodge and the Cabins?
The lodge is comprised of a new multi-function building (dining/kitchen/lounge/bathrooms) and three 1,000-square-feet elegantly rustic log guest cabins, each with 24-hour power and a modern bathroom. Residence and other outbuildings are nearby.

When are the hunting seasons?
Deer season: is from August 1 – December 31; bear seasons are April 1–May 15 and Oct. 25–Nov. 30; elk season is Oct. 25-Nov. 30; sea ducks season is Oct. 8–Jan. 26. Both the Kodiak brown bear and the first half of the elk season are on a permit-draw basis.

Do you have a minimum stay?
We do not impose a minimum stay but it’s most practical to stay at least four days for a deer/duck hunt. Bear hunts are allotted 10 days but can leave early when a trophy is taken.

Besides hunting, what else does the Lodge have to offer?
Additionally, we have guided saltwater fishing (halibut, lingcod, yelloweye and sea bass), wildlife photography, kayaking and hiking is available. We’ve also hosted many national/international filming crews.

What availability to you have for 2016 and 2017?
During 2016, we have deer hunting availability from Nov. 20 to Dec. 4. During 2017, availability is currently from mid-November through mid-December.

Is there anything else you want to add?
Afognak Wilderness Lodge has been a favorite retreat for many repeat/referred adventurous vacationers, fishermen, photographers and hunters who want to play hard, eat big and sleep deep.
Should you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us via reservations@awl-3.com or by calling (360) 799-3250. Meanwhile, feel free to view our website at www.huntafognak and www.afognaklodge.com.

Safari Club International Added To Conservation Group

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The following press release is courtesy of Safari Club International: 

Washington, DC – Safari Club International Foundation (SCI Foundation) is pleased to announce its formal acceptance as a new member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). IUCN is the world’s largest environmental network and the global authority on species survival status. Membership strengthens SCI Foundation’s credibility and capacity through association with this international alliance of scientists and decision makers.

“Attaining IUCN membership has been one of our longtime goals,” said Warren Sackman, President of SCI Foundation. “Being recognized as a science-based organization by IUCN is a major achievement.”

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This announcement comes only two months after receiving the highest possible 4-star charity rating from Charity Navigator. SCI Foundation conducts and supports scientific studies, assists in the design and development of scientific programs for sustainable use management, and demonstrates the critical role that hunting plays in wildlife conservation around the world.

“SCI Foundation is acknowledged as a leader in sustainable wildlife conservation and education,” says SCI Foundation’s Conservation Committee Chairman, Dr. Alan Maki. “Now as an IUCN member organization we’ll be able to better collaborate with the international conservation community and share our research findings more broadly.”

IUCN harnesses the knowledge and resources of over 1,300 organizations, including government agencies, NGOs, academic institutions, and business associations. Membership will allow SCI Foundation to develop new partnerships, expand its global scientific network and provide input on key sustainable use discussions at the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress this September in Hawaii.

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SCI Foundation has an extensive history of working with IUCN, recently supporting the African Elephant Specialist Group in managing and expanding the elephant population survey database. IUCN is also a frequent participant in SCI Foundation’s annual African Wildlife Consultative Forum, which brings together governments, NGOs and the private sector to discuss sustainable use issues and wildlife policy.

Learn more about IUCN and the upcoming 2016 World Conservation Congress athttp://www.iucn.org/.

For more information on SCI Foundation go to our First For Wildlife blog, like us onFacebook, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, or visit our website atwww.safariclubfoundation.org.

Book Reflects Bristol Bay’s Bounty, Beauty

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Editor’s note: Photographers have bucket lists just like anglers, sports fans, history buffs and foodies. The raw beauty of Alaskan landscapes would have to make at least a few shooters’ short lists of must-see destinations. South Dakota native and longtime photographer Carl Johnson moved to Anchorage in 1999 and started Arctic Light Gallery and Excursions, which, according to his website (arcticlight-ak.com), “seeks to celebrate a legacy of examining the dynamic quality of light in remote, wild locations.” 

Few locales typify wild Alaska more than Bristol Bay’s 40 million of acres of land and water that Johnson chronicles in his new book, Where Water Is Gold. In addition to Johnson’s spectacular photos, the book features essays from several Last Frontier writers (including occasional ASJ correspondent Dave Atcheson). The following excerpt from Johnson’s book (published by Mountaineer Books) was written by award-winning Alaska writer Nick Jans, who himself has written 12 books. His latest, The Giant’s Hand, is available from nickjans.com

BY NICK JANS

PHOTOS  BY CARL JOHNSON

Photographer Carl Johnson leans into his Nikon. Twenty feet away, a lone gray wolf stands, surveying the tidal flat before him as if our small group did not exist. The wolf trots on with scarcely a glance our way.

Minutes later, without moving, we share a frame-filling encounter with a huge, fight-scarred male brown bear, so close that our guide, Dustin, has to take action. A calm wave of arms, a firm “Hey, bear,” and the 800-pound behemoth deflects past us and continues grazing on succulent sedges a few dozen paces away. With so much forage available, and decades of peaceable interaction, these resident bears tend to see humans as neither food source nor threat. We have become part of the landscape.

Not once but many times over our four-day stay, Carl turns to me, grins and shakes his head at the incredible opportunities that pass before us – from an eagle nest with chicks viewed from above to a fox teasing a young bear to a seal nursery and rafts of sea otters. And so many brown bears we can scarcely count them: foraging, playing, swimming, courting, mothers nursing cubs. The experience resounds beyond photography. We roam beaches with fossils and artifacts at our feet; glide past rocky pinnacles where clouds of nesting seabirds wheel; drift among feeding humpback whales; catch rod-bending halibut and cod; become filled with the whir of wind and water, and the land’s deep silence beyond.

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WE ARE GUESTS AT Katmai Wilderness Lodge on the outer coast of Katmai National Park and Preserve, on the southeastern edge of the Bristol Bay region. Though by itself, Katmai is immense – nearly 5 million wilderness acres, including a spectacularly ragged, unpeopled 497-mile coast – it is a fraction of the almost unimaginable sweep of the expanse. All that Carl and I have seen are mere tokens of the riches and variety that Bristol Bay offers the recreational visitor: volcanic moonscapes; enormous freshwater lakes and sprawling river systems; high tundra, rolling forests, and vast wetlands; spectacular, glacier-draped mountain ranges; pristine, current-swirled ocean waters, fjords, and tidal flats – all of them brimming with life. This fertile merging of land and sea spills toward a seemingly limitless horizon, one valley and one bay to the next, each unique yet part of a larger untrammeled whole.

A 36-year resident of Alaska, I have traveled tens of thousands of wilderness miles in some of the state’s most remote and scenic landscapes – from the austere enormity of the Brooks Range to the fjord-incised rain forests of Southeast Alaska. I have frequently nudged outdoors-oriented visitors toward the Bristol Bay area as a remote yet accessible distillation of the best that wild Alaska has to offer.

The sheer volume and variety of protected wilderness areas bespeaks the region’s status as a world-class natural reserve. These include Lake Clark and Katmai National Park and Preserve; Togiak, Alaska Maritime, Alaska Peninsula/Becharof, and Izembek National Wildlife Refuges; the Wood Tikchik State Park and McNeil River State Game Sanctuary and Preserve – all told, a staggering 24-million-plus acres combined. Whether wildlife viewing and photography; wilderness backpacking and float trips; bird watching; sport fishing and hunting; mountaineering, flightseeing and coastal cruising or kayaking – Bristol Bay offers a kaleidoscope of recreational possibilities.

Neither planning a trip, nor the actual getting to Bristol Bay are nearly as daunting as one might suppose. Dozens of quality lodges, guides, flying services, and outfitters are poised online to answer questions or help you custom-craft your dream trip. Travel between modern airports, to within a jumping-off distance of your chosen destination, is no more complicated than in the Lower 48.

The final flight in, typically less than an hour, usually in a pontoon-equipped float plane landing on a lake or river, is an integral part of the journey, offering stunning bird’s-eye perspectives and a fitting transition into another world. The wild country scrolls below like a living map, then draws closer and closer as the plane noses downward and the floats make rushing contact with the water, signaling your arrival.

Writer Nick Jans

Writer Nick Jans

Photographer Carl Johnson

Photographer Carl Johnson

 

THE KEYSTONE OF BRISTOL Bay’s wealth can be summed up in one word: salmon. Thousands of waterways, from pouring, rapid-studded rivers to ankle-deep creeks, surge with overlapping runs of one, or all five Pacific species, great tide-like pulses that drive the region’s ecology and economy. They boil inland, providing a conveyor belt of energy from ocean to far inland that lasts from summer’s lush greens into the snows of late autumn.

A profusion of lakes provide vital nurseries for millions of juvenile salmon, as well as habitat for other fish and wildlife. Alaska’s iconic brown bears and moose, as well as tiny warblers, benefit from the massive infusion of sea-grown biomass. Analysis of practically every living thing, including plant life, shows signature chemical traces of energy that came from salmon. Without their gifts, the land simply would not be what it is.

The value of recreational tourism, much of it tied directly or indirectly to salmon, amounts to well over $100 million annually – a staggering sum, given the region’s modest population. The sport-hunting industry accounts for an estimated $12 million; wildlife viewing and other nonconsumptive tourism, $17 million. Sportfishing, mostly in freshwater, is calculated to be worth more than $60 million – a prodigious renewable resource on which many livelihoods depend, both within the region and far beyond. Dozens of lodges and outfitting services offer access to these riches in a land where the water is indeed gold.

Those who make their living from the land by sharing with others intend to keep it that way. “There’s a super-high interest in adventure-based tourism,” says David Coray, owner of Silver Salmon Creek Lodge, a private inholding in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve [David is the brother of Anne Coray, who co-wrote the essay “Moving with the Seasons” in this book]. A lifelong resident of the region, he says, “Our focus is a sustainable model with minimal impact on the land. We’re stewards and educators … We want to be agents of change for future preservation efforts, and to carry that battle forward.”

Book excerpt 7

Arctic lupine along the beach in Kukak Bay, Katmai National Park & Preserve.

IF SALMON ARE THE land’s lifeblood, the waterways are its veins. Rivers with musical names twine across the land: Mulchatna, Kanektok, Aniakchak, Koktuli, Naknek, Goodnews, Kvichak, and more stretch over the horizon, enough to require not one but several lifetimes to know. Rising behind the salmon, trout, char and grayling grow huge, gorging on dislodged eggs and the husks of the spawned-out salmon.

In some situations three well-placed casts with either fly or spinning tackle might land as many different species. Often, the main difficulty is not coaxing fish to strike but getting past smaller individuals or less-desired species. Trophy catch-and-release fly fishing for rainbow trout in remote streams is a marquee draw – robust, deep-bodied fish commonly exceeding two feet in length, with much larger specimens possible on any given cast. Deep, glacier-incised lakes such as 100-mile-long Iliamna and mountain-framed, postcard-scenic Lake Clark hold not only rainbows and char but outsized lake trout and pike. In fact, the Bristol Bay area cradles four of Alaska’s five largest lakes and hundreds of smaller ones, the vast majority of them worth at least a few casts.

For nonfishers the region’s vast, varied, and scenic melding of water and land lends itself to wilderness journeys. Backcountry trips combining river and lake travel, hiking, photography, and fishing can be custom-shaped to a wide range of abilities, interests, trip lengths, and comfort levels.

 

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A young adult male wolf in grasses near a beach in Kukak Bay, Katmai National Park & Preserve.

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IN THE COURSE OF photographing this book, Carl Johnson faced the not-so-onerous task of sampling a few options. Besides our shared experience at Katmai Wilderness Lodge, he spent several days at Silver Salmon Creek Lodge, which also specializes in bear and nature photography with all the comforts of home. He traveled to No See Um Lodge, owned by John Holman, a leader of the fight against the Pebble Mine. This latter establishment has long provided no-compromises, personalized fly-fishing experiences for discerning anglers from around the world.

Carl also joined a five-day guided kayak trip with Alaska Alpine Adventures, paddling and hiking in the heartbreakingly gorgeous Twin Lakes area of Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. “Paddling is my preferred method of travel,” he says. “My inspiration for being a nature photographer was born during two years working as a canoe guide. … [Paddling] provides an ongoing opportunity for exploring new photographic subjects, new compositions.”

No matter the reason for visiting the Bristol Bay region, the experience will amount to far more than the sum of its parts – not just a trout or salmon glistening like a living jewel in your hands; or a mountain peak awash in alpenglow, mirrored in a transparent lake; or a group of bears foraging in a mist-shrouded tidal flat. Guests of this place emerge with a sense of connection to a larger whole – a vast, complex world whose beauty is defined by its unbounded scale. There are no highways, no large-scale industrial development just over the horizon. Bristol Bay resonates in the collective imagination, cradling the intrinsic value of the unseen.

Inevitably your stay ends. The process of arriving reverses as the plane roars and lifts free; the country you have brushed against fades and that busy other world resumes. The experience, though, echoes through your being. If the Bristol Bay region remains protected and intact, it will be because we willed it so. ASJ

Editor’s note: For more on Where Water is Gold and where to buy it, please go to wherewaterisgold.com

Taking Fishing Personally

Capt. Mark Spencer of AK eXpeditions dipnets for salmon on Alaska’s Copper River, one of several waters in Alaska that are considered for personal use, which is defined somewhere between subsistence and sportfishing, making it a rather complicated industry. (AK EXPEDITIONS)

Capt. Mark Spencer of AK eXpeditions dipnets for salmon on Alaska’s Copper River, one of several waters in Alaska that are considered for personal use, which is defined somewhere between subsistence and sportfishing, making it a rather complicated industry. (AK EXPEDITIONS)

The following appears in the August issue of Alaska Sporting Journal

BY TOM REALE 

Every year, tens of thousands of Alaskans take part in what the state defines as “personal use” fisheries.

There are 80 of these not-exactly-subsistence and not-exactly-sportfishing opportunities around the state. In various fresh- and saltwater spots, locals try to fill their freezers with a variety of fin- and shellfish.

In Southeast Alaska and Prince William Sound, shrimp and shellfish are the primary fisheries open to personal-use rules. Other options in the state include herring, hooligan, crab and clams in Southcentral; salmon, crab, scallops and abalone in Southeast; and salmon and whitefish in the Interior.

These unique fishing venues are restricted to Alaska residents. How they came about is a lesson in resource management, economics and, of course, politics.

On the popular Kenai River, fishermen pull a salmon out of one of the many nets that line the shore. In the salmon fisheries, permits are given per family, with each household allowed 25 fish for the head of household and 10 more for each additional dependent. (TOM REALE)

On the popular Kenai River, fishermen pull a salmon out of one of the many nets that line the shore. In the salmon fisheries, permits are given per family, with each household allowed 25 fish for the head of household and 10 more for each additional dependent. (TOM REALE)

DIVVYING UP ALASKA’S RICH supply of natural resources has always been problematic. Whether it was the exploitation of sea otter pelts or the pursuit of gold, timber, oil or fish, the law of supply and demand has run roughshod over the state. A series of boom-and-bust cycles has enriched some and impoverished others, leaving behind what seems to be a pretty shallow learning curve.

When it comes to fish, especially salmon, the state has been trying for generations to allocate the resource among user groups. In the early days of territorial rules, commercial fishermen set up scores of salmon canneries all over coastal Alaska, and everyone competed to catch all the fish.

One especially devastating method of harvesting salmon commercially was the fish trap. Constructed of wire fencing and wood pilings driven into the ground, they were placed in the path of incoming salmon. According to an article in the Alaska Fish and Wildlife News on the Cook Inlet salmon fisheries, “They were one of the most efficient and effective ways to harvest salmon, but combined with poor federal management, they were a little too effective. In fact, the traps were responsible for catching so many fish, that by the late 1940s, they had decimated most of the salmon runs. By the time fish traps were outlawed in the late 1950s, the damage was done.”

Eventually, reason prevailed and rules and regulations were adopted to keep the commercial fishing outfits more or less in line. Seasons, catch limits and gear restrictions were put in place to preserve a state of equilibrium in the salmon fisheries.

With the coming of statehood and the influx of population from Outside, other user groups began competing for fish. Native subsistence fishers and recreational angling concerns wanted the state to guarantee that there were enough fish left over from commercial exploitation for their use.

The political history of the subsistence issue is a long and thorny one. Beginning in 1960, the state defined some fisheries as subsistence and used the label to set aside certain hunting and fishing resources for “customary and traditional” uses.

The idea was to separate primarily Native Alaskans and rural residents from both sport and commercial users. The law was meant to guarantee that groups who relied on the fish and game for their primary sustenance would have first crack at the resources.

In 1978, the federal government got involved with the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), which limited subsistence rights to rural residents.

And, of course, legal and political wrangling ensued. Today, federal agencies have one set of subsistence laws on lands that they manage, while the state defines and manages the issue on state and private lands and waters. And as new issues present themselves, more laws are passed and almost always find their way into the state and federal court systems. It’s pretty messy and still evolving.

Then in the 1980s, the state set aside hunts and fisheries for “personal use,” resources that didn’t fit the definitions of subsistence, sport or commercial use. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game regulations, personal-use fishing is defined as, “The taking, fishing for, or possession of finfish, shellfish, or other fishery resources, by Alaska residents for personal use and not for sale or barter, with gill or dip net, seine, fish wheel, long line, or other means defined by the Board of Fisheries.”

Currently, these fisheries don’t receive priority over other uses – they’re opened and maintained only when there’s a “surplus” of fish to be harvested.

Personal-use fisheries are open only to Alaska residents holding sportfishing licenses. In salmon fisheries, permits are given per family, with each household allowed 25 fish for the head of household and 10 more for each additional dependent. The permits are free, and each day’s catch is recorded before leaving the river. Separate permits for the Copper River and the Upper Cook Inlet fisheries are required.
While shellfish and shrimp fishing are popular in Southeast and in Prince William Sound, nothing comes close to the efforts put in for salmon. The Copper River fishery at Chitina and the Kasilof and Kenai River fisheries on the Kenai Peninsula are the big dogs in the system, attracting thousands upon thousands of participants every year.

Interest and participation in these fisheries has been growing substantially. In 1996, there were about 15,000 permits issued for the Upper Cook Inlet rivers alone. By 2013, that number had grown to over 35,000 and continues on an upward slope.

When we first fished the Kasilof in the 1980s, all of the nets we saw were either long-handled salmon landing nets or homemade contraptions. These were made up of copper tubing, PVC pipe or aluminum tubes with shovel handles or even crutches stuck on the end.

Today, you still see quite a few imaginative designs on the river, but now there are welding shops advertising all manner of nets for sale. And you know that dipnetting has gone mainstream when you see the nets for sale at Costco.

Local resident Jake Weaver’s precarious spot on the edge of the fast-moving Copper River demonstrates that being careful is critical to avoid an accident. One of Weaver’s fishing partners actually fell into the river during one trip, but he was unhurt. (JAKE WEAVER)

Local resident Jake Weaver’s precarious spot on the edge of the fast-moving Copper River demonstrates that being careful is critical to avoid an accident. One of Weaver’s fishing partners actually fell into the river during one trip, but he was unhurt. (JAKE WEAVER)

THE FIRST DIPNET FISHERY to open was at Chitina, home to the now world-famous Copper River red salmon. The first opening every year is between June 7 and June 15, depending on the strength of the early run. Dipping the Copper River can be very challenging. It’s a big, scary, muscular river that occasionally claims the lives of unwary or careless fishermen.

After fishing the Kenai and Kasilof for years, Jake Weaver went to the Copper for the first time this year. He found it to be more than challenging. While the Kenai and Kasilof have very much of a beach-party vibe – kids running around on the sand, and lawn chairs and recliners scattered among the coolers and dipnets – on the Copper, people take ATVs down the river on a sketchy trail and tie themselves to trees while wrestling long-handled nets in the powerful current. It was definitely not a beach party.

“They call it dipnetting but I refer to it as cliffhanging for salmon,” says Weaver, who managed to get 17 fish and his buddies limited out, but it was an adventure. “Just the 5-mile trail going into the canyon on my ATV was exciting, to say the least. I saw lots of people being pretty careless and almost losing their rigs, if not their lives. Then when we were cleaning our fish, one of my buddies fell into the river but we got him out pretty quick. If I go again, I’ll be better prepared (and carry) lots of rope, better footgear and the right kind of net.”

For those without ATVs who want to get away from the roadside crowds, there are several charter outfits on the river. You can either pay to fish from a boat for the day or have them drop you off downriver and arrange for a pickup later on.

Compared to the potentially treacherous Copper, the Kenai and Kasilof River fisheries are a cakewalk. You’ll be surrounded by hundreds if not thousands of Alaskans, all taking a gentle sloping walk into the (relatively) slow current – a far cry from the death-defying adventure on the Copper.

The Kasilof opens in late June and the Kenai on July 10, with most of the fishing effort and success coming later in the month as the run builds.

The rules for dipnetting salmon are quite strict, so ignore them at your peril. Gear use is subject to net and mesh size and depth-of-bag restrictions. Fish must be marked by cutting off tail lobes, permits must be marked, certain species of fish must be returned to the river, etc. Considering that multiple people are ticketed for failure to follow the rules every year, don’t let this be you.

While the Copper River’s personal-use fishing is all business, it’s more of a “beach party” vibe on the Kenai, although since this is Alaska it’s a little different but a festive atmosphere all the same. (TOM REALE)

While the Copper River’s personal-use fishing is all business, it’s more of a “beach party” vibe on the Kenai, although since this is Alaska it’s a little different but a festive atmosphere all the same. (TOM REALE)

SUCCESS IS LARGELY A MATTER of timing. If you’re there when the fish are running and the setnet and driftnet commercial operations haven’t scooped up too many, chances are you’ll score. It’s important to have the proper gear; even on warm and sunny days, the water is cold and you’ll be standing in it for hours.

Chest waders are a must since you won’t be able to get your net out far enough wearing only hip boots. Warm clothing, sunscreen and perhaps waterproof gloves will complete your ensemble.

Pick out a spot not too close to your fellow dippers and head into the water. “Close” is a very relative term, as during the peak of the runs, dipnetters are bunched up pretty tightly. Observe how others are fishing and behave accordingly.

For the most part, people are quite friendly while marinating in the river waiting for fish, and as long as you don’t jam yourself in too closely and stick your net right in front of another one, you should be fine. Little communities of dippers tend to form, with people sharing tips, congratulating each other when fish are netted and commiserating when the fishing is slow.

When you feel a fish hit the net, give a backward jerk on the handle and pull it onto the beach. Untangle it from the webbing, give it a bonk on the head, and pull or cut a gill to bleed it. Before putting it into the cooler, trim the tail fins according to the regs (the details are on your permit). And don’t forget to fill out your permit before leaving the beach – add a pencil or waterproof pen to your gear before leaving home.

Dipnetting for salmon and accessing the other personal-use fisheries in the state is an excellent way for residents to fill their freezers and stockpile seafood for the long, cold winter ahead. But, like the signs say at the all-you-can-eat buffets, “You can eat all you take, just don’t take more than you can eat.”

Just because your family of four is allowed to harvest 55 salmon a year doesn’t mean you have to take that many. Too often, people go salmon-crazy when the fishing is good, only to wind up dumping the excess the following year when the new runs begin.

If you’re respectful of the resource and follow the laws, we’ll all have salmon for generations to come. ASJ

Netting fish to feed the family is the name of the game, but it’s important for those who use personal-use fisheries to just take what they need and not overdo it. (AK EXPEDITIONS)

Netting fish to feed the family is the name of the game, but it’s important for those who use personal-use fisheries to just take what they need and not overdo it. (AK EXPEDITIONS)