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A Different Kind Of Love Boat

Photo by Paul Wade

Photo by Paul Wade

 

The following is courtesy of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service:

 

By Andrea Medeiros

Imagine working on a ship that takes you 15,000 miles through remote islands, from the Gulf of Alaska to the Bering Sea, in support of conservation. Six U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service jobs provide this opportunity, all operating out of Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge aboard the R/V Tiglax.

“Sometimes you don’t see another ship for days at a time,” says Captain Billy Pepper, who has worked on the Tiglax for more than 20 years and is responsible for the ship as well as hiring and managing the crew. Combined, the captain, first mate, two deckhands, a cook and an engineer have 60-plus years’ experience sailing the refuge.

Constantly on the move during the six- month field season that starts in April, the crew works 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and is always on call. The Tiglax (pronounced TEK-la) is at sea for extended periods of time without Internet or cell service. Beyond the hours and the isolation, weather, mechanical problems, medical issues and even natural disasters can challenge the crew.

Last year, while the Tiglax was anchored near Attu Island, an 8.0 earthquake hit. “You could feel the chain of the anchor rolling across the bottom,” says Pepper. Alaska Maritime Refuge headquarters called to say a tsunami could hit within 30 minutes. The crew evacuated researchers on Attu. The ship barely made it to safer waters. “It was quite the fire drill,” Pepper says. “Everyone was very anxious, especially with thoughts of Fukushima in mind.”

 

Photo by USFWS

Photo by USFWS

The challenges of working on the Tiglax are counterbalanced by being among rocky islands with spectacular scenery, abundant wildlife and distinctive cultural histories. “Each island has a different personality,” says Pepper. Every summer more than 40 million seabirds nest on Alaska Maritime Refuge. One of the islands, Buldir, boasts more nesting seabirds than anywhere else in the Northern Hemisphere. The Tiglax also encounters whales, porpoises, seals, sea lions and other marine mammals.

Built in 1987, the 120-foot-long Tiglax plays a critical role in meeting Alaska Maritime Refuge’s research purpose by supporting scientists from the Service, universities, the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and elsewhere.

Umnak and Samalga islands in the eastern Aleutians have been part of the refuge since 1913. Last summer, thanks to the Tiglax, refuge biologists were able to survey the islands’ coastlines for the first time. They discovered tens of thousands of shorebirds in the intertidal zone of Samalga Island, potentially a globally significant resting area for shorebirds on their summer migration.

In 2015, the Tiglax also supported a regular survey of sea otters in the western Aleutians and a second, rare survey on the hard-to-access Pacific Ocean side of Amchitka Island. Both will help biologists better understand sea otters.

 

Photo by USFWS

Photo by USFWS

Since 2008, when the volcanic island of Kasatochi erupted, the Tiglax and the North Pacific Research Board have been helping scientists from the refuge, the USGS and the University of Alaska- Fairbanks to annually monitor the island over the long term as it comes back to life. Before the eruption covered Kasatochi with ash and changed its landscape, the island had thick vegetation and supported a colony of approximately 250,000 least and crested auklets. To understand the effects of the eruption on the near-shore marine environment, depth surveys and dive surveys were done. “We found it to be completely clear of all life,“ says Pepper. “It was like being on the moon – only it was underwater.”

What other new discoveries are out there on Alaska Maritime Refuge? The possibility of being part of making a new one keeps the crew of the Tiglax coming back.

Andrea Medeiros is a public affairs specialist in the Alaska Region office in Anchorage.

 

 

The Best Quotes Of 2015

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Happy New Year everyone! I try to be a looking ahead kind of person, but I’m also a major history nerd, so it’s fun to look back on the past. Not that 2015 is more signifciant to Americans as say, 1776 or 1863 or 1945 or 2001. But things happened in 2015 just the same.

For me, one of the best parts about being a journalist – a career that essentially started in the late 1980s when I first started college, is getting to know those who have been interview subjects. I spent just about all of my years in this crazy business called the media as a sportswriter, so I’ve interacted with everyone from anonymous high school softball players and cross country coaches to Hall of Fame icons from baseball, basketball and football and colorful characters from the world of sports. In my two-plus years at Alaska Sporting Journal, I haven’t quite checked at the door my sports reporter roots and have done my best to tell stories about athletes who love to fish and hunt. But I’ve also enjoyed spreading my wings elsewhere and gotten to know some interesting folks along the way. In that spirit of communication, here are some of my favorite quotes from the pages of this magazine from 2015:

 

Emily Riedel posing in front of The Eroica.

“It’s one of the big conflicts of life for me – the fact that I can’t be an opera singer and a gold miner. I can be one or the other. That’s something that took me a long time to come to terms with. Which one or the other I’m going to be I don’t know at this point in time. I grew up in Alaska and I love ice climbing and skiing. And I love being in Nome and gold mining and have that part in me. And then I have the classical music and love of the arts part. And they just do not mesh well together.”

“It hasn’t been an altogether positive experience; there’s no way I can say it has. There have been many, many challenges, and some of them have threatened to break me completely. But sometimes it takes more courage for when to stop than more courage to keep doing something. But I’m glad I didn’t stop; all the hard times I’ve had, I didn’t quit.”

-Discovery Channel’s Bering Sea Gold dredger and aspring opera singer Emily Riedel of Homer (April)

Hollywood Hunter 1

“I think if we’re honest with ourselves, there is always fear and in the back of our minds the what ifs? But as I prepare for trips that are very intense and dangerous, I try to prepare in a fashion that becomes instinct – to be able to shoot on instinct and think on instinct. To do the things so repetitively before I get there, the odds are in our favor to do the right things. But it’s healthy and good to have a little fear, because it’s a respect; fear keeps you on your toes.”

“It definitely goes down as one of the top hunts that I’ll forever cherish. And that’s because Alaska is so unique to its own. When you to Alaska it’s not only views and not only wildlife; it’s just wild. It’s so free and untamed and uncharted. You just feel so small and so insignificant against such a massive wilderness.”

-Freddy Harteis, The Hollywood Hunter, remembering his bear hunt in Alaska, an adventure his late father Fred Sr. told him stories about, prompting the younger Harteis to do the same. (June)

Dallas Seavey 5

“Creativity and challenges are what I thrive on. That’s what I do when racing the Iditarod. We try to recognize the problem, break it down to its most basic elements and solve it. Whether it’s building an new racing sled or coming up with no strategies in the Iditarod, it’s problem solving. There’s definitely the mad scientist aspect for when you come to a crossroads of a problem that you don’t have an answer for.”

“It’s an incredible feeling. For 355 days a year I’m a dog musher, and to develop these dogs to their highest potential and to make each dog the best athlete that their genetic potential has allowed them and help them maximize that potential. That’s what a dog musher is, in my mind. For the other 10 days a year, give or take, we are focused on not necessarily winning the Iditarod, but running the best possible race. And if I run the team to the best of their ability, that is a goal met.”

-Seward’s Dallas Seavey, who last March won his second consecutive and third overall Iditarod title. (March)

 

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“I’ve always looked at it as my life was very easy before that. I was pretty athletic and school was always easy for me. I never had to work hard at anything. So I looked at it as I finally had a challenge in my life; it’s something I’m going to have to work at.” 

“I never had a depression phase; I never went through any kind of anything,. After surgery when I woke up, nobody had to me that I was paralyzed. You knew it. It was just, ‘OK, now what?’”

“Things may take a little bit longer and I may have to get creative with how I do some things. And there are some things I just flat out can’t do. But that’s part of it. So be it.”

-University of Alaska, Fairbanks rifle coach Dan Jordan, who’s led the Nanooks to three national championships after he was paralyzed throughout his lower body in a climbing accident years earlier. (March)

 

Animal Planet

“If you think about it, any anthropologist will tell you man has been the nomadic hunter for far, far longer than he has farmed in the world than it really is. I guess I feel like me and my wife were kind of keeping up the tradition; I shouldn’t say tradition but should just say (keeping up) a way of life – with the human population growing – that is dwindling.”
“I’m glad that we live like that, and I’m proud of it.”

-Heimo Korth, who lives with his wife, Edna, alone in the massive Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, one of a handful of families profiled in Animal Planet’s The Last Alaskans. (July)

 

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“We had a fish on and everyone was racing around the boat to try and get to the pole. And when I jumped up from inside the cabin (to run out) my thumb got stuck in the door jam. I smashed my thumb, and I’m sitting there crying my eyes out but still trying to reel in that fish. I ended up landing the fish, and a couple days later my fingernail ended up falling off. So I considered myself being pretty tough for going through such a dramatic experience. So I started pretty young dealing with pain.”

-Anchorage’s Matt Carle, now a star hockey player for the Tampa Bay Lightning, recalling a fishing memory when he was all of 5 years old. (January)

Discovery Channel

“Well, getting off the plane in Alaska the first thing I saw were rows of bald eagles in the trees. I’d never seen a bald eagle except on TV and in magazines. You were literally surrounded by wilderness. I grew up at the base of Mt. Si. (Twin Peaks) in Washington State and the forests were my stomping grounds. Alaska forests were even bigger and surrounded by ocean and with huge trees. I spent that summer exploring. In my mind I can still see the bears, salmon, sea otters and moose. That was huge to me at 9 years old.”

“Topographically, Alaska has so many virgin areas to explore. There is something special knowing that you are probably the first person to set eyes on an area. Alaska is what is left of the United States in its most original state. I would say it is one of my favorite places in the world. Summers in Alaska are surreal with the northern lights and everything buzzing with life.”

-Former Alaska resident Jeremy Whalen, who last year joined a group of adventurerers on a serpent-filled South American island looking for riches on the Discovery Channel series, Treasure Quest: Snake Island. (August)

Salmon documentary 5

“In all the folks I interviewed and was fortunate enough to spend time with, they were not telling me because it was cute or politically correct or sounds good. They’re telling me this because this is who they are. The salmon is in their blood, in their fiber, in their stories and in their culture.”
“Every single thing about it was authentic and that sense of authenticity was overwhelming to me. The words were one thing, but then when they bring you into their home and they show you the 40 cases of jarred salmon that include king salmon hearts, bellies, livers – the whole thing. That’s what they eat in the winter. This was no BS, man; this is the real deal. When they say they subsist on this fish – they subsist on this fish all year long.”

“I think it’s a very important question: why would I eat wild salmon when I want to save them? Why wouldn’t I want to just leave them alone? It’s hard to understand without a little knowledge. If you’re a consumer and salmon is the third most consumed fish in this country, 91 percent of that is farmed. But if you’re demanding wild salmon, you’re demanding a product that by its nature needs clean, well-preserved habitat in order to keep coming back.”

-Mak Titus, who wrote and directed The Breach, a documentary  about protecting wild salmon along the Pacific coast. (May)

 

“I think that growing up in Alaska, there’s so much that we’re exposed to as such a young age, in terms of the climate and learning how to be comfortable. 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 those things like skiing, hiking, camping, fishing, biking, hunting – all the kind of stuff that we’re do lucky to have in Alaska.”

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

-Anchorage’s Zoe Hickel, who not only fell in love with fishing and hunting as a youngster but also had a passion for hockey, which he plays today for Team USA and with the National Women’s Hockey League’s Boston Pride. (December)

 

Animal Planet

“We have earned our right to live our lives the way we do. We have faced snow, wind, predators, hardships, the forest and the sea. We have fought them all together as a family and made a home in this great land like many other Alaskans have done. The spirit of adventure that’s in us was in the pioneers, the explorers, and anyone else that chose to live their lives on their own terms.”
“(We’re) not complying with the opinion of ideas of others; our spirit is the same that was in the folks who made America the great land we live in today. What would I say the skeptics to try to convince them about the authenticity our show? Nothing. If their lives are so small that they can find fault in with a God-fearing, close-knit family living a simple, happy life, I feel sorry for them. And I don’t think there’s anything I could say to change their minds. I will say they’re welcome to come sit at our fire and see for themselves, anytime they like.”

-Ami Brown, matriarch of the off-the-grid family featured on the popular but polarizing Discovery Channel series, Alaskan Bush People. (May)

  Ariel Tweto 5

“I met some amazing friends there (in Southern California) and I love the weather and being warm. But I love Alaska; there’s place quite like it. It’s where my best friends live and my family lives.”

“Everyone in the villages really never sees Eskimos on TV. I’d love to have an adventure show and a talk show. I love that (Oprah Winfrey) does so much and she’s such an inspiration for me. One thing about Oprah is she connects with people, and I like that. She build and empire and just want to build my own brand and inspire people.”

-Flying Wild Alaska star Ariel Tweto, who aspires someday to be the “Eskimo Oprah. (September)

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

“You catch so many fish and it’s so beautiful. It’s such a special time when you’re up there, get away from everything and get into nature and God’s beauty and be hooking into a lot of fish,.”

“For me it doesn’t matter if it’s 4 inches long or 40 inches long. It’s all about the strike and setting the hook. That’s why I can’t understand why some people get so enamored by going out trolling with the rods in the holder. All of a sudden, they hand you the rod. That’s not fishing – that’s reeling. Even in the times when I do go out and saltwater fish, I want to hold the rod.”

“This might be crazy, but my goal in life is to be 100 years old and go fly fishing at Rainbow River Lodge.”

-Basketball Hall of Famer Rick Barry, who in retirement has made Alaskan rivers an annual destination to catch trout, grayling and salmon in massive numbers. (September)

Here’s to getting to know a whole new group of Alaskans  this year. Have a wonderful 2016!

Dreaming Of Holiday Steelhead

If you’re celebrating Christmas or other holidays this month, we hope you and your loved ones best wishes for a great experience. Here’s a steelhead fishing adventure for you to be thinking of a dream Alaska trip as you celebrate the season

Steelhead fishing 3

 

BY JEFF LUND 

Life is filled with contradictions.

The only ones that make sense to me are the ones that involve fishing. So when I kept setting the hook and missing on an afternoon trout trip in the Alaska Panhandle, I decided to adjust my approach. I wouldn’t set the hook. I’d wait and let the rainbow do more of the work.

I sent my fly into the current, watched the line form a tight arc and then swing across the current.

Bump. Bump. I waited. Bump. Waited. Boom.

After the fish shook, I pulled the tight line through where I had it pinned to the cork and swung my 5-weight to the side. Fish on. You’d think that if a fish bites all you have to do is yank and it’s on, but there’s a lot that can go wrong. The current will ultimately take your fly line downriver at different rates of speed creating a giant U or a W or two between you and the fly. When a fish takes, a hook set will often pull the slack, but not move the fly into the corner of the fish’s mouth. That’s why it’s important to mend the line – to make sure you are as connected to the fly as possible.

 

Steelhead fishing 1

SWING KIDS 

This is also why I like to swing flies. Cast it downriver, let the line get tight, then follow the swing as it moves across the current to a true dangle directly downriver from my boots. It’s an easy way to stay connected to the fly.

However, hook sets can be tricky. If you set the hook backward, you’re pulling the fly upriver. Since the fish is facing upriver, you’re likely pulling the fly from its mouth. By waiting a second to make sure the trout takes and turns, you can get a good hookset. You can also get a good set by setting to the side, rather than directly back.

If nothing else, the contradictions in fishing keep it fresh. That’s why people can fish and fish and fish and fish without getting bored – especially with a
fly rod.

You constantly have to think, OK, I need to get this fly under that branch. That means I have to shoot the line under that other branch, have it unravel and drop the fly upriver from where the fish is holding. I have to do this without backcasting too much because there are trees and bushes behind me.

So I have to figure out how to do all of this, and then when it’s time to hook up … do nothing. Just stand there and feel the rod bounce in my hand, and rather than instinctively pull, I have to wait. Pause. Hold. Delay. Then set.

It’s difficult but it works. The next day I caught the biggest fish I ever had in that river, which shall not be named.

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

YOU SNOOZE, YOU LOSE 

Then, of course, there are situations when a half-second matters most. A few days after I mastered patience and was rewarded with some beautiful, fat trout in a small stretch of thin water, I went to a larger river for a weekend of camping in the rain and catching steelhead. At least we hoped as much.

I was using my new favorite steelhead pattern – one that I tied but am sure I did not invent, even though I have never seen it before. It sinks quickly but isn’t too heavy, and is perfect for even water up to midthigh depth. It’s a compact design with no extra material, so every hit can find the hook.

I was fishing a run that was parallel to a downed tree on new water. It was at the edge of my longest roll cast. Because the water was clear and maybe a little low, I didn’t want to get too close and spook anything holding more toward the center.

I was using an indicator and saw it dip but didn’t react. I let the rig swing out, then stripped and cast again. Same spot, no dip. I had missed a strike. The oral coordination of steelhead is often incredible. Their ability to take with such calculated caution causing only a subtle change in the direction of a fly is almost unfair – especially considering once the fish is on, the fight is so violent. I kept throwing to the same spot to make sure I gave that fish another chance, but it had either moved or was onto me.

I moved to the tail end of the run and fished where the top of the tree pointed. I knew the indicator would disappear. I really knew it. I stared through the cold air. My eyes watered, but I dared not blink.

Nothing. Nothing. Bump. Bump. Hook set. Nothing. Too late. Bump. Wait. Overzealous-oh-my-god-that-was-a-steelhead hook set. Way too late. Catch tree branch behind me.

These weren’t those fun little trout in the unnamed creek. These were steelhead in an unnamed river. These demand angling excellence.

Steelhead fishing 4

FIGHT ON 

I dialed in and almost tried to guess when the hit would come. I sent the fly to the same spot. I felt a pull so strong I almost dropped the rod. I didn’t have to do anything, which was great because I may have messed it up. The steelhead jumped from the water, but rather than tail walk, it went end over end and did water gymnastics rather than dance. I laughed and kept tension. I was connected to the fish of a thousand casts. Then the line shot back at me. Hookless. Bad knot.

I felt almost sick.

I worked downriver, trying to convince myself I’d get another shot. It was still early in the morning. I had brought a 14-inch rainbow to shore and hooked up with a brute of a steelhead. There were fish around. I just had to stay focused.

I continued to work downriver, covering as much water as I could and making quick sets on every tink.

Near the end of the run, I felt a pull and before the pull stopped, I yanked back. Fish on. I lifted the rod, but the fish stayed down. Solid. Still on. Game on.

I moved it toward the bank, maneuvered so that I was facing it, then dropped like a catcher blocking a pitch in the dirt. I trapped the fish in a few inches of water between the shore and I.

I reached into the water, grabbed the tail, turned it on its side and looked down the flank. Not the prettiest or biggest, but you don’t think about those things in that moment.

You don’t think about the unsuccessful elk trip a month earlier. You don’t think about the bad knot that cost you a fish. You don’t think about those dry spells when you are sure that if you had to live off the land, you’d starve.

You think about that moment and how you made it work. You figured it out.

You won.

This time.

Editor’s note: Jeff Lund is the author of Going Home, a memoir about fishing and hunting in Alaska and California. Go to
JeffLundBooks.com for details.

An Alaskan Holiday Wish List

 

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It’s Dec. 21 everyone. Those who are waiting until (nearly) the end to finish their holiday shopping (like me, but I’m almost done) can find some great ideas for the Alaska sportsman or -woman in their lives from our correspondent, Steve Meyer.

Happy shopping!

By Steve Meyer

Seems like Christmas is an opportunity to stand down from my usual diatribe of things that annoy me, or worse, and instead, allow me talk about something everyone enjoys – presents!

It always surprises me when people have trouble selecting a gift for hunters. If there is an easier demographic to buy for it escapes me. It’s hard to go wrong with ammunition for the recipient’s favorite shooting iron. Even a brick of the lowly .22 Long Rifle rimfire cartridges would be welcome by any hunter/shooter, considering the difficulty in obtaining them these days.

But the proliferation of outdoor gear for the hunter is astonishing and can be tough to make a valid choice, especially if you don’t hunt yourself and have no real working knowledge of the activity and its gear requirements.

Do those on your gift list a favor and talk to their hunting friends. Hunters talk gear constantly and it’s a sure bet they’ll know what your spouse, sibling, parent or buddy is interested in.

When it fails, duplicate it. Being a rather simple lot we hunters like what works; we use it a lot and we wear it out – no matter how good it is – rather quickly, and then an identical replacement will be welcome.

PLAY IT CLOSE TO THE VEST

The candidate that immediately comes to mind for duplication is the down vest, which has to be the staple piece of outdoor apparel that every hunter (or any other person who engages in outdoor recreation) uses practically daily. My favorite is the Eddie Bauer Micro Lite down vest, of which I have two and hope for another this Christmas from camo Santa. This vest is warm far beyond what its weight and appearance suggests, is also as tough as any available and it has the classic good looks of vintage Eddie Bauer outdoor apparel that is at home in the field and the city.

Wool garments are tough to beat for utility and for their general good looks. Beretta has raised the bar in this department with their Wind Barrier wool sweater. The windproof lining not only blocks the wind but makes these comfortable to wear, even without an underlayer.

From October to March when hunting the mountains I wear this sweater with the aforementioned Eddie Bauer vest and never have issues with the cold on days that one would reasonably be outdoors anyway. These sweaters are available in quarter zip or full zip. They’re so good I have four.

BRING ON THE UNDERGARMENTS

Now, no one wants underwear for Christmas except outdoors types, and you just cannot go wrong with a merino wool underlayer. First Lite offers some of the best with tops and bottoms in men’s and women’s sizes in light, medium and heavy weights. After using the tops and bottoms for a year, Christine Cunningham and I have discovered we aren’t leaving the house without them. They are also washable, and if it matters, First Lite offers the only camouflage merino underlayers out there.

Sort of in the underwear department are socks – we also consider these as stocking-stuffer gold – and again, merino wool gets the nod. Darn Tough Socks merino wool socks are guaranteed for life, you can wear them for days on end and they don’t harbor odor – not a small consideration in the confines of a sheep hunting tent.

For hunting pants, First Lite again gets top billing with their lightweight merino wool Kanab hunting pants. They have an acetate lining that keeps them from binding while climbing and provides a wind barrier. They are light, extremely warm, washable, very durable and cut a bit large to allow for underlayers. The only thing that is a little annoying is the very tight cuffs that don’t go over large boots well, but they do keep the cold out, so it’s not a bad trade.

LIST FOR THE LADIES

For a very long time, hunting-related Christmas presents fell in the male bailiwick; not so much anymore. Being the largest growing demographic in the hunting world, female hunters are now at the forefront of hunting and don’t want to wear hand-me-down crap their husbands, brothers, dads or boyfriends cast off to them.

Prois, a female hunting clothing company, has stepped up and is offering some outstanding outerwear designed for the serious female hunter. There are too many products to suggest them all here, but if you want to impress the female hunter in your life, look at their Archtach down jacket. Beautifully styled for the female form, this jacket is about as good looking as it gets and is constructed of quality material, including a down fill that is extremely warm for its weight.

If you are lucky enough to have a wife or girlfriend who would prefer a new gun over a diamond ring but you really want to show her how much you love her, look no further than Syren division of Caesar Guerini. An Italian shotgun maker well known for their beautiful high-performing guns, this company has taken the bull by the horns and created a separate division dedicated to producing shotguns designed from the ground up for women. These guns aren’t cut-off versions of regular male-market guns. They are built to conform to the female with the grip, the length, the weight, the cast in the buttstock and the elegance that a discerning woman hunter/shooter will embrace.

Most of the line of women’s guns from Syren are of the over/under variety, including field-grade guns and various competitive trap, skeet and sporting clays versions. They recently introduced an autoloader that isn’t quite as pretty as the others, yet it is a remarkably well-built and reliable shotgun for the female waterfowler.

With that and with the risk of offending someone, Merry Christmas to all and best wishes for the coming year.

The Breach Continues Its Message

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Our friend Mark Titus, whose wild salmon film The Breach, was featured in the magazine, filed this update:

Season of Salmon – Season of Lights

The winter rains have come and with them the salmon.  Kids marvel at the return of late-fall Chum and Coho into our urban creeks and streams.  All of us do.  When you watch these large fish in small water attempting to fulfill their life’s mission and truly think about what they’ve gone through to get here, it borders on the mystical.   Life finds a way.

 

I want to thank you for your continued support and encouragement of this film that somehow found its way into the world.  I’ve had quite a few queries lately on where folks can get it to give as a gift or to watch it over the holidays.  Well, you can access The Breachin all its current formats right now through our very own website by clicking right here:  SHARE THE BREACH

 

We’re going to have some exciting news to report in the next newsletter (the last of 2015, before the holidays.)  Here’s a peek:  First, The Breach is partnering with several esteemed organizations doing vital work for wild salmon, sustainable food and the planet.  We’re going to have the opportunity to push the film out through their channels while simultaneously raising funds for their important work.  Second, we’ve got a new streamlined, news-packed website heading your way before the holidays – complete with a page to get some cool Wild Salmon/Breach gear.  Stay tuned.

 

The Time is Now

Wild Salmon have been all over the news lately.  The work to protect them for future generations is more urgent now than it’s ever been:

 

Bristol Bay

After President Obama visited Bristol Bay this September, the corporation behind the proposed Pebble Mine ratcheted up their efforts to stall and derail the EPA from protecting Bristol Bay.  They are spending millions in lobbying efforts, commercials and hiring outside consultants to testify to Congress on their behalf. 

You can watch all three hours of this testimony right here:  TESTIMONY

 

 

If you’d like a taste of what’s at stake in Bristol Bay, watch this stunning drone footage over Lake Illiamna, filmed this last summer by Jason Ching of the University of Washington – click here:  WATCH

 

Genetically Engineered Salmon

You may have heard about this in the news.  Weeks ago, the United States FDA approved a corporation’s version of genetically engineered farmed salmon for US markets.  Under current laws, these so-called “Frankenfish” would not be required to be labeled as genetically modified when sold to consumers.  Representatives Don Young from Alaska and Peter DeFazio from Oregon have introduced House Bill HR 913 – the “Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act.”  If you feel this is an important issue, please write your legislators and tell them.  You can read an Op-Ed about this by Representatives Young and DeFazio right here:  READ NOW

 

Now the Good News – Medals of Freedom

Two vitally important characters in The Breach and titanic heroes to the people, waters and salmon of the Pacific Northwest were awarded our nation’s highest civilian honor.  Bill Ruckelshaus, first head of the EPA was awarded the medal by the president in person – and members of Billy Frank Jr.’s family accepted the posthumous award on his behalf.  Deep admiration and sincere congratulations to these two men and their families.  You can read about it right here:  HEROES

 

We keep our Facebook feed up-to-date regularly with wild salmon news.  You can like our page and follow along by clicking right here:  FACEBOOK

 

Coming Up

News about upcoming screenings and new ways The Breach will be shared across the country are coming up in a special message  just before the holidays.  For now, enjoy this time with your friends and family as we wind toward the winter solstice and the promise of new life in the streams and creeks wild salmon call home.  And remember to #eatwildsavewild by insisting on wild salmon at your local markets and restaurants.  It makes a huge difference.

 

Thank you again for your passion and support.  I’d especially like to thank David James Duncan again for his powerful words at the bottom of this page.  I thought them appropriate to pass along to you now in this season of salmon…season of lights…

 

In Wildness,

 

Mark

 

From David James Duncan…

 

The Breach sings the wild salmon like Whitman once sang the folk life and burgeoning streets of America’s cities. The Breach roars the truth that when our thousand rivers and rills are stripped of their salmon, we are all bankrupted – tribes, towns, animals, trees, flowers, all facing a horrendous desolation and dearth and theft of the shared sacred. When our rivers are stripped by ignorance, greed, and apathy, our culture is robbed, our children are robbed, all humanity is robbed of a compass bearing, a great holiness, an ancient craft that Christ Himself practiced. As the father of three kids to whom I’d love to pass down the faith that all beings are holy, I find the silence of salmonless rivers very hard to bear. So, as The Breach so beautifully suggests, let us find the loss unbearable, stand up together, and stop those who would steal away this great gift.  This film shows us the way to keep the Gift coming.

 

www.thebreachfilm.com

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’

Snowmachines 1

 

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.

 

Snowmachines 3 shack

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.

Snowmachines 4 Snowmachines 5

 

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.

Snowmachines 6 Workhorse

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.