Happy New Year’s Eve. We’ve almost made it through one of the most tragic, ironic and downright weird years of our existence. So at midnight tonight we can finally say, be gone, 2020. Still, in the pages of our magazine people said stuff, whether it was those we profiled or the writers who talked about their own adventures in Alaska. So here they are, the best quotes of 2020:
Discovery Channel brought you Man Vs. Bear, a contest pitting humans against bruins in competition.
“For me, the only reason I signed up is I get the chance to talk to (an audience) that does not necessarily watch wildlife documentaries. And maybe they’ll learn something about bears. And that’s important. We’re not going to be preaching to the choir. We’re going to be talking to (new) people and maybe recruiting and getting them excited about wild places and wild things.”
-Bear expert Casey Anderson, who provided analysis on the show.
“There are many people and programs out there trying their best to recruit numbers and show hunting in a favorable light, such as Becoming an Outdoors Woman and Field to Fork, the latter of which emphasizes the need for good, quality sustainable food. Along with programs aimed at kids, they all have good intentions. But sometimes they aren’t enough. We need to hit all age groups and both genders.”
“I’ve always thought that one of the best ways we as hunters could do this is to take somebody hunting who has never been. Introducing them to the great outdoors in a favorable, systematic way can have big dividends in the long run.”
“He slowly started to walk in the opposite direction of me. I waited for him to disappear down the trail and I high-tailed it toward him. I was hoping to close the distance without scaring him off. This was a cat-and-mouse game that I was losing. Every time I did this, he would get further away.”
“I decided to let out three long cow calls. I knew it was too early in the year to utilize cow calls to bring bulls in, but I hoped it would slow him down. It worked!”
“Because the event is so much fun to be around, we are able to get an excellent group of volunteers who contribute many hours of their time to keep it organized and fun. The majority of the volunteers have come back year after year, which adds to the level of service they provide.”
“It really is a great group of folks. The local businesses all benefit from the influx of visitors, so they are also very helpful in time and resources to make it all happen.”
-Nyla Lightcap of the Homer Chamber of Commerce. Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the tournament’s cancellation in 2020.
A Q&A with from author Mark Kurlansky, which included an excerpt from his book, Salmon: A Fish, the Earth, and the History of Their Common Fate.
“Alaska is in relatively good shape due to good management, sparse population, a climate and topography that is unfavorable to agriculture. But the rest of the West Coast – from British Columbia to California – the rivers are in deep trouble. This is because of dams on the rivers, deforesting the banks, building along riverbanks, bad agriculture practices, pollution and climate change, climate change, climate change. The area is dependent on salmon to put nutrients in the river, for the survival of eagles, cormorants, mergansers and other birds, insect life, bears, otters, beaver, marine mammals and much more. The disappearance of salmon would be a calamity for the natural order.”
-Kurlansky on the future of salmon on the West Coast.
Watkins wrote about a bear he was obsessed with for years and who he nicknamed (and tattooed on his arm) “King Tut.”
“I found blood and got back on his trail. He was sitting down like you would at a dinner table. I fired three rounds and imagined him charging me. I turned and ran down the mountain, crashing and rolling to get away as fast as I could. Kevin screamed for me. He could only think that an all-out battle between the bear and I was taking place.”
“I tumbled down the mountain to my brother for backup, and as I calmed down I realized the bear was nowhere near me. My heart raced and I felt panic, but all was well. We went back up and the bear was laying on his side. My brother had to finish him off.”
“We realized we had finally outsmarted the king himself.”
-Watkins on the moment of truth.
The newest season of Deadliest Catch pitted the U.S. crab boat skippers against their Russian counterparts, battling for the best quota hauls of the Bering Sea that separates the two countries’ boundaries.
The pandemic has prompted many to use the time at home to adopt a dog, something near and dear to the hearts of our From Field to Fire team of Scott and Tiffany Haugen, who have offered tips to training hunting pups. Scott wrote about training your dogs for the field.
“As we’re able to get outdoors, your training sessions will expand, both in time and area. By getting a pup to be disciplined and learn your language at an early age–in a restricted area like the house where it can focus–it will be much easier to train in the field. The more the pup learns, the more eager it will also be to please you.”
“When training a pup, have fun. Play with your pup, get on the ground, roll around with it and enjoy these days together. This is extremely valuable in developing that relationship which will lead to respect, and when a pup respects you, it will do anything in the world to please you.”
-Haugen on the joy of dogs
“You’re amped up, but you know you have to do things that are outside your comfort zone. And the guys know that too. So it creates a high-stress situation. It’s huge. You watch the Russian boats going in to deliver and you don’t know when their product is going to market. But when you see them get close, it changes your whole perspective. You can yell at your guys that we’ve got to go, go, go – when they’re tired, the weather’s crap. But we’re fishing still; it’s intimidating.”
-Cornelia Marie Capt. Josh Harris
Mary Catharine Martin of SalmonState profiled author Amy Gulick, who we’ve previously interviewed and excerpted her book, The Salmon Way.
“When I was flying north, I was hurled back in time to what my home was 200 years ago. And I’d just be so grateful,” she adds. Going south, “… in a way I felt like I was being hurled into the future of what (Alaska) could be if we weren’t careful … I always say the way that we lose salmon is gradual. We lose it stream by stream, river by river. It’s not overnight. It’s not apocalyptic. It’s a slow process, but in a few generations, they’re gone. And then enough time goes by, and we don’t even know what we’ve lost.”
The older man picked up the quivering fish and examined it head to tail. It was a bruiser buck with hooked jaws and ice pick teeth. Julian rejoiced and fumbled through his day pack for his camera.
“Smile, Lev. This picture will make you famous. You might even make the cover of Field and Streammagazine!”
“No. No pictures,” Lev shrieked, turning his back, tossing the fish back in the water and effectively snuffing out any potential bond between them.
Bothered and confused by the man’s abrupt reaction, Julian stuffed the camera back in the bag and readied his own fishing pole. Slightly frustrated, and more than a little perturbed, he calmed himself down and changed the subject.
“It’s a real tragedy what happened to those Chiklak boys, don’t you think, Lev? Poor kids. They were so young. I saw the father at the Blue Spruce the other night and the man was devastated. He could barely hold it together. He kept talking about the plug not being in their boat.”
Lev stared out across the river. “I dunno.”
Julian bristled and turned, eyes locking on Lev.
-Excerpted from Edge Of Redfish Lake
Landon Albertson of Prey On Adventure wrote about his first caribou hunt in the Last Frontier.
“After another quarter of a mile on the game trail, I stood on a mound of dirt, which was about 3 feet high, to get above the brush and to try and spot the cow. I was glassing the horizon and found her about 800 yards away on a brush-covered knob. About 15 yards behind her was a huge caribou rack sprouting from the brush.”
“Big bull!” I said to Jen and Reed. They used their binoculars and saw him too. In between the bull and us was a dry creek bed covered in dry yellow knee-high grass. With the wind in our faces, we got into the dry creek and made our way toward the bull.”
-Albertson on closing on in a bull.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us all to accept the grim reality of missing out on fishing trips to Alaska, but for Tony Ensalaco, his son Anthony’s own health concerns offered even more perspective.
I know everyone is anxious to have life go back to normal, but trying to normalize it too early can set us back to where it all started. If you want to roll the dice with your health or possibly your life, that’s your decision. But there is more at stake. When you put someone else’s life in jeopardy – my family’s lives – I have a real problem with that.
You want to talk about what’s unfair? I should be standing knee-deep in a world- famous steelhead stream, brawling with ocean-run rainbows that just came in on the morning tide. Instead, I’m learning how to calculate and administer life-sustaining insulin doses for a 9-year-old boy.
“I know everyone is anxious to have life go back to normal, but trying to normalize it too early can set us back to where it all started. If you want to roll the dice with your health or possibly your life, that’s your decision. But there is more at stake. When you put someone else’s life in jeopardy – my family’s lives – I have a real problem with that.”
“You want to talk about what’s unfair? I should be standing knee-deep in a world- famous steelhead stream, brawling with ocean-run rainbows that just came in on the morning tide. Instead, I’m learning how to calculate and administer life-sustaining insulin doses for a 9-year-old boy.”
“And even with this lifelong obstacle my family just started to confront, I am fully aware that there are thousands of families worse off than mine who are suffering, and some who have lost loved ones from this pandemic. I also realize there will be more cases, more sadness and, unfortunately, more deaths. That is the real injustice, and that is why I plan on doing my part by staying put until the restrictions start to ease up.”
“Hunting was fun, what really intrigued me during this hunt was the town itself. The abandoned area was like something you would see in The Walking Dead. The best way I can describe it was a town that time forgot.”
“An old McDonald’s and a Pizza Hut still stand in town. They’re empty, of course, and surrounded by weeds, but it looked to me that with a little cleaning and a few implements, they could be up and going in a matter of hours. Churches, dormitories, stores and even the school looked operational, other than the rain- soaked ceilings, moss-covered floors and the occasional bird that flew overhead. It was surreal and looked haunted.”
Filmmaker Mark Titus has passionately displayed his love for salmon in two films, The Breach, which we wrote about in 2015, and this year’s release of The Wild, which pays homage to protecting Bristol Bay’s salmon runs as the Pebble Mine permitting process was about to hit a critical stage.
“There is something that is driving these folks to do this. It’s not just a job, not just a means of an income, it’s not just something to tell tall tales around the campfire about. There is a deep-seated love for this land, this water and this miraculous fish that brings life itself back when it returns to the ocean. It motivates everything they do. It motivates them to pass it on to the next generation.”
-Titus, on the people of Bristol Bay
On the subject of protecting Bristol Bay, columnist Bjorn Dihle monthly writes about the region’s people and their connection to the fish and the natural environment that makes it so special. He wrote about the bears of McNeil River State Game Sanctuary and Refuge.
“You’re looking at a world with eight billion people. Deep down in all of us, going back to our primal roots, bears are representative of the wild and a world we lost. They’re in our DNA. There will soon come a time where wild places like McNeil will be a priceless commodity.”
-Bear viewing guide Drew Hamilton
More from Dihle, who chatted with Yupik and Athabaskan resident Triston Chaney, who is proud f his family’s connection to the land and water.
“When the salmon are running, we can catch all we want pretty quickly. We keep what we need and then share the rest with some of the old timers and people not as fortunate as us. … Everything revolves around fish here.”
Virginia resident Pete Robbins and his wife Hanna of Half Past First Cast fished at Bear Trail Lodge in Bristol Bay, which was rather unique with COVID-19 restrictions and protocols that need to be implemented.
“Lyon knew that no matter what happened, some diminution in visitors would ensue, which meant that she’d be unlikely to need – or able to afford – a full staff. She dropped from her usual four to six housekeepers down to two, and from two chefs down to one.”
“With new hires, half of them were afraid to come anyway,” she explained. “I told them that if they could get another job, I wouldn’t hold it against them, and I could only promise eight weeks of employment if I got the (Paycheck Protection Program) money.”
-Lodge owner Nanci Morris Lyon on the difficulties of running the lodge.
Duck hunting might not be as popular in Alaska as it is in some Lower 48 locales like Northern California and Arkansas, but as Atkins and his buddy Lew Pagel have discovered, the Last Frontier has its own bird party available.
Hunting waterfowl is a great sport and can provide hours of enjoyment in Alaska’s great outdoors. It’s also a great way to introduce a kid to hunting and shotgunning in general.
From leaving shore and hunting, to picking feathers, to eating your prize, it makes the whole experience special and will create a bond that will last forever. For me, I discovered ducks late in my hunting life, but I have to tell you that being in an Arctic duck blind come September is about as good as hunting gets.
“As our friends from Washington state’s backcountry say, “Mentorship is conservation.” Both of the crew’s river navigators, as well as Jeremiah, Clint and Jamie, all have young children, which inspired many wonderful conversations about mentored hunting, family traditions and wildlife education.”
“Those on the journey without previous experience were able to walk away with a vast amount of new knowledge and respect for the outdoors.”
-Writer Lauren Silvers
A once promising year for the Pebble Mine conglomerate – in August the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had tentatively approved a version of the gold and copper mine’s permit application – began to unravel with the publishing of secretly recorded conversations made by the Pebble Parternship’s leaders, including CEO Tom Collier, who later stepped down.
“These interviews demonstrate in no uncertain terms that the Pebble Partnership and Northern Dynasty Minerals have been dishonest about their true intentions. The companies put forward a fictitious proposal to the Army Corps of Engineers. Their statements contradict their own permit application, falsely representing their project, and therefore call into question the validity of the entire application and the credibility of its review.”
-Trout Unlimited Alaska director Nelli Williams
Atkins is a diehard bear hunter, but circumstances suggested he and Pagel were on their final grizzly quest during a recent trip.
“With only one headlamp between us, we were both nervous wrecks skinning that bear in pitch black darkness. We were trying not to cut each other, and the fact that every sound outside that hut sounded like an approaching bear made it so scary. It was also backbreaking work standing on the incline of the bank, but like so many times before we got it done in record time.”
“After getting back to the tent long after midnight, a stiff drink later, had us both happy with the results.”
“Was this my last bear harvest in the Arctic? I don’t know. I hope not, but with changing times – whether it be the river itself or me leaving this part of Alaska for another, or maybe Alaska all together – I really don’t know.”
Katmai National Park and Preserve’s “Fat Bear Week Contest” has become a social media frenzy. We caught up with Amber Kraft of the park to get more about this phenomenon.
“Fat Bear Week has grown a lot since it was conceived as a single-day event, “Fat Bear Tuesday,” six years ago, and grew into the weeklong event that we have today. This program was created as a way to engage the public in the phenomenon of brown bears in hyperphagia to prepare for winter, and it was a success. Hyperphagia is when a bear’s metabolism changes in the fall. The hormone that lets a bear feel full, leptin, stops working and the bears feel constantly hungry. That means they are either fishing or sleeping – resting from all the hard work of fattening up to survive. It also gives us the opportunity to share the importance of access to clean water and healthy ecosystems unaffected by climate change or human influence, without which the fat bears we celebrated this year would be at risk.”
“Jon Harmon, wearing his specially made “shorty” prosthetic legs, stumbled over some small brush and trees and fell over. Immediately he began laughing, with Franz right behind him. Franz and Jon were in rare form, telling jokes the whole way there.”
Franz moved ahead and while looking back at Jon cracked to the rest of us that he looked like “Godzilla” smashing tiny trees back there. This set the mood for the rest of the time that night, with Jon and Franz providing endless comedy relief as Ryan’s bull No. 2 was processed.
“Brady and Jim continued to hunt nearby, as there was still plenty of daylight to be had. About an hour into processing Ryan’s bull we heard gunshots not too far away. Sure enough, Brady had taken the third bull, even while there was still significant processing to do with Ryan’s animal.”
“It’s all ours and it’s this amazing national treasure. It’s loaded with fish streams. We’ve got some really good assumptions and some good monitoring. But we don’t have a full complete picture of what’s actually out there. That’s what I’m doing – filling in those gaps.”
-Trout Unlimited Alaska science coordinator Mark Hieronymus, who has coordinated the project.
The Haugens had a memorable return to their Alaska roots and enjoyed some epic ice fishing for shellfish.
One of the editor’s favorite interviews in a difficult year on many fronts was one with mountaineer Jake Norton, who talked about his experiences on Denali and Mount Everest.
“We were able to have a fly-by done by the bush pilot while we were on the summit. It was a breathless, warm- for-Denali day. I don’t know the exact temperature, but I was up there with light gloves and a baseball cap and my down jacket unzipped. It was just gorgeous.”
“It felt more (like being) on top of the world than the summit of Everest does.”
-Norton on his Denali climb
And finally, in a year filled with so much tragedy, hate, controversy and chaos, those who have fought tirelessly to prevent Pebble Mine won a key battle when the permit was denied by the U.S.A.C.E.
“The people of Bristol Bay have long known that our home is no place for a mine like Pebble. Today, we celebrate the appropriate action taken by the USACE in finally acknowledging this underlying truth: Pebble’s proposal is too toxic for our region and cannot be built without devastating the environment that sustains our cultures and communities. But our work is not done. We will continue to advocate for permanent protections for Bristol Bay until we are sure that our pristine lands and waters will remain intact for our children’s children and all future generations.”
-United Tribes of Bristol Bay president Robert Heyano
With that, we hope you enjoy this look back at 2020, and join me in celebrating the end of this wretched year tonight!