Monthly Archives: July 2014
The salmon run has begun in the Kenai River! Brian and I both caught our limit, or “limited” as the locals call it, by catching three Sockeye Salmon yesterday! We fished for two days in the green, cloudy Kenai, up to our crotches in cold water, catching nothing. Things changed quickly when the fish arrived. Yesterday, on our third day, the salmon run seemed to start right in front of our eyes.
For the first hour the fishing area was quiet, then suddenly fish started thrashing around on lines every few minutes and jumping out of the water nearby. They were everywhere, swimming by the hooks we were dragging through the water. We were waiting for fate or chance to help us land a hook in their mouths as they passed by.
Sockeye Salmon swim up the Kenai River on the way to their spawning area. The fish are focused on spawning and have stopped eating, so bait is ineffective. We fished with only a bare hook and a small weight on the line. We entered the river in chest waders designed to keep us dry. We cast our lines, let the hooks sink, then dragged the hooks along the bottom of the river in a sweeping motion. A sharp jerk at the end of the sweep would hopefully land the hook in a fish’s mouth. They swim with mouths open, so randomly hooking one in the mouth is actually a good possibility.
The picture at right is my very first Sockeye! This is definitely the biggest fish I’ve ever caught. It fought hard, too! These fish are fun to catch, and their meat is bright red and delicious. I’ve heard it’s good luck to kiss your first salmon but I forgot to do this. My lack of a wet, slimy kiss for my fish did not seem to hurt my fishing, because I quickly landed another two salmon! With my limit of three on a stringer near shore, there was nothing left to do but sit back and happily relax as everyone else fished for their limit.
When we were done fishing, we headed back to “fish camp” on the Kenai Peninsula to clean and package the fish. Brian’s mom and her husband visit the fishing camp each summer for several months, and it’s a great place. It’s an improved lot with a couple buildings and spots for several trailers, so Vanifest fits right in here. It also has a fish cleaning table topped with plastic cutting boards, two vacuum sealing machines, and two large freezers.
We settled into our positions at the different processing stations at the fishing camp and began working on the fish. The Sockeye Salmon is the most sought after salmon in Alaska because the meat is fantastic. It was exciting to see all the salmon four of us obtained from just one day of fishing. We worked together to clean, sort, and vacuum seal the fish in meal-sized packages. After the four of us worked on the salmon for about an hour, we had a nice sized stack packaged and ready to freeze. This wonderful fish is as wild as it gets and was processed with love. I like knowing the origin of the fish I’m eating, which seems to be rare these days as most of us are pretty distant from the sources of our foods.
This fish is great. We’ll try to bring some back to Boise to share!
My first meeting with a ptarmigan occurred during a hike in brush near Scidmore Glacier. Suddenly we were charged by a growling Alaskan animal, the Rock Ptarmigan. Apparently we had come too close to two tiny ptarmigan chicks hiding in the grass. The parents tried their best to distract us from the chicks. They made a low, growling sound as they circled us for several minutes. The birds in Glacier Bay definitely let you know when you’re not welcome!
Then there was the Oystercatcher I approached on a steep beach. Instead of turning around and running the other way, it quickly advanced toward my ankles, emitting its signature “peep-peep” sound. I backed off, and it quickly plunked itself down on its nest about 20 feet away.
During 13 days of kayaking we didn’t just watch the birds here, we interacted with them. They constantly approached us, amused us and become a great memory from our trip. These bold, badass birds did not fear humans. They merely saw us as part of the environment with which they interacted daily, and when they didn’t like what we were doing they let us know.
A funny encounter took place when Brian was cruising along in his kayak and watching some Kittiwake chicks waddling along the beach. He was taking photos with a telephoto lens and was pretty far from the chicks but the Kittiwake parents were not pleased. One of them began dive bombing Brian in his kayak and attempting to poop on him. I got to watch all this from about 50 feet away. I’m so glad they all missed him! Brian got his photo and quickly moved along as the Kittiwake parents continued to scold us from the beach.
We nicknamed one rocky beach “Angry Bird Beach” near Johns Hopkins Inlet because when we landed to quickly boil water and warm up, the Kittiwakes began dive bombing us immediately. We huddled under a tarp in the pouring rain as they cried out to us, the invaders of their exclusive spot. I’ll bet they were happy when we finally left!
We saw many Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles. Our most memorable encounter was kayaking under two eagles flying about 40 feet above us fighting over a fish. We typically spotted a couple eagles each day. They tended to be shy and elusive.
We really enjoyed the Loons, with their high pitched calls and interesting habit of ducking under the water to hunt or hide from approaching kayaks. Actually, many different species of birds surfaced quickly for a look at our kayaks, then quickly dove back under the water to safety. Once while kayaking in turbid, silty water near a glacier, one of these diving birds bumped into the side of my kayak! I would guess that the water was too turbid for the bird to know my kayak was there. The birds we met in Glacier Bay were definitely amusing and memorable.
We just returned from a great 13 day sea kayaking trip in Glacier Bay National park. Even after dozens of humpback whale sightings, we never got tired of seeing the gray-blue curves of these 40 ton whales surfacing near our kayaks and campsites. The numerous sea birds and ptarmigans provided endless amusement as they scurried about busily, finding food and charging us when we wandered too near to their nests and chicks. The hundreds of shy seals and sea otters were always exciting to see as their cute and curious faces surfaced for a quick look.
The glaciers and floating sea ice glowed with otherworldly shades of blue and changed each day as the sea ice melted or more new ice calved from nearby glaciers. The trip was full of magic and it’s hard to imagine finding another backcountry experience that could match Glacier Bay. This trip featured more animals than any other place I had been, more cold and exhaustion than I had ever experienced, and already I want to go back and do it all again.
It had been about five years since my last long sea kayak trip. That one didn’t go well and left me with some lingering anxiety about this activity. When Brian wanted to return to Glacier Bay, saying his last trip there had been the best trip of his life, I hesitated. He tried to tell me about the humpback whales, the glaciers, and the constant parade of animals competing for his attention during his previous trip.
“We could just go hiking instead”, I countered.
The best parts of this national park can only be reached by boat and to have this great experience I would need to overcome my aversion to long sea kayak trips. Sure, I go on short paddle trips all the time and love the water, but my last long expedition at sea ended badly and I haven’t been on another trip like it since.
It was five years ago in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington. On the third day of our trip, we paddled a mile across open water in 2 foot waves which already felt a little big. As we neared the tip of Speiden Island in front of us the ocean changed suddenly from gentle laps to violent roars and 4 foot breaking waves. We were caught in a powerful tide rip and I didn’t know how to self rescue if the boats tipped over. My partner expected easy conditions and had decided not to wear a wetsuit that day. The islands nearby were private property so we couldn’t pull over. We continued all the way to Stuart Island through more waves. I couldn’t wait to get out of the boat. Once on Stuart Island we were stuck for the next two days as a storm rocked the San Juan Islands and kept the sea in a lumpy, angry state.
I didn’t want to repeat that experience so I had a lot of questions about our sea kayaking trip in Glacier Bay. We planned the trip carefully, studied the nautical charts and took a route far away from any challenging areas with tide rip potential. We shopped for the most stable sea kayak we could find, and also bought a nice drysuit to ensure comfort and safety in the cold, 32-40 degree water of Glacier Bay.
Glacier Bay was a good place for easy paddling conditions, especially in the early morning hours. The days were long and the Alaskan midnight sun illuminated the sky nearly all night long. One day we began paddling at 2 AM because the sea was calm and tides were in our favor. The water in the bay is pretty protected and we didn’t encounter any dangerous waves or tide rips. Most of our paddling took place on flat, calm seas.
I’ll write more about Glacier Bay soon. There are so many moments to share about this amazing trip.