Two years since I last left this rock, time for a vacation! We were off island for over three weeks, visiting family in Oregon, a little shopping for things we can not shop for on-island, and some time experiencing the mainland in general. Then it was off to Alaska for a couple weeks of fishing with family and friends.

As usual we were using one of the boats from the Nordic Tugs Charters of Juneau fleet, but new this year was that the boat in question is my father’s, an all new 42′ Nordic Tug named the Nordic Quest. A very comfortable boat, we were hardly roughing it while we explored the waters around Juneau and Icy Strait.

Nordic Quest
The Nordic Quest underway near Tenakee, AK
Much of the trip was spent fishing. Two weeks of trolling for salmon or dropping lines to the bottom for halibut. We caught more than a few, filling freezers with fish, and collecting a few fish stories. As usual Deb loved the fishing and was often found on the back deck with a pole. She caught some great fish including her first King Salmon. We did quite well catching salmon, not so well on halibut. I did have one big halibut on the line, briefly, until it broke a heavy steel leader!

One successful fishing story was going for crab. I dropped pots several times, and was rewarded with a rich haul of Dungeness Crab. We ate well! In my experience, Dungies are the best eating crab in the world! After many years of exploring the area we have learned a few good spots to drop the pots. There was one particularly memorable warm and sunny afternoon cooking crab on the back deck. We clustered at the back rail, cracking shell and savoring the succulent meat, laughing and throwing the shells overboard. We didn’t eat it all, extra crab was cracked for a dinner of crab cakes and crab salad. Not a bad day.

There was also a gorgeous day spent fishing on the open Pacific at the mouth of Cross Sound. A place where the sea can so easily provide miserable conditions was instead nearly flat, with hardly a cloud in the sky. We trolled for salmon around Yakobi Rock, landing silvers as fast as we could put the lines in the water.

We visited several places I had never been… The fishing settlement of Pelican is an interesting place. Built around a fish packing plant in the 1940’s the town features a long boardwalk along which the town is built. A cute cafe operates at the center of town along with a post office and city hall. The town is struggling after the closing of the fish packing plant, but folks were optimistic that the town will survive.

Sea Lions
Steller sea lions Eumetopias jubatus fishing off of Point Adolphus, Icy Strait, AK
Hoonah is an Tlingit Indian settlement on Icy Strait. Here is a bit of real Alaska, a fishing town, off the beaten track, making a living from timber and salmon. This is changing even here as the town has recently become a stop for one of the cruise lines.

Near Hoonah is Point Adolphus, at this headland the bounty of the sea is concentrated. Abundant herring can be found here, so thick we can see the clouds of fish in the sonar. Salmon feed here before turning inland towards the streams and rivers to spawn. Sharing this rich habitat can be found dozens of Humpback Whales, Sea Lions, Eagles and more. The result is simply spectacular. Each time past the point we stop and drift for a while as whales move past and sea lions fish for salmon all around us. Four times we passed the point over the two weeks, resulting in hundreds of photos, and a view of nature usually associated with BBC documentaries.

Another stop was one of our favorites… Tenakee, a small village of a few dozen homes along the shore and a general store. We stop here for the hot springs, water coming right out of the rock at just the right temperature for a soak. A trail leads from town through the forest to a small river. A wonderful walk that allows exploration of the landscape underneath the carpet of trees seen from out on the water. A trail walked with some care, there are grizzlies here! This is the place I came face to face with a very big bear once upon a time.

Andrew Cooper
Andrew Cooper fishing for Salmon in Icy Strait, photo by Deborah Cooper
We spent a morning cruising up Tenakee inlet on a mission to find and watch bears. A very successful mission, we saw nine grizzlies in a couple bays. The bears are gathering near the stream in anticipation of the salmon’s arrival at the spawning ground. The fish are an essential part of the bear’s diet, the annual runs providing the food and fat that will see the bears through a long winter. Most of the bears we saw distantly, but one mother and cub allowed us to get quite close. She was eating grass just above a rocky shoreline, with deep water permitting us to bring the boat in very close to shore. We idled just a few yards away as she ate grass and occasionally looked up at the bank of cameras aimed at her and her cub.

A nice trip, measured in new memories, over two thousand photographs, and a cooler filled with fourty pounds of frozen salmon, halibut and crab. Yes, a direct flight from Juneau, via Seattle and into Kona allowed us to bring a full cooler back with everything inside still well frozen. As for the photographs? I will not bore my audience will too many, just a few selected frames to liven up the pages here on Darker View.

Postcard from Alaska – Watery Sunset

The day ends late during an Alaskan summer, there are only a few hours of darkness each night. Sunset and sunrise last a long time, hours of low light in which the world becomes rich with color. Keep a camera handy at all times, you never know what you will see, what spectacular vista will greet the eye, or when an opportunity for a photo will present.

Watery Sunset
Sun setting over Saginaw Channel, near Juneau, Alaska

Postcard from Alaska – Sea Lice

There are reasons why I avoid sushi. I have cut apart too many deep sea fish, I have seen what is to be found on and in those fish. I really want those things to be well and truly dead before I consume them. Cook it!

Sea Lice
Sea lice (Lepeophtheirus salmonis) on fresh caught pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha)

Postcard from Alaska – At the Helm

The boat is going from sunrise to sunset every day. In Alaska during midsummer this makes for very long days indeed. Everyone gets a chance to man the helm, taking their turn at the wheel. Boat policy is two people on the bridge at all times, one at the wheel and the other just to keep watch, a second set of eyes for safety. No problem getting volunteers, the best view is from the bridge.

At The Helm
Deborah Cooper at the wheel of the Chrisara, with Joy keeping her company

Postcard from Alaska – Iceberg

Ice dots the water across the entry, large bergs lie beached near the shore stranded between tides. We pick are way carefully though the crowd, many of the chunks larger that our vessel. The bar across the entry to Tracy Arm is betrayed by a long line of icebergs grounded to reveal the shallow water beneath. Here the history of a thousand winters lies shattered about the landscape like broken glass.

Icebergs in the entrance to Tracy Arm, Alaska

Postcard from Alaska – Snyder Mercantile

A store from another time… A clapboard sided box just above the harbor. A small room with shelves crammed with everything you could need… Baking soda, potato chips, paper towels, beer and engine oil just over from fishing tackle and charcoal. The cash register is a 1920’s model ordered new from a catalog and shipped across a continent. The front window displays the work of local artists and a rack of postcards for the visitors that wander through in the summer. A hand written sign in the window warns of a bear seen in town a few nights previous. …A store from another time.

 Snyder Mercantile
Shopping at the Snyder Mercantile in Tenakee Springs, Alaska

Postcard from Alaska – USCG Anthony Petit

The U.S. Coast Guard is tasked with maintaining the many critical navigational aids throughout the waterways of Alaska. Tracy Arm is entered across a narrow gap in a large bar, probably on old glacial moraine across the mouth of the fjord. The channel is marked by two buoys, one had been missing for a few days, ripped from its mooring by the impressive tides that surge across the bar. The buoy was back in place when we arrived, replaced by the crew of the USCG Anthony Petit, a Coast Guard buoy tender.

Anthony Petit
The U.S. Coast Guard buoy tender Anthony Petit in Tracy Arm.