The Bears of Pavlof

After the aborted shore mission at Iyoukeen Cove, we were not done for the day, there would be more bears.

A grizzly bear fishing at Pavlof Harbor
A grizzly bear fishing at Pavlof Harbor
We knew there was yet another opportunity to see bears, under somewhat safer conditions, just around the corner in Freshwater Bay. Pavlof Harbor is a small cove off the bay that offers a small river that tumbles over a low waterfalls right at tideline. If there are fish in the river, there will be bears fishing here. As this is still Chichagof Island, they will be grizzly bears, there are no black bears here.

As we entered Pavlof harbor we were surprised as a float plane came overhead and landed along the northern shore. The plane quickly beached a few hundred yards north of where the river enters the cove and disgorged a group of passengers, the plane deparing as soon as the passengers were off. While we set about anchoring the Quest in the cove, they got a briefing from their guide and slowly walked along the shoreline trail to the river.

In binoculars we could see at least two bears at the river. It looked like these folks were getting what they paid for, a chance to see and photograph grizzlies fishing in the river. Deciding to give the other group a head start we broke out the chow and had grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch.

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Inside Passage… One Last Time

OK, you can stop asking for the new Inside Passage video… It is done!

It has bears! Whales! Sea lions! Grizzly bears! Aurora! Lots of drone footage! More bears!

Actually the video came together pretty well. I already had a piece of music picked out, that saved a great deal of trouble. Nearly four weeks on the water meant a great deal of photographic material to work with. As usual the Inside Passage provided plenty of photographic opportunity, particularly the first week when is seemed like even the wildlife was performing on cue.

And there were lots of bears…

Halibut Fishing

The boat is anchored several miles from the nearest land in the middle of Sumner Strait. Here a series of reefs and shoals provide habitat for many creatures, including our target… Halibut.

A Fish
A 100lb halibut is not a small fish
Conditions are perfect, rather odd on this large body of water. The sea is a sheet of rippled glass reflecting a few clouds. Bright sunlight warms the day. This is not exactly the bitter wind, waves, and rain that comes to mind when Alaskan fishing is mentioned.

A few hundred yards north a pair of sea otters keep a wary eye on us, noisily eating something lacy and bright orange. Along the shoreline south a humpback is breaching, the white splashes visible miles away.

This is halibut fishing. Pick a likely spot, anchor the boat, drop lines to the bottom, and wait. In the meantime you can simply enjoy the day, listening to the spouts of whales passing by.

As for the halibut? One modest fish is in the cooler, the others remain elusive. Not that anyone is too worried. The day is nice enough to enjoy any excuse to be out on the water.

First Fish

Among the tribes of the coastal northwest there is a ceremony that surrounds the first fish of the season. These ceremonies might vary from tribe to tribe, from family to family, but every tribe had such a ceremony.

Black Bear Fishing
A black bear (Ursus americanus) fishing at the Anan Wildlife Observatory

Life once depended on the yearly return of salmon to the rivers and streams each summer. For bears, eagles, and humans the annual bounty of salmon provided the nourishment that would see them through the long winter. The forest itself benefits from the nutrients carried from distant seas into the trees where the salmon would spawn and die.

Upon catching the first salmon of the season the tribe will stop and celebrate. They celebrate the life of the fish, they celebrate the cycles of the natural world, they celebrate their connection with nature. Some protocols insist that the first fish be released, to continue upriver to spawn, to ensure the salmon continue to return each summer.

That one idea is the critical bit, our connection with nature. Any fisherman understands that he takes from the natural world. A good fisherman stops and considers what he takes. He takes only what he needs to feed his family. This is the entire point of the first fish ceremony, it serves to educate the community in the act of taking, to limit what you take to what the environment can provide.

I grew up in a hunting and fishing family, where a considerable portion of our food came from what my father caught or shot. Be it elk, deer, ducks, razor clams, or smelt, so many of my childhood memories center around the capture, preparation and storage of food… Chopping, packaging and freezing an elk was a serious amount of labor for the entire family.

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Nordic Quest 2014

As is my habit, I have produced a video summary of this summer’s voyage in the Nordic Quest. Take a few of the best photos, a little video, a snippet of timelapse, a decent tune, and mix well…

Nordic Quest 2014 from Andrew Cooper on Vimeo

Having done this more than a few times now it is getting harder to be creative. Still there are always unique shots that come back from any voyage, such as the mother grizzly and cubs. There is also a sequence I had always wanted to try, a timelapse of the huge Alaskan tide change. This time I had a chance to shoot it, and had some success.

Nordic Voyage

Ten days on the boat out of Juneau, our annual family trip fishing in Alaska is complete. This summer it was an all family affair… My mother and father, my brother and his wife, and their grandson Andre. Add Deb and myself for a total of seven aboard the Nordic Quest for ten days of fishing and exploring. The plan was to head south of Juneau, down Stephen’s Passage for the Frederick Sound area.

First stop was Taku Harbor for the night with the following day spent attempting to fish salmon in Stephen’s Passage. A pretty day, but no fish. The only luck we had was a single crab in one of the pots left overnight in Taku.

Dawes Glacier
The towering wall of ice that is Dawes Glacier in Endicott Arm
On to Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier. The weather was not great for visiting the ice, but we did arrive at low tide, the best time to see calving. We were rewarded by the sight of several ice-falls as the water level fell and the face of the glacier crumbled.

An afternoon spend fishing Halibut was rewarding as well, plenty of fish landed along with one hundred pound specimen caught by Andre. A halibut that big can not be gaffed and simply lifted into the cooler. Instead I harpooned the fish off the swim deck. My first harpoon shot was a bit off, hitting low, a second was much better, right through the spine behind the gills. Good this too, the fish promptly broke the steel leader. Two harpoon lines attached insured this fish was headed for the freezer.

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