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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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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Postcard from Alaska – Trolling

Trolling
The ship's electronic chart after trolling the Shark Hole in Salisbury Sound for salmon all morning
I like fishing… In moderation.

Sometimes the order of the day is fishing, fishing and more fishing. No problem, Deb loves fishing! Go have fun dear, enjoy some more fishing. I’ll just sit up here and drive.

Drive back and forth across the same spot over and over again, as slow as the boat will go. So slow the vessel barely answers the helm, taking her own sweet time to turn. It is a peaceful job of driving, as long as the little charter boats stay out of my way. I am driving a boat five times their size that just keeps moving with minimal regard to whatever I do to the wheel.

I just sit back watch the bald eagles, a humpback whale threading through the swarm of charter boats, and watch the log on the GPS display slowly fill in with the record of repeated passes…

Postcard from Alaska – Grilled Salmon and Asparagus

A cooler full of salmon, halibut and crab. What to do? We will be eating a lot of fish for the next few months.

Time to try some new recipes… The salmon tacos were pretty good, using pan fried pink salmon. The best so far was the king salmon, mesquite grilled with olive oil and Parmesan cheese on top. Add some grilled asparagus on the side for a meal. Need to thank Tony for that recipe.

Grilled salmon and asparagus
Grilled salmon and asparagus

Postcard from Hawaii – Alaskan Halibut

One of the dividends of an Alaskan cruise is the fish we brought back. Processed, vacuum packed and frozen while on the boat, the fish was packed into a cooler and checked for the flight back to Hawai’i. It is a bit nerve-wracking, waiting for the cooler to appear on the baggage carousel in Kona. Appear it did, all of the contents still frozen solid as we loaded it into the freezer at home.

Thirty five pounds of coho salmon, halibut and picked dungeness crab. Light on the salmon, I gave much of it to my brother. Heavy on the halibut, on orders from my wife. We did well on crab, I pulled up full traps several times and we picked crab for hours on the back deck as we cruised along. Pick half a crab… eat a leg! It was a tasty way to go.

Last week I noted the market had frozen wild-caught dungeness crab, at $26 a pound. Halibut was a bit more expensive at Costco. Figure there was about $900 worth of seafood in that cooler. We will be eating well…

Pan Seared Halibut
Pan seared halibut in garlic, onion and pepper, over brown rice.

Postcard from Alaska – Trolling

Trolling
The ship's electronic chart after trolling the Shark Hole in Salisbury Sound for salmon all morning
I like fishing… In moderation.

Sometimes the order of the day is fishing, fishing and more fishing. No problem, Deb loves fishing! Go have fun dear, enjoy some more fishing. I’ll just sit up here and drive.

Drive back and forth across the same spot over and over again, as slow as the boat will go. So slow the vessel barely answers the helm, taking her own sweet time to turn. It is a peaceful job of driving, as long as the little charter boats stay out of my way. I am driving a boat five times their size that just keeps moving with minimal regard to whatever I do to the wheel.

I just sit back watch the bald eagles, a humpback whale threading through the swarm of charter boats, and watch the log on the GPS display slowly fill in with the record of repeated passes…

The Tailhook Incident

The pole twitches, then jumps… Fish On! This was the first time this season we had rigged for salmon and dropped the outriggers and lines, setup for trolling along the south coast of Admiralty Island. We did not have to wait long for results.

It was clear this was a large fish, the pull on the line was substantial. Deb strained with the reel, cranking it as hard as she dared. But unlike the usual coho salmon it did not fight and jump. We were worried it was a pink salmon, not as desirable a catch, these fish usually come in docilely to be netted. The far more desirable silver or coho salmon rarely give up without a fight and require real work to reel in. But when we got the first clear look at the fish it was indeed a silver.

A Silver Salmon
Deb happy to display her catch, first of our season, a very nice fish indeed
When we pulled the salmon from the net the reason odd behavior became clear… The hook was in the tail.

Somehow Deb had snagged the fish just a few inches from the base of the tail. There is a reason for this, Coho salmon often hit their prey to stun it before turning to consume it. This tactic works well for herring, not so well for a double hooked leader.

This salmon was the first we have caught this season, another fact that made my wife a very happy fisherwoman. I am afraid she had become infected with that dread disease, an addiction to lures and poles and the thrill of catching those wily fish. Not that I can complain too much about the results. However the fish was caught, this was a very nice salmon, making an excellent dinner that evening.

The jokes began almost instantly, comments about her unusual techniques to catch a fish. All in good sport, the pursuit is full of fish tales and jokes. Deb caught more than a few beautiful coho over the next few days, but we have not let her forget the Tailhook Incident.

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 – Salmon Run 2

Standing in the rain watching the fish. If you do not move for a few moments the salmon seem to ignore you and begin crowding the shore in an attempt to get up the creek. The mass of fish fills the mouth of the stream as each attempts to take the barrier of the first cascade under the highway bridge.

Those that have already spawned, or for whom the effort proved too much litter the gravel bar beyond where we stand, dead fish at the end of their life cycle become the nourishment that will enable other life to flourish. The nutrients of the deep ocean delivered to a gravel bar in Alaska to feed ravens, eagles, bears and more.

Salmon Run
Deb watching a salmon run at Sheep Creek south of Juneau, Alaska

Postcard from Alaska – Salmon Run

In a scene lifted from innumerable nature films, a small creek jammed with fish. So many salmon fill the stream that it seems there is more fish than water. Large fish, some up to three feet long, scales and fins turning a dull green as they lose the silvery sheen of life. To see this spectacle in person lends an immediacy and an awe of nature that strikes deep in one’s thoughts. Here life completes the cycle, salmon coming to spawn after years at sea. Returning to the same stream that gave them birth.

Evolution is a powerful force, driven by the irresistible instinct to spawn the next generation, to reproduce so that the species might survive, Even if it means dying in the process. The species goes on in the eggs and sperm deposited in the stream bed.

Salmon Run
A heavy salmon run jams at the mouth of Sheep Creek south of Juneau, Alaska