July 2, 2018

Epic Fishing Trip 1 -- AAR

I'd like to say I'm sorry for no blogging activity the past week, but, well, I'm NOT sorry.

Not at all.

See, I spent the week fishing.

But not just fishing.  No, I was fishing with three of my closest friends, paramedics from back in my EMS days.

And I wasn't just fishing with friends from back in my EMS days.  No, I was fishing with friends from my EMS days in Soldotna, Alaska.

I mentioned before that I started putting this trip together back in September or so, and it finally came to fruition.  Saturday morning, I kicked loose at 0300, got a shower and coffee, let the dogs out, gave them a final ear scritching, and hit the road to DEN.  Checked in my bags with my sidearm, no problems at all (that will be important later) and got on my 0700 flight, DEN-SEA.  Uneventful flight, as the best ones always are, and had just enough time in Seattle to make the connecting flight and grab a breakfast burrito in the concourse.  The SEA-ANC leg was 3 hours of boredom, and I've somehow lost the ability to sleep on a plane, but I landed soon enough and it was time for vacation to start.

(Pictures and links after the break...)

Eric had gotten there two days before, on Thursday, and I called him.  He took an Uber ride to ANC, picked me up, and we went to get the rental vehicle, then headed to Midnight Sun Brewing Company for a pint and some more substantial food.  I had an Ancho Beef Dip sandwich, which is basically a French Dip with a few ancho chilies added in for heat.  Quite wonderful, and it washed down with a Sockeye Red IPA just fine, thank you.

We hung out for a while, catching up over the years, and finally picked up both Brian and Kelly.   By now, it was pushing 8:45 pm, so we ducked into a sports pub called "The Peanut Farm" for more food, a few beers (I demurred on the repeat beers, as I was driving), and eventually called it a night.  Eric had arranged an Air BnB for us for Saturday night, so despite it being bright and sunny at 10:30 pm, we headed for the bunks.

Anchorage, 10:30 pm, 23 June

Sunday morning found us packing up, grabbing your standard breakfast fare, and headed to Soldotna.  If you've never driven it, the Seward Highway from Anchorage south along Turnagain Arm is quite breathtaking.

Turnagain Arm, Seward Highway

We stopped at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center on the way, checked out their critters, and saw a baby bison that had apparently been born that morning.  Along with a black bear, a brown bear, some elk, caribou, an eagle, a couple wolves, and so on and so forth, it was quite neat.

Finally arriving in Soldotna, we got to our cabin which would serve as base camp for the week, and after unloading the truck we went to St. Elias Brewing for dinner.  The pizza was really good, and despite being flat, my pint of Puddle Jumper Pale Ale was pleasant as well.  We turned in early, since we had to be in Anchor Point early the next morning.

We got to Anchor Point, met our charter captain, and loaded up into the boat.  This was a unique experience for me... Every other time I've been on a boat, we got on at a dock or pier.  This time, however, we climbed up into the boat while it was still on the trailer in the parking lot, then a large tractor would tow the trailer out into the surf.  When you were done fishing, you called ahead on the marine radio, the tractor would get your trailer back into the water, and the boat captain will drive the boat up onto the trailer.  Quite an impressive operation, doubly so given the variance in tide levels during the day.  Here's a video showing the operation.

Anchor Point Boat Launch

We went out into the Cook Inlet and started fishing for halibut.  The water was less than smooth, with swells into the 3 foot range, which made for some rather queasy stomachs.  I maintained my focus on the horizon, put a slight bend into my knees, and rode it out quite well, but Eric wasn't as fortunate and started getting sea sick.  A few bouts of dry heaves had him feeling quite miserable.  That said, I do have to give him credit: He hooked onto a nice 20-ish pound halibut and kept reeling it in, despite retching overboard at the same time.   That was his second of the day, so he was done, and I landed one as well, while Kelly and Brian got skunked.

The next day, we had a second halibut charter, since we were not allowed to harvest any King Salmon (see previous post) from the Kenai, and this trip was more productive than Monday's.  For starters, the water and weather were better.  Calm, flat water, smooth as a baby's butt, and our guide put us on a nice spot.  Eric and I both tagged out in short order (on a guide boat, such as ours, you're allowed one halibut over 28 inches and one halibut under 28 inches per day.)  Kelly got his two fairly soon as well, and then it was just Brian.  He kept the faith, never got impatient, and finally got his two as well, giving us a total of 8 halibut for the day.

Ninikchik Charters, good halibut charter

On Wednesday, we had a different guide take us up the Kenai River for a little catch-and-release trophy trout fishing.  Again, the wind was whipping up, and combined with the current of the river, it made for some tricky casting.  In my head, I'm feeling the wind, knowing that if I cast that way, I'll get nice and close to the fallen tree... Then the current takes the boat the OTHER WAY and I'm reeling in my line to cast again.

Rinse, repeat.

Eric snagged a nice 26 inch Rainbow, but other than that, we didn't get anything worth writing about.  After a few hours, we took it in, and headed to Kenai River Brewing Company, where I found the food and drinks to be excellent.  The Beer Mac and Cheese is HIGHLY recommended.  Be sure to add bacon for an extra dollar.

Thursday, we went after sockeye salmon on a self-guided trip.  Our outfitter provided us some rods and reels and flies, so we drove up the hill to the convergence of the Kenai and Russian rivers.  There we took a ferry boat across the river, and started casting.  This was what the locals call "Combat Fishing", as there are people EVERYWHERE.  You stand in the shallows, right off the bank, cast about 10-15 of line out up river, then let it float down, then roll-cast it back up again.  We weren't having much luck at first -- I think Kelly snagged one sockeye, but the rest of us had nothing -- and finally decided to head up river a bit.  We found a spot that would fit the four of us, and to my right was a nice lady fishing with her nephew.  She was mugging 'em, and soon tagged out.  She continued a bit of catch and release, waiting on him to get his third fish (you're allowed 3 sockeye salmon per day), and soon somehow they BOTH snagged the same fish.  I set my pole down, grabbed the net, and helped them land the fish.  In appreciation, she pulled me aside, gave me some of her hand-tied flies, and showed me her secret spot: "Stand right here, left foot against this rock, cast to those waves, and let the fly sink..."

Fair enough, I thought.  After all, she's catching fish and I am not.  So.... cast... drift... roll-cast back up river... drift... FISH ON!

Pretty soon, Eric, Kelly, and Brian all tagged out, while I was sitting on two fish.  They graciously and patiently waited while I continued to try for my bag limit, but alas it was not to be.  That said, we landed 11 nice sockeye salmon in about 90 minutes, so not much room to complain.

Stringer of Sockeye salmon

We wrapped it up, headed back to camp, and our outfitter promptly filleted and vacuum sealed our salmon, then packed it up with the halibut he'd processed earlier that week.  All said and done, we checked in right about 100 pounds of fish total, or roughly 25 pounds per person.  Put the fish into a cooler, packed on some ice, and began the drive back to Anchorage.  Once we got back to the Air BnB, I grabbed some asparagus and potatoes from the grocery, baked some of the salmon, and we feasted on fish that had been swimming just 6 hours prior.

Dinner. It didn't suck.

Finally, after another night of sleep, it was time to pack up and head out.  Kelly had the first flight, so we dropped him off at ANC, then went to 49th State Brewing for a pint and a meet up with an old dear friend of mine from my Phoenix days.  She and her husband live in the Anchorage area, and I have not seen her in over 13 years.  It was very pleasant, her husband is a nice, honest, hard working man who busts his butt fishing and hunting to put food in the freezer (and she's an amazing cook who does wonders with that meat), and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing them both.

Took Brian to the airport, returned the rental truck, and the rental agency gave me a ride back to the Air BnB.  Saturday morning, I caught an Uber ride to the airport, and an uneventful two leg trip of ANC-SEA-DEN had me on the ground by 3pm.  Collected my bag and my box of fish, drove home, and was met by two dogs that were rather happy to see me.

It was a vacation like none other, and one I desperately needed to recharge my batteries and refresh my spirit.

1 comment:

Old NFO said...

Outstanding! And an excellent AAR too! :-)