Friday, June 14, 2024

Fishing Tales from the Alaskan Highway

 

One thing I had totally forgot about since we were up here last time was the amount of daylight up here. Well, I did not forget about it, I just never thought about it. I had an “Oh, that’s right” moment when I woke up in the predawn light. I thought for sure it at least 6:20, then I looked at the clock….3:20am. Same when it was midnight. Although at midnight it is still much brighter. You can pretty much see unaided throughout the night. This has not been an issue for Barb and I, but Zoey is struggling with it a little bit as she thinks daylight means “wake up” time. But we shove her back under the covers and soon she is snoring again. 

Several of you asked if Barb’s fish from the last post was photoshopped at all. I assure you; it was not. First of all, do you really think if I was going to photoshop a photo it would be of Barb holding a huge fish? If anything, I would make the fish smaller! It was really that big! 

That said, I do have some exciting news I did catch a huge fish this week. Way huger than Barb’s! This thing practically covers my entire body. 

Now, some of you may wonder why I have a dazed look on my face it is because I am exhausted from fighting that monster fish! 

We left Muncho Lake with the intention of fishing several pullout areas on our way to our destination for the day: Watson Lake. All the pull-out areas were a bust except our last one, Smith River Falls. We had been there in ’16 and knew where to fish and what to fish with. 

There is a steep stairway down part of it, then it turns to a dirt path, again steep, but not too long. 

The spot we wanted to fish required us to forge a small section of the river, just above our knees. It was surprisingly not too cold. Not nearly as cold as the waters in Muncho.

 

Once we were on the other side and on a little island we started fishing. I caught fish on my first cast, and my second, and my third… Barb was catching fish as well. These were grayling. A totally different species than we were fishing yesterday. A big grayling will be about 18”. I think the biggest we caught was about 14”. 

You could not find a prettier place to fish, the waterfall in the background, the roar of the waterfall. 

Then Barb looked across the river at these tracks going up a bank and said; “I wonder who walked up there?” I looked over and said; “That would be grizzly tracks”. Kinda puts your senses on edge when you know there is a grizzly in the area! We fished there for 2 hours or so catching a couple dozen grayling. We did not keep any as we had plenty of lake trout left in the freezer.

 Then we carried on to Watson Lake to the infamous Sign Forest. If you have never heard of this before it is an area in Watson Lake where travelers from around the world stop and hang a sign. Usually with their name, year and where they are from. But not neccessarily. There were a lot of street signs, town signs, license plates, hats, you name it, it is probably hanging there. Thousands and thousands of signs. 

This year we brought a sign to hang! The hard part is finding an open space to hang your sign, but we did, and I set up trying to take a selfie of all four of us in front of the sign. With great difficulty. We were then rescued by this woman who, in broken English, offered to take our picture.

 

After taking our picture we learned that she was from Brazil and that she and her husband had motorcycled up here. 14,000km’s! Talk about an epic journey, and a sore butt! 

We spent the night, just outside of town in an abandoned gravel pit about ½ mile off the main road. There was one other vehicle there.

 

Then it was off to the big city of Whitehorse! A five-hour day where we saw 10 bear or so, two porcupines, buffalo, several sheep (with babies) and one coyote.




Arriving in Whitehorse we went directly to the brewery where we had a quick lunch in the parking lot before going into sample their brews. Well, Barb sampled their brews, I sampled their single malt whiskeys. 

After that it was off to the grocery store, Walmart, Canadian Tire and Save-on Foods. We could not find any DEF in town, everyone was out of stock. Luckily, I still have half a tank and an extra jug so we should be good, but I had to use one of my extra jugs that day and wanted to replace it.  There are not a lot of free overnight spots in Whitehorse. Most all the businesses have a three hour parking limit, but we did find a nice quiet pull out near the dam on the edge of town. With cell service, so that was a bonus!

Entering back into the U.S. from Canada was a little more interesting this time. We were over our limit on alcohol having just visited a Canadian liquor store. Did you know that Royal Crown (made in Canada) is cheaper up here than the U.S.? Especially when you figure in the exchange rate! I went to the border prepared to pay duty on the extra alcohol. 

When we approached the customs station, he started asking questions. One of the first was whether we were bringing any fruits and vegetables across with us. Barb had just gone to the grocery store in Whitehorse, so I said we had some vegetables. He skipped all the other questions and told us to pull over and someone would be right with us. Another officer came out and started going through our refrigerator pulling out all the vegetables Barb had just bought. The avocados were from Mexico. Can’t have those. The tomatoes were from Mexico. Can’t have those. Green onions? Does not matter where those are from, can’t have those. Eggs? They were from Toronto, those were okay but if it was last week, he would have taken them because Toronto eggs were no good last week. He then went on to say how many hundreds of thousands of birds are dying from avian flu and now beef are starting to get it and even humans. I wanted to ask him if it is really “avian” flu if people are getting it, but thought better of it.

 He looked at our dog food and said he should take it as it was not in its original packaging. Then he started pulling out all the chicken saying; “This is not good, you guys are not doing well”. He was able to determine that the chicken was from the U.S. and let us keep it but did take the jalapenos. He then gave us a pamphlet and said we could go, never even asking about any alcohol, ammo, tobacco or anything else! One of the weirdest crossings we have ever had. 

We then made our way into Skagway. We had reservations at the Garden City RV Park ($50/night) so we would be guaranteed to have a place to park and leave the girls. Skagway has got to be one of the most touristy towns we have been too. Absolutely beautiful driving in. You will not find a more scenic drive on during your entire trip up here. Both times we have come up, this has been our favorite drive. 

But once you get to town it goes downhill. Way too touristy for our liking. There were 4 cruise ships in town. Which takes this town of 1,200 to over 12,000. Everyone walking the streets. 

We went in and out of a couple of shops, but they are mostly the same with the same product at the same prices. Barb bought a Skagway ornament for the Christmas tree. We did go in one shop that had mammoth tusks for anywhere from $110,000- $238,000. We thought about picking up a couple but just did not know where we would display them. We then went to the fur store where we looked at a couple fo $10,000 fur coats. But they were on sale and a bargain at $7.500! We passed on those as well. Instead we went to Skagway Brewing for lunch. Barb had a flight, I had a beer and we split an appetizer basket of fries. Total $51.00. Typical tourist pricing. We then walked down the street and what do we see? Klondike Brewing! $17 later we walk out having shared a flight of rather nasty tasting beers. 

We decided that we had enough and were walking back to the RV Park when we saw a sign for Skagway Distilling! Well, how can we not go there and talk distilling with the master distiller? By now all the cruise passengers had returned to their ships so we were the only two in there and had a pleasant conversation with the distiller. Ends up they really do not distill here, but have neutral spirits shipped in in barrels that they then convert into vodkas and gins. The guy was really nice though. Barb and I split a $12 drink and headed back to the campground.

The next morning, we were lined up at the ferry terminal for our trip over to Haines. Barb went in to get our tickets, we were measured, and we waited. As we were waiting, I looked at our tickets. One adult, one SRC. What is SRC you ask? Well, that stands for senior citizen! I gave Barb crap out being sooo old! Hey, I have to do it while I can, right?

The fare was $190 or so, $50 more than when we went in '16. The ferry was over an hour late, but eventually we were headed on board and on our way to Haines. 


It is only 20 or so miles across the water, several hours if you drive around and take the long way. 
The girls had to stay in the camper for the hour-long trip, but before we knew it, we were pulling up in Haines. 
Haines is a town that we could certainly see ourselves living in in another life. So beautiful! The town is not nearly as touristy as Skagway and has a more down to earth feel to it. We walked this town as well, visiting both the brewery and distillery. When we were leaving the distillery, we saw this truck parked out front. I am pretty sure Barb wanted to jump in with him and head off to Barbie Land, but I managed to wrangle her back into our truck and head on our way. 

When we were here in '16 we fished for Dolly Varden in the river, Barb out fished me on that outing. Now it was my turn to exact my revenge! Results? 12-1 Barb. To be fair, I was using a flyrod and she was using a spinning rod with a spoon. Much easier to catch fish with her method. 

Here's the thing about Barb, when she out fishes me, everyone knows it. Every time she catches a fish, she shouts out "6 to 0!", "7-0!", you get the idea. Not only that she does a little happy dance out if the middle of the river. I am sure on lookers think she is disturbed and wonder why I just don't push her over and let the current carry her away. I mean seriously, act like you've been there before. Did I dance around Smith River Falls shouting to the grizzly bears that I out fished my wife? No, I acted like an adult, humble, mature, like a civilized human being. Not like some lunatic who is touched in the head. 

At the end of the day, it was 12-0. There is no way I was going to leave that river skunked so I grabbed her spinning reel, handed her my flyrod and started casting. Barb headed for the truck, and I stayed an extra 5 minutes finally catching one. I looked around to show her, but she was nowhere in sight. Getting back to the truck she starts doing the senior citizen shuffle singing "12-0, 12-0". I told her I caught one and she says, "Prove it, I never saw it". Rather than argue with her, I just put the rods in the camper, jumped in the truck and headed back to the campground. Momma always told me, never argue with a crazy woman. 

Saturday, June 8, 2024

Moose-Mania!


Our generation, those of us 60+ or so, are the first to live the first half of their lives without cell phones and the second half with. Our kids will never understand what it was like not to have a cell phone always at hand, never live a life without text or messaging. Try to explain to them party lines and four-digit phone numbers and they look at you like you are from another planet!

 Yet, we to have succumbed to the digital era. As we traveled and camped throughout some of the remotest parts of British Columbia this week, we found ourselves without cell service. I also found myself checking my phone several times a day to see if we had service. Sad, but true. I missed my lifeline to the outside world. As we were camped at Inga Lake for two rainy days, I could not read blogs, I could not publish any comments that someone may have left on our blog, I could not check my voicemail and did not receive any text messages. 

Gone are the days when you do not know what is going on in the world; politically, nationally, or even with friends or family. Sometimes I long for those simpler days. What do they say?…Ignorance is bliss…. But, wait, we were living them now! No news, no drama, just enjoying nature and loving life. 

Then in the middle of one rainy day while reading a book, my phone started going crazy. Ding! Ding! Ding! A half a dozen text messages came through. One from my bro-friend Dave in Alberta, a couple from Chris at the farm, and a couple from neighbor Jim back home. I quickly grabbed my phone and was able to respond to a few of them before the signal was lost. Then I was again in no-cellville. 

We eventually moved on from that campground and got spotty cell service, then lost it again. Along the way we stopped and fished a couple of remote rivers and streams without success. We did see some beautiful scenery however!

Yes, there is still snow on the ground in some places. Many of the larger rivers are still running fast due to the snowmelt. I do not think that is helping the fishing situation at all. At one spot Barb was fishing just down river from me and I noticed her rod was bent like crazy! I looked like she had the monster of all fish on, but luckily for me, it was just a large log. Being the wonderful husband I am, I watched (and photographed) as she took off her shoes and socks, rolled up her pant and stepped into the ice-cold water to unsnag her lure. 

We made our way to Fort Nelson. A week ago, the entire town had been evacuated, population 3,400. Now, the fires are out, everyone has returned, and you would not know anything even happened, except the scorched landscape and a few burnt out dwellings and cars. (Diesel was $2.019/liter by the way) It could have been a lot worse. Thank God for Mother Nature and Wildland Firefighters. I don’t think there is a more physically strenuous job on the planet. I know I could not do it.

Speaking of diesel, since we crossed over into Canada we have seen prices anywhere from $1.46 (4.02 USD/gallon after conversion) to as high as $2.49 ($6.87 USD/gallon) 

We passed not one, by two of Barb’s scheduled overnight spots ending up at Tetsa Lake campground about 3:00 in the afternoon and spent the night near the highway. The next day, after stopping and fishing a few more spots, with no luck, we kept on a truck’in. 

We ended up at the Toad River Campground. It was not a planned stop, but when I saw they had Wi-Fi (I know!) and I needed to post a blog we decided to stop and spend the night. Let me tell you, if you ever pass by this way you HAVE to stay here! Talk about a cool campground. We parked our rig (site #14) and looked out over the lake to see not one, not two, not three, but 4 moose feeding out in the lake!

Barb did laundry, I worked on the blog, and Zoey watched moose out the window.  

Some were as close as 200 yards (182.88 meters) from the camper. 
At one point, one moose was walking through the water to another moose. 
When they got close together, one moose pinned its ears back. I have seen that look before from Barb, so I knew what was going to happen next. I just kept my finger on the shutter button and captured this series of pictures. 






Yep, pretty much the same result as me (I am on the right), I get whacked on the head and sent on my way. A little while later, this young bull came out for a photo op. 
So far, we have seen 6 moose, 3 bears and two stone sheep. The bears were along the side of the road but we did get this picture at one place we fished. 
And there was a lot of bear sign in that area as well. Looks like they were digging for grubs. The Stone Sheep were walking right along the road. 
Just before Toad River was Stone Mountain. No trees, nothing, just stone.....

We managed to get one hike in when we hiked Red Rock Canyon. We hiked 2 miles up the canyon before turning around and heading back to the truck.



Arriving at Muncho Lake, we were anxious to get fishing. Thus far, any fishing luck we’ve had has been in lakes. The rivers and creeks have skunked us. We quickly got our rods ready, chairs set up, lines in the water. Then we read our books, enjoyed the scenery and waited.

In 2016 I was the only one to catch a fish here and was hoping for a repeat to bring me to a 3-0 lead. Not insurmountable, but a commanding lead, nonetheless. Barb was the first one to get a bite as her line went taunt and the fish started tugging. But it was gone before Barb could set the hook. A few minutes later a fish was back tugging on her line, but again she did not get a hook set. I reeled my line in to make sure I still had bait on the hook and casted it back out. Our lines were just a few yards apart, surely, the next fish could not resist the tasty morsel at the end line. But again, it was Barb’s line the fish went for. This time the hook set was successful, and the fight was on! 

I ran to the camper to get the net was Barb fought the fish. She only had 8lb test line on her rod meaning any fish over 8lbs would surely break her line unless so fought it properly. The water is so clear here that you can see deep into the depths, and it was not long before we saw she had a lake trout on, maybe about 5lbs.

 

The fish would come up to the surface, then dive back down, repeating this 3-4 times, never getting close enough to shore for me to net it. I had taken my shoes and socks off as I would need to wade out to net it if she got it close enough to shore, 3 more times it came up to the surface, I would wade out to my knees each time hoping it would come close enough, but each time it just turned tail and headed for the depths. Let me tell you, this water was cold! Just a week ago when our friends Steve and Debbie were here, they said there was ice on it! I could only stand in it for 30 seconds at a time before needed to go to shore and warm my toes. 

Then, Barb’s line ceased to move at all apparently stuck around a log or rock, it was not moving. I took her rod in an attempt to get it free from whatever was holding it back, putting a little more force on the line than I was really comfortable with when all of a sudden the fish started moving again. I do not know if the line was really stuck, or if the fish had just settled on the bottom and became stubborn. Either way, the fight was still on! 

I gave the rod back to Barb, grabbed the net and continued to wait. By now, a good 5 minutes had passed, and we had gathered a crowd of 3 from the neighboring campsites. Barb played the fish like a pro as the fish continued to take more line out and Barb slowly gained ground on it. At one point, she was able to get it within feet of the net before it turned and swam back to the depths again. It was at this point I realized we had a problem. Remember that scene in Jaws where Captain Quint turned to the crew and said, “We’re going to need a bigger boat”? I turned to Barb and said, “We’re going to need a bigger net.” Apparently, the clear water was so deceiving that it made the fish look smaller than it really was. There was no way this fish was going to fit into the net!

I then started to get nervous as so many thoughts went through my head. “What if I screw the netting up and the fish gets off?”. “Should I purposely knock it off, so she does not catch the fish?” “Would I ever get breakfast in bed again?”. The next time she got it up near shore I waded in, managed to get the front half of the fish in the net, grab the tail with my other had and walk it to shore. Everyone was in awe, not of my netting skills, while they were superb, it was the size of the fish everyone was in awe of. This thing was a slob!  

Measuring 37” and weighing over 20lb’s this fish is by far the biggest lake trout either of us have caught. 

We had it fileted and one the grill within 20 minutes and were soon eating fresh trout lakeside. I fileted into ¼ sections; for a couple of different reasons. One, the whole filet would not fit onto the grill, or our freezer and two, it allowed us to share with our neighbors! Barb went over to the neighbor to our left and asked if he wanted some. He was an Albertan from Calgary. He in turn asked if we wanted a couple of beers. She declined, explaining to him that we do not drink. Ha! No, she actually came back with two beers as we were totally out! 

We shared another ¼ with our neighbors to the right, a young couple in their 30’s. He (Cory) is from eastern Pennsylvania, and she (Dagmar) is originally from Minnesota, just a few miles from where I grew up! We must have talked to them for over 3 hours as we ate and continued to fish. We had a lot in common with them.  They have been on the road fulltime for 11 months now and are loving life. At the end of the evening, we exchanged information with a promise to meet up again on the Kenai to do some more fishing. We made some new friends on the road! 

 The next morning, I awoke with the realization that there was no way I was going to catch the biggest fish on this trip, unless maybe there is a toad halibut in my future. On the bright side, I did get breakfast in bed this morning, so life is indeed good!

A huge thank you to Cory and Dagmar for letting us steal their internet this morning!