Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Our Most Unbelievable Day in Alaska (so far)

It started out like any other day, we woke up looked outside trying to remember where we were. Some days require a little more early morning processing than others but I quickly remember we were in Homer. Little did we know at the time that we were going to be involved in two unbelievable events on that day. We had to wake up earlier than usual as we had an 8:00 appointment with our buddy John and his friend Henry. “John” is the same John that we visited in Sequim Washington some weeks ago. We received a call from him a couple days earlier and said he was in Denali, headed to Homer for the weekend and wanted to know where we were. We just so happened to be in Kasilof about 45 miles north of Homer trying our luck on the red salmon in the Kasilof River! We made plans to touch base in a couple days and try to get together for lunch or something.
We had arrived in Kasilof with high expectations of hitting the salmon run just right. The reports we received in Soldotna indicated that the run was strong with over 8,000 fish hitting the river in the past few days. The first thing we did was to check out a couple boondocking spots Barb had noted on her travel spreadsheet.  Located down Tustumena Lake Road just outside of Kasilof we found numerous boondocking spots that would fit small to medium sized rigs if you don’t mind a few miles of gravel. With a few campsite options in mind we headed to the Crooked Creek State Rec Area to see that the day use lot ($5/day) and campground ($15/night) about ¾ full as we walked down to the river. The banks for the river were lined with both fishermen and carcasses of fileted salmon that had been caught in the last few days. We ran back to the camper, got all of our gear ready and hit the river! In the next 3 hours we saw 3 fish landed by the fishermen around us and a lot of talk about: “You should have been here yesterday!” How can that many fish move through that fast? Well they did...... But as Dave and Sharon commented on our last blog “There's just something about standing in the middle of river, and it doesn't really matter if there is "fish on" or you are just a part of the rapids, that soothes and calms the soul."

We paid the $15 and ended up staying the night right there as we wanted to try again later that night and the next morning. A couple more hours of fishing netted the same result and we decided to pack it up and head to Homer to see if we could catch up with John! Along the way we stopped by the small town of Ninilchik to check it out. Very interesting little town.
Eagle on the post, ship in the background
This is how they get boats in and out of the water

Arriving in Homer we secured a site at Hornaday campground ($15/night small/medium rigs only) which is up on the hill overlooking the Cook Inlet. We chose this campsite over a few others on The Spit as it had a spectacular view and the internet connection was a little better and Barb had some work to do.

Our Hornaday site

The Homer Spit
After setting up we connected with John and made arrangements to get together the next day after he returned from a fishing charter. The next morning we headed to The Spit to walk the marina. We love walking the docks in marinas to look at the different boats. New, old, big small, commercial and private, you name it they had it here. This marina is also home to The Time Bandit but unfortunately it was not in port when we were in the area. We also talked to a few charters along the docks to see about going out fishing. It seems like most of them were $300-$350 per person for the all-day halibut/king salmon combo package.

John returned from his charter about 6:00pm. He caught about 8 halibut (kept 2) and a nice king. This is also when we met his friend Henry from Seattle. He has been friends with John and his wife Judith for many years and is an absolute riot! Witty, funny, and the two of them together is like watching a modern day Laurel and Hardy. Barb and I were laughing so much our faces hurt! We had dinner at a Thai place in town during which Henry said “Want to tour a Coast Guard boat tomorrow?” “Sure!” we say. Henry goes on to say that his neighbor is the mother of the captain of one of the Coast Guard ships in harbor who just returned from 6 weeks at sea and he is going to call him tomorrow to get a tour. Barb and I are thinking: Wait, you are going to call the captain of a ship out of the blue and ask him to give us a guided tour of his boat when he has just returned from 6 weeks at sea? Ya right, good luck with that!

At 8:00am we are standing out front of the secured area in front of the ship when Henry makes the call. After hanging up the phone Henry turns to us and says “We’re in, he will be right down!” (Unbelievable event #1)
Captain Passic was absolutely awesome and spent an hour touring us around the entire 225’ of the Hickory Buoy Tender. Their primary responsibility is maintenance on all the buoys in his assigned area which extends from Homer, down to Dutch Harbor and the Aleutian Islands. Secondary responsibilities include search and rescue as well as law enforcement. We saw the control room, engine room, living quarters, mess, the deck you name it. It was an awesome and incredible personal tour!
Barb, John, Captain Passic and Henry

The Control Room

The bow and boom

A weather buoy that was anchored in 13,000 feet of water

The galley
Would you believe this thing carries 92,000 gallons of fuel and has several culinary trained chefs? It was an awesome tour and an unbelievable experience.

After the tour, we said goodbye to John and Henry and headed to the marina to walk the last few docks we had missed the day before. Along the way I noticed a truck with Minnesota plates launching a beautiful Hewe’s Craft boat so we walked up and started talking to them. Ends up Rich and Susan were from Apple Valley and live up here 3 months out of the year. We were telling them how much we liked their boat and Rich says “What are you doing the rest of the day, want to go fishing?” I was so stunned that I don’t remember what I said but Barb later told me I said “Hell ya!” (This is obviously unbelievable event #2)

Within the next few minutes we had stuffed Daisy in the camper, grabbed some snacks, water,  camera and jackets and we were on the water! Rich and Susan are a great couple and this is not the first time they have picked up strangers on the dock (I know, right?). They said their kids think they are nuts but they have had some of the greatest days meeting new people and taking them fishing….and a great day we did have!

This island was full of birds!
Captain Rich and Susan

Neither Barb nor I had been Halibut fishing before. Rich drove about 12 miles out into the inlet, set anchor and within minutes I was reeling up my first halibut! The next two hours were fish after fish, as quickly as you could get the bait to the bottom they were hitting it! We were having a blast! These fish can  get up to over 400#'s but most are well under 100#'s or even 30. Most were in the 5# range which was fine for Rich and Susan as they just wanted one or two for dinner.
The Halibut set up

My very first Halibut!

Barb reeling on in!
But then I set the hook on one and it just started spooling the drag and I knew I had something! After several arm burning minutes I got this beast near the surface only to have it dive down deep again. Finally we got it to the surface again where Rich gaffed it and heaved it over the side. At 40#’s, this is by far the biggest fish I have ever caught!

My biggest fish ever!
After a few more smaller ones (called Chickens) I set the hook on another one that did not budge when I set it. I tried handing the reel to Barb but when it started spooling line out she wanted nothing to do with it! Again it took several minutes to get this thing to the top, another 40#’er!

We decided we had enough fish and went to see if we could find some whales as we had seen some spouting off in the distance. We got close to a few but let me tell you, it is harder than you think to get pictures of them. You only have seconds to see them, get the camera on them, zoom, focus and snap!

A Puffin with a mouthful of something

We headed back to the harbor, took the boat out of the water and went to the cleaning tables. Our two big ones were twice as big as anyone else's at the table. Rich quickly explained how to filet them  and headed off to clean the boat. I cleaned the two small ones when I was approached by a French tourist telling me that he was a French chef and can he clean one of my big fish. Heck ya, I will take all the help I can get! He grabbed a filet knife and went to town on the two remaining fish saying that he loves to work with Halibut but never gets to work with ones this big. After he was done I cut him off about a 4# chunk and he was happy as could be!
Rich and I with the two big ones!

The French guy helping out to my left. (I just noticed all the seagulls in the background on our camper!
Rich said, follow us back to our house we will cook one of these smaller ones up, vacuum seal the others and you can spend the night in our driveway. So that is exactly what we did!
They have an incredible place right on the bluff of the inlet with views of several volcanos.

Susan made more than a dozen of these stepping stones in their yard

Our spot for the night
We ended up with over 40#’s of fish that they said they did not want (they can catch it whenever they want) and offered to freeze and store it for us until we got back from Kodiak.  We continued to drink beer and talk until about 11:30pm before we called it a night thus ending our “Our Most Unbelievable Day in Alaska (so far)!” I don’t know if or how that could ever be topped but we are looking forward to trying!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Fishing Reds on the Russian River!

Leaving Anchorage we headed south on Seward Highway, let me tell you, this is one of the windiest road we have been on in a while. If you dare to stop and get out of your vehicle, hang onto your hat!
One of our “must do’s” in this area was to stop at the Double Musky Inn in Girdwood. Not cheap by any means but we decided early on that this was going to be one of our “splurge meals”. We pulled up at 4:05 to a line of people outside the door. Evidently we had timed it right as they opened at 4:30.

I got the crab stuffed halibut while Barb opted for the prime rib. Along with a couple of beers and a crème brulee for desert, we walked out $130 lighter. It was good but I doubt we will be back.
After topping off our fresh water at the Tesorro, we headed down the road about 10 miles and found a nice quiet spot on a dead end road which used to be the old highway.

Next up was Hope Alaska…. Heard of it many times and was looking forward to seeing it. In the end, there was not much to see at all. In fact I don’t think we even took a picture. We did however find some really good boondocking spots out on Palmer Creek/Resurrection Road.

We had heard about “combat fishing” on the Russian River and frankly we wanted nothing to do with it. We did, however, want to fish the Russian River. We arrived at the Russian River Campground outside Sterling and pulled up to the gate. Totally full they said with 11 people on the waiting list. They did however, let us drive through and said we could park for 30 minutes in one of their fishing parking lots to check out the river.
They have two parking lots for fisherman which you can park in for $11/12 hours. The Grayling lot is the last parking down and we found a spot and walked down to the river to check it out. There were fishermen up and down the river but not too bad. We saw one or two people catch a salmon. Then we walked down further and Holy Crap! There were fishermen pretty much elbow to elbow for a ¼ mile! We watched the chaos for about 20 minutes and talked to several fishermen who said this is nothing and that it is much crazier when the salmon are really running!

Well we had to give it a try so we headed back up to the gate, paid our $11 and returned to the parking lot to get ready. Our pass allowed us to stay until midnight and we were hoping to use all of that! After getting the rods and reels ready we headed down to the river and found a nice quiet spot upstream to get a feel for what fishing the river was like. There were a few fishermen in our area but not many. Of the few we did see, it seemed like most of them had pistols attached to their hips. This is a heavily bear populated area and it is nothing to see bears fishing the same stretch of river you are. Luckily for us, nothing like that happened while we were there.
After getting a feel for the river we headed downstream to see what all the crazies were doing. Next thing we knew we were right amongst them! It was not horrible and although you got tangled up with your neighbor once it a while, everyone was friendly and there to have fun. Barb and I each caught a couple, one of which we kept for dinner. Even if you are not a fisherperson, I would recommend the park. They have boardwalks right along the river so you can walk along and watch the fishermen, eagles and perhaps a bear or two.
Barb in one of the lesser crowded areas

That is only a fraction of the people you see in the background
The next day we were undecided whether we should return to the combat fishing of the Russian or move on. As much as we like fishing we had had enough of the group fishing activities for a few days and moved on to Soldotna. This town was much larger than we expected with almost everything you are looking for (including good Wi-Fi and cell service!) and if they don’t have it, you can find it a few miles down the road at Kenai where they have a Home Depot and Walmart. (Diesel $2.65)
We wanted to see if there were any more relaxed fishing opportunities in this area so we headed to Sportsman’s Warehouse to get the scoop. What ended up happening was we spent $250 on a new fly rod for Barb. She had been using a baitcasting rod the last few days and it was just too heavy for all day fishing. We also found out that the salmon are not running in the area yet but if we wanted to head down to Kasilof a few miles down the road we should find some action.

We wanted to spend a few days in the Soldotna/Kenai area so we put fishing off for a couple days. We spent day 1 doing laundry, walking the boardwalks along the Kenai River and having a brew at the Kenai River Brewing Company. Fred Meyer allows RV camping for 3 days, has a dump station and fresh water. They actually come out and write down license numbers so you don't overstay your welcome. This is a great idea to prevent people from abusing this and setting up their home in their parking lot.


I guess he looks a little angry

They even provide fish cleaning stations!

Or Daisy cleaning stations......
After a long walk, there is nothing better than a cold brew to cool you down!

Day two we spent 5 miles down the road in Kenai. The Walmart here allows overnight camping as well.

While in Kenai we toured the town, it seems smaller than Soldotna but really spread out. It seems like the town stretched for 5 miles or more. We walked along the beach which was unlike any beach we have walked before. The beaches were sandy but there were no seashells whatsoever, just small rocks along the waters edge. Not sure if this is because this is the Cook Inlet and not actually the ocean or if there is some other reason.

Daisy found a rock to play with

The grates hurt poor Daisy's feet

Saw this on the side of a bar and had to take a picture!

Next up was a stop at the Kassik's Brew Stop outside about 9 miles out of Kenai, This is a very small brewery with some very tasty beers! Barb and I had a flight of all 10 of their beers on tap and for the first time every we liked all of them. We typically don't like dark stout beers but even their darkest beer the Smoked Porter was uniquely good. This is a must stop if you are in the area!

On the way back to Soldotna we were going somewhat close to Alaskan Berries a local winery that offered free tastings so we thought, "Why not!". They have some very interesting wines made out of some unique berries; Gooseberry, Currant, Haskap, Strawberries and Rhubarb to name a few. Even their driest wine was fruity and tasted more like a dessert wine. In the end we decided that we really did not care for fruit wines but we did walk away with some delicious syrup!

A few posts ago I mentioned that our son Forrest and his family had hit the road and were now fulltiming and hinted that our daughter Jessica had big news of their own. They were thinking about starting to fulltime this year and get a job as a traveling nurse. With two little ones in tow they decided to hold off on this adventure and bought a mining claim up in Idaho instead! With luck they are going to strike it rich and become our retirement plan!
The claim is in a remote area of Idaho and comes with it's own camping spot.

Shane, Dylan and Kendall looking for nuggets!
Tomorrow we continue our journey to Homer with a stop first in Kasilof to try out Barb's new fly rod and see if we can hook onto a few more salmon!