Sunday, June 30, 2024

There's Something Fishy Going on in Alaska!

Salmon, one of the most interesting and adaptable of all of God’s creations. One of a handful of fish that migrates from fresh water to salt water and back again. Did you know that after being born in fresh water, they head to the ocean and will travel thousands of miles in their 3–5-year lifespan to only return to their birthplace to spawn and die? Did you know that once they return to fresh water they do not eat? Their only focus is heading to their birthplace and spawning.

So how does one catch salmon on a fishing line if they do not eat? That is a story for later in the blog. For now, let’s talk about earlier in the week……

We had a couple of down, chill days the first part of the week waiting for the salmon fishing to get better. And “chill” it was, in the 40’s in the morning and upper 60’s later in the day. Man, we love days like these! Except when the wind picks up, then she gets a little too chilly for even us!

 We walked the Beluga Slough Trail with the girls one morning. Came across this young moose munching on the grasses. They do not seem bothered by humans at all.


Walked the beach a bit, enjoying the scenery.


Then we went for a tour and tasting at Bear Creek Winery. They have several scheduled tour times throughout the week. You just show up, no appointment, and they are free! Barb and I were the only ones at our time slot, so we basically got a personal tour. They have all fruit wines here (no grapes) so it was a lot like our winery back in South Dakota. We talked fermenting and wine making for about an hour. The similarities between wine making and distilling…well, they are basically the same thing with some slight differences. We had a lot to talk about. Very interesting.


Then we drove down the road for a wine tasting. $10 for 8 tastings, but you get the $10 back if you buy a bottle of wine. We bought two. The server said “I think you can bring 5 back home with you”. I said: “They will not last that long”.


From there, it was off to the one and only Harvest Host in Homer; Grace Ridge Brewing Company. Barb had a flight, I had a pint, before we settled in for the night.


The next day, it was halibut fishing day again! Rich had called earlier in the day asking if we wanted to go out the next day. Why, yes, yes we do! Arriving at the boat launch, we found Bob and Becky also waiting for our chariot to take us fishing. It was a perfect, calm day on the water. After launching we headed out about 25 miles to The Deep. We had great luck there last time, hopefully it will hold true again!

Bob and Becky
We had 3 rods out; one for Bob, one for Becky and one for Barb and I to share. Barb, over her fear of catching a big ‘but, or perhaps daring me to write a blog and dealing with the consequences, was a woman possessed on the rod. She took the first fish, the second fish, and many more. In fact, she has the bruise on her stomach where the rod butt was jammed into her belly while she reeled to prove it! I reeled in a couple myself, but I think it is safe to say, we are probably tied in the who caught the most halibut category.


She did take the lead in another category though when she caught “Codzilla” The biggest cod that ever terrorized the waters of Alaska. Well, maybe not that big, but a very nice cod. There is a little controversy, however. I say that “Cod” does not count as it was never a targeted species. She, on the other hand, says she is ahead on yet another species of fish. We’ll agree to disagree on that one.


Susan even got in on the action reeling in a few. Rich, he is content watching the smiles on other peoples faces as they reel in fish. He kept saying “My foot hurts, you reel in it”. I am still trying to figure out how a sore foot prevents one from reeling in fish. A mystery I have still yet to solve.

No idea what these waterbirds were
We were joined, or I should say, we joined Royce who was out there in a boat of his own with his sister and two of her friends.


Before we knew it, we had our 12 fish limit. Again, no big ‘buts but lots of great eaters!


Since it was still somewhat early we boated over to the remote village of Soldovia, accessible only by boat or air. We were going to walk the town, but it was so busy, there was no room at the docks.

Instead, we took a leisurely drive back to Homer where we cleaned the fish before heading to Rich and Susan’s to package them and spend the night in their driveway. We now have the 50lbs we wanted to ship some back home. We are shipping it to Kevin’s house, hopefully there were will a few fillets there for us when we return!


Project Halibut complete, we set our sights on salmon. But first, speaking of “Projects”. Operation PD is in full force back in South Dakota. Apparently, the first prairie dog called in reinforcements and there is an all out blitzkrieg going on between Neighbor Jim and the enemy. It is still too early to tell, but I did receive this picture and coded message from Jim. Not sure exactly what it means as I am still trying to break Jim’s code, as I am sure, so are the prairie dogs! As you can see from the picture above his message, he is consulting old war movies for advised tactics.


Now, to the salmon! How does one catch a salmon that does not eat? It’s called flossing. A method where you throw your line in the river let it float downstream for a bit and pull it back in. Salmon swim upriver their mouths are open. The idea is to put your fishing line in front of the salmon in such a way that the salmon swims into the line and it goes in its mouth. As you pull it back in the salmon gets hooked in the mouth. The problem is, is that you cannot see the salmon, so it is like shooting in the dark trying to hit a moving target. Now this video I posted last week of Barb demonstrating how to floss might make more sense. 

Skill? Some. There is technique. How much weight, how much line, where you throw you line, when you pull it in….

There are literally thousands, sometime tens of thousands of salmon in the water and eventually, if you are lucky, you will hook one. BUT it has to be hooked in the mouth. Tail, side or anywhere other than the mouth the salmon has to be released.

 You also need to watch the tide charts and fish counts.  They actually have sonar that counts the number of fish coming into the river from the ocean. The migration is the heaviest during incoming tides increasing your chances for success. You can fish for hours catching nothing, then all of a sudden, a run comes through, and it is mayhem! The fish counts tell you how many fish entered this river that day, so hopefully you can target your fishing days on the biggest fish count days. Confused yet? So are we!

 So, we hit the Kasilof River. The counts had been good. We stood along the banks with the dozens of other fisher-people trying to floss a few wide-mouthed salmon. Each cast, or drift, takes about 8-10 seconds, making for about 6-7 casts a minute, anywhere from 360-500 casts per hour. For hour, after hour, after hour. You are bound to snag one of the thousands of fish swimming up the river, right? We hooked rocks, we hooked ourselves, we hooked each other, we hooked other fisherman, we hooked the carcass of a filleted salmon that someone upriver threw in the stream, everything but a d@mn salmon. Until finally, Fish on! You are so shocked by this point you don’t know what to do as this salmon speeds upriver or down river.

I hooked and landed our first salmon of the year!


I was ecstatic. Not only did I hook it, it was in the mouth and we landed it! I was up in the salmon category 1-0! The smugness on my face lasted exactly 30 minutes when Barb landed not one, but two fish in short order. We went in for lunch about 2pm with 3 fish.


By now we had found a nice little sandbar that was out of the way and secluded with 10-12 other fisherman on it. Here is the other thing that is cool about salmon fishing. You meet some really interesting people. Some people will talk while they are casting, others just focus on the task at hand. Our group was very talkative. Two of the guys were from Switzerland, the rest of the guys were a group from Lakeview Oregon. Each time we went out it was always the same group of people and over the course of three days we got to know each other pretty well. If one hooked a fish, the rest of us stopped fishing, cheered them on and netted it or got out of the way of the battle.


We went back out at 8:30pm in anticipation of the next high tide. Same group of guys, same chatter. It was not long before I had one on and was trying to drag it up onto the sand bar to land it. One of the old boys from Oregon was trying to net it. Try after try he missed this fish. Man, that thing was elusive! All his kids were giving him crap for his horrible netting skills before he eventually got it in the net! One for Jim! A few minutes later I hooked another, and then another! We had a blast, a group of guys (and Barb) having the love of fishing in common, chatting it up.  We returned home just before midnight with my 3 fish. 4-2 go Team Jim!


The next morning Barb woke up with a cold. I guess all those long hours standing in the cold river caught up with her. But she went out anyway! We were back out on the river at 9am awaiting the 10:40 high tide. It was soooo slow. Same group of people, no one was catching anything. Not us, or anyone around us. Some were wondering if the commercial netters were in front of the mouth of the river. That does happen and they do allow it.

 We went back to the camper fishless, read and napped in anticipation of the 11:30pm high tide. I headed out at 8:30pm, alone, to meet my friends on our now familiar sandbar. This was to be our last outing for a few days. When I arrived at the sandbar, just the two Swiss guys were there. They stopped fishing and we chatted for about 15 minutes, me trying to understand their broken English, them trying to understand me, but we seemed to convey most everything we were trying to say to each other.  Soon we see the Oregon boys trudging out to the sandbar and we decided it was time to get to work and set about casting. Over the next 3 hours several fish were landed. One by the oldest guy in the group. He had to be in his mid 70’s. Everyone cheered for him when it was netted as he spends more time just sitting in his chair than fishing. Me? I landed one more too before saying goodnight to these people who I knew I would never see again but will always have the memory of and that unspoken bond of sharing a river with good people. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Halibut Frenzy!

Previously on Jim and Barb’s Adventures…….

 We were making our way to Homer Alaska to Halibut fish with our friends Rich and Susan who have a place in Ninilchik. Some of you may remember them from this 2016 post where we serendipitously met them while walking the harbor looking at boats. They are both really great people and we have kept in touch on and off over the past 8 years.

 They had asked us if we wanted to go fishing with them on Thursday so we headed there way on Wednesday telling them we would meet them at the launch. We spent the night outside of Homer at a gravel pull out. When we woke up, I had a craving for a donut. Do you know what you get when you google the words: “Homer Donuts”? The thought really did not cross my mind but made total sense as the results popped in……


Mmmm, donuts!

 Refining my search, I was able to find donuts at the Safeway in town. At the appointed time Rich and Susan arrived at the launch along with their friends Bob and Becky who were also joining us.  

Away we went! The water was really calm thankfully, as I have been known to get a little queasy on heavy chop.


On the way out we kept passing these rafts of sea otters. I took a few pictures of them through the boat window, but Rich said it he stopped, they would all dive. Keeping going, and they just ignore you.


Motored about 30 minutes getting to Rich’s halibut honey hole and dropped the rods using ½ a herring and a 20oz weight to get it down the 100’. It was not long before I was reeling up the first fish! Not huge, but a nice eater size fish. Or ‘but as Rich called them. Over the next few hours, we took turns reeling in fish, all about the same size. Rich and Susan just sat back and watched as Bob, Becky, Barb and I reeled the fish. They encouraged us by yelling “Reel that ‘but in” or words to that effect. Let me tell you, these things can get tiring to reel in! Sometimes just reeling that 20oz weight up 100’ is tiring, never mind a 10-20lb halibut fighting you all the way up. These things can get over 200lbs with 50-100lb’ers being fairly common. I was getting worn out just reeling in these little guys, I could not imagine a 100lb’er!


While waiting for fish to bite, we talked and just soaked in the scenery. We noticed this sea otter off in the distance kind of standing up in the water looking at us. It would swim a bit closer and stand up again, doing it over and over until it is just a few yards from the boat!


Barb and I were pretty even on both size and number of fish when I had an epiphany. I turned to her and said, “If you get the biggest one, my next blog post is going to be titled “Barb’s Big ‘But”.” She said “You wouldn’t dare: “Oh, yes I would” I replied. “Do and you’re a dead man.” Funny thing, ever since I made that statement, she did not want to reel any more fish in. Apparently, she was afraid. Very afraid. As she knows me, and know I am just dumb enough to do something like that. Many of you already know that, remembering my post titled “My Wife is a Cow”. She did reel in a few more when we knew they were smaller ones, but she did not anything to do with a big fish!


So, I guess maybe I should have titled this post “Barb’s not so big 'but”. I never caught the big one either, but we did end up with 8 really nice eaters and a couple of cod.

After cleaning the fish and the boat we headed back to Rich and Susan’s. I had forgotten just how beautiful their place is. Words cannot describe it. They are on a bluff a couple of hundred feet above the water with a view of miles and miles in each direction. What a gift from God.


Eagles land right on their lawn.


When was the last time you were looking down and took a picture of the top of an eagle?


Their house is perfect for the location with windows to take advantage of the views.


Oh, and their shed! They write on the walls throughout the year as a remembrance of how the fishing was and tales. Kind of like an ongoing living diary over the years. 

What an awesome place. We spent the night, in fact, two nights right there in their driveway enjoying that view.


The next day, Rich was taking a couple of his buddies, Royce and Seth, out, telling me he had room for one more if I wanted to come. Barb told me to go, and she and Susan would hang out together. This time we went 25 miles out to a place called “The Deep”. Arriving, Rich starts dropping the lines and within 10 seconds, had one on! He hands the rod to me, and I started cranking. I look over at Royce and Seth and they both have fish on as well. We tripled up in less than a minute!

 The action was like that most of the day. Fish, after fish, after fish. We could have limited out within an hour, we kept a few of the nicer ones but threw back most of them saving room for a few monsters if we hooked into one.

 As we were driving to another spot when I see this whale breach the water coming almost all the way out. Then it does it again. Of course, before I can grab my camera. It was a pod of Orcas. I did get some shots of them as they surfaced though.


We never did get the big ‘but, but we did limit out on decent fish!


After that we all went back to Rich and Susan’s and had a big fish fry. We were joined my Bob and Becky. Do you think I thought of taking one picture? Nope. 

Barb said she had a great day as well, going into Ninilchik and touring the town. Ninilchik is really an old Russian village with a really cool church and interesting cemetery. It was overgrown with flowers and grass with tiny paths.

The next day, we thought we’d get out of Rich and Susan’s hair for a few days. We will be here for a few weeks and too much of a good thing would spoil us. We headed off up to the Kasilof River to see if we could catch a few salmon. We parked the truck in a crowded parking lot and headed off to try a spot that Royce had told us about. It was a little further out and maybe a little less crowded. We were walking the trail, came around a corner and what do I see standing in the brush not 10 feet from us? A moose! Apparently, this moose is used to people as it just looked over its shoulder as we walked by.


The scenery was perfect, the fishing not so much. A few people were picking some up here and there, but we did not. I would say maybe 1 out of 10 fisher-people caught a fish.

June 21st marked the summer solstice, the longest day of sunlight for the year. Hard to tell here when it is always sunny! Here is what I found on the sunrise/sunset charts for the area...... Pretty crazy!

We fished that area two days with no luck on the salmon yet. It is still early and will happen. Just need to put our time in. If you are keeping track (and believe me I am), I am ahead on the rainbow trout, grayling and halibut, Barb is ahead on the dolly varden and of course the lake trout. Who can forget that lake trout! So, that makes me ahead? Or does it make her ahead because of that monster lake trout? I am not even going to ask the audience as I know it is rigged!

We are in the Homer area for a week or two, we will continue try for salmon, continue to hook up with Rich and Susan and continue to try top each other in the halibut and salmon categories. Who knows, maybe Barb will get a big 'but afterall!