Sunday, May 30, 2010

Tea Leaves

As promised at about cocktail thirty I drove MP over to the Rippie Parlor to capitalize on our birthday hunch. She bought 55 rippies, Crazy 8's, Harbor Lights and some really cool looking round ones whose shape was better than the name. wasn't the first time in our lives we've mis-read the tea leaves. Out of 55 she hit for 18 so I say we won $18.00, she says we lost $37.00. I encourage her to re-invest the 18 because I figure that if we don't its not fulfilling our premonition. But MP's in charge and always being cautious with money she takes the 18 bucks and offers to buy breakfeast with it the next day, and she did. We had the 'Lucky Benny' (eggs benedict) at Buckets Sports Grill, it was great, all 1200 calories of it.
Saturday was just a great day for a fishing guide. It was sunny and in the 70's which made the river a little off color but their were few boats and I got to fish with my friends Chad and Dave as well as phase two of the Marci project. That guy on the right is my friend Chad Nyreen, his friend Dave there caught the fish. In my world the biggest compliment I can give is when I say somebody is steady, thats Chad. He's an E-6 at Elmendorf AFB and every year for his squadron Christmas Party I donate a trip for a raffle prize. I know Chad well enough to know he'd never be involved in something fishy but it was one of life's true coincidences that he won this years trip, mmmmmmm. He was going to bring his fiance April but her grandmother passed away so she flew to the 48 to be with family. They're getting married June 26th and as Chad told me about April I was stuck with knowing the life ends, a new life together begins...its the deal. The next pic is Dave fighting the 32 pounder we landed. It was cool, I take pics and Chad does the netting, this is a guides dream because if something goes wrong its NOT MY FAULT.

We had a great day, the company with the two Airmen and Mike and Marcy Swan was the best. I told Marci she was going fishing with me until she catches one and she's so much fun to be around I almost hope she doesn't, at least not too soon. AND, she brings a big ol bag of Mexican shrimp fishing with her ( they have a place in Puerto Penasco). AND, the shrimp is even peeled. You can sit in my boat anytime Marci. This pic Marci took of me doing what I do best, talking and laughing. Notice I'm wearing Mazatlans' most recognised trademark, Pacifico.

This morning I needed to get my bike ride in early as the Indy 500 starts at 8 am in Alaska. I happen to get home just as MP was walking Jet down to the river where we instantly notice something different. These two pics are hard to see it but there is a ribbon of thousands of Hooligan making their way upriver along the bank. I've seen them this thick many times and it never stops amazing me, the river is alive with them. The hooligan were called Candlefish in the day when they actually rendered them for lamp oil. They're a smelt type of fish and I think the scientific name is Eucholon. I'm embarrassed to say that unlike the salmon here I really don't know much about their biology. They obviously spawn here as they are always ripe but I don't know where or when. I really don't even know if they die after spawning like some anadromous fish so if any of you out there know these questions do me a favor and let me know.

In the first pic you can barely discern that the whole school is head to tail, for miles. If you click on it you can see the fish a bit better. I took the next pic from above and the dark ribbon you see along the shore is entirely fish. Mile 14 is one amazing place. Oh, some folks love the hooligan fried, I personally find them soft and mushy and am not very fond of them. But just to have such a remarkable resource in your own backyard is pretty cool. The birds are happy.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Today I got to fish with a wonderful couple from near Chicago named Jim and Elizabeth Tarantino. They stayed in the Campground last night next to the river in a spanking new 30 foot motorhome that they drove up from the factory in Iowa. One of the bigger RV rental places here routinely gives people 10 days and free miles to transport their new stock north. Pretty hot deal I'd say and a great way to see Alaska and Canada.

This morning there was still few boats on the river so we're in no hurry. Jim has bought a LamiGlass Alaska Anniversary commemorative rod and I rig it up for him. So by the time we get to Fall-in-Hole theres already 6 or 7 guide boats with lines in the water. I idle down below them and almost to HoneyMoon Cove we drop the lines in . Because I'm a bit late I make sure I give a good 200 feet or so between any boat and Liz asks me what to expect. I tell her the rod seems to fish best in the holder and generally she'll see the rod dip a bit and sometimes stand back up a second before the fish really gets it and its slams down....."JUST LIKE THAT !" The fish rolls on top real good and splashes announcing itself. I look upriver and even from 100 yards I can see guides eyes rolling around in their head. The fish runs, jumps once and Liz pulls him to the boat, we're on the board again. Liz's fishing day is over after only 3 minutes, it was still so dark that the the pic I took on board didn't turn out.
The rest of the day was highlighted by two things. The sunny warm weather and this collection of Eagles we saw at the head of Stewarts Island. The cottonwood they're sitting on used to be in a grove of 5 or so but the beavers being industrious like they are have knocked them down. This one tree remains because MP and I wrapped chicken wire around it 10 years ago. The Eagles love it.
Tomorrow is MP's 55th birthday, double nickels. Here at mile 14 we're not hyper superstitious but we do believe in the ebbs and flows of life, karma, momentum, kizmet...So we figure the stars are aligned for gambling tomorrow, after all theres just to many suggestions to ignore. She's 55, born in 55, the 5th child born in the 5th month. The highway to our house has a speed limit of 55 and the dirt road has a 5 mph limit and her I.Q. has been tested above 55. So its plain to us what we have to do....gamble. The only legal gaming in Alaska is charity pull tabs so tomorrow evening on our way to the Soldotna Inn for a lovers supper we'll stop at the Rippie Parlor and turn $55.00 into....let ya know later....Oh, in the pic notice she's playing 'Arctic Ice'. How cool eh?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Prairie Pool and Biking with Helga

When you get up at 4:30 every morning like we do here at Mile 14 you have alot of time for one of my favorite things, exercise. So saturday morning I was all conflicted over coffee on what to do that morning. I could stay on the couch and watch 'Gold Fever', its pretty chuckly stuff or I could go fishing, or bike riding, or even to the gym. But I'm a little tired of the gym so we decide to head for Birch Ridge and 9 holes of golf.

My friend Pat Cowan owns the golf course and through the years he has worked it into beautiful facility. We arrive at 8:30 and with nobody around we walk right in at tee em up. My first drive is straight and long, triggering the feeling every golfer gets, "maybe I better quit right now". The first green had the sprinklers going and timing the putt to miss a soaking was just the new kind of dimension I like. MP got a little wet. One of the course Marshall's came by and I told him about hurrying my putt and he asked if I knew the old 'golf tee trick' and even offered to show me how to stop a sprinkler. Now that's a nice guy but when we golf we don't sweat the small stuff.
This next pic is looking down the 5th fairway. Gorgeous is all I can say. The mountains look like they're 10 miles away. The 5th green plays down hill and theres a house maybe 50 feet behind the out of bounds. Well, being a gym rat I under estimate my own strength and hit my utility club with the ball coming to rest about 2 feet behind a new white Dodge Ram 1500. I decided to leave the ball.

This pic is of my partner putting on # 7. It was a tricky putt and I had a feeling she was mis- reading it. Sure enough she came up short having not figured on some extra ooomph to get over the water hose. I got a legitimate, no lost ball, no mulligan swing birdie on this hole. Honest.

Then this morning it was time for one of my favorites things. Biking through town while the city still sleeps, except for that 1/2 of the town that's going fishing of course. We get bundled up as the temp is just above freezing, I put my hood over my helmet but MP prefers a scarf that for some reason makes me think she looks like Helga, a German maid. So me and Helga are off to ride to Centennial Park and back. Its about 6 miles total is all, I can't be gone to long as it 'Bump Day' at the Indy 500.

MP had not seen the new 'Soldotna's Playground'. Its just completed and was erected over the course of a week with volunteer effort. If you're a kid or sometimes you think like one this place is super cool. It tells you alot about our community and now anchors Soldotna Creek Park. From the playground we access the RiverWalk and that's my favorite bike spot. They don't want bikes on it as in July you might kill a fish fevered red fisherman but seeings as its 7 a.m. I figure its alright. The RiverWalk right now is maybe 1/4 mile but I see it continuing through town and 50 years from now being something all cities would envy.

We ride on across the bridge and down to Centennial Park (which is another wonderful Soldotna feature) where I trade some fishing advice with a young guy for him taking this last picture. On our way back we stop at Ken's Alaska Tackle because I want to see if they have the same plug that Beth caught her fish on. Its nice to know somebody in town doesn't know me because the two girls working there were full of advice. " Are you going boat fishing?" and "we sell alot of these". I had some fun with it and asked the gal not to tell anybody what I was buying...she looked at me kind of puzzled. I couldn't leave without spending some money after that so I bought 2 Qwikfish lures....that are too big for 'shore fishing'. By now I can tell MP is getting a little tired, and tired of me like I sometimes see. So we peddle straight home......oh, I did stop to look at truck for sale and we had a nice breakfast watching Indy. My guy, Paul Tracy didn't make the race.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Is it? Could it be?....Really???

Tuesday, May 18th of the year 2010 was a huge day for me. Our friend Mike Swan bought a trip with me to celebrate his wife Marci's 39th birthday. Theres nothing more flattering for me than being picked by somebody who knows them all , so I really, really, really want to see Marci catch a King. Nope. Nadda. Mike and Marci along with a great father son team from Texas never have a bite. In my commercial days it was called a 'waterhaul'. But, we smiled, it didn't rain, we saw these and other moose, we settled some political problems and I even got a hug from Marci when we parted. Great day.

The next day I again fished with Robert and his son Cowen. They are real outdoorsmen and know that fishing is fickle. Its so early in the year and with the run just starting my experience tells me that when we fish hard like we will today good things happen.....but not today. Nadda.

So this morning I meet my new fishing friends Jim and Beth Roukema. I look at Beth and think to myself...she's got it, and I know one thing that I've joyously and sometimes painfully learned through the years, nothings forever. The next pic is Jim and Beth running the boat, notice thats theres not another boat in sight.

The morning is clear and cold but as we run downriver you can tell its going to be one of those days, sunny, fishy. I never really have a stringent game plan, I always kind of use my intuition and make it up as I go. So as we run into Fall-in-Hole I decide to keep going. Even though most of the fish that have been caught this year have been caught there I really don't want to fish around the 4 boats that are trolling it. I'm figuring to fish the holding water down river and if that doesn't work I follow the pattern that I have for years and find the incoming tide and follow it up. No worries. But we can't get a bite. Its 9 am by now and the left side of my brain says......."you &**$#@ idiot...why ain't you at Fall-in-Hole" ? So we run up there just in time to see two of the four boats catch a fish. Yikes. We fish there a while but I know you need to stick with what made you so I go back downriver and we're the only boat again , all alone I bet on the tide. Its way into the morning and I'm really enjoying Jim and Beth and they are so casual that I laughingly take two different colored Qwikfish into my hands and put them behind my back and tell Beth to pick one...She says left hand and its a chartreuse with silver. As she's reeling in to change lures I see it, pull down! I say "you've got him"...Beth thinks she's on the bottom and I figure she's a bit aggressive by nature because she instinctively jerks hard. Its hooked for sure. The fish continues going upriver and almost outruns the boat but finally we get in control and Beth lifts the rod as it runs off 100 feet of line. She's great, its the first King she's ever caught and she fights him with the rod (and not the reel) and we finally see it. The only way to explain it is they just pull them up from the bottom and the sun hits them just right its plain magic, everyone in the boat including me goes, (whooooooh.....thats a niiiiiiiiice fish)

It turned out to weigh exactly 40 pounds. A gorgeous creature and a very delicious creature. We fished a few more hours more but to catch another this time of year would use up alot of credits. It was a great day, in fact a great week. The trip ended. I'm happy, Beth and Jim are Happy but of all of us involved the happiest was probably the seagulls when I threw the first of THEIR season into the river.

I begged a fillet, fresh Kenai King Salmon tommorrow night, pass the chardonnay.........

Saturday, May 15, 2010


Have you ever had a fried clam meal that cost fifty dollars, five hours of hard work and a nice one inch slash on your index finger? We're having one tonight.

All outdoorsman know you can't try and justify the cost of your recreation by estimating the food value of what you harvest. Its ridiculous and nothing underlines that more than our right of spring razor clamming.....and they're really not even that good. But something drives MP and me to the beach and I've found theres alot of reasons to go besides the clams. Its usually cold, its certainly muddy and theres just something strange feeling about walking around staring at the mud in search of that perfect 'dimple' that signals the clam. But who wouldn't go clamming just to get a pic of their best friend like this? That my friends is one Alaskan women.

Naturally we go to Clam Gulch. I like to make things simple and even though theres lots of great clam beds at Cohoe or Ninilchik or Whiskey Gulch or even Deep Creek my intuition tells me that they didn't name it Clam Gulch for nothing. We drive exactly 2 miles south, my beach fishing partner in Mexico, Slah , would love this and thats what I'm thinking as we park right next to this waterfall. Now how cool is that? We change into our digging gear all the while listening to the snow melt and chorus of a real 30 foot waterfall. And the weirdest thing is that theres no people around.

Believe it or not, the first real money I ever made in Alaska was commercial Clam digging directly across the Inlet from where we are now. It was the 90 dollars that I made in the spring of 1972 that made me realize that Alaska and especially Clam digging was going to be tough. But that experience might not have made me any money, but it did turn me into....'super clammer'. I know how to do it, just ask me. So this pic on the right is a craftsman at work. Like alot of things you need to appreciate the subtleness of it all. I know it looks like I'm just digging a hole and I am...but, its a properly placed 35 yeared ( I just invented that word) hole. In the mud.
Today the clams were kind of small. I'm hoping they're a bit more tender that way. The last pic is our harvest, all 50 bucks worth. I guess most of the allure is just to simple...keep doing it, all of it, when you can, how you can,... especially while you can.

It all starts now. Although not alot of Kings have been caught theres been enough that it makes me optimistic for this first run. We've not really tried in earnest yet but several nice fish have come through the boat launch. So in the next few days we'll have pics of gorgeous King salmon, please come back.......

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sea Trials

As you can see from the USGS graph to the side there is plenty of water this spring in the Kenai River. The asterisk are the 40 year average. But every year people in town wait and watch for somebody to be the first to safely navigate up and down the lower river, that's usually me. So yesterday its time, me and Jet have to run from mile 14 to the sonar site at mile 8. I always do this first cruise alone, the boats light and Jet can't rat me out if I do something stupid and fetch up on a rock.

Theres 3 places where you have to be right on. The first is right below my house at Stewarts Island. Theres a nice little drop there as the river channels next to the island. I idle up 1/4 mile above it in the deep water below Big Eddy to get the boat perfectly trimmed and at 3/4 throttle I fly right through it....but I do feel the boat 'lift' a bit as the pressure from the boat pushes against the bottom. Its 2 1/2 feet deep. The next is only a short ways downriver. Its as Fall-in-Hole opens up next to the gravel bar I was walking on in a few posts back. Theres no real channel here so you use your experience to pick a line and commit to it, again, clean up on step. This is a spot that at low water you can look behind the boat if you have the courage and see that your props stirring the bottom and leaving a trail. Its small gravel here. I have no problem and zip on down river past the Pillars where our local Park Ranger is launching a Boat with a jet unit on it so I give him a big wave and pic the right line for the 3rd trouble spot. The river goes left and I skirt a rock right above RiverWood subdivision. Then I kind of arc the boat around the easily seen gravel bar above the Toilet Hole and at the very end I run right between 2 rocks that have showed me the deep water for 30 years now. The boat now breaks into the Eagle Rock area where the river changes from rock and gravel to tidal area mud. You can certainly hit bottom from here down but as its mud the pressure is can't really hurt the boat to bad. So I run past Beaver Creek to Mud Island then into the deep water at the Sonar site and throw out the anchor, pour some coffee and read the paper as I watch my rod with a QwikFish Lure on it dance. I've got our local call in show on the radio and they're talking about the oil spill, lessons learned in Alaska.

After fishing all of an hour Jet and I back track up the river. We stop and salvage a bit at several spots. Its a day that I only see one other boat, the Park Ranger with two Coast Guardsman in the jet boat doing training I suppose...even though they're jet equipped they'll learn the river the same way we all do, I call it the braille method.
Behind my house I have a fish hanging and cleaning station. to make it interesting I have a display of all my salvaged goodies. The first pic here is my pile of anchors, the holy grail for marine salvagers. Its amazing to me how many people can't tie a knot. These are generally found with no rope attached and I've found many, this year the count was 3. But the coolest thing I've ever salvaged is this Palm Tree. Yup, that's a real, used to be living Palm Tree. What it was doing in the Kenai River I have no idea but I like to think it was teleported back from Mexico with me. Its my own little piece of Mazatlan right here at Mile 14.

The last pic is what we find the most of , pliers and knives. Releasing fish can be a tricky deal and all of us have dropped their share of pliers in the river. But I finally have a nice pair of stainless pliers (that I found in the river) with a rope lanyard attached.

So with sea trials complete its time to get into the season. The World record King Salmon was caught here on May 17th.....I'm thinking we might not catch a 98 pounder but I wouldn't bet against us catching two 35 pounders.

Stay tuned and thanks for reading. We recently passed 5000 reads. Wow. As the season goes on I'll post about daily life on the Kenai, here at Mile 14.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

My Friend ROY

That guy holding that gorgeous Kenai River RainBow is my friend Roy Morris from Butte Montana, home of Evel Knievel and Truzzolino Tamales. Roy and I spent our Freshman year at the University of Montana just down the hall from each other in Corbin Hall. He was a Photography major and I was head of the recreation committee in our dormitory. I came to Alaska and we lost track of each other but as fishing fate would have it after 35 years we were reunited through the thing we both love....fishin is the mission. Roy is best friends with one of my best friends sisters. We had a heartbreak situation occur and through all the sadness I met Roy, 35 years older but the same guy. How cool. As you can see from the pic above Roy has a sharp sense of humor and an appreciative view of life. He's a joy to be around and I'm glad to call him my buddy.......The following story came across my mail today written by Roy. You'll enjoy it as I did. Its about all of us of course and tells you a bit about my amigo, Roy.

Above is another one of Roys catches....he says every fish counts as one.

John Story

So we had pulled into the bottom of meat hole mostly to get out of the wind under that high bank and willows. There were 3 boats of us pulled in there. Below Greg and me were a couple of guys in a rented drift boat. One old boy slowly gets out of the boat with his rod and wading staff. He looks so unstable I'm thinking he may go down. Now he's about a half way between his boat and mine, I'm drinking a cup of tea watching this all unfold. The gentleman plants the staff into the river and leans his right hip into it. He's in just over his ankles and real unsteady. He takes the rod and kind of lifts the tip and plunks a pile of weight upstream. Interesting. It's raining hard now, blowing, wet, cold. Could blow him over I think. Plunk, plunk, plunk.......... whammo. Rod tip up. He's got one on. His buddy is pretty much ignoring the scene so I go over and net it for him. He's pleasant enough about it but he didn't need help. I say, "You probably don't need my help with this net do you?" He says, "Not really but thanks anyway." "Well if you hook up with a 23 incher I'll come back, otherwise I'll leave you alone." The rig he's using is a lot like a steelhead rig. Three huge shot at the end with a couple of flies at about 6" and 10" off blood knots. He told me it was his "plunking outfit". I made my way back to my cup of tea, just settled back in and WHAMMO! He looks over at me, I look at him. He nods, "Could use a net now." It's a very nice rainbow. I take his photo with it and give him my card. If would like the photo drop me an email and I'll send it. Figured I'd never hear from him again. He looks at the card, comments about the Butte address. Do I know his sister? Yep. Will then might I know his niece? Her and her husband own Bugs and Bullets. Yep, I know Katie and Ray pretty good. He tells me he's been coming to the Horn for 30 years. Comes to Montana for a few weeks every year. Heading to the Dillon area this week. Him and his 9 buddies rented a house on the bluff this year. Just as well they're leaving soon because they pretty much drank up the 9 cases of wine they brought. Dang. I sure admire John. He schwacked several more fish there before we moved on. John has the deal dialed in. It's just cool to see some old boy out there schwackin' fish, havin' a good time. He gives me great hope for what our futures can be. Hope to see you all out there 25 years from now. Maybe we could rent the bluff house, schwack fish all day and drink up 9 cases of wine. Hope so.R
So many fish, so little time.