Sunday, June 27, 2010

Everybody loves a Challenge

That's what this last week was here at Mile 14, a challenge. That little pic at the right here was what we saw every day on the weather forecast. Some mornings at 4 am as I prepped the boat it was only 42 to 45 degrees, and raining. But what made the rain extra doublea special this week is that it was helped by a nice steady wind. Combine that with slower than average fishing and the week could be described as what I call 'a character builder'. I told MP just yesterday as I was warming up that I hope summer comes this year on a weekend so I can enjoy it. We did catch quite a few fish but alot of them were small like this one Katlin caught, its a little petite but didn't keep her from smiling real good. After all, this might be the only place in the world a salmon like that is considered small.

The next couple of pics were the highlight of the week. Jarod Davis there is Dan Beavers grandson from Great Falls Montana. Dan and his brother Temple are friends of my brothers and escaped Montana for a few weeks to show Jarod the Last Frontier. Jarod is one cool kid. They've had their 5th wheeler in our campground all week and once I got Jarod using the shrimp bait for rainbows he's been catching them pretty good. The other day I came up river just in time to see him release about a 6 or 7 pounder. Thats cool. The 3 of them caught lots of trout this week at mile 14...lots.

Jarod is first to the boat on Friday morning and I ask him if he's feeling the qwan. He tell s me "Jeff, I'm gonna catch a big one". So me and him are feeling the vibe and I figure I better start with a spanking new K-16 Kwikfish lure, its gold with a kind of rainbow head. We load
Temple and Dan up and downriver we go hoping that I can find the remnants of the 4 am high tide. Sure enough theres still some salt water at Eagle Rock and strangely enough not another boat in sight. At 6 am sharp we run out the lures, 2 Kwikfish and one spin-glo with eggs. I'm just settling in when Jarods rod goes off, its that perfect hard pull down that jerks the
salmon to the surface when he sets the hook. Its on and its on hard. This fish is obviously what we're after, it makes several long runs and when we finally get ready to net it surprises us with one last burst of 40 yards. Jarod fights him perfectly and after 15 minutes and 1/2 mile of river she's in the boat. Beautiful, a 44 pound female shiney fresh, she has that electric purple sheen to her back that I'm always so impressed with. Wow, huh Jarod? Tuesday morning they're fishing with me again and I wouldn't be bit surprised to see him catch a bigger one...I'll break out a new lure for sure.

Last night we went out to some of our oldest and dearest friends daughters wedding. Neil and Connie Arthur and us have shared everything from poverty on since 1977. Their daughter Janey married Chad Moore the grandson of an old homestead family here. I had a brain fart and forgot my camera. Yikes. The setting was gorgeous on the banks of the Moose River and Neil delivered the wedding party in his restored 1976 Ford 150 that he and Connie came to Alaska in.

So I messed up and didn't get any pics of the wedding. BUT, I'm making it up to you with this pic of the lilacs we came across on this mornings bike the rain. This is a friend of Sams parents house, the Dalkovskis on Kobuk street. MP and I had to agree that they're just about as beautiful as it can get.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Lessons to Guide by

After a strange early June things are back to normal here at Mile 14. So as I was prepping my gear for the days fishing on Saturday a young guide I'd never met tied his boat up next to me and in the course of an hour asked me a few questions, like how much time do I spend preparing. I told him an hour and a half every day and told him of the 5 'P' principle...proper preparation prevents poor performance. I really think I've guided more people than just about anybody on the Kenai River and I doubt if any of the guides read my blog but these hard learned lessons are what I'd teach if asked. 1. Simple, don't let this happen. Always check your tide book. It also looks good when you refer to written material.

2. Never pass the restroom without asking if anybody would like to stop.

3. Mix business with pleasure. In this crazy business of guiding it works great. Especially for you.

4. Don't get big headed over out smarting a fish...after all their brains are the size of pin head.

5. 100% effort. Always. Its the only way you can feel good about yourself in this business.

6. Don't ration bait. If you're low on salmon eggs use them even more. Fresh eggs=a bite=a landed salmon=mores salmon eggs....simple.

7. When a King salmon spits the hook, breaks the line, saws off on the prop, tangles with another boat or breaks the rod its no body's 'fault'. That's the allure, they win sometimes.

8. Its a blood a sport, catching fish is #1. But...the other parts are pretty darn cool, like this caribou.

9. Furnish Rain gear. There's so much you can't control in this business that you'd better take care of the things you can. Like peoples comfort.

10. There's no 'I' in team. That's what you are out fishing. Always say 'we' caught this or that, 'we' had a bad day......'we' ain't giving up....

11. If you're a democrat admit it, it'll liven up the conversation.

12. Don't tell jokes.

13. The word 'client' is waaaaay to formal. You're not a lawyer.

14. Your boat is just a tool. Keep it clean , comfortable and serviceable. Anything more than that is a waste of time.

15. Never hurry. This is a biggy.

16. Humpies are Salmon too. Who wouldn't be as happy as my friend Howard Brown with a beauty like that?

17. Never take a guy fishing who has a chest freezer in the back of his truck.

17. Be healthy and stay hydrated.

18. Some days when its cold and rainy and your mood begins to sour just remember you could be running a shovel instead of a boat right now. That makes for an instant smile on me.

Please come back to Mile 14. This next week I'm going to walk you all through a day on the Kenai, start to finish....

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What the heck was that ?

Will Rogers said "just be thankful you don't get all the government you pay for". That's what I'm feeling now with the announcement from ADF+G that the river is open to keeping fish and its business as usual here at mile 14...Well , sort of business as usual, alot of plans were altered, trips and fun lost and anxiety and mistrust in the department created. I could go on and on but I won't, I just want to go fishing and starting again Thursday thats what I'm doing. Its catch and keep and the river has that energy we all love again.

This weekend was the 20th annual Kenai River Festival sponsored by the Kenai Watershed Forum which I was a Board member of and lately a semi consultant. The Forum is a non-profit started in conjunction with the Nature Conservatory 25 years ago. They are a non political group and I like to think of them as the 'conscious' of the Kenai. They are science orientated having been involved with ground water studies, hydrocarbon studies, culvert replacement (for fish passage) and a myriad of issues. But maybe the biggest and most important function of the forum is education. For sustaining the rivers future vitality it has to be generational and thats what the Festival is all big and small and the future of the Kenai River and the lifestyles it supports.

The first pic is MP of course running the booth for The Friends of the Library. She's on their Board and they are in the process of spearheading a 3 million dollar addition to the Soldotna Library. The next pic is of the Bandstand, how many music venues have you seen with a view like that eh? Gorgeous. This year the Forum joined with KDLL our public radio station and sponsored ' Rockin on the River' concert, all day music...just my thing. That guy playing the Martin HD-35 is Joe Ray Skrha a fixture around these parts. He and I played music together 30 years ago at the first Kenai River clean-up event and he's still doing it.

The next Pic I printed big because its soooo cool. The folks from the Alaska Raptor Center were there to educate people about the birds that depend so much on a healthy Eco system. I'd bet not alot of folks have been up close like this to a Snowy Owl, this guy behaved like he new he was the star of the show. They also had a Falcon and in the past Bald Eagles. Its funny, up close the Eagles are not nearly as big as you think when we see them soaring overhead every day. They're all feathers and weigh at the most 15 pounds
It was a great weekend, like most Festivals we had all the food. Bratwurst with grilled onions, homemade Kettle Corn and one of the local politicians was giving away some of the best chocolate chip cookies I've ever had. The last pic is of the Waterhed Forum staff and a few directors . Joscelyn in the middle is the secretary and she's the one that gets it done. Robert there is the Director, he's part scientist, part organizer and part P.R. guy....Me and the Kenai river thank you all for what you do.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Catch and Release

It was a painful few days here at Mile 14 as we watched the fish counts go up while wondering what ADF+G was going to do now. Well, yesterday at 4:00 pm they announced the Kenai would reopen for Catch and Release fishing at midnight. Unlike the last announcement they also added that if numbers continue to rise that other restrictions could be lifted, meaning at sometime we'll be back to plain old fishing and keeping one if you want and are lucky enough to get him to the boat.

So in the meantime any fish over 55 inches can be kept and if you catch a Jack, under 20 inches you can take him home to barbecue. And you can always have a wonderful reproduction like the one above done. We're all smiling.

We've had Catch and Release here before. They're actually great trips as alot of the locals stay home and the river is a great experience. Right now the water is perfectly fishy and with the numbers we have I expect that on C+R trips we'll see a few slimeys...up close. A minority of people are negative about Catch and Release, I guess they just know for certain they're going to catch one to start with. Theres alot to debate about the merits of fishing and letting them swim away, but whats not debate able is thats what we've got right now...its the deal. No worries, go fishing, have fun, feel good...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Thanks Colt !

A few days back when it was looking real grim for our salmon run my friend Colt McCann over in Qatar on the Persian Gulf offered to sacrifice a goat. Obviously they don't have a Fish + Game department because I hear they have alot of goats in Qatar. Well thanks Colt, its working. Below are the newest graphs from ADF+G, over 1000 Kings have come into the river in last few days. I would expect that if this trend continues we'll be open for fishing, if not its certainly good news for the future of the run. At the very least we've avoided a cataclysmic disaster.

The first graph is the daily sonar counts and the second is the total to date. I know its not sweet science but you can see that with 21 days left in the month the minimum of 5500 should be easily met. How ADF+G handles it will be interesting, I hate to be skeptical of the science but I've been on the river with eyes wide open for 30 years....alot has happened.

For instance there was the great radish experiment. Yup, you read that right, radishes. Years ago somebody at ADF+G was puzzled crazy wondering how many of our out migrating smolt got caught up in our huge spring tidal swings and never made it out to sea. This person was afraid they were not counting any mortality because surely when we have the 24 ft. tides many smolt got confused on where the river stopped and started and ended up high and dry in the woods. SO, they dumped bushels of radishes upriver on the big tide days to see how many ended up at sea and how many ended up in the woods. Not just any radishes either, they painted their research radishes a brilliant red so as no prankster fishing guide could pollute the study by adding more radishes. Low and behold...lots of radishes ended up in the woods, and I mean alot. I guess the only part I can be critical of is they should have gotten those radishes that have fins.

Then there was the pre season forecast. Every year based on previous escapements and spring smolt counts along with other scientific data the ADF+G makes an expensively researched forecast for most fisheries. For sport guys it helps set the season climate but for commercial guys the forecast helps processors, fisherman and the infrastructure prepare. It was in the mid 90's and the Kenai River Red run was estimated to be 3.1 million fish. By Kenai River standards this is so little that people talked of aid for the fisherman and economic hardship for the community. 13.1 million fish arrived which was a wonderful surprise, but, it leaves you wondering....did we just get the decimal point in the wrong place or what?

All of this leaves me reminded of a story a guy told me about the science of frogs. Somebody wanted to study how far frogs could jump. They laid a frog on the table next to a yard stick and yelled "jump", the frog jumped 4 feet. Then they snipped one leg off and yelled "jump", the frog jumped 3 feet. They repeated the process and the frog with 2 legs jumped 2 feet and with one leg one foot. So when they yelled " jump" to the legless frog and it didn't move it was obvious...frogs with no legs are deaf.

Monday, June 7, 2010


If the ageing process teaches us anything its that, perspective. My friend Gus here is holding a beautiful RainBow trout caught on my last day of employment. Gus is from Napa Ca. and when we met to fish there was no missing that he was slow on his feet and had difficulty getting in the boat. At 4 am two years ago he was hit head on by a drunk driver, it killed the driver and a passenger and nearly killed Gus. Two full years of convalescing and he's hanging out with his buddies and not the least concerned that fishing conditions are less than ideal. Perspective.
That fish is gorgeous and looks suspiciously like a Steelhead that is not supposed to occur here at Mile 14. It just looks different than our football shaped and very spotted Kenai Rainbows. Also notice that big ol plug he jumped on, now that's a case of setting your goals high I'd say. That's one ambitious fish.

At 5 am Saturday morning we were at the Relay For Life fundraiser event for the American Cancer Society. We started being involved when we lost one of our girlfriends to Cancer a few years ago and MP's book club put together a team for the relay. As I'm walking this morning the spiritualism of it all kind of affected me. I got to realizing as I looked at the luminaries that have victims and survivors names on them that I was a pretty lucky guy. Perspective. I know lots of those names, lots. The first pic is of MP of course, she walked her tail off. For my part I find it easier to just spend an obscene amount of money on the booths.

The next few pics are the story. My friend Harry Gaines was a high profile fishing guide that help start this whole thing on the Kenai River. He was a genius promoter that loved to fish within 1/4 mile of his camp. Harry had a red Coca Cola sponsored boat and we'd tease him that everything in the boat was red except the fish box. When Harry came down with Pancreatic Cancer I was at the hospital and asked him if there was anything I could do. He said yes there was....just be his friend. Perspective.

The next pic is a guy I don't know. But he's got a guitar to remember him by and you know how I am about guitars. It was like poetry, his luminary was right between Harry's and my good friend Claude 'BigFoot' Bradford. In fact as you can see Claude was so popular that he's remembered by TWO luminaries. Claude was a telephone man and one of Soldotna's favorite people. He was always everywhere. He was a musher (not a very good one), expert hunter and fisherman and the most generous guy I've ever met. At one time he was raising those huge Japanese goldfish (coi?) in a pond he'd built and I donated some goldfish to him that the kids had left when they grew up. When we parted that day he told me to stop by more often now that we were related. Claude suffered a fall at work and when he starting having chest pain he associated it with his broken ribs. It was cancer and I eulogised him at the funeral. Perspective.

The last pic I had to take. It was Sunday morning and I was riding my bike and thinking about our salmon when I came across this contraption across the mouth of Soldotna Creek. Our early run fishery is made of of many components and the 'discreet' run of Kings into Soldotna Creek is part of that total run. Soldotna Creek is also part of the Mackey Lake drainage which has Pike. ADF+G thinks Pike could get into the Kenai River and be detrimental to salmon so they built this device to keep Pike out. It also looks like it'd do a pretty good job of keeping Kings from getting in . Like I say, I'm no scientist but the left side of my brain tells me that Pike aren't our problem. When I see something like this, its no wonder our salmon are missing.

Friday, June 4, 2010

No Pictures Today

Theres no way a picture could help describe whats going on with the Kenai and the way I feel. Its official, the river is closed to King Salmon fishing until July 1st or we get enough fish over the sonar to merit its reopening. Its quiet here at Mile 14, like a funeral. The first run of salmon has been fickle for years and we've had several occasions when we had a few weeks of closure or a couple weeks of catch and release fishing...but never anything like this. The sonar count two days a go was 15, how did we get to this???

When I first started guiding the early fish were plentiful and easy to catch, even now its my favorite King fishing. Although not as many fish as July we trade that off for less people and a better fishing experience, I've just loved it through the years. But in the early 80's management plans were adopted and minimum escapements (no. 1 priority, fish to escape and spawn) were set. The first goal for this run was around 12,000 as I remember. Through the years that numbered was lowered for a myriad of reasons to the 5500 we have now. I'm no scientist but I do know that the lower you set your goals the easier they are to achieve. And, like a bank account the goal is so tight that there is no savings to fall back on in case things go poorly. That's where we are right now, the shoe leather meets the street.

Like most accidents the situation here is not caused by just one thing I think. Most accidents are a series of poor decisions, this I know all to well. Something is going on in the ocean as King runs are missing all over south central Alaska. It could be deep water trawls or it could be seiners in Shelikof Strait, whatever, it doesn't matter....its us, we've screwed it up. If you ascribe to the notion that over use in-river is to blame it could be State Parks for enabling the guide numbers to grow to 400, or even the guides themselves for harvesting and harvesting with not much promotion of catch and doesn't matter, its us, we've screwed it up.

The good news is that the Kenai River is pristine salmon habitat and that's our ace in the hole. This thing is just sooo fixable. We just have to do what should come naturally from all accidents, learn from it. In my life I've learned a few hard lessons and I don't know everything thats right to do. But I sure do know a few things not to do, lets hope our fisheries managers are like that.

When I started this blog I know I promised to keep it light and fun and please bare with me, I'll get back to that. I promise. But right now I just can't do it. I'm feeling a little financially threatened, I'm feeling kind of rudderless...I'm not fishing!...that's what I do, that's my deal. I'm feeling a little guilt for the fish, like I could have done better advocating for them. I'm just a bit heart broke now...

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Thats Ugly Howard

When I was a construction hound we had a young carpenter on the crew named Howard. Howard was a bit of a screw up and after hearing the boss say " thats ugly Howard" many a time it became part of our everyday language. In my world it means messed up, going poorly or oh noooo...
So when it comes to the Kenai River I have only one thing to say right now..."thats ugly Howard". The pic above you've seen many times, it was taken at the overlook below my house. That river you're looking at on this day should be a nice earthy green color, its not. Instead it resembles a 4 dollar latte. The wonderfully warm Memorial weekend was good for us, bad for the river. The warmth accelerates the snow melt in the Killey River Valley and walla, no pescado. The good news is that nothings forever, especially here at mile 14. The water is clearing now having maxed out yesterday and I suspect by Saturday we'll be fishy again, certainly by next week.
The next pic is the science of all this, kind of 'shade tree' science. I figure with 12 inches of visibility we have a swinging chance of getting a slimey to bite. As you can see, as of this morning its somewhere around 6 inches. At its best the river usually has 2 feet or so of visibility. We have a few tricks for the muddy water up our sleeve and this happens from time to time, no biggy really.....But what is big is this next pic.

When I was a kid I was told "cheer up, things could be worse." So I'd cheer up and ....sure enough things got worse. This pic is the number of fish entering our River as recognised by Fish and Games sonar at mile 8. As you can see a dismal count of 24 was yesterdays tally. According to this data alone its the slowest, weakest start to the fishery ever, at least ever sense all our experts started 'managing' the fish. My own observations of catch rates etc were that the fishery was acting pretty typical for this time frame. Its still very early and the ADF+G has a spanking new sonar that must have a bug or two to work out so this might all correct itself. Lets hope so. On top of the economy and everything else a salmon shortage is the last thing we need here at Mile 14.

So, for all of us that love this place and depend on it keep you fingers crossed, sacrifice a goat or something. I'd suggest a prayer but I've learned not to use that for something like fishing, lets save those for the really important stuff, your health, your love.....