Sunday, July 29, 2012

The River Ran Red

I had a great week. For the first time in July I actually fished / worked every single day, doing what I do, what I'm about. Early in the week I finally got to meet two couples who travel together in a motor home and they're just the kind of young people I needed to meet. I had told Ben Jennings of course about the King closure but I also assured him that there were other opportunities and fish to catch....he says " we're in Jeff, we trust ya"..... Well we looked for a silver and couldn't find him but I knew with the 6 fish sockeye limit we could pretty easily find a quiet place surrounded with salmon. Done Deal. Here's a pic of Sean Ringer with a fish, that day and everyday this week was sunny and in the 70's, this was a real fisherman's trip and these guys are real fishermen, stand up guys.
They stayed a couple days with us in the campground and we've become friends. They had all the right stuff and it was fun to watch there wives Tiffany and Sara land their own fish and compete heads up with the boys who are expert fishermen.
What impressed me the most was that as the afternoon wore on and we were 15 or so reds into the 24 fish limit there wives wanted to get going, they had been promised a 'date night' and a cabin with a shower, a night out of the motor home together, so naturally they were a bit anxious to pull off the bite. So with no grumbling the guys left a few reds in the river...I was impressed, these guys are on their way to a long happy and fun future...a creedo I live by also, 'happy wife, happy life'.

The next day my friend Tom Riette also came by motor home. He fishes with his girlfriend Niki and granddaughter Shalyn. I've watched Shaylyn grow up through the years and that's a cool part of the job. As we fished a gravel bar with only one other boat a hundred yards up she recognised somebody and low and behold she got to fish for a couple hours with her best friend from Anchorage. Its one of the things we love about this State, its small enough that we run into each other in the weirdest places..
Here's a pic of Tom fishing. Even though we can't get the kings who wouldn't enjoy fishing a stretch of Kenai by yourself like this. A lot of the guides pull up in the same places, I think they like to visit. Well I do to but I like to visit with my fishing friends and that black boat always has a full tank so we go find it quiet...with people, not fish.
Meet Tom 'twitchin Tom' Duncan....Viet Nam combat vet , cancer survivor and life expert. He and his running buddy Doc Robinson heard I'd been canceled and they raced over from Seward to meet me for two days instead of the one they had scheduled. Like Ben Jennings and his crew I can't say enough about Tom and'd be lucky to meet these guys anywhere or anytime, but to meet them on the Kenai river and to get paid to guide them...well....I'm a lucky guy. Ole Tom there was hard on those red salmon , he must of caught 50 of them, and a few in the wrong place as he seemed to have a unique action to his retrieve. I'm not saying that he was snagging, he wasn't...but he assured me that if any enforcement people accused him of that he'd explain to them that he has Parkinsons disease. We all know nicknames are a sign of endearment so now he's 'Twichin Tom', my buddy. At the end of the day as he put his rod away he showed me a trick I'd never seen, instead of hooking the lure on an eye or the keeper and then reeling it tight he just simply hooked it to a loop of line and it was instant tight, man that's a real fisherman and it goes to show that even a guy like me who has made fishing his life still has things to learn, you just have to have faith, trust... Here's a pic of us fishing another spot, not another boat in sight. My old friends Ed and Carolyn Bovee are in guideboat #003 and Twitchin and Doc are in the water. Doc brought his fly rods and I learned alot from him, its a beautiful thing to watch a guy who knows what he's doing run that fly rod....Thanks guys.
This last pic I just had to post. I think I have a few readers that have some influence here on the Kenai River and I want them to see this. We have a lot of rules here and even though a few I find silly or a pain I keep them all, its how you have pride in what you do and it shows your commitment to right and to the future. With rules I don't interpret, bend or massage them.....I wish I could say the same for the people making the rules, the government.  That right there is an ADF+G work boat tied up to shore right in front of a sign that says to not tie your boat up there, in fact they might even be tied to the sign. The natural vegetation along the shoreline is critical for the migration of small salmon, so their own Dept. does not want people walking on the pristine bank, boats have to be anchored 10 feet out, nothing should be put on the land. That will get most of us a ticket...but not these guys.
I personally think its a disgrace. Government should lead by example. We wonder why  and how we ended up with a failing King run. We wonder for our future, the fish, the habitat, the wilderness, its ours, its the publics, that all of us, we want it for our kids.....but these guys  don't seem to care, they think its theirs.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

What would Otter do ?

Road trip....that was his solution when they found out  that Dean Wormer had put them on 'double secret probation'. I ain't Otter but I guess I do have a bit of a leadership role around here so I told the boys at the launch that if they closed the river to King fishing we'd have us a boat launch party and I'd sing for the masses, its always cheered me up so why wouldn't it work for them. So friday night that's exactly what we did, and I have to tell made me feel waaaaaay better. I mean who wouldn't be cheered up by good companions, a beautiful setting, warm weather and a home spun rendition of ' Cheaper to Keep Her'.

And as often happens when I drag out that old black guitar I made a new musical friend. Meet my new lead guitarist 'big fish Rich' . I had talked to him years ago when he wanted to get started in the guide business and I decided not to put on another boat...but if he'd told me he had some John Prine in his line up, well who knows.

Just because we're out of the game here with King salmon don't think the river is void of salmon, actually just the opposite. The sockeye salmon have arrived in force. As I write this we have 1/2 million over the sonar and most likely another 400,000 or so harvested in the 'personal use dip net fishery' which was designed to put meat on Alaskans, tables....well its certainly doing that. It feels like the entire city of Anchorage is here either dip netting or sportfishing for those poor reds. If I were a salmon I'd take the road, its just not safe out there.

 Those guys off in the distance are your varsity level dip netters. Its low tide at the mouth of this ol river and they're a good 3/4 to a mile from safety.  So even though they could get stuck in the mud or washed out to sea with our huge tides that run like a jiminy they'll get to the fish first.
So everywhere I go theres piles of sockeys like this, the abundance of the fish is stunning and it begs the come we have so many of one kind and not enough of the other kind ? mmmmmm....thats a tough one and at some point in time we're gonna have to get to the answer but in the mean time lets not pass up all this opportunity, right?...

So as cool as the abundance of fish is the people chasing them is part of what I notice, you know me, I'm a people person. The guy towing this ultra cool camper and I had a nice talk, his buddy is a full blown Alaska artist and the world is his easel, the guy told me that if you think the outside is cool, ya oughta see the inside, of course I'm thinking black lights and the whole shcmeer..... Then theres the guys who pulled up on their bikes today, MP thought she heard thunder but it was just another bunch of sockeye salmon chasers. They'd flown into Anchorage and rented the bikes and were off to harvest some salmon. When I asked where the fishing rods were one guy says " hey it Alaska, I'm just gonna wade in and paw em up on the bank like an old grizzly bear"...And by the looks of these guys I wouldn't bet against them.

But my very all time favorite red salmon pick I took just a couple hours ago on my bike ride, right before the toad strangler hit and sent me peddling for home. I was riding the river walk and the red bite was a frenzy, this little gal was helping her dad with the fish and as you can see, she ain't afraid of a little blood and slime that goes with the Alaskan way of life.
A little farther down the boardwalk I came across this scene. The wife was not fishing but just netting and then putting the fish in a cooler for her husband. You don't see much culture along the river during the red run so I snapped a pic and we had a good laugh. I told her husband he better hurry up on catching that limit because the next thing is the L.L. Bean mail order catalog, might add a little expense to those red salmon.
So that's a bit of a run down on 'red run 2012'. Woody used to tell me that he could feel the Peninsula sinking under the weight of motor homes, I'm almost there. It's just exciting and everyone , everywhere talks red salmon. I hope that businesses in town get a bump and not every business is suffering like us or the east side set netters who have only fished once this year. The reds are bright a spot, a gift, an amazing Alaskan phenomena.......but.....if you ever get so many that you can't get your boat off the beach, well, you've probably got enough eh?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Note to self....happy birthday

59 years ago today in Fort Campbell Kentucky I came into this world fighting, scratching, clawing and cryin...and I been doing that ever since. When you get nearer to the end than you are the start the b-days are celebrated a little different. I kinda've had a lot of fun. And even though right now my humor isn't as good as usual the left side of my brain tells me " you're healthy, ya got MP, you just bought tickets to Maz, the kids are good,  the dog loves you, you're a legendary fisherman, your music is listenable and you make a great ceasers salad"..... "SO QUIT MOONING ABOUT THE FISHERY".... and that's what I plan to do. In fact yesterday morning the launch was quiet at 7 am so me and MP did something we never have the chance to do this time of year....we went fishing.
That's the launch lady herself with a nice red salmon just a tugging away. I ran for the net and as you can tell from her smile she had fun catching her first red in so many years that we couldn't remember. I know we used to fish for them, I just can't remember when...but hey, I'm 59 years old, its that memory deal.
You know life is good when your fishing partner has a smile like that. We were tied at one fish a person and then she caught her second and I was looking good and out fished. But I bore down on the slimeys and in an hour we had 5 laying on the bank, just the right amount for a canner full and some nice steaks on the barbecue....which I over cooked as usual.
So it looks like we're going to get another week of catch and release fishing for Kings, and I suspect we'll chase some of these reds. But I've learned a lot lately about fishermen, fishing and what it seems to be all about. I guess for me I was looking at this just differently than some folks... I think it was Zane Grey who said "men fish their entire lives without knowing that's its not fish they're after".....well, that ain't my customers, at least some of my oldest and best friends who have canceled because they don't want to release the King they might catch. For me its always been and always will be fellowship, the chase, the excitement of the bite, all the hope and planning that it takes, the air , the turquoise water and the way coffee tastes so good when you're cold....its about it all....and always will be.
So happy birthday Jeff.....I think you've turned into a pretty good guy.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

When life serves you lemons....make....

Bokashi.....Theres a lot to love about MP, one of the biggies is her indomitable spirit. She doesn't get down and if she did she wouldn't let me know, she wouldn't want to bring me down. So with the wheels falling squarely off the cart here at Mile 14 she decides too keep herself busier with a science project...building Bokashi. If you don't know what Bokashi is you obviously missed the June 1972 edition of Mother Earth News. Here's what I know about it.
That's exactly the kind of thing I wanna see sitting on my kitchen counter. You get yourself a pickle jar and mix some sugar and I'd guess some yeast along with some other stuff so it gets to growing real well. You stick in the dark basement for exactly two weeks and walla....a gelatinous mass. I kinda figured that the sludge part was the good stuff but goes to the dump on saturday toxic waste day and the liquid makes Bokashi.
Then you go down to the farm store and you buy some oats or wheat or grain of some kind that smells alot like my grandpas's house in Norfolk Nebraska used to. Then you mix it by hand with what used to be a slime ingredient.....mmmm.
Then its back to the same place in basement for two weeks as the whole deal festers really good. The black Costco bag is closed so the smell stays put but every now and then I think I can see that thing worries, you wait another two weeks and its time to dry it out, let er cure. Of course for this step you need a sunny day so I have the feeling that Mile 14 isn't the ideal Bokashi industry start-up location.
Now on this particular Bokashi curring day it was only sunny for 2 hours, about the extent of our summer. So, the stuff had to come into my garage. The good news is that MP kept the heat on for it so my rain gear actually got dry for a change.....And, the usual fish smell that's been lacking a bit this year was replaced by a kind of  'arm pit' odor that reminded be a lot of the locker room in Helena's YMCA.

So then the finished product ends up on my prep table with all the other important parts of my empire. MP says she can get 10 bucks a bag for it at the farmers market so she's starting another batch. I guess its kind of like sourdough starter that once you have it going you're a biscuit eating fool.....Now you're most likely wondering what you do with it, I certainly was. I figured it might be for the dog or maybe fertilizer for the pumpkin or put it in your compost pile and all your yucky stinking table scraps turn into good stuff for the mad gardener in your life. It makes your compost really good. Yahtzee, that's what I was needing.
Now when it comes to the Kenai River I'm a rules guy but when it comes to life I'm really not. So I decided to bend the rules just a bit so you could see one of the 3 Kings we encountered yesterday. We're not supposed to take them out of the water in our catch and release fishery but trust me, it was only a mili second and ol slimey swam off just fine. If people have a problem with that arrest me...I could use a break.
My friend Roger Langford caught that 35 pounder. It was a cold blustery day on the Kenai but we had a great time. Very few boats, lots of eagles and seals and we had an impromptu trivia contest that I think I took top honors on....Do you know why they call the bad part of town Skid Row?....well I do. And at the end of the day in our Bokashi drying room I felt like playing a couple songs for the guys, a little Kevin Fowler and when they left I belted out a good Jimmy Buffet song.

I got a roof over my head
someone to love me and a 4 poster bed

and I can play this here guitar
and thank my lucky stars
I'm gonna thank my lucky stars.....

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Thin Soup

Thats a pic of the front of the fish box in guide boat 003...well that ain't going to happen until our King run gets better or silver / red / pink season arrives. One half hour ago ADF+G announced that the Kenai will be Catch and release only for King salmon starting tommorrow. I'm sick about it, worried for us but more so worried for the fish.  In an unprecedented move they have also closed the commercial set net fishery and I have to assume it will be closed until we get a King salmon escapement projection. Right now the run is so weak that a total of 9,000 is predicted, we need at least 15,000. I was a optomistic last week, now we're in uncharted waters and what it all means I don't know.  We have options and this situation could create early and outstanding silver fishing, it could even develope into really quiet and fun catch and release fishing. We'll see I guess. Below is a pic of my friend Ray and his wife Jena releasing a big ol Kenai King, they don't seem to put out by it do they ?
Below is apic of my new friend Bob Mahood and his grandson Lonnie and best friend Trent. These guys stood strong with me through a bitterly cold day of slow fishing and kept their humor intact. These kids are the kind of young men that america is proud of, great students, interested athletes and respectful and fun with us grown-ups....I gotta thank you guys Bob, meeting folks like you is the best part of what I do....Pure well.
I know this blog entry was short and not so much fun, sorry, I'm just not in the mood for chuckly stuff. I really wanted to get this news out there as fast as I could. The situation can change so I'm calling people for this week and next week I'll do the same. If you're with me on the remainder of this King season and I haven't called yet feel free to ring or e-mail me. Those of you on the last week of July I really think we need to breath through our noses a bit and wait see...