Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Escape with Style


We all know Alaska is a tough place, after all how would reality TV survive without us ? And in the 40 years I've been around Alaska I've witnessed just about every kind of disaster ever invented. We've had earthquakes, tsunami's and avalanches. We've worked through fishery disasters, many floods and high wind events, volcano eruptions and ash fall like snow, record cold, record hot, Sarah Palin.....but I gotta tell ya this Funny River wildfire that we're now in the 7th day of has been about the worst yet, the air has been just thick. Here's a pic through the windshield as we self evacuated Saturday morning at 8 am.
I'll save you all the graphic fire pictures, those are all over the Internet. But the short and long of this thing is this....it doubled in size every day for the first 3 days, now it's size is estimated at 190,000 acres making it the 2nd biggest wildfire in Peninsula history. Luckily it has burned towards the wilderness and the 800 firefighters on scene have been able to stop it when it had threatened homes in Kasilof and the Kenai Keys area of Sterling. The smoke has been terrible and I seem to be unusually sensitive to it. I spent 2 days in the house and then we left....it was a kismet's moment. I live a little like Forrest Gump, good things just seem to happen in my life. Several weeks ago knowing that I wouldn't be fishing on Memorial day weekend my friend Chris Fejes invited us to his interior Alaska Nancy Lake home. Ol Chris kinda threw us a life ring, he said we'd have gourmet food and wine, outdoor life and of course....fishing. So Saturday morning we're outa here, hand our town over to the firefighters and the news people.
I just love a road trip. Having been north of Anchorage only a few times we had fresh sights to see, new people to meet, just the ride, we're going, we're moving on, we're mobile....just that is enough. And Nancy Lake is a pretty cool place, it's a pretty rare thing in Alaska really, a gorgeous large Lake that is actually in private hands, the people that live along the lake love this place. and boy did we get a glimpse of how successful Alaskans live. What's more Alaskan than this place which is just one of many with their transportation tied up to the dock.
These two pics are the property everyone on the lake talks about. The house sits on a point above the lake. These are the on lake parts of the estate, boat houses and how about an elevated barbecue lounge. I was reminded of what a guy told me at his Kenai River mansion house warming party...."ain't it amazing what you can do with a million bucks".
I kinda connected with this memorial along the lake. I could feel this guys presence, he was hard fisherman, maybe a bit of a loner who searched the lake for every rock and drop off, obviously an avid fisherman, and when you fish that much, well things just seem to happen. I remembered when I was cutting my teeth on the Kenai , Woody called me 'sand bar King'. Click on it to enlarge.
Chris has got the stuff. That boat right there I was about as impressed with as I have ever been with any piece of equipment. It's a MasterCraft ski boat with a 400 horsepower Corvette engine in it. It has direct shaft drive so there's no loss power, when boaters say the boat ' jumps up on step'....well if they jump, this one leaps. Incredible speed and power along with a bit of luxury. And a pic of MPeasy and Melinda in another boat of the Feje's mosquito fleet....and I'm not going to guess at the horsepower propelling that deal. Nope, ain't gonna do it.
Our first morning I was up at 5 am casting my pike lures from the dock. If people who don't fish were with me they'd see it all so clear. I'm the first up, the water is so flat it's hard to tell the real from the reflection, Chris has told me that float plane pilots have to learn to not let that confuse them. Out in the middle of the lake two Loon's cackled along and way off in the distance even with my bad ears I could hear a unique Alaska sound, Sled dogs. It was a little chilly, and I like that two. I cast for a couple hours and had one Pike follow...I felt him about mid retrieve and set, then again at 3/4 retrieve and then he was at my feet along side the dock and I left the daredevil in the water as long as possible but no fish, no hook up. That's fishing, and it's enough for me.
For the first time in my life I found a 4-stroke outboard motor that didn't work flawlessly. It's a Suzuki 9.9 horse and this darn thing gave us fits. It would run, then it wouldn't run....but Chris is pretty good shade tree mechanic and even though my expertise is in running the heck out of them we finally figured out a short in the kill switch mechanism and lucky us, we were out fishing at 4 am the next morning.
We trolled the cove with cow bells and worms for trout....notta.... we trolled daredevils at the outlet for pike....notta.... We threw frogs and weedless into the weed patches....notta. So I've always said the joy was in the pursuit and don't I look absolutely over joyed in that picture ? For me just fishing somewhere new for something new is exciting, it's really what I want to do as I settle into to be an old fisherman. Here's a pic of me watching the Indy 500, pretty comfortable with a guitar case for a back rest eh....
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Chris and Melinda rolled out the red carpet for us, I kind of think they do for all their guests. Below is a picture of the chef himself with Saturday nights entrees. We had some fresh Copper River Sockeye salmon and halibut with a nice white sauce topped wit side stripe shrimp. Then we had some wonderfully fresh spot shrimp from Prince William sound and some aged Fillet mignon that was about as tender as anything I've ever eaten. And you'll notice one of my favorite things, a real nice sipping Tequila straight from Mexico, this one is a 'blanco' Jimador brand. It's funny that you don't think of tequila as being a sophisticated thing but.....as long as you don't throw it down and then slap your glass on the table upside down, it's really a flavor treat. And a bottle of Silver Oaks, what can you say about that?
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And two pretty girls just a 'swingin'.....
So thanks Chis and Melinda for the rescue, it was a wonderful time. And that thanks isn't as much about hospitality as it is friendship, you know what I mean. And today May 27th a few years back Mary Patricia Brown King was brought into his world...and for that I'm a happy guy...and of course finding her was a pretty good trick too.  So happy B-Day MP, I'm crazy in love with you.

Monday, May 19, 2014

May 17th

For the first time since my friend Les caught the world record King Salmon on May 17th 1985 I wasn't out fishing on that day. I believe in connections so every year on the anniversary I would troll Honeymoon Cove when he hooked it around 9:00 am, on that lure right there, the trusty old Flame/Chartreuse Spin Glo, with a glob of cured eggs that were most likely Boraxed. I'll bet he didn't have very good eggs but they sure were good enough to trick a new world record.

In 1985 I was in about my 3rd year of guiding and had just invested in a 'real' guide boat. Les Anderson and his wife Clare lived upstairs from our best friends Neil and Connie Arthur. For the first 20 year I new les he called me 'Jess' as he was a little deaf, but the last ten years or so he figured it out. When you hear so and so never said a bad word about anybody well that person was really Les Anderson. He was a true gentleman and his love of our river immense. He was fishing with his brother-in-law Bud Loftsted who was legendary pioneer aviator here in Alaska. Back in that day we usually didn't get serious on fishing until memorial day weekend so it was not only unusual for him to be out fishing but to catch the biggy, well....wow. This is the REAL story....

Bud and Les started out early that morning in 'Old Blue', a 16 ft lund that had loose rivets and leaked badly. On the way they reached into Neils boat and borrowed a net....that is a big part of the story. Les was never one to back troll so they were drifting through Fall-in-Hole that tails out at Honeymoon Cove. Les's rod just dives to the water, at first these big fish with this technique will make you think you're snagged on the bottom....well he was....the BOTTOM LIP.  The fish stayed around that area and made many runs up and down but pretty soon they had drifted on past where the Pillars are now and were attempting to net. Neils net is the size we use for reds and silvers...the fish won't go in all the way and it's a miracle that they didn't loose it then when they had it half in several times. But pretty soon Bud problem solves and he beaches the boat on the gravel of an island above Eagle Rock that I named the ' Toilet Hole' years ago for obvious reasons. Well, Les bull dogs the fish up the gravel a ways with Bud pushing and grabbing and pretty soon they have it high and dry, killed with a rock. The two of them are pumped, they know it's huge as they admire it having no clue it could be a world record....and then as the pandemonium settles down they look to see ' Old Blue' floating down the river without them....yikes. There was a guy fishing around the corner at Eagle Rock and he came screaming upriver as of course the sight of an empty boat made him think the worse. But Les and Bud were just fine and after retrieving 'Old Blue' they went back to fishing. The best part was yet to come. Here's one of my favorite pics of Les that shows a bit of his Character.

I was hanging around the  Tackle Box, a new story that my friend Jerry Johnson had opened outside of town. I was chatting with Craig Lott and Jerry, mostly hoping some tourist would walk through the door wanting to go fishing when a truck came flying in with Les who owned the Ford Dealership and one of his salesmen, one of the first of the new world record hangers on, groupies. They wanted to know if Jerry's scale was current with Alaska Dept of weights and scales to verify a new world record. The scale wasn't and the fish was weighed anyway, we were all amazed....but the strangest thing was that about 15 minutes after Les hurried off to find a registered scale Johnson Brothers Guide Service showed up in a van with some people and an 85 pounder...yikes the Kenai was having a good day. Here's a pic I took myself f Les, you can just see that he's one nice guy. Then one of him years later with the mount at the Chamber of Commerce. That day as he went from place to place, from friend to friend he held 100 pounds of salmon up so many times I was afraid he might have the big one, he did have a weak heart that finally got him about 7 or 8 years ago.

The next series of pics I decided to include because they will give you feel for the era. The energy on the Kenai was electric, the fishery was just clicking off, it was before the horse power limit and we were all just learning the ways...Everyone new we had big fish in the Kenai but Les's fish made it official. Up until May 17th 1985 nobody had heard of any 90 pound plus salmon caught. But since then there have been at least 5 and maybe 10 over 90 caught, that's a knarly salmon. Below is a pic of Jerry Johnson and his crew sitting up a drift in Fall-in-Hole. That Alumaweld Sled has a 150 Horse power ' Black Max' that I think was the biggest outboard sold at the time, we once took that boat from Mile 14 to Skilak Lake and back in an easy 6 or 7 hour day.
And a pic of yours truly wearing the 'Team Tackle Box Hat' . You can see in the background that I'm building signs and everything that went with building a life around this wonderful River. 1985.
I don't care where in the world you go if you have fish like these you'll have people like this. Here's a pic from that era of the drift at Beaver Creek. One time I had the legendary R.L. Parker tell me...." hey, if you want your own water, bring a bucket ! "
I guess it was only natural....the next pic really tells a story. It was taken well after Les and Bud caught the fish, you can tell by how dry it looks. People started to think of the promotion, the money, the value of this world record. The guy on the right is a friend of mine and the guy in the middle is a fairly well known guide from Oregon who was new up here and just couldn't stand to not be included. Actually I think what he couldn't believe was the fact that HE didn't catch it. The next year his promotional literature said he "assisted" with the world record.......mmmm.....One time this guy had the first Magnum Wiggle Warts I'd ever seen dangling from the lines hanging out of his boat tied up here at Mile 14. I asked him to "salt a few around" so we could try them out....Well, he went into a lengthy lecture about how he was a tackle tester and Storm Lure Company didn't want them out in the public hands just yet and I'd have to wait until they came out on the market....Well, as soon as he drove off for lunch I hacked two of them off the lines and went fishing, they worked really good. That's the way we roll around here Mr. Oregon .
So hey...this is a great story but I got lots more. So swing by Mile 14 sometime and we'll walk a few holes, share a tall orange and recapture some of those fishing moments, like the time I caught a 170 pound halibut in a 16 foot boat....or the time the commissioner of the Dept. of Natural Resources caught a seagull in mid air...or the time Tim White caught the only 30 foot long stick I've ever seen that was alive.....or.....

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

If I don't go fishing soon I might go a little goofy

I always told MP that some year before we're done with this program we were going to shut down the launch and enjoy this special place at Mile 14 all to ourselves....well, I didn't figure it would be May and June 2014, courtesy of the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game. Normally a few boats would be out and some rumors would be flying, that I miss, but I have to tell you that when Keith and I went downriver the other day on a salvage run there was something really cool at work on the Kenai River. It was just us and the animals, that's all. This soon to calve out moose gave us a good look.
And the run at Eagle rock might just be my favorite place on the entire planet earth. The stretch of river right here has delivered a special life to me. I've caught hundreds, make that thousands of silvers and Kings here, I've found anchors and lures, I've watched baby eagles learn to fly and seen brown bears scavenging for salmon. I've seen moose and caribou swim the river and coyotes, many coyotes. I love this place.
Just around the corner we see something bright yellow, low and behold something I've never found before, a nice new soccer ball. Keith shot this pic of me after I locked the hubs in to get through the mud and retrieve it . I as saying " WILSON, WILSON....I found you......WILSON ....don't ever run off again like that Wilson"...
And there lots of seals, lots. So I got to wondering, just how many salmon were around that they would be feeding on....they don't come to this river for a haircut. I  think because ADF+G forecast a weak May and June run we should have started with a catch and release fishery. It hurts nothing and supplies one of the three tools they use to estimate run strength, the creel census. They also use the sonar which we all know barely works if at all and then they run a test net boat in the lower river where they catch and ...guess what ?....release the salmon. These three things in concert have always been used to estimate the run size. Now we're doing it with two and why???? politics...that's all. plain old stupid self serving politics on the part of influential groups and a small side order of stupidity  thrown in as well..... So let me re cap. ADF+G feels it OK to catch and release with a net and who knows what that mortality rate is but not OK with hook and line when we have science to prove that there is so little mortality it is of ' scientific insignificance . All I can do is quote my old friend Randy Berg when at an ADF+G meeting one time said " hell of a way to run a railroad".
How many ADF+G employees does it take to rip a brand new prop off a brand new motor??? Just three, that's all.
And then I spotted it. A big fat weathered leather ( that kinda sings doesn't it) wallet. I open it up and the credit cards are a doctor from Florida, it's huge and he has more plastic than I've ever seen in a wallet. My hair stands on end and I tell Keith....we're in the money. But, on further revue no fun tickets in the wallet. Only credit and airline cards, Lotto receipts and a drivers license....now what kind of  guy runs around without at least a C note tucked away for emergencies. So it's a mystery, did someone rip him off and lift the green then toss the wallet ?  Was he broke from being a compulsive Lotto player ? Did he have a fish on when he fell in the river and lost the wallet ?  If so was it a big fish ? And did he land it ?....my mind was racing. I found  the Doctors mailing address so I sent snail mail to him to find out the answers to this mystery. Here's a pic of our haul for the day. The wallet is in the middle of 2 anchors, a fishing rod with a nice level wind reel, a really cool pair of split ring pliers, a soccer ball, many lures, a fillet knife in it's sheath, sunglasses and a piece of aluminum that I have no idea what it is...another mystery.
This guy was parked at Freddies today, he had just driven up the Alcan. You don't see that everyday around here....so I'm figuring maybe this guy is hooked up with one of the 84 reality TV shows that we are supporting here in Alaska. mmmmmmmmm.....them dawgs are riding in style....I guess it's that season in our great state....let's have some fun.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Jeff's World

I've never been really to good at making money and in school I was kind of a C student. My mind would wander, I'd think of songs and fishing and travel and girls and....well I guess I'm living all those things right now. Pretty cool how life goes. And all of those things I'm really, really, really good at. Years ago I remember a conversation with MP as we drove north not really knowing what the future held. I asked what she wanted and she told me " just to be loved".....well done deal. I mean , how couldn't ya be goofy about somebody who walks the dog at Mile 14 looking like this, cute eh?

She's in Montana right now so it's a little weird here at Mile 14. Last night I celebrated Cinco De Mayo day which is connected to my 2nd home in Mazatlán. The Mexicans whooped the French who were in expansion mode so us Americans wouldn't have to. Normally MP would conjure up some Mexi food and most likely some blue tortillas....well, I had a Banquet brand Mexican TV dinner (it was actually pretty good) and washed it down with a Corona and few shots of real Mexican Tequila and turned the amp up louder than if she were here and played an hour of my Mazatlán friends favorite songs.
I drove her to the airport in Anchorage on Thursday. We've made that drive hundreds of times but this time it seemed unusually gorgeous...I guess it's my age or the current situation and a need to not take things for granted like I once did. I had a friend from Montana tell me one time that the drive is like Glacier National Park the entire way, and I guess it kind of is. For you non-Alaskans here's a drivers eye view of the last frontier.
Even though ADF+G has turned my world topsy turvy I'm just drawn to that old river. Because of the warm weather we've had the melt is fast and there is plenty of water to run. I guess I just have to keep on keepin on so I got the boat ready and Keith and I did a first exploration. Up around the corner we found this dock float that I'll bet is worth 50 or 75 bucks...that's something more than I had yesterday. I did have a moment while me and Jet waited for Keith. She's not doing well and I sure as heck don't want her getting hurt so she lets me lift her into the boat...at one point I lost my balance and we both fell down in the river sand....I thought to myself...It's the hand we're dealt Jet-Dog, you and me, I ain't happy about it but it's the way it is.

I had so much fun with last weeks list that I decided to do another one here. There's so many things I can't control and of course  one of the secrets to peace in life is to control the things you can. So this list is things I can't control but would sure make for a better Jeff''s world if they were to happen.
1. 7500 early run King salmon....that's a no brainer eh?
2. Have ACS get my cell phone bill correct at least 1/2 the time.
3. A loved ones fight with cancer is won.
4. Les Palmer's retirement.
5. My fishing team members in Mazatlán were to come fish the Kenai.
6. No mosquitos , last year was TERRIBLE,,, I know, we could get ADF+G manage them.
7. hey I got an idea....maybe you guys, my readers could chine in here, help me out....what would be good ????? Maybe I'll add to this as the week goes on.