Sunday, July 27, 2014

Here's the deal...

I think you'll like that play on words because, here's the deal....You've made it to the last table in the World Series of Poker. The stakes are enormous. Your financial  future depends on how you handle the situation. You're dealt an Ace and a deuce for your hole cards and the flop reveals a King, a Queen and an eight. Two other player bet big  and you call knowing that one of them must be paired but you just need to hit that ace. The next card is a four and you're unsuited . One guy folds and the other bets big....what do you do? sweat inside a bit, you have to win so you.....go all in....Now it really doesn't matter if you get extremely lucky and  hit the ace or not because in the long run you're a stupid poker player that will eventually end up broke. AND that's exactly what ADF+G is doing with our King Salmon escapement plan or lack  there of.  With only few days left in July to collect a needed 7,000 to 10,000 fish they're betting on the come after letting the nets harvest close to 2000 (reported) and us maybe 400 but they'll call it a thousand at least I suppose. So maybe they'll hit it lucky, the ace could come up and I hope it does but it still makes them stupid, running risks with everyone's and the fishes futures. And if they don't get them....well....we'll just cook the books a bit, maybe calibrate the new sonar like they did a while back to make each sonar counted fish really worth 1.5 fish. I still don't  get that part and I ain't alone on that...oh well.
How couldn't you love someone who at the end of the season knowing we need all the moe-joe we can get puts this up on the shed at the launch for all to see. This is about all me and MP can do. I've been feeling like that guy in the Cheech and Chong movie who's in the ward with a straight jacket on just screaming his lungs out....the nurses rush in asking "what's the matter, what's the matter" and he replies " my nuts itch".  Here she is , a typical morning at Mile 14. Gotta compact the garbage to make more room and might as well fish a bit as she talks me into my morning boat prep. Love ya baby.
I'm getting  over the frustration of not being able to do anything here or at least I'm getting used to it because I really had a great week. I started out with my old friend Barry Brevik who didn't want to King fish from the get go, he loves those reds. So that's what we did. Here's our crew along the river, it's just us and the eagles screeching in the trees behind  behind us.  Barry's wife Carmel with an average Kenai sockeye.
And in the we love it all category I tried to capture the stillness of the fog the other morning when I fished with our oldest and bestest friends Connie Arthur and her brother Paul. The fog was pretty darn dense and with all the once a year wonders boating to the dip net fishery I decided to pull into the slough and wait for the fog  to is no accident you know. And Paul landed our first Pink Salmon of the year, things are looking up.
The trout fishing has been outstanding. I just haven't had the right chance to gt a really good pic or two for you. But we've been catching 20 to 30 every time we run upriver. It's kind of rewarding for me  as I've been tyeing my own flesh flies and the trout are gobbling them real good. They even work well on this rare guy, the Round Whitefish.

So today we decided to escape from Mile 14 for the first time in a month. We like to go to Rocky's in Kasilof for ice cream. For all you locals....that place is great, friendly and the chocolate malt made with chocolate brownie ice cream was to die for. There's closer ice cream but here ain't no better. Always on the look out for the unusual how's about this roofing job ?  I can just imagine the possibilities if Alaska ever legalizes that merry jane.
So we stopped to check on the dip net fishery. We had driven by a fab shop that had a sign that said 'dip nets'....mmm.....dips net.....I got it. So we found the ultimate fish camp, set up right down to having potted plants like at home....although dead. And we got to the Kenai just in time to see this guy pushing off from grounding on the sand bar. He forgot the first rule of boating...if  seagulls are standing up in the's to shallow. I shouldn't be to hard on the guy, I've found a few uncharted reefs in my life.
And in a true Forrest Gumpian move we arrived home just in time to witness a great sport fishing battle. As we drove down the hill we could see a fish splashing and jumping 20 feet off the lower launch. The angler expertly played the fish to shore always keeping a nice bend in the rod and perfect tension on the line. The fish was lead head first into the net and walla, another sockeye. She even applies the coup de gras herself....with a Kenai River stick. What a gal....ya gotta love this life at Mile 14.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The War's over

....and we didn't win. We're on catch and release again for King Salmon, it's not the end of the world but I can see it from here.  It's kind of funny, C+R wasn't good enough for us in May/June when on a certain date escapement was assured but it's good enough for us now with the commercial people hard at work eradicating a 'low abundance' run. I'll get the informational over early here....thanks a hell of a lot to the people at a certain sport fishing group that helped engineer this craziness. We have management plans here that are 40 years old and state that kings and silvers will be managed 'primarily' for sport fishing and sockeyes 'primarily' for commercial. So what we have here is total reallocation of the fish, with them harvesting 100% and us none. You see it's simple, they have all the fish. So, we're not managing according to plans or goals or fairness or sustainability  or....what we're managing for is chaos, and we've got it.

So with all this on my mind my birthday came July 16th. I had the day off as an Anchorage couple was going to come and had a health issue so I hope it's OK for them...but that's the way things are going around here. So feeling just stuck I guess, in the control of chaos that I can't do anything about I went for a bike ride....and man did I peddle. I sweated , I pumped the hills as hard as I could and instead of it all falling behind it seemed like I was just catching up to more...I wasn't doing well. When I got home MP and I went to the Freddies store, I needed to be busy. All I could hear was background noise and as I sat on a bench waiting for her to check out she asked if I was OK. I told her I'd just been thinking. It's the problem with being a 100% guy, there's no grey areas, there's 23 hours everyday of wonderful faith, happiness, respect and love....and then this, grief for the only thing that I love that I  just can't give any help to.

So with this on my mind I went into the guide week determined to have fun. I know it's not about me but my fishing friends just knew....I was flashing through the 30 some years and I was wondering about the future, I thanks Ty , you're the best buddy. And Nikki and Tom, what can I say, this all has been a lesson in culture for us and I hope we all grow old together...smiling. And oh, Nikki always catches, she's got the right stuff.
I was working through my funk about mid week. The crisp mornings and the quiet sloshing of the river seems to kind of comfort me. I guess I felt better knowing that the parts of it all that I like so much that aren't fish related weren't just mine, the fisherman all said....gorgeous....and couldn't you help but think that a 6 am rainbow was a message, a good message.
And then I got a birthday card and my funk seemed to just evaporate. Marty Holleran is an original. We met in 1985 and although we don't stay in daily touch he's certainly one of my great finds of all time. Check this deal out close now. The stamps are genuine old 2 and 3 cent, you can tell he's in the stamp business and it just cheered me up. Thanks Marty, you're out of control.
Friday we had a Montana day. It was the last day for anybody to retain a Kenai King so I had all my stuff checked and double checked. MP's brother Dave is here with a friend ad his son Dan. Then we recruited a great guy from Columbia Falls named Paul Murphy so it was a perfect chemistry. But, we struggled. The closest thing to bite we've seen was going on and we only got hit once and he didn't stick. A friend of mine had two kings in his boat and us nodda...but we worked through and as always seems to happen, magic occurred. Paul's rod went off and he had this fish on. It ran, it jumped not just once but several times, it was about as knarly a fight as I've ever seen so we were pumped. So for me I took a second and thought...that's a great adios.
And of course I'm always on the look out for the unusual. I guess I should have taken a pic of the Park Ranger who raced right over to make sure we caught Paul's fish legally but I didn't want to embarrass him even though he had no problem embarrassing me...Ya know 30 some years of doing it all right just doesn't mean anything to those guys...or jerks I should say. But while I had my camera out I got this beauty...and no, they weren't doing it to us on purpose....I think....I hope....
Of course the dip net fishery is in full swing. So instead of giving you my thoughts and observations I'm just going to post a few pics to give you all the flavor of what it's about. Make up your own wise cracks and I'll see you next week.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The 'dip' in dip net

Paula Wetzsteon fished with me with her brother and grandfather in July 1986, she came back with her dad Paul July 2014. We were both kids then and a lot has changed but one thing hasn't, her and her families love for the outdoors, the Kenai River and each other. Her gramps caught a 65 pounder, a 'jumbo unit' as Paula and I called them then. Here's pic of the one Paul caught, only 60 pounds short of beating his dad....but ya know what, as different as those fish wereI think they meant the same to the Wetzsteons. Thanks for coming you guys, I was honored.
And then it started raining. And kept raining, this place just won't give us a break.  We started the season with no snow pack and the promise of a normal water level year and perhaps even a low water year. For fishing the artificials we need clean clear water and the less of it the better. Here's the graph from last Weds/Tues deluge. When ever the line jumps like that it's a sad day for a Kenai River Fisherman. I expect it to be fishy this next week, I certainly hope so.

But the good news is that the sockeye  run started early and strong. We caught a limit of these gorgeous fish like the one Lisa is holding, it took about 4 hours and we had a ball with them. On medium tackle these guys will rip you  up. So this next week the Reds should be good and we'll just keep our fingers crossed for ol slimey...And oh....before the river blew out I had a trout trip that was fantastic, so we have a river full of fish, we just need to get at them and hope the Kings come in as well.
And of course with the start of the red run we have dip netters by the jillions. When you consider it's us, the commercial guys, the dip if I was a salmon I'd take the road. Here's two pics I took that kind of show the paradox of it all....people wading chest deep to catch just a few while a commercial boat goes by with a comfy crew and hold full of Reds. And the guy with just one hook, trying to trick one while the guy behind him drags a five foot dip net through the water. It's salmon fever plain and simple. It's like us sport guys are a dieing breed, when it comes to reds that is.

And how's about this for the American way. If you need a cheap source of protein to help you make it through the brutal Alaskan winters seen on TV....why you need the tools of a hunter / gatherer lifestyle. This guys got it going on eh?....and oh, he was staying at the Motel.
And in the ' I just love it all department ' here's a couple pics of things that jumped out at me. The other morning as I prepped the Minnow the full moon reflected off the water in the most wonderful way. It was 4:30 am and I was alone, I can't tell you what I was thinking but I can tell you's spiritual, it drives right through me.
I've seen thousands of eagles. I've seen them hunt, learn to fly, mate, you name it if an eagle does it I've seen it. BUT, this blew my mind for two reasons. I've never seen one sitting on metal as I always thought they balanced by using their talons on wood. AND, if you look close you'll see he's holding a plastic water bottle with his that's weird....a greeny bald eagle into re cycling.
I can't let the blog go without at least a word about the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game because I had a weird visit out there the other day. I too went out to get a dip net permit because even though I've never done that and likely won't I want to keep my options open in case I need to take advantage of it to help us through the long brutal Alaskan winters as seen on TV. So I got to noticing that the two Commercial Fishing advocacy groups both rent space in the same building as ADF+G.   KPFA is Set netters and UCIDA is the Drift fleet.....mmmmm.....Now these salmon are by our constitution a 'common property resource' , meaning they belong to all of us but these guys seem to get just a bit more of the property and we seem to get more of the common.
So the reason they rent there could be lots of things, cheap rent, great views, the Subway shop next door or maybe they're all just friends, who knows. But I'll tell you what happened while I was in the ADF+G office the other day...and I promise you this is 100% true, I mean a guy couldn't make this up....While I was filling out the paperwork a delivery man arrived with a huge floral bouquet and left it at the reception desk. I said to a gal I know who was holding it " how cool , your husband sent you flowers". She replied " no, it's for all three of us from a commercial fisherman we know, aren't they beautiful"?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Next best thing to fishing and catching.....

is fishing and not catching.  The July King salmon opener has come and gone with a huge dose of disappointment for all of us fish bums. As it rained last weekend my friend Dan France ominously predicted it " it's going to blow out on us". Well the water was awful chaulky on Tuesday so at first we attributed the poor fishing to that. As the week went on and the water cleared the reality began to sink in....there's just not many Kings in yet, but its awful early and it has to build.
That's Jim holding his 'virtual' king salmon on Tuesday . I guess it's the musician in me but when I imagine a fish I imagine  HUGE one, not a measly 25 pounder like ol Jim's got there. I'm blessed to be surrounded by the best people, thanks to everyone that came along this week. Here's my Tuesday group of Mike and Jim anchored by my old friend Ty Tobias in the middle. Ty there has caught them all, big and small, he's sat through rain and wind and hot fishing right down to brutal slow fishing like this week....but he loves it, what's a little slow fishing to a cancer survivor eh?
So by Thursday the word was out and the river took on a stillness like I've never seen. The locals stay home, I guess they rely on folks like us to let them know when the fishery turns on. The problem with that is they'll miss that first good day. And the way I look at it is this - we know this is a dynamic fishery, and when it goes 'off' we're going to be there. Anyway, by Saturday there were only 20 or 30 boats on the entire river, it was eerie quiet. I took this pic of the Minnow at 5 am the other morning. The ol Kenai was just gorgeous as the day started with a little fog on the water and the promise of sun and 70 degrees.
And of course without the normal four jillion boats racing around the wildlife and all the other parts of the experience stand out. This guy here swam the river in front of us and for him it was most likely the first time he's done that without causing a traffic jam.
And of course the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game are always around, I guess they look at it like  part of the job is entertainment. Here's a pic of their weir sitting high and dry, all set to herd moose, seagulls, people , beavers, coyotes, you know all the things they're concerned about. It'll herd them all over to that far bank so they can count them with their Didson fased array sonar...Good work boys.
You know what they say ' if you fail to plan, you plan to fail '. So I've been busy in the garage tying trout flys. And from what I see today I think we're off to an early and huge red salmon run. So, if the Kings are slow we'll most likely give them an hour or two or three and then run above Soldotna and catch beautiful Rainbows and Dollies or even flip for sockeyes. Below is a pic of the yarn flys I've found work the best. A lot of the guides use just a bead to look like a washed out salmon egg but I've found they like the meat of decomposing salmon. So I tie an assortment of flesh colored yarn flys with my favorite being that fake shrimp looking deal with a little egg looking red head. It seems like the hardness of the bead makes the trout spit as soon as they feel it and the softness of the yarn makes them hold on a bit...and walla, hooked right in the old side of he jaw.
And the results are gorgeous trout like the one I'm holding with old Dwight from a few years back...and that King salmon on the left, well we ain't done with you guys yet either, it's early, early, early in the run so it WILL get better.
And speaking of planning, well that's something I do well. I adhere to the five P's principal....proper planning prevents poor performance so I just had to jump on the Airline deal I was alerted to by a Mazatl├ín forum. Using my companion fare I got me and MP on the jet November 28th for only a thousand bucks round trip, the cheapest ever....almost free as we say in Mexico.  So for all our friends from the southern clime who read this blog....we're headed your way, neither sleet or famine...or even a little slow fishing for that matter will keep us away. Maybe some of you ought to look into the tickets, there seem to be some screaming deals out there.