Tok, Valdez, and the Kenai Area

6/15

We got to Alaska about noon – visited the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge. Lots of birds - saw a nesting Trumpeter Swan. Rain off and on - the first time on us since May 4 in Oklahoma City.

Went to Tok and the info center - decided to stay the night at the Sourdough Campground and head for Valdez in the morning. The salmon are running - a little early this year.

Sourdough Campgrounds

Sourdough Campgrounds

The Sourdough Campground has a contest every night called a pancake toss  - they take the morning leftovers and give everyone two chances to toss one in a bucket  - for a free breakfast  - sourdough pancakes, biscuits and gravy, reindeer and pork sausage,  coffee, juice and friut  - all you can eat   - normally $12.  I watched several people throw it like a fresbee with  no luck, then someone folded one and came close.  I picked out two the same size and weight  - came close on the first one and then had the range and made the second one.  Can’t wait until tomorrow morning.

6/16

Breakfast was good - The reindeer sausage was 25% farm raised caribou and the rest beef,  It was a little like kielbasa.    We went down to Valdez.  Interesting road - saw some of the Wrangell - St. Elias National park  - larger than 6 Yellowstones. 

We saw the 16,000+ ft. Mt Sanford very clearly.  

Mt. Sanford

Mt. Sanford

 This park has 10 of the tallest 16 peaks in the US.   It has a glacier bigger than RI.  There is no drive-in camping in the park  - so we camped in Valdez and will probably go back into the park more tomorrow.  Further South we went to the Worthington Glacier  - you could walk in to it -

If you click on this twice, maybe you can see the guy in the red jacket part way up the side of it on the left.

Worthington Glacier

Worthington Glacier

Then we stopped at Bridal Veil Falls.

Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls

Walked arouund the docks in Valdez and checked out some boats   - the salmon run isn’t here yet  - the reds started up Copper Creek - then the very warm weather caused the glacial melt water to flow hard and really slowed them down. 

6/17

Left Valdez after driving around and looking it over - drove across the harbor and the town looks very small against the mountains there. A cruise ship was in - usually only one a week this year - business is off. The pink salmon run is about to start here.

Drove north up over the pass and it wasn’t fogged in this morning. We took the cutoff road into Chitina – it is about 30 miles in to the edge of the National Park at the Copper River. From there it is another 60 miles on a dirt road to McCarthy. That would be a good trip - but 120 miles of dirt road is not too appealing. There was a big find of very pure copper there by the gold miners - they made more on copper than on the gold. There are many glaciers, one the size of RI - The park is bigger than NH and VT combined – with almost no roads.

There were First Nation people taking fish in the Copper river with fish wheels. Locals are allowed to use big nets on fish in certain areas - one guy got 30 reds (sockeye salmon) in 3 hours. 

Klutina River

Came back out and went to the King for a Day campgrounds on the Klutina River. Very nice people and we are right on the river. The salmon run started and then the water got high in the Copper River which slowed the fish down on the way to the Klutina.

 

The owners were very helpful - instead of trying to sell you a lot of special flies and lures – they just use a hook with some fluorescent yarn on it - and some split shot a foot in front of it. They use fly rods and just flip it upstream and retrieve it as it gets downstream, spinning rods will also work. The red salmon are quite close to shore. Did some practicing to no avail - except to start to learn how— The fly rod looks easier to use for the flip fishing….

The owner guided 2 people out and with a jet boat they went upstream and came back with 4 reds from the river and also many Dolly Varden from Klutina Lake on an all day trip. Two experienced guests also got 3 reds along the river. Not very fast fishing yet – but still possible to catch one.

Nice place – fast water - Bald and Golden Eagles. Would love to have a run really going here.

 

6/18

Decided to drive over to the Kenai Peninsula because the red salmon are running.- particularly in the Russian River.  We stopped into the Visitor Center at the Wrangell - St Elias National park first.  What a great place - the park is larger than Switzerland and has bigger mountains – and far fewer roads. 

Went slightly north and then took the road from Glennallen to Anchorage. Pretty flat road at first and the thru the Chugach Mts. and by glaciers before we got to Anchorage. Stopped at Fred Meyer for some food and stuff, filled up the diesel tank (24.9mpg) and went south toward Cooper Landing. Nice drive along the water for a while - then mountains and then we were there.

The area around the Russian River was unbelievable – lines of cars looking for a place to park around the road – and the river looked just as crowded. Got in a campsite north of the river - along the upper Kenai – but no salmon there yet .

Maybe tomorrow, we can figure out how to get on the Russian River and catch some fish or at least see some caught

Phase 1 - see some reds (Valdez)

Phase 2 - see some that were caught on hook and line (Copper River)

Phase 3 - see some caught

Phase 4 - hook one

Phase 5 - Land one 

Phase 6 - Salmon Feast

We found a campground on the Kenai River – just north of where the Russian River comes in. The Russian and the Kenai just south of it is the hottest place in Alaska for salmon fishing right now. 

6/20 The red salmon are running right now. There are so many that they upped the daily limit from 3 to 6. Many people that know what they are doing were getting their limit, but the crowds were very thick. People were parked along the road and lined up trying to get in to the ferry parking. Saw some people in the campsite that went in one night, fished all night and ended up with 12 fish each – 2 daily limits – one before midnight and one after. They brought a vacuum sealer with them to process the fish.

There is a ferry to take people across the Kenai so they can fish on the side where the Russian comes in to the Kenai. I have seen a lot of boats – but never one that operates like this one, It is a square steel boat that runs along a cable. If you adjust the ropes so the front of the boat points at the other shore, the current pushes it across. The deckhand adjusts the lines to the pulley car and the Captain steers from the stern, the wheel fine tunes the angle, there is no motor. You have to get a special Captains license to operate this boat. During the height of the run – it is operated from 6 AM to 11 PM- they certainly must take at least 700 people a day over at $9.50 each – They make money from parking. But it lasts only as long as the run.

Ferry

Ferry

The fishing is referred to as “combat fishing” because the anglers are only 10 feet apart or even less in places.

It would be nice if all those fish were in an easily accessible place with no people there - but that won’t happen or at least tourists wouldn’t find out about it.

I decided to take the ferry across and try it, so Mary Anne dropped me off for a few hours. The technique is pretty simple, You tie on a streamer fly on your line - and then about 3 feet up, you put in enough lead to keep it bouncing on the bottom, Then you make a very short cast - upstream at about 2 o’clock – then let it drift down to about 10 o’clock- with some twitches on the way down and a jerk at the end. The trick is to feel the hits and hook them.

I had about 4 hits that I felt (and probably more that I didn’t) before I finally hooked and landed one.

 

Red Salmon

Red Salmon

They are about 8 -10 # and very strong. In the fast current, they put up a great fight – you have to work them to the edge of the stream fast - if they get out in the middle, they are probably lost. The number of people next to you makes it harder, 20# test is probably the least you want. I heard one guy break 20# test and it was so loud, I thought he broke his rod. There have been some rods broken there. It is hard to imagine a 50# king salmon.

It was crowded on Friday - weekend must be worse - maybe come back on Monday or Tuesday. 

Then we drove to Soldotna and stayed with Phil and Mary Jo – old sailing friends from Martha’s Vineyard. They moved up to Alaska and built a big log cabin overlooking a lake. They tell stories about working on it at way below zero - moose walking by – shoveling snow out of the future living room. Moose still walk by - bear on the road in - snowy mountains across the lake - eagles flying by,

Cabin

Cabin

 

We did the salmon on the grill and it was great - Spent the evening talking about Alaska and boats and back home. You don’t realize what time it is until you look at the watch - light at midnight.

6/20

Relaxing day at the cabin - catch up on laundry, showers, cleanup the van, ….. Maybe Homer tomorrow.. Steak and king crab for dinner.

Longest day of the year. Hasn’t been dark for weeks – summer getting officially started – parties in town. 

Drove down to Homer and went out on the Homer Spit.

Homer Spit

Homer Spit

That is a view of it as you come down the mountain.   A lot bigger when you get close   - full of activity - boats and people and shops. Saw a charter boat come in with some nice halibut  - one was 75#.  Will try to get out on one next week..  200 feet of water with a 3 or 4 pound weight.

6/22 Homer

Woke up to a gray day – some rain off and on. Met Phil and we went clamming on the spit in Homer.

The spit used to be a lot wider before the earthquake in the 60’s , and it was also higher. There used to be razor clams before the earthquake- and they are back. Most people clam a little north of there, in Clam Gulch for example There is a 60 clam daily limit and anyone with a fishing license can dig them. It was a very low tide – the time to go.

Clamming

Clamming

You just look for a little hole in the sand – a slightly rectangular larger hole indicates a razor clam, a small round hole is a redneck clam - similar to a New England steamer. We each got about 30 razor clams in a two hours, as well as quite a few of the rednecks.. it seems like they are easier to find as the tide starts to come in. You only need a shovel and a bucket. The best shovels are long and narrow – it makes for easier digging and you don’t crack as many (which is real easy).

Razor Clam

Razor Clam

They also make a round tube for digging - which a few people use. It made a good meal for 4 with three packages left for the freezer. We deep fried them and they tasted somewhat like calamari. Cleaning them takes a little while.

We stopped down to watch a few of the surf casters work some fish in at the end of the spit – doing very well with flounder and small cod. The occasional small halibut is taken there. There is also an inlet on the spit there that has two salmon runs, they release kings and silvers there and they return to this little inlet. It is easy to see why a lot of people live somewhat off the land. Fishing and hunting should provide a lot of the main courses all winter. A moose would certainly provide a lot of meat for a family or two for the winter, combine that with a few good days on salmon runs and maybe a halibut fishing trip or two and your freezer (or two) would be very full. There certainly is some bartering going on – trading moose for salmon, etc. A nice garden would fill it in if you had the room.

 

There are many companies that will process and freeze and then ship your fish home, they will also hold it until you get home. The price of filleting, vacuum packing, and freezing is just over $1/#, the shipping is the expensive part, since it is usually overnight air. Larger quantities (100 #) might be around $5/lb, smaller quantities are more per pound, It is cheaper than buying it at home, and it is nice to eat your own fish.

6/23

Drove to Seward  - named after the guy that bought this place from Russia.   They called it “Seward’s Icebox”  Nice drive  - past an icefield and close to glaciers.   Went into town to check out the docks and the fishing… 

Halibut

Halibut

 We were walking around with Effie and heard very loud “WOOF”  - a big Newfoundland male was going by in a truck and he said hello to Effie…

 It looked like some very good catches were  made by the halibut charter guys - maybe we will charter there. Saw a 145 # halibut and a few around 100.  

They were snagging reds at the mouths of some of the creeks  - legal there  The creeks there mostly don’t allow salmon fishing.  Reds have been reintroduced there.  A non profit is doing a lot of the work for reds and silvers.  They actually can sell some of the returning salmon after a certain amount go by that will sustain the fishery - and support their work that way.   We went up to their weir and saw reds so thick, you could practically walk on them  - then some jumping up some falls on Bear Creek.

Red Salmon Below Falls

Red Salmon Below Falls

 

Red trying falls

Red trying falls

 We stayed at a good campground just below that.  Also visited Exit Glacier on that road about 8 miles up from Seward  - there is a big icefield and many glaciers flow to the sea near Seward  - lots of boat tours there.

6/24

Drove north to Tern Lake  - it is also where  you turn toward Anchorage or Homer and we went towards Homer and the Kenai River again. 

Tern Lake

Tern Lake

 There were many terns and seagulls on that lake -probably some nesting there.  Decided to stay at the Russian River Ferry Landing  - no camping is allowed but you can park there for  up to 48 hours - so many parked (camped).  Cost was $5/night with the senior pass.  It is crowded and busy. 

Took the ferry over and fished for the red salmon again  - took about 3 hours to catch one  - the experts can sometimes get 6 in that time.      There is quite a trick to it.   I got some coaching from a nice guy from near Anchorage.   His son came down and got two fish in two casts  - (later he broke his rod).    I had at least a dozen hits and at least 3 on for a while before I landed one.   One of the misses was up on shore and he got back in the water.

The next morning I went over again around 6:30 and had one by 8.   Looked across the river towards the road side and saw a grizzley munching carcasses.  Some of the fishermen left the area to give the bear plenty of room.   I called Mary Anne on the cell and she walked down the shore close enough to get a photo.   The fishermen started walking away calmly  (at least on the outside).  Apparently this is pretty common.   

Bear

Bear

 We left to head over to the town of Kenai.     We spotted a moose and her two young ones just south of Soldotna.     

Moose with twins

Moose with twins

 Read the Milepost and found out about a brewery near Kenai, the Kassik’s Brew Stop.   We had a few samples, and got a growler of their Spiced Honey Wheat beer  - very good with a light cinnamon spice. They can’t keep their Caribou Kilt Strong Scotch Ale in stock and had none  - - apparently a prize winning ale.  They make it at the rate of 155 gallons a batch.   They will expand soon.

Went up to Crooked Creek RV Park for the night.  There is fishing for Kings and Reds there  - but at a slower pace.  It is where Crooked Creek flows into the Kasilov River.  Kings are the big (Chinook) salmon  - record is over 90 #  - hard to imagine landing one of those.  Found out several kings were taken today - one about 25#, some more were lost.  There must have been 30 people fishing the banks  - but it was nothing like several hundred on the Kenai.  There were nowhere near the number of reds taken  - most didn’t have any fish  - on the Kenai, most had several and many limits.  Saw one guy on the Kenai with a hook in his cheek  - don’t know if it was his or someone elses  - sunglasses or safety glasses are a very good idea.

Had some red salmon on the grill for dinner.   

 Talked to some guys from Montana that have been clamming for 3 days, it is a period of very low tides  - have a small freezer with them.    Takes longer to clean then than it does to catch them.

 6/26

Crooked Creek-  40 degrees this morning  - since we are plugged in, we pulled out a little electric heater and warmed things up a bit.  It didn’t take long with the insulation in the van. Have the IPOD and the little speakers from the home computer - very comfortable.    One of the campers (from France) caught a King this morning  - maybe 20#

King Salmon

King Salmon

 6/27

Chuck and Carol flew in to Anchorage and picked up their RV for the week.  We had reservations in a convenient campground in Cooper Landing, and they rolled in in time for a red salmon dinner  - with a little honey and soy.   Caught up a little on their trip  - which included a train from Banff to Vancouver.  It is a great route that I drove 30 years ago  - the Canadian Highway and the train both follow about the same path - spectacular.  They spent some time around Victoria too.

6/28

Went fishing on the Kenai for a while, the run seems like it is really slowing down - we didn’t catch anything  - about 9 of 10 didn’t  - but a few had their limit (they must have been there a long time and know what they are doing)  We will go back during the week when it is not as crowded.      We drove down to Homer and it was spectacular, a clear day where we could see many glaciers.    Got a campsite just above Homer with great views.    

 

6/30

Halibut Fishing— Crooked Creek Campground set us up for a halibut fishing with with Wild Rose Charters. There were 6 of us that went down to Mike’s house and then to Deep Creek. He trailers his boat to there and we did a “tractor launch”. The tractor is a skidder - the ultimate 4 wheel drive they use for pulling logs out of the woods. Pretty simple in concept - everyone gets in the boat and skidder hooks up to the trailer and backs you down thru the surf . You better have the boat started as soon as you hit the water – he backs you fast enough to float you off and you back out and drive away.

Tractor Launch

Tractor Launch

 

Coming in – you call him on the radio, he has the trailer in the water with a guy in a dry suit ready to hook you up. You drive on, the guy hitches you to the trailer and the skidder drives you right up on the beach, before too much water comes over the transom. I guess there have been some notable misses, ending up with the boat operator missing the trailer and ending up on the beach on its side.

 There were 6 of us plus the Captain on a 24 foot boat  - a little crowded, but it worked out ok.   We started catching them shortly, but the captain wouldn’t keep anything under 20 pounds, he figured we could do better than that and we did.     The limit is 2 keepers apiece.  Chuck got the first keeper after I had thrown 3 back.   The other guys were doing OK.  We were using 3 pound sinkers in about 180 feet of water,  The tide was making a pretty fast current.    As the tide came closer to a change, the current slacked off and the halibut were more active.   I guess more of their natural food comes out of the rocks and they can catch it easier so they feed more.  Herring was the main bait - sometimes with a chunk of cod.  Herring has more of a smell so it works better with the cod instead of the cod alone.     

We had a 40 minute lull as the tide changed - then the bite started again.   Finally we had 11 in the boat and needed one more to round out the day.   I hooked a good one  - he stayed on the bottom for a while and I gradually came up,   It was a 50 pounder  - big one of the day.  Captain said 20 - 50 is the ideal eating size. 

Halibut

Halibut

 

6/30

We drove up to the Kenai near the Kenai Canyon and fished for a while. Chuck had a red salmon on for a short while, but it left. There were a lot of trout there feeding on surface flies. You can only keep one under 16” there, and we weren’t set up for dry fly fishing. Went down to Homer and looked around - fished at the end of the spit for a while. We caught some walleyed pollock and a few flounder - enough for dinner.

Fishing

Fishing

The longer casts had better results. Someone caught an “Irish Lord”, a big sea robin – Effie saw it and wanted to get a real close look - but Mary Anne held her back.

On the way out of town, Mary Anne took some photos of a bald eagle.

 

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

7/1

Drove over to Seward – stopped by Exit Glacier and walked up to it.

Exit Glacier

Exit Glacier

It is one of the glaciers that comes down from the Harding Ice field, a remnant of the ice age. It is the largest ice field that is entirely in the US – probably the other big one is over in the Wrangell – St Elias park and extends into the Yukon. The glacier was named the Exit glacier because some party was walking across the ice field and used the glacier to exit it. It is about a mile walk up to the edge of it so we did that. You can take a longer trail to get up on the ice field – about an 8 hour trip that has a lot of uphill work. We couldn’t take Effie because there are a lot of bears in the area. We spotted a big pile of bear dung on the trail – very fresh, but Chuck wouldn’t stick his finger in to see if it was still warm. Stayed at Bear Paw Campground.

 

7/2

We went up the road to a salmon stream by the hatchery – the reds were still stacked up waiting for a chance at the falls. We still had to take 15 photos to get one good one. Then down to Seward – had a chance to see a commercial halibut boat unload. We knew some one that was working there – she was also a fisheries observer in New Bedford. They had a good catch - 55,000 pounds of halibut - 4 days of fishing – counting the trip back (2 days). Long lines are put out - the main heavy line has hooks and leaders attached along it, it is baited, then anchored at one end with a buoy at the other and left over a tide change, then the winch on the boat pulls it in and the fish are taken off as they come aboard. The fish are gutted and iced on the boat -then unloaded, sorted by weight and iced down again on the dock, then packed and shipped out for processing. They go to Anchorage and then most are flown to Seattle for processing. They also catch the black cod (sable fish) on the long lines too.

 

We went to the Alaska SeaLife Center in town – and it was well worth the visit. They had a lot of salmon on display as well as quite a collection of sea birds and sea lions and otter. You could see the birds and the sea lions from the surface or underwater. Some birds can dive very deep. .Several kinds of puffins were there and they are fun to watch.

Splashing Puffin

Splashing Puffin

The tanks held all the fish and crabs that were found in the area. I think I heard that Southwestern Alaska including the Aleutian Islands have more nesting seabirds than the rest of North America combined.

 

The big male sea lion was impressive, certainly over 1200 pounds. When you stood in the underwater window, they would look right at you as they swam by (thinking Lunch?).

They are much more graceful underwater.

 

 

 

We went up the hill out of Seward to a campsite, getting crowded with the 4th of July weekend. Checked in and met Dawson, a big male Newfoundland Dog that lives there. He is about 5 and got along fine with Effie.

Dawson

Dawson

He may have been the Newfie we saw in Seward last week. The campsite was on Kenai Lake. Apparently the people had a small dog that liked to go out in the lake and cool off in the summer.  When Dawson arrived as a young dog, he saw the small dog in the lake during his first summer and immediately went out, grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and took him to shore – rescuing him- the little dog wasn’t pleased.

 

It was Chuck and Carol’s last nite camping – they had to turn the camper in the next day to be ready for a hotel and a early flight back home. We cooked halibut over an open fire and had a few beers. We shipped 20 packages of Halibut back to his house.

Cooking Halibut

Cooking Halibut

 

We went back to Soldotna and stayed with Phil and Mary Jo – another halibut dinner.  We have had Alaska-caught fish every day for 2 weeks now – at least at one meal sometimes two. Have to do some steak soon – maybe tomorrow on the grill

Stopped to get some oil and used the filter I brought with me to do an oil change there. Needs one every 10,000 miles and it is about the easiest oil and filter change there is. Takes 10 quarts of good oil– made for diesels. I use one of the several approved ones - Shell Rotella T, 15w-40. It is about $16 a gallon and the filter is $6 online. The Sprinter dealers charge quite a bit to do the same change. I have a fuel and air filter with me too, just in case.

 

Just heard that Sarah Palin resigned.

 

July 4th

Lots going on including the Marathon Mountain run in Seward - they run up 3022 vertical feet and then run back down. Coming down is dangerous – some rolling part of the way. I guess last year they had a snow chute for part of the way – which had to add another dimension to sliding down. Big party- very warm and sunny - must be over 70.

 

Regrouping here, and our last visit with Phil and Mary Jo – until they head back to New England for a visit.

Cabin

Cabin

We will head north on Sunday, when the campsites aren’t quite as full - Denali is next. Hope the good weather holds – has been a great summer here for weather – especially compared to last summer here. We have been hearing that New England is very rainy this summer. They said our lawn might require the services of a herd of goats- we hope our bees are OK - rainy wet weather isn’t ideal.

 

Made some phone calls and have reservations for the next 3 nites, one in Talkeetna and two at Riley Creek campground in Denali. Talkeetna is apparently one of the staging areas for the climbers – about half of the ones that try for the top of Denali are successful. We did hear that 2 from our home area lost their lives there this summer.

Denali is very popular and we were wondering if it would be crowded right after the 4th holiday, but no problem getting in.

Just saw a ptarmigan by the house. It is easier to spell chicken.

 

photos soon

   

 

 

 

Last January

One of the reasons we want to visit Alaska is to visit an old sailing  buddy.  He moved there from Martha’s Vineyard a few years ago and built a cabin in Soldotna. He left his schooner home.  Phil  sent me a view from his front window (in Nov).

Phil's View
Phil

 

One of the things Phil sees every clear morning on his way to work is the Mt. Redoubt volcano.  When the wind is blowing from that direction, there is ash landing on his house, and it is not good to breathe.  We are hoping that it stops by June so we can do a lot of fishing (and breathing) in his area.

The Kenai River is famous for the salmon runs and with any luck we can catch a run of the reds.