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Hot Times in Alaska (No Skiing)

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 
I just got home from a trip to the fishing lodge in Alaska that we have listed for sale.  This is the same place I went to last August and did the infamous skiing-on-caribou-poop trip report on EpicSki.

This lodge is located halfway down the Alaska Peninsula, which ends at the Aleutian Islands for all you geography buffs out there.  The lodge sits on a wooded bench at the lofty elevation of 435 feet above sea level. Just above the lodge are the foothills of the Aleutian Range, which is the volcanic mountain range that runs the entire length of the Alaska Peninsula and also forms the islands of the Aleutian chain.

This semi-dormant volcano, Mt. Chiginagak, towers above the entire landscape around the lodge. 



Its summit elevation is only 7,005 feet, but it rises almost from sea level.  The view above is what you have if you're fishing just a little downstream from the lodge. 

This photo, by Janet Schaefer of the Alaska Volcano Observatory, shows the crater of the volcano.  The lodge is located in the green valley almost directly above the summit in the photo:



Anyway, last year I skied a couple of fairly big snowfields on August 19 on a small sub-summit above the lodge at 2,700 feet.  THIS year, almost all of that snow is gone.  They've had an incredibly dry winter/spring/summer and the recent temperatures in much of Alaska have been off-the-charts hot. 

No skiing for me this year.  I didn't even take the skis.

I just went fishing this time.

Because of the low water and warm temperatures, most of the migrating salmon were staying in the lower parts of the rivers, so we rode boats downstream to get to the fish.  A typical day would start with a wonderful breakfast at the lodge:



And then a boat ride that almost always includes lots of wildlife sightings like bald eagles (I think these two must have been twins):



Arctic terns:



Caribou:



Tundra swans:



And king salmon like this one I'm holding:



A couple of days, we flew out in a small plane to a smaller stream that's loaded with rainbow trout and arctic char.  Here's what a plane looks like taking off from the lodge airstrip:



Here's a big arctic char that ate a mouse imitation skating across the surface:





And on one day, I took a hike above timberline with one of the owners of the lodge.  We found a little bit of snow, but not much:



And a very cool mound of rocks and vegetation that was covered by a giant spider web.  This was at the 2,700 foot elevation point and there were bugs of every possible kind flying and crawling around on this thing:



I always hate to leave that place.
post #2 of 19
Just spiders, no snakes Bob?  Better luck next time
Those fish were incredible and edible   Thanks for another one of your stunning TRs.
post #3 of 19
 There is not a picture that I have seen that shows the magnitude of Alaska. Nice try though, Bob. 
post #4 of 19
Let me be the 1000th person to say:  both Bob and his TRs rule!
post #5 of 19
Cool scenary, & some nice looking (big) fish.
JF
post #6 of 19
my favorite bob peters tr
post #7 of 19
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by crgildart View Post

Just spiders, no snakes Bob?  Better luck next time
 

Heh.

Up there, brown bears take over the role of potentially nasty critter that you need be aware of. 

We actually had what could have been an unpleasant experience with a bear.  We were on our way down a ridge on our hike, still well above timberline, when we came over a little knoll.  I happened to be looking down the ridgeline when I noticed what seemed like a big beige rock in a spot I didn't remember a big rock as we were coming up.  About a half second later, I realized this was not a rock.  It was a very big blonde grizzly bear with its head down sniffing the tundra for rodents.  He was about 200 yards away from us across very smooth terrain and UPwind, which is not a good thing.

I tapped Patty on the shoulder and pointed.  She and her husband own the lodge and she's very bear-savvy.  She sized up the situation and didn't like it.  We were totally in the open and if it wanted to, a big bear could cover the distance between us in a few seconds.  She whispered that we should crouch down and move sideways off the ridge.  The bear had already lifted his head and was looking right at us.  As we started crabwalking away, he took a few steps toward us, but more like he was trying to figure out what we were than actually threatening us.  All of a sudden, he decided he wanted nothing to do with us and just bolted off the ridge down into the next drainage (called Bear Creek, appropriately enough).

Once he disappeared, we still needed to walk down the ridge he had just left in order to get back to the lodge.  Of course, we didn't know how far he had gone, just that he had left.  Patty had one hand on the bear spray and we spoke VERY loudly as we walked.  Once we got by where he had been, we walked over to a little open knoll and looked down into the drainage.  There, about five hundred feet below us was our bear, just sitting in the open looking toward us.  We looked at each other for a couple of seconds and then he got up and galloped away down toward the alders lower down near the creek.  End of encounter.

The really bad thing about all this is that I had my camcorder around my neck when we spotted the bear (my still camera was in my pack). I got a few seconds of pretty good footage of the bear when we first saw him (before Patty got through to me that we needed to move RIGHT NOW) and then more as he ran down the drainage.  We viewed it that night but I didn't download it to the computer.  The next day, I was fishing and filming while we were on the arctic char stream.  When I do that, I hang it around my neck and tuck it inside my chest waders when I'm not filming.  Sure enough, while crossing the stream I tripped on a rock and fell face forward into the stream - dousing the camera with water.  The camcorder was off at the time and I immediately took out the battery.  I left it to dry and didn't plug it in again until I got home.  The camcorder now powers up just fine but it's not accessing the hard drive.  Canon told me that they MIGHT be able to salvage the footage on the drive if I send it to them, so it's on its way today.  If they can get my footage back, I'll post a video of Mr. Bear.

We actually discussed the snake thing.  They didn't think there snakes of any kind on their part of the Alaska Peninsula but they didn't know about the rest of Alaska.  Does anybody here know?  Any garter snakes or something similar?
post #8 of 19
 No snakes in AK, Bob.
Nice pictures. Is the lodge Painter Creek?
Never fished there but always heard great things.
post #9 of 19
Great trip report.  I just got back from alaska visiting my family in Homer.  I visited also the brown bears at Katmai Park and got within about three feet of bears.  They are such amazing animals and were really respectful of the human space.  I felt no fear whatsoever because a brown bear will turn away if you make a clapping noise with your hands or rocks and tell it to scoot.  Even my 8 year old boy was not worried.  Of course, these bears are very well fed on salmon.  We saw about twenty bears in all which is about half of what the guides said they used see in earlier years.  My pictures are not too impressive because I really just enjoyed watching the bears and did not want to bother with my camera when we close to one.     
post #10 of 19
Thread Starter 
Speaking of bears, last night I talked with the owner of Painter Creek Lodge.  The salmon are in the river in full force and the bears are chasing them.  A guide took two fishermen down the main river yesterday and they counted 24 grizzly bears visible from the boat in about ten miles of river.

Best of all...

I'm leaving this coming Friday to spend all next week chasing fish and photos up there.  Wahoo!

Photos and video to follow.
post #11 of 19
I'm going to show my ignorance here so I'll ask you to be kind.
Where I live when we fish we keep almost anything that's big enough to eat except when we're Bass fishing. Bass are not that tasty so some folks catch and release. If we catch more than we can eat we'll have a FISH FRY and invite our friends. Trout and Salmon are my two favorites - to eat. What do you guys out west do with all these trout and salmon you catch?
post #12 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Peters View Post

We actually discussed the snake thing.  They didn't think there snakes of any kind on their part of the Alaska Peninsula but they didn't know about the rest of Alaska.  Does anybody here know?  Any garter snakes or something similar?

There are no snakes in Alaska.  None, ningunos, aucun, keine, nessun, zip, zero, zilch.  I lived and fought fire up there for 12 years and that was one of the greatest things.  I am a passionate and unrepentant loather and fearer of snakes.  

Nice TR.  Love the plane pic.  Alaska kind of ruined me for fishing in the lower 48.  


Quote:
Originally Posted by steveturner View Post

...What do you guys out west do with all these trout and salmon you catch?

I release about 99% of them.  I might keep a salmon if it looks particularly tasty.  

I ate lots of salmon when I lived in AK.  
post #13 of 19
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by steveturner View Post

I'm going to show my ignorance here so I'll ask you to be kind.
Where I live when we fish we keep almost anything that's big enough to eat except when we're Bass fishing. Bass are not that tasty so some folks catch and release. If we catch more than we can eat we'll have a FISH FRY and invite our friends. Trout and Salmon are my two favorites - to eat. What do you guys out west do with all these trout and salmon you catch?
Hi, steveturner.

There's no ignorance at all in that question. 

The answer depends a whole lot on two things - regulations and personal preference.  Here in the West, there's a pretty strong catch and release ethic where trout are concerned.  That's partly because trout fishing in many areas of the west had severely degraded a couple of decades ago.  The reasons included lots of things like habitat degredation, increasing populations of people, increasing demand for water, and overfishing.  Catch and release regulations and the new attitudes about releasing trout have made big improvements in trout fishing around much of the West.  In most of the bigger public rivers, the trout populations really couldn't survive if most people were killing and eating a high percentage of what they catch.  In smaller streams, however, there are usually plenty of trout and eating some of them doesn't hurt a thing.

Alaska is a different kettle of fish (heh) entirely.  In the watershed that I'll be fishing, there are a maximum of 8-10 anglers a week spread out over miles and miles and miles of streams.  There are literally tens (maybe hundreds?) of thousands of Pacific salmon that come into those streams to spawn and die.  Following those salmon are droves of arctic char and rainbow trout that come up the streams to feed on eggs escaping the salmon nests.  There are honestly more fish than you can even imagine.

Despite those numbers, in the portion of Alaska that I'll be fishing, it's not legal to keep (and kill) any freshwater fish - which means the trout and char.  There are very liberal keep limits on the various species of salmon around the state.  There's a lodge about 40 miles from the one I'll be fishing where the owner caters almost exclusively to European fishermen who keep every single salmon they're legally allowed to kill.  They take them home and sell them, essentially paying for the expense of their trip.

The owner of the lodge where I'm going has a different outlook.  He "prefers" that his guests keep only a limited number of salmon.  That means I usually will kill one or two salmon during the week I'm there to bring back home.  Even then, we only keep male salmon (they don't produce eggs) and the ones we keep are very fresh out of the ocean (you can tell by the appearance). 

Across Alaska, there are many, many people who keep every salmon they're allowed by law.  For some of them, it's a primary source of food at a reasonable cost.  I'm not wild about people killing and keeping hundreds of pounds of salmon, but I understand the motivation for many of them. 

I guess it's a complicated - but definitely not ignorant - question.
post #14 of 19
FKNA awesome place! Can't wait to get there some day.

Thank for the TR, Bob. 
post #15 of 19
If I "read" the plane picture correctly, you had skis on at least once, but you were strapped to those via the plane seat...ehehehe
It looks a Piper (cub?) or a derivative from it, correct?
post #16 of 19
After viewing the picture over an over , can't decide if those are skis or "giant" (low pressure?) wheels...
post #17 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nobody View Post

After viewing the picture over an over , can't decide if those are skis or "giant" (low pressure?) wheels...

Wheels, or more accurately tires - they're called tundra tires.  Bush planes use them to smooth out surfaces and soften landings and take offs on tundra and river bars and other soft or rough unprepared surfaces.  

post #18 of 19
Thanks.
You making my mouth water at the thought...I'm an ex plane pilot (well, at least that's my college level education specs) and planes (all kinds) have a soft spot in my heart...
post #19 of 19
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nobody View Post

Thanks.
You making my mouth water at the thought...I'm an ex plane pilot (well, at least that's my college level education specs) and planes (all kinds) have a soft spot in my heart...

Planes are everything in Alaska.  Hang around most any Alaskan airport and you'll see airplanes so strange you never dreamed they existed. Everybody's got at least one plane, everybody's a pilot, and they all love talking about anything aeronautical. 

Bob Lee's right (as always).  That's a Super Cub and it has very large, low pressure tires.  They use those tires to land on sand, grave bars, tundra, ice, whatever (water's not good, however ).  The Super Cub belongs to a friend of the lodge owner.  If there's a headwind, that little thing can fly at just barely faster than a hover and I've seen him land and take off on a gravel bar no longer than a football field.

Bob is also right about Alaskan fishing spoiling you for fishing in the Lower 48.  It makes most other fishing a bit boring by comparison.  Come to think of it, the same might be said about the skiing. 
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