Hannah Goes Fishing

A Fishing (and more) Blog

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Waning Winter (I Wish)

March marks that special time of year where most Fairbanksians would do just about anything to see some earnest snow melt and some warmer days.  We’re all glad the -50F temperatures have come and gone, but the weather is still flirting with 0F and we’re all dreaming of sunny bike rides and farmers markets and not having to start our cars ten minutes before going anywhere.  I want to stand out on my icy porch and yell, “Goodbye Winter!  We’ve had enough! See you next year!”, but I also don’t want my neighbors to think I’ve completely lost it.  There is simply something so much free-er about summer!  Maybe it’s not having to wear six layers everywhere I go, or maybe cabin fever is finally setting in; either way, I’m very excited for spring to be steadily marching this way.

In the meantime, I’ve been trying to enjoy the last of our wintery days by getting out into our longer days (we’ve been steadily gaining light since December, and now we still have some twilight around 9pm!) and enjoying some of the peculiarities of arctic living.

Tom baits the hooks

Alaskans have just enjoyed two major sled dog races, The Iditarod and the Yukon Quest (the former of which my room mate’s brothers both mushed in), and just yesterday I had to stop on my way to the bank to let some sprint mushers cross the road during a race.  Dogs are a major part of many Alaskan’s lives, and as in the case of my room mate and her fiance, they are like additional family members.  Some people feel that running dogs is a crime against animals and should be stopped immediately, but I think it’s important to realize that mushers don’t run dogs just to get carried around at five miles per hour on a sled.  They run dogs because, well, dogs love to run.  And mushers love their animals!  Yes, occasional there is a bad egg who should be banned from owning dogs for a lifetime, but most mushers are compassionate, adoring dog owners who take incredible care of their animals.  Anyway, it’s been fun to watch the races and cheer for Alaskans as they compete in some of the world’s toughest races.

Tom has also finally gotten me to try an Interior Alaska winter past time that I have, up until now, scoffed at.  Ice fishing.  Yes, it does sound incredibly lame, and I certainly anticipated being very bored by the whole thing.  But, Tom somehow managed to make it sort of fun and I actually really enjoyed participating in such an old subsistence activity.  I could see living in a remote place and eating fish several times per week since it’s such a low-energy way to harvest food! 

So far we’ve only managed to hook one burbot which is currently filleted and in my freezer awaiting our next neighborhood dinner gathering.  Their flesh is white and firm, so I’m expecting something a little like halibut (now there’s a real fish!).  Tom is an excellent cook when it comes to fish – my expectations are high!

My snowy ski-jour trail

Skiing has also become more fun since the weather warmed up from -20F.  I take my room mate’s dog out ski-jouring from time to time and hope that she’s in the mood to “jour” so I don’t have to do too much “ski”.  For those of you unfamiliar with this sport, it’s really just the lazy and fast way to ski.  I simply harness the dog, clip the harness to a belt strapped to my waist, clip into my ski bindings, and off we go!  I push on the skis and the dog pulls and hopefully we all stay upright and moving in a forward direction.  Sometimes on the downhills the pooch will get distracted by some tantalizing scent and I’ll find myself zipping by her as she stops in her tracks to investigate.  Inevitably the last thing I’ll see is her furry behind hauling off into the woods as I crash to the ground in a pile of tangled ski poles and harness.  Usually, though, it goes pretty smoothly and is a great workout for myself and the dog.  I’m heavily debating adopting a dog of my own so I can have a skiing and hiking partner year ’round. 

Looking at these photos, I guess I have to conclude that I actually love winter and all the wonderful activities it brings to my arctic world.  Maybe if it could just be a little shorter…and less chilly….

Until next time, thanks for reading!

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A Canadian New Year

Coming into Skagway on the M/V LeConte

Tom and I arrived in Skagway on the 30th, and were met by Nick and Sarah, our couch surfing hosts.  They showed us to their home and helped us get settled before we went out for a quick hike to a coastal point.  For those of you who haven’t spent much time in Alaska, it may come as a surprise that building codes are often non-existent, and people are happy to live in almost any kind of dwelling.  Such was the home of Nick and Sarah;  a veritable hodgepodge of part double-wide trailer, part Swiss family Robinson invention, and all around cute, cozy, and interesting.  Sarah is from New York and just visiting for a few months, while Nick has seen and done just about everything, and currently works seasonally for the almost 1 million visitors Skagway hosts during the summer months.  The rest of the year he travels, visits friends and, like most Alaskans, hibernates.

Crossing White Pass

Nick was kind enough to put us up for an evening before the four of us headed out the next day for the exciting and possibly dangerous trip up over White Pass and across the Canadian boarder to Whitehorse.  The drive went fairly well with only a few moments of blinding whiteout, and we enjoyed the lovely rolling scenery as we descended down into Canada.  Nick was a great tour guide, and gave us the names of many of lakes and streams we were passing, along with a brief history of some of the old, leftover mining equipment that still litters the hills out there.  The highlight was perhaps passing two GIANT lakes that stretched on for miles (I’m not kidding), and took at least 20 minutes to drive past, each!

New Years in Whitehorse turned out to be a pretty fun time.  We dropped Nick and Sarah with their friend in a Canadian trailer park, which was well kept, tidy, and not at all trashy.  In fact, each trailer had a picture window, breakfast nook looking area, and lovely latticed porches and patios.  If they didn’t have the trailer siding, they would have been mistakable for adorable elongated cottages.  Thomas and I checked into the cheapest hotel we could find, which was simple but clean and warm, and then headed out for a walk around town.

I would like to take this moment to talk about how absolutely delightful Canada is.  Everyone you meet is pleasant, charming, and exceptionally helpful.  Even people with jobs that might normally bum a regular person out seem to take a certain pleasure in assisting you.  The city is clean, organized around pedestrian traffic (you can press a button and the traffic lights immediately stop traffic so you can cross a road), and all the buildings are decorated with giant murals, or made to resemble old-timey gold rush era store fronts.  Over all, it gives the city a small town feel (even though it hosts 20,000 year-round residents) and is positively enjoyable to wander around (even in blowing snow!).
Tom standing in front of the snow drill mounted to the front
of the train that goes through White Pass

We went back to the hotel to relax for a bit, and then headed out again around 8pm to find a place to eat a New Year’s Eve dinner.  We had picked out a pizza joint, but found that it and almost everything else was closed or in the process of closing.  We walked several miles in the zero temperatures (though it somehow was sort of fun to search out our dinner) and then finally found a very nice place serving a Mediterranean fare.   It was a little pricey, but we felt it was a good time to treat ourselves (and my parents had gifted me some NYE spending money just for this sort of occasion – thank you!) so we asked to be seated.  Instead of being surly that we didn’t have a reservation (the place was packed), the hostess insisted that they would find a way to get us in, and found us a table where we enjoyed a spectacular meal.   Afterward, we went to the Best Western Gold Panner bar (strange, I know) to take in some live music and have a few celebratory drinks.  Nick and Sarah ended up meeting us there, and we toasted in the new year with an unexpected group of folks from all over Canada, New Zealand, and the states.  We also met another couch surfing couple who had surfed all over Europe!

The next morning we awoke, checked the weather and found that it was going to snow over a foot in the treacherous White Pass.  We quickly packed up our gear, grabbed Nick and Sarah (who were still feeling the acute effects of the previous night), and rushed for the boarder.  Thankfully, we made it over safely (even if with a few white-knuckle moments), and stayed one more night in Skagway before thanking our hosts and departing for the ferry.  Skagway, unfortunately, is such a seasonal town that it was very difficult to find a place to even get a cup of coffee.  We ended up eating what was left of our cheese and crackers in the car while waiting for the ferry to load us on for our voyage to Juneau.  The weather was incredibly windy, so we snapped a few photos but generally just tried to stay warm.

Skagway is incredibly rich with mining history, and nearby Dyea is the head of the Chilkoot Trail; thousands of potential gold miners hiked literally tons of gear up and over White Pass, and over the Chilkoot Trail only to begin a several hundred mile river journey to interior Alaska/Canada in the hopes of striking it rich in the gold fields.  Few were successful, many died or suffered greatly from disease, crime, and exposure.  Those who did strike it rich often lost their fortunes gambling or through the organized crime of Jefferson “Soapy” Smith (the famous criminal of Skagway) and his ilk.  I studied this time period extensively in elementary school, and it was really exciting to see it all in person.

Eagerly awaiting the arrival of the M/V Matanuska in Skagway

Anyway,  we boarded our boat (the M/V Matanuska) and enjoyed a late lunch and six hour sail to Juneau, where the lights of the Auke Bay glittered over the dark water.  Now, we’re in snowy Juneau and looking forward to a few slower days of some local sightseeing before doing a day at EagleCrest (the local ski hill), and then planning our trip south to Petersburg and Ketchikan.  My apologies for not having any photos to accompany these posts; I left the camera cord in Fairbanks and will have to find a replacement before I can upload them to my computer.  In the meantime, thanks for reading and I’ll write again soon!

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The End of July Thing

This past week has been a whirlwind of moving and changing places. I got to Sand Point on the 25th and spent two and a half gorgeous days hanging out with the girls and decompressing from Port Moller. We took a hike down to Sand Dollar beach one evening and the setting sun and long fading light was absolutely breath taking. It was a great way to reflect upon the summer and enjoy my last few days on the peninsula. On the 27th I got on the ferry to head back to Kodiak with Rose and Rob, both Fish and Gamers. We picked up Laura (also WASSIP) in Chignik and made it into Kodiak at 3am on the 29th. I made it home after much gear shuffling by 4am, and conked out (as you can imagine).

My phone started ringing at 9am the next morning and it turns out to be the guy who hired me, Mark Witteveen. His first question after “good morning” is, “Hey Hannah, you want to go sample?” As one might guess, I was much more interested in staying in bed, but his offer of, “We’re going in a helicopter!” was too tempting. So I spent the day flying over the beautiful emerald isle of Kodiak in a helicopter, stopping occasionally to try and catch Chum salmon in a beach seine net (highly unsuccessful). It was an amazing way to see the island, and I have definitely changed my goal of becoming a small airplane pilot to being a helicopter pilot. The highlight of the trip was getting to wear dry suits and try to take fin clips off of live fish after wrestling them out of a net. At one point while I was trying to sweet talk a Humpy into not squirming so much, Mark turned to me and said, “Hannah, we do NOT negotiate with Pinks.” Strong words to live by, right there.

Since then, I’ve been enjoying some beautiful weather (70 degrees and sunny!) here in Kodiak. A girlfriend from school is in town, as are a few other friends, so I’m enjoying myself and getting back into the swing of living somewhere that has a road system. Joe and his family should be home in a few days, so I’m looking forward to seeing them and then getting home to home sweet Homer.

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Back to Sand Point (again)!

Yesterday we finally (after much delay and weather hold) made it back to Sand Point. After not really seeing the sun for a few weeks, it was amazing to burst through the clouds in our little plane and be blinded by the light. Sand Point has been enjoying a sunny streak, and the sailor’s saying of a red sky last night held true for us today.

We went on a walk down to Sand Dollar beach last night and it was just so spectacular that I was at a loss for words to describe it. Today is just as nice, so I think we’re going to do some hiking/walking/four-wheeling/etc. before going down to the docks to sample tonight. My last sampling before heading off to Kodiak on the ferry tomorrow! It’s been such an amazing summer out here. I’m pretty sure that if the right job opens up out here next summer, I’ll be the first person gunning to apply.

Getting back yesterday took some adjusting with smaller and darker living quarters and a lot more people than just Rose and I. It was definitely wonderful to see Lisa and Bri again though, and this morning we had a breakfast of champions! Blueberry sourdough pancakes, pineapple, blackberries, homemade applesauce, and sugared strawberries. So delicious! Life sometimes just gets too darn good. I’m hoping tonight to top everything off by seeing some of the friends I’ve made here in Sand Point, and then re-pack to head out tomorrow.

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Port Moller Finale

Tonight is (hopefully) my last night in Port Moller. If the weather cooperates, then tomorrow there should be a plane here to pick us up and take us back to Sand Point where we’ll catch the ferry on the 27th. This may very well be my last small plane ride of the summer, which is sad, but nice to start the homeward bound trip.

The last few days have been very exciting. Due to there not being much around for Rose and I to do here in Port Moller, Bob the Biologist sent us out to some of the weir camps on the peninsula. The weir camps measure salmon escapement on several rivers on the peninsula that allow Bob to make his management decisions for the areas that we’ve been sampling. I went out to the Sandy River weir for three days and hung out with a fellow Fish and Gamer named Kris. He was a pretty cool guy, and we had a good time cursing the weather, counting the few fish that passed through the weir, and firing crackers at visiting bears. I’ve gotta admit, it’s totally fun to shoot at something that could possibly shred you if it got close enough. The crackers we used are essentially harmless firecrackers that make noises and send out smoke that seem to do a good job deterring the bears from making any closer investigations to our cabin.

We busied ourselves the rest of the time with building a partition wall in the new portion of the Sandy cabin, which was built in 1965. Apparently this was before there were any kind of building standards, so to make the new section match the old one, some part of the roof had to be built at a slant. Ridiculous to say the least. I learned how to build a wall, though, and also discovered that the secret to fixing any wood working problem is to hit it with a hammer. Didn’t fix it? You probably didn’t hit it hard enough. Wood is such an amazing substance. While building this wall and attempting to hang plywood, I watched two pieces of wood that had both measured out to be perfectly square refuse to fit together. Silly and infuriating, but really cool in the end. Plus you get to hit stuff with a hammer.

Sandy River Lodge is a few miles down river of the weir and the weir camp, and the guy who runs it is an old timer named Mel who originally hails from Texas and still carries a little of the trademark accent. He helps out the weir camp crew by providing them with a place to shower, check their email, use the phone, and on occasion eat a fine dinner that they didn’t have to make themselves. In return, the weir camp crew helps him out around his lodge. The few days I was there, Kris and I went down to the lodge to see if we could help out (and to borrow some paint rollers). “Helping out”, I soon discovered, mostly consists of following Mel around while he gripes about the government, democrats, and the price of fuel. He also occasionally kicks the nearest object to emphasize his disgust.

Mel is one of those legendary hunting/fishing guides who now has retired to running the lodge, and could probably still wrestle a bear and win. He’s racist, sexist, and generally has some kind of issue with everyone and everything for some reason or another, but despite all his shortcomings he’s still one of those good people to know who will always help you out in a jam. And when you’re out in the middle of nowhere, that’s definitely the kind of person you want to have nearby. My favorite thing about Mel definitely had to be the huge cigar that he has stuffed in the corner of his mouth at all times. He could probably eat a full meal with that thing and not drop it once. I asked one of his guides if he ever didn’t have it in his mouth and my answer was, “Yeah, he probably takes it out when he sleeps.” I think the best part is that he doesn’t even light it. He EATS it. Totally disgusting, but true. To sum it up, note the Bush-Cheney bumper sticker he has on his tractor in the picture.

Other highlights of the Sandy River weir were the landscapes. There are all kinds of wildflowers surrounding the cabin as far as the eye can see. The river valley that the cabin sits in is totally flat with a few minor streams coursing through, and a ground cover of almost solid tundra. There are so many different species growing out there, it’s a botanists dream. I had a great time walking around in the evenings (with my trusty friend, Mr. Shotgun) smelling all the different types and trying not to sink in the marshy places. Sandy is also home to about a bajillion ground squirrels. Most of them had just had a litter of pups who were still working on the “get out of the way of the four-wheeler” thing. Being as my four-wheeler had no brakes to speak of, it was a comical game to try and avoid hitting them as they chose the precise moment of my passing to run out into the road. They sure were cute though. All of the local swallows had also just given birth, and one such brood had taken up residence somewhere in the walls of our cabin. I couldn’t find the hole they were using to get in (more specifically, I couldn’t find WHICH hole they were using. There were many to choose from.), but every time momma swallow came back with a mouthful of bugs to feed the chicks, there was a cacophony of chirping that could have woken the dead. Eventually you tune them out, but it was a little alarming the first few times. I thought were were having a bombing raid.
The other thing I learned out in Sandy was the downfalls of glass ball hunting. Kris had gone to the Ilnik weir to visit which is along the coast and had collected over a dozen sandbags full of glass balls. Once he got them all back to his camp (an exhaustive process by his account), he realized that his initial experience of Gollum and the Ring with glass balls had left him with, well, a whole bunch of glass balls. Pretty, shiny, and on occasion you can sell the, but for the most part you might as well have a whole bunch of glass bottles. He was kind enough to give me a whole bag full (nearly 30), and so now I’ve had my fill and am excited to send them to friends and eventually dump them all on my parents (you asked for it, Dad!).

All in all, my experience at the weir camp was a good one, and I think if I had a friend to work with me out there, it would be a great potential job for next summer. As for now, I’m back in Port Moller and the end of the season is showing its signs. Boats are coming out of the water and the tenders are starting to head back to their respective ports. Rose and I did an inventory of all our sampling equipment and packed it all up to fly out tomorrow. Now I just have to get all the glass balls I’ve accumulated into a reasonable amount of luggage for the trip home. It’ll be great to see my friends (and maybe one more visit to the bar for posterity’s sake) there and then spend a few days in Kodiak with Joe and his family. Then, on to Homer! I’ve tried to go back through my other posts from this month and add the photos I’ve been lacking. Hope everyone is enjoying their summer!