Newsletter Volume 9

 August 1996


In 1995, Jeff and Cyndie set aside their careers to pursue personal interests: travel, flyfishing and adventure. They lived in a 5th wheel trailer that had been converted into a fishing cabin on wheels. Their Ford F350 pickup and custom designed inflatable boat took them to places where dreams are made. Rowdy, their Golden Retriever, came along for the adventure.

This newsletter was produced 6 times a year to chronicle and share the adventures. It was distributed to family, friends, business associates and folks they met along the way.

Campground Recap
Converting Dreams to Memories It's hard to believe that our dream summer in Alaska is now behind us. We hung around in Alaska until the signs that it was time to leave were all around us. On September 10th we crossed the Alaska/Yukon border and began the journey south.

Our last month in Alaska was no less eventful than our first two months. We have stories of good friends, big fish and high adventure to tell you of this month. So, read on.

Hangin' on the Kenai It has been a busy month. Between the middle of July and the middle of August we spent a week floating and camping in the Togiak Wilderness, drove over 1,500 miles to beyond the Arctic Circle and back to Anchorage and then flew into the bush again for another 35 mile float. Over a 22 day period, we spent 12 nights in our tent, many of them in the cold and rain. Yes, life was good. But, it was getting to be a bit of work. It was time for a little R&R.

Back in June we discovered the Kenai Princess Lodge and RV Park. It's located right on the banks of the Kenai River and in the shadows of one of the most dramatic mountain peaks on the Alaskan peninsula. The Princess Lodge is a luxurious facility that features fine dining and great outdoor hot tubs. We decided to spoil ourselves and get rested up for our next adventure, so we checked into the Princess.

The Kenai River is a great river to float. It's glacially silted water change colors as the sun moves across the sky. The aqua-blue-green hues it takes on reflect images of the lush mountains the surround it. It's an easy day float from the bridge at Kenai Lake to Jim's Landing, just above the canyon. No pitching tents in the rain and no dehydrated dinners when floating the Kenai. It was hot tubs, electric blankets and caribou medallions, served with wild berry sauce at the end of a day on the Kenai River. Camping in the bush is an experience not to be missed, but hanging on the Kenai is the life.

Not that all went well on the Kenai this year. The fact is, the Kenai River was probably the biggest fishing disappointment of the trip, at least if you use the number of fish caught as a yardstick. We never quite figured out how to fish the Kenai River. It has a reputation as one of the best trophy trout fisheries in the world. In fact, they have a regulation on the Kenai that says you can't even keep a trout until it gets to be 30" long, which is bigger than any trout I've ever seen. It is big water and is glacially silted. You can't see fish in it and there is so much water it is hard to decide where to fish. We know enough about fishing by now to know that 90% of the fish occupy only 10% of the water. If your not fishing the right 10%, your not fishing. In spite of the fact that we spent at least 2 weeks on the Kenai, we never felt like we figured out which 10% to fish.

This is not to say we didn't catch fish on the Kenai and definitely not to say that we did not have an enjoyable fishing experience. We landed a couple of rainbow trout in the 22"-24" range. In fact, most every rainbow we caught was at least 16" long and most were 18" to 20". We also landed a few beautiful dolly varden and a couple of red salmon. But, we would float all day, fishing from the boat and stopping to fish what we thought might be the right 10% of the river, and usually come away with only 3 or 4 fish landed all day. Yet, by the end of each days fishing, we always felt like the Kenai River was one of our favorite place to not catch fish.

One of the things that made our mid-August visit to the Kenai so pleasant was that, in contrast to our early July visit, the area was virtually vacant of tourists. In July, the Kenai experienced a record run of red salmon. Catch limits were raised and thousands of locals flooded to the area. They lined the banks of the river for miles, standing shoulder to shoulder, hauling out fish like crazy. They filled the campgrounds and clogged the road with traffic.

When the second run of reds in August turned out to be an all-time low run and the river was closed to salmon fishing, it was bon-voyage to the fishers on the Kenai. Then, an ice dam that holds back a glacial lake above the Kenai River broke and flooded the river. Many of the remaining visitors moved on. That left us virtually alone at the Kenai Princess RV Park and on the river. We couldn't figure out why everybody was leaving. The river was high but floatable and you could still fish for trout in a beautiful setting, even if the fishing was tough. We were glad to have the place to ourselves.

Time flies when your having fun, particularly if your warm, cozy, comfortable and feeling a bit pampered. We were at the Princess about two weeks before we finally pried ourselves away. Adventure in Kodiak was calling and there was a sleeping bag with our name on it.


A Friend in Town is a Friend Indeed During our stay on the Kenai we had a chance to meet up with a couple of good friends. While we love being on the road, one of the biggest drawbacks to this lifestyle is that we don't get to see our friends much. So, a chance to visit with a friend is an opportunity we don't often miss, even if the friend will just be passing through Anchorage for a couple of hours. Heck, it's just a short 100 mile drive from the Kenai Princess. After driving over 5,000 miles to get here, 100 miles is nothing.

We got a note from Jim Vynalek, telling us he would be in town on the way home from his annual Alaska fishing trip. Jim's a friend of ours from the Trout Unlimited Chapter back in Texas. When we read that he would be on his way to fish the Goodnews River, which we had just floated, we were excited to see him and exchange stories. Jim treated us to a special dinner and a memorable evening of shared experiences.

It was just a couple days later when our good friend from Lees Ferry, Terry Gunn, came through Anchorage on his way back from the No-See-Um Lodge in the Bristol Bay Region. Since Terry talked us into buying his Nikon camera and lenses from him this spring and is now solely responsible for the 2,500 slides we have taken this summer, we were determined to make him look at some of our photos. We shared a wonderful evening sunset on a balcony overlooking the Cook Inlet and shared stories of big fish and photos of some that had not gotten away.

Visiting friends is something we're looking forward to this winter back in Central Texas. We're looking forward to sharing a few of these thousands of slides with you. In the meantime, if your going to be in our neck of the woods, be sure and let us know. Check our out "Fall Itinerary" on the back page for where our neck of the woods will be next.

Homer Bound Seems like everybody who came through the Kenai Princess RV Park had been to, or was headed to, Homer, Alaska. Homer is down at the bottom of the Kenai Peninsula. We were going to take the ferry to Kodiak and Homer was the port from which the ferry departed. So, we headed to Homer to look for a place to put our trailer while we were in Kodiak and allowed a couple of extra days to see what all of the buzz was about.

We made a reservation at an RV Park on Homer Spit, a long slender piece of land that sticks off the end of the peninsula. For our Texas readers, if you've ever been to Port Aransas, the Homer Spit looks just like driving out Aransas Pass, except there are glacial mountains on the horizon. It smells just like Aransas too.

The scenery around Homer is spectacular. Since it is located at the south end of the Alaska mainland and is surrounded by water, the climate here is much more moderate and there is considerable daylight in the winter months. These factors are, no doubt, amongst those things that attract the locals who love the area.

We also saw what most of the "Princess tourists" we met see in Homer. It is full of quaint little shops that sell artsy stuff at prices that are much more than we can afford to pay. You can take a charter boat out into the ocean, have a deckhand bait your hook, crank up halibut up to 300 pounds on a stiff pole and fill your freezer with fresh fish. While this is right up the alley of most of the tourists we met in Alaska, it was not really our cup of tea. In our eyes, Homer has been 'Aspenized'. When we're in Colorado, we don't spend our time in Aspen and when we're in Alaska, Homer is not exactly what we're looking for.

While we're glad we visited Homer, we didn't really see anything that made us inclined to spend a lot of time there. We found a safe place to leave the trailer for a week and took the ferry to Kodiak a day early.

A Kodiak Moment We'd been thinking about making the trip to Kodiak Island since we started planning our Alaska trip. Probably most famous for its' big brown bear, Kodiak is also known for having the best fishing along the road system in all of Alaska. Our new friend, Alaska sportswriter Tony Route, told us that "Kodiak is a real sleeper" on the Alaska fishing scene. He encouraged us to wait until late in the summer for the best fishing. By the end of August, and then on into September, silver (Coho) salmon enter the rivers along the Kodiak coastline. This provides a unique opportunity to tangle with these silver monsters while they are in their strongest and most pristine condition.

Our trek to Kodiak Island began in Homer, where we boarded a ferry boat for the 12 hour journey. Economic realities meant we could not take the trailer. Instead, we stored it at a campground in Homer, loaded our tents, sleeping bags and Rowdy into the truck and put the truck on the ferry.

Kodiak Island is a beautiful place. Known as "Alaska's Emerald Island", you immediately understand how the island gained this reputation when you come into the port at Kodiak. With a climate that is much warmer and more tropical than the Alaska mainland, the mountains that line the coastline are covered with dense green vegetation.

Kodiak Island has only one city that is accessible by road. The city of Kodiak was strongly influenced by the early Russian settlers on this island. This is apparent in the architecture of some of the city's most prominent buildings.

Our first destination on Kodiak Island was Fort Abercrombie State Park. Located just a few miles outside the city of Kodiak, this campground was a good site from which to explore the city and some unique coastline territory.

Our most memorable experience at Fort Abercrombie was an early morning walk in the tide pools along the coast. When the tide drops to its low point, many depressions in the rocks along the beach are left filled with water and sea life that didn't escape before the water dropped. Brilliantly colored starfish, anemones, urchins and even a couple of small octopus were exposed and readily viewable during this low water period. We went nuts with the camera.

After a couple of days around town, we headed to Pasagshak (Pa-Sag-Shack) Bay, on the other end of the island. Kodiak Island has only about 45 miles of road system, so the other end of the island really isn't that far away. However, once you got outside of the city of Kodiak you felt like you were a million miles from nowhere. With only a small population on the island and only a limited number of visitors undertaking the journey to Kodiak, the roads and rivers in the area are largely deserted.

On our drive to Pasagshak we crossed several rivers that were literally choked with salmon : pinks, chums and some silvers. Yet, there were very few people fishing. On the mainland of Alaska, if there was a river full of any kind of salmon and a road crossed it, you could count on it being a shoulder to shoulder fishing situation. But, on Kodiak, even the most crowded fishing situations were quite tolerable and enjoyable experiences.

At Pasagshak Bay we hoped to find silver salmon running from their saltwater feeding grounds of the past several years into the river mouth to spawn. To catch these powerful monsters, right in the saltwater, is a unique fishing opportunity. The ability to sight cast to these fish as they moved into the shallow water at low tide made this a challenging and exciting fishing experience.

During our three days camping at Pasagshak, we were able to land several silver salmon in the 15 pound range. We released the first fish we caught and it was immediately captured by the harbor seals that were working the river mouth. They flung the fish around between them, like some kind of toy, before devouring it. So, the next silver we landed was filleted and, even though we shared half of it with some neighboring campers, it fed us with wonderful, fresh, red salmon meat for the next three days.

While we were on Kodiak we met a local fisherman, J.B. Heinman. J.B. was a regular at Pasagshak and was quite adept at fishing for silver salmon. He would spend most of the day just standing by the river mouth watching and waiting for fish to start moving into the river. When they started coming in, he would spring into action. Within a short period of time would have hooked up and landed the two fish he was allowed to keep each day. J.B. gave us a number of tips that helped us hook up the silvers we landed and was a good source of local info.

One disappointment on our trip to Kodiak was that we did not see any of the famous Kodiak Grizzly bears. Even though the bear population density on the island is quite high, with one bear for every one to two square miles, there aren't very many of them along the limited road system. Most of the bears live along the isolated rivers and coastline, away from the populated area of the island and accessible only by small plane. Given the size and potential danger of these bears, any that frequent populated areas are quickly moved, destroyed or discovered by hunters.

Our week on Kodiak Island passed too quickly. Soon it was time to board the ferry and head back to the mainland. Our ferry left at 9:00 in the evening and sailed overnight, arriving in Homer the next morning. We got a cabin and crashed and before we knew it we were back. Was it all really a dream or did it really happen? It's only the pictures that assure us we really did have our Kodiak moment.

Out of Alaska How do you know when it is time to leave Alaska? The locals tell you that the winters the best part and there's no reason to leave. But we could tell there wasn't going to be much good fishing at 20 below zero and only a couple hours of daylight. While we planned to be gone before winter took hold, we wanted to squeeze every last day out of the experience we could.

Alaska gives you lots of hints about when to leave. The fireweed that has painted the landscape with bands of pink all summer suddenly explodes with fluffy white seeds that remind you that snow will not be far behind. Raspberries, blueberries and salmon berries can easily be found in the under brush, at least if we can beat the bears to them. Salmon, which only a few weeks ago thrashed powerfully up stream, now drift helplessly downstream, their bodies rotting away. Flocks of geese fly overhead, pointing the direction we should be heading. The days rapidly get shorter, losing almost ten minutes of sunlight each day. And, all of the tourists are gone.

Most people who come to Alaska leave by mid-August, which is far too early. The real show doesn't even get started until fall takes hold and the colors come out. It was more than a week into September before we got the signal that it was time to leave Alaska.

In order to avoid backtracking over roads already traveled, we chose an alternate route home. We took Top of the World Highway through Dawson City in Yukon Territory. We the followed the Yukon River upstream to Whitehorse, tracing the path taken by miners during the Klondike Gold Rush. We then traveled down the Cassiar Highway into British Columbia. This way, only 500 miles of this 1,500 mile drive would be over roads previously traversed.

The Top of the World Highway provided some of the most dramatic scenery of the trip. Aspen and poplar trees were now in full fall colors. Orange, yellow, red and gold leaves painted the hills. Snow covered peaks accented the fall landscape. Some of our best slides came from this part of the highway. You can bet they will be part of our slide shows this fall.

It took five days of hard driving to move from Anchorage to our next destination near Terrace, British Columbia. Here we plan to stop, take a break from driving and chase monster steelhead. We'll hang out in BC until Mother Nature brings the signs of fall that tell us it is time to move south again.

The One that Got Away This ought to be an article about a big fish and the disappointment of not conquering it. After all, this is a newsletter about fishing, isn't it? Well, yes it is. But, that's not what this article is about.

We've mentioned several times how our adventures have been enhanced by our new interests in photography. Our new camera equipment is allowing us to capture on film some incredible images of the adventures we have been experiencing.

But along with the joy that photography is bringing to our lives is a new frustration. It is the photo that gets away. There are images stored in our brains that for one of a myriad of reasons, never made it to film. The circumstances are almost comical at times but the disappointment of missing that shot ranks right up there with losing a fish of a lifetime.

We've learned a lot of new truisms since we got a camera. Call them Murphy's Laws of Photography, or whatever you want, but here's a few observations we have on the subject :

  • The absolute best bear repellant one can have is a fully functional camera, loaded and ready to take a picture. Without one, plan on a close bear encounter.
  • A corollary to the above observation is that the best way to get good wildlife photographs is to take your camera.
  • If the picture is there, stop and take it now. If you wait and plan to come back later, it will be gone.
  • If you catch a huge fish, you can depend on the camera jamming, running out of film or your batteries going dead. Now, you've got two things that can get away.

Just like fishing, there's a lot more pictures that we've landed than those that we've lost. But, just like fishing, some of the very best are lost. Yet, in both cases, the memories live on.

Fishing Recap We've covered a lot of miles over the last month and driving eats into the fishing time. Still, we managed to find some time to be on the water and add some "species first's" to our all time fishing lists. Here's the highlights of the fishing for this month.

While on the Kenai, we landed some nice rainbow trout and dolly varden. The dollies are particularly photogenic.

This months highlight fishing event was our trip to Kodiak Island. While fishing at Pasagshak Bay we landed several silver salmon. These fish were in the 15 pound range, were bright silver and fresh from the salt water. Sea lice were still attached to their bodies. They were incredibly strong fighters. Sight fishing for them as they entered the river mouth was quite exciting.

While fishing for silver salmon on Kodiak Island, we also hooked up several small flounder, which we had never caught before.

Another interesting creature we hooked while fishing on Kodiak were sculpins. Being trout fisherman from the lower 48, we're used to sculpins being little bait fish that are a couple of inches long. These were up to 10" and quite scrappy for that size. We've got some neat photos of these little creatures.

That's all the fishing we have to report on this month. In our next, issue we hope to tell you about the giant steelhead we tangle with in British Columbia.


Cyndie's Wildlife Sighting Report It's been another good month for seeing my friends in the outdoors. Here's just a few of the sightings I've logged in my journal :

While we were driving along the backroads of Kodiak Island, we came upon a pair of Red Foxes beside the road. We stopped for photos and one of them walked right up to Jeff and stuck his nose in the camera. You'll see this shot in our slide show this fall.

Also on Kodiak Island, we saw free ranging buffalo. Brought to the island in a ranching experiment, they have now become a wild herd.

As we stood in Pasagshak Bay on Kodiak Island, casting to silver salmon that were coming into the river mouth from the sea, Harbor Seals preyed on the salmon before we could catch them. One of my best souvenirs of Kodiak is a seal tooth that was found on a gravel bar.


Dall porpoises could be seen swimming just beyond the seals in Pasagshak Bay.

We could sit near our campsite at Fort Abercrombie on Kodiak Island and see humpback whales just off shore, rolling in the surf.

Puffins and other sea birds could be seen around the rocks at Fort Abercrombie

On a morning tide pool walk at Ft. Abercrombie, we saw starfish, sea anemones, sea urchins and even a couple of small octopus. It was particularly interesting to see a native hunting for sea urchins in order to eat their roe.

We saw a Beluga Whales in the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet as we drove from the Kenai Peninsula back to Anchorage.

I saw a Black Bear in the bushes along the Top of the World Highway.

I've seen a lot of other things that are now becoming almost too commonplace to mention. Eagles, kingfishers, gulls and loons are our constant companion. From time to time, we have to stop and remind ourselves to be in awe of them.


Campground Recap  When our last issue left off we were at the Kenai Princess RV Park. If you've read this far, you already know we hung our there for almost two weeks. After we left the Princess, here's where we've camped.

Homer Spit Campground, Homer, Alaska We stayed in the trailer at this beachside campground for two nights, while we saw Homer. Then, we left the trailer at the campground for eight days while we went to Kodak.

Fort Abercrombie State Park, Kodiak Island, Alaska We tent camped on the grounds of this abandoned military base. Situated in an old growth forest on a high point of the island, it was a perfect site for watching for a Japanese invasion during WWII. It is now a perfect site for whale watching, tide pool walks and berry picking This was one of the most beautiful campsites we have ever visited.

Pasagshak Bay State Park, Kodiak Island, Alaska From our tent site on the banks of Pasagshak River, it was about a quarter-mile walk to the mouth of the river in Pasagshak Bay. The only problem with this campsite was that Jeff was terribly allergic to something that was growing there.

Kenai Princess RV Park, Cooper Landing, Alaska We had to sneak in a couple more nights in the hot tub at the Princess before we headed off the peninsula for the summer.

Ship Creek Landing, Anchorage, Alaska  Our "home park" in Anchorage, we spent over three weeks total in this campground. We stopped in Anchorage to resupply for the long drive out of Alaska.

Tok River State Park, Tok, Alaska  This was a really nice little park on the banks of the Tok River. But, we got in late and left early the next day and never really got to appreciate what it had to offer.

Guggieville RV Park, Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada  You could pan for gold at this RV Park, which is located at the site of the famous Klondike Gold Rush. It was a nice campground, surrounded by mountains in brilliant fall colors. But, again, we were on a long drive and this was just a quick stopover.

McKenzie RV Park, Whitehorse, Yukon Territory  We stayed in this campground on the way up to Alaska. We joined back up with the Alaska Highway at Whitehorse and decided to stay here again.

Jade City Campground, Jade City, British Columbia  Jade City is just a wide spot in the road where they cut big jade boulders. The campground was a clearing in the woods, with no water or electricity. We were the only people in the campground the night we stayed there.

K'San Indian Village, Hazelton, British Columbia - After 1,500 miles of driving out of Alaska, this was our final destination. We'll tell you more about his interesting place in our next issue.

Fall Itinerary Sure, we've left Alaska. But, that doesn't mean the adventure is over. We have a full schedule planned for this fall. Amongst the things we plan to tell you about in our next issue are :

Searching for the Kromodei Bear - We'll head over to Terrace, British Columbia, where we'll attempt to photograph the rare white bear.

British Columbia Steelhead - We've got our sights set on landing one of these huge, sea-run rainbow trout. We'll visit several rivers in the Skeena drainage, known world wide for the quality steelhead fishing.

Fall in the Northwest - Our trek out of British Columbia will be triggered by the same signals that took us out of Alaska. Fall colors will lead us south to visit Vancouver and Seattle.

Oregon Adventures - We are planning a stop in Oregon to visit former Austinite and friend of Bill Choate's, Jim Meyer. Some floating and fishing will be on tap for this visit.

Stay tuned for stores of these and other adventures, unknown at this point.
 

Contents:

Friends

Homer Bound

Kodiak Moment

Out of Alaska

The One that Got Away

Fishing Report

Wildlife Sightings

Campground Recap

Previews

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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