Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sept 2009 Alaska Trip

There are times in one’s life when someone gives good advice; you hear it and take it to heart. This happened to me, almost a decade ago. Don Pennington told me after a good day of fishing for white bass in the spring of 1999; I should not wait for retirement to do the things I have a passion for. He said, you enjoy fishing and you should find and take time tomorrow or next week to fish. Don said if you wait until sixty-five to the find time, you may find you health is failing, with more time spent in a doctor’s office than on the water.

This was the thought that came to me last March when Rod Pennington, Don’s son asked me if I would like to take a fishing trip to Kodiak Island in the state of Alaska. Rod took a trip there last year with his son and they had an outstanding time. They fished for Sockeye at the Saltery Lake Lodge and observed grizzly bear up close and personal.

Our party from Springfield this year included Jim Scheve, his son Jacob, Rod and me.

We left for Alaska on Sept 18 and flew to Kodiak Island with no problems or delays. We stayed in the city of Kodiak, with a population of 5690. The harbor moors 1200 boats with several of them seen on TV’s “The Most Deadliest Catch” which are the Time Bandit and Cornelia Marie. We took one day to deep-sea fish aboard the “U-Rascal” with Capt Chris Fiala. The trip started pleasant with a mild temperature morning, by noon a front moved in with a fog. Needless to say we caught a variety of fish including halibut, salmon, rockfish and more.

The next day, we drove thirty-six miles to Saltery Lake Lodge. The plane was grounded due to poor weather. We spent seven days at the lodge with many fish (Coho, arctic char, rainbow and Dolly Varden) caught, frequent bear encounters and good fellowship. Hopefully, Rod and I will be able to provide the club with a program. The trip was well worth the time and effort. If you have an interest to try an Alaskan fishing trip, Rod or I would be more than happy to tell you more…

Tight lines... Kim Schultz

The following is a daily log of daily events while in Alaska...

Thanks to Rod Pennington and Joe Digiacomo for permission to use their photos

9/18/2009 (Friday)

10 AM: Ann drove me to the Springfield/Branson airport, without knowing the new terminal was across the way. The old terminal was vacant and left abandoned when we pulled up; we quickly found directions and drove to the new facility. Ann dropped me off and I finally found Jim, Rod and Jacob in the boarding area. We departed for Dallas at 1120 AM, then on to Anchorage, AK. We spent a few a few hours in Anchorage before flying on to Kodiak Island. We arrived in the City of Kodiak shortly after 11 PM, Rod called the Best Western Motel for a lift where we were to stay for two nights. We checked in, moved our gear into the rooms and in bed before midnight. The alarm was set for 6 AM.

9/19/2009 (Saturday)

6 AM: We woke and dressed for breakfast before going to the docks for a deep-sea outing. After, breakfast, we returned to our rooms to get our gear for the day. Across the street from the Best Western, we walked to one of the harbors mooring several hundred boats and our boat for the day. At 7:45 AM, we boarded the vessel “U-Rascal” with Capt. Chris Fiala our host and captain. The first person we met on the boat was Carey. We introduced ourselves and purchased a seven-day out-of state fishing license.

Three other fishermen joined us. They were from Zurich, Switzerland. Hans and his party have been coming to Alaska for the past twenty-five years and the past eight years coming to Kodiak Island for a two-week outing camping and fishing the road system. They will store their gear in the City of Kodiak for the year until their annual return.

8:30 AM: We left the dock and motored over near the fish processing plant in the harbor to catch some herring on the hook; this would be our halibut bait. After filling a bucket, we cruised out of the harbor to the mouth of the bay, dropping the downriggers hoping to find a few King Salmon.

The day was mild with a blue sky and above normal temperatures. The seas were for the most part calm in the morning with a few rollers making it known a storm was near. Off to the west, a blanket of fog was present, which covered us by noon. Unfortunately, the fish were not very cooperative in the morning, with the catching improving in the afternoon. There were several long runs with 15-20 minutes stops before moving on. We had one sighting of a killer whale; we saw only the large dorsal fin cutting along the surface. We had three sightings of whales (humpbacks) blowing water into the air and several sea lions with one very large beast near the disposal tube from the fish processing plant. There were many birds including the puffins.

The other mate was Mahoto a young man from Maine; he grew up fishing the Atlantic coast and now fishes the Pacific. He recently earned his captain license and hopes to have his own boat.

The winds picked up in the afternoon and with the fog, the temperatures dropped. The seas became choppy and the boat rocked even more. Jake was the only one from our party who did not heave hoe over the rails; we blamed it on the breakfast. This was my first episode of seasickness.

The boat did not return to port until 8 PM, Chris was disappointed with the morning fishing and kept pushing until we filled the icebox with fish. He explained of his disappointment in the morning and did not want to return until a few king salmon were caught. We picked up a few King salmon before dark trolling the edge of the harbor. We stopped at the fish processing plant to unload the icebox full of fish. We each brought back a fifty-pound box of fish from this trip, in which we stopped to pick up the following week before returning to Springfield.

Below is the tally of fish caught for the day

King Salmon 3

Halibut 9

Ling Cod 6

Rockfish 42

Yellow eye 1

Sole Cod 2

Silver Salmon 1

We left the boat at 8:30 PM and returned to the Best Western. We made it to the dining table by 9 PM and turned in before 10 PM. There was a message from Doyle from the Saltery Lodge letting us know he would pick us up the next morning at 9:30 AM.

9/20/2009 (Sunday)

We woke at 8 AM. The rains moved in overnight with 30 mpr winds. Jim called to say Doyle said we would be driving to the lodge instead of flying since the high winds grounded the planes for the day. We ate our breakfast in the motel, returned to our rooms, repacked and met our party in the lobby at 9:30 AM. Bill Franklin and Doyle Hatfield met us; each drove a suburban from the 1980’s. They have twenty-two suburbans in their fleet, which Bill works on over the winter. Doyle said these are the best vehicles for the tough road conditions in Kodiak.

We left the motel shortly after 9:30 for a three-hour drive to the lodge. The first eighteen miles was traveled on asphalt road, which is part of the hundred-mile road system on the island. Doyle said the road was blacktopped five years ago and was in very good condition. After the first eighteen miles, at the bridge that crosses the American River, we took a right. There were a dozen vehicles parked off the trail with bullet holes and broken glass. Several of the cars were burnt to the ground. We were told these vehicles had broken down on this road, hauled out and left for target practice. First, let me say my definition of a rough road has been redefined. I have never been on such an obstacle course with jagged rocks, swollen streams and water filled mud holes beyond the axles. The road, or in reality should be called a trail was blazed during WWII for the movement of supplies on the other side of the island in case of a Japanese attack. Needless to say that was probably the last time a bulldozer blade touched this trail. Bill and Doyle have a tractor at the lodge, which was used to repair any washouts after severe floods. We spent the 2.5 hours bouncing and tumbling about in the back seat. I thought for this trip; people would pay good money just for the extreme ride. There was one flat tire, which was changed within five minutes. One could tell from the teamwork several tires had been changed over the years.

12:30 PM: We made it to the Saltery Lake Lodge. We were sent to the lodge with the staff unloading the gear into the cabins. We had a fine lunch and made our introductions with the staff and other guest. Scott Poffenberger and Joe DiGiacomo were from the Cleveland area. Scott had been at this lodge five times and this was Joe’s first trip. Joe Solakian is from Milwaukee WI, he has been a guide at this lodge for many years. Ben Walsmith is from Des Moines IA, he has been guiding here from several years. The camp manager was Nathan Mullet, he and his wife Sheila did the cooking and kept up with the camp duties.

2 PM: We went to our cabins to find our gear and slip into our waders. Ben was our guide for the week and he walked us down the water soaked trail to the Saltery Creek. It had rained hard several days past and the stream was high and turbid. There were other fishermen from another lodge (Saltery Cove Lodge) and a few people that came in by ATV to fish, parked along the banks. Ben took us farther down stream, which he called the third hole. I tied on a #4 purple marabou cone-head leach pattern and hooked up a Coho (silver salmon) within ten minutes that was released with another fish on the very next cast. Jim was down stream of me and he was having many hook ups. We fished until 6 PM and returned to the lodge. At 6:30 PM we had our evening meal; corn beef, salmon, green beans, potatoes au’ gratin and dessert.

That evening after dinner we took a short walk to a small stream near our cabins named Lake Creek. The small creek flowed into the lake with several other small streams around this small one hundred acre lake. The stream was up with some chalk cloudiness where we tried a few patterns with no luck. Thirty minutes later, Jim spotted two bear cubs sneaking up behind us. Once the two bears saw us they retreated and returned to the underbrush.

The lodge is on Saltery Lake with mountains on three sides. The mountain that is on the opposite side of the lodge is called Bread Loaf Mountain, for obvious reasons. There are several springs and small streams flowing into the lake, which are the nurseries for the small fry that come from the creeks. There is a stream below the lake that flows for two miles to an estuary entering Ugak Bay. We returned to our cabins and turned in at 9:30 PM.

9/21/09 (Monday)

7:30 AM: We heard the bell and made breakfast. The sky was clear with a variety of colors seen on the mountains. We were interrupted during breakfast, “Kumon” a four-year-old bear came within view. He was in the garden sniffing the air and finally moved on after fifteen minutes. We pulled on our waders and met Ben at 8:30 AM. We returned to the same area with Jacob and me fishing the first hole, and Jim and Rod returning to the third hole. The water was slightly cloudy, clearer, than the day before. Jacob did well catching eight or more Dolly Varden, a native char in Alaska. I caught a dolly measuring twenty-three inches and released two silver salmon. An hour had passed when we had another bear encounter. It was on the opposite bank walking upstream and was directly across the stream from us. The bear continued up stream before swimming across the stream to our side of the river. He continued to walk into the brush and out of sight.

12:00 PM: We broke for lunch.

After lunch, Ben took us farther downstream on the Saltery Creek, hoping to find cleaner water. Ben said we should find rainbows and Dolly Varden willing to take an egg pattern or beads. My first hook-up was a silver salmon. A short time later we saw four buffalo looking at us from below. The bison soon turned and swam across the stream, not to be seen again. There was plenty of Dolly Varden with Jake catching and releasing 25+. Rod found a hole taking fifteen Dolly Varden in a short time. We caught several rainbows measuring eighteen inches, two Coho(s) taking eggs patterns and a plethora of Dolly Varden; we caught just short of a hundred fish. The stream was full of pink salmon waiting to die or waiting for the bears and eagles.

5:30 PM: We returned to the lodge and cleaned up a little bit. We took time to look at a pair of bald eagles across the lake with binoculars to get a better view.

6:30 PM: Dinner was served with grilled chicken, corn, homemade bread, mashed potatoes and dessert. The staff really took care of us. After dinner, we went to Lake Creek for evening fishing. The bead fly worked well for the arctic char, taking two measuring twenty-four inches. Jake snagged three sock-eyes on a light fly rod. We caught 20+ fish for the last hour of the day. At sunset, the fish stop biting. We did have another bear sighting just upstream. I made a loud cough and the bear turned away from us and he moved on towards the cabins. We stopped fishing at 8:30 PM, returned to the lodge to write some notes. I stayed there until 9:30 PM before turning in for the night. The night was cool; a clear sky with many stars in view. There will be frost in the morning.

9/22/09 Tuesday

06:30 AM: We woke to temperatures in the mid-twenties with this areas first killer frost. The ground and hills were covered in a white frost resembling snow with a wispy fog dancing on the lake. Rod, Jim and Jacob went ahead of me to the lodge for breakfast. When I got around and started for the lodge, I realized the boots and waders were frozen stiff as they hung from hooks outside of the cabin. The boots were stiff and as hard as a rock. I grabbed my stuff and placed the boots and waders next to my bed to thaw and made my way to the lodge for breakfast.

After breakfast, we returned to the cabin. Jim, Rod and Jacob took the waders and boots inside to thaw. Jacob came up with the idea to defrost the boots in the shower using hot water. It was a short delay but we finally geared up and met Ben for our third day of fishing.

We returned to familiar waters with Rod, Jacob and Jim starting in the third hole. There were several fishermen already fishing the first hole. Jim and Rod found fish within a few casts with several doubles hook-ups and catching a limit within a short time. There was a bear that walked out of the alder brush and in front of Ben, blocking the road. Rod was able to get a few photos of the bear. Ben had to use the blast horn from the can air that he carried, using it several times to coax the bear into the bush. Jim and Rod reported catching fifteen Coho salmon each. Jacob and I fished farther up stream finding less salmon but considered the morning very productive. The water had cleared with the level dropping a little. Later in the morning Jacob moved down stream to find the Dolly Varden to be cooperative. We broke for lunch at noon. On our walk out we saw a dozen fishermen along the banks coming in by ATV.

After lunch, Ben decided we should try Lake Creek; a small stream near the lodge, where the sock-eye salmon spawn. We started at the mouth of the stream near the lake and fished our way upstream. The stream was full of sock-eye past their prime, with most of the fish spawned out. The salmon were in their final stage of life. We were not fishing for the sock-eye salmon; instead we were targeting the Dolly Varden. We used beads and egg pattern to catch the Dolly Varden. We fished for three hours and caught a plethora of these char, related to brook trout. There were several signs of bears with torn fresh fish along the bank. The water level had been dropping, exposing the salmon; making for easy fishing for the bear.

We fished until 5:30 PM and returned to the lodge. I decided to walk down to the lake and practice casting the spey rod at the mouth of Lake Creek. Fifteen minutes later, with my eyes on the fly line and not paying attention to the surroundings, a bear came in behind me. My first warning was a loud splash. I looked upstream 20 yards and saw a bear in the water with a salmon in his mouth. I call that up close and personal.

Back at the lodge, another guest came in by plane. Taft Ring is a regular to the lodge. He is a retired army Colonel and spends much of his time travelling the world fishing. He was stuck in Anchorage for several days before making his arrival.

6:30 PM: The supper bell rang. There were many stories with the general conversation on the days fishing and general sport related topics. Everyone was tired after supper, too worn out to fish until dark. Several of us sat in the lodge telling stories. A bear with two cubs appeared on the other side of the lake. We watched them for twenty minutes, with the mother bear catching fish from the lakeshore. The cubs would run to her to see what she had for them to eat.

8:00 PM: Rod left for the evening; he said to shower and clean up. He retired and in beds a short time later was Jim and Jake. It is 8:30. The lodge is quiet. Nathan delivers some wood for the stove and sits to read for a while. I decided to retire early and was in bed before 9 PM.

9/23/09 (Wednesday)

Today, the weather continues to be mild and sunny. We started fishing after breakfast in Saltery Creek, in the areas familiar to us. The guest from Saltery Cove Lodge and the people coming in by ATV were not present today. Jim and Rod started fishing in their favorite hole and did pick up a few silvers. I took the spey rod and had my opportunities but failed to set the hook on the few takes from the silver salmon. We return to the lodge for lunch. After lunch, Ben thought it would be a good idea to go down stream to the estuary and see Ugak Bay. There would be a variety of birds and harbor seals for us to get up close and personal. We saw an assortment of water foul with a pair of golden eagles making a few passes overhead. The harbor seals were curious and would come within a few yards of us. One of the tests for migrating salmon is getting past these sea hunters. Several of the salmon we caught near the lodge had slashes from seal attacks. The high tide was scheduled to peak at 5 PM, and we could see the water line creeping on shore. The water was wadable as we made our way across the estuary and pushed on to the sea wall. The beach was covered in black sand, with driftwood and other debris washed up. There were imprints of a bear and cub tracks in the sand, probably from an early morning jaunt. Fortunately, we did not see any bears on the beach. This area is home of the bison, the ranch of the one-hundred fifty plus herd could be seen up on the hills away from the beach; with none seen today. But, there was a wild horse grazing along the tree edge. The sun had a distinct ring around it, a warning of a pending rain or storm.

We stopped at several lower holes on Saltery creek with a few Dolly Varden caught and released. With another day passed, it was time for us to rest.

9/24/09 (Thursday)

The rain came in over night. We had breakfast and returned to familiar waters on Saltery Creek near the lodge. The rain fell all day, with the wind out of the north. The mountains in view received a snow dusting. The temperature cooled to the lower forties. I did catch a few small Dolly Varden in the lower hole and picked up a viable sock-eye salmon.

After lunch, Ben thought we should take the boat and go to the other side of the lake. There is a trough along the opposite shore that usually holds fish. So, we loaded the boat with two of us at time crossing the small lake. The silvers were jumping and Jacob finally hooked a silver salmon after some time. We spent several hours fishing this water before retreating and going back to the other side. I fished the lake waters above the creek and had moderate success missing a few and hooking and landing several Coho. We did have another bear encounter at the lake with the bear sneaking up behind us. The bear heard us and retreated into the bush without incident.

We were interrupted at supper with two cubs coming into view and frolicking on the front lawn of the lodge. Mama bear hung back in the tall grass for a while before coming out and taking the cubs to the water’s edge. We saw the three of them again in the water swimming to the other side of the lake. In a short time, they were playing and walking the shoreline on the opposite shore. The cubs were playing rough in the water. Mama bear went out into the water to retrieve a salmon. The cubs came out of the water and on shore to tear into the fish, taking a break from playing.

9/25/09 (Friday)

The sky was overcast with a sprinkle in the air. After breakfast, we returned to the waters we fished all week, Saltery Creek. I returned to the lake water above the creek, in places I fished the day before. The silver salmon were jumping out of the water in the trough water on the opposite side of the lake. I was able to wade one-third the way across and throw a yellow and white buck tail streamer using a full sink line. The fly took few Coho before 10 AM. I was looking up stream and saw a sow and two cubs at the mouth of Lake Creek. The fourth silver salmon caught on the large buck-tail fly was a large male. I played the fish for fifteen minutes and was able to get it within sight. I pulled the fish towards me, on my knees to take the hook out of his mouth, with the intension of releasing it. The salmon suddenly bolted to deep water, with the reel spinning out of control, I tried to palm the rim to slow it down when the fish broke off the 12 lb. tippet. Ben stood on the bank watching and laughing at the display of releasing a fish before it is ready. I was sorry to have lost the fly. I put on a new tippet and fly and walked back into the water, only to find the reel was toast. The bushing had burned out and the reel was seized and locked in place. I worked on the reel for a few minutes and concluded the reel was finished for the day. I stepped out of the water to find Ben to let him know I was leaving for a few minutes. Rod and Jacob were fishing the 1st hole finding and hooking a few Coho. Rod broke off two, pulled a hook out of three and landed a 14# male silver salmon. I walked back to the lodge and to find another reel and change out the sink line.

11 AM: I returned to the water at 11:30 Bill flew over me with his blue beaver airplane and landed behind me on the lake.

11:45 AM: Ben, Rod and Jacob passed me saying they were going back for lunch. I wanted one more fish before quitting. A few minutes past noon, I hooked another female and released her. I did not realize at the time that would be my last fish for this trip. I retrieved my line and walked back to the lodge for lunch.

Back at the lodge, Bill was concerned for the weather. It was pointed out; our flight departure on Saturday was at 11 AM, with little time to work with to get to the plane on time. We decided to fly out after lunch and stay in the City of Kodiak for the night.

1:30 PM: Jim and Jacob flew out first; with the plane being so small only the pilot and two passengers with luggage could make a single trip.

2:30 PM: Bill returned to fly Rod and me out. The gear was stowed and we found our places in the small plane. Bill went to the other side of the lake to find the head wind, revved the engine to lift us off the water. The sky was over casted but the clouds were high enough for us to see the land features, rivers, lakes and mountains. A few of the mountains on Kodiak Island reach 3400 ft. It was a twenty-minute fight to the City of Kodiak. We landed on a small lake that is primarily used as a runway for the beavers. After touching down, Bill idled to place on the lake were he resides and secured the plane. Doyle was there to take our gear and take us to the Best Western. Before dropping us off at the hotel, we stopped at the fish processing plant to pay for the cleaning and packaging. We had two hundred and seventy pounds of fish to take back to Springfield. Doyle dropped us off at the Best Western and we met with Jim and Jacob. We decided to walk the city and found Henry’s restaurant, a place Rod had been to before. I had some halibut chowder that was excellent. We returned to the hotel and made a visit to the lounge to get an update on the college football games. We turned in early.

9/26/09 Saturday

9:30 AM: We left the hotel and found a lift to the airport. At 10 AM, the fish processing plant delivered our fish and we checked them through to Springfield. We left the island at 11:30 for a flight to the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. We had an eight-hour lay over. I was able to get hold of a nephew (Trevor) and meet him for lunch. He moved to Homer in July and moved in with some friends from college. He decided to give Alaska a try since his home of Michigan is so depressed with the current economy. We taxied to a nearby restaurant and had lunch and talked for several hours before returning to the airport.

8:00 PM: We left Anchorage for a flight to Dallas. With a three-hour time change and a six-hour flight we arrive in Dallas early in the morning.

11:00 AM: Finally, we return to Springfield, after twenty-four hours of flying, waiting in airport terminals and just waiting. It was good to get back to Springfield.

A big thanks to the Bill and Doyle and the Staff at Saltery Lake Lodge for an outstanding trip.

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