I’m back after a week break from this blog. I didn’t have enough material or pictures for a quality post last week. So there have been a couple of things that have affected operations here at the lodge since my last post. The first is that there was a floatplane crash south of Ketchikan a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately all 6 aboard died. It involved a company operating out of Ketchikan running sight-seeing tours for people on the cruise ships. Apparently the pilot took off in really nasty weather and flew into a mountain due to the poor visibility. It shook a lot of us up as it hit pretty close to home. I think the boss knew the pilot involved.
Since then, we’ve been a lot more careful with our flight scheduling with our guests and cargo runs. If the weather is in any way questionable our plane stays grounded. This has led to a lot more boat pickups of guests in town. We had a party of big money Hollywood producers and lawyers last week who for the most part flatly refused to travel to the lodge by floatplane, so they took the boat ride in. It was the day after the crash and it was all over the news, so they were freaked out about flying.
The journey by boat actually isn’t a bad ride at all, it takes a little more than an hour in good weather. The floatplane ride in is truly spectacular however, they really missed out on that one. Actually the best time to fly is right after a crash because everyone is going to be super cautious. I mean, someone probably had a wreck on the highway that day they drove to the airport, it’s not like you won’t drive that road to get to where you are going. Some people’s sense of risk-assessment is pretty illogical at times.
The other thing that has greatly impacted our operations is the rise of COVID up here in Alaska. Resorts left and right have been having to close due to outbreaks. This large resort called Waterfalls had a major outbreak and not only did they have to close down, they had to completely quarantine. No one could go there and no one could leave. Supposedly some state senators and congressmen got caught up in it, as the place tended to cater to high-end people. I think they had over 100 staff that are all out of work, it sounded like a real mess. What’s crazy is that they had a real strong protocol to keep out COVID, they even had a coordinator hired just to enforce said protocol. It all came to naught however.
In response to this, we instituted a new policy for guests. They have to show a negative COVID test before they arrive. The state hasn’t issued any kind of directives concerning this so it’s up to the individual lodges to proceed how they want to. We’ve got six weeks left in the season and all of us need for the show to keep going on here. This last part of the season is when the big money (and big tip) people start rolling in so we all want some of that action. I know the boss sure needs all that revenue to keep rolling in. I think he’s all in on keeping this lodge going, there’s no way he can afford the loss if we did have to shut down. So fingers crossed we can stay open. All it takes is one person to get sick and everyone will have it. It’s like living on a ship here, social distancing is impossible.
Well, last week I went up the trail to my usual spot to find the water was high and the water was flowing really fast. I lost 2 lures in 10 casts so I came to the conclusion that the creek was unfishable that day. Plus it was raining and pretty nasty so it was an easy call to pull the plug on the excursion. This week on my day off however, the weather was nice and I heard that the river was down somewhat. Armed with a resupply of lures and my new collaspible fishing net, I was ready to hit the creek. A couple of my co-workers who braved the trail all the way to the end past the lake had been catching coho at this particular spot, so I headed up there to check it out.
I have gone all the way up the trail once before earlier this season, and it was a punishing hike. I didn’t have a backpack full of beers, fishing equipment, sandwiches and rain gear on that occasion, so this time having all that stuff made the hike more difficult. It’s only a couple of miles up there to the spot, but it takes an hour to traverse. It’s hell on the ankles, as Xtra Tough boots don’t have much support there. You’ve got to have those boots on however, as mud is a foot deep in places and you need the traction Xtra Toughs provide. I got a good night’s sleep for once the night before, so I had plenty of energy for the hike which was nice.
After a pretty arduous hike, I found myself at the fishing spot. Right before I got there, I ran across a couple from Missouri that were staying up at the Forest Service cabin further up the trail on Lake McDonald. They showed me pictures of coho that they had caught at the spot I was heading to the day before, so that was very encouraging. I had never been to this spot before, but it was pretty easy to find. I had pretty good directions from co-workers that had been there.
It’s actually a couple of big rocks on the bank of the creek where you have a pretty good casting arc. The tree branches hang pretty low overhead so you’ve got to do side-arm casting to get your lure out where you would like it to be. Two different streams intersect at this point so it is a big intersection full of fish. There’s a big log jam to the right that fish love to race towards after they’ve been hooked. Salmon are pretty smart, they know if they can get tangled up in that they can get free. The featured picture at the top of this post is a panorama shot of this spot.
Like the other spot I frequent, there were massive amounts of fish in the water here. Every few seconds a fish would break surface or jump, some would get a couple feet in the air! I could see that there were a lot of pinks around, almost all that I could see looked pretty far gone. They were pretty much zombied out with big white patches on them. I assembled my rod and slapped on one of my Blue Fox Lil’Pixie 7/8 oz. lures that are probably the #1 lure used up here for salmon. At ten bucks apiece, I almost didn’t want to use them. The water looked pretty deep and not too snaggy. I did have three to burn through, so I decided to go for it and use one to start out with.
Well, wouldn’t you know, after 5 casts I get hung up and have to break off my lure. Oh well, there went 10 bucks out the window. I switched to my good ol’ reliable 1/2 oz Kastmaster clone lures I got off Amazon. These are like a buck apiece, about as much as I want to spend on a lure. They come with weak little #10 trebles that I replaced with #2 Gamakatsu trebles. The hook is almost as big as the lure, but the motion of the lure makes it look like a tail I think. These are the ones I have painted with pink nail polish to make them more attractive to salmon. They catch fish like crazy, they’d probably work for just about anything I’d want to fish for. I start casting and immediately get a fish on. After getting it to the bank, it reveals itself to be a pink and helpfully spits out the lure before I have to land it. A couple of casts later, another pink gets on and this time I successfully land it.
I returned the fish to the water and kept casting. After I caught and released another pink, I finally hooked into something altogether different. The way the fish fought I knew it had to be a silver! It fought with tremendous power, I didn’t know if my 15 lb braid with a 12 lb mono leader could handle it. When it began making huge leaps into the air my suspicions were confirmed. Nothing but beautiful chrome at the end of my line! After a few runs I muscled it to shore. It took quite an effort to get it in the net due to the size of the fish. Finally, in he went and I had him!
I took the fish high up the bank so it wouldn’t flop its way back into the water, as salmon seem to be really good at doing that. As I bent to free the hook, the lure popped out of the net without a hook on it. Puzzled, I found the hook still in the fish’s mouth but the split ring joining the hook to the lure was nowhere to be found. I finally found it at the bottom of the net completely mangled. What a tough fish to do that to a piece of metal! I had landed the fish just in the nick of time. Luck was with me this day!
I bled the fish and put a length of fishing line through its gills, tying that off to a branch. Then I put the fish back in the water so it would stay cool in the chilly waters of the creek. I continued to fish another couple of hours. I caught another 3 pinks and lost probably a dozen more. I knew it was going to rain later in the afternoon making an already miserable trail even worse, so I called it quits a couple hours before I had to be back. I pulled the silver out of the water and put it into a garbage bag I had brought just for this purpose. The hike back was rough, my balance was off-kilter due to carrying the fish in one hand and I wiped out a couple of times. I managed to make it back with my gear and person intact however.
The cook said he would cook my fish up for the crew to eat the next day, so I filleted it up and handed it over to him. He made this teriyaki marinade for it and served it up the next night. It was incredible, I didn’t think anything could top Monterey Bay king salmon but I think Alaskan coho just might do so. It’s definitely on par. Devin had caught a coho as well the day before so the cook made a Parmesan breading for his catch and served it as well. It was a feast, we all ate well that night!
So this week marked a couple of milestones. On the 18th was the one year anniversary of the CZU fire that swept through Last Chance which almost burned up my friends and I. It was definitely a day of heavy introspection and rememberance. It’ll definitely be a day I’ll never forget. The second milestone was that I am now officially 2/3 of the way through the season. Only six weeks left to go! The time is definitely going by faster than it was earlier in the season. There is a dim light at the end of the tunnel.
We had our first guy quit, one of my closest friends here actually. He was our freshwater guide but worked with me on the dock a lot. It was a bummer to see him go, but he was wanting to get back home to Idaho in time for sheep hunting season. He made the decision that worked best for him, so I wish him well. Soon we’ll all be making our arrangements to leave. I’ve got a lot of plans for where I want to go for sure. October and November will be busy travel months for The Dogfish. I can’t wait to be alone finally, out in the desert and other places in the Great American West I so dearly love. I’m looking forward to sharing my adventures with all of ya’ll! I can’t wait to get out there with The Beast on the open road!