So this week was pretty uneventful by lodge standards. No particulary big individual catches (although we’ve been pulling in massive amounts of pink and chum salmon, lots of small fish) no ghostly activity, and the guests haven’t been that rambunctious. Silver salmon are starting to turn up in small amounts, the fillets off them look amazing! They are ruby red and really stand out against the more lighter colored pink and chum fillets. I hear they are much better eating as well.
The weather has been really rainy, sometimes days go by without any sun. The winds have been blowing pretty hard, it almost feels like the season is starting to shift towards fall already. I have to wear three layers of clothes most of the time, especially since I spend so much of my time in a freezer that stays around 0 degrees.
My roommate finally arrived, he’s actually a pretty cool guy. He’s in his 60’s I think, been all over the world and just travels around America in his camper with his wife. He makes his living doing fishing jobs all over the place, which is the way I want to start living. It has been an adjustment having someone in my personal space for sure. It’s something I have been dreading since I got here. I now have no privacy whatsoever, and I’m the kind of person that really hates having people in my personal space. We both keep each other up at night with our snoring. I have resorted to sleeping with white noise in my earbuds and it helps block out the noise pretty effectively however. It is what it is though, I only have to put up with it for two months. I think it will work out ok. It’s just another thing I have to overcome on top of everything else.
The main thing I did this week is go up the creek with my co-workers Devan and Brianna. I’ve been wanting to go try and catch some of the pink salmon that have been making their way upstream. Devan has been catching them like crazy and I wanted to learn his technique and spots. I’ve been seeing the pinks constantly splash all around the dock and have been fishing for them without success. As I’ve said before, Devan is the Jedi Master of freshwater fishing and I’m trying to learn some of his wisdom.
We headed up the creek this past Tuesday to a spot called ‘the S-turn’. It’s a place in the creek where it runs into a v-shaped crevice around 15 feet deep right off the bank. Right ahead of the hole is a spot of turbulent water. According to Devan, fish tire out and will slip back into this hole to gather energy for their next attempts to get up this rough patch. We got to the spot and fished for a while without success. We couldn’t figure out where the fish had gone, maybe they had all gone upstream? Suddenly, Devan yells “Fish On!” and he’s got a wild crazy jumping salmon on the line! He fights it for a couple of minutes and finally brings it in. It’s a decent sized fish, probably 5 to 6 lbs. It was amazing that such a big fish could come out of a small creek!
He let it go before I could get a decent picture. I figured that he’d probably catch another and he did, not five minutes later! It was identical to the first, and it came up out of the same spot. He knew exactly where those fish hold up! The dude spends all of his free time up there on that creek so he knows how to pull out the fish. I was taking notes for sure!
After the second one came in, none of us caught any more. I thought I might have had one on, but I couldn’t be sure. After around 3 hours fishing, we headed back to the lodge. It was a nice little excursion for sure, we had a lot of fun. I learned so much from this little trip up the creek! I placed a bunch of orders for new fishing gear which I’ve started receiving in the mail. Hopefully I’ll have it all by my next day off so I can put what I’ve learned to use.
The main thing I’m waiting for is a new rod, my 8’6″ salmon/steelhead rod is too long to effectively transport up the rugged trail and to cast where there’s not much space creekside. Devan uses a 6’6″ Shakespeare GX2 that breaks down into 4 pieces that fits in a backpack. I ordered one just like his, it arrived in Ketchikan but hasn’t made it to the lodge as of yet. Portability is key for fishing equipment in this terrain. I also just got a brand new Daiwa BG 3000 reel I plan to put on it, along with some spoons that should catch me some salmon.
Well, looking forward to next week’s fishing! I’ll be sure to let ya’ll know how it all goes down for sure!
I find myself this evening relaxing after a long day with a full belly. Tonight we had grilled cheeseburgers, hot dogs, macaroni salad and Dungeness crab. The crab was donated by one of the housekeeping staff. She’s been paddling out on a kayak everyday to a crab trap in the back bay. Today she caught 3 nice ones, I boiled them up for her and she shared them with the crew. It was one one the best dinners we’ve had so far, we’re one happy crew tonight!
It’s been hot, I mean ungodly hot! It’s been around 80 degrees the past couple of days and no relief in sight. It feels much hotter due to the humidity and the angle of the sun. According to the boss, it never gets this hot up here. Everyone’s breaking out the shorts and flip-flops, it’s crazy! Supposedly this is going to go on for days.
It hasn’t hurt the fishing at all however! People have been pulling in halibut left and right. Just today, a couple of elderly gentlemen caught the first salmon of the season, a pink and a chum. They also caught a couple of huge halibut, both around 45 lbs. I was happy for them, it was the last day of their 5 day package and they hadn’t done so hot until the last day. My co-workers and I just boxed up their catch, both of them are going home with around 46 lbs of halibut, rock cod, crabs and shrimp apiece. They’ve caught the most fish out of any of the guests so far.
As the summer heats up, we’re starting to get all kinds of critters coming in off the dock and the nearby creek. As I mentioned in my last post, my fishing has been curtailed by my lack of fishing tackle. My co-workers have been pulling in lots of small trout and an assortment of other small fish. One of the strangest things I’ve seen caught were these sea cucumbers. Today Devon, the dishwasher, was fishing off the dock and starting pulling them in off the bottom! He was fishing a spoon there and kept snagging them. They must be everywhere down there! He says he knows how to clean them, so he started stashing them in a crate under the dock. If I try them I’ll let ya’ll know how they taste. I hear that they are not bad!
So that brings me to the topics I mentioned in the title. First off, I wanted to show off the boats that make this whole lodge possible. Almost all our boats have Mercury outboards and Yamaha kickers. Our main workhorses of the fleet are our 18 foot Silver Streak aluminum boats, we’ve got 4 of them. These come with 150 hp outboards. I really wish I had one of these. They fly across the waves! We also use a couple of boats I don’t know the name of, but they are modified ski boats with 115 hp outboards. These two kinds of boats are used for parties of two or three, plus the captain.
Next we have the boats used for parties of three or four. We have a 26 foot Boston Whaler with twin 250 hp outboards. The newest addition to the fleet is this new 24 foot Hewes Craft Ocean Pro that I am in love with. The boss just bought it for 100,000 dollars. It has just one 250 hp Yamaha outboard on it. This is the dream boat me and my fishing buddies would love to have. It comes with so many bells and whistles you wouldn’t believe it. We could do so much with this boat back in the Monterey Bay! It’d be great for salmon and could even do some long-range tuna fishing as well.
Finally, we have our work boats that are used for moving cargo, towing things and making trips into town. First we have what’s called a Water-Horse. Its bow has a gate that can be lowered to facilitate loading/offloading cargo. The boat occasionally is used to take out/pick up guests as well. It is a speed demon, its twin 250 horsepower outboards really rocket this boat across the water! This boat is the boss’s baby, he loves to dash around in it. It can make the 50 mile run to Ketchikan in less than 2 hours.
Then there is a boat called the AJ that looks like it was a small commercial fishing boat at one point. These days, the boss mainly uses it to pull trees from the bank and to tow them back here to be cut up as firewood. Lastly, we have 3 skiffs that are used to move small amounts of gear, people and garbage around. One of the 3 is a jet boat that can get up the creek next to the lodge, but I haven’t seen it used for that purpose yet.
Here at the lodge, we have four dogs in residence. They roam around everywhere, barking at everyone and everything. Their main purpose is to keep away the bears. Last week a bear was sighted over by the generator, I don’t know if it was a black or brown though. That’s the area I was clearing trail a couple of weeks ago, I was lucky to not run across one. I think that they are pretty skittish, and probably the dogs help keep them that way.
So 3 out of the 4 dogs we have here are what is known as Karelians. They are bred to fight bears by the locals. These dogs look like some kind of husky mix. They are tough dogs, they don’t get sick or infections, and according to the boss they eat anything and can go psycho at any time. These dogs are really protective of their people, and are really well adapted to the environment here. The boss has his own really nice cabin in the woods behind the lodge, and at night that’s where the dogs go.
First we have the one who causes the most ruckus and interacts with us the most. His name is Ty and he is the alpha dog around here. His favorite thing around here is to attack the otters when they come around the dock. Unlike the otters who live in the Monterey Bay, these Alaskan otters are mean and nasty. The boss says they’ve even tried to attack him on the dock before! Ty loves to get in fights with them. He’ll get all cut up but I think he’s killed a few. The otters get up under the dock and Ty has chewed up planks trying to get at them.
Ty is a good dog, but has a really bad habit of barking insanely at you every time you try and fish. I guess he thinks you’ve got a fish on every time you retrieve your lure and gets excited. I suppose people in the past have given him the fish they catch judging from his behavior. A funny thing happened a few days ago. My fellow dock-monkey Jon was fishing off the end of the dock and Ty was barking his head off as usual. Jon got pissed off so he got on a kayak and paddled out a ways so he could fish in peace. Well, Ty barked at him from shore. Then, suddenly, Ty jumped into the water and swam over to him! He then proceeded to climb into Jon’s kayak and shake water all over him, completely soaking him. Mind you, the water here is ice cold and Ty is a very stinky dog! Jon was not happy about this turn of events, being soaked in cold, stinky dog-water was not his idea of a good time. It was funny as hell to witness though!
The boss has two other Karelians named Niko and Kobe. Niko is older, and was once alpha. He and Ty have to stay separated or else they will viciously attack one another. Corellian males do not get along with one another at all. Females are fine, but males always battle for dominance. Lastly we have the girl dogs Juneau and Kobe. Juneau is an Australian Heeler and is the boss’s wife’s dog, and Kobe is very shy and doesn’t really have much to do with anybody. It was hard for me to get close enough to even take a picture.
The dogs are mostly a headache for me. None of them are affectionate and they just bark all the freakin’ time. Ty is the only one who will let you pet him and he won’t let you do so for long. Every time the plane lands or a boat passes by, they’ve gotta bark. They are pretty used to the staff by now, but every time new guests arrive (which is almost daily) the howling and barking starts. They make it impossible to sleep past around 5:30 or so as that’s about when the boss gets up and around. Earplugs are no match for the shrill yelps and barks. Still, I guess it’s good to have them around for the bear deterrence. I long for the day when my life is dog-bark free though!
Well, that’s it for this week! I thought ya’ll would be interested in more aspects of lodge life. Dogs, boats and fish are pretty big parts of life here & I thought I’d showcase them.
Alright, so when I arrived here at the lodge, I found myself in an utterly confounding situation. All of a sudden I not only had to learn a totally new job, but also had to break into an already existing social circle as well as to learn how to function within the boundaries of the lodge. Any one of these things would be difficult to do at once, but to do all these things at the same time was completely overwhelming.
The first day I was here I wasn’t expected to do anything but relax and unpack. I was told when meals were served and was pretty much left to my own devices. I walked around the lodge grounds and saw where everything was located, and introduced myself to everyone I ran across. There were around 15 people already up here, most of which were lodge veterans who all knew each other from seasons past. (Our full crew topped out around 22 people). I quickly found out who I’d be working with the closest and hung around with them mostly. Everyone was really friendly but kind of distant, as was to be expected. I was the greenhorn and I’d just have to get to know folks before they would open up to me.
Starting with the second day, I got put to work. There was no orientation or anything like that, I was just thrown into the mix. I found out that I’d be working on projects with the maintenance guys mostly until the guests arrived. These guys were all in their 20’s so it was a bit awkward hanging out with the youngsters while all the people my age were guides and captains. Everyone was like, “Welcome to Yes Bay jail, what’s your sentence?” (meaning, what were you hired for?)
Now, I don’t want to be negative about this place, but it did indeed have a lot in common with jail. In fact, a lot of things I did to cope with the experience I learned from the reality show called ‘Sixty Days In’, a show about people going undercover in jails around America. So the main thing this place has in common with jail is that you can’t leave. You’re stuck here for the duration. I mean, obviously I could leave anytime I wanted, but I’d have to quit and I spent all of my money to get here so that’s not an option. I couldn’t even afford a plane ticket to leave.
The next is that you’re forced to have roommates. Now, I lucked out in this regard in that I found out that I won’t be having a roomie for the first month and the last month. The two months in between there’s a guide coming in that I have to share a space with, so it is what it is. I hear he’s an old fat dude who’s kind of a curmudgeon, whoopie. I’d be going insane right now if I had to deal with a roommate on top of everything else I have to deal with, so I’m enjoying the solitude while it lasts.
Another big thing that this place has in common with jail is that you have no control over your environment. This means constant noise all the time. In between chatter from my co-workers & guests, the lodge owner’s dogs, and engine noises of all types I’m damn glad I brought a couple hundred pairs of earplugs. I have to sleep wearing earplugs as I’m a light sleeper, they do wonders in keeping my sanity and helping me sleep soundly. I also have no choice in what I get to eat day to day, although our kitchen staff is very dedicated and talented. If I want to eat, I have to eat what is served to me…which admittedly is pretty good grub. Still, a lot of the food is pretty carb and meat heavy and I’d prefer to be eating a lot more fish, rice and veggies.
Ok, ok, I’ll admit I’m being a little harsh on the place. Obviously this place is a far cry from jail. Still there are parallels that I just had to mention. My first week here admittedly was pretty rough. It took a little while to get into the social scene around here as I mentioned before. This on top of learning a new job and learning how to live in this environment was one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do. It’s still ongoing actually, some days I’m flowing with things well, and others I feel like I’m on the verge of cracking up completely. The owner of the lodge is a real salty hardass and he can be difficult at times also. Now, here at the end of my second week everything is going somewhat smoothly for me. I’ve learned how to do my job, I’m friends with everyone, living the lodge life has become tolerable, and even the boss will crack a joke with me from time to time. He’s still a ball-buster though!
I figured ya’ll might be wondering what exactly it is I do here. Well, I’ll tell you. A typical day begins at 4:45. I’m responsible for lighting the fires upstairs in the fireplaces so the guests can enjoy a nice crackling fire while they drink coffee (or booze) to start their day. After this I have breakfast at six, then I go down to the dock to assist the guides in launching their boats. Until lunch at 11:30, I just hang around the dock, doing busy work like coiling ropes, practicing my knots and helping the floatplane load and unload if it comes. After lunch I may help out the maintenance boys do their tasks around the lodge, split firewood, make kindling or anything else the boss dreams up. I start hanging close by the dock around 2 in case boats start coming in. They are supposed to come in around 5 but can come in at any time. I need to be there to land them, get them tied up to the dock, and offload the catch.
The fun begins when the boats come back to base. I’ll take a big bucket and get the fish, then haul the them up on the hanging stand so they can be weighed out and people can take pictures if they want. I’ll then take the fish to the fillet table and the guides get to work on processing the catch. I don’t have to actually fillet the fish, but I’ll take the cut up fish, bag them, put them in the vacuum sealer, weigh & document the catch and then put the bags of fish in the walk in freezer on the dock. I also am responsible for boiling any crabs that are brought back.
This may not sound too exciting, but I absolutely love it. It doesn’t even seem like work to me, I’m in my element. There’s nothing better as a fisherman to be involved in doing something like this. It is fish heaven! After this, my day is done around 5 but has gone later on occasion. Dinner is at 5:30, and after that I have free time to do whatever until I go to bed at around 9 or so. That’s pretty much my day in a nutshell.
So there are a lot of awesome things Yes Bay lodge has going for it. The main thing is obviously the location. We’re 50 miles away from civilization in the middle of the Tongass National Forest. There is so much life all around in the air, sea and land. I see bald eagles all the time, and occasionally orcas and black & brown bears make their appearance. (Although I’ve yet to see these animals, other crew members have). This is probably the wildest and most remote place I’ve ever experienced.
The second thing I love about this place is all the cool people I work with. They come from all over America, and most are at the same place in life as I am. A lot of the folks here are nomadic and adventurous by nature, and were at a point in their lives where they were fed up with what was going on where they were at so they decided to say “To hell with it, I’m going to Alaska!”
The third thing, of course is the fishing! We have been bringing in massive halibut! A gal that works in the kitchen caught a massive 100 lber last week. It’s by far the biggest one I’ve ever seen. Pacific halibut dwarf their California cousins. This week we had our first guests and they have brought in a few in the 40-50 lb range. I get just as excited as they do when they bring in these big fish! Later on in the summer salmon will start to run and we’ll be catching a lot of those as well. From what I hear, we’ll be catching silvers, chum and pink salmon. Kings are illegal to keep in this area, but that’s fine by me. I can catch those a’plenty down south.
When it comes to fishing, we have a few options. One is to fish off the dock whenever we have free time. I haven’t been doing this as I came up here with only a rod and no tackle. I’m learning what people are using and will be placing a big order after I get my first paycheck in a week or so. The next option is to go up Wolverine Creek right next to the lodge and fish for trout and steelhead. Several crew members have been catching these but as I need to get a shorter pole and tackle I haven’t done this yet. Very soon I’ll be getting into those fish however! The creek flows out of a lake a couple miles upstream that features world-class steelhead fishing. The trail to get up there is really challenging to get up and super treacherous, but once you get up there the fishing can be rewarding!
The kind of fishing I’m most excited about is the ocean fishing. On our one day a week off we can put in a request to go out on one of the boats if there is an open slot. I actually did this for the first time today (Tuesday the 22nd). I had high hopes for going out for halibut, but they were dashed when the boss told my captain he wanted him to go out trolling to see if the pink salmon were running yet. It kind of pissed me off as I go salmon trolling all the time back in Santa Cruz, and the pink salmon is the smallest of the salmon species. I’m in world-class halibut territory, and that’s what I want to target. It’s like having a ticket for the Super Bowl but when you get to the stadium you find that the ticket is only good for Pee-Wee football! It’s still football and it’s entertaining, but it’s not what you want to see when the big game is happening!
Nevertheless, I still had fun today. I caught my first Alaskan fish, a shaker King Salmon (actually caught 3 in total) and a whole lot of rock cod (boring). The highlight of the day is when I caught some cod and threw them back, they didn’t swim down right away. On three separate occasions a bald eagle swooped down no more than 15-20 yards behind the boat and snatched them up! It was so majestic to watch, I tried to take pictures but it happened too fast for me to do so. Down south all we see going after our by-catch are seagulls, and I promise you bald eagles swooping down is much more thrilling!
Lastly, the thing I like about the place is the lodge itself. It’s such a cool building with a rich history. It was built around a hundred years ago and used to be a bordello/gambling hall. I think it’s been an actual fishing lodge since the 50’s. Kirk Douglas used to come here a lot, and I think Kevin Costner has been here a few times. It’s just got a cool vibe. It even has its own ghost! They call him Yes Bay Johnny. One of the housekeeping girls had an encounter with him the other night.
She was housed inside the lodge at the time in one of the guest bedrooms. It was before we had guests when the boss cut the generator at 9:30 to save on diesel. (Now we have power 24/7). She said around 11 o’clock when everyone should have long been in bed and the lodge was dark and quiet she heard voices coming from the main lobby. Suddenly, footsteps started pounding up and down the hallway outside her door. When she looked out to see who it was there was no one there! Also she told me a couple of nights before that the bathroom medicine cabinet mirror swung open all by itself when she was alone in her room. When she started asking around she was filled in on the story of Yes Bay Johnny. Who is this spirit? Maybe someone was shot in a poker game gone wrong and now his spirit roams the hallways forever. Who knows? You totally get that creepy feeling here, especially when it’s late and no one is around. There’s something mysterious about this place for sure.
So I’m going to end this before I write a novel. I have plenty more to talk about but I’ve got plenty of time in the months ahead to elaborate further. I just wanted to give my audience a good sketch of where I am at and what I am doing here. Things go on every day I could write about. Trouble is I only have an hour or so of writing time so it’s a lot of work cramming it into one post a week! Never fear Dear Reader, there are plenty of Dogfish Tales coming at you in the weeks to come. Signing off!