Saturday, June 30, 2007

Valdez Fishing Report Update

Here’s the “Fishing Report” update to our stay in Valdez. After a couple weeks fishing for salmon with no fish willing to show up and take on the challenge of Greg vs. Fish, I turned to halibut fishing. That post has already been made. At the time of that trip aboard “Outlaw” with Captain Scotty, I reported that I hit the derby leader board with a halibut of 116 pounds. The next day I was still up top. The following day I was still up top. Then I WASN'T. Two ladies, a mother and daughter team, from Arkansas, a place not known for its halibut fishing, knocked me off the board entirely with two fish MUCH BIGGER than mine. The daughter produced a 266 pound halibut- more than doubling the weight of mine. All I can say is…Boooo Hoooo. Since then, a 274 pounder has taken over the top spot. Hey, it was good while it lasted! All of these bigger fish were taken aboard six pack vessel “No Excuses.”

Then, after long hours fishing all the high tides from either the city dock or Allison Point, the salmon (PINK SALMON, also know as “Humpies”) began to show up to do battle. I think we kept 8 fish in the freezer, ate a few more (delicious) and released (some would call it “LOST”) a hundred more. If anyone ever tells you that landing a salmon from a fishing pier without a net is easy, just laugh right in their face. Pictorial proof of the catches to follow.

It’s been a very nice, for the most part, three weeks in Valdez. A few problems back at the barn, so to speak, took some time we hated to lose, but life goes on, and sailing, while it’s a fun thing to do, is not always “smooth” or so they say, them that know.

One caution worth noting if you’re coming to Valdez, the town, rebuilt on higher ground after it was wiped out by an earthquake and ensuing tidal waves quite a few years back , is still considered to be prone to Tsunamis, so signs like the one below are reminders of this all over town, and evacuation routes are clearly marked.

The silver salmon and the king salmon, did NOT make it into town during our stay. But I’m willing to bet they’ll be here next week!!! Maybe I can "send them a line" from Anchorage.
The young man in the pictures above and below is Mike, whose mother brought him to Alaska for the summer on a fishing trip. How special is that? He's a neat kid in his own right, goes to a performing arts school specializing in drama, which he loves equally well with fishing. He's bright, personable and eager to learn, and we really enjoyed fishing with him on a number of occasions. He's also a dead ringer for my son Derek when he was that age so it was extra nice in that it really got me excited about seeing Derek in Seattle when we leave Alaska at the end of the summer. I have high hopes that we'll have some time to fish together as well.

Above, Abby loves hanging out on the pier and checking out the salmon; says to tell you she likes it far better than tuna fish as a late night snack....

The Primary Colors of Life

Forget what you learned about the primary color wheel in elementary school! Red and Yellow have absolutely nothing to do with Life as we know it. The true primaries are Green, Brown, Blue, and White. Green, as in vegetation, is what attracts lovers of jungles, forests, lawns that require mowing, heavy rain, tropical islands and on and on. You get the point. Brown is for desert lovers, not to be confused with dessert lovers, although most chocolate is brown I suppose, and according to Marilyn, “white chocolate-Isn’t!) Fans of Brown take their color variation in the form of sunrises and sunsets that paint the sky and the sand with all the non primary life colors. They like their basic scenery to be a lovely neutral brown, thank you very much. They appreciate green in small quantities, but tire of it quickly, as they tend to see only green and not shades of green. They think blue is over-rated for the most part. But to each his own. Blue is for those who spend every possible moment of their time on the earth looking out to sea…or floating around on an ocean of blue in a boat, often going from ocean to ocean. For them, life is less terrestrial and more fluid. White, without a lot of comment is for those who want the green to be covered with snow, the blue to be frozen and looking more white than blue, and the mountains to be snow capped so they don’t look so gall darned brown. Some people like only one color, so they don’t travel much and/or they live where there is only one season- and it delivers the color they like the best. Others like all the primaries, so they build a life where the colors change with the time of the year and the seasons of their lives. With all this in mind, consider the “guest” commentary offered below.

Below is the text of the letter sent to our friend (Joan) from a friend of hers (John Edens, who authorized its use here)….I’m including it in the post (largely in its entirety) because, while it is not a perspective I necessarily share, it is certainly one I can appreciate, and besides, the sense of humor incorporated is “primary” material- even if you haven’t “been here, seen that.” The comments cover a broad range of experiences in Alaska and places- some that we have visited already, and some that are still ahead on our agenda. We expect our paths will be crossing in Anchorage over the next couple weeks. Hope we can make the acquaintance!

Joan wrote:
From my friend John, working in Alaska for
several months. Sounds like he's reached the
saturation point. Remember, he is from Phoenix
and has lived in AZ, NM, FL,TX and CO. He is so
funny and I do believe he will be happy to be back in Phoenix. Joan

Then John wrote: (in brown, naturally)

Greetings from green, green, very green Alaska,

Remind me to mention the volcano.

Green - All right I’ll confess. I am really home sick for brown.
Everything here is so richly, deeply, lushly, overwhelmingly green. I’m
sick of green. The grass is green. The weeds are green. The trees are
green. Green is everywhere and it’s thick. You can’t see the forest for
the green. Going to Denali you drive down a tunnel of green with visually
non-permeable walls. It’s claustrophobic. Really. Alaska is striking but it
is sooo monochromatic.

There is a little patch of dead grass in our yard. I embrace it. On the way
to Denali, we drove through the destruction from last year’s fire. I liked
it. It was a glorious combination of black, tan and brown. This - Alaska,
is so remarkably spectacular - but the green wears on you after a while.
Chaco, where even the trees are brown, will look glorious.

Baylor ­ I’m sorry that I feel this way.

Water ­ There is no shortage. I have seen people watering their driveways.
I’m serious.

David ­ (1) We live on a street named DeLong Landing. I told Bill that it
was probably better than DeShort Landing. (2) There is a nursery (plant
type) here named “Ground Effects”. (3) The Tasty Freeze close to the house
claims to be world’s Northernmost Tasty Freeze. Their motto is “where
selling ice cream to Eskimos isn’t a joke, it's a business plan."

Weather ­ Darn near perfect. Sunny, still and low 70s. Feels like fall in
Texas. The only unique part is the daily high hits somewhere around (like)
5:00 PM to 6:00 PM because the sun is still high. Which brings us to -

Sunshine ­ Lots and lots of it. All the time sunshine. Last Thursday was
the Summer Solstice and we officially had nearly 20 and ½ hours of sunshine.
However, remember what I said - them officials lie. It never got dark. I
got up around (like) 1:30 AM, which split the difference between sunset and
sunrise, and went walking for an hour. Dark was not noticeable. I promise.
I saw no dark during my walk. I am sooo tired. Monday night in
Fairbanks, my room had a blackout curtain & I got 8 hours sleep. (The sun
was up nearly the whole 24 hours). All that darkness and sleep was

Fires ­ Last Friday, I thought that we had one of those gray overcast days
that we had earlier in the spring. Nope. When I got to the airport, I
realized that it was smoke from the fires on the Kenai. Many, many houses
and cabins burned down ­ sad. In a lot of places they can only fight to
save the cabins with aircraft because they are accessible by ground only in
the winter when it is frozen. Too marshy, boggy and green in the summer.
(Penny Ann asked me how the fires were doing. I replied that they were
doing quite well, thank you.)

Travel ­ we have done it.

Homer ­ Weekend before last, we drove down to Homer at the south end of the
Kenai Peninsula for a three day weekend. That involves again driving the
stretch of road that I believe may be the most dramatic that I have seen.
That is the place of the waterfalls, where the mountains leap 4,500 feet
straight up out of the water, and Turnagain Arm has the 38 foot tides.
Green or no green, I will always love that place. The drive then devolves
into a green tunnel for 150 miles until you come out at the other end of the
tree culvert and once again you see the mountains across a major bay, this
time climbing darn near straight up to (like) 10,000 feet. If you have seen
10 pictures of Alaska, you have seen at least one of this place. You stand
and stare and can’t take it in. It is beautiful beyond conception,
description or belief. There are many places in the Rockies where the
mountains soar, but they don’t just soar out of the water like these. My,
my, my.

The next day, we took a meticulously maintained 35’ wooden boat across the
bay to a little artist’s colony named Halibut Cove. The unmarked opening
hides in the cliff face until you get right to it and I told the captain
that I suspect that she has done the trip before. The captain (her daughter
is the crew) works that boat for 3 months in the summer and sails a
sight-seeing Trimaran in Hawaii in the winter. Tough life. Cool, but flat
water & a nice ride. Halibut Cove, population 25 year round, nearly all
artists, 2 galleries (good stuff), and a small restaurant with excellent
food, beautifully (artfully) presented. Returned way after my bedtime so I
dozed below wrapped in a blanket. The next day, on the way back to
Anchorage, Nora navigated us down a dirt road that she remembered seeing on
a map a few years ago, past a large picturesque lake set in low mountains,
and into a valley with a stream running its length and several ponds, that
was set below us as we peaked the mountains. (Tony ­ we saw a loon (I could
call it as a loon ­ I was proud of myself) that a guy identified as a
Pacific Loon and said they were pretty rare up here. We also saw what I
identified as some kind of grouse, with chicks, but now realize may have
been a ptarmigan).

Somehow, we managed to work in a few museums and a US Fish & Wildlife
Visitor’s Center. The VC was so very nice. It really makes one feel bad
for poor little Cabeza Prieta NWR until you realize that it, like most of
the rest of the public facilities in Homer & Seward, was built with Exxon
Valdez money.

It may be that the most interesting thing on the way back was what Nora
called ­ combat fishing. The salmon had just started running on the Russian
River and the banks were crowded with fly fisherfolks crammed and rammed in
and with more in boats full to the gunnels with people casting at the people
on shore. Nora said that she has seen it with black bears crammed in with
the fisherpeople, all ignoring each other. This is the big revenue day of
the year for the state troopers writing parking tickets along the highway.

Denali ­ I think that I have reached some sort of DRAMATIC LANDSCAPE
saturation point. It is spectacular, gorgeous, wild, majestic, whatever.
We saw moose with calves, a grizzly sow and cub (out of the window of the
4th bus in line) 3 fox kits playing and wrestling in a clear spot with mom
keeping a watchful eye out. (When she came over to the kits, they went
after her.) Maybe I was just tired, but Denali just went on and on and on
for 8 hours.

A lot of Denali is a rounded canyon, several miles in width, carved by
glaciers and containing a powerful river and many ponds. The valley is
crowned by Mt. McKinley (the natives call it Denali, “the big one” ­ who the
hell is this McKinley they want to know) at over 20,000 ft., and bottoms out
at nearly sea level. Here, in late June, the mountain is buried in snow and
looks just as dangerous as it really is. Four people died on it in one week
in May while I was here.

The VC complex is so nice. Poor Chaco. Perhaps we could talk Ted Stevens
into moving to New Mexico for a few years.

Fairbanks ­ Delightfully sleezy. Alaskaesque. You may need it again
someday so don’t throw anything away, toss it in the yard. Log houses with
no footings ­ log walls start on the ground and go up. Besides, it will
probably flood again when the river breaks up so why fix it up? It will be
buried in snow in a couple of months, so why clean it up? I really like
Fairbanks and the University is beautiful. It is reputed to be a great
geology and engineering school.

Enough. I don't even feel like proofing this and I always miss mistakes
anyway. It is after 5:00, I’m tired & I am invited for dinner at the B&B.
Someday, I will talk about Nanana (that is a place).

Things I forgot. (I always do that.)

Bald Eagles - there is definitely not a shortage. Nora calls them feathered
rats but I don't think it is that bad. One does see more bald eagles than
ravens, but I have not seen any in the highway going after road kill. And
it is still kinda "cool" to look out the office window and see one circling
the parking lot.

Float planes - there are more float planes than bald eagles. Everybody's a
bush pilot now days.

Volcanoes - Johnny Cash has nothing on Alaska. (Yes, we did see one venting

Critters - I finished all my goals except the wolf and that was a stretch.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Welcome Aboard: RVThereYet

We extend a hearty welcome to the people, the readers, the campgrounds, and the users of this up and coming on-line RV park Directory Service: RVTHEREYET. For some of our readers on the road, there may be some interesting "camp4free" opportunities with them and we invite you to check them out when you can. It's a very uniquely interactive site.
For anyone new who would like to follow along with our adventure, our aim is to introduce you to some of the more interesting people and places that we find along the way, and to provide some perspective on things that matter in life. We ARE NOT a "we are here and and we did this" travel site- although there is by definition some of that to the extent necessary. In any event, please read a few posts and see if we might be able to hook up with you along life's often surprising path... and welcome aboard!
Presently we are among the featured blogs linked to on their site. Check us both out!
You will find a new link to them on the left hand side of the blog whenever you need it....

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Maggie To The Rescue

Two posts ago (Coming To Valdez), I introduced you to Maggie, a scientist by training, working for the Alaska Fish and Game Department keeping tabs on the health of the fish being caught by sport fisherman. I had taken the opportunity to do some nominal assisting with her studies and learned, or so I thought, quite a bit in the process in a very short time . And I did. No, really I did. But I did not, evidently, learn quite as much as I previously thought.
So when OUTLAW landed with my limit of both Yellow Eyes and Halibut a day ago, I presumed I was quite able to remove the otolith bone (the inner ear bone of the two species and prized both for the information it can provide about the fish and also for its ivory like potential in jewelry After all, I had watched as Maggie removed quite a few specimens for study with seemingly little effort at all. Like all people who actually know what they are doing….she made it look easy.
So naturally, when I cut open my first "practice" halibut, and found absolutely nothing of value in that area of the head, I was a bit perplexed. But undaunted, I tried my own first fish and again found nothing. This story was repeated until I was plum out of fish and had nothing to show for the dockside surgeries I had performed on my fish- other than for the fillets, that is.
A bit frustrated by my inability to find and recover the otolith, I heaved the fish carcasses over the rail and into the waste vat which gets hauled out to sea for dumping when full. I had tried. But while my expectations were high, my skill level was not, and so I had failed…or so it seemed. But walking up the ramp from the boat float, who should appear, but the ever pleasant Miss Maggie, fish brain surgeon extraordinaire! I told her my sad plight and much to my surprise (she was dressed much to nice for cleaning fish at the time) she willingly offered to help remedy the situation. All I had to do now was to go “wading” in the fish waste to pull out the prized, previously discarded remains of my trophy fish. No problem! Within minutes, Maggie had removed and recovered the prize from its appointed hiding place deep within the head of the halibut. I’m grateful! And next time, with her step by step pointers, I will, no, I shall, be able to find that little number on my own.
Here’s what it looks like, should you ever decide to go looking for one!

The "Hired Gun" of Valdez

Those of you who have been following the trip to this point will know that, since arriving in Alaska a few weeks ago, the fish just haven’t been where I thought they would be, when I thought they would be there. Truthfully, it was getting me down a bit to be on the fishing trip of a lifetime and one I’ve wanted to make since I was about ten years old - and to not have anything all that terribly exciting to report on in that department. That problem has now been resolved!!!

It started out in Valdez the way it had been going as reported previously: Greg in Valdez, but not the fish (salmon). It became readily apparent that that situation would not right itself for a while if at all, so the search for a good halibut trip, a good boat and a good captain began in earnest. Basically, I would say we “interviewed” for the job. We spoke with charter services, fishermen on the docks, a few of the captains when they came in. We “worked” the docks when the 6 packs were coming in to see what the catch looked like. Met and spoke with some locals about who they liked and respected, and so on. And looked over the boats themselves for amenities, layout, ease of fishing from and the like.

After working out some scheduling detail, I opted to fish with Captain Scotty aboard the OUTLAW. I’ve made some good decisions in my life and perhaps more than a handful of bad ones too, but this was a great one!

Scotty has the qualities and abilities that I look for in a good captain: First, he has a no-holds-barred love of what he does for a living. Without this quality, ain’t nobody succeeds at anything in life. Secondly, he wants those fishing with him to have the same joyous experience he is obviously having himself. His enthusiasm is infectious. While I know for certain there are other good, maybe even great, captains out of Valdez, I am equally sure I could not have found one that would have worked harder for me and the rest of us on board this day. Already putting in 12 - 14 hour days on the water, involving a 70 mile run to the fishing grounds in the Gulf of Alaska taking two to three hours out (and again back) and a full day’s fishing once out there, Captain Scotty cleans the boat himself to make sure it meets his high standards of cleanliness (he likes the best smelling boat in the fleet) and then heads home for dinner and family- and then whatever time is necessary to make a float plan for the next day out, making sure that the weather he thinks will be a given, and the tide he knows will be a given create the best likelihood for a great catch the next day…and the next. It’s a short season here, but a long day, and a lot of long days in a row. So high energy is a super nice attribute to have to be a captain here- or anywhere. Besides, he’s got a fast boat, maybe the fastest here, so the run is shorter and the bottom time greater- a winning combination. Scotty runs a safe boat too, paying good attention to detail at all times, even when he’s busier than the proverbial one-armed paper hanger. But best of all, like all good captains (and most good fisherman) he has an unending supply of first rate fishing stories to keep the conversation going, the customers engaged and happy. Had I not caught ANY fish, I would still have had a good trip on the OUTLAW. And, oh yes, Captain Scotty has one thing most other captains do not. And on a boat named OUTLAW, it is only fitting that the fun loving renegade captain has a 410 gauge shotgun close at hand and ready to render the biggest fish still so they can quickly and safely be brought on board. It not only made for an efficient fishing tool, it made for an entire day of joking about the captain and his firearm. We did not “lose” a single fish the entire day!

At this point I am tempted to tell some of his best stories, but I won’t. For two reasons: One, because, while I can tell a story with the best of them, Scotty IS the best of them and who wants to compete with that action? And secondly, it is my firm conviction that all of you who fish need to come here and book a day or two with Captain Scotty aboard the OUTLAW. What I will tell you is that of the four guys on board fishing, there were two Gregs, a John and a Rich. As the two Gregs hooked up first (and often) we began (well OK, I began) a running “Team Greg” narration that lasted the day and survived the trip. When we all went our separate ways at the end of the day, we were each signing off as a member of Team Greg. It was a trip I won’t soon forget. Heck, it was trip I will NEVER forget.

The pictures and just a few captions should pretty much tell the rest of the story:

This was my first halibut and at 54 pounds, the one I COULD pick up for a photo...that's Greg #2 behind me, line in the water.
The "barn door" I've wanted to catch since I was knee high to a grasshopper, this is the one I could NOT pick up any higher than you see here- at least not by myself.
Captain Scotty, Rich and John get started cleaning their fish.
The other Greg of "Team Greg" and Captain Scotty take some monster fillets from Greg's fist halibut of the trip.
I hooked this trophy Ling Cod, but it was safely returned to the water, as the season does not open until July 1. Captain said it broke his heart to put it back, a fish of this quality; but it was sure fine with me.
Each fisherman aboard took home a nice pile of fillets.
Here's my two fish limit of YellowEye Rockfish.
It sure lifted up a lot easier on that winch and scale than when I tried to pick it up by myself!
Here's a look at the "white" side.
And here it is again after the weigh-in at the dock. That label reads 116.6 pounds, and at 66 inches long....was more than respectable.Four fisherman, each with a limit of YellowEyes and Halibut: 2 of each species. We caught some sea bass (black rockfish) as well. Filled two carts, we did, and attracted more than our share of attention strutting our stuff down the dock to the cleaning tables!
Captain Scotty hauls anchor to end a great day on the water.
Look real close! That fish of mine is the derby leader for the week- so far so good! This sign is posted a couple places around town. Geez, I like seeing that name up there. Go! Team Greg!
The tail of my whale!!!!! sticking out of the pail....

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Coming To Valdez

The road to Valdez, up and over the Chugach Mountains, steep inclines and even steeper declines back down to sea level, was carpeted with dandelions and lupines and the sweet smell of Spring beginning to bloom. Late Spring. Early Summer. Short season whatever you call it. Nights in the 40's, highs in the 60's. Glaciers everywhere. In every direction you look, a minimum of 10 in sight, and many just over the next peak and out of sight. Warm when the wind stops and chilling when the wind whips across the glaciers and down into the valleys. Waterfalls by the hundred as if this landscape needed further punctuation. Valdez, they say, looks a lot like Switzerland. I've never been there, but surely it must. One can stand absolutely anywhere in Valdez and see snow capped mountains, glaciers, and waterfalls in a full 360 degree circle. There is nowhere you can look and NOT see them. No where! One travel ad we saw claimed that some place on earth had to be the perfect place; Valdez is it. Lord, it makes a guy want to yodel.

We are camped within 20 feet or so of Prince William Sound - where the Sound narrows and channels into the small craft harbor, from where all the 6 pack charters depart. I hope to be on one of them soon. Since the salmon have also not arrived here yet, the story of the whole trip so far, the quarry will be halibut. Tides and currents and weather should be right mid week. Gotta break this poor fishing pattern soon. But meanwhile, the scenery is terrific, there's plenty of other things to do and see.
Here's a healthy 80 lb. halibut going under the knife at the cleaning station at the small boat harbor cleaning stations. All fish must be cleaned at specific locations in town. The waste goes into special vats that look more or less like shark cages, which are then towed out to sea and dumped when they are full.
The young lady in the blue coat is a scientist, "Maggie," with Alaska Fish and Game. She measures and weighs each fish brought to the cleaning stations, then afterwards removes the inner ear bones from the halibut and the Rockfish. Those bones are studied for determining the health and age of the catch, which is information used in helping set regulations in the future. After learning the process, I spent some time serving as an assistant (scribe) in the process. I learned a lot and really enjoyed the experience. I hope to do some more of it while we are here. We will have a three week stay here, so there should be plenty of time to do that- and it's a great way to see the catch as it comes off all the boats, and learn about fish I have no experience with, and in many cases, have never even seen before.

In Florida, and just about anywhere else I have ever fished around salt water, it is the gulls and the pelicans that steal the fish off the cleaning tables if you turn your back for even a minute. But this is Alaska, where everything, even the fish steaks, are big. So here the gulls don't do the thieving; here, the eagles do the it. The golden eagles and the bald eagles. Which causes me to ask the question: Is that why they call them "Ea-gulls"? Below is an immature bald eagle that had his eye on a halibut fillet that weighed about 20 pounds. This eagle finally left hungry.

LuLu Belle on the left below.
The next series of shots are from the wildlife and glacier cruise aboard the LuLu Belle. Scheduled for a 5 hour cruise, it ran 6 because we saw so much and Captain Fred made sure we got all we signed on for. In addition to the humpback whales, the Stellar sea lions, the sea otters, the gulls and eagles, we got to see nesting puffins in the caves along the cliffs on the shoreline of one of the islands in the sound. The motion of the boat kept me from getting a good picture, but it certainly was a most interesting venture- as the captain drove that big boat right up to the cliff and into the cave, with little more than a couple inches to spare on either side of the vessel. A bit scary, but exhilarating at the same time.

The noise from the sea lions was simply amazing. There were hundreds of them. I have a few shots, not posted here, of bulls who had been terribly bloodied from their battles over the best females. Isn't that just a guy thing?
Digital cameras are great in many ways, but a quick shutter is not one of them, so getting an "anticipation" shot of a humpback breaching or rising out of the sea is no easy task. This tail shot was difficult as well as many of the whales gave us a good look at their backs but not their tales or flippers.
Icebergs and "calves" from the glaciers are quite beautiful in their own right. They have an uncanny "life" of their own- clinking and rolling and bobbing and weaving like ice cubes in a big glass of water on a hot day. Close to the glacier, they are actually quite musical.

How's this for a tour shot???
Sometimes tiny islands are the best islands.

The Alaskan Pipeline ends at Valdez. The oil is stored in 18 tanks that hold a total of over 500 million barrels of oil. From the tanks it is loaded into double hull tankers and transported to states south of Alaska, most of it to Washington. 500 million barrels of oil? Enough to "run" the United States for about 8 hours. It gives you a sense of how much oil we consume. Prince William Sound is clean now post Exxon Valdez disaster. Very clean- no trace it ever happened, even if you are looking. Nature has restored in short order what many thought could never be corrected. There is even a fish hatchery immediately adjacent to the oil terminal. Fish are fine thank you very much, as are the seas otters, the real barometer of the health of the sound.

On the return trip, permission was granted to ride in the pilot house with the captain. A special treat indeed.