What Do You Do With 200 Pounds of Fish?
When the caravan wrapped in Fairbanks in Mid-July, our focus changed from sightseeing to FISHING! Fishing gear (waders were a mandatory purchase), licenses and regulations (bewildering!) types of fish (there are at least two names for 5 species of Salmon), timing (when will the Salmon be "running?") and places to fish occupied most of our waking hours for the next three weeks.
We settled on the tiny town of Houston, on the Little Susitna (Little Su) river, as our starting point. Riverside Campground, where we had stayed on the caravan on the way to Denali, is about 60 miles north of Anchorage and on the shore of the Little Su. Along with our friends Bob and Jo Lynch, we checked into the campground for a week.
The good news was the Silvers (Coho) were just starting to make their way up river. The bad news was the river was at a 50 year low and they couldn't make it up as far as Houston. There was good fishing at the mouth of Willow Creek, about 15 miles north of Houston, we were told, so we headed for Willow Creek.
We were also told that the creek was a short hike through the woods and across a small stream to where we would be fishing. There were trails through the woods, so we would have "no problem" reaching our destination. Unfortunately we picked one of the few rainy days we have had on the trip, and the trails resembled something from the TV show "Survivor!"
But the fishing there was good, at least by our standards, and we made this trek for several days, first just with Bob and Jo, and then with Barb and Doug Rolls, who joined us from Tucson. We were also met by Sue and Jerry Ferranti and Larry and Sue Smith, who had been on the caravan with us.
Jerry proved to be a great asset, both as an expert fish filleter and cook. On the second day of our fishing endeavors, we decided to "re-create" our caravan fish fry, which we had held at this very campground. Jerry not only filleted the fish, he also handled the cooking. What a meal!
On Wednesday, July 28, we parted company with the Lynchs, Smiths and Ferrantis and headed for the Kenai Peninsula with Barb and Doug. The Rolls had spent the summer on the Kenai two years ago and had a lot of good fishing experience in that area. We checked into a campground in Soldotna, on the shore of the Kenai River and were told the Reds (Sockeye) were in and fishing was good.
Good fishing or not, it certainly was easier! We fished from the shore of the Kenai about five minutes from our campground, and were able to park the car right at the river bank. And there were rest rooms nearby as well! The fishing was not quite as good as we had been told, but we each caught several Reds on the three days we fished the Kenai, as well as a few Chum (Dog) and Pinks (Humpies) Salmon as well. Chum are at the bottom of the desirability index (the natives feed them to their sled dogs) and Pinks don't freeze well, but they are all fun to catch.
On Sunday, August 1st, we broke camp in Soldotna, and headed for Seward and our charter trip on Monday. We camped on the shore of Seward's harbor in the same campground we had been in on the caravan, with a great view of the bay and mountainous coast line.
The weather on Monday was clear but very windy. The hour and a half boat ride to the area we fished was bumpy but the area our skipper chose was relatively calm and we were soon fishing in short sleeves. We spent the first half day catching our two per person limit on Halibut. No giants, but probably averaging in the 25-30 pound range. Halibut fishing is hard work, since you are fishing in 250-300 feet of water, with two pound sinkers. Just checking to see if you have bait on is an effort. Pulling in a fish is downright tiring.
After we limited out on Halibut, we went for Silver Salmon, which were still out in the ocean water in large numbers and were still feeding (once Salmon hit fresh water they quit feeding and live on stored body fat). This was really a lot of fun, because the skipper could spot the schools of fish with the boat's fish-finder and they were only about 30 feet down.
As we would drift through the schools of fish, things really started to get interesting. With two or three fish all on line at once, running and breaking water, and sometimes running under the boat, keeping lines from getting tangled became a real challenge. Several times we had two or three Salmon loose on deck while the skipper and deckhand tried to help us land fish that were still in the water. We lost several fish to broken lines, even though we were using 30 pound leader.
We basically limited out on Silvers at three each. With a full day of fishing behind us, we headed back to port and didn't get in until about 7:00 PM. With fish cleaning yet ahead of us, we didn't head for dinner until about 8:30. After Captain Suzy completed the filleting, we took our fish to the processor on the dock and weighed in our catch -- the four of us had 72 pounds of Halibut and 54 pounds of Salmon filets ready to be packed!
And that didn't include the fish we held out for dinner! A local restaurant will prepare your freshly-caught catch and serve you a complete dinner, with all the trimmings. At about 9:00, the rather bedraggled four of us sat down to dinner. Tired as we were, it really tasted great! Needless to say, we slept well!
Tuesday, we headed back to Anchorage to re-unite with the Lynchs and get Barb and Doug to their flight back to Tucson on Wednesday. The Rolls will be taking three 50 pound boxes of vacuum-packaged and frozen fish back with them. We hated to say good-bye, but we will be looking forward to being re-united with them and our fish when we get home.
We will be in Anchorage for a few days, getting ready to make our trek back to the "lower 48" All told, we probably have well over 200 pounds of fish, so it is probably time to head south. Making the decision to leave Alaska is going to be tough, but it has been great, and we are already thinking about coming back in a few years. About then, we will probably be running out of fish!
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