Moose Hunting

This past weekend, I went moose hunting.

I’m lucky to have made friends with Tonya and Rich. They’ve been instrumental in more than one of my authentic Alaska experiences: commercial fishing in Ekuk and now moose hunting on the Snake River.

After hearing all the locals getting excited about the beginning of moose hunting season on August 20th, I expressed my interest in moose hunting to Tonya. She told me that Rich was going moose hunting the first weekend of hunting season. I got invited along with her, the girls and Rich down to their cabin on Snake River, which comes off Snake Lake.

I’d been to Snake Lake before in the winter on a snowmachine, but I had never been all the way out to the lake in the summer. Let me tell you, it’s a pretty big difference from the frozen, snow-covered lake that I’d seen before.

In preparation for my hunting trip, I packed a backpack full of old clothes and made sure I had soft-point bullet for my Mosin rifle. Then I went down to the N&N Market and bought my resident hunting license for $25. (Hooray for being here a year and finally being a real “resident”!)

Now there are actually two moose hunting seasons in the fall in Dillingham. One is a regular harvest hunt, which requires you to take a bull with at least 50 inch antlers. The other is a Dillingham-resident-only hunt that starts earlier that allows you to take any bull moose. To participate in this hunt, you have to get a permit from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Under the permit hunt, you have to report back whether you kill a moose or not so they know how many animals were harvested and how many people hunted. I picked up my permit for free at the ADF&G building.

While I was preparing to hunt, everyone I talked to seemed to think that it was a foregone conclusion that I’d get a moose, since I was hunting with Rich. Apparently he’s got a good reputation for getting his moose. I already knew from talking to Rich that he is a self-described lazy hunter. Moose often weigh hundreds and hundreds of pounds. Shooting one deep into the bush is a nightmare once you realize that it all has to be cut and carried out of the woods. Most locals try to shoot one as close to their boat as possible so that the packing is minimized. Rich doesn’t want to shoot a moose any farther than a few hundred yards from the river. That sounded perfect to me.

You may be wondering why I bothered to get a permit for a moose. After all, Samara and I don’t have a big deep freezer and we couldn’t possibly eat an entire moose. Well, to be honest, I didn’t expect to harvest a moose for myself. Rich was planning to get one for his family, but he’s done enough hunting in his life that he didn’t care if I did the shooting. I got a permit just in case I got to be the one that dropped the hammer on the moose.

On Friday, Tonya and I cut out of work early and did some quick shopping before meeting Rich at the landing at the end of Snake Lake Road. We had just enough time to stop on our way over the mountain so that I could sight in my rifle. At 25 and 50 yards, three quick aimed shots resulted in groups small enough to put a bullet solidly in a moose’s vitals, so I was good to go.

We got to the landing and met Rich and the girls in the skiff. It’s a small aluminum skiff with a outboard jet motor. It steps across the lake pretty well, even when there’s a bit of whitecaps. Where it really shines, though, is when we get into the river, which is pretty shallow. Without a jet, you can’t run the Snake River without running the risk of tearing up your outboard’s prop.

Rich and Tonya own acres of land out along the Snake River. They’ve built a cabin right on a small bluff overlooking the river.

They laugh about how rudimentary it is, but it is actually pretty comfortable. It has a main floor and loft, with a wood stove for heating. There is a nice gas grill outside for cooking, as well as being able to cook over the fire. There an outhouse (with an actual toilet seat) and plenty of chairs to lounge around in. When you’re relaxing in the wilderness, what more can you ask for?

Of course, Rich has his big boy toys out there. Not satisfied with just a 4-wheeler, he actually has a D3 bulldozer for blazing trails. Besides the skiff, he’s also got a canoe for paddling the river.

After we got our stuff unpacked and dinner started, we went back up the river a little ways so that the girls could do some fishing. This river has lots of red salmon this time of year, which don’t tend to bite much, and tons of world-class rainbow trout, which definitely will bite when you use salmon eggs as bait. I actually managed to catch a few fish myself on this trip (which we threw back, of course). I caught some rainbow trout, which put up a good fight. I also got a red salmon on the line, who seemed to just want to give up once I hooked him. One of the girls hooked a silver salmon, which made Tonya pretty jealous. She’s always wanted to get a silver salmon on a fishing line, as opposed to the way she normally catches them in a big commercial net. This 6 to 7 pound silver wasn’t going without a fight through, and finally broke the line before Rich could get it in the boat.

After a dinner of pork loin and potatoes, we got to bed. I slept in my sleeping bag on an army cot next to the wood stove. It was pretty cozy. The dogs, two big labs, slept downstairs with me.

The twins, Rich and Tonya all slept up in the loft in their beds. Like I said, not too primitive. Rich even had a generator to run for lights and radio once it got dark.

Rich set the alarm for early Saturday morning and we got up before the sun even rose. We got our gear together and took the canoe down to the river. I was hunting with my Russian surplus Mosin Nagant, but Rich hunts with an old 7mm mag Savage bolt action. His rifle looks rough. The bluing is practically gone from the barrel and there’s an old sock wrapped around the stock that he uses to cover the scope. To get it ready for hunting season, he douses the thing in Marvel Mystery Oil and lets it drain off.

He’s had a lot of people laugh at that rifle, but he can make some amazing shots with it. He says the first two shots are always extremely accurate, and after that, the pencil-thin barrel starts to heat up and the shots wander all over. He told me that he once won a few bet with a customer that he was helping his brother commercial guide by hitting a wounded brown bear just behind the ear from over 500 yards away with his ratty old rifle. Still, I thought it was pretty funny that my half-century old surplus rifle looked like the prom queen leaning next to his old Savage.

Saturday was a rainy morning.

We paddled down the river, watching for moose in the trees and over the tundra. The rain seemed to be keeping them all bedded down, though. Rich saw a cow in the trees at one point, and we found the spot a little farther down river where she’d crossed and left tracks.

I got a great picture of Rich with one of his classic expressions on his face. He looks like I just asked him how many legs a moose has.

As we paddled down, we passed a bald eagle’s nest, with the baby eagle still hanging around even though he was getting pretty large. We also saw the mother and father flying around the area.

A little past the nest, we turned off into a slough that went back up and let out near the cabin. It was a long and winding waterway, and there was plenty of chance to watch for moose as we paddled along in the spitting rain.

After a while, we hit a beaver dam, and had to portage the canoe across. We took that chance to look around a bit, and saw some bear tracks, as well as a bunch of moose tracks. Rich figured they weren’t very old, and indicated a cow, calf and a bull. That’s when he decided they must all be bedded down because of the rain. There was a beaver swimming around the pond behind his dam, and when he saw us, he slapped his tail on the water and dove.

Before long, we got back on the water and headed further up the slough. There were some more beaver dams, but they had all been broken and the water was pouring through with no sign of the beavers.

We saw plenty of ducks during this time, but no moose. The slough put us right back up at the foot of the cabin, which was nice because it was getting to be breakfast time.

Rich and Tonya sure do eat well when they’re in Ekuk or out at the cabin. We had bacon, eggs, toast and southern-style hash browns. After a nap, we decided to take a little fishing trip. We packed up the twins and Tonya, then headed up to the lake to another fishing spot.

After crossing the lake and finding the creek outlet we were looking for, there didn’t turn out to be any fish hanging around.

There was a fat seagull, an otter, and lots of views of the pretty mountains, though.

Pretty quickly, we headed back down the river.

We found a better fishing spot and threw a few lines in the water. The girls really enjoy fishing, especially when it’s so productive. They catch plenty of nice rainbow trout on the Snake River. It’s always really easy to spot the red salmon as well.

Later that evening, we decided to take another try at the moose hunting. Rich and I took one of the girls, Caiti, and floated down the river in the skiff for a little ways, watching for moose.

Even though the rain had let up, we still didn’t see much. Rich got off the boat and did a little stalking in the woods while Caiti and I fished.

When he got back, he said he’d seen a bull off the tundra, but when he tried to stalk closer, a swan took off and blew his cover. The bull disappeared into the woods. Since we weren’t likely to get a moose that night, we did a bit more fishing and headed back.

That second night, I was plenty tired and slept well! Sunday morning, we got up early again and Rich and I took the other twin, Shari, with us on the moose hunt this time.

We floated down to the spot where Rich had seen some moose before and got out to look around. Rich found a shed antler, so he scraped and banged it on a tree for a while. That got one bull curious enough to peek his head out of the woods, but he was still way too far to shoot. We waited for a while along the shore for moose to show themselves, but didn’t have any luck. There was one seriously pissed-off beaver hanging around our skiff, slapping his tail in the water, so we headed back up the river and did a bit more fishing. Then it was back to camp for breakfast.

That afternoon, we got all packed up and headed back across the river to home. It might not have been a productive hunting trip, but it was a pretty good fishing trip, and the views of the mountains and Alaska wilderness were amazing. I really enjoyed getting a chance to get out into the bush and away from the hustle and bustle of Dillingham, such that it is.

I hope to get another chance to enjoy Snake River before winter, but if not, I’m sure I’ll be back the next summer.

A trip to Kentucky

We leave out of Dillingham tonight and we expect to arrive in Kentucky late tomorrow night. We’re looking forward to fountain drinks, shopping, going out to eat, visiting family, visiting friends and acting like huge tourists. Aaron is getting sworn in to the Kentucky Bar while we are there so he can get a job in Kentucky when we move back. I’m looking forward visiting people and I might even get to meet my new baby niece, if she is born before I leave. I can already tell that this visit is going to be too short.

Use Caution When Operating Power Tools

I’ll preface this blog entry by saying that I’m fine now and there’s nothing to worry about.

I say that because this blog post is about me doing something stupid and hurting myself. I don’t want anyone to be in suspense and worry about the outcome. I’m fine.

On to the story…

Last night about 10pm, I decide to do a little metalworking project. I sit down on the front porch with the angle grinder and the piece of metal in my lap and get ready to cut a piece off of it. Instead of putting the damn piece of metal in a vice, I’m holding it in one hand and the angle grinder in the other. Why I thought it was a good idea to work with an angle grinder one-handed in my lap, I’ll never know.

I’m cutting along, doing fine, and the cut-off wheel catches in the metal and rips over it and into my knee. I pull up my pants leg, and I’ve cut a hole in the side of my knee. It’s not really bleeding, but it was a good 3/4″ long cut, which was stretched open maybe a half inch. I could see subcutaneous fat, but I guess I missed any tendons or major blood vessels. Very lucky.

I hop inside and have Samara grab the band-aid wash (Bactine). I irrigated it and stuck a paper towel on it and head off to the ER. Like I said, it barely bled at all and it wasn’t even really hurting. I just knew it needed some stitches. Dr. Stout numbed it up with a local anesthetic, revised the edges where the grinder had left it dirty, cleaned it and stitched me up. Four stitches and a new tetanus shot was all it took.

They didn’t give me any pain meds, because to be honest, it didn’t really hurt. I took some Tylenol at home, but then I woke up in the middle of the night in pain. Couldn’t get back to sleep until the next dose of Tylenol kicked in.

I called in sick for the first half of the day today, but managed to go to work for the second half. I was limping because it was sore. By the end of the day, though, I was used to walking on it again and wasn’t limping so much. I’m staying dosed up with Tylenol and Ibuprofen.

I think, all in all, that I learned a very valuable lesson for very cheap. No real damage, but it could have been bad. Now I’ll be smart enough to work safely with my grinder. I’ll be using two hands and a vice from now on!

I have pictures of my knee, but I won’t post them, because it’s gross. E-mail me if you’re morbidly curious to see the before and after. (Yes, I got a before picture at the hospital.)

Here’s some pleasant pictures instead, of Samara and I sitting in the booth at the Muddy Rudder, waiting for our dinner.

So I’m thinking of a new tattoo, right above my knee, that says “Use Caution When Operating Power Tools.” What do you think?

Moving, vandalism and other things that have happened

First, I realize we haven’t blogged in over a month. There is a good reason for that–we’re pretty lazy and we were in the process of moving from our posh Dillingham Apartment to a cozy house by the airport. (You understood that cozy meant small, right?) Anyway, we were taking our time moving since the house needed some fixing and we are now property managers for that place and 4 other houses. Aaron fixed the moldy floor and put down new peel ‘n stick tile down.

It looks pretty good. And We painted just about every surface of the house that could possible hold paint. I think we did a pretty good job. Now the only problem I have is storage. There is almost no storage space. No closets, very few cupboards and as it turns out the washer and dryer doesn’t work.

But free rent, you can’t really do too bad with free rent.

As it turns out my coworker lives in one of the rental properties we manage. This is how the not-so-harmful vandalism started. I had extra paint from painting all the walls, so I thought it would be cute to paint some of the rocks in her flower garden.

So she painted some rocks in my driveway and around my porch.

So then I painted her bird house and the side of her porch.

And she glued magazine ads to my newly painted red door–they came off, the paint was dry and not harmed.

So then I painted clam shells and glued them around her door from. (Sorry I don’t have pictures of this.) But this has been going on since before we moved it. I am hoping that we will call a truce soon or else the houses are going to look pretty funky and not in a good way.

In other news, we made it through the summer solstice and the sun is starting to set earlier and earlier every day. I have proof that there is a moon, which I was starting to doubt for a while.

Aaron and I took a drive out to the harbor while the weather was still good and we actually got to see a sunset. It was probably close to midnight, but we hadn’t been awake to see a sunset in a few months. It’s seems wrong to stay up until 2am to watch the sun kinda set.

I Survived a Weekend Fishing in Ekuk

This past weekend, I went commercial fishing. The Clerk of Court, Tonya, had invited me to come out to Ekuk where she and her husband Rich, and two daughters fish for salmon commercially with set nets. I really didn’t know anything about how commercial fishing worked, but I was willing to help out and have a little working vacation in order to learn.

My parents left Thursday night for West Virginia, and I left Friday night after work for Ekuk. Of course, first I had to buy a 7-day commercial crewmember license, some raingear, boots, and a sleeping bag. I packed up all my clothes and gear, and picked up some groceries for Tonya and Rich.

Ekuk is a small community on the southern edge of Nushagak Bay. I think it might actually be on the Bristol Bay, which is what the Nushagak Bay empties into. Dillingham is on the north shore of Nushagak Bay, on the narrow end near the Wood and Nushagak Rivers. Ekuk is across on the south shore and around the end of a couple of points. (Straight across from Dillingham is a village called Nushagak, and then you can often see Clark’s Point farther out. Ekuk is around on the other side of Clark’s Point.) No one lives in Ekuk year round, except for the winter watchman at the cannery. Everyone else just goes there to fish. Some of the cabins are pretty nice, but others are a step above a trailer. It doesn’t really matter. If you’re there, you’re there to fish.

To get to Ekuk, you fly or take a boat. That’s about it. Besides me, Tonya’s friend Jeanine and her dog Karma were also going for the weekend. We caught a ride on Bristol Bay Air, which is run by the lone pilot of the operation, John Paul. He’s a good pilot with a well-maintained aircraft. But it’s a small plane.

Samara dropped me at the airport at around 5pm, and I met up with Jeanie, her dog, John Paul and his other passenger. We walked through the gate and loaded our gear right onto the plane.

John Paul gassed up, we all jumped in, and he taxied around to the runway. Pretty soon, he throttled up and we were into the air.

It was neat to see Dillingham from the air as we took off. I didn’t mind flying in the small plane at all. There’s plenty to see when you’re at 700 feet and cruising, and it felt perfectly safe. It’s a ten or fifteen minute flight across the bay. There was plenty to see.

I spotted the hospital at the end of Kanakanak Road, then boats in the bay headed out for fishing.

All these little boats run drift nets to catch fish out in the bay.

We flew past Nushagak, with its giant white orthodox cross on the hillside.

Then we passed over Clark’s Point, which has quite a few people by the name of Clark still living there. There were a lot of boats just off the shore there.

Pretty soon we started banking hard as we flew over Ekuk. I could see houses and cabins dotting the beach as we banked, and although I didn’t realize it at the time, I could see the runway as well.

We went out and flew over the beach, and could see people down there fishing as the tide went out. Quickly, we banked back around parallel to the beach and started coming in for a landing. All I could see was tall grass out either window as we touched down on a gravel runway about as wide as a two-lane road.

It even narrowed and curved towards the end. Not a big runway, for sure.

After we jumped out, we unloaded our gear from the nose and tail of the plane, along with Tonya’s boxes of groceries. We wandered over to the cabin, but no one was home. I went back and ferried everything from the plane to the cabin. (It was only a couple hundred yards.) Inside the cabin was a note that they had fish and we were welcome to come down to the beach.

We got our gear on, and I got Jeanie to take a picture of me in my clean raingear. This was the last time I bothered to wear the jacket all weekend, but I wore the bibs every time I went down to the beach.

I took a look around Ekuk, but there’s not a lot to see.

Once we had our gear on, no one was driving by to hitch a ride with. Instead, we started walking. Tonya had told me they were only about a half mile down the beach. She lied. They were three or four miles. Thankfully when we got part of the way there, someone stopped and gave us a ride. We sat in the back of a dump-back fishing truck with our boots in icy water. (It keeps the fish fresh.)

When we got down to the site, they had already picked all of the fish out of the net and we ready to throw them into the truck. We helped them do that and then headed back up to camp.

At this point, I should probably stop and explain a little about how set-net commercial salmon fishing works. You get a site permit, then you get some nets. The nets are 50 fathoms long and about six feet wide. Along one side of the net is a line with floats spaced along it, called a cork line. On the other side is a long heavy line called a lead line. At either end is a bridle, which is basically a two-by-four that keeps the net spread open. You hook rope to the bridle at either end. Just like subsistence fishing, you have an anchor out in the ocean and two sets of pegs up on the beach. When you want your net in the water, you put rope on either end of your net, which runs down from the pegs to the net, then from the net through the anchor, and back up the beach to the other pegs. Fish swim into the mesh of the net, get caught by the gills, and then sit there in the water until you pull the net out. You pull the neat by loosening both ends of your lines from the pegs and hooking a cable clamp onto one rope and pulling the net in. When you want your net in the water, you pull the other rope to run it back out.

Most people use a pickup truck to pull their gear in and out of the water. Not Rich. Rich uses a Maruka tracked vehicle.

He can run it way out into the mud without sinking in and it will pull anything. Gear will break before his Maruka does. It makes it much easier than using a pickup truck to pull gear.

Once the gear is on the beach, everyone goes along the net with a small hook like a bent nail with a rubber handle. You use that to pull on the holes in the net and get the fish out. Salmon have gills and little fins under their bodies near the gills, and they tend to get stuck in the net right there. They can’t get pulled out if the mesh gets stuck in the gills, so you need the hook to pull the mesh away from the gill as you work the fish out. Sometimes a fish gets so far into the net that it’s easier to just pull it through. I like those.

Anyway, you pull the fish out and then throw it up above the net onto the beach in piles. Once they’re all out of the net, you load them into the back of pickup trucks (preferably with a dump bed), put some slush ice and water over them, and drive up to the cannery to make a delivery.

The cannery offloads the fish into hoppers and weighs them. You get a ticket with the weight and your permit info, and they pay you later based on the price per pound.

The fishing season is very dependent on the escapement of salmon. You have to make sure there’s enough salmon going up river to spawn for next year, so the Department of Fish and Game tells you when you can and can’t fish. They’re called openings. When it’s open, you fish. Except, of course, that in Ekuk there’s one damn cannery. So if they get overwhelmed, or if they’re not happy with the quality of fish, they may tell you to stop fishing. You have to do it, pretty much, because if they won’t take the fish, then there’s nowhere to put them and you can get a serious ticket from the wildlife troopers for wasting fish. A lot of fishermen would love to have the foreign markets come in to buy fish, since they’d pay more and could handle more volume, but so far the fishery is closed to foreign markets.

So we helped load fish that first night and then delivered them. Then it was back to the cabin for dinner of BLTs. They eat pretty good at fish camp. We went to bed before too late, and we were back up at 3am to set more gear. You get two tides a day, and the tides dictate when you can fish. I didn’t have to get up, but I was there to learn, so I accompanied Rich, Tonya and their crewmember Kali down to the beach. I had to ride in the back of the truck and it was a little cold, but I learned how to set gear.

Then it was back to bed for about 5 hours, and then we got up to fish again. That morning when we pulled the gear, there was about 850 pounds of fish in the net. That wasn’t bad, and it gave me a pretty easy introduction to picking fish and loading. After we pulled gear, we set it right back out again and then went back for breakfast.

A little later in the morning, we went back down to pull the gear again. Here’s everyone getting ready.

Sometimes you pull it on the incoming tide and sometimes you pull it when the tide is going out. It’s harder to pull on an incoming because as you pick fish, the tide is coming in, so you have to be fast before the tide covers the whole beach. It comes in right up to the bluff at Rich’s fishing spot.

When we got there, the fish were hitting the net like crazy. Rather than pull the gear right away, we sat down and watched them swimming into the net. Rich and Tonya drove back up and brought down a second truck and some snacks. We relaxed and just let the fish do their thing.

Here are some pictures of our morning fishing adventure.

It was low tide then, and once the tide had turned a little, Rich pulled in the gear and we picked 3200 pounds of fish. (Well, to be fair, that included a pile of fish that fell out of the broken tailgate at the next site down, which one of the crewmembers there told us we were welcome to.) That was more of a workout, but I was getting better at picking fish.

I went with Rich to do the delivery on this load.

We went back up to the cabin and relaxed for a little while and had dinner. Rich set gear again a bit later.

It was a good thing that we did relax a little. I ate both porkchops and steak, along with rice and cabbage salad. I went back for thirds.

At around 9pm, we went back down to check the gear. The fishing was looking pretty good. Rich was running the Maruka and Kali and I were standing by to put the cable clamp on the line to pull in the net. Tonya was standing by to loosen the rope at the other end. When we went to pull the gear, everything went a little crazy. The bridle snapped as Rich went to pull, then when we were running around trying to get the clamp on the cork line to pull the gear in, it slipped off a couple of times. The cable clamp swung around and got caught inside the track of the Maruka and Rich ran it over with the inner wheels a few times before we got it out. It was broken then, and we had to scramble for another cable clamp. Finally, Kali and I jumped into the surf, and I held up the cork line while she popped the cable clamp on it. We pulled the gear up onto the beach a bit at a time that way until all of the net was above the water line. I was panting and out of breath by the time we were done.

That’s when we realized why gear was breaking. There were a lot of fish in the net.

Rich estimated 10,000 pounds at first, but that estimate went up a few times as we picked at the net for 3 hours to get all the fish out. Luckily it was overcast and we had pulled the gear up into the runoff from the creek nearby, which meant the fish sat on wet gravel and didn’t bake in the sun. It was after midnight when we got all the fish out of the net. We seemed to pick forever, even though we had one of Rich’s cousins, Garth, as well as Tonya, Rich, Jeanie, the 1o-year-old twins Caiti and Shari, Kali and me all picking.

Another one of Rich’s cousins came along and brought his truck, so that we had 4 trucks full of fish to take to the cannery. That was good. Throwing all those fish into the backs of the trucks probably took another hour. When all the fish was offloaded, we had pulled 15,326 pounds of fish on a single pull of the net. That’s the second biggest pull Rich has ever made and he’s been fishing with his family in Ekuk since he was a toddler. I’m glad I was there for it.

We celebrated with some drinks and sitting around chatting for a while afterwards, and didn’t get to bed until 5am.

Thankfully the cannery had cut us off from fishing for a bit, so we all slept in Sunday morning. Then Jeanie and I hung around all day waiting for our ride home, since we didn’t know who we were going to ride with at first, then once John Paul agreed to take us, he had other flights to make, then fish to pull at 8:30pm before he could fly.

When we finally got onto the plane, it was probably 10:30. John Paul was in a hurry and said he had six people to take back to Dillingham. Three of us, the dog and John Paul took off from Ekuk and landed almost immediately on the runway in Clark’s Point. We all got out, unloaded our gear and waiting will John Paul flew back to Ekuk and got more people. Turns out that one of them was a pilot for Grant Aviation, who had a slightly bigger (small) plane at Clark’s Point. He loaded Jeanie, her dog, and two guys from National Geographic out here to write a story about fishing, and me into the plane and we flew from Clark’s Point to Dillingham.

Samara had been waiting for a little while by then, unfortunately. Worse yet, I couldn’t smell myself apparently. As soon as I got in the car, she said I stank like rotten fish. She had to pull over and barf almost right away. I felt pretty bad, but I jumped in the shower and washed my clothes as soon as I got home.

I was pretty worn out Monday at work. I almost fell asleep at my desk. I have a lot of sore muscles and some sunburn as well. Nevertheless, I got a fishing experience that was at least as hard as what those guys do on Deadliest Catch, according to Rich, who has fished crab before. It was worth the pain and smell. I really enjoyed myself.

Cannery Tour

It’s been a few days now since my parents left. They flew out of Dillingham last Thursday evening, and were in West Virginia again by Friday morning. While they were still here, we tried to do a few more of the touristy things in Dillingham.

One of those things was the tour at the Peter Pan Cannery. It was a nice tour, but at two hours long, it was also hard on my feet. Natalie, Dad, Mom and I learned a lot about fish processing, though.

We started out by getting some lab coats and hairnets to wear.

There were a couple of old men from New Stuyahok in the net loft, working on putting nets on the cork lines.

The cannery is very old, and so some things, like the decks, are interesting. Giant slabs of lumber for the dock.

They also use an old Model A Ford to pull around their welding rig.

The boilermen have decorated their bike.

We all looked great in hair nets.

Even Dad and Mom.

We saw where they filet the fish and vacuum pack them for shipment.

We also saw the huge warehouse where they store things like cans for packing salmon into.

They have to replace pieces of the floor periodically with new beams.

There were boats coming up to the cannery to offload salmon.

And more boats steaming by.

Drift net boats are interesting.

They had some local girls working for DNR. They were measuring fish and taking scales for DNA samples to learn more about where the various salmon come from and where they go to spawn.

We also saw the machine that cuts off the tails and heads, and then uses a roller to smoosh out the guts.

The canning line was pretty interesting. Once the cans are sealed, they’re rolled into the ovens in big carts.

And then when they come out, a big machine picks up a whole bunch at a time with a magnet and puts them neatly on a pallet.

I probably should have written about the cannery tour earlier, as now I’m forgetting all the highlights. I hope the pictures give you some idea. After the cannery tour, we had dinner at the house of Samara’s boss. She, her husband and children are nice. It was another good opportunity for everyone to eat fresh salmon (and some pizza, which Natalie liked).

The day that they left, mom did get one last chance to walk down towards the beach and enjoy the view.

Overall, the weather stayed overcast and rainy for their visit, but I think that my family had a good time visiting Dillingham. It’s certainly a different place to live, and they got to see all the highlights, from the lakes and mountain views, to the moose and bald eagles. They got to experience the Bristol Bay fishing season by watching subsistence net fishing and eating fresh salmon. Not your typical vacation, and a long way to fly to see us, but we were happy they came.

Somehow, though, I don’t think we’ll be able to convince them to take the flight again before we move back to Kentucky at the end of next year.

Aleknagik Lake and a Moose!

Samara had to return to work today, but my family is still here visiting. Today we decided to take a drive out to Aleknagik Lake and see the view. There’s not a lot to do out there, but it’s a really pretty area. Since the weather was okay (cloudy, but not raining), we headed down the 20 mile road to the lake.

Before you get to Aleknagik Lake, there are a couple of small lakes on either side of the road. We stopped and took some pictures there.

Then it was back on the road for the next mile up to the lake itself. Natalie really loved it. We took a bunch of pictures. There was a great view of the lake and surrounding mountains, and plenty of people were ferrying their groceries and whatnot across the lake to the City of Aleknagik on the north shore. There was also a float plane parked near the boat ramp.

On the way back into town, we were cruising right along when I came over a hill and there was a moose and her calf. Natalie was very excited. I only snapped a few pictures before they trotted off into the brush, and mom wasn’t able to get out in time to get a good picture with her regular film camera. Here’s the two pictures I took in regular size and with close-ups.

That’s the second time I’ve seen a moose and calf on Lake Road. This time it was right outside the Dillingham city limits. I’m usually pretty unlucky in being able to see wildlife, so I was worried that Natalie wouldn’t get to see a moose while she was here. I shouldn’t have worried so much. My luck has turned, and moose are all over the place now.

We’re headed down to culture camp to help Samara out with teaching the local kids how to do things like clean and cut fish for smoking. I hope to get some more pictures down there.

A Visit From My Family

We’re enjoying a visit from my parents and sister here in Alaska. They flew up here to Dillingham all the way from West Virginia. It was a very long flight. They left very early in the morning on Wednesday from Charleston, West Virginia, flew to Cincinnati, then Seattle, from there to Anchorage and finally to Dillingham. They arrived at 5pm our time, and were plenty tired from the trip.

I took them for a quick trip around the town, and it didn’t take long for them to see most of Dillingham. They’ve been enjoying the stay. But of course, the most exciting part is the sightseeing outside town.

We took a trip down to the end of Wood River Road for a view of the Wood River, the fishing boats and the mountains.

There was a boat unloading some fish there. And Natalie immediately wanted to take some pictures of the mountains.

We had a pizza for dinner at the Windmill Grille. It’s not the best pizza ever, but the pizza is one of the better options on the menu at the Windmill Grille. Samara and Dad both enjoyed an Alaska-brewed beer.

The next scenic stop was Kanakanak Beach, to see if any folks had caught fish in their nets. We didn’t see many fish, but we did get some nice pictures of the family at the edge of the Nushagak Bay.

Kanakanak Beach also gives a slightly different view of downtown Dillingham.

I think one of the best sightseeing trips we’ve taken since my family got here is up Snake Lake Road. This is where Anthony and I started our hike when we saw the brown bear. Natalie especially wanted to head out there. We drove up Snake Lake Road to the lookout point. Everyone was pretty impressed with the view.

These are some pretty good pictures of the mountains around Dillingham, which don’t usually photograph well.

It has been pretty cloudy for the whole trip, but at least no one is getting sunburned. We went farther down Snake Lake Road and got a good view of the lake.

Our next restaurant trip was to the Muddy Rudder. It’s a favorite of mine, and I think everyone else liked it as well. Natalie really enjoyed her milkshake.

Dad had a seafood alfredo, Natalie demolished a cheeseburger, Mom had the grilled halibut and Samara and I both ordered the fried halibut sandwich. Definitely a recommended dining experience in Dillingham. Too bad they’re only open in the summer. I miss it all winter long.

The family have all been taking pictures as well, but those are most of the pictures I’ve gotten. We also went down to the beach at Snag Point, below our apartment, and collected a ton of sea glass. It all seems to wash up there when people throw their glass bottles over the side of the boat. You can find lots of rock-tumbled, smooth pieces of glass all along the beach. We picked up a bunch!

I also introduced everyone around at the courthouse, which was nice. They got to see my office. Natalie, Mom and Samara went shopping at the gift shop at the airport. We also took a tour of the Sam Fox museum. It had some neat history of the Alaska Natives, local fishing and prehistoric animals native to the area. It’s a small museum, but not bad.

We also checked out our new digs. Samara and I are moving to a cheaper place to live, out by the airport. (It’s quite a bit cheaper–it’s free!) We’ll be managing the property for the absentee owner. The place we’re moving into will take some work to get into shape. I might even be able to get dad to help me out a little while he’s here.

Natalie has been keeping her eye out our window for a bald eagle that lives on the bluffs. We saw him out the window one time, but since then only dad has been lucky enough to spot him again. I took a few pictures from the bluff tonight, but all I could see was boats and seagulls.

More pictures as we have time. The family is here for another few days–they don’t leave until Thursday. We haven’t even gotten out to Aleknagik Lake yet, so I can guarantee a few more pictures then!

Beach BBQ with the cops and booze

This past Sunday was the Court house Beach BBQ out on Kanakanak beach. The court people invited everyone that helps out the court including the local cops, troopers, the district attorney, the prosecutor, the judge, the court clerks and all the families of each. (I invited Erin because Anthony is still in Fairbanks.) I have to say this is the first time that I have been to a beach bbq that when the cops came, they didn’t come to break up the fun. No, they were there for some pretty good potato salad and bbq chicken and ribs. This is also the first time that I have been to a beach bbq with booze and the cops didn’t take it away and issue tickets. (In case you were wondering, you can drink in public here.) It was a balmy 60 degrees with the wind blowing. I got some sun on my face that or wind burn. The wind was blowing that today. But the sun was shining and it was looking to be a great day.

Tonya’s husband rich manned the grill, while Aaron manned the bonfire.

Erin and I walk along the beach to watch people pull in their nets and ask stupid questions like “Does it hurt to get bitten by a salmon?” (They have teeth!) That of course leads to them asking a question, “So, where ya from?” When I say Kentucky, I know they are thinking of the Kentucky Fried Chicken commercials and wondering. Meanwhile, I am taking pictures of the ulgy, muddy salmon they are pulling out of their nets.
I am told this is a dog salmon. It doesn’t have a beak or a red stripe indicating a king salmon or a red salmon.
I have no idea what kind of fish this is. If it had whiskers, I would say catfish. See how little I know about fish!
Again, do they bite? While you can’t really tell, they are still flopping. It makes me nervous and twitchy.

We walk back down to the bonfire where Lori and the new cop in town are chit-chatting about the differences between living in a big city and living here in Dillingham. You’ll notice that since he is in uniform, he is only drinking sodas. (I wanted to point that out.) Other people were having a nice beer with their ribs, but not Dillingham’s finest.

Rich finally has all the ribs and chicken cooked so he sits down and enjoys the fruits of his labor by the fire. He did a really great job. Also note that a lot of people are wearing hoodies. It was cold and windy.

I forgot to mention that this was the same beach and the same nets that not 2 weeks ago a beluga whale got caught in the nets. I know this may upset some readers, but that whale did not go to waste. Since the whale couldn’t be saved, it was distributed to memebers in the community. We were hoping to see the whale, but by the time we got to the beach, there wasn’t much left of it. I won’t post any pictures of the close ups, but let me assure you, there was little left of it.

We also saw a bald eagle. At least Aaron thinks it is. I thought it looked like a vulture. You can decide.

He wasn’t exactly Paddington bear.

We had a birthday party for Saramay yesterday, and Anthony was antsy the whole time we were there because it was nice outside and he wanted to go for a hike to scout out places for fishing. I promised him that I’d go hiking with him all day today.

So today, we got our packs together and went hiking. He has a few places that he wants to scout out to see if there’s any good trout fishing, but I convinced him to head for a place off Snake Lake Road that we had been on snowmachine before. It’s a bit off of the road itself, but it’s a nice little valley with a stream where there’s usually lots of moose. (Except, of course, when I’ve been there, but there have been moose every time Anthony went without me before.)

We drove out (Aleknagik) Lake Road towards the start of Snake Lake Road. As we were driving out there, with his dog Sofie happily sleeping in my lap as we drove, we came up over a hill and there was a moose right in the middle of the road. It was huge! It was actually a mother with a calf, which was much smaller. The calf was about the size of a Great Dane and the mother was as tall as any thoroughbred I’ve ever seen. It was a seriously large animal. Anthony’s camera was still in his backpack, so we didn’t get any pictures as they trotted off into the woods. It was pretty neat, though, and the closest I’ve come to a moose yet.

We turned off onto Snake Lake Road and drove up to the overlook point. This is a little area of broken rock to the left of the road. The road itself actually goes up and across the side of a mountain, so there’s always mountain on the right and a drop-off into the valley to the left. The overlook spot is on the left and gives a great view of the area. Anthony took a panaramic picture of it.

We got unloaded, both of us with our packs, me carrying my single-shot shotgun and Sofie bounding along beside us. The stream we were headed to is about 2 miles down from the road. First we had to get down the hill through a lot of brush. It’s really slow going through this stuff, but we made our way from clearing to clearing and got down into a wooded area with alders and spruce. It was easier going then. We saw a lot of moose scat. At some point we came across some scat I didn’t recognize as moose, and there was a lot of it. Our educated guess was that it was bear scat, so I put a slug round into the shotgun, which I had been carrying empty.

As we came down through the trees, we could see open country to left, so we weaved out there. It was really marshy tundra, though, so we moved back into the trees a bit. After a few minutes of walking like this, we came out into the open again and it was less marshy. I had Anthony wait up for me and as I caught up to him, I turned around.

A flash of brown caught my eye, and I pointed it out to Anthony. It was a grizzly bear. I would have estimated from memory that it was about 300 yards away, but we measured with Google Earth as well, and it said it was more like 1/4 mile. No matter what the actual distance was, it felt close. We were in the open, with trees to our back, and the bear was across the open area.

He was lumbering along as he was coming down off of the ridge between us and the road, and while he was travelling parallel to the road, he wasn’t walking perpendicular to us. In fact, as he was coming off the ridge, he seemed to be pointed straight at us.

We immediately froze, and Anthony took off his backpack and clipped Sofie to it. He started his camera rolling in video mode, and unholstered his .45 pistol. I held my shotgun ready just in case. The proximity of such an enormous, powerful animal made me really nervous, and he kept lumbering along mostly perpendicular to us, but closing the gap slightly. Anthony and I were immediately afraid that he would run into the trees that we just came through that were now to our left as we faced the bear, and then we would lose sight of him.

The wind was in our faces, so I don’t think that the bear actually knew we were there, so the first thing we did was yell really loudly to try to get its attention. On the video Anthony shot, you can hear us yelling, but the bear doesn’t even seem to notice us. He is still just moving at the same angle to us, towards the trees. Anthony suggests that I fire a shot into the air to startle him. I tell him that I’m switching to buckshot, so that I don’t waste a slug in case the bear comes towards us. Then he says that he could fire a shot from his pistol. I really didn’t want to waste any ammunition for the shotgun or his .45 pistol, though, so I tell him that I’ll fire off a round from the .380 pocket pistol that I was also carrying.

In the video, you can hear Anthony say that he’s going to cover his ears. Then I pointed the little pistol into the air, cover my closer ear with one hand and fire off two rounds in fairly quick succession. A split second after the first shot, the bear’s head snaps up and he looks in our direction and then begins running full tilt perpendicular to us and into the woods. I had to recock the pistol because the magazine slipped out a little, and then I fired a third shot into the air. The bear just keeps running for the woods.

(Anthony got a video that’s about a minute and a half long, from the time we see the bear, yell at him, and then finally shoot into the air and scare him off. It’s about 30 megabytes, though, so I made a shorter clip (3.5 mb) that starts when he suggests shooting in the air, and ends when the bear hits the treeline. It’s a bit shaky, but watch the bear’s head snap up as it hears the first shot, and look how fast it runs.)

As soon as the bear hits the tree line, we decide to head in the exact opposite direction, through the open tundra where we can keep a good eye behind us. Anthony let Sofie loose, and she immediately began running towards where we last saw the bear. We both yelled for her as we headed the other direction, and she quickly realized that we weren’t going to follow her towards the bear, and ran back to us.

Anthony looked back as we were moving across the tundra and said that he saw the bear heading back the way it had originally came, up towards the road. That didn’t really leave us any good options for turning around and going back to the car right away, so we headed further out into the bush towards the stream.

We found the stream easily. Anthony took a nice panoramic shot of it.

We planted ourselves down in the valley next to it. Anthony scouted around for some good fishing spots while Sofie and I relaxed for about an hour.

When Anthony finally got done looking around, we packed back up and headed back out of the valley. At the top of the ridge, there was a game trail and we saw some fairly good-size bear prints, but the camera battery was dead, so we didn’t get any more pictures.

Almost as soon as we got into the trees to cross back over to the open tundra, Anthony found a giant moose antler that had been shed. We looked around a little for the other one, but there was just one. He lugged it all the way back to the car. It was a pretty good find–definitely an Alaskan touch to decorate their house. Apparently people find them in the woods all the time when the moose shed them.

We kept to the open tundra for the entire trip back to the car, except when we got to the mountain itself, where we had to crawl and scramble our way through brush that even a bear would probably avoid. I was exhausted by the time we reached the car again, and very happy not to have seen our friend the bear twice.

I think our little episode with the bear was scarier when it was happening that it really needed to be. Like I said, when we checked the distance on Google Earth, it said it was actually 1/4 mile away, but it sure didn’t seem like it at the time. Also, if the bear ran 30 mph, which I understand they can when they’re charging, it could have reached us in less than half a minute. That would not have given us much time to shoot and reload a single-shot shotgun, if it became necessary. Then again, even brown or grizzly bears are usually skittish around people unless they have cubs or you surprise one by walking right up on it in the bush. We were in the open, so that was probably the safest situation. Nevertheless, it was both scary and pretty amazing.