Saturday, June 28, 2014

Fish Tales

We left the Yukon and drove back into Alaska, crossing the border once again.  We saw a huge moose (off in the distance, and a beaver in a pond by the side of the road on the way to Teslin National Nature Preserve.  While at the Teslin Visitors Center, a volunteer gave us a lot of information about fishing in the area and got the boys all excited about catching some fish.  We bought fishing licenses in Tok (rhymes with Joke) and headed to some of the spots the volunteer told us about.

 One of a million ponds and lakes by the side of the road, but on this one,
eagle eyes saw a beaver!



We pulled over in several places to try our hand at fishing some streams and lakes, but I think we were using the wrong lures.  What you fish with in Ohio doesn't necessarily work in Alaska, and we have no idea what we are doing.  We just knew that the lady at Teslin says there are lots of arctic greyling in the streams around here, and many of the ponds are stocked with trout.  But hey, a bad day of fishing in Alaska beats a good day in Ohio, right?

 Jack caught a small arctic greyling, but that's the only catch of the day

 Just one of the million streams
That's Jack fishing

Noel fishing from the bridge

We spent most of the day dodging rain drops and fog and looking for "the spot"!  In Alaska you can camp just about anywhere, so we pulled off on the side of the road in a graveled area and spent the night.  The other two motorhomes with us are self contained and have generators.  We aren't and don't, so no electric and no water for the night for us.  Fortunately, sunset isn't until 11:30 at night so we didn't really need lights.  It rained, often hard, all night, and we kept hearing a scratching noise under the bed area of the trailer.  About 4 am Noel went out to see what it was since pounding on the wall didn't seem to scare it away.  "Need a flashlight?" I asked.  Dumb question.  Its already daylight at 4am!  He didn't see anything, but we kept hearing the noise.  Bigger than a mouse, smaller than a bear.  Hope it didn't chew anything important.  Guess we'll find out down the road.

In the morning we finished the drive to Valdez, driving through heavy fog and through very high altitudes.  We're talking snow and glaciers and lots of waterfalls.  Beautiful!

 trumpeter swans flying away - the sound was primitive - right out of a movie!

 A glacier

 One of the many waterfalls

 So pretty!
Between the rain, melting snow and melting glaciers,
there are waterfalls everywhere

Driving into the mountains

Valdez is a small fishing village made famous by the Exxon Valdez oil spill.  There is no sign of the oil now, but locals tell us the effects are still felt.  We are camping at Bear Paw Campground, right on the small boat harbor.  The big oil facility that is the hub of the Alaska pipeline is nearby but under heavy security so you can't get close.  We walked the harbor and had booked a halibut fishing trip for Thursday.  Wednesday night they called us to say the fishing trip was cancelled because there has to be at least 6 people on the trip, and there was only 4 of us.  The other two women with us, wisely, declined to fish with us.  Since we had all day to look around and relax, we drove around town, stopping at overlooks and shops and catching up with the laundry.  We found a neat old cemetery just outside of town, and we enjoyed watching the otters play.

 Camping at the Bear Paw Campground.  That is Noel's sister's RV next to us.

 A lot of wooden crosses at this cemetery.

 I noticed there were a lot of fisherman buried here - pretty young fisherman

 I love old cemeteries

 We see eagles every day
 An otter eating a star fish.  You could hear the crunch!

 We enjoyed watching the sea otters

A curious seal pup.  Look at that face!  I want one!

A foggy day at the harbor

Since we bought three day fishing licenses, by golly we were going to fish.  We tried our luck at the harbor, but we were still using the wrong bait.  But as you can see, it was preparing us for bigger things ahead.

So we booked a fishing trip for Friday with a different company (the boat "Jamie Lee" if you're ever inclined to go halibut fishing) that agreed to take us even if they didn't get booked for the other two slots.  We had to be at the harbor at 5:15 AM!  We  met Jeff and Sky from Michigan, Josh our Captain and Caleb, his teenage son.  He checked our fishing licenses and we were on the water by 6 am.  We headed out about 100 miles, about 3 hours, through Prince William Sound and into the Gulf of Alaska before setting anchor and bait.  We were fishing specifically for halibut,  BIG halibut.  The captain and first mate bait the hooks for you - two small herring on a circle hook with a two pound lead weight.  Then we let the line out to go all the way to the bottom, about 90 feet.  Once you feel bottom, you pull it up two turns of the rod and wait.  And wait.  And rock.  Back and forth.  Up and down.  Back and forth.  Up and down.  Within 15 minutes, 3 out of the 4 of us were puking our guts out.  Me and Carl over the side of the boat, Noel in the toilet.  Sorry.  "Head".  (that's we fisherman's word for the toilet on the boat)!!  LOL

Carl was the first to catch a fish.  A big one!  It was all he could do to reel it in and he had to stop to puke as soon as the captain took over.  Once you have the fish reeled in pretty close, it really freaks out when it sees the boat and starts to fight.  Hard.  The captain then spears it with an attached line, lets it bleed out a bit, then hauls it into the boat.

Carl's 94 pound halibut

They spear the fish with a line before pulling it onto the boat

This was Carl the rest of the day....

Noel didn't even make it out to the end of the boat to fish until much later in the day.  After throwing up eight or nine times, his sea legs just were strong enough.

Me?  This fishing trip cost a small fortune, so by golly, I was going to catch a big fish.  Puke, fish.  Puke, fish.  Puke, fish.  The captain said I was "chumming the water".  It worked.  I caught around a 30 pounder no longer after Carl caught his.  Too small.  Threw it back, but not after getting slimed while getting my picture taken with it.

Five minutes later - WHOA!  I thought I caught a wet mattress that sucker was so heavy!  I left the rod in the holder and had to use two hand to reel it in!  I can barely lift my arms today, and I'm covered with bruises!

 Whoa!  Uh, Guys?  I think this is going to be a big one!
 Help me!

 Caleb helped me reel it and hold the pole while the Capt. speared it.

 Look at my face!!  hahahahaha!   Ewww

My monster fish!  78 pounds!

The adrenalin rush eased the nausea, at least for a short while.  But this was me for a good portion of the trip, especially during the three hours of pounding waves on the way back to the harbor.  Thank God I could lay down, because it really helped distribute the pounding over the length of my body, but oh my, am I ever in pain today.  Fibro friends - learn from my stupidity, and never, ever do this to your body.  There isn't enough pain medicine to make you feel human!  But hey, I have some good fish stories to tell and we'll be eating halibut for six months! 

Later in the day the Captain moved to another spot to catch smaller halibut and some rock fish.  He got Noel off the bench long enough to reel one in since others had caught their limit.  And I caught a sea bass!

 Noel reeling in a small halibut - by small I mean 30 pounds!
Jack didn't keep this one, hoping for a bigger one, and then didn't catch a bigger one.  :(

Sea bass - its what's for dinner! It was YUMMY
We passed the marker commemorating the spot where the Exxon Valdez hit 
a shallow reef and spilled all that oil

Jeff, one of the other guys on the boat, caught the largest fish of the day - his halibut was a BEAST at 127 pounds!

Jeff from Michigan got the biggest catch of the day!

Group shot (minus Noel)  

They filet them right on the dock, and throw all the guts and fish into a flume that catches all the waste.  The seagulls are CRAZY for the scraps!

So, you pay to get the fishing license, then you pay a fortune for the fishing trip.  You pay to have them filleted, then pay to have the skinned, cut into one pound packages, shrink wrapped and flash frozen.  Of course we had 52.5 POUNDS of fish fillets.  We have a freezer the size of two shoe boxes.  So we had to pay an equally small fortune to have them shipped back to the states to my brother and dad to eat and to save some for us until we get home.  This means that this halibut IS THE MOST EXPENSIVE FISH EVER!!  But oh the memories.  I suppose its like childbirth.  Someday I will forget the puking, pain and credit card bill and just have the huge fish tale and a boost in my Omega 3s.

So today we recovered, cleaned all our stinky fishy clothes, and are ready to hit the road again in the morning.  The rest of our party moved on this morning, but we couldn't move, so we will catch up with them again in Anchorage.  Till next time - Matey!  (Oh, I talk like a pirate when I take on my fishing persona.  I'm working on it!)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

North to Alaska

We met up with Noel’s sister Darlene, her husband Carl, and their friends Jack and Alice in Whitehorse, Yukon.  Whitehorse is the largest town in the Yukon (the northwest province of Canada) and has a population of 20,000.  The entire province has a population of 30,000, so we are talking mostly wilderness.  While in Whitehorse, we visited the world’s longest “fish ladder”.  Since there is a dam on the Yukon river, it blocks the migration of salmon from returning to their spawning grounds, so in the 1960s, they built a ladder, a series of man made channels, kind of like the old canals, that the fish can bypass the dam and continue upstream.  Much to my surprise, fish are smart enough to figure it out.  Salmon return to their original birthplace after years of maturing to lay their own eggs, and then they die.  Isn’t nature fascinating?

 Fish "ladder" for the spawning salmon, which won't
be back here until later in the summer

 Harlequin ducks along the Yukon River

 Local children's salmon art work

We also attended a “Follies” program – kind of a throwback show to the Klondike Gold Rush days, complete with corny jokes, bad acting and can-can girls.  It was on par with a high school production, and I told Noel that it was almost like you HAVE to see it just to believe how bad it is! LOL  Glad we had a coupon!
 This old guy's embarrassment when she pulled him out
of the audience was precious!

 Can-Can girls - the costumes were pretty!

We stayed at a lovely campground called ‘Hi Country RV’, and they had some old equipment used to build the Alaska Highway, probably left where it had broken down.  There is also a lot of museums and info about the gold rush, what a hard life those folks had.  The government required that they have a one year supply of food and goods, which equaled about one ton of stuff.  Those men made countless trips back and forth, on foot, through steep mountains and rivers on a narrow trail, carrying on their backs all that stuff, just to have a chance to prospect for gold.  Respect!

After exploring White Horse, we headed to Skagway, Alaska.  On the way, we stopped at a place that had a small wildlife museum (complete with taxidermied real animals, including wooly mammoth), farm animals and sled dogs.  In the winter they give dog sled rides in the snow, and this time of year you can see all the dogs and puppies, and take a wheeled sled ride.  Seeing all the dogs was fun – hard not to sneak a puppy under my jacket to take home!

 baby goat!

 There were dozens of dogs, but this one's blue eyes were beautiful!

 Puppies!!  There were lots of them!

Salute to the mounties!
 Everywhere we go, there are pelts and taxidermy stuffed animals.  No
wonder we don't see any wildlife.  They've all been skinned and stuffed!
We stopped in Carcross (short for the original name, Caribou Crossing), where we enjoyed a lot of First Nation (Canada’s term for their native people) people’s art work, some hot coffee and giant cinnamon buns.  We also stopped to take in a breathtaking view of Emerald Lake.  The color of the water was incredible – Emerald Lake contains diotomes (microscopic living creatures) that create these incredible color, hard to describe and hard to capture on film.

The native artwork here is so different than America's native indians
 Emerald Lake.  A highlight of this trip - it was
SO beautiful!

The drive down to Skagway was beautiful, and I was getting frustrated with Noel that he wouldn't pull over to let me take pictures since if we pulled over, the two RVs behind us would then all pull off and it some places it wasn't enough room for all of us.  So being the wonderful husband that he is, the next day he drove me back up the mountain about 10 miles so I could take all the pictures I wanted without having to pull the trailer with us.  Worth it!  There were tons of waterfalls and scenic overlooks and wildflowers.

So many waterfalls!
Mountain Heather
Alaska Baby!!

Here the water is a glacial, steel blue grey.  Pretty!

In Skagway we stayed right on the harbor where the cruise ships come it (Pullen RV Park).  Skagway itself is pretty much a tourist town, catering to the cruise ship passengers that arrive by the thousands every day during the summer months.  That means there are a LOT of gift stores and a LOT of jewelry for sale.  We're talking hundreds of thousands of pieces of jewelry to choose from, from $10 tanzanite earrings (to lure you into the store) to pieces that cost in the 10s of thousands.  I went into one jewelry store intending to just browse, but these guys are expert high pressure sales clerks!  I barely escaped with my wallet intact.  I had admired a star sapphire ring and they miraculously dropped the price by thousands, and the more I said no thank you, the lower the price got!  Whew, that was close!  After that, I just looked in the windows, and there was no shortage of beautiful things to look at.
The harbor where the cruise ships come into Skagway.  They give a few long
horn beeps when they are giving "last call" to passengers to get 
back to the ship.  The Disney ship's horn call the first few
notes of "When You Wish Upon a Star"!  A neat sound!
This picture was taken about 10:30 at night.  See how light it still is?

 Drool-worthy ammonite, gold nugget and diamond pendant.

 Eskimo babies wearing real fur

Native carved mammoth ivory
Look at the details!  Incredible!
Me with a totem

 The entire building covered with driftwood!

 Downtown Skagway

We had the whole day to look around in Skagway, and we ate some dinner at the harbor - fresh Alaskan crab legs - yum!  

Yummy fresh seafood

The following day, we had scheduled to take a 1/2 day train ride through the mountains in an old fashioned steam powered train.  See that train way in the distance?,,,

That will be the same track we will be on the next day...

Of course it was a rainy dreary day, but the scenery was still beautiful, and the rain and fog gave it kind of a haunting quality....

Steam powered train

I stepped outside to the viewing platform to take pics since the windows were so foggy and wet

but yikes, it was cold out there at this altitude!
On Saturday we took the Fiord Express, an all day ride and tour on a catamaran down to Juneau, the capital of Alaska.  Strangely enough, the only way to get to the capital is by boat or airplane.  The tour included whale watching and wildlife viewing, as well as a few hours of free time in Juneau, a bus tour of Juneau out to Mendenhall Glacier, then back to Skagway while they served chowder to us for dinner.  

We saw lots of humpback whales (and I got a zillion pics!), dall porpoise, harbor seals, stellar sea lions and countless eagles and birds.

And we're off!

eagles abound

we looked for the tell tale "blow"


there were two children from Australia on the boat with us.  Georgia was a beaming to be "driving" the boat!

lighthouse - there are hundreds of harbor seals on the island as well!

got close to a waterfall for a pretty photo back drop

Mendenhall Glacier - love the color!

Mendenhall glacier

Noel and his sister Darlene

Had to stop at the Juneau library!

Dall Porpoise were frolicking and following the boat

Pretty scenery

Hundreds of stellar sea lions - the sound was so cool!

The "boss" sea lion

I got lots of "tail" shots - this is going on the wall at home!
our boat

Feeding humpback whale


harbor seals

Seals watching the tourists watch the seals

ice burgs that had broken off the Mendenhall glacier
It was funny that I saw on MSNBC that the day we were in Juneau, a black bear had climbed onto someone's roof there in Juneau and fell through the skylight, right into a child's birthday party.  The bear ate all the cupcakes before being shooed out of the house, only to be shot by police later that day when it broke into a neighbor's house.

Also, funny story;  the day we were in Juneau a cruise ship full of "Santas" - men with white hair and white beards that play Santa at Christmas, had arrived in Juneau as well.  I guess the ship has classes for the Santas and Mrs Clauses on how to be better Santas, etc. but they were walking all over town, most in red, but some in Hawaiian shirts or Christmas shirts.  I didn't think to ask them if I could take their picture, but it was pretty funny to see all those Santas on vacation!

The following day we drove back into the Yukon to pick up the Alaska Highway to head even further west into Alaska.  We stopped in Haines Junction, Yukon, which is on the border of the Kluane National Park of Canada.  Our campground had a beautiful view of the mountains, and we took a hike in the park before continuing our long journey.

quaking aspen trees along the trail


A hiking selfie (Jack and Alice slept in)

We came upon a bunch of baby grouse - mama was not happy

Kluane Lake

Our morning view from Haines Junction

No matter how old they are, boys can't resist skipping rocks!

Another pretty lake along the drive

Stay tuned - there is so much more to come!