Link to Part 1
Link to Part 2
Link to Part 3
Day 4 (A Missed Opportunity, Expensive Lesson, and Tomatoes)
It was cloudy, gray with low hanging clouds covering the mountain tops on Day 4. I made my way down to the river along the walking path and I saw a guy that looks very anxious but happy to see me. He recognized that I was carrying a can of bear spray and my 44 Mag on my hip. He asked "can I walk with you?". I tell him sure, but ask why and he says that he was just standing on the pathway when a black bear walked right by him. He was noticeably shaken although it appears the bear was more interested in fish than him. He walked with me to the confluence of the river without another sighting.
Once I made it to my favorite stretch of water in the Kenai, I waded into the stream and began to cast in hopes of intercepting another sockeye. Before long I had a big, beautiful hen on. She looked like she was just beginning to turn red and was more of a blush or purple color. After a great fight, she was on the bank and I thought I had her. I was wrong. I went to whack the fish when it all went horribly wrong. She thrashed, the fly dislodged from her mouth, my hands surged forward to grab her, but she could sense that freedom was only inches away. A few flops, splashes and then silence. She was gone! I just stood there, disgusted with my mistake and missed opportunity. I had caught and landed the fish, but didn't seal the deal. That really stunk! Disappointed, I re-rigged my fly rod and stepped back into my spot. I flipped my fly out into the current and resumed my process. Often my fly got stuck on the stream floor and I would either be able to dislodge it or I would break my line and re-rig my fly and weights. Again, I was snagged this morning, but I was determined not to waste any time tying my flies. I yanked my rod, but the snag wouldn't give up my hook. I walked out to the deep water and gave my rod more of a jerk and then I made a mistake. I grabbed my rod mid way up with my other hand as I tried to yank the hook loose and then "SNAP"! "Oh no, that can't be good" I said. I looked at my formerly beautiful four piece fly rod that was now a five piece rod. I had snapped one of the sections in two. At this point, I kinda giggled at myself. Oh, well. That was an expensive lesson, but I am having the time of my life and I am not going to let this ruin my day. Lesson learned.
I had a back-up rod, but it was back at the van. I took the walk of shame back to camp grumbling all the way. "I should know better than that" I said to myself. Well, I always have said that mistakes are valuable as long as we learn from them, so I was determined to not repeat this mistake. Once I got back to camp, I decided to vacuum seal my fish from the day before and take them to be frozen. I began my process and noticed that the vacuum sealer wouldn't turn on. "Houston we have a problem!" I wiggled every wire I could find and still could not get the vacuum sealer to come to life. I decided I would just have to drop off my fillets and ask the fish processor to vacuum seal them for me.
As I drove to the store I wondered if it was the vacuum sealer that broke, or was it the 12 volt plug-in. As I pulled up to the Kenai Cache sporting goods store, I grabbed my vacuum sealer and carried it up to a 110 volt outlet on the porch. I plugged it in and it turned on! "It's ALIVE" I proclaimed! Great, that my vacuum sealer will work, but can I vacuum seal my fish on the front porch of this store? I have seen the owner of the Kenai Cache before and he is a grumpy retired military guy that chews up and spits out nice people, so I was not going to ask him. I found one of his employees that looked more friendly and explained my dilemma. Once he figured out I was only vacuum sealing a few fish, he said "sure, go ahead". So there I was, on the front porch of a sporting goods store, as people are walking by, vacuum sealing my salmon fillets like this is just normal. After a few strange, looks from passers by, I was done. I also decided to replace my fly rod even though I had a spinning rod back in the van. It just is more fun to fish with a fly rod and they made me a great deal on a beautiful 4 piece St. Croix rod!
I made it back to camp, had a great lunch and hustled back to the river. I only had one more afternoon and one more morning to fish and I wasn't about to waste it. When I got back to the river bank, it wasn't encouraging. I didn't see many fish on the stringers and they didn't seem to be moving much. As I began to fish, I could tell why I wasn't seeing many fish on the stringers. It appeared that almost all the fish moving through the area were all tomatoes. That is Alaskan slang for red spawned-out salmon that have been in the fresh water for to long and are near the end of their life. They are pretty to look at, but are not good to eat. I must have hooked into five or six that afternoon and although they were great fighters, I had to turn them loose. I decided I wanted to get a picture of one to show everyone at home so I began my quest. The first one I caught, I had him on the bank and was calling out to the guy next to me to help with a picture. By the time he agreed and I reached for my camera (in my back-pack) the fish had escaped. The next one also got away. Then the third time was the charm! I pinned this one down and convinced a young fella next to me to quickly snap the pic so I could return the fish to the water unharmed. Some people say these tomatoes are ugly, but I think they are kinds cool to look at.
|Pretty, but not good to eat!|
Rain began to come down and got heavier as the evening drew on. I decided to go back to camp and cook my dinner. I had to eat in my van due to the rain, but it didn't take long for me to get comfortable and fall asleep.
Day 5 (Hunting For Gifts and Supper By The Lake At Sundown)
The next morning the fishing was nearly the same as the evening before. Very slow with lots of tomatoes swimming by. I wasn't able to "weed" through them to find any chrome salmon, but it was a beautiful morning of fishing. I had to head back to the camp by 11:00 AM and pack up all my gear and be out of the campground by Noon at check-out time. As I turned out of the Russian River campground, I was sad. My salmon fishing had come to an end, but now I needed to head down the road and find a few gifts for my daughters and nephew. I drove toward Soldotna, but ended up stopping in Sterling at a gift shop that was inside a huge log cabin. The banner outside said "Going Out Of Business, Everything 50% Off". Now I wasn't trying to be cheap, but this looked interesting. I was amazed at what I saw. Although it was obvious much of their inventory was gone, what they had was cool. The store was entirely native made art. There were carvings, knives (mostly ulus), pelts and all manner of things. I found a moose antler that had an awesome carving weaved into the center of the palm. I looked at the price and it was $2,000! Wow, I may have wandered into the wrong store. I continued to look and found just was I was searching for. My goal was to bring back something that was truly Alaskan and not something manufactured in China that had Alaska slapped on it. I spotted some small walrus tusk carvings that looked interesting. I found an owl and a bear head and these just happened to be my daughters favorite animals! Now for my nephew, there wasn't anything that a little boy would find exciting in this store, so I went down the road to the next gift shop and hit pay dirt. This gift shop was also a taxidermy shop and they had skulls, claws, and teeth of all manner of fierce Alaskan animals! I settled on a wolf claw necklace. If I had gotten that when I was my nephew's age, I likely would have never taken it off. I hope he likes it.
Now that my shopping was done, I headed back toward Anchorage. I stopped off at the Kenai Cache and picked up my frozen fish. They were a sight to behold! Beautiful reddish orange fillets, laying in my cooler. I took the clothes I didn't need for the remainder of the trip and lined the bottom of the cooler with them. I then placed my fillets in the middle and then covered them with more clothes. Then I duct taped the cooler shut so it would stay cold. I drove back to Anchorage and dropped my cooler off at the Ted Stevens Airport Freezer Storage and then headed for Wasilla. Along the way I had stopped for a few pictures but I really wanted to do something my last evening in Alaska. I decided for a road trip North!
|Not a road sign I see in Texas|
I knew that I didn't have enough daylight to drive all the way to Denali, but I thought maybe I can drive North of Wasilla and see the mountains in the distance and fish some of the streams along the way. My first stop was Willow State Park. The park seemed very empty and there was no one in the guard shack to collect the day use or camping fee, so I continued on. If I stayed, I would just deposit my fee in an envelope and place it in a collection box, but I wasn't convinced that I was staying here. I walked to the river and found a couple ladies fishing the river and I struck up a conversation. I said, "you catching anything"? They replied, "yes!" "Yesterday, my fiend caught a chum salmon". I said, "and nothing else?" They replied "No, not today". Well it was clear that this wouldn't be a productive spot, but I marveled at the determination of these ladies. I was also surprised at the cloudy and almost muddy water. It looked nothing like the clear streams of the Kenai. I asked about the water clarity and they said that the water was higher due to recent rains, but this river wasn't very clear most of the time. Wow, glad I didn't decide to fish here all week.
I continued down the road and discovered that, despite the fact that the sky was clearing, Denali mountain and all the other mountains up North were completely shrouded in clouds. I continued North and stopped at Sheep creek to check out the fishing there. There isn't an official campground there, but there were a lot of people camping. There was a bon fire going with loud music playing and a bunch of guys talking loudly to each other. This doesn't look like a picture of serenity to me. I walked down to the river and saw the same cloudy water conditions and saw many people fishing, but nobody had any fish. Well this wasn't looking good. It was getting late, so I got back in the Van and headed South.
I hadn't had dinner yet and I needed to organize all my gear and pack for my trip home the next morning. I was planning on pulling into the yard of the people who had rented me the van and sleeping there for the night, but I wanted to be out in the bush for a little while longer. I was driving along and said out loud"That's it"! There was a beautiful lake by the road and there was a nice pull-out area that appeared to be there for access to this small lake. I decided I would drag all my gear out here, get organized and packed and then cook dinner. It was a perfect evening. Almost no one came down that road, there was no wind, and the temperature was perfect. I had a blast cleaning out the van, packing up, and cooking dinner. As I ate my freeze dried chicken and rice, I watched the sun go down over the Alaska horizon (at about 10:30 PM). It was a perfect ending to my first Alaskan adventure.
|Dining like a king in Alaska|
|A perfect ending to my trip|
Day 6 (The Journey Home)
I said good bye to this wonderful spot and headed back to Wasilla. I rolled into the backyard of the people renting me the Van at midnight and went straight to bed. I awoke the next morning at 7:00 AM to have some breakfast and get ready. I went up to the house to return the Van and my hosts (Sabine and Joe) were excited to hear about my trip. They were even gracious enough to allow me to take a much needed shower (that was wonderful)! Sabine took me to the airport and I began my journey home. I flew into Seattle and then on to the DFW airport where my family was waiting for me. Along the way, I was even able to snap a few more great photos. Some of the coast of Alaska and also some really close pics of Mount Rainier.
|Mount Rainer Up Close|
It was midnight when I arrived back in Texas, but my wife and two daughters were kind enough to meet me at the airport to pick me up. My girls were so excited to see me that it almost made me cry. I had missed my wife and daughters so much and I was so excited to tell them about all that I had seen and done. They loved their gifts and proudly displayed them in their rooms that night. The fish fillets were transferred to the freezer, still rock hard I might add, and we all went to bed since I had to go back to work the next morning.
As I reflect upon this trip, I marvel at the raw wilderness that is Alaska and count myself lucky to have seen a glimpse of it, even if I never ventured far from the road system. I am so glad that I decided to take this trip and I hope this is the first of many visits to the last frontier. Hmm, I wonder if there are any books on caribou or moose hunting in Alaska on a budget. I should research that!