Thursday, August 30, 2012

Catching Up

Raccoon's love sweetcorn!
After 9 straight days of travel and non stop fishing, it's surprising what starts piling up around the homestead.  Along with having tickets to see Alan Jackson last Friday night and Blake Shelton on Saturday night at the Minnesota State Fair, it leaves little time to do anything other than getting caught up with my projects.  One thing I didn't have to do was freeze any of my late crop sweet corn but it wasn't because of time.  As stated before I have good sized garden and fresh sweet core is always something to look forward to.  The strategy is to plant half the 6 rows in early May and the other half after Memorial Day.  This would assure there would be a crop before I went to Alaska and by the time I returned the second planting would be ready to go.  My favorite is a bi-colored kerneled corn called Honey'n Pearl.  It is sweet and holds well over a week of riping time.  This year I didn't buy enough seed to plant the last 2 rows so I substituted an old favorite of my Dad's, Northrup King's K199 Hybrid.  Man did that grow and is almost 2 feet higher than the first planting.  What was really nice is the cobs are very high up on the stalk, high enough to assume maybe the raccoons would leave it alone.  Fat Chance!  Obviously there was a smorgasbord and I wasn't invited.  Tuesday morning's discovery of nearly every stalk of the K199 either tore down or had the ears cropped off looked like the first picture. So much for freezing corn.  With my tomato's starting to ripen, rather than processing corn I got out the live trap and a can of sardines out of the boat.  I'm sure the one in the trap wasn't the sole perpetrator of the damage but it's a start.  The good new is......I don't have to freeze corn!  No worries, there is some from the first crop in the freezer.

New muffler, carburetor, and newly connected alternator
I have been real anxious to get my Ferguson TO35 tractor running like a new machine.  Although I could drive it fine, there were a number of issues that needed attention.  The tractor was originally configured for 6 volt, positive ground.  The previous owner Wes attempted to modernize the electrical system by switching it to a 12 volt negative ground which most vehicles are configured today.  This involves changing the starter, removing the generator and adding an alternator, then rewiring the ignition.  As well the carburetor was pretty well shot and with the original manufacturer out of business, rebuild kits are not available on the market.   In the past 2 weeks I have removed the old muffler, rethreaded one of the manifold studs and replaced it.  The alternator was not even hooked up so that needed to be correctly wired in.  The carburetor, well I ended up buying a rebuilt rather than trying to fix it.  The rest of the wiring was cobbled together so I tore it out and replaced it with more modern wire as well replaced the oil pressure gauge and swapped the ammeter for a voltage gauge, a better indication of whether the alternator is working.  Unfortunately after all that work the ignition system runs worse than ever.  Discovering that the coil was wired backwards did little to fix things and after bypassing the entire electrical system and connecting the coil straight to the battery, it still runs like crap.  My next step is to install new points and condenser hoping this will work.  Frankly it's not that complicated but it sure has my gears spinning.  Hopefully I can get it purring and move to the next 2 issues, my oil leak and the PTO engagement.  Those days working for Vic are really paying off!

2 nice silvers from the Bachatna
This weekend should see me finally get back up to Mille Lacs and start prefishing for my trip on the 21st.  The full moon is this Friday and I will probably not take advantage of it until Sunday as I am heading out on a motorcycle trip with my brother on Saturday.   My tomato's are really starting to turn red and the peppers are at their peak.  This year I went with some of the heirloom varieties including Brandy-wine, a fabulous eating tomato and Amish Paste, a large meaty type destined for salsa.  The raspberries are coming on strong and will be reserving some to make wine with my neighbor Lory.  We shared a bottle of his rhubarb wine the other night and it was hands down better than the commercial rhubarb wine I had at the State Fair.  He's got 6 more gallons brewing as we will start bottling in October.  I would like to try and get out on the river sometime as well.  Because it hasn't rained in a while, the water level is very low.  This should help to concentrate the fish and with the slower current allow more time to cast the hot spots.  As well the river is much easier to read and it might be a great time to target walleyes.  I simply cannot end without another picture of 2 beautiful salmon I caught a few weeks ago.  The one on the left is good sized hen (female) and the hooked jawed fish on the right is called a buck (male).  Lord knows why a chicken and a fish have the same designation on the female gender while a deer and a fish have it on the male side.  One of life's mystery's, sort of like why my tractor at the moment doesn't run!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Fishing Paradise

Successful day on the Bachatna River with my cousin's and brother.
From left to right: Cousin Greg Nelson, myself, brother Steve, cousin
Mark Anderson, and Greg's brother Tom.
There is so much to tell regarding last weeks trip, it was all very exciting.   We all agreed that the fly out trip to the Bachatna River, across the Cook Inlet from Kenai was the highlight of the week.  Booked through Alaska Fishing with Mark Glassmaker, the Bachatna River is a small clear water river that experiences a nice run of silver salmon this time of year.  Up until recently the only access to the river was landing in a suitable spot then boarding a helicopter to the Bachatna.  Recently the beavers had constructed a sizable dam next to the river creating a pond large enough to allow a skilled pilot the ability to land his plane right there.  And land we did!  Boarding a 10 passenger turbo prop Otter on floats, we took off from a sea base and a short 20 minute ride we landed on the beaver pond. The pilot skillfully backed the plane to the edge of the beaver dam where we exited the plane.  Wow, what a ride.  Just prior to landing the guides asked the pilot to make a pass over of few of the upstream bends to see if there were any salmon was loaded!  After unloading our gear we headed up the river to the first hole and the fun began.  We had all brought our fly rods and using the guide tested pink egg sucking leech pattern, began landing silvers.  It was the first time I had caught a respectable salmon on a fly and it was a blast.   As the fish became acclimated to our lures we continued to move up the river finding new pods of fish as they rested before continuing there journey upstream to spawn.  While my cousin Greg continued to fish with his fly rod I had brought along a few "Minnesota bass lures" in the odd chance they might work for silvers.  It was pretty unbelievable as the guides were quite impressed with thinking outside the box when the silvers stopped hitting their go to lures.  With the plane scheduled to return to the beaver dam by 2:30, it was time to head back down river, have lunch, clean fish, and get ready for our departure.  All said and done we each brought home our 3 fish limit of beautiful fresh silver salmon that ran from 6 - 10 pounds.   I positioned myself to get a good picture of the plane as it came in to pick us up, we loaded our gear and fish, turned around and took off.  It was amazing how little water the plane needed to take off and it seemed like within 300 feet we were airborne.  I do this trip again in a heartbeat, the guides were great, the plane ride was great, and the fishing was fantastic!

Double hooked Humpy!
One of the reasons we chose to go on the even years (2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2012) is that  the pink salmon return to the Kenai River on the even years.  As stated in  Jeff King's Mile 14 once pink salmon hatch they immediately return to the ocean where they grow returning 2 years later.  It's a crazy deal for sure as millions of these salmon come into the Kenai.  There are so many of them that up to 75% of the ones you catch are foul hooked in the back or tail making for an incredible fight.  So much so that it can be quite annoying at times.  A popular lure for catching silver salmon are Blue Fox Pixie Spoons.  They have a very stout treble hook and are ideal for snagging pinks.  On Sunday night while casting my favorite color  Chartreuse Pixie I hooked a nice pink salmon.  You could tell it was probably hooked in the back by the way it was fighting so I just knuckled down and reeled it in.  As it came by the boat I noticed something different, there was a pink Pixie stuck in the back of the fish and that wasn't what I was casting.  Incredibly I had snagged a fish that already had been hooked by another angler which had broke his line, my hook was through the top split ring of the already embedded lure.  So what are the chances?!?!?!

Like everything in life, things always have to end.  It had been great to return to Alaska after a 4 year absence and was everything I remembered it to be.  We continue to meet new friends, renew old friendships, explore new adventures, and revisit the old fishing holes.  This year things were different.  Although you can always count on the pinks to be there, the traditional salmon runs on the Kenai have been anything but normal.  I had received a call while on the Kenai and my friend asked "How's the fishing?".  Terrible I proclaimed, thought for a second and restated my's simply wonderful.  The weather was perfect, we caught plenty of fish, we were in Alaska, regardless it cannot get any better than that.  So I leave you with a picture that tells the whole story.  After hatching from an egg, the salmon spends a year in it's nursery, growing large enough to head to the ocean.  There it feeds with it's own kind, staying together as they grow older, preparing for their final journey to spawn again.  Once they have accomplished their goal the salmon deteriorate and eventually die leaving their legacy hung up against a rock in the current.  Although their life is through, they continue to provide the next generation of fish valuable resources to help continue the cycle over again.  Like salmon we are also on a journey, destined for the same fate.  Hopefully we will provide for the next generation so they can enjoy this wondrous place.  As Alaska put it so bluntly.........Alaska, Before You Die.  If you can, take that with heart, you will never regret that decision.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Odd Fish of Alaska!

A hard fighting Skate
 Time flies when you are having fun and last week shot by with vengeance!  It seems as though we were just leaving Minneapolis and here it is 12 days later.  Alaska lives up to it's motto "Alaska, before you die" as for me there is no better experience.  People have constantly asked how the fishing was and my first reaction is to say that it was not very good.  The halibut ran small and the silvers were all but absent on the Kenai River yet this is only a small part of the adventure.   Every trip to Alaska is a 10 out of 10.  This year the weather was simply perfect with 60 degree days and no rain what so ever.  We did manage to catch enough fish to take home including halibut, ocean run silvers, fresh water silvers, some nice chromed pink's, and a taste of lingcod.  Normally 2 days on the ocean will yield 50 lbs of halibut fillets which assumes 4 fish at a 25 lb average.  With 12 kept silvers at an 9 lb average yields about 40 lbs of salmon fillets.  Our halibut averaged about 12 lbs each,  however I'm not complaining!  One of the more unusual experiences were the strange species of fish we caught this time.  Although we have caught some of these before, I thought I would share the pictures and discuss a little bit about each one and our experience landing these oddities.  The first fish pictured is a skate.  It is a member of the ray family, live on the bottom, and can grow quite large.  We have caught them before while halibut fishing as our rigs are fished on the bottom with a chunk of herring as bait.  These skates bite like a halibut but with their powerful wings, really put up a fight.  The first thing you imagine is having a nice halibut on the end of your line until it gets closer to the boat and starts planing out away from it.  They are an interesting fish, can be a royal pain to catch, but still provides a lot of excitement! Some say the wings are what imitation scallops are made from and the meat is very good.  We will never know as the captain quickly unhook the 3 that we caught and quickly let them go.  They are probably very hard to clean.

A beautiful Lingcod
 The next fish is a 57 pound lingcod that my brother Steve caught.  This thing grabbed his bait and a battle royal was on.  As with the skates, the first thing going through your mind, a nice halibut.  After a 10 minute battle the fish came into view and holy smokes, a giant lingcod.  These fish have a mouth on them that could rival any politician dead or alive!  This one could easily have swallowed a regulation sized football with room to spare.  The lingcod is a very aggressive fish as we have caught them before when they clamped on to a rockfish while reeling it up.  A lingcod is not a a true member of the codfish family rather a member of the greenling family of fish which include rockfish.  As stated, this fish weighed 57 pounds, which is a very nice sized lingcod.  Because they are mostly head and stomach, we really only got about 10 pounds of fillets out of this fish and I can assure you the meat is very good.  The stomach was full of eggs and were told by a guy at the cleaning station that they were actually rockfish eggs that the lingcod had eaten.  There must have been 4 pounds of eggs inside that fish. 

A flounder caught in the Lower Kenai River

The last interesting fish is called a Starry Flounder.  I caught this fish just below the Kenai Bypass Bridge in 3 feet of water.  We had caught an arrowhead flounder years ago and decided to eat it, a big mistake!  The great looking fillet turned to oatmeal in 15 minutes.  We made the mistake of assuming the same thing and missed out on a great meal.  The fish is very interesting as the back is covered with rough barnacles.  Like most of the pinks we catch, this one was snagged with my Pixie spoon and put up a great fight.  My natural assumption is that flounder are a saltwater fish and catching one 3 miles from the mouth of the Kenai was a surprise.  I checked out the Alaska Fish and Game website and apparently they prefer freshwater estuaries and the location I caught this fish makes sense.  Like the lingcod the starry flounder was a great looking fish with the orange/black/white fins and the snow white bottom.  I guess we'll have to wait till my next trip to catch and cook this odd looking specimen. 

Over all I had a great time and there is too much to tell in one post. Our experiences varied from day to day and I will post another report later this week.  The lack of silvers in the river caused us to spend more time fishing and less time with our friends like Jeff King.  We dropped off sweet corn and vowed to get back together again later in the week yet our quest for the elusive silvers left little time for socializing.  The other problem was that our accomodations at the Fish Hut were so dang comfortable it was hard to leave once we tied the boat to the dock.  It was great to be with my cousin's Mark, Greg, and Tom for a week and with so much going on, we never got tired of each other. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

North To Alaska!

Arriving at Seward Harbor

By the time most of you are reading this I should be reeling in a 90 pound halibut, battling a 12 pound Silver Salmon on the Kenai River, or looking down on the Cook Inlet as we fly to a remote salmon river on the main land.  This will be my 6th trip to Alaska with my brother Steve.  Joining us will be my cousins Greg and Tom Nelson, as well we are meeting my cousin Mark Anderson, of Anchorage.  We have been together for most of the past trips at on time or another and I might say we are a pretty good group.  Mark has done a great job in arranging our personal transportation both on and off the water.  Being an Army veteran, he has access to a rental boat as we have an 18 foot/35 hp jet river boat for the 5 days of fishing on the Kenai.  Steve and I made most of the other arrangements including 2 days of ocean fishing in the Prince William Sound out of Seward and a flyover trip to a clear river hopefully teaming with fresh silver salmon.  Tom and Greg, for the most part they simply just bring money!  Fortunately we bring most of our own gear for the salmon fishing as well as knives, coolers, lures, waders, and a fish whacker my Uncle Jerry made for us.  One of the things that I look forward to is the renewal of old friendships like Jeff King and cousin Mark, who I haven't seen in 4 years.  Our secret weapon is fresh Midwestern sweet corn on the cob which I am loading my cooler up today and plan on distributing it to our closest friends on the Kenai.  It serves a couple of purposes, first of all it is very much appreciated as fresh sweet corn in Alaska is as rare as catching a sockeye salmon on the Mississippi River.  We get a lot of mileage out of it as I will never forget the time we gave some to our cabin host in Seward one year, we got moose sausage and homemade beer in exchange as well as some great Alaskan conversation.  Besides, we might as well fill up our coolers with something other than air.  

Brother Steve with a Chum Salmon on a fly
So our itinerary goes something like this.  Arrive in Anchorage and assemble the crew.  We should be able to get out of town by 1:30 and in Soldotna by 3:30.  Figure an hour to make the rounds, say hi, and get our schedules set, we head to Seward to check in with our charter, The Fish House.  We have both Friday and Saturday booked for a combo trip where we go for halibut, ocean run silver salmon as they are staged to head up the rivers, and ling cod.  Along the way we usually see whales, porpoises, sea otters, and every sea bird you can think of.  It a great trip and is usually lasts all day as a halibut only trip usually ends once you limit out.  I really enjoy catching the silvers in the ocean as it's quite the experience with the clear water.  I believe the salmon are much better tasting out of the ocean than those that have been in fresh water for a while.  Leaving Seward we head back to Anchorage to pick up our boat then on to Soldotna.  We should arrive in time to do a little fishing on the Kenai River for silvers and the ever present pink salmon.  The pinks arrive only on the even years and arrive they do!  It is estimated that over 5 million fish enter the river as evident by standing on the shore, watching them swim upstream in a constant 24 hour parade.  It's pretty cool.  The pinks are also called Humpback salmon for they develop a huge humped back once they enter the fresh water.  On Monday we are flying over to a remote stream across the Cook Inlet and will fish Silvers.  Here I am going to try my fly fishing skills and try to catch my first salmon on a fly.  I have had plenty of opportunities to do this however with time short we usually stick with our spinning equipment.  This trip is only about 6 hours and will allow us to be back to the Kenai in time to take advantage of the evening bite.  Tuesday and Wednesday are sort of open and serve as a back up day for halibut should we get blown off the ocean in Seward.  This has happened before and we re-booked our halibut trip out of Anchor Point doing extremely well.  It's nice to have that backup day if needed. Thursday is a travel day back to Anchorage as both Tom and Greg have decided to take the red-eye's back while Steve and I leave Friday morning.  Both Steve and I are flying first class on the return flight and will have plenty weight availability with our check baggage for bringing back fish.

There are some interesting fishing restrictions in response to the record low King Salmon run on the Kenai and most of the other major rivers in Alaska.  Because the fish are still coming into the Kenai River all fishing can only be done with single hook, non scented lures.  We have made provisions for this and have brought up a few "secret" lures that might prove to set the river on fire.  I have decided not to bring my computer with so it may be a few days before I post again, I am sure you understand.  I can't wait to get off the boat, fire up the grill and throw a couple of fresh halibut and salmon fillet on, and open a cool Alaskan Amber enjoying an evening with my brother and cousins. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Charlie's Back

Charlie in fine form, a 26" fish and a 6 inch cigar!

The first week in August usually means a call from my good friend Charles Teasley.  I meet Chuck almost 33 years ago when we lived in the same apartment building in Osseo, MN.  He was a young banker with Northwestern National Bank, in the Osseo Branch and I was just starting my career designing transformers.  From Duluth, he transferred down from the Silver Bay Branch in an effort to advance his career.  Being the same age, we spent a lot of time fishing together, hanging out, talking smart and being stupid.  Eventually Charlie met a young lady lawyer named Carla, fell in love, got married and moved back to Duluth.  In the meantime he had a one year old Lund Pro Angler with a 50 hp Mercury tiller he needed to get rid of and naturally I was in need of the same boat.  I sold my Lund S14 Deluxe and made my first significant move to a "real" fishing boat.  In the mean time Charlie bought a new Lund Nisswa guide with the now Classic 50 Merc tiller (now rated at 45 hp).  A  beautiful boat, it was
Chuck and Dan
Lund's only fiberglass boat among their famous aluminum line up.  2 years later Carla was transferred to Florida and once again Charlie was in need of a different boat as he did not want to take it south with him.  Darn, another opportunity to move up and I sold his old Pro Angler and bought the Nisswa, my first introduction to fiberglass, one that I have never looked back.  In August Carla's family meets in Alexandria MN to spend a week long family event.  By the middle of the week Charlie needs a real fishing experience, a day on Mille Lacs.  We have missed a few years where our timing didn't work, and last year he was rushed to the hospital with a 106 fever, so it was great to get back together.  More often than not we can get his friend Daniel Hoene to spend the day with us as well.  Dan was a high school buddy of Chuck's who is an excellent hockey player where he spent 4 years playing for the University of Michigan, one of the top programs in Division 1 hockey.  Dan is a great guy, very successful, and a lot of fun to be with.  Chuck and I love to leverage our "redneck" roots with Dan, sometimes we get over the top but he takes it pretty well.  Dan himself is an accomplished fisherman having fished all over the place including a trip into an outpost in Canada coming up in a few weeks.  I loaded him up with some special jig heads that should be perfect for his presentation. 

I finally caught one!

Both Chuck and Dan met me at the pole barn on Tuesday afternoon and after loading up with gas, ice, and refreshments we headed north to spend the night at my friend, Mark Applen's little paradise at the Fisherman's Wharf on the east side.  Getting the latest scoop from Bill we headed over and settled into a relaxing evening of chicken wings, ice cold beer, and a gourmet cigar compliments of Dan.  With the full moon gracing our presence, we stayed up long enough to know it wasn't going to be an early evening.  The wind blew pretty hard all night which usually isn't a good sign for the next day.  We woke up to a fierce south wind with 4 foot rollers hitting the shore.  Our plan was to fish the west side where the wind would be much kinder to us.  Breakfast in Isle, a stop at Bill's to get the final word plus some leeches and crawlers, we launched north of the Casino as I went back to a routine that had proven successful for the last 2 months.  First stop, Sherman's where they have still been catching fish.  We trolled with my 3 ways and crawlers but only hooked one nice walleye in an hour.  With the wind blowing hard I decided to get out the lead line and planar boards and troll no man's land, the flat basins between the flats.  The fish weren't jumping in the boat but we did manage to land 12 walleyes, a couple on a reef runner, and the rest on a #5 Rapala Flat Rap.  We ended the day back on Sherman's to do a little bobber fishing when Chuck landed the 26 inch walleye pictured.  For me, I did more work assuring these two go fish than actually catching on my own (good story, don't you thin!) and only ended up with 1 walleye.  All in all it was a pretty good day for the first of August, we had a great time and I look forward to our trip next year, God willing of course!

Alaska is coming up fast and it's tripping up my blog post schedule.  I will tell you more about our trip plans next week, hopefully before I leave.  I am pretty excited to say the least as there has been a lot of issues on the Kenai River this year that is affecting our trip.  Stay tuned!  And last but not least, yesterday was the one year anniversary of my father's passing.  Love you dad!