Monday, July 27, 2015

What ELSE do People do in Alaska?

Yes, there is a lot of flying in Alaska.  Part of the reason is so many of the towns are in the "bush," far away from roadways and what we consider normal travel ways.

But there is also a LOT of fishing.  We knew that, and Daryl brought his equipment, but we had no idea what we would find as we explored some various nooks and crannies of the Kenai Peninsula.
A family at our campground and their catch right in our lake - Rainbow Trout.

The Salmon are Running

We had always heard about the Salmon Runs, and knew there were specific areas here in Alaska which catered to those die-hard fishermen who wanted that big catch. But we had no idea what it really meant to be part of this run.

Available at all boat launches we saw, life jackets!
First of all, there is float fishing, fly fishing, sport fishing, commercial fishing, and net dipping.  And probably more.  We are new to the intricacies of this very important way of life in a country which still does a lot of subsistence fishing.  We have been fortunate enough to talk with some locals about the craft of fishing, and were given permission to take some photos to help tell the story.

We were staying in an area of relative wilderness, on the Kenai Peninsula, and able to see the comings and goings of locals as well as those who come to specific spots to fish.  The Russian River and Kenai River are huge fishing destinations here, as well as a number of inland lakes.  We have tried to photograph some of the many who are fly fishing right now.  It is a beautiful craft and when you see the fishermen, and women, lined up in the rivers, or standing off on their own, it is quite a site.  But river fishing here is a bit private, and you can’t normally see what you want to simply by being on the road.  So we have done the best we could to find ways to record our memories of what is really a romantic and historical sport.

One rainy day when Daryl couldn’t fly, we decided to get in the car and explore some other towns on the Kenai Peninsula.  We drove to the western part of the peninsula to a little town called Nilichek.  We knew there was the possibility to see Eagles in the area, as it is the spot where two rivers come together to meet Cook Inlet, which them becomes the Pacific Ocean.  It was overcast, but the rain tends to come and go so we figured we would give it a shot.

On the way we saw a moose by the road, which was an added bonus, though no opportunity to photograph.  The village we were going to is rather deserted now, though the native peoples have encouraged people to come and visit, and learn about their culture and the old way of life.  There is even a large, wooden plaque of explanation.  Very helpful.

We looked around what was left of the village and photographed a Russian Orthodox church which was important to the history of this area, and as we drove over a rise a small fishing harbor was laid out before us.  The tide was going out and the boats were hustling in, and we were amazed at the numbers of active fishing boats.  SO interesting.

There were two or three Bald Eagles in the area, and many shore birds in the shallow river bed, but it was getting late and we didn’t have time, or the weather, to do much more.  Vowing to come back another day, still searching for Eagles, but now intrigued by the extent of active commercial fishing industry.

The next opportunity presented itself just a few days later, with another weather issue and Daryl unable to fly again (will he be able to finish his flight hours?!).  We took off again, and decided to check in on the town of Kenai, a bit closer than Nilichek is.  The closer we got the rainier it got, but it’s funny how the inclement weather doesn’t bother you as much when you are on an adventure as it does when you are home!

What an interesting world it is – always full of surprises.  We wanted to get to the water, to see boats, to see the area, so we found one road which apparently lead to a beach area, but it was blocked off and a young lady asked our intention.  Since we didn’t want to fish, just look around, we could have about 15 minutes.  Oh my word!  It was a fishing mecca…in the pouring rain…and cold…and there were so many boats on the water we could not count. The boat ramps were full with boats just hitting the water, and others coming out.  Again, it was Cook Inlet, a large salt-water body.  Pleasure boats meshed with industry boats, and met with numerous people standing in the water along the beach area, dipping huge nets in the water and waiting for the salmon to swim into them.  And swim in they did!  We watched until we were too cold and wet to do much more, and we only had that 15 minute time frame (okay, we took 20-25), and then we moved on.  
There was another Russian Orthodox church and some ancient buildings to tour, and from one overlook we could see another area of beach on which people had driven out.  So we were on another mission.  We twisted and turned our way through the town and finally found a street going to the beach, again a supervised entry.  A really nice young man again allowed us 15 minutes to look around.  The rain had let up a bit, so we decided to try it.

We couldn’t see the beach right away, and had to park in a very crowded parking area then walk to the beach.  Oh my word!  One more time we were overwhelmed by the site of a large number of people lining the shore, fishing with their dip nets.  Not a fishing boat area, it was all about the people – individuals and families – tent camping on the beach during this Salmon Run. 

We found out it was the 2nd Salmon Run of the season, and we don’t know how many are left.  In talking with a man who worked in tandem with a partner, a head of house could catch 30 salmon, and then an additional 20 salmon if there were more people in the house.  They did this each year and caught their limit, which made it through the winter and spring.  He also did subsistence hunting, and kept his family in bear and moose and venison as well. 

It was so interesting to watch, as the fishermen and women held their nets vertically in the water, allowing the current to bring the fish to the net.   Holding perfectly still, it was a waiting game until that fish got caught in the net.  The net was then folded over and dragged from the Inlet, one wrap on the fish head usually did it, then most were cleaned and fileted there on the beach.

It was not only a festive atmosphere, but one of purpose and hard work.  It was wet and cold and there were so many people there – but all worked together to complete the mission.  A successful Salmon run meant they had good fish to last them winter to spring. 

We keep saying we will go back to these places in good weather, but the reason we found them to begin with was that the weather was crummy and Daryl couldn’t fly.  Good weather is flying weather – at least for a week or so.  Then we shall see where the wind blows us.  We only have about 2 more weeks here in Alaska before the tides turn and we must head back to Michigan.  There’s only a little whining about that right now, but I anticipate there will be the need for an attitude adjustment before too long!

While we are here every day is a new adventure, even when you are rained in and/or confined to the cozy little camper.

Enjoying a book and cup of coffee at the campsite.

1 comment:

Jeanie said...

All these posts look like you are having the time of your life. Michigan will seem very tame upon your return!