Sunday, June 30, 2019

Best Vacation Ever: Day 6, Alaska

Best Vacation Ever: Day 6, Alaska

Tap, tap, tap...we were awakened at 4:30 a.m. and appreciated the door side coffee. Guzzled some more at breakfast. Dressed with more layers than when we fished for King Salmon - had been a bit chilly all day. Finally broke out the light long underwear and double socks for stylish under wader wear. Packed our lunches, and clomped down to the ramp where Nick had our gear. We were joined by Alex and Sarah, on their honeymoon from Texas.

Sockeye Salmon don't really hit the Kenai River hard until later in the summer. They are present, but not so plentiful. Fishing for sockeye is incredibly random. After racing to beat Steve (the other fishing guide) to the best tie-up spot, Nick set us up with reels and a demo on Sockeye technique. He warned us yesterday that the fish weren't running full out yet.

1. You cannot see the fish
2. The fish aren't feeding as the swim upstream to spawn, so they will not bite a hook/bait.
3. The fish aren't plentiful
4. You throw out your line, drag it back through the shallower water, and then snap it and IF YOU HAPPEN TO DRAG AND SNAP IT WHEN A FISH HAPPENS TO BE THERE, you can hook the fish.

Luckily, we are fishing in a gorgeous location on a beautiful day with eagles flying by and limited mosquitos.

Because otherwise, this would not be fun.

Barry, still not feeling well, set to with the determination of a man with  a task and a low grade fever. He was strong on the snap, and was casting at about a 2:1 rate to my casts. Alex also had The Crud, and eventually gave up and laid down in the boat. Barry caught the first fish...and 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 which filled our (3 each) limit. I hooked 2 and lost 2. Sarah caught 3, and Nick (guide) caught 1, but he was busy helping all of us with our catch.

Now for Barry to do this, he must have cast 2,000 times, and I am not exaggerating. It seemed every time he would eat a snack, he'd come back and catch another. So then everyone was trying the Doritos/cookies strategy...I was doomed, because I packed a healthy lunch and apparently apples are not linked to higher fish catching.

Half way through the day, Lisa (our Hoosier friend from day 1) and her guide came floating by on their rowboat. Her activity was a river float with a stop for champagne and cheese and fruit. Since my arm was aching and I was a tad frustrated, I thought about wading out and jumping in!

All in all a fun day. When we returned to Great Alaska, the staff came out to sign us up for fish transport and help us take photos. They were happy for us, our catch, to take our photos. Genuine, intimate, nice people. It is truly what made our stay here so special.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Best Vacation Ever: Day 5, Alaska

I forgot to mention that Barry caught The Crud at some point in our travels. After fishing yesterday, he fell into bed, shivering and coughing. Great Alaska couldn't have been nicer, several staff/guides offering to take us into town for meds. I traveled with cold meds, so we were set up. It was nice that this morning was Hiking, so Augie, our guide for the day, didn't need to wake us until 7 a.m.. I could get used to this coffee at the door too easily! Again, ate, packed lunches and filled our water bottles, and off we went.

Augie took us on a hike to the Russian River falls where the Sockeye Salmon were swimming en masse upstream...up get to their spawning home. Here you see the waterfall, and I tried to include a photo of the fish pooling on top of each other waiting for their attempt. I caught one fish on camera, not in a big leap though. It was hard to capture!

Next we walked further on to a Weir. The weir blocks the fish and makes them swim over to one access point, where they are counted. The Fish and Game staff then relay that information and decisions are made about fishing limits - they were increased from 3/person to 6 while we were in Alaska. The limit varies depending on the river and type of salmon as well.

On our way to the second hike location, Bear Mountain Trail, this friendly fella strolled in front of our van and around the side, stopping to munch a bit before continuing on his way. So check black bear off the list! The bear mountain hike was only about a mile long, mostly uphill, and we were rewarded with this fabulous view of Skilak Lake. It is a glacial lake fed by the Skilak glacier, so a beautiful blue. Augie also showed me a lot of the  wildflowers, and got me to eat a northern bluebell flower. Yum. Blueberries grow wild in the mountains, but sadly not harvest time.

Walked/hiked about 8 miles and since Barry wasn't feeling well, called it a day. I went down to the "beach" while Barry napped. This is an area by the river staffed by Cameron, where one can practice sockeye salmon fishing (I practiced...Cameron actually caught some). Cameron set me up with waders, reel, and basic instructions and I happily cast away for an hour or so. After supper, guests gather around the campfire to socialize and snack on s'mores. I don't know HOW because the food was GREAT and very filling.

Tomorrow: Sockeye Salmon fishing...which means...4:30 a.m. again!

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Best Vacation Every: Day 4 Alaska

Up and at 'em early birds! A guide at Great Alaska woke us with a knock and coffee at 4:30 a.m...breakfast at 5, pack a lunch at the lunch bar and then fishing!

Today was King Salmon fishing. King Salmon is catch and release only on the Kenai. Steve our guide had the boat set up for four: Barry and I, and Bo and Joe, a father-son pair from California. This was Bo's present to Joe for high school graduation.

It was a chilly, beautiful morning. We went up river a few miles and then set up at one of Steve's favorite spots. He set us up with different lures, and coordinated getting all the lines in the water so no tangles. No sooner did the lures hit the water than yours truly caught the first fish. Steve guided me through reeling it in, then carefully arranged for the photo so the fish was
not harmed.
Barry  was next to catch one of these beauties. We each caught 2, and I think each lost 2 during the day.

The big story of the day occurred after a few hours. Our lines were in the water trailing behind the boat. I have a photo of my lure...Barry's was slightly longer...maybe 5 inches, about the same colors. Steve suddenly pointed out a young eagle flying down the river right by us. We were all so mesmerized by the sight that we didn't discern his intent until too late. The eagle swooped in and grabbed Barry's lure, somehow tangling or hooking himself.

Steve did a great job keeping all calm. Three of us reeled in our lines. The eagle swam/floundered toward shore. On Steve's request, I got his coat from under the seat and the large net ready. Steve slowly moved the boat to shore, instructing Barry how to keep his line. When we made it to shore, Steve put on his gloves, put his pliers in pocket, and grabbed the net. The eagle was thrashing around trying to free itself. Just as Steve managed to net him, the eagle either got free or the line/hook was knocked off by the net...and off our errant eagle flew.

And, if you are wondering what Joe was doing...he instantly had his phone out and recorded the incident. He trimmed off the initial boat maneuvering, and if you are interested in seeing it (he did a great job!), here's the link:  Eagle Video

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Best Vacation Ever: Day 3 Alaska

Best Vacation Ever: Alaska Day 3

Woke up at Bear Camp - slept decently considering still adjusting to time change and the constant light. Our tent hut super cozy, beds comfy, perfect for people (like us) who aren't really campers. After breakfast, headed back out to viewing sites 2 and 3 in the national park. Met the ranger as she checked on the viewing sites. Saw bears, bears and more bears. I should have split up the bear info between Day 2 and 3 descriptions!

Here's a few photos. Start with an adolescent male bear who lumbered up the beach behind us. He was so lanky (still 200-300 pounds). I loved watching the sibling bears cuddle and wrestle. Saw bears sleeping on rocky cliffs.

It was mating season, so we witnessed the amorous adventures of two different couples. Turns out, bears have delayed implantation. When the female bear goes into hibernation, her body fat determines how many baby bears implant...between 1 and 4 depending on how well nourished she is. The cubs are born during hibernation! The guide was a little vague on how aware the mom was of the birth...the cubs somehow get into place to nurse, and in the spring...surprise! Baby bears! We only saw one mom with a cub, and she was moving fast and I didn't get a photo. The guide explained she keeps moving because the cub is vulnerable to predators, even older male bears.

Tides put us on a late afternoon flight back to the lodge, where we enjoyed happy hour. Guests meet their guide for the next day. Dinner is social - we sat with Lisa and another couple from Bear Camp. Food is a single entree; all entrees through vacation were excellent. Exhausted, we fell into bed - scheduled wake up was 4:30 a.m. for FISHING!

Best Vacation Ever: Alaska Day 2

Best Vacation Ever - Day 2


While researching Alaskan trips for our 35th anniversary, I booked this particular vacation after hearing an author, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, speak about her experience at Bear Camp. I already received the catalog from Great Alaska Adventure Lodge, and her descriptions sealed the deal. However, I was very nervous about the small plane ride. In all I'd read, I learned small planes were the key to touring Alaska. Only 20% of Alaska is accessible by car. So, nerves or no, I was committed to getting to Bear Camp.

Brian from Great Alaska picked up Lisa (my new friend!) and us promptly at 7:30. On our drive to the Lodge in Sterling, AK, we were impressed with the beauty of the valleys, rivers, and mountains. The lodge is on the edge of the main road and into another world. It sits on the confluence of the Moose and Kenai rivers. So beautiful! After a short tour, we found out our departure to bear camp was delayed. Since the planes land on the beach (gulp), we needed to wait for low tide. We ate lunch (elk burgers!) then Sherry, coordinator of activities and guides, sent AJ, a lovely young woman from Michigan, to lead us on a kayak ride down the Moose River.

The flight to bear camp was JUST FINE. We needed two planes for our group; Lisa was on the other plane. Totally smooth, no bumps, great scenery, super smooth beach landing.  We flew into Bear Camp, received an orientation, and immediately went out with one of the bear guides, Steve. The bears dig for clams (an early source of protein) on the mud flats right in front of the camp. 15 years ago, only 1 out of 50 bears did this. Now nearly all the bears do. Recently, a bear discovered the flounder in the shallow water, and caught one (by slapping down, I think!)...a second and third bear have already adopted this fishing behavior. Smart bears!  We were watching this beautiful female bear feed, then walked to the camp's personal viewing platform, inland "behind" the camp, on a large meadow...two minutes later, down our trail, she came, walking next to the platform and then out to rinse off in the meadow lake.

Dinner was steak - delicious - after a "happy half hour" of wine/beer and appetizers. Then back out again, this time with guide Clinton. Off of the beach are three viewing areas set up by the national park. They are a simple log for sitting and looking over the meadow, and the bears are used to seeing humans there.

Suddenly, Clinton calmly announced everyone should get behind him - he squatted, facing the beach, arms slightly outspread. And we all twirled and crouched and faced a beautiful female brown bear. Clinton saw her exiting the meadow next to us.

She walked RIGHT in front of us, then to our side, then decided the view was nice and sat next to the log we vacated. Exhausted, she lay down and relaxed...and I thought "we are going to be here a very long time". However, still hungry from a long winter of hibernation, she sighed and rambled back to the meadow to munch grass.

Hard to pick only a couple photos to share! What a day! Into our tent-hut for a much needed rest...

Monday, June 24, 2019

Best Vacation Ever: Alaska Day 1

Best Vacation Ever: Alaska Day 1

Writing these post-vacation, hope my recall is good!

We started the travel day getting up at 5, taxi at 7:30, flight at 10. Barry and I planned to use one day passes at the O'Hare United Lounge, but no go...busy Monday morning so restricted access to only real members. Barry then dropped his insulated cup/vacuum lid (not Yeti..Menard's version) and it immediately cracked. We soon discovered mine leaked like a sieve when tilted, so will shop in Anchorage. Water bottles were required at our Lodge. This incident is important...stay tuned.

The majority of our plans were made through the Great Alaska Adventure Lodge. More on this AMAZING location and people in upcoming days. One of their preferred Anchorage hotels was the Lakefront. This hotel sits on Lake Spenard/Lake Hood, the largest float plane harbor in the world. Only 20% of Alaska is accessible by road; many people have personal airstrips and planes to reach their homes. Float planes flew overhead continually.

We took the gratis hotel shuttle downtown Anchorage to eat and buy water bottles. Had an early dinner at The Glacier Brewhouse, then off to an outfitter store. Managed to do all before the return shuttle scheduled. When we arrived, the shuttle was loading, clearly more people waiting than seats. Several irritated couples spoke up saying they waited an additional hour due to previous shuttle crowd, so we backed away. When it left, we started chatting with a woman unable to get a seat, and offered to share an uber.

This was my biggest God-incidence of the trip (I don't believe in coincidence!). Lisa was about our age, first time to Alaska. It turned out she was with Great Alaska as well, and would be traveling with us in the morning. And she was from Indiana. And, sadly, she revealed that this was to have been her 30th anniversary trip with her husband, who died in November after late stage cancer diagnosis. She courageously decided to come alone. We shared much of our trip, and it was a joy to get to know and spend time with Lisa.

Early night due to time change and 7:30 a.m. morning pickup. So much more to tell you! Stay tuned. Third picture is the tease...