Friday, July 22, 2016

Of Obsession and Lists

Is this an obsession?  As the summer wears on and it gets closer to go-time, I’m always surprised at how AK starts taking over my life… Every activity and thought is measured by, “will this have any impact on AK?”  Don’t work out too much, might get hurt and mess up AK.  Compulsively check the salmon run- ya it’s updated every three days, but I still check it every couple of hours.  Can’t schedule any important meetings during AK weeks or really a few days before cause I’m already checked out….Got to find time when everyone is gone so I can make the movie….review every list and research gear options early so make sure there is plenty of time to buy, test, return, repeat… The other night as I was eating a bowl of cereal and thinking about what else I needed to prepare, I stared blankly at the TV, some movie was on with Steve Martin and the blond guy with the big nose (Owen Wilson) and Jack Black.  Almost imperceptively I began to understand it was about a group of guys that were obsessed with birding and what they would do to see the highest number of distinct bird species in a single year.  Owen Wilson blew off his wife’s ultrasound and ultimately left her for a snowy owl that represented the world record.  Hmmm, that is obsessive, but that’s not me….is it?

Let’s leave the obsession discussion and just dissect what is going on…  In my life of 100 things to do on multiple to-do lists and constant planning, evaluating, judging, discussing, deciding- I seem to always be looking forward, looking to the next thing on the list.  It’s not a bad thing, it’s just modern life- responsibility.  Only in wilderness are there moments, minutes, hours and maybe even days where all my thoughts, feelings, and intentions are focuses only on that moment.  Time stands still- there is nothing else in the world, just this place and this moment.  I become attuned to details- the color and texture of the rocks, the layers of current around me, the simple tools of my trade, birds, insects, specs of transparent string, the texture of dry rabbit fur.  So much of my life seems to be inside my mind, living in my thoughts except here, where my mind turns inside out and the outside world permeates all thought.  All of the world around me is totally oblivious to my presence.  Except for a few landed trout and the occasional intrigued bear, I am irrelevant.  This has been here for a million lifetimes and will be here millennia after I’m gone.  I am temporary.  All around me is permanent.  This truth is peace.

So I tell people I am going fishing in Alaska and they think of tricking a fish to bite a hook so you can eat it or take a photo with it, brag about your skill and mastery over it etc.   Which is not even in the same universe as what I mean.  Experiencing an ancient natural process- standing in the middle of it- seeing its beauty, pondering its integrated complexity, smelling its finality, hearing its brutality in the distant scream of a cub, and holding its magnificent power with your cold wet hands- even for just a moment- knowing you’ve paid the price to slightly comprehend Gods creation- eliciting reverence, humility… joy.  Last week I did have a conversation with a friend who also loves the wild and as we talked about my trip- we communicated on that deeper level that comes when you’ve gone into the wilderness enough that it has gone into you.

Another friend was surprised that this would be my 9th pilgrimage.  “Don’t you want to go to some other awesome place and catch other exotic fish?”  I thought about that for a minute, “Ya, I suppose I do-“ and then I gave him the “rationale” for why I’m going back to the same river basin; cost, have it figured out, world class fishery…. But really I’m developing a deep connection with this particular place, the familiarity is both comforting and enriching.  To not go starts to feel like a betrayal.  This wilderness has given me so much, how can I leave her for even just one summer?  Yes, I do want to cast to other species in other places- but that seems like it might lead to a list.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Returning to the River of No Return

A true fisherman plans his outings around the best likelihood of success. The mad fisherman takes any event and decides while he is at it, he might as well fish.  So if Reese were the son of a true fisherman, he'd have planned his wedding during peak cutthroat season- AFTER run off, but he is not, he is the son of a mad fisherman.

I was astounded that as we debated the water volume and the weather, neither Pablo nor the Mule recalled the exact same debate no less than two years ago when we decided to damn the torpedoes and hit the winds in September and were aptly rewarded.  So when Pablo took his characteristic position, "I don't know, water is high and weather is $&^%", "I'm with you boys" was Hondo's sharp analysis, so as usual, it was left to the Govna to exercise rational thought, concluding, "well, if were just going to be hanging around I'd rather do that in a tent in the river of no return wilderness listening to rain on the tent fly than on Pablo's couch pouring over maps of drive to fishing locations."

At O-dark thirty on Thursday I heard Hondo roll in.  As expected, his meticulous planning and forethought had begun no less than 8 hours prior and he'd packed all night, but was in good spirits given the spousal adjudicative discourse which had accompanied said packing.  But that is all part and parcel of the Mule's load.

So in the Honda CRV we headed to Salmon Idaho where we'd gain entrance to the Frank Church Wilderness and a week of unknown experiences.  The ride was long, 4 hours, but enjoyable as Hondo shared his latest wood working exploits and Pablo wallered around in the back seat trying to find a position that wouldn't aggravate his slowly healing back., causing us all to wonder exactly how he was going to hike 20 miles in some of the roughest terrain in the lower 48, but then again, I've seen Pablo cast to rising trout while giving birth to a son and a daughter.

The ride in from Salmon was marked with gathering clouds and fits of light rain.  As the river appeared we were elated to see it's rocky bottom- at least we were past chocolate milk stage, but we could not discern the volume.  It was thrilling to be back in this wild and rugged place and as we strapped on the bags, we were greeted with a flurry of wet snow flakes and a thick orange marmot scrambling for cover.   Spirits were sky high.  The roar of the river soon joined us as we hiked through the steep upper section, pausing to peer at the swift current, pocket water and massive log jam.
Upper Section
 We took one quick break at a deep pool where Hondo broke out his new rod and from a down log platform smoothly launched a few dry casts into the back eddie across the current and against a steep rock wall.  A couple of good swirling drifts with no rise likely signal no fish in the hold.  We carried on to the meadow camp just below beaver creek.  A beautiful campsite.  The years of expeditions together has created a well oil team as we set up the camp with little or no direction, but effortless and even joyful cooperation.  Once set up, we all marched down stream to prospect.  For some dumb reason I kept following Pablo, down, down, down river hoping it would spread out and open up, it never did.  Even the less bouldery areas where too heavy to wade and didn't look promising for fish to hold.  On the way back I hit the wall, lack of sleep, fatigue from the 15 miler in Muddy Creek Chute 400 miles south in the San Rafael Swell, sapped my energy and filled me with doubt and despair as I stumbled back to camp.  Apparently Mule had "walled out" much closer to camp and a few hours earlier as we found him sleeping in the tent.  An early night was in order, all cares lost in the constant din of swift water.

As typical, our hope was back up with the sun and we packed up and decided to make our way to Monumental.  The hike was marked by a playful arm in arm crossing of a very cold and rather swift tributary, and occasionally prospecting, but I don't remember much fishing until we hit the milky confluence of Monumental.  I do remember being in that mental gray area that often settles on you during a hike, where your mind is calm and almost dreamy while your body works, and I stepped on a loose rock and took a tumble, turning my right ankle pretty good, so I was some what hobbled as we kicked around confluence camp.  That evening we built a nice fire, surmised our various survival tactics if ever finding our selves on the reality show naked and afraid and to demonstrate my firecraft, I banked the fire to see if I could reignite it the following morning, which I did.

Setting out to fish in the morning, JB was able to find away across the river and fished the seam at the confluence, hooking a 30" class steel head that came to eyes, but no to hand- curses of fishing a 5x tippet.  I had my first taste of success down stream as I mentally broke the river down into smaller sections and began finding and fishing micro channels and seams along the edge and took 7 cut's in one run, all on a bright orange hopper.  With those successes stoking our enthusiasm, we  broke camp and began packing down river, pausing much more often to fish the accessible waters trail side and having some success,but still thoroughly enjoying the day.  Some where in here JB found a drowned black bear cub caught up in a log jam and lifted it's lifeless body from the water with a stick.  He commented several times of how it saddened him and how equally unforgiving wilderness is on her permanent and temporary residents. 

Coxy Hole Journal Entry
It became a long hike as Hondo was unspecific in his estimations of exactly how many more 1/2 mile segments we'd have before our next camp site at coxy hole.  After a small climb behind an outcropping, we spotted the Coxy Hole, a dramatic bend in the river with a picturesque campsite high above the river.  Despite our fatigue and growing clouds, I decided I wanted a bath. so slid down a steep slope to the waters edge, a less than ideal balancing act on a little rocky ledge framed by a garden of stinging nettle.  Although professing my insanity, Hondo and then Pablo joined.  We expedited tent set up as the skies darkened and with a few scout drops we dove into the tent expecting a good deluge, but with in a few minutes pitter patter ended and we were able to come out, eat and enjoy a nice evening although fairly fatigued.

The next morning began with a climb around the downstream point of Coxy Hole with steep jagged drops to the water.   The burn damage gave way to more live spruce and pines accenting the sheer cliffs and scree of the rugged gorge.  We seemed to fish a little less today as we hiked, although did find some really cool little runs behind boulders- amazed at the cuts rising with abandon from heavy water to take or refuse the big hoppers and foam terrestrials.  Few fish were taken, but no piscator seemed to mind, satisfied by the beauty and exulted in the solitude.

The Cave
As the day progressed we came to a spectacular cave, teasing our imagination with formation theories.  Shortly after the cave, the canyon began to open up, the feeling of the river evolving from north west steel head gorge to Montana cutthroat meadow.  We had never been this far down river, in fact everything below the monumental confluence was new.  Although we tried to imagine the river at lower stages, after decades of expeditions we've come to appreciate the chase as much as the catch.
About 1 we came across a single man tent and trash bag bear bagged.  We surmised it to be the "military wannabe" we'd heard about in Salmon.  JB tried to navigate some steep drop to the water and took some good jabs hacking through brush and trying to stay out of the water.  I barely missed a great take (on video) as I sat perched on downed tree that jutted out over the river ravine.  I don't think we fished much after that and as the day wound down, again we were tired and eventually came an incredible meadow where Big Creek made two huge swings with a couple of braids.  Sky's were blue, the son hot- bath time again.  JB moved down river, saying he took trout on the hopper at the edge every time the sun was out.  We all wadered up and moved up stream.  Again, the fish were sparse and current limited access.  JB came upon a rattler basking near a downed log.  We used the tent as a sun break as we dined on our final dinner and retired early.  Our minds wondered to the pick up tomorrow and wondered why the large flat meadow was not a permanent runway, as it showed signs of previous use.  The climb the following morning up cabin creek was quick and easy although our intel that the runway was on the downstream side of the cabin, caused us to back track slightly.  We were joined by a crew of young rangers who had be maintaining trail down stream from cabin and were hitching a ride to civilization for the weekend, one of the guys was from Brevard NC, a Western grad.

We all commented on how the ride reminded us of Alaska, spawning day dreams of other potential trips as we explore this and other means of access and transportation.  Although the fishing was poor, the comfortable comradery, excellent weather and exquisite wilderness, left us no regrets for returning to the river of no return.

The Meadow

Monday, May 16, 2016

Getting the Nak

So I've only been once.  Pablo thrice, Softserve Mikey, hundreds.   The breathless emails (OK, I don't know how an email is breathless, but it felt like it) have now become real time texts with photographic evidence.   Mikey loves the Nak, he just does.  He's had some days there that rival only his beloved Goodnews of yesteryear.  And his love makes him blind.  Blind to the horrific wind, blind to sleeping on a dirty garage floor next to Uncle Ed's greasy boat motor, blind to millions of fishless casts in the shadow of Treefon's cabin, blind to being busted for no license (Lisa).   To me she is a big tease.  I've seen the pics and heard the tales, but my day there consisted of more hours huddled against the bank hiding from the wind, as flailing an eggsucking leech.  JB will have to speak for himself. Ya, if it didn't take 20 hours of butt busting, back aching flights, the expectation could be lowered, but it does and I'm not ready to back, not yet.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

And the forecast is.....

The 2016 total run of Togiak River sockeye salmon is forecast at 660,000 fish, an increase from the 2015 forecast of 610,000. The Togiak District Salmon Management Plan (TDSMP, 5 AAC 06.369) calls for sockeye salmon escapement of 150,000 fish past the counting towers located at the outlet of Togiak Lake. Based on the forecast, approximately 440,000 sockeye salmon will potentially be available for commercial harvest. Approximately 21% of the run is expected to be 2-ocean fish and 79% is expected to be 3-ocean fish. 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

29 days plus 100 days= eternity

Saturday morning, roaming around like a big grizz, trying to decide what to do with myself- fighting the urge to go attack a sow and kill the cubs, no reason, just because I can, and I'm crazy from a long hibernation.

Check the Bristol Bay google feed for any updates on the pebble mine disaster, end up reading the d
Dillingham news, seems the Angels (girls bball team) had a pretty good year.... leads me to the Alaska Dispatch, but only reports of last years run and a suspected murder in Eagle, knife stabbing,... ok. let's just go to the source- Alaska Fish and Game... just for kicks I read last years projection report- highest in 20 years, 35 million sockeye can't be wrong!  But its all quite on the western front for 2016- except a king report- not good for the Kenai, a little better for Bristol- let's hope and pray the big boys can make a come back (solemn bow).

So March 12, the count down to the countdown begins eh, only 29 days till they release the 2016 projections and then for a 100 days I can check the site and obsess over the data.  this is bad.... maybe I should take up fly tying, can't be any more miserable.

Friday, March 11, 2016

The dog days are over, run fast

It's 77 degrees on March 11th.  I bring stuff for a run in the woods, but the knee is tender, the desire is waning and there is a hatch coming off (not really, but it sounds good).  So at this temp waders stay home and the wet legs are a relief.  There is already a touch if humidity in the air, is it March or May?    I'm not very focused, but don't really care.  Stuffed a hammock in the new hip pack, just in case I lost all desire.  I didn't.  Not much happening till I hit Christians pool and take a big brookie and couple of others.  The lights dimming, cicadas buzzing as I bushwack back to the truck. 72 degrees as the dark trees shimmer in the headlights.  Is it just me, or did winter just get real short.

Sunday, February 21, 2016


I was standing in cold rushing water, in Alaska.  But as I took stock of my position, I realized I was not in a river, but on a beach with waves breaking around me.  We were all searching, then soft serve mike yelled, "we're too far out, they are closer to the beach!"  We turned and walked a picket line back toward shore and silvery silhiquets began to appear.  Realizing I didn't have the right gear, I trudged on and as I reached the shore I was standing in a make shift locker room in what I preceived to be a large fishing vessel.  What the?!?  No dry bags, everything was wet, I was just wearing a pair of jeans, which I now realized were soaking and I was shaking with cold... Where are my waders?!!  Then as I was pealing off the wet jeans, in walks Denise (awkward, reminiscent of tent drop 2014).   She doesn't seem to notice and in her typical cheery way asks how its going and wonders why we haven't booked the flights.  Seems Ricks on a drop right now, but the rest of the week is filling up.  Mike and Jb are now in the locker room, both in waders.  Denise questions Mike about some money he owes her for a flight last year and says they won't fly him again, or us, until he settles... WHAT THE!?!?!   Mike says no problem, we are planning on doing the carnival cruise this year anyway!

I am totally befuddled...   We're not doing a cruise, are you nuts!?!  Mikes nodding his head, up and down in the affirmative until I finally yell, "Not just no. Hell no Mike!!"  "Well" Mike responds, chuckling and nonchalant, "you don't have any of your gear up here and Rick is all booked, so it's either work this Commerical salmon boat or take the Carnival cruise up to Skagway."

The lights in the lockeroom flicker off and as my eyes adjust I can see long long fingers in the corner of the room moving rhythmically... But they aren't just fingers, they are blades, long sharp blades... I scream, "Freddie!!".