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Monday, June 15, 2009

Alaska Fishing Trip June 6 to June 13, 2009 Sitka, Alaska

The below post includes some pictures that were taken on the trip, to view them all click on the slide show to the left or click on this link: http://picasaweb.google.com/holtnotesrah/SitkaAlaskaFishing#

Henry, Mark, Larry and I left Houston at 9:45 am on a Continental flight via Seattle, Washington to Anchorage, Alaska, to Juneau, Alaska arriving Sitka, Alaska at 11:00 pm. It was an extremely long day, changing planes twice, traveling over 4,000 miles and spending 17 hours to get there. When we booked our flights the only available route was the one we took, there are much shorter routes, we learned after the fact, we could have flown directly to Seattle to Sitka reducing the mileage about 1400 miles. We met up with Danny and Stan in Juneau and rode the 95 mile flight to Sitka with them. Also boarding the plane in Juneau was the Sitka High School baseball team and some fans. This was my first exposure to the remoteness and vastness of Alaska. A 95 mile trip to play baseball and they had to fly to get there.

To get to Sitka you must fly or go by boat, there are no roads leading into Sitka due to the mountains and water surrounding the city. We learned that there are only 14 miles of road available in the whole Sitka borough which is the largest in the 50 states. Not largest in population but area.

The trip was long and tiring and I lost my best camera (taken out of the bin on the airplane as we departed Continental airplane in Seattle), my energy and attitude quickly changed in the Sitka airport when Danny, one of the fishing party told me he heard my name over the loud speaker. I went to the counter and the agent asked me if I had lost something and I replied, No. She reached under the counter and pulled out my wallet, she said the Pilot found it in my seat on the plane. What a relief thanks to the honest pilot; cash credit cards and all personal identification was intact. Thanks Alaska Airlines pilot.

Picture out of the airplane as we arrived at the Sitka, Alaska airport at 11 pm, still daylight
Brown bear on display in the Sitka, Airport. A one gate, one counter airport.
Jim, our host and guide. Very friendly and personable individual. He went out of his way to make our trip succesful and memorable. Normally a Hunter and Bear Guide, Jim also does some fishing trips and is the owner of the Float House we stayed on. He picked us at the airport, took us for supplies and groceries, delivered us to the float house, took us fishing, returned us to Sitka for our last evening and then transported us to the airport on the last day. Thank you, Jim.
Jim our guide and owner of the Float House picked us up at the airport and drove us to the Sitka Hotel for the evening. We visited with him for an hour or two over a couple of drinks at the bar next door to the hotel. We all agreed Jim would join us for breakfast the next morning and we would then go get our fishing license and get our supplies for the week as we were to do our own cooking on the Float House. I woke up after only being in bed a couple of hours, it was about 4am but 7am at home. I was awakened by a horrible screeching noise outside our hotel window. I got up, it was daylight and I could see two huge Ravens fighting over a piece of what looked like chicken. Larry yelled at them and they flew away. I was able to get a couple more hours sleep before waking up to get ready for the day activities.

View from Sitka Hotel Parking Lot on the first morning in Sitka

My first experience to the cost of things in Alaska was at breakfast. Two eggs, two bacon and two sausages with a cup of coffee was $20. I was wondering, what will a week of groceries and supplies cost for 6 people when we go shopping later that morning?

After breakfast, Jim drove us to a sporting goods store to buy our fishing license. A 7 day non resident Alaska fishing license was $87. We then went next door to the grocery store and started shopping for our weeks supply. We bought all the necessary cooking items, breakfast and lunch items. picked up enough dinner items for two meals and planned on 3 of the other dinners would be fish that we caught. The biggest expense was water, drinking and cooking water for 6 people for a week. Water cost $10 for a 24 pack of bottles, at home around $3 on sale.

Loading the truck with supplies. Groceries were not all that expensive. Our total bill in the grocery store was just under $400. $65 per person, not bad for 5 days.

After shopping we went back to the Hotel and checked out. Jim needed to go by his house and let the dogs out for a while before we went fishing. The view from his back yard was unbelievable. A 180 degree view of the bay and mountain ranges with Mt Edgecombe directly across the water from him. We also saw our first eagle sitting in a tree in front of his home. We then went to the fish processing plant to find out how we would be getting our fish processed, packaged and delivered to the airport. We then went and bought our drinks and loaded them on the truck and went from there directly to the boat to head to our Float House and a couple of hours of fishing.

From left to right Henry, Stan, Larry, Danny and in the background Mark. This picture and the below picture was taken in the back of Jim's house. Me with Mt Edgecombe in the background.
Picture taken of the Sitka Harbor from the Lakeside Grocery Store where we did our shopping.Mountains surrounded Sitka, this picture was taken from the dock next to our guide's slip for his boat.

Annahootz, our fishing boat for the week. The configuration of the boat allowed Jim the captain and two of us to ride in the cabin leaving plenty of room for the other 4 on the open deck.

Leaving Sitka Harbor headed for our Float House

Our ride on the way to the float house.

The ride by boat to the Float House took about twenty minutes. The water was blue as the sky and the view was spectacular. We entered into a narrow body of water off the main bay and at the end was a beautiful mountain pictured below. About half way down the narrow body of water we turned left into an opening that entered into the cove where the float house was located.

Mountain at the end of the narrow body of water on the way to the float house.

As we turned into the cove this mountain range was behind us.

This view was off to the right as we turned into the cove.

First view of the float house as we turned into the cove where the float house was moored. Jim moved the float house to the current position the week prior to our arrival.

The float house, to the left was an 18 foot skiff we could use while we were there.

Accomodations & Food (Float House):
The Float House was the neatest place I have ever stayed. Located in a remote cove about 2o minutes by boat from Sitka. There was plenty of room for the 6 of us. The kitchen was well stocked with pots, pans, cups, glasses and silver ware . We took in plenty of groceries and paper products for the week. There are 6 bunks in one room and a queen size bed in a separate room for sleeping. We used four of the bunks, the queen sized bed slept two, leaving two of the bunks for storage of clothing and luggage.
We anticipated we would eat fish for 3 nights and two other nights we would fix spaghetti and bratwursts. Breakfast consisted of eggs, ham, sausage, toast, breakfast tacos, coffee and juice. Lunch was eaten on the fishing boat each day, ham, crackers, apples, bananas, cookies, salami and cheese and plenty of water to drink.

Two evenings Henry fried fish that turned out to be excellent. The third night Henry grilled salmon with a lemon pepper rub and Danny grilled salmon with a brown sugar rub. Every morning Stan had coffee ready for us and cooked the breakfast with Danny's help, we even had skillet toast. Danny made the bratwurst and I cooked the spaghetti. Everyone had a role in the daily meal preparation from meal preparation to washing the dishes. On one occasion we intentialy used more pots and pans than needed so as to pile up the dish washing duties on Larry and Stan. Needless to say there was no weight loss on this trip.

Water was at a premium, the only water available was rain water in a barrel. We brought on gallons of water and 24 pack bottles of water for cooking and consumption. We used the rain water for washing dishes and an occasional sponge bath. (In most instances bathing was not done, individuals used their body wipes for hygiene during the week).

Restroom facilities were at a minimum. There was a shower with a propane heater to heat the water but there was only one barrel of water and we saved it for washing dishes. The marine style porta potty worked, but while it was located inside the cabin, there was a thin sliding door separating you from the bunk beds. We all consider each other to be close friends and or family, however, not that close. One approach was to tell night time stories and jokes to those in bed while sitting on the throne. Great laughter came from this one particular accommodation.

Bunk room at end of the float house, opened out onto a large deck in the rear. I slept in the lower bunk to the left, Danny was above me, Larry slept on the right bottom bunk, Stan slept on the lower bunk at the foot of my bunk and Henry and Mark shared the bed in the small bedroom. The bunks above Larry and Stan were used for storage and staging of our gear. There was ample sleeping bags, pillows and blankets for our comfort. The kitchen and living area proved to be very comfortable, well stocked with utensils and plenty of sitting space for the 6 of us. The wood stove was not used for warmth, as the cabin remained comfortable the whole time we were there.

The weather was excellent for us the whole week. Most days were perfect, temperatures ranged from lows in the low 40 degrees to highs in the high 60 degrees. Most days were cloudy, almost every morning there was a thick fog all around but burned off by mid morning. On Wednesday there was hardly a cloud in the sky and you could see for miles. There was a fine mist on a couple of days, we were very fortunate that the weather allowed us to fish the whole time we were there. Dusk was around 11pm and dawn 3am for a total of about 4 hours darkness. There was always enough light to see 24 hours a day without the need of flashlights.
Wednesday morning about 5am picture taken from the front porch of the float house.
Friday morning about 5 am picture taken from the front porch of the float house.

Mt. Edgecombe: Picture was taken on Wednesday while we were fishing. One of the most amazing sites happened at this spot. We were fishing in approximately 150 foot of water and when a small fish was brought up, the change in pressure unfortunately killed the fish. When we discarded the fish back in the water they would float and Eagles would swoop down and grab them in their claws.

About 7am on Thursday morning as we headed out to fish. A cruise ship headed to Sitka.
Clothing and gear:
We tried to pack as light as we could due to the extra cost of bags on the airlines and to manage the amount of luggage we would carry around and store while we were in the hotels and on the float house. Since this time of year in Sitka is the rainy season we made sure to take along plenty of rain clothing and shoes. Additionally, due to the coolness in the morning and warmer temperatures later in the day we took clothing that could be layered, sometimes taking off or adding layers as needed. I personally took along a Simms fishing jacket that proved to be the right approach. Fishing shirt, Simms Jacket, long underwear, fishing pants, a frog togg rain suit and Shimano Evair fhishing boots proved to be my normal dress for the day.

Sun screen, body wipes, toothpaste and tooth brush were essentials.

While the whole trip was fantastic, the scenery was beautiful, the weather perfect, the fishing fun and a great experience and the float house was a unique and comfortable. Being in the wild and getting to see the wildlife in it's habitat was truly a blessing. We saw numerous birds including a blue herron and eagles. The eagles were a lot of fun to watch, we fed them at night when we cleaned the fish for dinner. At one point there were 11 eagles on the rocky shore by the float house eating the fish carcasses. We saw a mama bear and two cubs and Stan and Mark saw two additonal male brown bear later that same day when they went down to the shore line in the skiff. We saw hundreds of sea lions on a cluster of rock islands. We chased whale on two different occassions, Jim got us so close at one point, when the whale blew it startled a couple of us.
A blue herron as it was landing in the tree top
Eagle in the middle of the picture, it was truly amazing to watch this bird. Their heads are in constant motion moving back and forth searching for prey and food.

Eagles eating the carcasses of fish we cleaned for dinner. The remoteness of our float house was cause for almost complete quite, only noises of nature. You could hear fish bones breaking by the eagles beaks.
A mama bear and her two cubs in the grass.

A sea lion, he was making such a loud snorting and grunting noise, obviously he didn't like us there. We saw hundred of sea lions on a group of rock islands.

Fluke (Tail fin) of a Humpback Whale we chased

Two Humpback Whales one rolling out of the water and the mist coming from the blow whole of another.

Most of the fishing was trolling for Salmon. We decided that we would take turns bringing in the Salmon that was caught while trolling. Jim set up the down rigger (similiar to the picture below), one on each aft side of the boat. The fishing line would be attached to the down rigger and a 10 pound ball attached to a steel line on the down rigger. The ball would be dropped to the depth that we wanted to fish. This takes the bait (we were using herrring) to that depth, usually around 80 to 125 feet. Once the bait and a flasher (attracts the fish) is in place we would troll about 1.5 to 2.5 miles per hour. As you are trolling the fishing pole is somewhat bent from the tension of the flasher and bait. When a fish hits the bait the line would release itself from the down rigger causing the fishing rod to pop up or flutter. The rod is taken from its holder and the hook set and the fish is on (hopefully, we missed a few). Whoever was closest to the rod would set the hook and hand it to the next person who was in line to bring in the salmon.

An example of a down rigger that we used.

The other way we fished was mooching, nothing more than putting on an artificial bait and dropping it to the bottom and then retrieving the bait up about one or two feet. Then raising the rod up and down would catch fish. The fish that we caught other than the Salmon was caught by mooching or sometimes called jigging.

The Chinook salmon or sometimes called the King salmon is blue-green on the back and top of the head with silvery sides and white ventral surfaces. It has black spots on its tail and the upper half of its body; its mouth is dark gray. Adult fish range in size from 33 to 36 inches (840 to 910 mm), but may be up to 58 inches (1.47 meters) in length; they average 10 to 50 pounds (4.54 to 22.7 kg), but may reach 130 pounds (59 kg). The current sport caught World Record is 97 pounds 4 ounces (44.1 kg) and was caught in May 1985 by Les Anderson in the Kenai River (Kenai, Alaska). The commercial catch world record is 126 pounds (57 kg) caught near Petersburg, Alaska in a fish trap in 1949.

We caught 9 keeper salmon of which 1 was a Coho Salmon that Stan caught.
Danny and a nice Salmon
Mark and one of his Salmon that he caught
Stan caught a nice Salmon

Larry and his salmon above

Henry and the huge salmon he caught below

My Salmon caught on Wednesday

Other editable fish we caught:
The one fish we all wanted to catch but didn't. I caught one small Halibut and Mark caught one, it got off the hook but at least he got to see it. Henry hooked a huge fish, it wouldn't budge off the bottom. The way it hit and shook it's head was certainly a huge Halibut. Jim indicated he bet it was 80 lbs or greater, unfortunately the gear and the way we were fishing didn't allow us to catch the Halibut we all desired.

Lingcod (Ophiodon elong-atus):
Hexagrammids, a family of fish unique to the west coast of North America. Unlike their name implies, they are not true cods, but are greenlings. They can be found from the Alaska Peninsula/Aleutian Islands south to Baja California. They are common throughout Southeast Alaska, the outer Kenai Peninsula, Kodiak, and Prince William Sound. While found to depths of 1,000 feet (300 m), lingcod more typically inhabit nearshore rocky reefs from 30 to 330 feet (10–100 m). Lingcod are voracious predators and can grow to weigh over 80 pounds (35 kg) and measure 60 inches (150 cm) in length. They are characterized by a large mouth with 18 sharp teeth. Their color is variable, usually with dark brown or copper blotches arranged in clusters.

We caught a number of lingcod, however due to the limits imposed we had to release a number of them, including the one in the picture below. The current limit is between 30 and 35 inches long and over 55 inches can be kept. This one was over 35 inches but not over the 55 inch limit We ate fresh lingcod on the float house, it was excellent.

Lingcod, caught and released as it didn't meet the 30 to 35 inch and 55 inch and over limit.

Yellow Eyed Rockfish or Red Snapper:

In keeping with their name, these fish sport bright yellow eyes. They are commonly known as Red Snapper. These fish may be found in shallow water in early spring, sometimes feeding on lingcod spawn, Their eyes are highlighted with a spine above each eye socket and rough ridges behind each eye. Their coloring is yellow-orange washed with pink tones. Fins are pink with black on the lips and include a large spiny dorsal fin with irregular notches. Average length is 50 cm, life span is up to 115 years.

Yellow Eyed Snapper, we caught many of these. The limit on these is two per fisherman. After our second day of fishing we had our limit a total of 12 nice fish. We continued to catch the Snapper but had to release them .

Quillback Rockfish:
These fish are often found near rock reefs, in inlets and in shallow rock piles. A quillback is easily identified by its high dorsal fin with deep notches between the spines, large mouth and compressed body. Colouring is brown and yellow with orange-brown speckling on the lower back. The fins are dark, except for a yellow streak through the spiny dorsal fin. Average length is 35 cm, life span is up to 76 years.

Watch out for those spiny fins. One of the fish flopped on the deck of the boat, the spiny dorsal fin went through my fishing boot and into the top of my foot.

We caught a number of Quillback Rockfish, this was one of my favorite fish to eat while on the float house. This picture was taken from the internet as I did not get a picture on the trip.

Copper Rockfish:
These fish are striking in their variable colors, which may include dark or olive brown tones washed with copper-pink and occasionally spashed with yellow. Two yellow bands radiate backwards from the eyes, and the fins are copper-black. Length is up to 55 cm, life span can be 45 years.

We caught some Copper Rockfish but we didn't keep any, they were all released. Internet picture also.
Black Sea Bass (Stereolepis gigas):
Fish native to the northern Pacific Ocean With its conspicuous size and a curious nature, it is surprising that relatively little is known about its biology or behavior. There are published reports of giant sea bass reaching a size of 2.5 m (8.2 feet) and a weight of up to 255 kg (562 lbs). However in Charles F. Holder's book The Channels Islands published in 1910, the author claims specimens taken from the Gulf of California attained 800 pounds (360 kg). In the eastern Pacific its range is from Humboldt Bay, California to the Gulf of California, Mexico, most common from Point Conception southward. In the western Pacific it is found in the sea around Japan. It usually stays in relatively shallow water, near kelp forests, drop offs or rocky bottoms.

We caught more of the Black Sea Bass than any other fish. We ate some for dinner one night and it too was excellent.

This is one fish that we caught and threw back every time. I think Jim said it was called a pistachio or picassio fish or something like that. We did catch a lot of them. I will try and get the real name and add it to this picture when I do.

The trip turned out to be more than I could have expected. It was two years in the making. Henry had met Jim, our host and guide a couple of years ago on a bear hunting trip. Henry set up the trip and we were originally scheduled to go last year in June but Danny and his wife Marci had twins the first week in June and we postponed the trip until this June (obviously a glorious occassion and great reason to reschedule).

We brought home about 27 lbs of fish each and more memories than can be weighed. I had a great time, thanks Henry, Mark, Larry, Stan and Danny for being such good friends and making the week so much fun. Thanks especially to Henry for setting up the trip and to Jim for being our guide and host.

Next fishing trip, who knows, maybe Blue Marlin somewhere in the world?


Workman's Blog said...

Uncle Rob,

What an amazing adventure and beautiful pictures. The views look breath taking! Love the eagles pic! Thanks for sharing!

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