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Thread: From a fish camp in Alaska: The AK Chronicles

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  1. #1
    Gogga Banned User

    Default From a fish camp in Alaska: The AK Chronicles

    I have a mate thats been away for a while, guiding up in Alaska. I have a number of jurnal entries that he has been sending, I will post a few and if anyone is interested I will continue - so here goes. (If you guys don't find them entertaining just shout and I will drop the subject).

    5/22/07
    After thirteen hours of travelling the dog and I landed in the booming metropolis that is King Salmon. The town consists of two bars, a Wells fargo, two hotels, oh wait, no the Quinnat burned down last year...make that one hotel, a small grocery, a marine supply store, a boat yeard, a few airfrieght services and of course all the bush pilots you can cram onto said buildings. There are fourteen miles of roadway...you can drive from here to Naknek, about the same thing, only they have a few fish cannerys and more year round inhabitants.

    Upon deplaning, I see no one to meet me...this is not surprising. I walk outside looking for a vehicle that belongs to camp. Nothing. I walk around town (not really much of a hike) and still cannot find a vehicle. I walk back to the airport to retrieve my belongings and animal and I'm about five minutes from pissed when my ride shows. This is also typical.

    One might think that after thirteen hours of travel, my boss would escort me to the house we keep in town and let me rest, or possibly eat, but that's not how we roll. Within half an hour of arrival I am hanging off the back of a tractor scavenging a 500 gallon fuel tank our of a ditch. From what I can gather, the owner of said fuel tank was short on funds and ran into our lodge owner in the bar. A hundred bucks changed hand and now we have a new fuel tank. Charlie went back to the bar a few hours later to find the guy drunker and once again broke, and got another fuel tank (this one half full of diesel) for another hundred bucks. I opted not to go to the bar to watch let's make a deal, but try and sleep instead

    Back at the house I find myself stuck alone with the new guide. Seems like a nice enough kid, who's got no idea what he's just thrown himself into. The whole experience of the first day has him wired into a fit of nonstop chatter. After an hour of him talking non-stop I excuse myself to get some needed sleep

    5/23/07

    We missed the morning tide. That gave me a chance to run back to town and pick up some essentials, namely beer whiskey and porn, all of which are absolute necessities when spending four months in a remote camp full of men. The proprietors of any and all establishments know this and the prices reflect my desperation. Twenty bucks for a twelver of Oly cans, thrity five for a bottle of wild turkey and twenty five for a Chic. Several hundred dollars later, I am ready to depart.

    We take the evening tide out which means we didn't leave the dock until eight, didn't reach camp until eleven. Passing through the desolate mud hole of Bristol bay is not the senic trip one would imagine. Skeletons of abandoned cannerys scatter the shores. Rotting corpses of edifices that look like perfect backdrops for any horror movie. The lower river isn't much better. Spring has not yet infused the tundra with sufficient moisture, so the ground remains frozen and the foliage brown.

    Moving into the upper river the water clears and the landscape changes. We move from a muddy slough into the beautiful freestone river I will call home until September. Along the way we see cow moose so pregnant they can barely scamper away from the roar of our chey 350 inboard jet, a lone grizzly, young and emaciated, river otters, beaver, eagles, the pine trees begin to dot the banks. The water is low yet, they couldn't even get john boats up to camp until a week ago, but it's coming up quicly and we only graze a couple of gravel bars on our 53 mile trek up the rive system.

    5/24/07

    A cluster****.

    We were up at five, trying to catch the morning tide to get more supplies from town. The boat I was driving broke down at the mouth of the river and the tide waits for no man so I was left. Such is the way that it goes. For six hours I sat in the boat, alternately trying to fix the engine and sleeping under a tarp. At two I decided the winds were too bad to cross the bay and they had left me. I had the boat running (kind of) and so I started upriver toward camp. I didn't have enough gas to make it. I tried, but failed. I was preparing to spend a long night under my tarp in the rain, anchored in a slough, but my fearless compatriots came through for me. They braved a low tide and forty mile per hour winds accross the bay and saved my ass. We put gas in, and started back up, but I broke down again, and we had to ditch the boat, we'll tow it to town at a later date and see if we can fix it. After sixteen hours of dicking around in the boat I made it back to camp, stuffed my face and passed out.

    5/26/07

    Building in the rain and driving back and forth to town is about all we do here until the clients arrive the seventh of June. The past two days have been simpy the former. I have no changes of clothes, no fishing gear, no pillow, no sheets. Things were so ****ed up on our last trip to town (and I was stuck in the river so I couldn't do anything about it) that they didn't bother to unload any of my gear into the boat. I have nothing, and will not recieve anything for at least four more days. I packed only an overnight bag when I first came to camp thinking that I would return the next morning. Luckily I have my xtratufs, work gloves and a rain jacket. I also have no camera, hence the lack of photos. I don't have my own sleeping quarters yet because we're not done building it (I'm sharing with the new guide at least until tomorrow). I have not wet a line (actually I haven't done anything but work and it hasn't stopped raining. One might question why any sane person would do this job, much less return for more knowing what it is like. All I can say is that it is the wildest place imaginable, and every hammerfall gets me one step closer to the season.

  2. #2
    Gogga Banned User

    Default Continued.............................

    5/27/07
    I'm a fishing guide, not a carpenter.

    This fact was excruciatingly obvious today.
    We spent the morning assembling and erecting our communal eating/ relaxing quarters. A Yurt to be exact, or in this case, a large round tent with a clear plexiglass nipple on top. An engineering degree would be recommending for the construction of this edifice and since all we have are fishing guides...well you get the picture. The wind was blowing a steady twenty miles per hour which didn't help us while trying to erect our frame. This process required a stepladder set atop a picknick table with Paul sliding fifteen foot 2X4s into small slots above his head. The other ends of these 2X4s got screwed into different ten foot 2X4s that were standing strait up on brackets. The theory here is that once you get enough wood applying opposite pressure, it creates structural stability. Until that stability is created you simply have lots of heavy beams placed precariously at high alititudes. I was the lucky one and took a falling beam in the shoulder. It really could have been worse, it could have been five inches to the left and bludgeoned my noggin. The wind also made stretching the rubberized canvas a very special experience.

    I spent the afternoon building a table. One might question why it takes a person an entire afternoon to build one small table. Firstly, as I said I am fishing guide not a carpenter, second, you must consider the source materials. In this case wood that has been left to sit on the ground uncovered for an entire winter through sixty below temperatures and then thaw into the mud. In case you're wondering this causes plywood to curve like a question mark. Thirdly I was building this table into a round wall with nothing but a skillsaw to make my cuts. Given the circumstances I think I did allright.




    the front door of the yurt.



    the table I spent all afternoon building

    5/28/07
    A break in the weather...and my luck.

    Woke today to a strange sound. Actually it was the absence of a particular sound that has been constant recently. There was no pattering on the roof this morning, just scattered clouds and a bright object that looked suspiciously like the sun.

    After breakfast we began working on the new guide housing. This year we have been moved up the hill, a solid three hundred yards from where the clients sleep. This may have had something to do with our consistent evening urinations out the doors of our weatherports, or perhaps our drunken bets on who could do the best Survivor impression at three am(Eye of the Tiger for those who don't follow classic 80's).

    Around ten we get a call that the boss is on his way from town with the new boat. The water has come up and the thinks he can make it through the braids, but just to be sure he sends a team of us down river to dig out the shallowest channels with shovels and rakes. If you've never stood there scratching at the river bottom with a garden rake trying to divert the flow, you've never experienced true futility. The new boat for which we are preparing is a monstrosity. A twenty eight foot dual 350 inboard jet with a dropgate on the front. That's right baby, we got a landing craft. Just in case we want to storm some beaches, or, in actuality, carry seven thousand pounds up braids less than eight inches deep. At three thirty we can hear the roar of the monster raging upriver. Chris barrels into the boat slough and drops the gate carrying all the supplies I have been missing, plus all the beer I left in town. He's like an short, balding, overweight fairy***mother in neoprene waders drivng a V hull aluminum chariot from hell.

    In the evening, I skip out on dishes and sneak away to fish for an hour. The weather is perfect, cool with scattered clouds and hardly a breath of wind. I hook four fish and land one in an hour, including one absolute hog (twenty seven plus) that I jump and lose. Trying to ignore the incessent babbling of my temporary roommate (*** I can't wait for those weatherports to be finished) I reflect on a day that is appreciated for being truly maginificent, we got the boat to camp, we got our houses halfway built and I even got to fish. It doesn't get much better.

  3. #3
    Gogga Banned User

    Default continued........................................



    Digging out the river bottom



    The landing craft...or as we are calling it, the Ark.



    This is the view through my house...which is not yet in existence
    Last edited by Gogga; 20-08-07 at 05:39 AM.

  4. #4
    Gogga Banned User

    Default continued....................................

    6/2/07

    Sent to town

    I've spent the past three days in town and I can say with great assurance that I wish to spend no more time there. I awoke on Thursday (I think it was Thursday, my concept of days has receded to a vague outline with little bearing on day to day reality) to the news that I would be accompanying our fearless leader to town. We sent several shipping container from Seattle in April with most of our supplies for the season, including: fifteen thousand pounds of lumber, a seven thousand dollar Costco run (you should have seen the looks we got as we corralled thirty five of the big flat orange carts stacked with various essentials), a Kubota tractor complete with backhoe, auger, box blade and brush box, four brand new carolina skiff sixteen foot jon boats, nine new weaterports and four thousand dollars worth of new power tools. As a result we have been making daily runs to town on the tide with The Ark. Someone has to be in town loading the materials from the container, into vehicles and having it all ready to go when the boat arrives. I did not realize I would be the one staying in town until after we had left the dock and, as a result, I was grossly unprepared. Foremost on my list of items lacking were shoes and pants. Oh I had waders and boots, but those aren't really what you want to work, drive and eat in for three days. There were some items I borrowed at the house, so it worked but these are the details one likes to know about before hand.

    Life in town breaks down like this. The phone begins to ring at four in the morning (this is because people on the east coast either don't realize where we are or don't understand time zones). At seven I begin answering the slew of calls from clients, prospective clients, my boss on his sat phone, his wife trying to figure out where he is, telemarketers and the occaisional wrong number for good measure. By nine I'm on my way to the shipping container to unload two van loads worth of equipment, having already picked up whatever other supplies they called me from camp requesting. At two(ish) the boat arrives and we scramble to get it loaded before the tide starts to recede, then I meet him at the gas docks to help him get fueled up for the return trip. Come five I'm exhausted and wind up going to the one bar in town and spending far more money than I earned in the course of the day and get home just about the time the phones start ringing again. Like I said; town sucks.

    6/4/07

    Home sweet weatherport.

    Back in camp, I am glad to spend ten to thirteen hours a day, carrying lumber, building walkways, fixing boats and painting cabins...okay that last one is a lie. I hate painting cabins, but I really don't mind the rest of it. I finish my days sore and ready for sleep and wake up tired, but not hungover and broke. Best of all my weatherport is completed. Yes my glorified tent on the hill is erected and I am currently laying on my bed...

    This message was just interrupted by the roar of the Ark. Just as I lay down to rest my bones the inevitable growl came rolling upriver with a load of gas and lumber. I can't wait to start guiding.

    Despite my complaints, I am hopeful about this early push that we are making. Last year we were behind schedule and were forced to spend whole days guiding immediately followed by whole nights building. At this rate, we will have most everything done by the second week of clients, whereas last year it went until mid-July. I do not wish to repeat that experience. We are even ahead of schedule on our gas supply. The new boat allows us to transport so much at a time, it's amazing. Our load capacity went from three hundred gallons to nine hundred gallons. Last June, when the fuel barge pulled into the lower river we made a mad dash to get all our gas upriver in one night because they were leaving in the morning. Every boat, down to the smallest little jon was called into service running fifty miles down to the barge. At two am I was driving a nintey horse outboard up through the braids in the dark, bouncing off rocks and hoping I didn't run up a gravel bar. I had a three hundred gallon poly tank but the weight capacity of the boat only allowed me to take one hundred. Three miles from camp I ran out of gas in the engine tank, and pulled over to a mid river island to refuel. At that point I discovered a minor hiccup, my siphon hose was not long enough to reach the fuel line in the large poly tank, so despite my hundred gallons of gas, I was dry where it counted. As I was in the process of unhooking the hose from the bilge pump to extent my siphon, a thought occurred to me. "Maybe I should keep an eye out for bears". Lifting my head and turning my attention to my surroundings, I realized that I could see the outline of a bear swimming accross the river in the twilight. He was coming directly at me. Immediately I began yelling at the bear and banging a wrench on the aluminum boat. He changed direction slightly but still swam to the island on which I was stranded. He never made any attempt to board my vessel but I could hear him rustling in the grass near me. I stood my ground and yelled and banged until the next boat came behind me, about a half hour later. I don't need a repeat of that SNAFU, I'm glad to make a few extra trips pre-season and save myself that particular stress.

  5. #5
    Gogga Banned User

    Default Continued.......................................

    6/5/07

    I spent the entire day building roads for the new tractor that was purchased and brought up here this year. Funny thing about tractors, they leave one hell of a destructive swath when they drive accross wet tundra. So this forty thousand dollar machine that was supposed to save our backs from manual labor is now causing us to lay out split logs under ground cloth and shovel tons (literally) of earth by hand over close to a mile of roadway...I'm too tired to write a whole entry so I'll just send out some photos and answer some questions.

    Firstly the camp is on private land and does not move from season to season. We are in a continual process of expansion, more guides, more clients, more boats, more permanent structures. Supposedly one day we will be finished with said project but we'll see. Our boss is NOT loaded but, from what I can tell, is incapable of leaving well enough alone so he re-invests all of his profits.

    As for the bar, it's a mix of Aleuts, guides, cannery workers, and the four women in town who they bring in from other states each year to work as bartenders. You can imagine how that goes.

  6. #6
    Gogga Banned User

    Default Continued.......................................

    6/8/07

    Opening Day

    Our first day of guiding clients on the river and, as might be expected, it began as an absolute cluster. Most of the luggage did not make the plane so people are scrambling to find waders, jackets, fleeces and equipment. Guides are bickering about who's going where, which boat is being taken by whom, basically just a month of pent up frustration being vented upon one another. Being the lowest ranking guide taking clients the first day, I wind up getting switched out of my boat at the last minute and scrambling to put together seats, flares, PFD's etc. I just want to get on the river.

    Deep breath. I pull up to the dock and load my sports, two jovial looking guys in thier early fifties with heavy Jersey accents. One guy tips the scales over 300 lbs, weight and balance takes a few minutes and I'm rethinking my plan to wade some favorite early season braids.

    The wind was blowing a consistent twenty to twenty five, but one guy could actually cast and the fish are just plain easy this time of year we we get into them early and consistently hook fish all day. The sun is shining, the river is clear and these two high school buddies are laughing like kids tossing private jokes to one another that are nearly as old as I am accross seams hiding trout bigger than my arm. They each hook at least a dozen nice fish throughout the day and land a soid half dozen in the two foot range. The big guy (who is struggling to get thrity feet in the gale) hooks a pig early on and fights it for a good fifteen minutes before losing his balance, tension on the fish and, consequently, the biggest trout of his life. I can honestly say this is the first time I've ever seen an italian Jersey tough guy of over three bills on the verge of tears.

    The little guy, his buddy, after landing an especially gorgeous leopard buck, tenderly released fish and turned to me with a grin the nearly split his face (and certainly split his hyper-masculine facade) and said: "It's almost like a religious experience".

    Amen.




  7. #7
    Gogga Banned User

    Default Continued..............................

    /12/07

    Hero Guiding

    The fishing has been nothing short of spectacular lately. I dream about opening week, a season full of promise, a fresh perspective not tainted by previous weeks, previous clients, the consistent early mornings, sockeye season. The first week is pure. The fish are active, relatively untouched, aggressive and huge. This is when we see our hogs. So far none of my guys have stuck the thirty incher. I've been waiting two seasons for it, but none yet. We usually get one or two a season, three if we're lucky, but we get lots of fish between twenty five and twenty eight.

    Finding fish during the first week is not especially challenging, if you can read water, you can get into fish. Work the seams, the edges of gravel bars, the backsides of islands, the obvious shit with big uglies and you'll do just fine. But, being the type of fisherman that I am, that's not enough for me, I have to figure some things out, decifer code. I want to find the fish sitting in the little unassuming buckets that other people don't see. I want to work the gravel depressions that were overlooked by the guy who worked that beat the day before. Does it really matter now, not so much, but it keeps me interested. I also like to work bird piles, just like offshore fishing, find the birds find the food. Schools of salmon smolt are making their way toward the ocean right now and the rainbows are following. I'm putting my guys on big gravel flats and casting clousers to pods of raibows crashing baitfish like stripers. You can head-hunt them, see a fish crash, cast to him...strip...strip...strip...there he is! And two feet of trout come cartwheeling accross the river. It's pretty fantastic. The mousing has not picked up yet, we caught a small one today on a mouse but the water temp is below fifty, so they're not quite willing to chase yet, give it a week.


    6/14/07

    The Day of Days

    There are two (silly, I admit) number goals that I set for myself each season. I'm not a numbers guy but I do like having quantifiable accomplishments that I can get excited about. I want to have a client catch a trout over thirty inches and I want to have a double that measures at least four feet combined. Much of this is luck and if I do not reach these aribtrary benchmarks I do not lose any sleep. But if nothing else, it gives me something extra to hoot and holler about on the river and getting demonstratively excited is one of the things that keeps me vibrant and upbeat throughout the long season. Today both of those goals were attained in the span of an hour.

    It was one of those days where most everything seems to fall into place. I was paired with a couple of guys who can really lay it down and happen to be a pleasure to spent nine hours with as well. We drew the furthest beat from camp, a difficult stretch of river during high water with treacherous wading and limited structure. If you go there with inexperienced clients, you are in for a long day, but it does hold some serious pigs. If you can get a cast to him, the fish of a lifetime lives there. Today we found him.

    The ride up, an hour in a jon boat that can be cold and miserable, was actually somewhat pleasant, we saw bear and moose. A little wildlife viewing breaks up an early morning haul quite well. The day started slow but neither of the guys were too perturbed, they were awestruck by the scenery of this wild stretch of water and content to spend a day on the river with one another.

    Around noon, we started to hook into fish, a few of them were nice, in the two foot range, but nothing spectacular for this area. I had them fishing about fifty yards apart, working depressions in a big gravel bar with rapid current. One guy was set up above a deep bucket that I knew was holding fish, but he wasn't having any action. I put on a heavier streamer and stood on his him coaching him into the right swing.
    "cast about fifteen feet to your right and let the fly swing back...there he is!"

    He set the hook and the fish didn't move, after fifteen seconds I knew it was a good fish and went to retrieve the net. When I got back, several minutes later, he still hadn't seen the fish. When he finally brought it to the net (no easy feat in that current) it measured thirty one inches in length with a nineteen inch girth. It was about a fifteen pound rainbow, a river dwelling buck still wearing his plumage from spawning, not a chromed out lake fish. I was downright giddy, and it couldn't have been landed by a better man.

    The angler who caught him leaves tommorrow, two days before the rest of his crew. He's leaving early to pick up his wife from a cancer treatment center. His friends kidnapped him for a week while his wife was away at treatment so he didn't spend the whole time staring at the walls and tearing himself up. He told me all this, very matter of factly, after we shared the experience of his fish of a lifetime. He told me about the house they had just bought together, how she had picked all the furniture and how he would change it if she died. He didn't look at me as he spoke, he watched the water, cast his line, I held the boat in the current, working it accross the raging current pouring over the gravel bar. It was more like he was talking to the river than to me.

    The mood was not soured by our conversation, we all remained in high spirits. An hour after he caught his toad, they doubled up on twenty five inchers. Around three oclock, the guy who leaves tomorrow said the only thing he hadn't done yet was catch a fish on a mouse. We drove back downriver for a half hour to my go-to mousing hole and he landed three in forty minutes. At that point he cut off the mouse, handed it back to me and said he was ready for a cocktail and a cigar.

    Some days you feel like things work out the way they should, like there's a strange serendipity, or at least balance in the way things go.






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