As with all good things, they must come to an end…or at least be put on pause, until the next opportunity to engage in said good thing. On our last day of fishing we awoke to heavy rainfall. At least the boat would be naturally cleansed of slime and fish blood splatter from konking the fish on the head, once FINALLY in the boat. We took a leisurely approach to the morning. Seeing that we had planned appropriately for such an occurrence, our rain gear was strategically stowed on the boat at the dock. We considered sitting it out, as we had already acquired nearly 200lbs of delectable fish, but then what kind of fishermen would we be if we let a little weather dissuade us from our “man” vs. wild quest for dominance over a pea brained (yet crafty) cold blooded vertebrate.
Once down at the boat, the rain has lifted to a tender misting and we shove off into remarkably placid seas. The bite is mediocre, but it does not disappoint as we still manage to land 3 good sized Silvers and 2 equally nice Rockfish.
A pod of Orca traverse the waterway and porpoise on the surface near our boat. Another sight and experience worth its weight in gold. Suddenly, the seas turn rough, and short intervaled and choppy waves toss our toy sized boat. Yup, time to call it. Without a doubt this has been a memorable adventure, with the chance to share it with my son, priceless. We are thankful for this opportunity and are extremely appreciative of the kindness and welcome we have felt in Angoon. The amenities and the hospitality of John and Kathy, soldiers in the Salvation Army, who operate the Eagle’s Wings Inn Bed and Breakfast(formally the Favorite Bay Inn), was superb. The cookie jar was always full, fresh blueberry muffins and homemade donuts would magically appear, and there was an endless bowl of freshly picked blueberries to gorge upon our entire stay.
Our dinners were spent at the Whaler’s Cove Lodge, whose ambiance and 5 star cuisine is worthy of its own show (I’m told they are currently filming for a show called, ‘The Lodge’ for the World Fishing Network. Whaler’s Cove Lodge is also featured on Alaska’s Fishing Paradise series on the Sportsman Channel.) Anyhoo, each evening they would send a skiff over from the island, to the ferry dock, pick us and our days catch up and then motor us back (at our leisure) after having gorged ourselves at that evenings specially prepared dinner.
Each night there would be a new spread of appetizers (bacon wrapped dates, salmon cakes, spinach dip, chilli, clam chowder, fresh hummus, stuffed mushrooms…the list goes on and was different each night), fresh tossed salad bar and a main course that would always include a meat (lamb, beef brisket, prime rib, steak) and/or seafood (variously fashioned halibut, crab or salmon) entree complimented with side vegetable, and rice or potato; only to be followed by a decadent desert. I am looking forward to beginning our 500 mile walk in two weeks, if only to walk off this weeks’ indulgent caloric intake. I fear if we were actual guests at the lodge, I would eventually pop like a rock fish (having been quickly horsed to the surface), as I imagine that breakfast and lunch are no less divine. Whaler’s Cove is located on Killisnoo Island, on the site of a once a thriving herring canning operation that employed nearly 1500 people. In fact, Angoon – a Tlingit (pronounced “clink-it”) Indian village, in the early 1900’s was once home to nearly 2500 people during the heyday of the canning and whaling era. They say at one time, the herring were so thick you could literally rake them up from shore after a tidal change. But as the world’s population has grown from 1 billion in the 1800’s to currently upwards of 7.3 billion it is only natural that our draw on our fisheries would be eventually and permanently impacted.
Our initial travel home took a surreptitious route back to Juneau. From Angoon we traveled the narrows to Sitka, where we picked up the Sitka travelers, and then traversed back through the picturesque narrows and up the Chatham Strait to Juneau. An 8 hour journey in total, morphed into 10 (they lost an engine).
Shortly after we boarded in Angoon, the morning’s dense fog lifted and we were once again graced with blue skies and glassy water. True to my theory of Humpy behavior, the glassy water invites them to frolic once again, and they do so with reckless abandon as our ferry wound its way carefully through the narrows dotted with trawlers casting their nets for fish to market to the masses, namely those residing in the lower 48 who most likely will never witness nor appreciate the effort it takes to provide them with riches from the sea. Occasionally I spot a cinnamon colored deer grazing on limited space near the water’s edge of the steep tree choked land masses. From a distance you see where areas had once been logged of their old growth spruce, pine and cedar, and have now been filled in with newer growth racing to catch up with the old. The growth covers the steep sharp hills like a rich green fur standing at attention like freshly raked shag carpet from days gone by. Once at Juneau, we take the courtesy shuttle to our hotel, store our 4 boxes of fish and sneak a peak at the Mendenhall Glacier as the sun is setting before we retire for the evening.
The following morning we load our 200 lbs of fish (100 – Salmon @ $18.95/lb, 100-Halibit @ $25.99/lb) which on the open market is near $4500, so paying the extra baggage fee is not that bad. Again, seeing we have cashed in our accumulated miles, we are treated to another long and arguous day of travel. First stop is an over 2 hour layover in Sitka. We land in Sitka, and head out to grab a cab. The plan is to ask a local, “If you had 2 hours to kill in Sitka, what would you make sure you do?” Not surprising, the downtown bars are recommended. We try and share a cab with two ladies that are trying to kill time as well, but the cab driver is less than pleasant at that prospect, telling us with somewhat of a snarl, “It will still be seperate fares”. Well nevermind then, bad vibe dude. We call for another cab from the ones listed on the wall outside the airport doors. I would however like to thank “bad vibe dude” as the next cab that arrives having dropped off its fare at the airport, was awesome. When we asked the cabbie, Christina, (of Cummins Taxi) what she would see/do in Sitka if she had 2 hours, she gave us wonderful options and none of them involved a bar. She recommended the “Fortress of the Bear”, a non-profit bear rescue and rehab center (Fortressofthebear.org). As she drove us through town to the outskirts of where this refuge was located, she narrated our travel and upon request, recited her story of how she ended up in Sitka Alaska from the lower 48. It was a great story that involved wanderlust adventure, a backpack and trust in humanity as she hitchhiked her way from Colorado after college. She landed in Sitka, worked on a fishing boat. Bought a fishing boat, and now drives a cab for extra income. She had great insight and knowledge of the area. It was like having our own personal guided tour.
The Fortress of the Bear was interesting in that they have repurposed two wood pulp storage silos from the now closed pulp factory.
The refuge currently houses 5 young Grizzly bears and 3 young black bears. The grizzlies, although around 3 years old are massive and quite entertaining. The operators of the facility try to encourage foraging behaviors and have stocked the ponds with live salmon. The bears are fed at random times, thus unlike a zoo setting are quite active as they are on the hunt for a snack. Luckily we are safely poised high above them from an observation deck of sorts.
They appeared to be just as aware and amused by us as we were of them.
From the Fortress we went to the Totem Park (a National Park)where we were dropped off to walk a trail that led to a bridge that stretched across a fairly narrow river filled with Pink salmon (Humpy), shoulder to shoulder (if you will) waiting for the “green light” to spawn. The trail finished at the visitor’s center with a nicely done installation of native Alaskan history and artifacts to include painstakingly restored Totem poles. From there Christina picked us up in-between another of her fares and dropped us off at the airport. We thanked her for her tour and made our way to the TSA screening for our flight to rainy Seattle (surprise) and then onto Orange County. Once off the plane at the John Wayne airport, reality hit like a suffocating moist blanket. Ah, yes…it’s still summer, and in SoCal it is triple digits. Load the fish, head for home. In a little over two weeks we head out for our next adventure, The Camino de Santiago. Better get to walking.