Adventure in Alaska underwayAfter a long day of negotiating airports and airplanes from Bozeman to Seattle to Anchorage to Kodiak, Laurie and I finally clamber aboard a Dehaviland Beaver floatplane docked in the harbor at Kodiak, Alaska.
By: Bernie Kuntz, The Jamestown Sun
(First of two parts)
After a long day of negotiating airports and airplanes from Bozeman to Seattle to Anchorage to Kodiak, Laurie and I finally clamber aboard a Dehaviland Beaver floatplane docked in the harbor at Kodiak, Alaska. The pilot fires up the engine, which runs roughly, drives the plane around in the water for a while to warm things up, then points the Beaver into the wind, engines roaring … we lift off and turn northwesterly for Larsen Bay.
I watch the land passing below — bright green stands of alders, willows, sparse conifers and tall grasses. We continue to gain altitude and soon are flying over tundra and patches of last year’s snow. Far ahead on this 2,500 square mile island are more snow-covered peaks.
The pilot comes on the radio: “Kodiak Island had a very long, cold winter last year with lots of snow. Locals who have been around a long time say it was the hardest winter since the 1950s.”
Fifteen minutes into the flight, the pilot banks the plane and announces that he sees two brown bears in a long finger of snowbank below. The bears are big, dark in color and are rolling in the snow. I remember stories about the great brown bear guides, Pinnell and Tollefson, who hunted decades ago out of Karluk Lake and Olga Bay — just over the ridge from where we will be staying at Kodiak Lodge.
“Mountain goats,” the pilot says 10 minutes later. “I don’t know how they negotiate such places.” There are a dozen or more mountain goats on a very steep, green slope. Steep indeed, I think, but I have seen goats in worse places.
When Larsen Bay (population 87) comes into view, the pilot wheels the plane around and lands into the wind. He motors the plane slowly into a marina where we are greeted by some of the Kodiak Lodge staff. We climb up the ramp to a waiting van and to the lodge a short distance away, and Larry Baker, the manager, shows us to our comfortable quarters.
Dinner that night is crab-stuffed chicken breast, rice and salad. Red or white wine — take your pick. It is the first of many wonderful meals turned out by Laramie, the 24-year-old cook, and Allison, her assistant, who both come from Washington State.
The next day we board a 28-foot Fish Rite aluminum boat powered by a 300-horse Yamaha and 9.9 Yamaha kicker. Our guide and boat captain is T.J. Koenig, a 28-year-old Kentucky native who has been with the lodge for six years. Also on board are clients Steve and Ward Helm, brothers from Washington State, both experienced boaters and saltwater fishermen. They turn out to be very good partners.
T.J. hands out two spinning rods, rigged with five tiny jigs tied in tandem, and a bell sinker at the bottom. He maneuvers the boat near a large flock of gulls, tells us to drop our lines to the bottom, and jig them upward. Immediately we have several herring hooked and flopping in the boat. They are 10- to 12-inches in length — the largest herring I have ever seen. They gather at this spot to feed on the effluent coming from a fish cannery. In 10 minutes often catching two, three or four herring on one line, we have a half bucket of herring for bait.
T. J. cruises out of Larsen Bay and into Uyak Bay, eventually taking us to Shelikof Strait. Fifty miles to the north we can see the peaks of the Katmai Coast. It looks like the middle of winter up there. Beyond those mountains lies Bristol Bay.
The water is rough, and the fishing slow. We catch a couple small halibut and retreat to the calmer waters of Uyak Bay. We troll cut plugs of herring for king salmon, but have no luck.
Halibut for dinner that night, and the next day is glorious — not a cloud in the sky! T.J. drops anchor and we fish for halibut with heavy gear. I enjoy the “tap, tap, tap” of the halibut nibble prior to the rod tip plunging toward the water and a halibut on. It takes me a bit to adjust to the circle hooks … all one does is tighten the line and begin reeling. Setting the hook too early pulls the hook out of the halibut’s mouth. (My previous experience with halibut was while using the long-shanked O’Shaunessy hook where you set the hook quickly and firmly.)
We see finback whales, humpback whales, sea otters, sea lions, bald eagles and three kinds of gull, while catching seven halibut, none of them particularly large. Later in the afternoon, T.J. motors up to the end of Larsen Bay where we pull a crab pot. “I’ve got three tanner crabs in a live well right now,” he says. “We’ll have an ‘all-you-can eat’ crab feast in a couple days.”
Two big tanners are in the trap along with five king crabs, which we have to release. (Only Alaska residents who are subsistence hunters and fishermen can keep three king crabs per year.)
Blackened halibut and rice for dinner, and the sun is still shining over Kodiak Island when we got to bed.
More Alaska adventures next week!
Bernie Kuntz, a Jamestown native, has been an Outdoors columnist for the Sun since 1974