Kodiak yields abundant sea bass and crabBoat captain T. J. Koenig takes the 28-footer into Spiridon Bay on Kodiak Island, Alaska. The day is grey and misty, typical of this part of the world. “We’ll catch some black sea bass for shore lunch,” he says.
By: Bernie Kuntz, The Jamestown Sun
(Last of two parts)
Boat captain T. J. Koenig takes the 28-footer into Spiridon Bay on Kodiak Island, Alaska. The day is grey and misty, typical of this part of the world. “We’ll catch some black sea bass for shore lunch,” he says.
Two hours later and approaching our fourth anchoring, I am wondering if someone shouldn’t have packed sandwiches. We haven’t caught a single bass while jigging 3-1/8 oz. lead jigging spoons with single salmon hooks.
Suddenly, the fishing is chaotic — three of the four anglers on the boat have a fish on, T.J. and Larry scramble in landing our fish, bleeding them and tossing them into the fish hold on ice. Incredibly, in 20 minutes we take a limit of 20 bass between three and eight pounds. They are strong, healthy fish, shiny black over their dorsals, fading to a charcoal grey on the sides.
At noon T.J. eases the boat onto a pebble beach in a quiet cove, builds a small charcoal fire, and adds driftwood to it. In foil he places bass fillets, butter and onion. Off to the side is freshly-baked bread heating in foil. In 20 minutes the fish is done, and it is indeed exquisite — large, firm white flakes sprinkled with Montreal steak seasoning. We eat every scrap. Nearby, sea otters lounge about in the salt water, the females floating on their backs while their pups rest on their bellies.
T.J. climbs to a rock shelf where he earlier discovered two native Aleut skulls sitting beneath a rock shelf. The Alutiiq people, as they are properly called, lived in this region for thousands of years in relative peace until the coming of the Russians in 1784. According to the Kodiak Visitors’ Guide, the Alutiiq people numbered about 9,000 prior to the arrival of the Russians, who enforced compulsory labor and pressed the Alutiiqs into hunting sea otters for Russian profit. Armed conflicts and diseases markedly reduced the native population. Today there are about 1,700 Alutiiq people living on Kodiak Island.
The Russian influence waned with Baranof’s death in 1797, profits declined and Russia sold Alaska to the United States in 1867 for $7.2 million … about two cents an acre!
I think about this as we check another crab pot in Larsen Bay, this one brimming with crabs — the largest tanner crabs I’ve seen anywhere. Chef Laramie lays out all-you-can-eat crab that evening, and I manage to eat three.
The water is calm on our last day, so T.J. motors more than 20 miles out into Shelikof Strait, to Ugat Point and Kuliuk Point. Immediately, we are into fish — a dozen sea bass in the boat, and each of us catches a huge lingcod. My fish certainly is more than 20 pounds but we have no scale to weigh it. White-sided porpoises slash the water around the boat as we fish. It is fun to watch them. Since the daily limit on cod is one, we move on, catch a few more halibut.
We spend the final few hours trolling for salmon while bald eagles soar overhead. I catch a couple more sea bass but the kings are not to be had.
The water gets rougher in late afternoon, and finally it is time to motor to the marina and the lodge. T.J. gets the boat underway with the 300-horse outboard, only to suddenly slow down for a number of humpback whales that have surfaced ahead, including a cow and calf. Tails wave to us as they dive, and then we enjoy a spectacular display of whales shooting up out of the water, and coming down with thunderous splashes. And so the trip ends.
Ten days later I receive a news clipping in the mail, sent to me by Kodiak Lodge. The article from Anchorage details the “bycatch” of commercial paddock and cod fishermen — a harvest that has increased from about 38,000 king salmon a year from 1990 through 2001, to more than 82,000 kings from 2002 to 2007, to a last recorded peak of 122,000 commercially-caught king salmon! Obviously, therein lies the problem of statewide low abundance and low returns of king salmon in Alaska. Let’s hope the Alaska Department of Fish & Game does something about it!
Bernie Kuntz, a Jamestown native, has been an Outdoors columnist for the Sun since 1974