In Autumn of 2008 Kodiak
As I was very busy in the summer for two straight years in row, therefore I was unable to go fishing in Alaska in June and July. This year, I considered the best time to fish and returned to Alaska in September, as if it is the best season for Silversalmon, and Kodiak is the best place to catch Silversalmon.
Kodiak is a remote island, so my flight schedule is always dependent on the weather. However, remembering how the Silversalmon fight, I couldn't help but return to Kodiak despite the difficulties that can be encountered getting there.
On Aug. 30
NW 8 took off at Narita Airport on time. I transferred from Northwest Airlines to Alaska Airlines in Seattle with no problem and arrived at Anchorage. This time, I stayed in Anchorage because I had arranged a one day trip to Barrow the next day. I picked up my boarding pass at Alaska Airlines, and confirmed my flight for the following day with Era Aviation. After picking up the Avis rental car, I headed to the hotel.
I checked in at the hotel and went to the Ship Creek. The river is quite close to the Anchorage downtown area and there is always a healthy number of Kingsalmon and Silversalmon each season. Residents can easily catch them, even at lunch time.
The creek, especially the openning area which is within about one mile of the river mouth, is influenced by the sea tide. I stopped and looked down the creek. I could see the river bottom because it was low tide. There was no fish in the creek at that time. Only baby Salmons were in the pool. I guessed they would stay here for one or two years and then go to the sea.
On Aug. 31
I woke up at 4:30 am and went to the airport. The plane took off at 6:00 am and was almost full of passengers, all heading to Arctic. Once in the air I could see the Talkeetna River and see Mt.Denali in the distance. Generally speaking, the rate of cloudy days of Denali is over 80 %, so on my previous trips I have been unable to see the whole mountain. Today I was lucky and I could see the whole mountain, including many glaciers.
On the way to Barrow, the plane stopped at Fairbanks Airport. Half the passengers got off here, and new passengers boarded the plane. Everyone put on thick and bulky clothes, so I guessed winter must be extremely cold in winter. The plane took off shortly after we arrived and then I could see the Yukon River. It meanders through the countryside and travels to the west. I remembered I had heard of a couple of Japanese who had previously canoed down the river.
Passing over the Yukon River, I crossed the 70 north latitude and entered the Arctic Circle. The Brooks Mountains expand from east to west, and act as a huge barrier preventing from freezing wind blowing from the North Pole.
On the journey the plane also stopped at Prudhoe Bay Airport. Prudhoe Bay has a lot of military facilities and is the starting point of the Alaska Pipe-Line crossing Alaska state and is the end of the road from Anchorage. At this point several passengers got off and another couple joined us.
We continued on and the plane touched down on Barrow Airport at 9:40 am in thick cloud. There were a lot of people arrived at the tiny airport and picked up someone from the plane. There is no town in the north from Barrow. The North Pole is so close.
I was expecting that someone would be waiting for me holding the signboard at the airport, but no one had a sign for me. After a while, a large guy holding a worn-out paper indicated "TUNDRA TOURS" came into the waiting room. As this was the tour company I had booked, I followed him and got onto an old bus. I wondered if he was the driver and the tour guide. On the bus there was a Japanese couple who came from Kanuma of Tochigi in Japan.
Barrow is the northernmost town of America. Although it was the end of August, its weather was like winter in Japan. The temperature was 7 or 8 degrees Celsius, and the chilly wind was blowing all around me. At this point I took out my winter jacket and wet weather pants and put them on.
The first attraction was a destination plates tower. The plates indicate the distances to many cities around the world.
After taking pictures around the area, I visited the beach. I was opposite to the Arctic Sea at last. There was a long sandy beach, and the cold waves were coming in from the North Pole and were washing onto the shore. I soaked my hand in the sea and it was very cold. I wiped my hand on my handkerchief and put my gloves on quickly.
I saw a cemetery from the bus window and the driver said it was built 50 years ago. I also saw an antenas site on the way. I guessed those facilities provide televion and cell phone signals to every house.
Almost all of the tour participants had lunch at the tidy restaurant but Mr.Shiraishi and I went to the OSAKA, a sushi restaurant. We were very intersted in its snobbish name. We were only people in the restaurant and we ordered a plate of sushi for $30 and a plate of sushi roll which was $19. Barrow is a sea-side town and a very few commercial fishing companies operate here. This means the ingredients for sushi are sent from Anchorage and other cities. Surprisingly the sushi was delicious despite there being no traditional Osaka style sushi on the menu and shop is managed by Korean.
As we had a spare time before the beginning of the tour, we walked around the streets in town. Barrow is a population of 4300 and the main industry is related to natural gas. Although Barrow is a small town, it has a primary school and a middle school, and even a high school. We could see a lot of decayed sleds along the streets as now snowmobiles are the main transporting method for the people in winter.
We visited the folk museum afternoon. On displays were a lot of pictures and tools that the Inupiat Eskimo used and there were some older people selling hand made souveniors.
A folk dance began at 2 pm and locals, including young Inupiat people, danced with songs and drums. The drums had a wooden frame and whale's stomach skin each. It was obvious that the old traditions had been handed down over many generations.
After dancing, we took part in a trampolin game. The trampolin is made of seal's skin and has handles. We let a girl spring up by pulling the handles quickly. More quickly we pulled, the higher she was able to jump. It was tough, but we did our best.
The bus headed to LRS ( Long distance Raider Site ) at Point Barrow next. After that, we stopped at a monument that was made of whales' skulls.
We reached the end of the road, though it took only 15 minutes from the center of the town. There were two dead seals on the beach which were being eaten by a lot of sea gulls.
We saw a frame of the boat, which was apparently called " Umiyakk " . Its length was about 20 feet and seals skin would be attached then used to catch whales. Inupiat people are able to make a whaling fleet using this type of small boat. For more information you can find it in Mr.Michio Hoshino's books.
Almost all of the cars we saw in Barrow were equipped with electric plugs. Super markets, hotels, and restaurants have outlet facilities at their parking areas. They prevent cars from being frozen in winter and are used to preheat the car engines.
The tour finished and we arrived at the airport at 6 pm. The plane took off at 8 pm. On the way back to Anchorage, it stopped at Fairbanks Airport again. It was 11 pm when I returned to my hotel. I enjoyed the short trip to the most norhtern area.
On Sep. 1
I woke up at 4:30 am and returned my rental car and checked in at Era Aviation. I ordered a cup of coffee at the coffee shop nearby the gate. The boarding began at 6 am and the plane took off on time. There were a lot of anglers and passengers returning home.
The plane arrived at Kodiak Airport at 7:50 am. It was foggy on the way, and it was raining at the airport. I picked up a rental car and departed after loading up. Because checking in time was 2:00 pm, we didn't head straight to the hotel, but instead headed to the nearby river to fish.
We began fishing at the American River which was close to the airport. I stopped my car by the roadside and pulled out my waders from the suit-case and prepared to fish. When we went down to the river, and saw the river was full of water. I set my reel and rod, an 0X tippet. I chose a Pinksalmon fly and tied it on as it worked very well last year.
There are a few types of Silversalmon, most are Chumsalmon and Pinksalmon in this river. I let my fly drift naturally along the current of the river. Because it was raining, fish wouldn't be so unsettled that I had the chance to catch a lot of Salmon in this river. In the end I released all the male Salmons and kept 3 female Salmons. When processing fish, I fould a lot of eggs in their bellies.
I met Mr.Ohki, a fishing guide, at the Chinese restaurant at 6 pm. He had already been my fishing guide twice. I asked him a current fishing condition and Kodiak affairs.
After the meeting, Mr.Shiraishi and I went shopping at Wall Mart. On the way I got lost and ended up at the White Sand Beach at the end of the road. We walked along the beach, and returned to the car after a while. As soon as we left there, a driver, who was on the opposit side of the road, opened a car window and shouted " Bear ! ".
When we looked in his diretcion, we were very surprised that there was a big brown bear nearby at a small creek. It was probably a Kodiak-brown-bear and he was catching Pinksalmon. It was only 100 feet away and considering its running speed, we had to stay in the car. I followed the other car which was following the bear, eventually the bear disappeared into the bush.
When I was leaving, I saw another car coming along the road. There was a couple in the car and they were unaware that a bear was in the area. I turned my car around and told them " There is a bear. ". They seemed to be very surprised, and got into the car quickly.
It was a first time I had seen a bear in Kodiak even though it was third time visit. Unfortunately I had left my camera at the hotel, so I couldn't take any pictures.
On Sep. 2
Mr.Ohki picked up us at 7:15 am. We headed to the Buskin River. This season, a lot of Silversalmon had already come up the Buskin and the Pasagishak River. He said Buskin was at its best.
It was raining and still dark in the morning. Mr.Ohki set a Spin-N-Glo above the egg-loop hook, and attached a lump of Salmon eggs on the hook. As soon as I cast, I got a bite. I had to wait until the fish swallowed, then I hooked strongly. Because I hadn't expected the first bite to happen so quickly, I was very surprised. The fish managed to run upstream and downstream. I was excited but continued to reel carefully. In the end I caught a 30 inch female Silversalmon.
Mr.Shiraishi caught a big one soon too. A bag limit for Salmon was two Silversalmon a day and we both reached this in one hour. Mr.Ohki's story was really true - the river is at its best.
After catching our bag-limits, we went to a coffee shop near the harbor to get warm with Cafe-Latte. When it rains, the temperature goes down quickly. It is easy to get very cold standing the river for a while.
We had a couple of hours until lunch, so we headed to the Olds River. We had caught a lot of Silversalmons and Chumsalmons, and Pinksalmons here last year but fish was very slow on this particular day. I changed flies several times, but got no bites. Mr.Ohki gave us two rice balls and a cup of nooddles each. It was raining so we ate them in the car.
After lunch, we headed to the Buskin Lake which is upstream from the Buskin River. It was still raining and the lake was covered with fog. We found Salmon jumping everwhere.
I did fly-fishing and spin-fishing and tried various flies and spinners, but didn't get a bite. I changd my target to Dolly Varden. Mr.Ohki advised me to use his minnow plug. I lured fish on moving it stimulatively. Then a bite came up soon. I got a bite by almost every time I cast. I caught a lot of Dollies and released all of them. I enjoyed it very much.
It was raining yet, so we finished fishing at 5 pm. We wondered what the weather would be like tomorrow.
We returned to the harbor. Mr.Ohki cleaned and gutted the fish on the public processing table. Mr.Shiraishi asked him to ship the fish. I decided to take my fish to Japan with an ice container that I bought in Anchorage. We returned to the hotel at 6 pm.
On Sep. 3
We headed to the Buskin River again at 6:15 am. It was so dark outside that I couldn't see the fishing line clearly. However, this is the best time to fish as they are slow as it becomes light. The early bird catches the worm.
Salmon egg is the best bait for the Salmon fishing. Opinion is devided on this and I'm not yet to make a decision on this. Salmon don't eat anything when they enter the fresh water. We notice this when we catch a Salmon and see the contents of its stomach. We don't find anything inside the fish. I guess they have been eating squids and minnows in the sea but not eggs. This shows they are cannibalistic which is very mysterious.
We were lucky to catch our bag limit each within an hour. One after another anglers appeared as time went by. I guessed this place was gradually becoming popular. We took coffee breaks at the coffee shop. After that, we headed to the Olds River. I casted many times at usual place, but didn't get a bite. While we were fishing, Mr.Ohki cooked lunch at the riverside. He made a chicken soup with rice and grilled red breams on the charcoal stove. We enjoyed delicious meals in the warm sunshine. It was a happy time for us.
After lunch, we headed to the small creek flowing into the sea at the outskirts of the cape. Mr. Ohki said there was few Silversalmon but usually there were schools of Pinksalmons. However, we couldn't find any schools and only saw a few bruised Pinksalmons swimming. I casted with an egg-fly, but only caught two tired Pinks and one Dolly.
When I hooked a Silver's back, it went downstream at full speed, and broke the fishing line. We moved to the American River. On the way, we stopped at the view point where we could see a beautiful sea and mountains. It was sunny today. I thought today's weather was the best I'd ever experienced in Kodiak.
The river was very shallow and had a few holes. I fished at the usual place but had no bite. Mr. Ohki suggested going to the mouth of the river, so we moved to there.
When I was casting, I heard Mr.Shiraishi shouting. He said seals suddenly appeared on the river and he almost hooked one of them ! I guessed they came up from the sea as chasing Pinks. We could see three seals downstream of the river.
The seals might have scared fish, so I didn't get any more bites.
After processing our fish, Mr.Ohki drove us to the hotel. He would pick up us at 7 pm, so we could have dinner together. We went to the Old Power House managed by Japanese and was located near the coast. Mr.Ohki and I ordered a sushi bowl each and Mr.Shiraishi ordered a Teriyaki Cod set.
There is no special local cuisine in Kodiak. If you want to enjoy the local food, I recommend what we ordered. We talked about stories and it was very enjoyable dinner. Because the commercial cod fishing would close at 0 am this night, we could watch a lot of fishing boats returning to the harbor. Mr.Ohiki said they had poor catches this year, so that their waterlines didn't reach the load lines. His company had a poor catch as well, so they caught a lot of Flounders substitute for Cod. They export them to China, where they are processed and then exported to all over the world, including Japan. You may know "Engawa", it comes from Alaska via China. After dinner we paid Mr.Ohki for the guide fee and he drove us to the hotel.
On Sep. 4
It was sunny today despite what the weather forecast had predicted. A rainy day is better for fishing than a sunny day, but I much prefer fishing comfortably on a sunny day. I woke up at 6 am and headed to the Buskin River. While I was preparing to fish, Mr.Shiraishi caught a Silversalmon. After a while I got a bite with an egg-sucking leech fly.
After a while, three Americans came up and began to fish also. The two guys did bobber fishing. Each guy attached a big ball float on the line and used a jig-head with yellowish green rubber pieces for the bait. It was a simple system and one of them caught two Silvers for 20 minutes! After that, he was called " 20 minutes fishing" by his friends.
After catching his bag limit, he decided to go to McDonald to buy breakfast. He asked me " How about you ? ". At first I hesitated, but I was impudent enough to ask two cups of coffee. How fantastic to have coffee while fishing!
After a while, he came back with 5 cups of coffee and a lunch bag. I offered payment, but he said it was his treat. Thank you very much.
A family from Philippines appeared. Their fishing could be considered illegal, they were not fishing but rather snagging. They used stiff rods and strong reels with thick lines using big lead. They were flipping to visible fish. Flipping was so noisy and we couldn't concentrate on fishing. To flip using a bear hook is really illegal, so they tie small mount of yarn on the hooks. At this point it was time to move on.
When I looked into the American River on the bridge, I found no fish. I went to the Olds River and here could see a few fish in the river. The time was close to noon so I headed to the Pasagishak River while eating a doughnut.
I stopped at the nearby river mouth, and looked at the river. There were many anglers fishing along the river. An ebb tide seemed to be ending soon. I waited for a high tide sitting down at the river bank. After a while, I saw two anglers each hook a Silversalmon at the upstream river. Silvers were coming up.
I came here only to see the river. But after seeing the Silvers, I couldn't help but go fishing. I quickly prepared to fish and went down to the river. Although I tried fly-fishing and spin-fishing and tried various flies and lures, I had no bites. I saw a lot of Silvers jumping and swimming around but I only caught a couple of Sculpin with a fly.
I processed my fish at the public table at 5 pm and then I had a big accident. I took no picture as I was very stressed about the situation.
After processing, I returned to the car. Then I remembered the moment I saw the car, I had left my car key in the trunk. I had closed the trunk after locking doors. Of course, I couldn't open any of the doors and I had no spare other key. What do I do next ?
I had also left my notes which had all my phone numbers including the hotel and Avis etc. On the top of all these my wallet was in the car. I went to a house looked like a harbor office, but it was a museum and nobody was there. Oh, my God !
When I returned to the car, some people were cleaning fish on the table. I asked a man who looked like a captain to help me. He stopped cleaning and listened to me, but he could not help me.
His wife suggested calling up the Avis office by the pay phone nearby the house and gave me some coins. I explained I didn't know the phone number for Avis, so she gave me her downtown map. I went to the house any way.
However, America is a cell phone country similar to Japan and there were no pay phones around. Perhaps they might had been removed. I could only see a trace of where a pay phone used to be on the wall. As I told her this story, she stopped a canoe instructor walking nearby and asked her to help me. The instructor drove us to the hotel.
As soon as I told the clerk the story, she called up Avis. She said someone would run to us help at the scene within 15 minutes. I had to call a taxi to go back but she offered to drive us to the car. How lucky I was ! I could return to the scene soon.
After a while, the Avis clerk appeared. He opened the trunk with a spare key. I saw my key clearly on the bottom of the trunk. I told myself " Your kindness will be rewarded in the end.". I keenly remembered this phrase and repeated in my mind. Thanks.
Mr. Ohki visited me at 9 pm with 2 CDs that recorded out two day's of fishing. I told him about today's story and he said " Kodiak people are very kind. You are lucky it didn't happen in New York ". I agreed.
On Sep. 5
I woke up at 6 am. I planned to go to Anchorage this night after fishing during today. The first flight out of Kodiak doesn't connect with a flight to Seattle. I have to go as far as Anchorage today. I was very worried about weather conditions as last year the plane took off in a bad weather. I had been checking the weather forecast everyday since arriving in Kodiak. The weather forecast was mostly cloudy with showers today.
We headed first to the Buskin River. The three guys were there again already, but no one hadn't caught any Silvers. For a while, one of them hooked big one by flipping. I caught only Pinks. I casted my fly many times, but didn't get any bites. When I got a bite, the fish broke a line and run away with my fly.
I move to the American River. I overlooked the river on the bridge and couldn't see enough fish to consider fishing there. I remembered the canoe instructor had told me that she had seen a few Silvers going upstream with many Pinks at the Salonie Creek.
As I approached the creek, I saw someone looking at something on the bridge. I stopped the car near there, and I looked in the same direction. Well, I couldn't believe it. There was a bear nearby the river mouth ! It was catching a Pink at the shallows.
There are a lot of gravel which make the river shallow. So, the bear could catch fish easily. After a while, it caught a Pinksalmon and it landed on the bank with fish in its mouth. Someone elso who was watching the bear told me it was a Kodiak Brown Bear. I was so lucky that I could see a bear twice on this trip.
I arrived at the Buskin Lake at noon. This was my last time to go fishing on my trip. Before fishing, I had luch while looking at the beautiful lake. I had only a couple of hours to enjoy this easy life. I can't return to Alaska without working hard for a year.
I loved fly-fishing, so I did this first but didn't get any bites. I used various flies, but they didn't work any more. I did spin-fishing next, and used various spoons and spinners. They didn't work for a Salmon, but worked for Dollies. I caught a Dolly every cast. I guessed a lot of Dollies were gathering here to eat Salmons' eggs.
I was fishing for a while, but didn't have any more bite. I stowed my fishing goods away in the bag and removed my waders. I wouldn't use them until next year.
On the way back to the hotel, I stopped at the Buskin River riverside. Two young American soldiers were fishing at usual place. There were a lot of anglers along the river upstream and downstream. They were not fishing but snagging.
I took several packs of frozen Salmons out from the freezer room, and put them into an ice container. I had a 50 liter container filled with frozen Salmon. I loaded it into the car and on the way to the airport, I filled up the tank.
When checking in at Kodiak Airport, I was told my container was overweight. One baggage had to be less than 50 pounds but my container was 66, so I had to pay an extra $75 fee. Any way, I was happy once I had completed the checking in procedure. I remembered I had been worried whether the plane would be able to come from Anchorage in fog and heavy rain like last year. Luckily, the plane had been delayed only 30 minutes. Even if it is not raining in Kodiak, the plane will be unable to take off if it is foggy or raining heavily in Anchorage.
The boarding time was 6:50 pm, but the plane hadn't appeared yet. I wondered what had happened ? However, after 10 minutes, I could hear of its roaring engine and I could soon see it. I could return to Japan.