Gone Fishin’ in Seward, Alaska (PHOTOS)
It’s back to school time here in Anchorage, and on the last day of summer vacation, two of your editors here decided to seize the day and head south to go fishing with The Seward Fishing Club. Sometimes it’s necessary to reboot the system, cleanse the soul, and get off dry land.
We loaded the Subaru, left Anchorage in the predawn light, and skimmed down Turnagain Arm, around the bend and up the other side to Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. The weather was sprinkly and grey and Shannyn and I were both prepared with good waterproof outerwear, and hot coffee.
The whole way, we were full of anticipation. Invariably one or the other of us would burst out with, “We’re going FISHING!” And the other one would come back with, “I KNOW!”
We arrived in Seward in plenty of time. Catching a boat is like catching a plane, only with more at stake. If you miss a flight to Seattle, there’s always another. If you miss a fishing boat… all is lost, and you may as well just curl up on the dock in the fetal position and curse your life. Another one doesn’t just come along. And you never get that trip back. We scrambled to find the slip, time passed, a series of miscommunications, and finally there it was! Slip E17. Empty.
We stared at the open space in shock, which rapidly evolved into cold abject horror. We double checked the number. E17. “Are you SURE it was E17?” We locked eyes. We gazed back at the water which did not contain a boat. We looked at the number again just to be really really sure.
Just then Jennifer, the third member of our party, came running down the dock, breathless. “It’s OK! They’re coming back!”
BACK? What glorious madness is this?
Right here is when we knew that we were about to have a charmed day. Nobody comes BACK! Who comes back for people?!
The awesome crew of the Rainisong, that’s who.
Hooray! Yes, everyone on the boat was probably gnashing their teeth at us, we thought, but we loved them with the gratitude of the saved!
A minute later, I was grabbing a big outstretched hand and stepped up on to the deck. Everyone was quite gracious about the detour, and without missing a beat, were were on our way out of Seward Harbor and into the mighty blue waters of Resurrection Bay.
Yes, the water is that shade of azure, and emerald, and a touch of silky grey milk that doesn’t have a name on the color wheel. People who see it for the first time are tongue-tied and reduced to things like, “Wow” and “It’s so blue!”
As we slipped out into the Bay, passing the harbor, and the coal chute shrouded in mist, all our troubles, and stresses, and preoccupations with things that only matter on land were left behind.
The weather was the kind that some people would apologize for. But having spent many hours in Resurrection Bay, and seen it in every condition, from blue sky and sunshine glory, to pouring icy buckets into 12 foot swells, I still love calm, misty mornings the best. The fog seems almost alive, sliding over the mountains, and down the fjords like a living thing.
We hugged the shore on the way out, passing little rivulets and waterfalls that have taken eons to slice delicately carved troughs through the mountain – grain by grain.
We took the channel behind Fox Island, between a beach that is a favorite of kayakers, and the emerald moss-covered cliffs on the other side. And we weren’t the only ones out on a quest. The famous Seward Salmon Derby was just last weekend, and the silver salmon were still peaking, busy underneath us, gorging on their last meal before heading up the streams and rivers of their birth after four years at sea.
The palate of colors in the Bay is spectacular, but subtle. The olive and golden brown of seaweed, clinging to the grey basalt. The greens of every description from the bright emerald of mosses to the deep dark of spruce trees which cling to the rocky shore by sheer determination, root after root finding cracks in which to lock and anchor. And of course the liquid cotton mist that is… dare I say it… 50 shades of grey.
The murres, and puffins are still around, plump with a summer diet of fresh Alaska seafood.
The puffins in particular are easy to spot – gorged and round, flapping like bats with wingbeats that still manage to keep their hefty bodies aloft.
The mist is delightful, as the boat moves swiftly through it. I’m wearing snowmachining pants with a bib, and a waterproof shell which keep me warm, and the cool spray just makes me want to face into the wind, close my eyes and smile.
The air is salty and clean and has a smell that pushes a primordial button in my brain. We are made of salt water – sweat, tears, and blood, and we humans cannot help but feel we’ve come home when we’re in a place like this.
Cove after cove passes our view, changing colors as they fade behind us.
Others, for whom the silver run is a day job share the water with Rainisong.
We hit “the spot” and the hum of the engines, and the slapping of the waves turns into the guttural, churning drone of the idling engines.
The crew has set up our poles and baited our hooks. It’s time.
Almost immediately, there are cries of “Fish on!” – a signal to the crew to grab a net, and get fish in the boat.
Our friend Jennifer lands the first fish, and Shannyn and I follow almost immediately, waiting for the bump, setting the hook, following the fish with our lines as it zips to and fro, reeling in.
We remember an old commercial in Alaska that used to talk about “The Acrobatic Coho!” Cohos are another name for silver salmon. Each species in Alaska has two names because they are too awesome and delicious to name just once. Chinooks are kings, Sockeyes are reds, Humpies are Pinks, and Chum are dog salmon. But today it’s all about the silvers which are the most fun of all to catch on a line.
There is some inevitable carnage, and blood. The fish are dispatched quickly with a club to the head. As brutal as it may sound, I console myself with the fact that it’s probably a more merciful and swift end than death by bear, or the inevitable slow decomposition and rot once they hit fresh water.
Rubber footwear has its advantages in this regard.
Jennifer’s rod is hot, and she pulls in two more, reaching her limit quickly.
The day’s activities do not go unnoticed, and mew gulls and herring gulls swoop around the boat waiting for bits of bait.
We pull up our reels to do another drift over the site, and grab a quick lunch. The bell rings, and we abandon the meal temporarily to get back to our poles. Fishing time is precious.
There are a couple families on board, and one of the littlest members of our party managed to bag the biggest fish of the day. Each group has their own color-coded tags and buckets, and the crew makes sure the right fish makes it to the right place.
As we travel to a new spot, we’ve gathered quite a few groupies.
A gift from Neptune. Good brain food, and Omega 3′s, so we can keep focused on work that will protect these spectacular creatures and their brethren from the looming threat of mining projects like Pebble, and Chuitna, that jeopardize Alaska’s great wild fisheries.
This one will end up with a delicious sesame teriyaki glaze, and a big thank you from me!
Being near shore, and having this kind of view makes the hours standing on deck pass so quickly it seems impossible.
Ever the watchful eye.
Incredibly, it’s time to head back already, and we all reel in.
The glorious show returning to Seward is just as spectacular as the one coming out, and even though we pass the same places, the light and the mist, ever-changing make it a whole new experience.
There are some places in Alaska where you can rest assured that urban sprawl will never be a problem.
This forbidding rocky shore helps nesting birds find safe places to rear their young. Soon the Bay will be silent as gulls, and auklets, and murres, and guillemots, and eiders, and puffins head south for the winter.
“The Cliffs of Insanity!” Shannyn jokes, making a reference to the Princess Bride. I say it’s a fair trade.
The mist still hangs in the trees, and even though I’ve taken hundreds of pictures, I can’t stop.
I’m already anticipating a return to civilization, and want to grab every minute to remember later.
Once undersea lava, little islands like this sprinkle the shoreline and have become places where sea lions and birds like to rest.
We’ve rounded the point and entered Prince William Sound. The captain pops out of the wheelhouse to where I am fishing by the door. He extends a pair of binoculars. “Look at that!” he says pointing to the shore. I focus on a house, perched in a little cove,barely visible in the mist. “Oh my god, I love that,” I say. “I want to live there.”
“Yeah,” he says wistfully. “But there’s only one thing that would suck about it.”
“Propane delivery and fresh water?” I think.
“When you’d have to leave, and go to town” he says.
I like this guy.
And now, the moment our feathered friends have been waiting for. The crew begins to filet the catch. They are precise, and fast, and make quick work of the haul. It’s like they’ve done this before.
Clumps of roe become softballs for the younger members of our team. They throw them out to the waiting hoard, who sometimes manage to grab the prize right out of the air as we cheer and laugh.
A grand time is had by boys and gulls alike. The roe uncaught lands in our wake and causes a furious feeding frenzy.
Filets are bagged with the color-coded zip ties to keep them straight.
Heads and carcasses are tossed over, and the squawking of delight rings out.
They circle, and stare at the water, and the crew, and the boys, and the filet table, and wait…
As we head back, tour boats head out to find sea lions, otters, porpoises, dolphins, seals, sea lions, and a variety of whales.
Nobody wants to leave.
The crime scene cleanup begins, and the crew takes on the least enjoyable part of the experience so we can enjoy our last hour on the water. Because they are awesome like that.
The ritual rinsing of the guts.
Back behind Fox Island.
And our groupies stick with us, hoping…
Yes, I took a lot of gull pictures.
Because how could I not!?
Pretty sure that one on the right is saying thank you to the crew.
I can’t stop!
Another lucky soul enjoying the day.
These guys reminded me of the seagulls at AT&T Park in San Francisco, only they get salmon roe at the end of the day, instead of garlic fries.
We can just make out Seward in the distance.
The little community of Lowell Point.
You can clearly tell that Seward is a popular camping destination, and now you know why.
Here is our skilled and gracious captain. Thanks for coming back for us!
A final look back to the Bay and all those who enjoy it.
We return to the harbor.
I always find myself with a reflexive thought at times like this. How can all those boats be just sitting there? It’s not like there’s anything better to be doing!
Jennifer heads back to land.
I probably don’t have to tell you this, but if you are lucky enough to go to Seward, and want to have a day as amazing as we did, look these guys up. HERE.
Shannyn with our catch ready for the cooler, and an awesome couple from Missouri who were on the boat. They do not have salmon charters in Missouri, apparently, so we hope they come back!
We were pretty hungry after a day on the water, and had a fabulous halibut dinner at Ray’s waterfront. I got the fresh, seared, Gulf of Alaska halibut with lobster/king crab butter cream, and roasted asparagus.
Yes, it was as amazing as it looks! I’m talking to you, Domino’s pizza!
And at last, we hit the road back to Anchorage… back to the unique indulgences of land life – fudge, coffee, and… Moose Nuts?
“We went fishing!” said Shannyn.
“Yes, we did!”
“And we have fish!”