Friday, June 20, 2008

Alaska

Last week was amazing! I hopped on a plane and flew to the incredibly beautiful state of Alaska with my Brother-in-Law Rick and his friend (and now mine) Dwayne. When we arrived we picked up a camper and Rick's Drift Boat and drove 5 hours to the Gulkana River. The great thing about Rick and Dwayne is that they speak "Fish." The Gulkana river feeds into the Copper River. The fish we were after...Copper River King's aka Chinook. For those of you that don't know, this the best, most sought after Salmon run in the world. The fish are incredibly strong, their meat is a vibrant red and the taste is indescribable.

Because Rick and Dwayne speak fish they also understood them and knew where they would be and what they would be hungry for. I'll spare you the details of a long story about the boat launch, but essentially the owner of the RV park that has access to the only ramp on the river less than 28 miles from the end of the run was making it very difficult for people to stay there let alone launch their boats. Rick and Dwayne have a history with him so after some wheeling and dealing and potentially Rick working as a guide for him next year for a short while we were given access to camp and launch. We were the only people in this huge area and some of the only people with a boat on the river! 99% of everyone else had to fish off the bank. This was a huge advantage for us.

Because the run had just begun the salmon weren't thick in the river. What was lacking in quantity was certainly not lacking in quality. We landed between 10 to 15 fish a day (you can only keep 1 per person though). If you have never caught a wild King Salmon but plan to do so I have one piece of advice for you...work out! These fish are strong and that is an understatement. I'm not ashamed to admit that one fish fought me and won. For nearly 30 minutes I wrestled with what had to be a huge salmon. We had to pull the boat to the bank and I ran down stream trying to keep up with it. After an awesome battle the fish found the strong rapids and after all the tugging and jerking the hook must have loosened and he broke off. That is one fish I hope makes the end of the run.

The average fish we caught was between 20-25 pounds with a couple over 30 pounds! There were Bald Eagles everywhere which I love. It was a great experience slowly walking through the river trying to get as close as I could to eagles feeding on Salmon or chilling out in the trees. One of the greatest moments for me was while reeling in my first fish of the trip a giant Bald Eagle flew silently over my head. At that moment I knew I was in God's country for sure!

Something that took a lot of getting used to was the fact it doesn't get completely dark up there. We were fishing past midnight on a regular basis! One day we started fishing at 4AM and didn't end until after midnight! Didn't hit the sack until 2:30 and back on the river at 6:30! It was a shot in the arm to feed my soul and I am incredibly grateful to Rick and Dwayne for allowing me to join them on the adventure! Below are quite a few photo's from the trip as I had a tough time narrowing it down for the blog. There are of course many others. It was an adventure in itself keeping the camera dry and clean while floating down the river all day but I pulled it off.

Enjoy the photo's and as alway..comments are welcome and appreciated very much!

I huge iceberg near the highway. Rick and Dwayne tell me this was over 2 times the size just 4 years ago.
Is this the hand of a fisherman or what?
Quickfish Lures get em every time!
Dwayne letting a big Buck go to fight another day.
Rick proudly displaying the first fish of the trip.
I was literally on my knees in rapid water up to my chest being as stealthlike as possible to get this shot. The Eagles eat well on the Gulkana River.
Dwayne and a giant King Salmon!
Did I mention these fish fight hard?
The one that got away :)
One of the only bucks (male) we kept. This guy was a hog!
At the end of the day we vacuum packed the fillets for easy freezing. Here is Dwayne crossing his fingers in hopes it would work...it did.
4AM mist on the river. This was my view most of the trip.
A proud fisherman. What you can't see in the photo's is that my arm was about ready to fall off holding her after an epic battle :)
95% of the fish we kept were hens (female). They are loaded with eggs which makes for the very best bait. We cleaned and filleted the fish right on the river.
Even at the end of a fight these fish don't stop!
Rick with a big, fat fish.
Rick and Dwayne showing off their catch in the middle of the night.
Rick is an incredibly strong rower. He never got tired after rowing literally all day long.
A feast by the fire. This shot was taken at around 2am. It appears darker than it was because of my shutter speed.
I wasn't the only one taking pictures.
An adolescent bald eagle hanging out nearby waiting for some fish.
While I was in the river stalking Eagles Dwayne and Rick each hooked a fish at the same time in the best hole on the river.
All three of us with our keepers for the day.
Dwayne showing off an incredible bright silver hen.
A huge hen I caught just moments before the end of our final river run. Awesome fish!
A very welcome site after a long day on the river :)
Now that I think about it..I may have gotten a bit too close to this giant Moose. She was just too pretty not to shoot though.
The End Result!

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

u guys mostly caught hens? Awesome trip though.

Fishing a little slow down here thus far

Mat Hayward said...

Thanks for writing! We caught an even mix of Bucks and Hens but mainly just kept Hens so we could use the eggs as bait.

Randy said...

Great pix of salmon. Looks like an amazing trip. I can almost smell that fish! :)

Bring some back to the restaurant Mat! Mmmm

Terry said...

Mat: Awesome fish and once again, awesome photos. Sounds like you had a great time. Terry

Nic said...

Im jealous as ever... looks like an amazing time was had. I was in AK for 2 weeks last year.. there is just some thing about that state.

great shots, makes me want to get on a boat tomorrow!

~ nic