Aug 1, 2002

Glaciers and Salmon and Bears! Oh My!

The year 2002 was full of several important milestones for me. Sure I graduated high school and went to college, but more importantly I made 2 trips to Alaska, almost got eaten, and caught some big new fish.
   Shortly after graduation my family and I drove to Prince Rupert, British Columbia to visit my mom's cousin Jim and his mom. We saw lots of sights along the way including several bears and moose. My dad and I went out on a charter boat in Prince Rupert and we caught a few salmon but overall it was a really slow day.
This was my first salmon since California with Uncle Fred. My sideburns were much more impressive by this point wouldn't you agree?
Here's my dad with his fish. He had enough sense to shave off his sideburns when the 70's ended...
     We tried for some halibut but we got skunked. I was pretty ticked off. I had heard all about how great the fishing was up there but we fished all day for three salmon and one rockfish between three of us fishing.
     I didn't want to give up just yet so I checked my bank account and decided that I could swing another trip if I found a cheap guide. So I got on the phone and started calling around. I found a guy willing to take me out for pretty cheap. Two days later I was headed back out! We trolled for salmon some more and I got one more Chinook, then we jigged for a while, but I didn't catch a dang thing. I started to think I was in for a repeat of the previous trip.
     When the tide was just right we anchored up and dropped down the biggest hooks I've ever seen baited with big chunks of salmon meat. We watched our rods not do anything for about a half hour then the tip of mine started to bounce. I grabbed the rod and set the hook into what felt like a wiggly tire. Up came my first halibut. It didn't really fight hard, it was just heavy. I knew it wasn't a big one, but I was just happy to catch something! When I started to see the fish, the captain reached up on top of the cab of the boat and produced a large and menacing looking harpoon. I thought that was a little bit of overkill, but I figured he knew what he was doing so I kept cranking on my fish. sure enough when it got to the surface, the harpoon found it's mark and I had my first halibut, a respectable "chicken" of about 20 lbs.
First halibut, harpoon-hole and all!
     Of course I went back and bragged to all of my buddies that I had caught a fish so huge that we had to harpoon it like Moby-Dick!
     The other fisherman on the boat and I caught two halibut each. He also caught an arrowtooth flounder as well - which I'm still furious about because I didn't catch one. I would have liked there to be another zero on the end of the weight of my 20 lb halibut, but I had at least caught one, so this time I went back to the dock pretty happy.

     After seeing the sights in Prince Rupert for about a week, being entertained by Jim, and jealous of his beard (I should mention that Jim also routinely plays Santa Clause at Christmas time for children living in rural communities and outlying islands near Prince Rupert, so ya he has a sweet beard), we packed up the cars and headed even farther north. Our destination this time was Stewart B.C. and just across the border, Hyder Alaska.
     The trip up there was awesome. We saw more bears and moose along the side of the road. We also saw our first glaciers of the trip.
Mama and babies!
This glacier is appropriately named "Bear Glacier"
      In the lake below the glacier were tons of tiny little icebergs that had calved off of the glacier. Apparently a popular activity is to collect ice from these little Titanic-sinkers and put it in drinks, or melt it for drinking water since it's so pure. Not being one to be left out of an enterprising activity such as that, I agreed to go 'burg-wrangling. It took a little wading in some COLD water, but I got a nice little piece of ice. We enjoyed some anticlimactically normal water after melting my catch.
My high pitched voice after this wasn't nearly as funny to me as it was to everybody else....
     Hyder Alaska ended up being the closest thing to a wild-west town that I've ever seen. It is tucked into the very tip of South East Alaska, WAY out in the middle of nowhere, just across the Canadian border. The nearest police station was a number of hours away. We even saw bullet holes in the doors of one of the buildings there.
2/3 of the town of Hyder is visible in this picture...
     Our main reason in going to Hyder (other than being able to say we went to Alaska) was the Fish Creek Bear Viewing Area. This is a large enclosed wood platform built overlooking a river where salmon come to spawn and bears come to eat, or so we were told. All we found was a large wooden platform and a small river. We left Alaska having enjoyed our stay but not having much to show for it. The trip back to Idaho took a long 24 hours.

     Shortly after returning home my buddy Justin and I - both newly fledged high school graduates looking for adventure - decided to take our own road trip at the end of the summer. Our destination - Hyder Alaska!

     The day finally came and we loaded my parent's Nissan Sentra down with 2 weeks worth of camping gear, a video camera, and who knows how many cans of mountain dew. 
     We camped our way up to Prince Rupert where we again stayed with Jim and his mom. Justin was just as impressed with Jim's beard as I was. We made good use of our time and the morning after we arrived we set out fishing with the same guide that helped me catch my first halibut a couple of months previous. We again started out trolling for salmon, and we each caught a couple of Chinook. I lost a pink salmon (which made me furious since that would have been a new species). I think the best part of the day for both of us was when we anchored and once again played the halibut waiting game.
     I think I struck first (this is my story after all!) and brought up about a 15 pounder. Justin, not being one to be left out, soon had his own battle on his hands. It was obvious that either Justin wasn't as good at fighting fish as I was, or he had on a much bigger fish, because his took way longer to bring up than mine did. After giving him a hard time for it taking so long we finally saw it and it ended up being more than twice the size of mine! The captain told him to back up so he could send the harpoon home. Justin promptly obeyed, but in doing so sat in and knocked over a bucket of water, which got him all wet. I of course thought this was hilarious. Luckily the captain managed to keep his cool, and his priorities straight and stuck the fish first then sorted things out on deck. This 40 pounder was the biggest fish either of us had ever seen! Heck, I would have been happy to take a bucket of cold water to the pants for a fish like that!
Justin with the 40 lb fish of the day!  - note the offending bucket...
Same fish different side... same bucket...
     We both caught a couple halibut, Justin's 40 pounder being the biggest for the day by far. We also caught a few other interesting things, and I got to add a couple of new species to my list: the big skate and the spiny dogfish. I mentioned earlier that fighting a halibut felt like fighting a wiggly tire, well fighting the skate felt like fighting a regular, non-wiggly tire. It was by far the least enthusiastic fight I've ever encountered, it was just dead weight the whole way up.
Big skate
Spiny Dogfish.
Note to self: when holding a shark of any kind, you might want to keep your hand a little
farther away from its mouth... don't worry that's shark blood, not Bryan blood.
     Next we headed up to Hyder with high hopes of finding salmon and bears. We got a hotel there, partly because we were too chicken to camp in such high-density bear territory, and partly because our mommies said we had to (because of all the bears).
     We headed out to the Fish Creek Bear Viewing Area with high hopes of actually viewing some bears this time. As soon as we got close it was obvious that something was happening because there were many dozens of cars parked all along the road. We parked about 200 yards from the entrance to the elevated wooden platform. As we made for the platform, we started seeing spawning pink salmon in this tiny little tributary that was about five feet wide and right next to the parking area. We stopped and watched, having never seen spawning salmon before.
Here you can see the female lying on her side and flapping her tail to dig the 'redd' (nest) while several males wait to make their move. The big male right next to the female is the largest, most dominant fish. He kept chasing off the other smaller males behind him. 
Here's another picture of the same fish. The big male and the female are next to each other while two smaller males wait in the background to see if they can sneak in when the time is right.
     After watching the spawning pinks long enough, we left them to have some much needed privacy, and continued on down towards the platform. We hadn't gotten more than half way there when Justin grabbed my shoulder and quickly said something, but whatever he said fell on deaf ears because I immediately looked over and saw what he was looking at. Directly across the tiny stream from us, sitting on the bank calmly munching on a salmon was a huge battle scarred grizzly bear! The bear frankly didn't seem to care or notice that we were there, he had his salmon so he was happy. Justin and I on the other hand were both a little puckered, we were after all close enough to spit on a huge wild grizzly! We managed to stand and watch him eat for as long as we could muster, then as calmly as possible continued on our way. 
     On my first trip there that summer the platform was almost empty. This time around that was not the case. There were several hundred people packed into the safety of the platform. It was a little unnerving at first because even though we were in a big crowd of people, you could almost hear a pin drop because nobody wanted to disturb the bears. The clicking of cameras and the winding of film were the only sounds other than the bears splashing around after the salmon and periodically arguing with each other. 
The platform at the Fish Creek Bear Viewing Area
     We hung out for half the day, and saw about 9 or 10 bears. They were mostly Grizzlies, but there were a few black bears as well. In this part of the river there were both pink and chum salmon.
I'm not usually one to sit back and watch somebody else fish, but this time I made an exception.
I definitely need to make a return trip, this time with a much better camera...
     The battle scarred grizzly that tried to eat us before came out and put on a show. In talking to some of the regulars there, we found out that he was a common sight there, and that he was by far the biggest bear that they see on a regular basis!
     Justin and I had our fill of watching others catch all the fish so we went and found our own river to fish in. We didn't stay long because of all the fresh bear sign and half eaten salmon carcasses, just long enough for both of us to catch a decent male pink salmon or two.
Male pink salmon - sweet revenge after loosing the one on the boat earlier in the week!
     After deciding we'd had enough bear excitement for one day we decided to keep exploring. We ended up going up a little windy road up a huge mountain. We found another glacier, this one called Salmon Glacier (creative name right?). We pulled over when the road became too much for my little Nissan and decided to hike to the top of the mountain. We saw lots of ptarmigan and found yet another glacier on top of the mountain (I don't know the name of this one, probably something original like 'Glacier-On-Top-Of-Mountain', or 'Slippery-Because-It's-Made-of-Ice-Glacier'). 
     We didn't know what else we could do to improve our day after climbing an Alaskan mountain, watching bears catch salmon, and catching a few of our own so we called it a trip and began the amazingly long trip home. 
     We declared our first road trip without parental supervision a success. We drove for over 60 hours, caught lots of cool fish, saw a ton of bears (none of which managed to eat us), and we had a pretty dang good time along the way.


  1. fyi...i read this entire post. And thought it was entertaining.

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