Pavlof 2014
August 5-8


Two cohos jump while Chris eats lunch

Dedicated to Betsy, Georgina, Rosie, Felon, Onan, Trevor, Desdemona, and Ocho

It was a long morning getting ready. The ice machine at Taku Fisheries was broken, but thankfully there was still ice available in totes in the back parking lot. We filled ours, then met my parents at Harris Harbor to pick up the Kathy M’s boat trailer; Chris stayed there while I went to bring the boat around from Aurora Harbor. We trailered the boat successfully, but on the way over the bridge it looked like one of the trailer tires was low—dangerously low—so I pulled into the Breeze Inn, unhitched the trailer, left the boat there with Chris, and returned home to get a bicycle pump. That did the job, and we finally got underway from the North Douglas boat ramp at 12:20 p.m. On the way we met 2-3’ seas, enough to be grateful we were in the Kathy M and not the Ronquil. There was a group of humpbacks in Iyoukeen Cove as well as three tantalizing orcas (including a large male) heading north, but the seas were too rough to linger and we only caught one other distance glimpse of them.

We arrived at Pavlof Harbor at 4:15 just as a plane was landing and taxiing into the beach. We were therefore nervous about getting our usual campsite and very relieved to see that the plane was picking up a group of people standing in the neighboring cove.

After Chris set up the tent (in our usual place beneath the alders in the beach fringe) and the firewood was gathered, we ate our traditional first night dinner of macaroni and cheese. Chris went for a paddle around the bay listening to yacht rock after dropping off our food on the boat while I relaxed in camp and organized my gear for the next day.

Our inconspicuous tent

Campfire in danger

Chris rows around the harbor

We got a late start the next morning, arriving at the creek at 10:50 a.m. just before high tide. We passed a group of photographers who’d been dropped off by another float plane on the neighboring beach and they later followed us to the creek, impressing me with their studied quiet (they’d obviously been prepped not to alarm the bears and I’m not sure they appreciated our splashy presence on the creek). Chris started fishing off a point close to the mouth and caught his first coho in five minutes. I had several strikes up closer to the waterfall but eventually joined him down there where I caught two fish back to back about an hour into the tide. After a long pause, I brought in another (larger) coho after a long battle. All this time there was a nonstop explosion of cohos, often multiple in the air at a time—wonderfully entertaining. By the time we broke for lunch, though, they had stopped biting despite the continuing jumps. We headed back to camp around 2:30, me towing the fish through the water part of the way to avoid carrying them (they were heavy and awkward on the stringer); then I paddled out to ice them on the boat. Back in camp we lounged and napped in the tent for the rest of the afternoon, enjoying our comfortable retreat away from the bugs and visitors while a small cruise ship anchored, started, and completed most of their tours. When I got up I tried casting at the jumping cohos from the next point down the bay and had a fish on briefly, then nothing. We ate veggie tacos for dinner, lacking the trout we’d hoped to catch in the creek (none bit).

We tried the same strategy the next day, but with an earlier start. We wound up on the creek at 9:30 but the high tide wasn’t until 11:44 that day and there was little jumping and no biting. Two fishermen were on shore and there were three or four boats in the water, so we decided to go to the lake. That morning we’d inflated the kayak that my mother had graciously lent us (discovering on the way to the creek that an unknown scupper was unscrewed when the bottom quickly flooded), so we paddled that up the creek (now dry) and portaged it above the falls. The ten minutes of easy kayaking was a great joy compared to the 30 minutes of awkward agony that was rowing across the lake in a tiny raft! At the mouth of Pavlof River I caught dollies on almost every cast—one of which I hooked through the eye and kept for dinner (the rest I successfully released). Chris had one coho on, but we had no other salmon bites. We broke for lunch then, eating smoked salmon sandwiches on the gravel bar inspired by those Rob had made us for camping in Taku Inlet. Then I caught another dolly for dinner and we headed back out in the lake. We had noticed a lot of jumping in other places while on shore, so Chris suggested we try casting from the kayak. I thought he was crazy! But, it was worth a try, so we paddled out into the lake and started awkwardly casting from our low inflatable seats. We kept repeating “Safety first!” to each other as we tried to cast over each other’s heads (seated only a couple of feet away from each other) and avoid hooking ourselves, the gear, or the inflatable boat. To my astonishment, Chris had a fish on within minutes. Since neither of us thought it was possible he’d have been successful so soon, Chris let out with a very serious sounding “This is real!” when he first saw the fish clearly underwater and knew it for a salmon. Onan then drug us over to the shallows of the lake and the weeds as he fought. It turns out that netting a fish from a kayak is a tricky business, and the fish spook at any paddling, so we were at the mercy of the wind which was briskly blowing from the north. I think Onan got tangled in the weeds which made losing him all the more likely but, increasingly desperate, I finally netted him on my third attempt and plopped him in Chris’s lap. I twisted around and bonked him and we rejoiced! Then I cut his gills and dropped him back in the water to bleed out, but not fast enough to spare Chris a lot of blood on his waders. We couldn’t believe it had worked!

After a brief rest we returned to the middle of the lake nearer the entrance where the jumping seemed most active. I got a fish on quickly, but it shook off at the last minute near the boat. Then, as I was paddling to reposition the boat (the wind was constantly blowing us toward shore) I gently knocked my pole into the water and it sank out of sight (but I refused to let it get me down). Soon Chris had another fish on, and this one was a ferocious fighter. I think they battled for about 15 minutes and Trevor just would not give up. With every minute the stakes became higher and we became more terrified of losing him. I struggled to position the boat so Trevor stayed on the same side and so the wind didn’t blow us into the shallows; however, not wanting to miss a chance to net the fish, I did all this with the net, which isn’t a very efficient paddle! Chris got exhausted and his hand was sore from the crazy fishing angle he could not escape. Trevor made many dramatic splashes on the surface, but did not shake loose. Eventually I did capture him in the net and this time I dropped him in my own lap. He’s one of the bigger cohos we’ve caught, certainly large by Pavlof standards, about 28” long. We paddled to shore, cleaned both fish, then headed back toward the jumping at the mouth. Chris lent me his pole and I landed two more cohos before we both succumbed to exhaustion and became more concerned about getting our catch safely back to the boat than about catching more fish. I cleaned the rest of them at the edge of the channel while we gratefully stretched our legs and Chris half heartedly cast at the jumping/finning cohos gathered in the channel. I told him to cast more toward the mouth and he immediately got a strike, but the fish shook loose after a minute or two. We then kayaked back to the falls, carried everything to the channel below (it was low tide so the water was much farther away, but there were thankfully no bears to avoid). I left Chris on shore to walk back and gather firewood while I kayaked to the boat to ice the fish. That night we ate dollies and peas roasted over the fire along with stovetop stuffing. I read Ursula K. LeGuin sci fi short stories until we fell asleep, much satisfied with our two days of fishing.

Breakfast at camp

Mouth of Pavlof River

Onan

Chris exausted after battling Trevor

Stringer of fish

Chris casts from the kayak

Chris casts from the bank of the channel

Evening in Pavlof Harbor

Looking out Pavlof Harbor toward Freshwater Bay

We were slated to head back to Juneau the next day, so we got an early start in the morning, skipped breakfast and drinks, and made it to the creek at 8:00. Unfortunately, it was low tide and, after casting into the creek and getting snagged a lot, we walked up to the channel above the falls to see if there were good fishing areas from shore there. We stayed on the right bank and walked out until we could see two fishermen casting from the meadow at the edge of the trees (on the last solid ground before it gets marshy). We retreated a bit and starting casting from a clearing in the woods as cohos jumped around us. Zippy bit my lure on the fourth cast and, as her name suggests, she did a lot of running and jumping but the lure held fast. Then she came in close to shore and suddenly the line snagged on something. I could move it a little bit, but could not dislodge it and I had no idea if the fish was still on. I also wasn’t sure how deep the water was and I certainly couldn’t see whatever it was I was caught on. Very frustrating. Long story short, I saw nothing I could do except continue to pull; eventually the line snapped and Zippy breached victoriously as she zoomed away with my favorite lure in my mouth. I think she must have swum under a log or something—clever or lucky.

The other fishermen left then and we took their point for a while, but there was little jumping and no coho strikes. I did catch a beautiful cutthroat trout near the mouth of the lake and released it gently. Two groups of cruise ship passengers passed us while we were there and we overheard a guide talking about a school teacher who had released red-legged frogs in the area. I’d seen a small frog in a pool near the top of the beach by camp in the little brown trickle where I brush my teeth (my first Alaskan frog) and now I feared it was probably an invasive species. We walked back to camp and I showed Chris my frog, who jumped into the water from the grass as we approached. I nearly caught him but he slipped through my fingers. I didn’t know at the time how to distinguish them from native wood frogs, but I suspect he was a red-legged frog.

Unfortunately, we had to head out. Fueling the Kathy M was slow business as I could not find a funnel and had to use a tiny flexible nozzle on one of the jerry jugs. We eventually get underway at 12:20 p.m. in Freshwater Bay, having drifted out of the harbor while fueling up. But, the engine died while I was picking up speed. I could start it again (and again), but it would always die. Naturally the seas were a bit choppy, being exposed to Chatham Strait, which didn’t help! I finally decided there was nothing to do but see if I could puzzle out what was wrong—something with the fuel getting to the engine, I thought. I started at the fuel filter and worked my way to the engine and found the problem quickly enough, much to my relief. The kicker handle was simply pinching the fuel hose. I repositioned the handle, pumped up the line, and off we went.

There was a group of whales at the southern edge of Freshwater Bay where it meets Chatham Straight, but we headed north with following 2’ seas that only diminished the farther we went. Chris drove all the way home while I read aloud the end of a short story we’d started the night before and thought about the eight beautiful cohos in the cooler. It took us only 2.5 hours to get back to Douglas. We pulled the boat, then relaunched it at Harris Harbor and split up, with Chris taking the truck to meet me at Aurora Harbor after I dropped off the Kathy M. At home we showered and went straight to the Island Pub for Dru’s going away dinner. Back at home later I processed fish until 11:00 p.m., putting 34 pounds of fish in the freezer.


Chris with Onan and Trevor in Pavlof Lake