Tax'aas (Pavlof Harbor)
August 7-9, 2015

Serene and deserted Pavlof Harbor

Ten fish, ten bears, the best Pavlof ever. Thank you, bears!

I managed the morning stress in unusually good form. After all, I thought, at some point today I’d be on the water heading north toward Point Retreat and everything would be fine. It didn’t really matter what time that was, within reason, so why stress about anything' I got up around 6:00 or 6:30, all on my own, feeling pretty good for the first time all week (having returned to Juneau from six days at Snettisham and two days up the Taku on Sunday). I took care of the critters, walked Cailey, finished packing, etc. I think we managed to leave the house around 9:00 to pick up ice, which went flawlessly, Taku Fisheries having left a tote mostly full of flake ice in their back parking lot for just such souls as us. We packed the large cooler and my good cooler with ice, then filled the little white cooler form the road trip about 2/3rds full and iced some diet cokes, san pellegrinos, and other sparkly drinks. We stopped by home to pick up the boat trailer (and I grabbed a bucket and smoked hooligan from the house) and then we headed down to Harris Harbor. Chris dropped me off at the gangway and then headed down to the launch ramp. The evening before, we’d fueled the boat and I’d left it in transient moorage in Harris instead of taking it home to Aurora to make the morning go smoothly. We trailered the boat, put some air in the tires at the top, and transferred our gear while cars rushed by on the highway. And then the drive to North Douglas, an easy launch, a slightly more complicated parking job (I turned left at the top when I should have turned right and drove some distance to turn around so I could park on the shoulder), and a smooth departure. The boat was already more or less ship shape, but I had Chris drive for a few minutes while I made some last minute texts and left my phone browser on the tides so I could check them all weekend. The morning was glorious, blue sky, a light northerly chop coming down Saginaw, all bright and beautiful.

The chop in Lynn Canal was a bit more adventurous, thankfully on our stern. Somewhat shy of Funter Bay I saw an Allen Marine boat toward the opposite shore stopped, which seemed suspicious. I glassed them for a while but didn’t see anything and continued south. A few minutes later, though, I glassed again and spotted a huge black dorsal fin—they’d been watching orcas after all! I headed in that direction, now in the trough of the seas, which required continuous windshield wipers to maintain vision from all the salt spray. Unfortunately, I came upon a sailboat exactly where I wanted to be and failed several times to avoid her. I thought at first she was going to turn around, so headed south to cross it, but then it came under sail again going back in the same direction. I still thought the best bet at that point was to cross its bow rather than double back around its stern, but somehow it managed to shift course again as though it was following me (I’m sure it was just adjusting to the breeze). In any event, I awkwardly wound up directly in its path and, rather than run at the orcas directly beyond them, I won the far side of them and then turned abruptly north again, passing the sailboat quite closely with the orcas coming up the other side. Not my finest maneuvering to be sure. I was able to turn the windshield wipers off now that we were facing the waves directly at a slow speed, but keeping the boat stable and watching the animals proved to be a challenge from inside the cabin. We did have two very nice looks as they passed our port side of a large male with a wavy dorsal fin, a couple of ladies/young males, and possibly some juveniles. After just a couple of breathing cycles we turned south again, more affected by the following sea than I would have thought.

Thankfully, the seas started to lay down a bit as we passed the south end of Icy Strait and continued to do so down Chatham. I’d seen a couple of whale blows off Admiralty in the distance, and was surprised to see none along the shores of Chichagof. Nor did we see any jumping salmon when usually the sea is alive with them at that time of year. It wasn’t an encouraging observation, but I hoped that it was more a reflection of the pink salmon run that hadn’t materialized than it was of general conditions. Cohos were showing up around Juneau, so hopefully they would be at Pavlof as well.

We’d left the harbor at around 10:30 a.m. and I don’t think it was much past 1:00 when we won Tax’aas. We dropped our gear in our usual camping spot and Chris inflated the Howard Moon (I’d hopefully fixed its small tear earlier in the week) as it was simpler and quicker than the kayak while I carried gear up the beach. When it was ready, I left Chris to work on the tent while I went to anchor the Kathy M. My first attempt between the rock and shore failed to catch hold, so I repositioned on the south side of the rock where I’ve had luck before, watching a crab fisherman pulling pots nearby while I set the anchor. I couldn’t figure out how to open the anchor hatch, so I had to pull line out from the corner where it emerged. I grabbed some snacks and tea and rowed back to the mainland, already in waders from unloading the boat.

The day was no less beautiful in the harbor. The tent was all set up, so we made tea and drank it in our camp chairs overlooking the water, unusually relaxed and relatively energetic. Two cohos had jumped within 20 feet of the Kathy M while I was anchoring, but the harbor was about as quiet as we’d ever seen it. But we did see a lot of splashing concentrated at the entrance to the creek, so we decided we would walk over there for some exploratory fishing just to check it out. No pressure, no expectations. We found ourselves delightfully alone on the shore while the tide rose and a bear or two or three fished for salmon on the rocky shelf below the falls. Coho jumped in front of us while we started to fish. Or, rather, Chris started to fish. I had a brand new fishing pole (having dropped mine in the lake last year) and had to set it up. I tied on a swivel and lure, a little impatient despite myself as coho were jumping like mad just in front of me (we were toward the lower end of the channel in front of the deep pools next to the rocky point). But I still had to secure the handle to my new reel! I always forget to do that, and never remember how. As my anxiety rose in my throat, I struggled to get it to screw in, baffled by the physics of it, until I remembered to try screwing it on backwards. Of course that worked and now I had a functional reel! Or so I thought. I tried to make a cast, confident now that everything was working, but the switch on the reel which I don’t really understand was turned the wrong way and the lure dropped below me into the water; although the switch was easy to fix, the lure was helplessly snagged and I had to cut it loose. In the meantime, yards and yards of line had fallen loosely off the reel and I required Chris’s assistance to slowly untangle it and spool it back on. I tied on a new swivel and lure and was finally ready to go. I’m not actually sure if that’s the proper or complete set of events, but suffice to say it took some time for me to get going and I nearly lost the cool I’d maintained over the previous stresses of the day! I really just wanted to start fishing among those lovely jumping l’ook.

And so I did, one point away from Chris, casting into the calm waters of the lower creek. At some point a sow and two young-of-the-year cubs showed up, followed later by a solitary bear. We slowly moved up creek as we had little luck below while the tide rose. After about an hour I had a fish on and we soon landed our first beautiful coho, Bellina. I caught her on the lure I later dubbed “rising tide yellow”, the spinner lure that seemed to have significantly more action than previous choices that afternoon. A little later, Chris also caught a beautiful coho, Jupiter. Unfortunately, though we were having good action, the tide was rising high enough that we had only about five feet of steep rock beach between the water and the edge of the alders. A second bear showed up, and when he poked his head over the uppermost point not far from where we were fishing, we decided to call it a day. Chris had walked back to the camp once already to make sure our chairs weren’t getting flooded (they weren’t—the grass starts significantly higher up the beach at our camps site than along the creek), but it had risen a lot since then, so everything pointed to us calling it a day. Thoroughly delighted with the outcome of our exploratory mission, we walked back to camp and had a cup of wine before I rowed our fish to the boat to ice them and pick up dinner. We had never attempted to fish the creek before on our first day, so it was good to have a couple of fish under our belt at the start of the trip, and to know that more coho were out there. As the tide continued to creep up the beach, we ate macaroni and cheese and drank wine. Given the warmth of the day and the quickly rising tide, we opted not to make a campfire but went to bed relatively early, delighted by our first day and ready to start early the next. As usual, Chris heroically rowed the food back to the boat for the night.


Afternoon tea upon arrival

Edge of the tent

Setting up camp

We’d talked about getting up early the next morning, in part prompted by the arrival of another small boat with potential fishing rivals aboard. Exhausted from prepping every night that week following a week at Snetty and up the Taku, a very early morning didn’t sound very enticing; but, I wound up sleeping quite poorly and was awake at 6:00 a.m. anyway. Though we’ve camped in that very spot the last two years, somehow our positioning was a bit off and we wound up on a slope. Chris slept better, but happily got up after I rowed out to the boat for breakfast and lunch. We had a quick cup of tea, a snack, and headed to the creek, arriving a little after 7:00 on a rising tide. There were no bears about and we settled in fishing from the uppermost point across from the deep pools where the cohos congregate at low tide. We didn’t have ve
ry much action, but Chris amazingly pulled a lovely coho out of the creek. Eventually, we saw that the big National Geographic boat (small cruise ship) which had passed the harbor earlier that morning was setting anchor and decided to walk up to the channel above the waterfall when they began showing up to wait for bears. I wanted to assess the lake for fishing potential, enjoy the peace of fishing away from the roar of the falls, and take advantage of a bear-free period to sneak up there with our fish in tow.

We skirted past the tourists and disappeared upcreek, calling to bears and observing the tiny cub prints in the mud. We walked out to the last firm ground at the edge of the marsh in view of the lake and settled in. I saw a tiny fish swim by the shore along with a pink salmon, and Chris saw a small fish too, but there was no sign of cohos, no strikes and no jumping at all, though we did watch a dark brown bear wander along the opposite shore before disappearing into the woods. We hung around for about 40 minutes and I ate my smoked salmon sandwich, and then we returned to the havoc at the creek. The folks on shore were pretty nice, patiently awaiting the arrival of a bear around the point where we’d been fishing earlier. At the high tide, there wasn’t much room on that point and the pools were rather far away, so we left them to that area and walked downstream to fish the lower part of the channel. Hordes of yellow kayaks came into the creek and disrupted us periodically, though most congregated near the others to watch the bears that began showing up in larger numbers, including the sow with two cubs. Another bear mozied along the shore across from us and I took pictures of various kayakers in front of it, taking the email of one of them, but the pictures didn’t turn out very well.

We were getting no action down on the creek, and were further irritated by the sneaky arrival of a small skiff with several fishermen who appeared on the point near the tourists. The jumping cohos and falling tide were beckoning us, and Chris soon declared his intention to retake the point. It must have been about 11:00 and about time for the tourists to leave. The flotilla of yellow kayaks had mostly left, so we thought the shore based folks would also soon be on their way. So we marched up there just as a guy  hooked a pink salmon and let his kids reel it in. It’s hard to blame kids for not handling fish well, but I felt bad for the pink salmon gripped by the small hands and struggling on the rocks before being released back into the water. While they dealt with it or another salmon, we boldly walked out onto the emerging rocks and tried to fish. Emphasis on tried. There was one lingering yellow kayak and his zodiac keeper, the former of which was absolutely oblivious to the fact that we were prevented from fishing by his being exactly where we needed to be. It was hard to be polite when he rambled on about how the kid’s eyes lit up while he was torturing salmon, but we endured; he even failed to give us much room when the zodiac driver told him to back up to let us fish and that he was already farther upstream than he was supposed to be. I even broke down and asked a shore based tourist how much longer they’d be there.

We did finally get some casting in, but kept snagging pinks, which were difficult to reel in/net, and having an avid audience on shore didn’t help the gracelessness of it. The tourists did eventually leave, but we quickly ceded the point to the other fishermen, who were only there for a little while longer, in order to ice our single coho and reset. Once that was complete, we relaxed a bit at camp and had a drink or something in our camp chairs before returning to the creek that afternoon. The day, which had dawned soft and misty, had quickly cleared up and turned into a scorchingly hot, sunny day. While we were still happily fishing in the lower channel that morning, I’d gone up to chat with the tourists and beg a little sunscreen off one of them.

On our return, we found the creek pleasantly deserted and immediately resumed fishing the upper pools where nearly all the jumping was taking place. On the lower tide we were able to get right in there, but I found myself hopelessly snagging pinks over and over again. I was able to release them without disturbing Chris, but I was wasting a lot of time with them on the line, and also making adjustments to my casting and reeling to keep them off the line, which no doubt also kept coho off my line! Although I improved a little with my snagging over time, I finally went back downstream to the next point to fish the deeper channel there. Even if there was little jumping, at least I wasn’t tangled up in pink salmon all the time.

It was now midafternoon and I was starting to wear out, my back beginning to ache from the effort of hours or casting. But I kept thinking, as I stared at the rippleless green water in front of me, that sometimes fish do strike, eventually they will strike, you just don’t know when. If I stop now, who’s to say they wouldn’t have starting striking in five minutes' Things change, but you don’t know if they have unless you’re out there observing it. Every fisherman knows this, and it’s part of what keeps us out there. Speaking of change, I’d changed up my lure from good old “rising tide yellow” to a simple pink spinner. And pink was the color that did it. Not long after swapping out and past the point when I first felt physically unable to continue casting, I had a strike from below, not far from shore. Nervous about jinxing it, having had no luck in almost 24 hours, I just said “Help!” quietly to Chris, who came in and efficiently netted my coho, who hardly put up a fight. Not long after, another small coho came to my pink lure and behaved in a similar way. I was delighted by both, Serena and Zella. 

By this time the afternoon was wearing down, and so were we. Chris laid down on the beach nearby and took a small nap while I forced myself to continue fishing, back on the yellow lure for some reason. My back was aching, but my efforts were rewarded with a significantly larger fish that was more of a fighter. I desperately wanted to bring her to shore, silently begging her to come in, and was so relieved and delighted when she was also netted by Chris. I’ve never said so many gunalcheeches (thank yous) to so many lovely l’ook (coho).

I cleaned the fish and then fished for a while longer, beyond the point (again) when my back began to ache with the effort. I finally followed Chris’s example laid down on the rocky beach just upstream of the point I’d been fishing. The pink-beige rocks on this beach are broken into squarish pieces a few inches square and aren’t worn smooth like some beach gravel, but I managed to find a relatively comfortable position using my hat to shield my face from the intense sun. I couldn’t turn my face to the side as I really wanted to and maintain sun protection, so I wasn’t perfectly comfortable, but nevertheless I sank into unconsciousness three times there on the beach while Chris fished from the upstream point. When I got up the tide had crept much closer to my feet and my bag was only inches now from the water. I don’t remember if I fished any longer after that, but we soon decided to call it a day as the tide continued to rise, our energies spent and our cooler four fish fuller than the day before. It was about 6:00. Chris carried the poles and net and I carried the pack with the fish still tied up, walking the edge of the water to drag them through it and so save my energy and keep them less conspicuous. While still along the channel, Chris stopped and said he’d heard something in the woods, and I eventually made out a cub with a white chevron on its chest standing on its hind legs and watching us from a break in the alders. Chris saw a lot more bear fur in the woods and I waded farther into the water, kicking the fish farther from view and prepared to retreat onto the far edge of the rocky outcrop we’d just reached. We hastened down the beach with no incident, staying by the water longer than usual to avoid the path the bears were on, but I soon carried the fish out of the water as it became less practical to detour around all the point. By this time I was actually looking forward to the shade at the camp site!

When we arrived at camp, I gratefully lay the fish in the water and asked Chris to bring me the fillet knife from the tote so I could remove a piece of one of the cohos for dinner, having failed to procure any trout. As he walked up he asked me if I’d deflated the raft this morning. I knew what he was getting at, but refused to be derailed from my filleting mission by naughty bears, knowing that we had the kayak as backup. A $20 raft was a small loss and the necessity of inflating the double kayak would only slightly inconvenience us. I underestimated the situation. Chris called that the bears had ransacked the tote and I reluctantly joined him, seeing the tote overturned, a water jug chewed, and, worst of all, the wine entirely drained. As Chris said, it smelled like a high school party. The tin pans for cooking dinner had been splashed with wine, perhaps licked up by tiny tongues, the wax fire starters mildly chewed. Amazingly, the bears did not touch the large camp stove also sitting there and left the jet boil and dishes more or less intact. Truly, the wine was the biggest disappointment, coveted by both of us after the long day! While Chris continued to investigate, I returned to the beach to get the kayak ready and Chris asked me to check on the tent. Amazingly, it and the various clothing and boots around it were completely undisturbed!

I began hastily removing all the components of the kayak—pump, paddles, seats, and finally the main body. When I at last held the empty cloth bag in my hands, I was surprised to see a large rip in the bottom where I was positive it had been perfectly intact when placed in the grass the day before, never having been dragged across barnacles or anything. As far as I could tell, it was sitting just as we’d left it and could not have been much of an attractant. But when I turned the kayak over to look at the bottom, I saw the large rips in the plastic….bears had managed to destroy it subtlety in its sack, and then turn it upright as though nothing had happened!

So that changed everything. I gazed out at the utterly serene and profoundly beautiful harbor to a sight that Chris and I have seen only once before in our six years of camping there—not a single boat lay at anchor. But, I had seen two jet skis enter the harbor when we were walking back and hadn’t seen them leave yet—perhaps they were hidden from view at the creek and could offer me a ride' It seemed a better option than swimming, if only for time and the stickiness of a saltwater bath and our mutual exhaustion. Figuring I didn’t have much time to waste, I told Chris (still cleaning up the woods) that I was going back to the creek to see if I could get a ride. I half ran, half walked down the rocky beach to the channel and saw the jet skis and their occupants on the other shoreline, quite narrow at that tide. They waved and I asked if they could help me with a ride to my boat. There were very nice and happy to oblige and said they’d do so as soon when they left in about five minutes. They were watching the bears below the waterfall, but couldn’t get too close, as the beach disappears closer to the falls at high tide. I plunked myself down and watched the bears too until the men mounted their boats and one came to get me. The rider, Shawn I think (or one of them was named Shawn), told me how to use the little step on the back and kick off from the beach in order to save the jet sucking up sand, and then to sit facing backwards and hang on. I was impressed by how large and stable the jet ski was and how much gear they had strapped on, including jerry jugs of gas on the sides. It turns out they had come all the way from Juneau and were on their way to visit a friend in Tenakee that night! I explained why I needed a ride and he sounded surprised that bears would do that, as the Forest Service folks he knew from Pack Creek while working for Discovery Southeast were surprised when a bear nibbled a kayak there several years ago, something they’d never experienced. I, however, am very familiar with the plastic and rubber-chewing habits of naughty brown bears! I always knew that the inflatable was in potential danger, but we had that kayak, which in its cloth bag did not seem a lure. As we pulled away from the falls, the sow and cubs were clustered at its edge, and there were three cubs with her. Surely the other mother we’d seen twice before already had only two' Could this be a different group' They also looked like young-of-the-year, though I can’t be certain from that distance.

My driver dropped me effortlessly at the Kathy M on the first pass and headed on his way out of the harbor. I pulled anchor and brought the boat into the beach. Although I anxious for rest and Chris was anxious to discuss our plans (as was I), I refused to engage until I’d iced down those fish and could sit down and properly discuss options. Chris brought me the fillet knife from the tote that he’d brought back down to the beach and I awkwardly cut out a fillet for dinner before rinsing and icing the fish on the back of the Kathy M. At last I dropped the anchor on the beach and joined Chris in the camp chairs with a cold beer, though he’d already opened the warm Alaskan summer that had been stashed in the woods by the tote.

And so we talked about our options while overlooking the halcyon water, a truly glorious scene unmarred by other boats. It was too late to return to Juneau that night. We both felt safe camping on land again, but without a tender, it would be awkward to keep the boat within reach. The high tide several hours later was higher than the one the next morning, so in order to escape the beach the next day, we’d be up until well after midnight pushing the boat to deeper water, or else we could try to develop a clever system to hold the boat off in deeper water while maintaining a line to shore, but that sounded stressful. Once I remembered that my parents are always telling me that the bench seats of the Kathy M turn into a bed, our decision was easy: we would sleep on the boat that night, and probably head back to Juneau at our leisure the next afternoon after fishing in the morning. We had fish in the coolers, and one night on the boat sounded like enough, and then we could work Monday if we wanted.

Chris climbed aboard to help me figure out the bed situation, which turned out to be ridiculously easy (just two bars that span the gap between the seats on which the back rests fit perfectly) and then we started to pack up. I took all my gear out of the tent and then started loading the boat with the rest of our gear while Chris packed his gear and dismantled the tent. With all our gear on board, the back deck and the seats inside are all crowded, so I was looking for ways to make space as I packed everything away. I put some gear on top of the cabin (waders, poles, net), kept a large cooler on either side of the deck, stacking the tote on top of the small cooler for accessibility and the day-to-day small cooler on top of the huge cooler, on top of which I put the two buckets stacked inside each other. I moved the two metal gas cans end to end at the back of the boat on the starboard side, which left enough room for one camp chair between a gas can and the smaller cooler and the other camp chair behind the large cooler on the other side. I set up the large stove on the end of the large cooler, where it fit perfectly. Inside I saved out sleeping gear and otherwise stowed everything around the seats up front.

By the time Chris was done with the tent, everything was ready and ship shape. I stashed his gear inside and then he handed up the ruined boats, the only things I’d left on shore, which fit into the bow tidily enough in front of the gas cans. I admit I was pretty proud of how the back deck had turned out and suitably pleased with Chris’s surprise and pleasure at it. The evening was looking up despite our unexpected hurdles! We puttered down the harbor toward the entrance to the creek where I thought we’d enjoy the view of the waterfall and where I was relatively confident the water wouldn’t be too deep, given that the flats nearby are revealed for a considerable distance out at very low tides; however, I was also pretty sure we could land in the main channel where the current would keep us facing the waterfall (I’d noticed the current running out of the harbor even on a rising tide earlier when I’d paddled to the boat at anchor). In any event, we would be on board if anything went awry! We dropped anchor just outside the little rocky outcrop on the inside edge of the harbor that marks the entrance to the channel; Chris put the boat in gear after I secured the anchor line and was pleased when the anchor caught quickly. At last we were in the quiet of the bay, at anchor, completely alone, on a glassy water, watching bears (two at one point) on the shoreline. I finally changed into dry clothes, relieved to snuggle into dry socks after a day of soaking, and got working on dinner. The cooking station on the back deck worked extremely well, the propane bottle propped up on a water jug, though juggling all the food at once on both burners was a little awkward. I wound up cooking the salmon and peas together on one (rinsed) tin pan and the stuffing on the other burner. The salmon was reluctant to cook, so I wound up mincing it and we ate everything together in one bowl. Though we rued the lack of wine and drank water instead, we couldn’t ask for a better setting for dinner. Even the noseeums, a slight nuisance on land, abandoned us to our floating camp.

Gear stashed in the woods

A misty morning
Channel to Pavlof Lake

The afternoon's catch

The back deck

Cooking on the back deck

Dinner, 2 bears on the beach

Evening light toward the channel

It was a late dinner, so Chris soon put the bed together, laid out the blanket on it, and we snuggled in for a little science fiction before sleep. And what a comfortable bed and a good sleep it was! Despite our exhaustion, I was again up early, this time closer to 7:00, and largely thanks to a rhythmic banging sound. I never did discover what was making it but by the time investigations were complete, I was irrevocably awake. We lounged for just a little bit and then I dressed and got ready for the day. I ate some oatmeal and then Chris joined me on the back deck for tea. The boat was a bit dewy, but I’d folded the camp chairs for the night so they weren’t as damp as they might have been. The morning was just as mild and beautiful as the evening had been. We were so relaxed and having such a nice morning that we both drank two cups of jasmine tea before deciding it was time for some fishing. By that time, one small boat had moved into the harbor but did not seem to be making for the creek, and one plane had landed with photographers. They were already on their point camped out in the sun waiting for bears when we arrived. It was a couple of hours until high tide, so most of the jumping was concentrated in the deep pools near the edge of the rock shelf, which is just across from their point. Working together, Chris and I dropped the anchor in the channel closer to the photographers more or less silently, without banging the chain against the side of the boat. I thought we did it rather well.

And then we got to the serious business of fishing! For an hour we cast into the deep pools where, depending on the light, we could sometimes see the school with hundreds or thousands of fish, five feet wide along the shore, and from which cohos erupted regularly, gone from sight by the time their ripples died no matter how hard we peered at them. I fished from the bow and Chris from the stern and, once again, I proved myself Snag Queen. In order to get near where the cohos seemed to be, the best strategy was to place the lure in or near all those fish, but time and time again I snagged fish, always pinks. Sometime they shook them, but I lost a lot of time and annoyed a lot of fish drawing them in to be released. I quickly gave up reeling them in and began simply grabbing the line and pulling them in without the reel; all of them shook off with little or no effort on my part once they were close to the boat, to my relief. Only once did I lose a lure, and that was the big “rising tide yellow” that I’d caught two fish on so far (I think) and had worked well before, a favorite for its heavy weight and casting distance. Chris and I were both casting well, avoiding snagging the far bank and other obstacles, though we often dropped the lure quite close to shore and a big snag, but neither of us were getting any serious strikes. I began seriously switching out lures; sometimes I think this is mythology and superstition and I usually prefer not to waste my time on it, but since we weren’t getting any action, why not' I went through several lures until, in desperation, I thought I may as well put on one of those big pixies—a pink one—just in case. It was the first or second cast and I had a fish on, a coho, and Chris helped me land it beautifully. Surprise pixie! After I caught a second coho on the same lure, Chris put on the other big pink pixie.

By that time, though, we were both a little hungry. A single bear had come through and caught some fish for the photographers, but the tide had begun to drop and we were close to rubbing the stern on the emerging outcrop near which we were anchored. Thankfully, the bear had left by then, which I confirmed with the photographers, and let them know that we were going to reposition the boat. They thanked me, but I’m pretty sure they would have preferred to have the creek to themselves. They barely looked at us when we finally did land fish, which is fairly unusual. We ate cheese, salami, and rather stiff bread on the back deck and rested a little bit. The sun had been hot when we’d started and I’d been fishing in a tank top, but it had shifted and put us in shadow, and the wind had come up, so we were both then in hoodies. At some point we moved the boat a second time even closer to the pools into which we were casting, sometimes drifting within about 20 feet of them. This made it even more fun to watch the school in the water, a phalanx of dark backs. Sometimes individuals or small groups would break off and swim close to the boat, and some of those were definitely cohos. It was puzzling to me that we never snagged a coho since the pools were obviously full of them based on the jumping; I began to suspect that they were underneath the pinks.

Not long after our late morning lunch, Chris got a fish on just after I snagged one. As we both reeled from opposite ends of the boat, I saw my fish underwater and it looked like perhaps it was actually hooked through the corner of the mouth. Nevertheless, Chris was certain his was a coho, so rather than risk that fish for a potential snag, I carried my pole around the outside of the boat to the back deck and told Chris I was coming to help. I balanced my pole against the opposite side of the boat and let the fish do what it would, grabbing the net and going to Chris. At the last moment I realized that that fish could easily pull my pole overboard, so I lunged back for it and held it between my legs while I managed to net Chris’s fish! As soon as it was in the boat I left its care to Chris and brought my pink in for release from its snag, just behind the mouth. Whew! Chris’s fish was our ninth, a Pavlof record.

The sow with two cubs came to the creek and entertained everyone, including us. In the sunshine with good fishing, we had no hard feelings, even if it was this trio that had destroyed our inflatables, and we actually took breaks from fishing to watch them. Left with a fish of its own, one of the cubs took it over to the other cub and they shared it while mom continued to fish. Another time, the mother sat down facing away from us and a cub mimicked her nearby. Around 11:30, the photographers left and must have been picked up, though we didn’t hear a plane until much later. Shortly thereafter, Chris had another fish on, which immediately ran downstream all the way to the end of his line! With no other choice, Chris tightened the drag and hauled him back upstream. This coho put up the biggest fight of the weekend! Chris followed him up to the bow, and I followed with the net, watching him turn away from the boat and net time after time, diving down to the bottom and trying to go under the boat, which Chris prevented. Many times he came close, but always turned away. But at last, adrenaline rushing, Chris maneuvered him into the waiting net and I scooped him up over the bow and inside. Chris rushed through the boat to get the bonker on the back deck, then cut the gills and carried him to the stringer in the back where he joined his three companions. He was by far the largest coho we’d caught, and brought us into double digits.

The tide had dropped alarmingly by then, so we carefully puttered down creek and anchored closer to the mouth off the middle points where we often fish. I cleaned and iced the cohos while Chris cast a little into a school of cohos he could see periodically, but we soon decided we were delighted with our catch, exhausted of fishing, and ready to stop for the day. However, just as I was finishing with the icing process, the school came back through and the water exploded with jumping. Just for the fun of it I made a cast and got two strikes. On the second cast I had a fish on. I was reeling it in when it made a dramatic leap right next to the boat and shook the lure. From the bow, Chris said the fish jumped straight toward him and he watched it shake the pink lure out of its mouth in mid-air! With such a troll, it was impossible not to cast again, so we both fished for a while longer. I got strikes on nearly every cast for about a dozen more casts and Chris had a fish on for a while, but lost it before the school moved on and we quit fishing again. Meanwhile, the bear action had picked up. Mama and cubs were gone, but the blond bear was there and Chris’s young, dark friend had arrived and managed to catch a fish close to the edge of the channel, carrying it along the shore on the south side. The other bear, despite his fishing prowess, followed him and made him nervous enough to drop his fish and enter the water. While blondie munched on shore, Chris’s friend swam through the schools we’d been fishing in, peering into the water until only his fuzzy ears were above the surface! He did come up with a fish once, but quickly dropped it. It’s hard to know what makes one fish delicious over another!

By then it was around 3:00 and, after making the boat ship shape for travel and putting 30 gallons of gas in and fresh oil, we headed out to the entrance of the bay where I wanted to do a little halibut fishing. Unfortunately, the water was deeper than I expected and the current swifter, and I was mostly dragging my weight and hooligan (one of two I’d put aside for bait) toward our camp site. I reeled it in and repositioned once before giving up. During that time, a National Geographic boat came in and we were approached by a middle aged man in a zodiac who graciously told us what their plan was in the bay so as to minimize the disruption to us. It was a classy thing to do, and certainly the first time it’s happened over the course of many encounters. But it was unnecessary, we assured him, as we were literally about to leave.

We made one stop in Iyoukeen Cove to attempt more halibut fishing, but had poor success there too. I believe it was the brisk northerly that kept pushing us to shore. I dropped the line twice in deeper water, and the second time I had a genuine bite, a big tug that tore the hooligan off the line save for the hook through the gills. I put the other hooligan on the line, amazed at the oil rings it made in the water on the way down, in shallower water just outside the line of crab pot buoys near the mine ruins, repositioning once when we drifted too close to shore. Soon I was ready to call it, and off we went up Chatham Strait. Thankfully the seas were better than I expected from the brisk breeze blowing into Pavlof Harbor and only picked up as we crossed Icy Strait, which always takes a surprisingly long time. I had wanted to go to the Couverdens and follow the coast up looking for wildlife, but I only made it about half way across the Lynn Canal by the time we were even with them and I decided it was probably not worth the extra time and distance to detour over there. By the time we passed Funter Bay, we’d put the Icy Strait swells behind us and now had a small following sea.

The rest of the trip was uneventful; the seas were a little rougher crossing Barlow Cove, but laid down in Saginaw. At the dock, we were ushered ahead by another party waiting for their trailer, and I left Chris with the boat while I went for the truck, quickly putting a little more air in the trailer tires before I drove down. At first I thought my timing was perfect, as an empty trailer was just pulling up from the launch ramp as I arrived and I thought there had been time for a launch, but Chris corrected me later that it had been the other’s boat’s trailer that had not checked to see if their boat was still first in line! I had to correct my backing up once, but otherwise we pulled the boat efficiently and transferred gear to the truck—all except for the large cooler, which we did not think was wise to transfer to the ground, as it was exceptionally heavy (not a problem we’ve had in the past). Back at the launch ramp, our two jet ski friends were trying to pull their jet skis on the beach with a small pickup, but it didn’t appear to have the power to do so. I wanted to offer help, as they’d helped us, but it looked like they had plenty of others around them and we could do little with the Kathy M in tow. Instead, we headed to Harris Harbor where we quickly launched the Kathy M back into the water and we both took our vehicles to Aurora. Just as I was nearing the slip outside the Alaskan’s boat house, Chris passed on the dock on his way to find a cart for the cooler. I tied up and we easily lifted up the cooler into the cart along with a handful of other items I’d forgotten on board and the rest of the jerry jugs. Chris wheeled the cart all the way to the far ramp and up to the truck where we tucked it into a strategic hole he’d left among all the gear in the back. It was 8:15 and we headed home to a very happy dog! My parents were also very happy to hear from us, in part because a big southeasterly storm was scheduled for the next day and we would likely have been weathered into the harbor. About 4:00 a.m. that night I awoke to an overwhelming rushing sound that terrified me; I struggled to remember where I was and to determine what danger was in store for me. When I realized I was in bed, it was with great relief; the sound that woke me up was actually rain pelting on the roof of the boat shelter outside, the start of the storm that the bears has saved us from by suggesting our early departure! It may be the hardest rain I’ve ever heard in Juneau. Thank you bears!

We both took the next day off of work anyway, about four hours of which I spent processing fish. In the morning I made up a bunch of vacuum bags, then after collapsing on the couch for a few minutes, I set up a very pleasant fillet station on the chest freezer in the garage and played renaissance music by the Palladian Ensemble while I filleted all ten fish. After lunch we rinsed and packed all the portions plus six or seven cups of chowder meat scraped from above the backbone. I also vacuum packed all the heads and carcasses for eagle treats later in the year.

Making breakfast

Jasmine tea in the morning

Hundreds (thousands') of fish beneath the surface

Cleaning our catch


Chris and his fish

Filleting back home

Heads all sealed up for the eagles

Chris fishing the mouth of the channel