Snettisham 2022 - 5: Late Summer
August 18 - 21


Taku Inlet

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The weather came together perfectly. A wall of rain hit Juneau on Wednesday, diminishing in the evening; no rain was then forecast through the weekend, so we might have a couple of days for Sweetheart Creek to settle down before fishing opportunity over the weekend. It could not have been planned better, at least in that regard! A day of light and variable winds took me on the water late morning on Thursday after a couple hours or work. Ezra helped me load the boat, which I appreciated more than usual since I had a cooler of ice, a halibut skate, and other sundry fishing items I don't usually carry. Plus the Kathy M was parked behind the Ronquil from our Taku trip a few days prior, so he idled in the Ronquil while I moved the Kathy M and tied her inside.

The channel had a small southeasterly coming up at us, but it didn't slow us down. What slowed us down was the engine stopping, as it had a couple of trips ago coming up the channel. I started it again and it died again. I went back, made sure the cap on the gas tank was loose so it could vent, and even unscrewed and assessed the outlet fitting to make sure nothing had caught in and clogged the end of it as had happened periodically years before. It looked good, but still the engine wouldn't start and I wasn't able to obviously get gas through the fuel line, my perpetual problem. This was unpleasant, but my anxiety was enlivened by a cruise ship in Taku Inlet coming my way. I was dead in the water in the middle of the channel, and sometimes cruise wakes are five feet tall and very disruptive even when the boat is under control. I dreaded what would happen if one passed close by. At least the fog had cleared and visibility was good, so presumably the pilot would see me. Still, I really wanted to get out of the way! I unhooked the fuel line from the engine and half connected it; some gas came out, but when I closed the connection it seemed to stop. Maybe there was water in the fuel filter? I unscrewed it and dumped it in the bucket and, sure enough, it was maybe a little less than half water, and that was brownish colored. Was it enough to impair fuel flowing through? I didn't know. I screwed it back on, but after hearing gas enter the filter a few times there was nothing. There was no evidence that I was getting gas through the line at all. The ship was getting nearer. I tried to start the kicker--really tried--several times, to no avail. In desperation, I unscrewed the fuel filter again and carried it to the bow where I manually filled it with fresh gas from my tiny jerry jug on top of the cooler over an oil absorbant towel, which soaked up any spills. I screwed it back on, gave the bulb more pumps (not feeling it changed) and tried to start the engine. It turned over, and didn't die. Thank goodness! I steered for the shore and then idled down the channel, not wanting to over stress the system until I was past the cruise ship wake, though I slowly picked up speed over time. The wake itself turned out to be quite modest, but I was very glad to be under control as the monstrosity went by. I'm not sure what the issue was, but Sally, my engine, had no more trouble all the way to Snettisham. The Open was calm, if not quite glassy, then a following sea picked up toward Grand Island and followed me into the port where it built to 1-2' seas, surprisingly. Patches and streaks of blue sky peeked out from behind fluffy clouds and it was all around a gorgeous and pleasant ride down (once we left the cruise ship!).

All the systems started beautifully, including the fridge on my very first try (after holding the gas button in for several seconds before trying to start it) and I was so grateful to be here and to have a leisurely afternoon and evening ahead. The internet was the only issue. The wifi light was only coming on part of the time, but the power button was blinking. The instructions gave information on what solid and flashing and colored lights meant for every other light on the modem, but not power. I tried to restart it by pressing the button on front and the recessed button on back and looked through my cheat sheet from past discussions with Hughesnet reps to no avail. I finally went to the system site and saw that I was in walled garden mode, though my signal strength was good. I promptly went down to the log and sent Ezra a text message on my new inreach SE+ to call Hughesnet and gave him the number from my cheat sheet, my SAN, and other info. I waited down there for about ten minutes, then came up and internet was working! I thought both Ezra and Inreach were heroes, but he later told me that the phone number didn't work and he hadn't talked to anyone. Somehow I got out of walled garden mode otherwise.

So then I sat on the porch and worked for an hour and a half and read for most of the rest of the evening, packing for Sweetheart Creek and heading to Hermit Thrush around 8:00 to stretch and start what I hoped would be a fine night of rest. The nordic stove seems to be working much better this year than it ever has, warming up the cabin promptly and heating water fast, even to the point of whistling quite quickly. I did sleep reasonably well, and warm, though it still feels rather warm out this morning. I tested the new o-rings I'd bought on the water filter whose o-ring was inexplicably too large this spring, and it seemed to work even though I'd accidentally purchased square rather than round o-rings (who knew that was even an option?). Otherwise, I did tidying projects and watched three boats headed down Gilbert Bay. I think we're going to have plenty of competition this weekend.

Katie and Rob made good time on the way down, cruising into the port around 11:30. Cailey watched anxiously and waded out to the boat when I told her Hank was aboard; at first I wondered whether she was hoping for a ride home, but she bounded back to shore after Hank got out. With a few hours until high tide and only about a six foot difference anyway, they left the Rock on shore and got settled in. The day was partly cloudy and pleasant and we ate Katie's salmon wraps for lunch on the porch and made plans. Around 3:30, Rob and I started getting ready. I put my small pack with the essentials (stringer, leatherman, license, kitchen shears, deet, net) inside my new dry bag backpack, added my special fish bonker, put Cailey in Hermit Thrush with an early dinner, and off we went at about 3:50. We found two boats still at anchor at Sweetheart, one of which had a single person aboard. Setting the anchor took a bit of work; we pulled every which way, let out more line, all to no avail. Rob finally pulled it up to discover that the line connecting the chain to the front of the anchor had snapped; the previous owner had an unusual way of attaching the anchor to the chain, connecting them at the back of the anchor, then running the chain along the center and tying it to the usual connection point with string. That way if the anchor gets stuck, the string can break and the anchor can be saved. In this case, it had broken on its own. I'm dubious about this method, but can see the logic.

Once anchored, Rob dropped the raft into the water and rowed us to shore. We found one or two groups of people, including a dog and a kid, at the first point, and my point unoccupied. And the water still rather high. The pool was visible, but I could not reach it despite many attempts. It's really ridiculous how limited my range is. I never caught a single fish that day. Rob focused first on the pool below the falls and pulled in a number of pink salmon, then switched to the upper pool and immediately pulled in two sockeyes. By the time we were ready to go, he'd caught two more sockeyes from the same place. We headed back to the boat as Rob insisted that we split the catch, so as a first contribution I rowed us back to the Rock. Little flies were swarming us and our deet had worn off, so it was not the most pleasant experience, and we decided to forgo dropping skates that day and go relieve Katie of her solo child duty. While Rob anchored the boat, I cleaned the fish, including a pink that he'd kept for bait, then set up a filleting platform on the deck as usual, though it was a different experience with exhaustion tailing me and fish I did not catch before me. Once portioned and in the fridge, we had an amazing dinner of brown rice salad that Katie had made. It was 8:30 when we finished eating and I was musing about the merits of finishing the processing that night or letting the fish sit in the fridge overnight. Heeding Katie's advice not to leave something undone that we'd regret in the morning, I forced myself up, rinsed the fish, started the generator, and had everything vacuum packed and in the freezer by 9:00, this process made quite smooth by the pre-cut and sealed bags I'd made in Juneau.

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The next morning I entered the lodge to the smell of cooking flapjacks. The clouds had parted and the sky was a glorious late summer blue. We feasted on coffee and flapjacks (with a bit of nagoonberry sauce) and then packed a picnic lunch and set off late in the morning for the beach in Harlequin Cove, dropping our halibut skates in Gilbert Bay on the way. I've cruised by there multiple times and wanted to visit, partly because of the brisk little creek that flows through it where I once saw dozens of eagles gathered, suggesting a local salmon run. It did not disappoint and is probably the nicest picnic beach we've explored in Snettisham to date. It didn't hurt that the tide was fairly low, so the expansive small cobble beach was exposed with tempting beach logs along the tops of the gravel deposits where the beach grass began. The creek was deeply incised into the rock and was a mix of medium gravel and boulders a foot or two wide. We startled a pair of pink salmon and Cailey located a pink fish tail to nibble. We wandered around a bit and explored a huge tide pool, then sat on a beach log and ate a picnic lunch. It is a glorious location with a wide view looking out across Stephen's Passage to Admiralty, with Mist Island and the curve of the mainland on one side. Eleanore delighted in finding feathers and sticks and shells. After lunch I walked up the creek around a couple of bends. It gained elevation swiftly, so I wouldn't be surprised if anadromy doesn't extend much beyond the tidally influenced area. The edges of the creek were heavily vegetated and alders soon arched over the creek such that I lost my enthusiasm for creek exploration. One area had a very pale substrate that reminded me of glacial silt. The beach had already reminded me of our camp site in Holkam Bay with its tall fingers of cobble.

Around 2:00, Rob rowed out to the boat and picked us up. Eleanore and Cailey both fell asleep on the short ride back. By that time, I was ready for a nap too! Cumulative exhaustion and a day outside in the sun was taking its toll, but we had a second Sweetheart trip planned, so I made some cafe francais on our short break. When that failed to elicit the desired response, I drank a diet Dr. Pepper and, by the time we left at 4:00, was feeling slightly optimistic, a sure sign that the caffeine had taken effect. The whole operation went far more smoothly after the shake down trip the day before, and we soon found ourselves alone on the creek despite the presence of at least one boat at anchor. The water had dropped a bit and I was able to cast into the very edge of the pool. I even caught a couple of pink salmon, but still no sockeyes. As usually happens when I fail at fishing in the presence of another, my confidence plummeted and I soon ceased fishing altogether as self-loathing took hold. Rob caught two, but the fishing was slow, and I finally agreed to move to wherever he wanted to fish. We relocated to the point below where we could see hundreds of salmon milling in the green water against shore. Rob tried a couple of casts from the top of the point, maybe 20 feet above the water, but soon moved down into the crevasse with me. I kept urging him to wait a few minutes between casts so the fish would return to the green water nearby and fish there, but mostly he cast farther out and, in the end, caught six more fish. I made little effort. Unfortunately, he caught a log after catching a few sockeyes which took quite a bit of effort to pull up. When it finally emerged, half the lines that connect top to bottom were broken and much of the lead line was detached as well. He switched to my net to finish the day. We got into a good routine, with me bonking/releasing, clipping, bleeding, and stringing the fish that he caught. We split the catch on the way out and I loved how my new backpack worked.

On the way back to the homestead, we pulled our empty skates, not arriving until around 8:00 with twice as many fish to process as the day before. Again I cleaned them at the river's edge, then we laid them on a dry bag on the deck. Rob had found more plywood for filleting and I raised my sheet several inches with pieces of 2x so it was easier on my back. Cailey had stayed in the cabin this time, having anxiously looked for me after Katie left her out the day before, so she joined us as the marathon began. I think it was 9:30 and rather dark by the time the fish were portioned and in the fridge and ate the amazing halibut tacos that Katie had prepared for us. All of us were by that time quite exhausted and Eleanore was full of late night, up past bedtime energy. To finish the night, we turned on internet and let her stream a favorite movie. Meanwhile, I rinsed and laid out all the salmon and began vacuum packing with Rob. Partly because we ran out of pre-cut/sealed bags, my vacuum packer eventually overheated, so we switched to Rob and Katie's machine for a while, which helped keep the momentum going. Everyone else fell asleep on the couch. At 10:50 we finally put the last of the fish in the fridge and shuffled off to our cabins. On the boardwalk I looked up and caught a glimpse of the spectacular starry sky which I'd so hoped I'd be able to enjoy (perhaps even with the tail end of the Perseids shower), but by then I was so beyond tired that I could not go out and enjoy it. Poor Katie and Rob found that Hank was missing when they got to Cottonwood and found him on the porch of the lodge. I read for a couple of minutes to relax and fell asleep for a very fitful night of rest.

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Katie and Rob beat me to the lodge again in the morning. I'd cleaned up my cabin, but left the windows and door open to continue to air out and dry. I'd woken to fogged windows on Friday, so had left the windows open all day, pleased that they were fog-free that morning. We ate homemade granola and yogurt for breakfast and enjoyed the sunny porch. The family left late in the morning on another spectacular sunny late summer day. I did some cleaning and rearranging after they left, then settled down for a lunch of leftovers, a beer, and a little reading on the porch. Although I longed for another opportunity to see the night sky at Snettisham, returning that afternoon seemed like the right thing to do. I took off at 4:30 (after a very short nap on the couch), with fish in my cooler but mixed feelings about Sweetheart Creek overall. I believe that if I'd fished again that night, conditions would have been perfect--assuming that sockeye were making it past the first falls. It occurred to me that it may have been a barrier to fish passage from the high water, and we'd seen fish trying to jump it in what seemed futile attempts. Either way, though, I had no more energy for processing, and Rob's generosity put fish in the freezer. The ride home was good, the multiple cruise ship wakes in Stephen's Passage and small ship wakes in the channel the only real issues that slowed us down.

 

Harlequin Beach