Pavlof Harbor 2023
August 5 - 6



Pavlof Harbor at dawn

Photo Album

I've generally not been fold of the old saying "you can never go home" but that was the flavor of this trip. Although there had been rough times and losses at Pavlof Harbor, most times were magical, and all times were with good companions. It was my spot and Chris's, it was my dad's spot, it was the place I'd caught my first coho, and it held a place in my heart that no volume of tourists on small cruise ships or bear watchers could disrupt. I'd been wanting to come every year since our last trip in 2015, but was thwarted or decided against it each time for one reason or another. Not this year. I was committed, the Kathy M was secured, the weather looked amazing, and serendipitously, Ezra's parents were already going to be in Freshwater Bay picking up his brother and nephews from the end of the road from Hoonah on the very night we were meant to be there. It was like it was meant to be. I spent part of the weekend before and on and off all week getting ready, including replacing the reels on both my poles (both of which had lost the screw on the opposite side of the handle) using a reel from Becky's gear that she'd left and buying a second one.

Then I checked the tides on Friday and my first uncertainty arose: there was a -2.4' tide at 10:26 the next morning, making launch ramps awkward for several hours on either side. In retrospect, I should have just decided on an afternoon departure, but I wanted to get underway early. I wanted to be able to stop for the whales which are always along the route in Lynn Canal and/or Chatham, I wanted a chance to fish that afternoon and have a good start. Everything else seemed right! And so, instead of getting ice with Ezra and then pulling the boat and heading out as originally planned, I pulled the boat along around 9:00 and barely got it up the Harris ramp. I was going to then go for ice, but found that the bow of the boat was depressing the back of my car so much that I couldn't put the front wheel of the trailer down to detach from it. With increasing panic, I called Ezra to come and pick me up, leaving my car and boat at the harbor behind another trailer and a crane which was taking up two of the trailer slots. We got ice as I agonized over what to do, eventually deciding to wait until the tide rose a bit before trying to launch. There were tears and there was lots of sweat from hauling the boat--it was a hot day already--and I wound up showering and changing all my clothes. And then chilling at the house for a while. Ezra had dropped me back at the boat on the way back from ice and I'd pulled it up into the parking lot at the high school for the duration, anxious about theft from the unlocked cabin.

Around 11:00 we loaded Ezra's car with all our gear, transferred it to the boat at the high school, then he drove home and walked back down and we headed to North Douglas, getting there a little earlier than expected with the tide only beginning to turn. Only a few feet of the dock was in the water and was apparently stuck to the bottom with the corner submerged. The place was crawling with tourists and there was a long line to the portapotties. I'm normally in favor of tourists, but if a local trying to launch a boat can't use the portapotty because of a mass of tourists, maybe we need more facilities! I may have been a little grumpy in my anxiety. Another boat was getting ready at the same time we were, so we had them go first, watching as the driver managed to launch and then spin his tires on the way up. It didn't help that he described another low tide launch in which he'd gotten stuck and had to be hauled out by a tow truck.

So I lingered a little and let another boat launch before we went in, with no issue. The lot was full of trailers, so I left the car and trailer on the side of the road facing town and hustled back to where Ezra was watching the boat at the end of the dock, which was now floating again. And then we were off, cold drinks in hand, relieved but with the (unnecessary) stress of the morning having sucked some of the glory out of it. The trip down was uneventful and fast, only about two and a half hours, with no whales to speak of, and we found the harbor full of jumping salmon. I quickly caught a beautiful pink in the clear green water, then we went to shore along the back of the harbor and walked along a sand dune as the tide rushed in on the back side of it. It was a lovely evening and, once back aboard, we motored into the creek outlet and anchored there so I could do some casting. I caught another pink or two and released them easily enough, then to my delight and amazement, caught a silver, watching it flash as it came to the boat. Ezra came up on the bow where he expertly netted it and I lavished love and attention on it. It was a very hopeful start.

A little later, Ezra heard from his dad on the handheld and we crept out of the inlet and met their landing craft in the harbor. I waved to Nate, Caleb, Finley, and Ezra's parents, then said goodbye to Ezra as he joined them and headed back into the inlet, not catching another salmon that night. In fact, the jumping and action seemed to have diminished generally. Eventually, I returned to the back of the bay to anchor, only to have trouble catching bottom. I let out more line, but soon reached the end of the previously-utilized portion of the it, beyond which it was a badly twisted and knotted, having never formally come off the spool. There was nothing to do but untangle and get it in order, which I proceeded to do while sitting on the bow, feeding the end of the line through endless loops and knots for a half an hour straight as the noseeums harassed me.

Then I finally anchored successfully, got the cabin in order, and set up on the back deck with camp stove and spaghetti o's at the ready and a cup of wine. It was nearly 8:00 I think and I was ready to relax for the night while fish continued to jump around me. I sat down on my old faithful camp chair which had spent time in Pavlof Harbor before, only to quickly have the bottom tear off under me. I grabbed a knee pad from inside and switched to a cooler for a seat. Back when I'd camped on the beach in the past, I'd always felt vastly superior to the people in the big yachts at anchor in the harbor, but sitting on the back deck of the Kathy M, for some reason I felt more like a peasant. Interesting. Eventually, hunger drove me to cook my dinner and I promptly burnt my tongue.

----------------------

I slept okay in the cabin that night, using the bucket in time to see the beautiful orange sunrise. When I got up and dressed, I first crept up the inlet to check out conditions
, repeatedly hearing a splattering sound as I puttered, but only seeing a little murrelet when I looked around. Finally, I saw the murrelet dive and, moments later, a small ball of little silver fish, about a foot square, erupted, followed by the murrelet. Conditions in the inlet seemed favorable for shore fishing, so went back to anchor behind the rock on the west shore of the harbor where we used to go, heated some water for oatmeal, unloaded my adventure pack to carry only what I needed for the day, inflated the Bob Fossil, and finally made it to shore. All this took too much time, and the tide had dropped considerably by the time I arrived. I started fishing in the pool below the rock shelf in front of the falls, but quickly moved closer to the entrance. There were coho jumping, mostly on the far side of the channel, but the inlet was just packed with huge schools of pinks. I could see them sometimes in the clear water, and their fins were right at the surface such that I snagged them every time I cast toward where the cohos were active unless I reeled so fast that no one was going to bite. No one bit regardless and I eventually gave up on inlet fishing until the tide came in.

I retreated to the cove where the boat was and where we used to camp and saw quite a bit of jumping there. The area was so shallow I left the Fossil on shore and waded way out toward the boat and cast at the jumps, only to get snagged on eel grass on every cast no matter how fast I reeled in. When I turned around to retreat, I found two does on the beach watching me as they slowly walked the shoreline, passed around the Fossil, and headed back toward the woods. At least I was having some nice wildlife encounters.

Once the deer were on their way, I rowed back to the Kathy M, repositioned in deeper water, and cast around at the cohos jumping all around me. I had two on in short succession, but both shook off, and then suddenly everyone around me was pinks and I stopped casting. Discouraged, I decided to head into Freshwater Bay and look for whales but found instead a gorgeous, red rock arc of a beach just outside the harbor and headed there to hang out in the sun. I anchored to the shore in the middle of it, walked to the north end where a cliffy, rounded promontory harbored dwarf cedars and shore pines, lingered on the steep gravel for a little while, then headed back to the harbor and had lunch.

In the afternoon, I puttered back into the inlet to fish, and fished hard, but had no success. The water was deeper then, so when I saw the schools of fish they were down several feet and several feet deep, clearly visible moseying along. It was mesmerizing, but not even the pinks were biting. It was quite discouraging. I planned to anchor in the cove behind the rock that night and fish from the boat in the evening, as that seemed like a place cohos were jumping. Indeed, once there I saw two schools, close to each other, pass by just behind the boat. I've never had such good looks at fish underwater! They didn't bite though. The first time I tried anchoring, I couldn't get the anchor to catch and had to pull it up and retry as by then we were getting into shallow water at the edge of the reef as I let out line. I felt better about it the second time, but a stiff wind had come in and was blowing right at me and I soon found that I was much closer to the shore than I had been earlier, obviously dragging anchor. Even if I got it to catch satisfactorily, I'd be rocking all night long in that spot, so I pulled anchor again and headed toward the east side of the bay, the only place that seemed out of the wind.

The first time I anchored in calm water, I wound up in the wind again by the time I'd let out enough scope and was rocking and rolling. The second time I got very close to the cliffs in shallow water, and that helped somewhat, but we were still rolling a bit and in so close that I was worried about going aground in the middle of the night from the falling tide (and not being able to float until the next afternoon) or pulling anchor. Either way, I'd probably be up half the night. I had dinner, burnt my thumb, thought about it, and finally decided to go to Ezra's parent's place for the night. At least I'd get a good night's sleep. I sent a couple of messages to Ezra to let him know my plan via my inreach, added ten gallons of gas, pulled anchor, and headed out around 7:00. Freshwater Bay was kicking up a little, but not too bad, and I figured it would be on my stern as I turned into Chatham Strait. Boy was I wrong! It was against me for some reason, and I wound up in some hairy four foot, maybe five foot seas around East Point, extremely unpleasant and a little scary. When I finally turned into Tenakee Inlet, I thought that at last it would have to be on my stern! But instead it was all mixed up and then...right in my teeth. But at least it wasn't very bad, and I had a short distance to go. Ezra and his dad guided me into their cove--most of it flooded with the tide--then secured the boat to their pulley system. I was there just in time for pie and ice cream and a quiet night of sleep where the only rolling was a carryover from the rough trip around the point. We spent the next day there and then
returned to town the next morning.
 

A beach outside the harbor