Another post from the Alaskan Traveloque Series. If you are just joining or want to re read any of the posts, here are the links. And now for our feature presentation. . .
Well, yesterday was an adventure. Shortly after I quit writing, we were in Homer. Homer is kind of the end of the line. There aren’t many other places to go on land at this point in Alaska. We couldn’t find an address for our charter company, so we just cruised along and figured the more water we saw, the greater likelihood we would find our place. We were driving out on a peninsula, as we would call it, and I decided to call the place. It was obvious that we would soon run out of land and if we hadn’t found our place, we’d have to turn around and keep hunting.
The nice lady that I talked to didn’t give me an address. She asked me if we were on the “spit”. What on earth was the spit? I said, well we are on a peninsula if that’s what you are wondering. She said, “are you on a spit of land with water all around you?” Oh, yea, we were on a “spit” of land with water all around us. It wasn’t long and we were describing the same shops in what looks almost like a little village. There are tourist type places, great restaurants, charter places, places that clean your fish, freeze, pack and ship your fish. Oh, and the Thai lady who sells food out of half a camper. Don’t forget her. She appears lots of places. At least, someone just like her does.
We found the place where we were supposed to get our fishing licenses and we obtained those. Then we walked down to the docks. Wow. There were a ton of boats. Now, it’s been a long time since I’ve been to Newfoundland, and Homer, Alaska is probably a bit more touristy, but it reminded me of that. Like a little village. But with more high class RV’s (not ours of course), and more upscale shops.
We wandered around the docks since we had a little time before we needed to report to our boat. There were all kinds of sizes, makes, and styles of boats, but pretty much none like you’d find in Grand Haven, Michigan. I’m guessing most of the boats we saw were for making a livelihood, not sitting luxuriously in the Grand Haven channel, enjoying the fact that your boat is nicer and bigger than the one you are parked next to. There were large aluminum (or some kind of gray metal) poles that stuck up all over the place connected to the docks. I found out from Andrew that the entire dock system floats and those poles keep it where it is supposed to be at high tide. You can see from the wear on the poles, about how far the water rises. There is a steep ramp you walk down to get to the docks and all of those ramps move as well with the tide.
I called my Dad and chatted a bit with him about life back home and the kids, and then we headed off to find our boat. There was a guy we’d met at the Alaska Mining and Diving shop who mentioned he was going on a fishing charter in Homer, and from what he’d told me and what I already knew from checking around, the price wasn’t bad at all. He was there and had brought his mom along to fish also. It was quite an experience. We loaded up onto the boat, which I understand is about 50’ long, and sat in the cabin waiting for directions.
While we were sitting there (Andrew is requiring that I add this bit to the story) I was sort of glued to the window just watching the harbor. All of the sudden I had this sensation we were pulling away from the dock, except the dock was coming with us. I looked across the booth at our mining and diving friend and said, “are we taking the dock with us?” Haha, did I feel dumb. “No, he said, the boat on the other side of our dock is leaving.” I was ready to pull out my new Alaska winter hat and cover up my hair color. I have read something recently that explains that phenomenon. It’s similar to sitting at a stop light and the car next to you moves, you hit your brakes. From that point on, I was on my guard not to say anything too stupid, because I’d realized our mining and diving friend would check to see how gullible I was almost any chance he got. I’m not totally crazy.
After this brief embarrassing moment, our captain, who I’m pretty sure was no older than Andrew, gave us instructions on safety features of the boat, where the fire extinguishers were and bathrooms.
It was going to be approximately a 2 hour boat ride to where the halibut were and then we fish for about 2 hours and then head back. So we wandered to the upper deck, hoping to see a whale or two. We never did see a whale, but several sea otters, which I think are kind of hilarious, paddling along on their backs, and we saw a crab boat (boat may be too light a term….ship?) from the show “the deadliest catch”.
We learned on the way out to the fishing spot that halibut are bottom feeding fish. They are white on their bottom sides, and pebble looking on top, so they blend in with the bottom. They also have both their eyes on the top of their head. Interesting. Not super intelligent animals, I don’t think, but they are near the top of the food chain, nonetheless. I googled halibut and found out their biggest predators are sea lions, orca whales, salmon shark and humans.
We got to our fishing spot and the weather was beautiful. The water was calm, the sun was shining, and I had taken off my winter hat. Not long into fishing there were coats strewen all over the boat as people were happy to get rid of layers after reeling in fish from several hundred feet down. We receive our instructions, which I was sure I wouldn’t remember any of, and they set us to fish. Our hooks were baited with half an unfortunate fish on a huge hook. Each pole had a 3 pound sinker weight. You drop the hook (don’t lose the pole over the edge when the weight drops, you have to pay for the pole if they can’t fetch it out of the water), and let the thing fall until it hits bottom. You know when it does because the reel stops spinning. You lock the reel back up and crank three times and wait for a bite.
So, that’s what I did. About 3 seconds after I started “waiting for a bite” I had a bite. I cranked and cranked and cranked that reel and thought I was pretty cool for hooking a fish already. It is a lot of work to reel them up because no matter how big the fish, you are still reeling a 3 pound weight also and it is coming from a long way down. I pulled my fish to the surface and yelled “fish up”, as I was instructed to do. Then the captain or one of the dockhands will come actually pull the fish out of the water and pull the hook out. The captain came over and pulled up my fish.
He said, “good job, but this is a little smaller than we like to keep”. He took the hook out of the fishes mouth and threw the thing back in the water. Just like that. SIGH. That was a little discouraging. Twenty-seven years old, on my very first fishing trip, I catch a fish almost immediately, and before I know it, the thing had been thrown back in the water. Not even time for a picture of my very first catch. I will mention that the captain was very nice about it. They just don’t want to keep fish that are too small. I didn’t want to keep it either, of course I wanted a bigger one, but it would have been nice to be able to see me holding my very first catch. Just as well, since the camera was around my neck (sort of) and Andrew was busy fishing anyway. No time to sulk, our captain was ready to re-bait my hook for me and send me back up to the upper deck to drop line again.
I could attempt to explain the flow of traffic on the boat, where you were supposed to drop line, in what order, and where you hoped you were by the time you had your fish reeled up, but you wouldn’t understand. It is a crazy flow of traffic, and someday, when I’m not sleeping in the middle of the night, I will come up with a better way to do it. When I do I will call the charter company and let them know. Until then, I think they just need wider walkways up to the bow of the boat. So they should buy new boats. That’s the only fix for now.
I can’t remember exactly how many times I cast. The first fish got thrown back, and my bait fell off once, and I voluntarily threw a fish back because I deemed I’d go for a bigger one, and I reeled two up that I did keep. So at least 5 times. The whole charter thing, and perhaps the fact that you were rubbing hind ends with people every time you moved on the boat made things kind of cozy. By the time we were all done fishing we were cheering each other on, and excited for people when they reeled up a big one, and bummed out for the poor teenage girl who reeled up two in a row that got off the hook, just as the deck hand was about to grab it.
(photo of Emma)
There was a little girl fishing with her dad. I say little because she was about half the size of Emma, but my guess was she was similar in age. I was right, because when someone asked her how old she was, Lily (love her name) proclaimed, “I’m six and a half”.
There were a few other couples, various ages. Our mining and diving friend and his mom. Two oriental women, a group of three middle-aged men, a man with another man who my best guess is was his father-in-law, (don’t ask how I come to these conclusions), a man with two younger teens, and an entire family with two girls and a boy. Probably all teens. Oh, and Charlie. He was there from Minnesota and this was his third day in a row fishing with them. Apparently Charlie’s son was best buds with one of the deck hands. Although Charlie’s son wasn’t with him. Charlie was a nice man, probably mid 60’s.
Anyway, Lily. She caught the biggest fish. Yup. Biggest fish of the day caught by Lily. Six and a half, and quite a bit smaller than Drew.
Oh and there was a deckhand named Drew. Just thought I’d add that. J The rule is, you have to set the hook. Each person can only keep 2 halibut and you have to set the hook on them. So Lily set the hook on the biggest fish of the day. She didn’t necessarily reel the thing up the entire way, but she did set the hook and her dad helped her reel it in.
Once we had been out for about 2 hours and everyone had kept their allotted two halibut, we made ready to head back. Oh, I almost forgot. Turns out they don’t chop the heads off the fish like I thought. No, they take the thing, shove a knife into the head and twist it a bit. Yugh. I think it may be more humane to chop the head off, but apparently the cheek of halibut is one of the best tasting parts, so throwing the heads overboard would be sad. So they shove this knife in, twist it around and then throw the fish in this big bin. It is so loud, I thought the fish was dropping and flopping down somehow to below deck. Nope, it is just flopping away inside of this big container. So whatever they do with the knife shoved in the head doesn’t kill all of them. In fact, when the bins started getting full, we had a few fish flop out of the bins. It’s really quite disgusting, but after my halibut chowder experience at Chair 5, I didn’t care. I was ready for my halibut.
When everyone is done they take all the fish out and throw them all over the deck, roughly sorting them by tag. They have colored zip ties so they are coded who caught which fish. We were the red/purple team, so there were four fish, one of whom was still flopping, laying in one corner of the deck, with red/purple zip ties on their tails. Then they spray them all down with a hose to get most of the blood off. This is the point where we could take pictures if we wanted. So I grabbed two of our fish and Andrew snapped a few.
The captain fires up the engines and we head back to port. Then the deckhands get to work filleting the fish. They are pretty fast, although I think they don’t get every little bit of meat off of the fish. Then they throw the leftover carcass overboard. There was a family who decided to filet their own fish. One of their fish was still flopping so Drew (the deckhand) grabbed this big huge wooden club and gave the poor thing a big clunk on the head a couple times. I’m just going to forget all of that part of the fishing escapade.
We had an uneventful ride back to port, but I observed the deckhands were always busy. I also observed this is when all the people who are done fishing pull out their beers. So the boat had a lovely odor of raw fish mixed with beer. Once the deck hands are done filleting all the fish and bagging them up according to tag color, they get to work cleaning the blood and yuck off the boat. Spraying the thing all down and scrubbing the whole outside of the deck area and windows of the cabin with bleach water. They just nicely get finished with their work and we are into port. They jump over and tie us down, then the crew distributes the fish to each appropriate “team”. Then we all hand them tips, as we found out was the norm, and we were on our way. A quick stop to the fish freezing and packing place to drop it off for the night and it was time to find some dinner.
We had a recommendation to go to Captain Patties for the best sea food on the spit. Well, Captain Pattie is pretty popular, and we didn’t feel like waiting an hour and a half for a place to sit. We walked down the boardwalk a bit and stopped at another place that was more casual and Andrew had halibut fish and chips and I had clam chowder. Good, huh? Me sticking to the eat seafood while it’s readily available plan. Even though I’m so-so when it comes to sea food.
My ribcage was killing me again, and we had finally run out of the ibuprofen I had brought. So we made a brief trip off the spit up to the safeway in Homer and restocked with ibuprofen and a couple other things. We then found a place to park our camper along the spit and prepared to hit the hay. Andrew had a brilliant plan to sleep above the main front seats because the bed up there was longer. So we tried yet another sleeping arrangement.
Now we are heading mostly north on the road that will eventually lead us to Anchorage. We slept fine last night, but upon dragging myself out of bed around 8 this morning I realized jet lag is going to stink. Especially with three kids who don’t have it. Oh well. People have survived much worse. We don’t have that big of a plan today, probably just driving around, but we don’t want to forget what day it is. Andrew flipped the radio on and found a Christian station not long ago. They soon played a version of “How great Thou art”. How often do we sing the words to a song because we know them, but pay absolutely no attention to what they actually mean? How often do we separate thoughts at the end of a song line, and not realize there is more to that thought on the next line? I know I do.
Oh, Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder,
Consider all, the worlds Thy hand has made.
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout, the universe displayed
Then sings my soul, my Savior, God to thee
How great thou art, how great thou art
Then sings my soul, my Savior, God to thee
How great thou art, how great thou art
When Christ shall come, with shouts of acclimation
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart
When I shall bow, in humble adoration,
And there proclaim, my God, how great thou art.
Then sings my soul, my Savior, God, to thee,
How great thou art, how great thou art,
Then sings my soul, my Savior, God, to thee,
How great thou art, how great thou art.
I know there are more verses to this song, but I was struck by the second verse. “When I shall bow, in humble adoration, and there proclaim, my God, how great thou art.” I have been literally awestruck at the beautiful landscape here. It is like nothing I have ever experienced, and far from what I’m used to. Seeing things so massive that no person could have built, realizing that in one day, God formed all the mountains, really puts you in awe. I am married to an excavator, and he can move a lot of dirt, and he can make things look pretty awesome in a short period of time with the right bulldozer or bobcat. But he cannot make mountains. If I feel “my God how great thou art” simply by seeing some of what He created, how much more will I feel adoration when I actually SEE the ONE who made it all? And then sent His Son down here to die for me? Wow. Sometimes there just aren’t the right words.
We stopped at the Kenai river, just past the Russian River Ferry and Andrew got out to go watch people fish. I called mom and chatted a bit about the kids. I also talked to Emma, who sounded a bit dejected at first and was fairly concerned with when we were coming home. But she perked up a bit, telling me what she had been doing and was ok to say “bye” after she requested I tell Daddy she said “hi”. J
We didn’t really have a huge plan for today, but I kind of wanted to at least see the town of Seward. We drove that way and saw a pretty nice waterfall that feeds into the Kenai lake. There is the Alaska Sea Life center there, so we checked that out. I was bummed they didn’t have any whales, but man did they have one FAT sea lion. I have no idea what that particular one weighed, but the one in the tank who was “labeled” weighed 1700pounds and he was anorexic compared to the other guy. I took a picture of him, but it was through a couple cages and with nothing to compare him to, it’s hard to get a good feel for how massive he is.
We saw the same train we had seen a few days ago in Girdwood, and it was leaving Seward, this time with 5 engines in front! We drove about 8 miles off the Seward Highway towards Exit Glacier. You can hike about a mile in and get pretty close to the glacier. I think a few years back you could actually touch it, but we were not able to get that close. I wasn’t impressed with the hike back to the glacier. It was physically exhilarating, yes, but our book warned there could be bears on the trail and the foliage was thick. That’s just uncomfortable. Thankfully, the trail was quite well populated, so that was of some comfort. J
We hung out at the glacier long enough to find someone who could take our picture for us. We took theirs for them. It was chilly up near the glacier. It was quite windy. During the hike up I had gotten quite warm, but just standing there close to the glacier with the wind coming off of it, it was chilly. Then we hiked back down to the parking lot. I was a little more comfortable on the way back. I kind of wanted to take a guided tour, since I was sure that would be safer than navigating a bear infested trail by ourselves, but I’m glad we didn’t since they were just taking off when we were arriving back at the parking area. We were impressed by the way the glacier cuts the rock of the mountainside. It looks like it’s been scraped. I guess a lot of areas on the mountain look that way, at least the areas that are not green, but it was neat to see it up close. By the time we got back down, we felt like we had probably earned our dinner.
We climbed back in the camper and drove away from Exit Glacier, setting our sights on getting to Hope before we quit for the day. We drove all the way to hope which is about 17 miles off the Seward Highway. Hope is the end of the line. You drive 17 miles in, and you are in Hope. There really isn’t much in Hope except for some nice trails and a nice campground and places to fish, and if you aren’t happy with Hope, you drive 17 miles back out. It is a “no outlet” town. I correct myself. There are a few things in Hope. There is a post office, and I saw a sign for a school, even though I didn’t see the school and a church whose Sunday worship is at 3pm.
We parked in the campground and our spot wasn’t super level. Even though the spot was paved we were still on an angle. So Andrew hauled out Drew’s shovel and shoveled some gravel to put behind the back tires of the RV so that we could back onto “ramps” that would level the camper a bit. It worked. We mixed up our other box of hamburger helper. We were doing pretty good with our food, we were starting to run out which was good because we were almost done with our trip and didn’t want to throw a whole bunch of stuff away when we were done. Just to keep things interesting, we faced a different direction this night to keep up the trend of never sleeping in the same arrangement twice.
I enjoyed fishing without getting seasick and the smells of fish and beer. I have to admit, that the one time I did go ocean fishing with The Hunni, I really had a fun day. Tall Guy and Eileen’s trip is almost over, but stay posted for the last enstalments.