ALASKA – August 1 – September 15, 2012

Darcy and I on the Deck  with fresh-picked Salmonberries

Darcy and I on the Deck with fresh-picked Salmonberries

My sister Darcy and her husband, Chris arrived.  I was SO excited and looked forward to seeing them and sharing with them the “adventure” I was experiencing. AND, they brought THE most incredible food.  Filet Mignon, Prime Rib, Porterhouse Steak and delicious treats from around the world, including Candied Figs from Abu Dhabi, THE most divine chocolate from Japan, yes, Japan, Baklava, Green Tea KitKat Bars, and the list goes on.  They knew we would be jones-ing for beef and they delivered!  WOW!  While here, Chris demolished a building that had been blown down that winter.  And a fine job he did!  The landing area looked 1000% better after he cleared the debris.  Darcy took over the kitchen, making wonderful delights including Yorkshire Pudding to go with our prime rib.  It was great to have a woman in the kitchen with me.   And finally, after Darcy caught a 45lb. Halibut, they both couldn’t wait to go fishing again!  It’s addicting.

A week later, we had the annual Port Vita Costume party with our guest Len Wass and his usual crew who travel with him to camp.  Len has been visiting Port Vita for 15+ years.  An avid hunter, he has a great story to tell about his bear hunt with Tom in ’95.  I can’t help but know about it ‘cause he wrote about it on a BEDROOM DOOR  in the Bunkhouse.  EVERYONE has read about it and IT was quite an adventure. I adore Len, he has a smiley face everyday, he’s friendly and man, does he fish.  This guy likes to fish and fish and fish.  He umpires an annual event, the Costume Party.  Len brings a freshly pressed, new design PORT VITA T’shirts each year that we all wear in conjunction with silly hats and costumes.  It seems that he Tom celebrate one night, each year where everyone dresses up, kinda silly, but nonetheless fun.  Here are some photos. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed being there!

Len keeping me company in the Kitchen  :-)

Len keeping me company in the Kitchen 🙂

Tom and I in full Port Vita Regaiia. That’s Tom’s retired Naval Captains Hat. How about them plastic white boots?! 🙂

Bob's Halibut - Yippee!

Bob’s Halibut – Yippee!

Chef Paul

Chef Paul

Tom’s California neighbor and very good friend Bob D’Ambrosio (that’s Bob with his Fish) and Bob’s buddy Paul (he’s the one in the chef’s hat) have made an annual trek to Port Vita.  I think this is Bob’s 20th (?)th year.   Paul is a great guy and knows how to do ANYTHING.  Amongst his many careers he was John Wayne’s (wig) hairdresser during his Los Angeles heyday!  Today he rebuilds classic airplanes amongst many, many other things.  One of them, and my favorite is that he cooks fish really, really good.

A highlight of the next week was our guest Ed’s annual harvest of a Sitka Black Tail deer.  Each year Ed will hunt for one deer when he visits Port Vita.

Ed with Tom and gang - preparing fresh Venison for tonight's feast.

Ed with Tom and gang – preparing fresh Venison for tonights feast.

He takes most of it back to Napa for his wife Andrea, who has a very successful business importing wood fired ovens (think pizza oven) from Italy in addition to classes instructing clients to cook in one.  One of the courses is a “how-to” for meats & wild game.  Venison, Duck, boar and the sort. You can visit her website at  Ed shared a large portion of the deer’s back strap, the “filet mignon” of the deer, which we enjoyed beside the “just caught” Silver Salmon, it was the ultimate feast!

The following day our guest Carl caught a large Halibut. Not just a “Halibut” but 98LBS worth!  Well, guess what we had for dinner???  Now, don’t get me wrong, I DO love Halibut, however, I was more interested in finding the Otolith.  What’s that you say?  Well, native Alaskans consider the otolith a prized find.  It is a bone that some types of fish “hear” with.  Natives call it Alaskan Ivory.  I “Googled” it and discovered that very large (read “old”) Halibut are more likely to have an otolith that can be found.  Whenever a very, very large Halibut (or other fish that have them) are caught and reported, the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) will examine the head of extraordinarily large Halibut and remove the otolith.  They count the amount of  “rings” (similar to the rings of an old tree trunk), and are able to guesstimate the age of the fish.  Through these studies, they keep extensive records of the Halibut strain. Well, I donned gloves and a sharp knife and “dug” in, literally.  I cut into the head, here and there, like a novice surgeon.  (Thank goodness I didn’t become a surgeon, a “Butcher” would have been a better choice!)  I knew it was in the head, somewhere, but to no avail.

A couple of days later, Tom split up the two groups who were visiting PV.  One group was keen on catching Halibut while the other was ready for Salmon. Salmon hunters went with Shane on StraitShot while the Halibut group went with Tom on Lady Lize.

A stellar summer afternoon

The weather was glorious, clear skies and warm and I wanted to catch Salmon so that I could smoke it and give to friends and family as a gift for the holidays.  So, off I went with  Ed and “The Boys” on StraitShot. Well, I cannot begin to explain how much fun I had!!  We departed Port Vita through Raspberry Strait and out towards Shelikof Strait when we bee-lined towards Malina Bay, a gorgeous, expansive beach with green lush hills as a backdrop. It is absolutely beautiful.  The ocean is clear as glass (similar to Lake Tahoe or a fresh water lake).  And so clear, you have to remind yourself that it’s saltwater.  Shane dropped us off on the beach and headed out away from the beach to spend some time on StraitShot fishing for whatever would bite!  Meanwhile, on the beach as we were tying on the proper lures, Ed, (he’s the hunter) walked up to the beach, away from the ocean towards the berm of to make sure we wouldn’t encounter a hungry bear coming down the stream looking for a salmon lunch.  The coast was clear and guess what??  The mouth of the fresh water river and the shore of the (salt water) beach boiled with Salmon!!  I mean seriously.  There were so many fish starting their spawn up the Malina River it was insane.  Their wake made the water look as if it was “boiling”.  Within 5 minutes we were reeling in Pink Salmon.  We could have walked into the water and caught one with our hands!! There were so many.  Of course, we didn’t.  Spawning is a very special time of year for Salmon and we were cognizant of allowing them to do what they do naturally.  It was a great morning and each one of us caught our limit (5) before being picked up and heading back to camp.

Just caught Silver Salmon on tonight's menu

Just caught Silver Salmon on tonight’s menu

The Lady Lize group was just as happy to land Halibut.  With fresh Salmon and Halibut on the dinner menu, a great view of a Kodiak bear at the river, sun, blue skies, and not another human (besides ourselves) for miles around, the day promised to be a memorable.  Well, it was.  With the weather as divine as it was and the sun in full Summer regalia (sunset happening around 9:30 pm’ish) we celebrated even more.  Tom has an extensive collection of incredible fireworks  (the kind you see high in the sky on 4th of July or New Years) and we decided to have a celebration of our own.  Tom fired off six huge fireworks ending the show with a Thai Floating Lantern.  It was magical.  Everyone had a great day and it was one of my favorite.

The following morning we departed Port Vita to take our guests to Kodiak for their departure home the next morning.  Our “plan” was to return to camp with our new guests that were scheduled to arrive that same afternoon. Drop off a group in the morning, depart with a new group in the late afternoon.  Well, there was a storm brewing.  A summer storm.  Tom got a call from the new arrivals that their plane had been diverted back to Anchorage due to weather, however, there was a slim chance their flight would arrive later.  We decided to wait it out for a few hours to see if they would arrive Kodiak on the last scheduled flight for the day. Unfortunately, that flight was cancelled.  Well, this caused a problem for our departing group.  The plane our new guests were arriving on was the same plane our departing guests were leaving on!  Fortunately, everyone had a hotel room for the night but the big question was whether or not the flight would be able to fly in the next morning.  It was getting late and we had waited as long as we could, it was now time to go.

The next morning Shane and Tom returned to Kodiak to pick them up.  All’s well.

A small side note – Things are shakin’ here on Raspberry Island. Our next door neighbors at Port Wakefield are in full swing.  They open their camp for about a month each summer and host all of their guests into a short period of time.  They are constantly communicating back and forth on the VHF radio which ALL of the local residents, the Coast Guard, fishing boats or whoever is on the channel, can listen to, and trust me, we ALL do!  What makes me giggle are the names of their boats, They are “Cat’s Ass” and “Cat’s Ass Two”.  So, when they call each other on the radio it’s goes something like this:  “Cat’s Ass Two, this is Cat’s Ass, come in.”  the response is, “Cat’s Ass, this is Cat’s Ass Two, do you read?”  Well, this goes on all day while they discuss just about ANYTHING on the radio and it cracks me up every time!   I know it sounds “simple” that I’m entertained by this, but once you meet these guys, it’s even funnier.

I went fishing again today.  We headed to Malina Bay, once again.  It’s a bucolic and gorgeous place to fish and there is always so much wildlife to see.  This time as we approached the beach we spotted a Kodiak Brown Bear running back and forth in an effort to snag a salmon. A lumbering, big fellow he moved swiftly and soon enough he snagged one.  He started up the beach to enjoy his snack, sat down on his rear end, and started to feast on a “just caught” salmon.  It was beautiful seeing him in his natural habitat and especially during the salmon spawn, but what was even more entertaining were the seagulls.  They stood just inches outside of the bears reach intent on scavenging any part of the fish that the bear dropped.  Ballsy birds, that’s for sure!

Well, the bear did better than us when he caught his lunch and although we could see Silver Salmon in the water, they weren’t interested in our lures, they just wanted to spawn!

On our way back to camp we snagged a 45LB. Halibut.  This was probably my last chance this season to find the elusive otolith.  When we got back to camp I cleaned and fileted the fish, then I dug around for about an hour in the fish head, when I found it!  Pretty Cool.

It’s a big night at Port Vita!  We are invited to join our neighbors at Port Wakefield for dinner.  They are closing out their Summer season and have a lot of food to spare. From what I learned the two camps annually invite each other.  Our turn is summer, 2013.  They have already requested Pizza!  (Yes, we ALL get a bit tired of fish during the season.)   It was fun to get all “gussied up”, pull on hip waders and head over on the evening “taxi” the FishStick. We were greeted at the beach by the camp team where they helped us moor and handed us a libation.  It was a fun night, good food, nice people and new friends!

Today we trolled for Salmon in Raspberry Strait.  The weather was too windy to fish the mighty Shelikof.  With the good catch we had yesterday, we were all pumped up to try it again. (fishing IS contagious.) We headed to the mouth of Muskomee Bay, a small and protected area where we trolled for a couple of hours to no avail.  Salmon can be so damn elusive!  We decided to go to another beautiful area, Selief Bay, a picture perfect river to fly fish.

Selief River Basin

Selief River Basin

We dropped our guests at the mouth of the bay for a few hours while Tom, Shane and myself boated back to camp, just a short ride away.  We had a few hours before we were to pick up Gary & Dave so we got busy doing small errands around camp. Shane mowed the grounds, I did a few loads of laundry while Tom picked the last batch of Raspberries from the garden. At our pre-determined pick-up time, we departed Port Vita to fetch Gary and Dave. As we approached the mouth of Selief River there they were, stringing along five huge Silvers!  A great day for Fly Fishing! But it was time to leave, and quickly.  Aware of an incoming storm, it was beginning to show its ferocity as we headed back to camp but we were compelled to troll just another hour or so across the strait from Port Vita. In the event the weather turned really ugly we would be at camp in 10 minutes, so off we went where we snagged two more 20#+ Silvers and a King Salmon!  What a day.

As we approached camp on the boat we noticed a “Willi Wah” (water spouts that occur during high winds) that perked our attention and guaranteed we would have to be extra careful while transferring from the big boat to the skiff, our ride back to the beach. We arrived at shore safely and immediately began disembarking.  Tom & Shane strategized where they would beach FishStick due to the impending storm and concluded to bring it as high onto the beach as possible since the tide would be low during the storm.  Tom stayed on the beach, holding Straitshot waiting for Shane to return. At that time, Shane, Dave and myself started up the hill to the fish-cleaning table with our days catch while Gary (another guest) who was still on the boat was gathering his things before disembarking.  While Tom was holding the boat waiting for Shane suddenly a HUGE gust of wind hit the beach and Tom lost control of the skiff.  The wind was pulling the boat to sea and Tom was being dragged into the water.  Gary immediately jumped into the water to help Tom but in his haste, he jumped into the water on the side that the wind was pushing the boat!  The boat blew over Gary, who was pushed under the hull as Tom tried desperately to keep the boat from being pulled into the Strait and getting Gary from underneath!  I was heading up the hill to the fish cleaning table when I heard a call for “HELP”, I turned around and realized the emergency that was occurring. Shane and Dave were much further up the hill than I but we all ran down to help and keep the situation from worsening. I grabbed the rope from Tom and started to pull the boat closer to shore.  Shane and Dave grabbed the rope and pulled it even harder. All the while Tom reached for Gary who was under the boat trying to get up.  Tom pulled him up and all was well except for the good moods we had earlier.

Gary getting the water out of his waders!

Tom, Gary & I were drenched from top to bottom and I had my first hip-waders filling up with water experience. Boy, THAT water is cold!  Luckily I have a back-up pair. 🙂  Nevertheless, Gary who took the brunt of the boat/wind debacle smiled and quipped “just another Alaska Experience”! And he’s had quite a few over the last 25 years of fishing with Tom in Alaska. Good fodder for future dinner conversation! After all had settled down and no broken bones or scratches were detected we were instructed to go immediately to a hot shower to avoid hypothermia. I got to skip the “Fish Cleaning” part!!! Yippee!!!

Today was to be the “big Storm”, instead we got the tail-end of a nasty storm that hit Anchorage.  Blessings that it didn’t show here as winds were recorded at 131 mph in Anchorage. Nonetheless we still experienced wind gusts to 40 knots & rain. I stayed home while everyone else went trolling the strait for Salmon. They came home early, about noon’ish when we all settled in for a delicious & hearty lunch.  Afterward, some read books while others watched TV or got some shut-eye! A restful afternoon for all while we rested up for “Pizza Night”!!

Here are some miscellaneous images of the camp and things I like:

Wild Flowers for guest cabins

Wild Flowers for guest cabins

Iron Creek Trail Sign

Iron Creek Trail Sign

Tom is one of the builders!

Emerson Boat Works built Lady Lize. Tom is one of the builders!

Onan Cabin - our largest two bedroom guest cabin

Onan Cabin – our largest two bedroom guest cabin.

We are getting close to closing up camp.  Today is September 5th and we are departing mid-month, September 15tth.  We have a lot to do. We still have guests but instead of fishing,  I remained at camp and began washing and cleaning lots of plastic storage bins that we use for winter food storage.  While I was outside I found a little bird on the deck of the Onan Cabin.  It is a cold, gray and windy day and he was just standing there, on the deck not moving.  He was alive but for some reason he wasn’t protecting himself from the cold and wind, I surmised that he wasn’t very strong and that his little life was meant to be over.  I know I shouldn’t mess with Mother Nature but I couldn’t resist, so I carefully picked him up with no resistance and took him into my warm cupped hands where I placed him into a box that would keep the cold wind out.  I walked the bird-in-the-box to the old chicken coop building for warmth & safety and placed him high enough so that other critters couldn’t hurt him.  After about two hours I went out to check on my little fledgling, but he had fledged and fled.  I hope he is OK.

The Weather is foul today.  Blustery, wet and a cold 42 degrees.  A great day to start my first salmon smoking process.  I brined the salmon last night and will smoke it for approximately for eight hours.  We’ll see how it turns out.

Bunk House closed up for the Winter

The Bunkhouse closed up for the Winter. (notice the Bear Boards.)

Our Cabin closed up for the winter along with bear wire around the grounds.

Our Cabin closed up for the winter. Notice  the electronic bear wire around the grounds.

Lady Lize Beached for the winter season.

Lady Lize beached for the winter season.

It’s September 9 and it’s as if someone pushed the “winter” button. Seriously. All of the sudden the colors on the mountains turned from a crimson red to a light brown, the same color of a Kodiak bear. The outdoor thermometer hasn’t been over 48 degrees for three days, the fireplace in the Bunkhouse has been roaring and the morning sun doesn’t come out of the southeast sky until 8am’ish. The night sky is dark at 6 pm.  Seasons change at the blink of an eye here.

Today we started the process of closing down the cabins. In each guest cabin we are stripping the beds, removing fireplace smokestacks, putting plywood across windows, draining toilets and sink lines of water & pouring anti-freeze into the commodes. These are tedious and arduous chores but it signals the end of another successful season. We are all looking forward to getting back to our respective homes and reveling in the tail-end of summer before it slips into Autumn.

Tonight there was a little “action” at camp, no silly, not THAT kind of action!  After dinner Shane left the Bunkhouse to go to his cabin for the evening.  He noticed the hydro-generator running low,  therefore not generating enough electricity for camp. He told Tom that he was going to head up the hill to check the water-tank in the event the recent rains had caused debris to clog the filters, resulting in the low flow. Tom waited at the camp for him to return safely. Well, guess what?  When he returned,  Shane told Tom that when he got to the water-holding tank he noticed that the river water that was flowing into the tank was muddy.  Perhaps a mudslide had occurred or, a large rock had lodged in the pipe, so he walked further up the hill to check it out.  And there it was, a bear digging a hole in the riverbed. Shane hightailed it down the hill.  The bear had not yet smelled or noticed him.  Thank goodness! Shane is an experienced Bear Guide and he knows a small, medium or large bear. According to Shane this is was a BIG bear.

This (obviously) got us talking about bear stories, and boy, did they start to flow. It seems as though a “phantom” bear has been in the ‘hood for close to 15 years. It has been known to rifle the waterlines at Ironcreek Camp, our neighbors to the south and it has invaded Camp Wakefield, neighbors to the north.  In addition, and as you all know, Tom’s camp, Port Vita, was ransacked by a bear 11 years ago.  It demolished the Bunkhouse kitchen pulling the refrigerator to the floor, pushing the huge WOLF commercial stove to the ground, leaving it upside down, removed and eating mattresses, (must have been REALLY hungry) put his mouth around a stainless coffee dispenser, the damage goes on and on.  Off to bed for the night with tales of Sugar Plums in our head.

As if we had nothing to do, and we definitely did, we took a day off from closing camp and went to Kodiak.  A longtime friend of Tom’s who visits Port Vita every year, was returning to Kodiak with his wife, Father, Brother and wives during a cruise and asked Tom if he would be willing to meet them in Kodiak for lunch and perhaps a fishing trip for the afternoon before their cruise departed to Japan.  We were thrilled to have something else to do than close down camp, so we went in.  It was fun to see Frank again as well as meet his immediate and extended family.  Small world story:  It turns out that Frank’s sister-in-law is the sister of a my friend Dave who was a co-worker with me at Keck Observatory in Waimea.  We took a picture with an iPhone and texted the photo to Dave.   We got a call moments later where we all exclaimed how small the world is!  There is that 6-degrees of separation, AGAIN.

We departed Port Vita for the season today, September 15th.  We left via floatplane, what an incredible treat.  From the sky I saw where I had been living for four months and it took my breath away.

Waiting for the Float Plane

Waiting for the Float Plane

Arriving Kodiak

Arriving Kodiak

Departing Port Vita, Raspberry Island, Kodiak, Alaska

Departing Port Vita, Raspberry Island, Kodiak, Alaska

Alaska, Port Vita, I’ll see you next year!


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