A Fish Story

            July 29 – As you may have noticed while visiting us on our adventure, Stacie loves seafood and can’t get enough of it (Dave, not so much).  Stacie has often said that she wanted to catch her own dinner.  Granted, she has wanted to take a net along while we’re kayaking and try to snare one (how sporting).  The fishing laws in Alaska are interesting in how they treat salmon fishing.  The first rule is that you’re not allowed to fish for salmon in fresh water.  Once they make it into a stream (or past the signs that indicate the fresh water/salt water boundary) they’re home free.  The second major rule is that you have to hook a salmon near the mouth (technically, in front of the gills).  If you hook it elsewhere, you have to throw it back.  This may seem like a silly law (since you expect a fish to bite at your bait or lure), but it’s necessary.  When salmon hit spawning mode and are looking for the fresh water stream where they were born they stop eating (after all they’re going to die after they spawn) and as a result they won’t take bait.  Additionally, the salmon will congregate in a dense pack outside the stream entrance in salt water waiting for high tide which will help them into the stream.  These two factors have led to people “fishing” for salmon by throwing weighted hooks into the water and reeling them in very quickly in hopes of snagging a salmon (not terribly sporting).  Since it’s hard to write a law defining what actions constitute snagging, they wrote a law defining where you can hook a fish (it’s also easier to enforce since if a game warden sees a hook mark that’s behind the gills they know you cheated).  The third law is that you’re not allowed to use a treble (or three pointed) hook.  If you are trying to snag a salmon it’s a hundred times easier to do it with a treble hook.  So if Stacie wanted to legally catch a salmon (and keep in mind the only time she’s ever been fishing was with Uncle Charlie when she was really young), she’d have to find a nice place on salt water, 300 feet from a stream, and cast a single pointed hook and hope to snag a salmon near the mouth. 

            But sometimes things are a little different.  We had visited the Blind River Rapids which led up to a State run hatchery on our first day in Petersburg and noticed that everyone fishing there was using treble hooks and keeping the salmon no matter where they hooked them (we had also noticed that there were tons of fish).  One of the fishermen looked at us and asked us where our rod was since there were plenty of fish.  It seemed odd to us that so many people were fishing in a fresh water stream, keeping salmon they snagged with treble hooks.  In the parking lot Dave noticed a sign declaring “special regulations” for this one stretch of rapids.  Special Regulation #1 – you’re allowed to fish here.  Special Regulation #2 – salmon may be kept regardless of where they’re hooked.  Special Regulation #3 – you may use weighted treble hooks.  Stapled below the sign was an update with Special Regulation #4 – you can take up to 10 salmon, regardless of size.  This gave Stacie hope, maybe she could snag her dinner (of course she still didn’t have a fishing rod).  We debated whether or not to try it and today was our last day in Petersburg (in fact we had to check in for the ferry at 12:30).  Dave’s dad (an avid fisherman) had been salmon fishing in Alaska several years ago and very strongly recommended we try it.  So we got up early, broke down camp and headed for town, arriving at the hardware store when they opened at 8:00.  We found the fishing rod section and were bewildered by all the choices (Dave used to snag small fish for lobster bait, but this was a different matter).  We were able to flag down an employee who pointed us in the right directions always saying, “I don’t have experience snagging, but I’ll bet this will work well.” (Nobody admits they snag salmon because it’s considered unsportsmanlike, but everyone does it).  At the front counter Stacie applied for her one day fishing license and we were on our way.  We reached the parking area for the rapids by 9:00 and the first order of business was teaching Stacie how to cast a line.  Tourists who drove by looked in wonder at this woman casting in a parking lot.  When it looked like she was getting the hang of it we headed for the rapids.  Luckily there were no other fishermen there (although we certainly would have entertained them).  Stacie started casting in the water, still using a weight with no hook so she could practice the snagging motions.  After around 25 casts Dave tied a hook to end of the line and turned Stacie loose on the fish.  It wasn’t long before Stacie yelled out, “I got one! I think.”  No, she hadn’t been fast enough in the snagging motions and the hook had fallen to the bottom and she hooked a rock (it was the first of many).  Dave cut the line off and tied on a new hook and weight.  A few minutes later Stacie hooked another rock (Dave then started combing the shore looking for other people’s lost hooks and weights since it was clear we hadn’t brought enough).  After reeling in her line one time Stacie laughingly said, “I’ve got something.”  Dave ran over to find that she had snagged a little eight inch long bottom fish.  Dave unhooked it and set it free.  Finally, it happened, Stacie caught something that fought back.  It was a King Salmon.  It broke water several times and managed to unhook itself (which happens often).  Dave made some adjustments to the reel so that it would be harder for the next fish to run and Stacie continued casting.  She hooked another salmon and it ran a little, but the line broke.  About 10 minutes later she hooked another one.  This one swam around a good bit and ran itself up onto some rocks.  While Dave was scrambling to net the fish it wrapped the line around a rock and broke free.  It was just after noon and we really had to leave, but we had one hook left.  Stacie kept trying and at 12:10 Dave said she got two more casts and then we had to go.  On her next cast she hooked another salmon and fought it for a while, but the hook ripped out.  Dave allowed two more bonus casts, but no luck.  We went back to the truck and headed for the ferry.  We checked in at 12:45, but it didn’t matter as the ferry still hadn’t arrived.

            When the ferry arrived there were only a few cars to go on and we were loaded quickly.  Of course in true ferry fashion we left fifteen minutes late.  We were headed to Ketchikan where we would transfer to an inter-island ferry for our trip to Prince of Wales Island.  We had to negotiate the Wrangell Narrows which, as we’ve mentioned, can be quite treacherous and the ferries haven’t been having a good year.  The Columbia (the newest and biggest ferry) has “located” four uncharted rocks so far this year (it hasn’t sustained any major damage).  The Kennicott hasn’t been so lucky.  In late May it was traveling the narrows in fog and somehow managed to hit one of the large buoys that define the channel.  The buoy ripped a hole in the bow, but luckily there was a water tank in that part of the boat so there was no danger of sinking.  The Kennicott was, however, out of service for two weeks while the hole was fixed.  We made it through the narrows without incident, although we were forced to share the narrowest part with a barge full of containers.  All off the poles in the picture mark the channel or rocks, the dotted line is the path we had to take.  On our way the ferry stopped at Wrangell.  While we were in port we went ashore to find a local resident and ask them who was the 4th of July Queen.  The winner was Talea (the one we were rooting for).

            We arrived in Ketchikan just past midnight.  The next inter-island ferry didn’t leave until 10:30 in the morning (talk about bad layovers).  We called a few of the hotels in town to see if they had any after midnight specials on unsold rooms, but they didn’t so we headed out to the campground ($10 is better than $100).  We quickly put up the tent and crashed for the evening.