This past weekend, we had the big 12-foot tides AND a nice little storm. That means storm-driven tidal surges pushing more water into the coastal areas. The plan was for me to fly our last load of fish into town for the 2014 season, close the fly shop and fly the family back out to the cabin for a quiet weekend. Nothing goes as planned.
Tanis shooting out from the trail of the cabin across the runway and Middle Italio… if you have been out there, you know this area is ALWAYS dry…
Teen decided there wasn’t anything about flying out to the Italio as darkness approached with a storm raging that appealed to her. Ya, whatever! I had left Tanis out there for a night on his own with the threat that he had to be all caught up on his school work before his mom showed up. As it was, he had a couple extra days to do it. Instead, Teen and Eden stayed behind to watch the shop through a string of zero-sales days, while Chris and a friend slipped into the empty seats instead.
The plane tie-down is next to the blue tote in the distance, so at least the plane would have been dry if it had been there
As darkness approached and visibility came and went… we touched down on a soggy landing strip. The whole yard littered with fish totes, boats, duck decoys and driftwood. Apparently, we had just missed the largest tide seen in these parts for at least the last two years. Tanis had been out scrambling to keep everything in the yard from drifting away.
With the thick wet overcast, darkness fell quickly. Teen had invited one of the Forest Service River Rangers out to the cabin for the weekend, then left poor Lisa to fend for herself with Chris, Tanis and I. I think I talked her to death with bear and wolf stories and a countdown list of all the maulings Yakutat has had over the past century. Just doing my part to make a River Ranger feel comfortable in the woods…
At the New Italio, with all the fresh logs and debris blocking the ATV trail and almost overtopping the banks – skiff way off in the distance
Although the excuse for spending another weekend at the cabin had been to clean up and put the commercial fishing gear away, we totally blew off anything resembling work and went fly fishing Saturday morning. Checked on the skiff (that could be construed as work) and took a tour of the very flooded New Italio and Back Rivers. Beachcombed the Akwe Spit, then returned to the ATV for some fishing action on the Middle Italio.
Not sinking yet, but getting close to topping the transom
We hiked into what we call the Andrew Cut and Greg’s Trout Hole. My trout-fishing friend from Utah Greg has fished that stretch of the river with me for many years for sea-run cutts, thus we named the hole after him. No cutthroat in there this weekend, but no shortage of silvers. Tanis motored the gang upstream from the trailhead in the Jon-boat, while I settled into my own spot down lower in the river. I hooked up immediately on three chrome-bright fish and two blushed ones. One huge male that I decided to keep. I think this was the first silver I kept all season! Tanis motored down to check on me just at the right time for me to toss him into the boat.
My glass ball find tucked in under the branches
What an ugly mess of garbage and debris along the tideline
I fished a little longer down there, but decided to give up when I snagged a big ugly redskinned coho that didn’t want to come in backwards. At this particular spot, there is no place to land a fish and he didn’t want to come close enough to me in waist-deep water to get unhooked. And I couldn’t get the darned fly to break off either… One of those tedious fish I try to avoid. Oh well.
Lisa with a big Italio coho
I managed to get Tanis to take me down to the cabin, so I could get started on dinner. Chris and Lisa fished their way downstream over the next hour or so. The weather improved and the sun attempted to act like it wanted to come out. It was a beautiful way to spend the day.
Releasing a small hen
Chris had to be back to town Sunday afternoon and with the tides doing what they were doing, we had to get out before 2pm. Chris and Lisa were out and fishing early – like before daylight. Tanis and I slothed our way out of bed and headed to the New Italio to get the skiff pulled out and secure at the cabin. WOW! As we readied the boat at the mouth with the wheels and hitch, it was a thrill to watch the wave after wave of silvers coming in. The Akwe was flooded pretty good, with boiling sand and rushing current. On a bar out on the edge of the surf, at least a hundred seals were up on dry land barking at each other.
An old wound on this silver, with a line of sea lice sucking the poor fish’s blood along the scar line
When the conditions are right, the salmon will skirt the edge of the Akwe in an attempt to avoid the really strong current. Along the edge, the current is weaker and the seals can’t get to them as easily. You’ll sometimes see a fish or two with belly rubbing the sand and backs out of the water leaving a rooster tail of water behind them as they push up practically on shore. On this day, they were going by in schools! 6 to a dozen at a time were making their push right at our feet. Then suddenly, a seal came crashing up onto the bank and hammered one of the salmon. It was quick, violent and impressive. Glad I’m not a salmon! Or a seal for that matter!
Another chrome-bright hen
The boat pulled out easily and we made it to the cabin with only a slight problem. Got the ATV stuck in the river the first time we tried to cross, so had to pull it out and try a second time. No problem on attempt #2. Just as we finished the actual work, Chris and Lisa appeared. We finished closing out what we could, making sure we left a lot still to do so we’ll have to head back out again.
Our pet ermine saying goodbye again
Lisa is getting a little hands-on flight time on the way back to town
Loaded up the plane in a bit of a frantic hurry, with the tide quickly submerging our feeble excuse for a runway. We made our dash out, completely forgetting that I had a fish in the ice tote sitting in the yard. OOPS!
Looking out over the soggy forelands – spruce growing in lined along the banks of each stream where the soil is drained
Coming in over the Ox-bow with about three miles to the end of runway 29
I had offered to take our new City Manager on a tour of the Borough of Yakutat. On Monday, the clouds parted and the weather looked perfect for doing our scenic flight. I also convinced our new City Planner and another Assembly member to come along to help with the narration and explanation of what we were seeing. We flew out over the Situk and Ahrnklin with a few turns over the Assemblyman’s family cabin, then on for a quick landing at my cabin to grab the fish and potty stop in the new outhouse.
We flew out to Cape Fairweather and the southeastern boundary of the borough, then over the portion of Glacier Bay National Park that is within Yakutat’s boundary. Incredible world-class glaciers that no one ever gets to see… The part of Glacier Bay Nat Park that is NOT in Glacier Bay is far more spectacular than that part the cruise ships all see… We dropped in and landed at the Dry Bay Plant and walked in to the Park Ranger’s facility upstream. No one was home, but some of us needed to use their potty as well. We couldn’t raise the Ranger on the radio, so we went back to the plane and headed out.
I didn’t take my camera with us on this flight, but here are some from the past that I haven’t posted before… Looks like Ustay Lake
Tanis Lake and River – there is an amazing looking clear river tributary just downstream of the frame that I would really like to fish! I hope Hans brings his helicopter again next season!
Another glacier on the Yakutat-side of the park
By now, the north wind was picking up and getting a little bumpy. Too bumpy to fly along the edge of the mountains and give my guests a good view of the glaciers. Oh well. We were overdue on my flight plan and the FAA was trying to get ahold of us. Another OOPS… Just 15 minutes, but… We extended our flight plan for another hour and took a flight over downtown and the barrier islands of Monti Bay. It was about two hours of flight time and well-worth the flight. Too bad my own family is so jaded to flying now and doesn’t want to go with me anymore. Maybe it isn’t a “jaded” thing and they just like self-preservation…?
A view of Mt Fairweather from the outer coast
A gorgeous country
I had one more flight to do though… A friend asked if I’d take him and his kids out to Tanis Mesa for their moose hunting trip. With the north wind, it was the roughest flight I have ever made. Going in wasn’t too bad, but flying out of there in the empty plane was tough. I won’t be picking them up unless the weather is perfect… Tanis Mesa Cabin is in a GORGEOUS location. With the mesa behind us, the sunset was hitting the mountains across the runway with a beautiful orange glow.
The north wind howls down through the glacial passes and funnels toward the valley, then has to whip around the mesa rock extrusion. Severe turbulence going out, with moderate turbulence all the way to the beach and down the coast till I reached the Italio. Calmed right down by the cabin at the Middle Italio, then I braced myself for the drainage winds at the Dangerous… that never appeared. It was smooth all the way home.
The Yakutat airport on a sunny day
Like I said, I won’t be picking them up if the winds are like that… Not much fun getting splattered by all the sand on the floor, while all the seatback pockets vomit their contents against the ceiling.