Salmon Fishing with a Kodiak Bear… North to Alaska

Does it really matter whether you catch fish or not when this is your setting? Cape Chiniak, Kodiak.

Does it really matter whether you catch fish or not when this is your setting? Cape Chiniak, Kodiak.

The "old fishing hole" on the Chiniak River. We fished both the river and the ocean for pink salmon.

The “old fishing hole” on the Chiniak River. Not bad, huh?

I’d consumed far too much coffee, so I put down my fishing pole and walked over the hill to find a convenient tree. Instead, I found the neighborhood bear. He was dashing around in a small pool of water on the other side of the road doing what Kodiak Bears do best: chase salmon. He was far too occupied to have seen me so I slipped away. I didn’t want to surprise him. Bears don’t like surprises.

The Chiniak River flows under the road through this culvert. Salmon were plateful on both sides. While we were fishing downstream on this side of the culvert, the bear was fishing upstream.

The Chiniak River flows under the road through this culvert. Salmon were plentiful on both sides. While we were fishing downstream on this side of the culvert, the bear was fishing upstream.

Kodiak Bear prints.

While I didn’t hang around to photograph the bear, I came back to capture his prints.

When I first came to Alaska in the 80s, many backpackers and hikers wore bells to let bears know they were in the area. My thinking was that cows wore bells and bears liked to eat cattle. I talked and sang a lot. “Ninety-nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall” was a favorite. One rendition gets you through a lot of bear country. Peggy and I still sing it when we come on a pile of fresh, steaming bear poop in the woods. The bigger the pile, the louder we sing.

This time I walked backed to where Tony was fishing and quietly gave him the news. I didn’t want to alarm the boys. More to the point, if the boys knew the bear was nearby, they would immediately want to go see him.

Tony came loaded for bear. He carried an air horn and pepper spray as his first line of defense. You are supposed to stand tall and make lots of noise if a bear finds you interesting. Tony is 6’2”. The air horn would supply the noise. When it comes time to use the pepper spray, the situation has deteriorated considerably. If all else fails, you are supposed to play dead… or shoot the bear. Tony is a nationally ranked pistol marksman. If push came to shove, my money would be on him.

Fortunately, the bear headed upstream. We were left on our own to catch salmon.

The natural setting on the end of the Chiniak Peninsula on Kodiak Island is beautiful and this was our second time there. The first time we had been quite successful and we were eager to for a repeat performance. It wasn’t to be.

The results from our first trip out to the Chiniak Peninsula.

The results from our first trip out to the Chiniak Peninsula.

There was an extreme low tide. Pink salmon in the hundreds lay just off the shore, eager for the high tide to send them swimming on their way up the Chiniak River to perform their age-old ritual of laying eggs and then passing on to salmon heaven, where I assume salmon food is plentiful and bears aren’t.

Our challenge was in catching, not snagging the salmon. They were so thick we kept hooking them before they went for our lures. I even brought a couple in by their tails. It was all fun, at least for us. We dutifully released the snagged salmon as required and watched them swim back into the bay. After we had caught and released 16 or so we decided it was time to pack it in and head home.

We’d go out to dinner. Grilled salmon could wait for another night.

Cape Chiniak, Kodiak, Alaska

Another view of Cape Chiniak. This was taken from just above where we were fishing.

Here fish, fishy, fishy. Cammie tries to entice a salmon by dangling a lure in front of its mouth.

Here fishy, fishy, fishy. Cammie tries to entice a salmon by dangling a lure in front of its mouth.

Fishing on the the Chiniak Peninsula.

Our youngest grandson Cooper provides Tony with advice on where to cast his lure.

Fishing on the Buskin River on Kodiak Island, Alaska.

Our luck changed on the Buskin River a couple of days later. Here, Peggy signals the number of fish she caught. Note: In my last blog I reported that Peggy had only been fishing as a child. I forgot she had gone salmon fishing with my brother-in-law, Jim. That explains why she caught five salmon and I only caught four. (grin)

Pink salmon caught on the Buskin River in Kodiak, Alaska.

We hold up our catch of the day on the Buskin. And yes, Tony did grill salmon that night.

NEXT BLOG: The Coast Guard on Kodiak

Flying Over Kodiak in an Antique Bomber… North to Alaska

Kodiak is a beautiful island ranging (in the summer) from intensely green hills to glacier covered mountains. I took this photo out the window of our plane as we flew over the Island.

Kodiak is a beautiful island ranging (in the summer) from intensely green hills to glacier covered mountains. I took this photo out the window of our plane as we flew over the Island.

Kodiak refers to itself as the Emerald Isle, a title it borrowed from Ireland. Having driven through Ireland and flown over Kodiak, I understand. Our floatplane trip to watch Kodiak Bears on the Frazer River provided a great overview of the island. The first impression was one of pervasive greenness.  Soon, the green became dotted with snow fields and then glaciers; Kodiak is not Ireland.

Peggy captured just how green Kodiak can be... set off by patches of snow. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

Peggy captured just how green Kodiak can be… set off by patches of snow. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

In American terms, Kodiak is a big Island. At 3500 square miles it is the second largest island in the US, second only to the island of Hawaii. Given that it has around 3500 Kodiak bears, there is an average of one bear per square mile. One was waiting for us when our plane landed in Frazer Lake. He came running toward us. We opted to stay on the plane until he disappeared. Later we saw him swimming across the lake.

The Kodiak Bear, a young male, made his way toward our plane. He was more interested in fish than he was us, but we stayed on the plane until he left.

The Kodiak Bear, a young male, made his way toward our plane. He was more interested in fish than he was us, but we stayed on the plane until he left.

Our floatplane trip also provided us with some great views of the Kodiak Coast Guard Station where our son Tony flies H-60 Helicopters on missions rescuing everything from stranded fisherman to errant oil rigs. I’ll blog about the Coast Guard later.

Coast Guard Station on Kodiak Island.

A view of the Coast Guard station on Kodiak. We stayed at our son’s house on the facility. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

The floatplane was a 50-year-old plus de Havilland Beaver, which makes it not only old, but also something of a legend.  Ours, according to the pilot, had originally been designed to serve as a light bomber during the Korean War and still had bomb mounts on the wings. The Beaver found its true vocation serving as a bush plane in the far north, however. It has lots of STOL in pilot lingo, short takeoff and landing capability. And STOL is critical when your runway might be a riverbank or a small pond.

Beaver floatplane in Kodiak Alaska.

Our de Havilland Beaver floatplane was waiting for us when we arrived. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

A few weeks before our visit, Tony, his wife Cammie, and their children had toured Kodiak in one of these floatplanes.

A few weeks before our visit, Tony, his wife Cammie, and their children had toured Kodiak in one of these floatplanes.

The first floatplane I ever flew on had retractable wheels and took off from a regular airport. I somehow didn’t make the connection that we would be landing in a bay. The armrest probably still has my fingerprints embedded in it from when I thought we were crashing in the water. This time we took off from and landed in water. There was no confusion. Only the bear.

Another photo of Peggy's that captures both the green and ruggedness of Kodiak. We spotted mountain goats on some of the peaks.

Another photo of Peggy’s that captures both the green and ruggedness of Kodiak. We spotted mountain goats on some of the peaks.

Kodiak, Alaska glacier

This, and the next three photos show the glaciers we found on Kodiak.

Kodiak, Alaska Glacier

Kodiak Island glacier. I thought this photo Peggy took would be best shown in black and white. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

Kodiak Alaska glaciers.

I close with another glacier photo that I found almost mystical. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)