Rod, Gun and Game: Alaska offers true, wild adventure and outdoor fun
ALASKA — Ever since I was 10 years old, I have wanted to visit the wilds of Alaska. The big fish, the exciting adventures, the opportunities to be in the untouched outdoors, along with the dangerous and beautiful wildlife that exists there, are some reasons people visit this northern land of the midnight sun.
My wife and I spent two weeks in the relatively inhabited vast wilderness, starting with a plane trip from Buffalo to the deep, northern Alaskan interior at Fairbanks.
My bucket list had several items for the Fairbanks area, including fishing for arctic grayling with a fly rod and taking a wilderness river float trip, where few men have ever been.
We decided to forego the option of a dog sled to travel the Iditarod trail and picked up a hybrid rental car. The vehicle provided an average of 48 miles per gallon, during our two weeks of Alaskan travels, convincing us that there is a place for these new cars, next to the gasoline engine-driven world.
We drove about 5 minutes from the airport to the heart of Fairbanks, a town with a population of about 32,000, and met with Marnie and Lambert Hazelaar, proprietors of Minnie Street Bed and Breakfast. The price of accommodations included a five-star daily breakfast with friendly instructions about what to do, where to go, who to call and how to get there.
We met our fishing guide, Reinhard “Reini” Neuhauser on the second day and left the B&B at 7:30 a.m. for a 10-hour float trip to fish the Upper Chena River, 40 miles north of Fairbanks.
Morning ice fog forms in the mountains above Fairbanks and slows traffic down to a crawl, but the two-lane roads coming into and out of the city accommodate the moderate morning traffic well. We were soon out of the city, heading up to wild country.
Fewer than 10 minutes down a mountain road, two moose crossed the road ahead of us. Little did they know, it was opening day of moose season, although we did not see more than 10 hunters all day.
Our guide carried a canister of bear spray for each passenger and a Remington 12 gauge shotgun loaded with deer slugs for safety, in case we ran into a grizzly bear. After the bear fatality of a hiker last week in nearby Denali, that was just fine with us.
Unloading our 14-foot long raft, we started our trip. Reini provided the transportation and gear, including chest waders, fly rods, spinning rods, lures and hand-to-hand instructions, plus a midday lunch.
The morning started off slowly, with the water temperatures’ reaching only the low 40s, but, by 10 a.m., the fish began to hit wet flies and streamers and I landed the first of 25 grayling. An hour later, the fish were heating up to a hatch of flies with the higher sun and warming daytime temperatures that reached the mid-50s. By noon, dry fly action was underway.
I used size 14 and 16 midge fly and mosquito dry fly patterns, casting a No. 4 fly line with a 6-pound tippet. After a little while, a 19-inch grayling inhaled my fly and came to net. We took a picture and released this and all the other fish we caught that day.
When you visit Fairbanks, you discover that the locals also love to fish and float the Chena River for its famous Alaska Arctic grayling.
Float trips and tours are held on many other waters. Reini also offers two-day and onenight float fishing trips near Fairbanks, as well as six-day float trips to the Gulkana River, for multiple species of salmon.
It won’t be long before we return to Fairbanks and that form of relaxing fishing to visit with nature again.
During the days following that trip, we headed south to Seward, Alaska and fished for halibut in Prince William Sound with Crackerjack Charters, but weather turned the fishing off and we were not able to land any large fish like the 100 – 300-pounders the area is famous for. I landed my limit of two halibut and one ling cod, but both halibut were fewer than 20 pounds and the ling cod came in at approximately 30 pounds.
We spent our last days in Alaska with a shore fishing guide. Wes, “the Alaskan fish slayer,” headquarters at the Hotel Seward. Because we were located downtown, we were just 1 mile from the marina harbor and port area. The population of Seward is 2,800, but there are many wonderful restaurants and businesses catering to vacationing visitors there.
Wes shared several of his secret fishing spots, including the Kenai River, with me. We pursued Dolly-Varden trout and silver salmon that ran 10 – 20 pounds each. As I fished away, a young eagle landed on the bank about 200 feet away from me, near one of the salmon I had caught, and tried to fly away with the fish, which was clearly too heavy for him to carry.
Clad in my fishing attire, I ran toward the bird, but the eagle simply hopped 20 feet away and waited. He really wanted that fish! Soon afterward, two adult bald eagles landed close by, to pick their salmon.
About 15 minutes later, one of the eagles flew down the river and, while still airborne, dropped to snatch a pink salmon for a very fresh breakfast.
Wes filleted our fish and we delivered them to a vacuum-packing service, where they were frozen, packaged and shipped home.
If you have the chance to visit Alaska someday, go for it. My wife and I definitely plan to return next year.
On our last day, we took a Kenai Fjord cruise tour to see the many glacier flows that are within 60 miles of Seward. Captain Dan Olsen and his crew served lunch to the more than 100 passengers on the 6-hour cruise. They described the many forms of wildlife, fish and life-forms located among the hundreds of islands and glacial flows.
While we were vacationing in this remote land, we watched bald eagles, mountain goats, Dall sheep and moose, saw the tracks of black and grizzly bears, watched seals, otter, humpback whales and cute little puffins.
We learned that about 30 percent of visitors come to Alaska to hike to various trailheads that begin from the state highways. Some of these require overnight camping, a canister of bear pepper spray or a loaded handgun.
There are no tolls on the Alaskan highways, the daylight hours stretch on forever and there is no state sales tax and no state income tax. All residents receive a state subsidy at Christmas each year!
Lake Erie walleye travel
According to a recent New York State Department of Environmental Conservation report, Region 9 fisheries staff received notification from an angler who caught a 30-inch jaw-tagged walleye in Lake Erie, near Buffalo. Lake Erie Unit staff obtained initial tagging information and found the fish had been tagged by Michigan fisheries staff in Lake Erie near the Huron River in April 2006. The fish was a female, approximately 24 inches in length, when initially tagged and released in 2006. Walleye from the western basin of Lake Erie, especially adult females, migrate to eastern Lake Erie to spend the summer here and feed on the rich resources of our forage fish population of emerald shiners, smelt and alewives.
WNY bald eagles
Three months ago, at the start of the summer, DEC wildlife staff completed bald eagle nest surveys for five counties within Region 9. Active nests are located in Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie and Wyoming counties and in both the Cattaraugus and Allegany Seneca Nation territories. A total of 41 eagle chicks were identified, setting a new Region 9 record.
The late April snowstorm caused the failure of many nest location sites in Chautauqua County and northwestern Cattaraugus County, so the findings were somewhat unexpected. The Region 9 bald eagle population is expanding, as represented by 37 bald eagle nest territories, seven of which have been discovered this year.
Region 9 DEC wildlife staff and the Seneca Nation Conservation Department staff cooperate with each other for bald eagle surveys and management of the birds on the territories. This year, the Seneca Nation funded eagle nest tree climbing and eagle chick banding training, provided by retired DEC eagle Biologist Pete Nye. Through this training, nine eagle chicks living near proposed wind farm sites were banded.
Free outdoor discovery newsletter
A redesigned electronic monthly newsletter highlighting seasonal outdoor recreation opportunities throughout the state is now available from the DEC.
The newsletter will include features like the hike of the month, watchable wildlife sites, an outdoor adventure, a calendar of events and photos of New York’s most stunning scenery and will be emailed to subscribers the first day of each month and will also appear on the DEC website. To subscribe, visit www.dec.ny.gov/public/43433.html.
Sept. 15: Annual fall festival, Reinstein Environmental Education Center, 93 Honorine Drive, Depew, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., with interactive exhibits, crafts for kids, live animals, hands-on activities, K-9 demonstrations, music, food and more.
Sept. 15 and 16: Gun Show, NYS Arms & Collectors, state fairgrounds, expo center, Syracuse. Call 607-748-1010 for more information.
Sept. 19: Fly fishing course with Ray Marks, Lake Shore Community Education. Six-week session, 6:30 – 9 p.m. Begins Sept. 19. Call 926-2210 or 549-1977 to register.
Send information to email@example.com 10 days in advance.