The Alaska Life : Kasilof Cabin

September 19, 2016 at 5:27 am (Alaska, Travel) (, , , , , , )

Summer in Alaska is when everyone seems to go AWOL.  While the weather is nice, they’re out camping or fishing or venturing off to find some peace and quiet in the wilderness somewhere.  The best part is you don’t even have to travel that far from the city limits to find spots that feel well and truly secluded.

We spend a weekend at a friend’s cabin on the banks of the Kasilof River, just ~3 hours from Anchorage on the Kenai Peninsula.  A glimpse of cabin life, the simple life – and I do believe we’re developing a taste for it.  I don’t think we’d ever be quite ready to completely give up the conveniences of modern living, but an occasional sojourn such as this, away from the constant barrage of information, seeming need for haste and ceaseless consumerism, is the perfect way to unwind.

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The Kasilof River – 20 miles of meandering turquoise water that connects Tustamena Lake to the Cook Inlet.  The water’s milky hue is a result of its glacial “rock flour” content, and is even more spectacular today under blue skies that we are glad to see after weeks of rain.

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The largest lake on the Kenai peninsula, Tustamena is 25 miles long and a spectacularly scenic location for boating.  Fed by Tustamena Glacier and the Harding Ice Field, that same, milky, glacial meltwater stretches as far as the eye can see; where you think you see the shoreline in the distance, it’s actually just the bordering mountains peeping up over the horizon.  Care is required when crossing the lake, however – winds gusting over the ice field can make for a rough, sometimes precarious, ride.

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Back on the Kasilof for some reprieve as the winds pick up over the lake, the water is still flowing quite fast, boosted by a wet season.   We find some slower spots to try our luck fishing, skeptical of our chances given the water depth but hopeful nonetheless of hooking a silver or two for dinner. As expected, with the exception of an undersized trout and unfortunate humpy, it’s slow going.

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The cabin is every bit as picturesque as you would imagine, a compact wooden structure nestled in a wooded grotto.  The surrounding forest floor is a sea of cranberry and rosehip bushes and all manner of late-summer mushrooms for the fungi-enthusiast.  We can just make out some skinny, ambling trails where the greenery has been worn away, revealing an underlying tangle of tree roots – trails worn in by bears foraging for berries, we’re told.

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Inside, our home-away-from-home is an eclectic assembly of mismatched furniture and odds and ends which, at the end of their heydays, have found a second use here.  A large woodstove sits in the corner by the firewood hatch, a sturdy workhorse capable of handling the Alaskan winter.  “Running water” here means you have to run to get it and lessons in the proper method for washing dishes without plumbing and strategic placement of flashlights for night-time trips to the outhouse are a good reminder of the conveniences we take for granted.  It’s rustic, but has all the creature comforts covered, including board games and plenty of reading material if you’re wondering how one fills the evening hours without an idiot box.

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Dinner is a simple affair of steak and corn on the cob grilled over an open fire, with a glass of red in hand and good company – one of the best meals I’ve had in the US.  We move inside once the sun sets (the long summer days are beyond us at this point), escaping the no-see-’ems and mosquitoes to continue campfire stores by the glow of the woodfired stove and single propane lamp.

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Sleep comes easily in total darkness, far from city lights, to the sound of nothing but the running river, and there’s no need to describe the pleasure of waking up, not to the sound of an alarm, but the morning light streaming through the window.  Sunday morning is cranberry picking, hot coffee and pancakes with warm syrup cooked on the vintage propane stove.  Dilly-dallying to extend those last few, completely peaceful moments before heading back up-river and back to the grind.

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Caught a bunch of chickens on the hunt for the “holy butte”

July 18, 2016 at 2:14 pm (Alaska, Travel) (, , , , , )

Summer in Alaska is synonymous with fishing – 3 months to get the freezer stocked up with some prime halibut!  Halibut is essentially a giant flounder.  Particularly prized amongst “buttes” or flat fish, it was traditionally eaten on religious holidays, hence “holy-butte” or halibut (and pub-favorite, “basket of buts”).  The halibut found in Alaskan waters are pacific halibut, the largest of all flat fish, and we’re heading to Homer, widely touted to be the halibut fishing capital of the world, fully expecting to haul in some monster fish.

6am Saturday, four bleary-eyed, would-be fishermen/women arrive at Homer spit to rendezvous with our charter boat.  Most importantly, sans bananas, banana bread or anything banana-related because sea-faring folk are incredibly superstitious (or, if you believe it, the fish just don’t like bananas).

The port of Homer is an interesting place.  Very distinct from Seward, destination of many a cruise liner and luxury RV, which seems modern and scrubbed by comparison. Homer looks very much like a working port; it’s older, the boats aren’t as shiny or built with comfort as the first priority, folk are a bit rougher around the edges….. and we love it.

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Eddie is already prepping the Ashtikan when we arrive and Captain Brian arrives shorter after, having dealt with a lost dog situation.  A quick stop for fuel, popcorn and terrible coffee at the floating gas station (captain’s top tip – fuel up in the mornings to avoid the goat rope), and we’re off.

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For the inexperienced, a halibut charter is worth the spend.  The experts know where to find the fish, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to catch something.  Heck, right from the get-go, we’re chased out further into the bay by an invasion of pacific cod – no point expending precious energy hauling in these bait-snatcher (two at a time!) when there’s a better prize to be had.  Fisher-folk are also great story tellers, which provides some entertainment when there is some downtime.  And last but not least, the guides are fully versed in the local fishing regulations, saving you from the 100 page Sports Fishing Regulation manual.

In all seriousness though, even those who have been fishing should consider a charter if unfamiliar with the bay.  With some of the biggest tides in the world, coming in from multiple directions, the waters of Kachemak Bay can be deadly – think giant washing machine.  Sea conditions can change drastically over a short period of time, so best leave it to the experts if you want to go long range and chase the bigger fish.

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Luck is with us on this trip.  The waters are calm, the 6ft swells nothing compared with what the Kachemak typically throws at you.  This is fortunate as the motion-sickness pills we purchased were forgotten in the fuzzy, wee hours of the morning.  The weather is also remarkably pleasant after an early drizzle, affording great views of the bay as we make the 35 mile trip to the sweet spot.  And because we diligently avoided contact with bananas in the preceding 24 hours, there’s plenty of excitement reeling in tonnes of fish.  Lured in by a smelly chum bag (a herring oil-spiked mash-up of smashed herring, leftover popcorn and stale potato crisps), these guys have no chance.

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Halibut fishing requires very little in the way of technique.  You just spool out the weighted line until you tag bottom, then jig away.  Once you get a bite, reeling in does take practice and doing it efficiently appears to be an art form.  After a few hours fighting cod and dragging up double-catches, us girls, stoked to have caught anything at all, quickly fill our quotas.  The boys release more fish, holding out for a bigger prize, but eventually have to start settling for the fish in hand as energy reserves are depleted.

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8 halibut and 2 rockfish (plus about a bazillion cod) later, we call it a day.  The biggest halibut reaches about 32 inches, just a chicken, but we’ve got 37 pounds of fish for winter and a great experience under our belts.  A family of sea otters appears to send us off and four bonafide, smelly fishermen/women enjoy a relaxing ride back to the port.

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