River spice

There’s a point that indicates the official end of summer, but everyone has different ideas about when summer really ends.
Is it when the last fireweed blows its top in a final fit of bloom? Is it when the tasty alpine carpet turns brown and chases the deer into the timber?
Does summer end when school starts, or when the cruise ship traffic slows?
The calendar says it’s over in a few weeks, but the grocery store says Halloween is just around the corner. A friend of mine in California told me, “Everything here is already pumpkin spice this and pumpkin spice that.”
Speaking of spice, two weeks ago I was on one of my favorite rivers and it was over-spiced with rankness. If it hadn’t been warm and sunny, I might have thought it was late September or even October by the amount of dead fish. But it wasn’t. It was mid-August on a river that should have been so choked with fish that my sense of smell didn’t work. Unfortunately it did. Humpies caught in thin, warm water died and washed ashore at one of my favorite spots. Their bloated, furry-with-rot carcasses baked in the sun. Mom and I casted in the hopes of finding a hearty silver swimming among the pinks but we didn’t.
Thus my summer salmon fishing on Prince of Wales ended with a whimper.
I wrote a column a few weeks back about the importance of water and it seems particularly important now with only a few scattered puddles of snow creating little trickles of runoff that end up being creeks where there used to be rivers.
I’ve seen the rivers lower, but low water plus poor returns was almost traumatic. It wasn’t enough to ruin my summer by any means, but it certainly didn’t punctuate the season.
We, I at least, sometimes get the feeling that I’m owed a good August because of January and February. Yeah I only had to suffer through one period of glaciated driveway, but it was still dark and gray. So this season cannot end with those salmon bonanzas that get hundreds of likes on Instagram!
Actually it can and looks like it will.
Fortunately there’s always something to look forward to as green turns brown and the seasonal workers return to their Lower 48 homes with stories of part-time Alaskan adventures.
The full-timers dig in, and without the benefit of long days and warmth, it takes a little more effort to live deeply and fully. After the second day of school I went home with the intent to change and go on a hike or fish like I had the previous four days. The weather was great, the spirit willing, but guacamole, salsa, chips and the couch won.
I felt guilty for wasting one of the last great afternoons, but I was tapped out. I was jealous for a second because my friends in California can look forward to slowly declining temperatures and increasingly hot fishing that culminates in the October trout fishing extravaganza.
I visited California twice this summer and got caught up with small trout streams, beautiful scenery and Buffalo Wild Wings. But it’s not perfect. Far from it. The rivers of asphalt get bigger returns of vehicles every year.
That alone is worth enduring a down fishing year and the coming cold.

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Coffee Town

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska – This is a coffee town, probably a coffee state. You need it to talk. You need it to fish. You need it to hunt. You need it to kayak. You need it to be, or to tolerate, tourists.
As an English teacher who fishes (or a fisherman who teaches?) coffee is vital to my existence. The sweet (bitter) nectar is necessary to ensuring I function properly. Okay, maybe that’s a little much. I do like coffee but as a casual consumer. I don’t need it or get headaches if I don’t have it, I just drink it. By the way, when I say coffee, I mean coffee with coffee in it. Not something like a 620-calorie white chocolate mocha. That’s a drink, not a coffee. I take my coffee black unless I’m fishing in northern California or Oregon, in which case I’ll get an Annihilator from Dutch Bros because it helps me catch trout and has a cool name.
Anyway, there are really two divisions of coffee.
The first is the place you go simply because you need a brain slap. You don’t get the trucker blend at a truck stop then stick around to see what’s good. You get the largest size and get back on the road.
The other coffee style is the sit down and relax sort of way. You go there to visit with friends, tell fishing stories loud enough that everyone can hear, read the paper, eat or write.
Where you drink your coffee is almost as important as the coffee you’re drinking. No one wants to spend an hour sipping a few cups at a place you can’t stand. So with all that in mind, here are the best places to get caffeinated with a book, laptop or a friend.

5. Refiner’s Roast. It’s quiet, the seating is comfortable and the coffee is good, hot and comes in very tall cups. That’s the point.

4. The Point. For the same reasons an angler might prefer Green Bean, I’m sure plenty prefer The Point. It’s a gallery/coffee hybrid that appeals to others the same way Green Bean appeals to the angler, or New York Café appeals to those who want a mug on a creaky, aged, wooden bar. The views are good, even when it’s blowing 30.

3. Sweet Mermaids. This place certainly has a bakery feel more so than a coffee joint. It’s bright, the employees are friendly and efficient and the overall scene is not chaotic and uncomfortable.

2. New York Café. The perfect combination of ambiance, hearty mugs and coffee you can drink all morning. Boats floating in the harbor, old wooden tables, it just feels right to sit there and let the morning slide by. It’s the rustic authenticity that coffee chains will never, ever achieve. Ever. Because it doesn’t even try to be a coffee shop. It’s a place that happens to serve it and serve it well.

1. The Green Coffee Bean. Was there any doubt? All fly shops worth anything have a coffee pot but this is a fly shop that’s a coffee stop. How can any other coffee joint compete when there are fish on the wall, flies in a case and rods in a stand? But that’s not all, you can get a great tasting, freshly roasted cup of coffee there for a buck.
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Where the pursuit takes you

So I took a week off from salmon fishing, mountain climbing and deer scouting to go to… California?
Yeah, seriously. A couple buddies of mine kept texting me pictures of beautiful mountain streams that meander back and forth through grassy meadows that smell like wild onion. They were catching beautiful little brook, rainbow, brown and golden trout on 1-weight fly rods and as a dude who loves fly fishing, it was too hard to resist.
It’s not that I tire of mooching for king salmon, or swinging flies for silvers or that I prefer brook trout that can’t fill a purple pack of bait as well as herring. You can’t compare. A king salmon will probably get more likes in my Instagram, but reading thin water and making a cast to a run that’s only three feet long and a foot deep is challenging and fun. Fishing isn’t all about weight and size. It’s about the process. Getting In-N-Out Burger one last time before next spring or summer wasn’t a bad perk either.
So I went. I fished five rivers in four days and caught the Sierra Grand Slam, the rainbow, brown, brook and elusive golden trout all in the same day. It was awesome.
The premise of a Grand Slam is a little odd. It’s evidence that the human race has reached a point of ease where we can make specific rules in our providing. We can hunt and feel completely satisfied and successful without providing a tangible, edible result to fight off natural selection. It’s just the feeding of our soul to be recalled in a story with pictures. And I’m cool with that.
Things like slams come mostly down to money or information. Sometimes enough money can buy you the information you need to get it done and become part of the elite-ish group of people who have done something that matters to a population probably smaller than the people who have actually accomplished it.
Get a cutthroat, rainbow and Dolly Varden in an hour ­— or all five species of Pacific salmon — make yourself a t-shirt, wear it to the grocery store and no one will really care.
But it’s not about the bragging rights. It’s about that pursuit and where it takes you. It’s about going out and finding something that’s rare and beautiful and testing your skill against it. It’s about how you feel accomplishing it, rather than what other people think about you doing it. It’s about recreation replacing medication.
At one point I was standing on a rock with my left foot against a rock at waist level, backhand casting upriver at a rising brown trout. It was sweet. I screwed it up a few times, but it’s the variety that fishing provides that makes it so great and never boring.
Anyway, I got the four fish in a few hours and reconnected with my California friends and don’t feel like I missed anything.
And yes, I went to In-N-Out.

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The miracle of water

Water is everything.
Without it, we don’t survive. Without pumping an entire river’s worth of it from hundreds of miles away, Southern Californians wouldn’t be hydrated enough to get to the store to buy gluten free and free range stuff.
Without water fish wouldn’t survive and then I’d figuratively perish before I literally did.
The water situation has been weird the last few summers thanks to a poor snowpack. Don’t worry, I’m not going on a global warming, El Niño or Fukushima rant, I’m going to be a lot less like a bioregionalism activist and more like the dude with a fishing rod who shows up to the river, sees the flow and says, “Huh, look at that.”
So a few years back I was fly fishing on a river I don’t want to ruin by naming, because it’s already pressured enough, and saw cutthroat trout taking flies on the surface. I tied on a No. 18 elk hair caddis and hooked a few cutthroats, then a 20-inch rainbow pushed its way through the crowd and took my fly. The water was so clear, I could clearly see the red stripe down its flank. I had one of those moments that was part, “Yes!” but mostly, “Oh man, please don’t lose it.”
I’ve fished that river since, but that little slot where all those cutthroats and that huge rainbow fed only gives up a fish or two at the most. Most of the time it doesn’t seem like there’s enough water to hold that many fish. I’ve analyzed the picture on my laptop a few times and decided I’ve fished it at comparable levels, but there’s a lot more that goes into catching, or not catching fish where you once did. Water drops and rises quickly. High water makes the river change course and can fill feeding slots with riverbed. Fish move. Fish die. People kill 14-inch trout for dinner or lunch. People kill trout and salmon smolt while trying to untangle barbed treble hooks on big lures meant for big salmon. People kill big, old salmon about to spawn, thwarting the miracle of the return days before completion…

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Flight problems

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska –
I could say, “I had a bad feeling…” but the truth is, it was only after I revisited the memory that I edited my emotions at the time.
An objective observation would be that I objected to what I observed, but didn’t have a premonition.
Anyway, it doesn’t matter what system an airline adopts, it’s wrong. Board by row, section it doesn’t matter, it’s still slow. People don’t step into the rows, people mess up the numbers, whatever. Go by group and people like the dude in front of me ignore it. Seriously guy, I can plainly see the “Group 3” on your ticket. If you’re going to wiggle your way through the chaos of Group 2 passengers bottlenecking like salmon waiting their turn on a fish ladder, you’d at least hide your ticket, right? Guy worked his way to the front, then called up the three other people in his party to steal all the overhead bin space and he was a Group 3er! There should be consequences to detour others, because if I have to stuff my pack under my seat because a cheater stole my overhead bin space, I will…do nothing about it.

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It’s nice to be reminded of what’s really important.
Sometimes you get to the point where you’re only thinking about changing the frayed leader after a lingcod has at your herring, or getting an oil change after…has it been 9,000 miles?
The importance of existence and what you’re doing with the time you have is always there, but sometimes something big comes along and motivates us to engage on a deeper level.
I love Al Pacino’s speech in “Any Given Sunday,” but I hate that I watch it from my couch, you know?
“The inches we need are everywhere around us…”
Let me reach for another nacho.
The sad thing about inspiration is that we eventually put the book down, or turn off Netflix and head to bed and whatever was stirred becomes stagnant. Days stack up on each other and everything is back to normal.
I remember a time I could pick up a basketball and play without stretching. Today, at basketball camp, one of my players asked why I was walking so slow. I told her it was because I was sore, which is true, because Kevin made me to do both front squats and heavy cleans at the gym yesterday, but the other part was I was digesting what the camp director said.
Every day is a miracle. We are a miracle. He talked about Ketchikan like it was some sort of obscene example of incalculable beauty, which it is, but we get so used to it, all we see are tourists not using the cross walks. But to a guy who has lived with cancer, every day is a blessing.

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Luck vs. Hard Work

I recently read an article in The Atlantic about the perception of luck and why it matters more than most of us think. In fact, it was called, “Why luck matters much more than you think.”
It said that while some are thankful for what they have earned and attribute their good fortune to luck, others believe that it was hard work that allowed them to achieve what they had.
It’s a funny thing, luck.
I left my job in California to substitute teach in Klawock and help my mom after her health issues, if she needed it. At the end of the school year, there was no full-time teaching job in Klawock. Then I applied for an opening in Ketchikan and didn’t get it. Maybe Alaska wasn’t meant to be. Mom was fine, so maybe I took a leap, but the universe was telling me Alaska was just for my summers.
My old job in California opened up.
Luck. Fate.
I applied, but didn’t get an interview thanks to a paperwork issue, but a second English position opened in the same department. At a school with little English department turnover, there had been two people leave within months. Since Mom was fine, I could go back and continue my life.
Destiny. No question.
The California job would be there, but July was almost over and it hadn’t posted, so I obviously couldn’t apply. I was banking on promises. I bought a ticket south and started packing my truck. I’d get to California just in time for in-service. The job would post, I would apply and be back in the California groove with a fresh new perspective after a year in Alaska.

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