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Volume 10 • Issue 8 www.aksportingjournal.com PUBLISHER James R. Baker GENERAL MANAGER John Rusnak EXECUTIVE EDITOR Andy Walgamott EDITOR Chris Cocoles WRITERS Paul D. Atkins, Tony Ensalaco, Scott Haugen, Tiffany Haugen, Tony Lolli, Mary Catharine Martin SALES MANAGER Katie Higgins ACCOUNT EXECUTIVES Mamie Griffin, Mike Smith, Paul Yarnold DESIGNERS Kayla Mehring, Jake Weipert WEB DEVELOPMENT/INBOUND MARKETING Jon Hines

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PRODUCTION ASSISTANT Kelly Baker ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT Katie Aumann INFORMATION SERVICES MANAGER Lois Sanborn ADVERTISING INQUIRIES media@media-inc.com ON THE COVER Billy Molls (left) grew up in rural Wisconsin dreaming of becoming an Alaskan big game hunting guide. Now Molls fulfills the dreams of other hunters by helping them score animals of a lifetime like this 9-foot-9 Alaska Peninsula bear. (BILLY MOLLS)

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MEDIA INDEX PUBLISHING GROUP WASHINGTON OFFICE 14240 Interurban Ave South • Suite 190 Tukwila, WA 98168 (206) 382-9220 • Fax (206) 382-9437 media@media-inc.com www.media-inc.com CORRESPONDENCE Twitter @AKSportJourn Facebook.com/alaskasportingjournal Email ccocoles@media-inc.com


CONTENTS

VOLUME 10 • ISSUE 8

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AN ADVENTURE EVERY MONTH

Ice fishing in January. Bear hunting in the spring. Salmon in the summer. Moose, caribou and blacktails in the fall. Whether you’re a year-round Alaskan or not, there’s something for outdoors lovers to take advantage of every month. And as you put a new calendar on the wall, follow along as our Arctic sportsman Paul Atkins (here with a buck) plans out his year of hunting and fishing. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

FEATURES 21

HONORING ONE OF THE ‘LAST ALASKANS’ Twice we’ve featured some of the seven families who have a rightful claim to cabins located on Alaska’s South Carolina-sized Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on the Discovery Channel’s The Last Alaskans. Trapper Bob Harte, who once hitchhiked from his native to New Jersey to Alaska before finding his muse in the Last Frontier, was diagnosed with cancer in 2016. He passed away in summer 2017 just as season four of the show was being filmed. His memory was honored as the series continues this month.

105 THINKING STEELHEAD 365 DAYS A YEAR Chicago resident and diehard Cubs fan Tony Ensalaco suffered October heartbreak when his beloved baseball team’s World Series hopes abruptly ended. So as winter in the Windy Season arrived, Ensalaco turned his attention to envisioning steelhead runs on the Southeast Alaskan waters he’s fished so often in spring. Get a taste of what steelheaders think about as they dream of getting in their next casts for the big sea-run trout.

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WHEN DREAMS COME TRUE As a young boy growing up among the farms of rural Wisconsin, Billy Molls had one dream: go to Alaska and become a big game hunting guide. Molls went to guiding school and groomed for a career in Idaho and Montana, and achieved his goals. Now he fulfills the dreams of hunters through his guide trips and has a series of DVDs that chronicle these hunts of a lifetime.

79 91 119 121

ALSO IN THIS ISSUE From Field to Fire: Emperor goose hunts are underrated The Gear Guy: How to stay warm this winter New column! Guide Fly – The Skinny Herring The Salmon State: Juneau jewelry maker’s fish skin earrings a big hit

DEPARTMENTS 17 55 57

The Editor’s Note Protecting Wild Alaska Outdoor Calendar

Alaska Sporting Journal is published monthly. Call Media Inc. Publishing Group for a current rate card. Discounts for frequency advertising. All submitted materials become the property of Media Inc. Publishing Group and will not be returned. Annual subscriptions are $29.95 (12 issues) or $39.95 (24 issues). Send check or money order to Media Inc. Publishing Group, 14240 Interurban Ave South, Suite 190, Tukwila, WA 98168 or call (206) 382-9220 with VISA or M/C. Back issues may be ordered at Media Inc. Publishing Group, subject to availability, at the cost of $5 plus shipping. Copyright © 2019 Media Inc. Publishing Group. All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be copied by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying or recording by any information storage or retrieval system, without the express written permission of the publisher. Printed in U.S.A. 12

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EDITOR’S NOTE Billy Molls has to traverse a lot of rugged country in Alaska when he guides hunters, but that’s ironically where he feels most comfortable even amid all the dangerous scenarios that can play out. (BILLY MOLLS)

A

s I was chatting with Wisconsin-based Alaska big game hunting guide and DVD filmmaker Billy Molls (page 36), I realized how thrilling his bear, Dall sheep and moose expeditions in the Last Frontier must be. So I asked him an obvious question: Do you get scared on these hunts? Admittedly, I’ve always been a city guy and was never more nervous in my life than when I covered a high school football game near Los Angeles. I was one of the last ones at the stadium while filing my story and had parked in an on-campus lot that was locked up, so I couldn’t get my truck out. Friday night, nobody seemingly around in a pretty sketchy neighborhood and a year before I got my first cellphone. I was not terrified but not scared to admit that I felt vulnerable. At least until I found a custodian in the basketball gym who opened the gate for me. During my camping trips and fishing excursions out in the country, I’ve never encountered anything that resembled a dangerous situation save for some dark walks outside of the campground. But I imagined Molls found himself in some intense environments hunting majestic but potentially dangerous brown bears and hiking through treacherous Alaska terrain with clients, many who likely weren’t as seasoned in the wilderness as Molls is. “I had a client go down in a river and I jumped in thinking I could pull him right out. But the river was so strong, and next thing I know we’re both being washed down the river,” he told me. “And I just figured I didn’t think he’d make it out if I let go and I realized there was a good chance I wouldn’t survive, so I thought of my wife and my kids. It happened fast but a lot of things went through my mind. But I guess I was never afraid.” Molls says he’s been charged by brown bears – he had to shoot one that was a mere 5 yards away – but he also feels a sense of comfort even when alone in the Alaskan bush. It’s a feeling true sportsmen and -women can understand. I also picked Molls’ brain about not having enough time to show fear even when Mother Nature might frighten the hell out of you. “Your instincts kick in. I suppose when I was younger and first starting out I would say there were times when I was in a tent by myself in bear country it was a little unnerving … But I don’t feel afraid in bear country. If I’m in nature, I’m a pretty happy camper.” –Chris Cocoles aksportingjournal.com | JANUARY 2019

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ONE FINAL FAREWELL PARTY DISCOVERY CHANNEL’S THE LAST ALASKANS SAYS GOODBYE TO TRAPPER BOB HARTE BY CHRIS COCOLES

O

n a recent episode of the Discovery Channel series The Last Alaskans, which follows the select few residents who reside in cabins within massive Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, longtime resident Heimo Korth picks out rusted vintage traps from one of the seven homesteads that dot the refuge. “When a trapper passes away, if he doesn’t have family that continues on, everything just kind of deteriorates and falls apart. Cabins fall apart,” Korth says as he quietly walks the premises. “Pretty soon trees will be growing in them and in 100 years you’ll never know that someone was living there.”

Bob Harte (with his beloved dog, Ruger), one of the mainstays with a trapping cabin on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and featured on Discovery Channel’s The Last Alaskans, said goodbye in a December episode honoring his life. Shortly after being interviewed, Harte passed away of cancer at 66. (DISCOVERY CHANNEL) aksportingjournal.com | JANUARY 2019

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Heimo Korth – here working on a cabin – paid tribute to his longtime friend Harte during a tribute episode to the latter’s memory. “Part of this place is gone. Something’s missing and Bob’s gone. I’m sure in spirit he’s still here.” (DISCOVERY CHANNEL)

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But Korth (Alaska Sporting Journal, July 2015) will always remember that his friend trapped there, lived there and essentially died there. Bob Harte, a mainstay on the refuge and who, like Korth and the few other residents of the cabins, was featured extensively on the series, lost a long battle to cancer when he passed away at 66 on July 22, 2017 in Fairbanks. Korth, who on a tribute episode to Harte says they’ve been friends since 1976, was asked by Harte – “his last request to me” – to keep an eye on his cabin. “Bob Harte was one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever seen on television. He’s a guy from Jersey, but Alaska, specifically the incredibly challenging corner of it where he settled, became part of him and defined who he was as a person,” says Discovery Channel executive producer Michael Gara. “The life he built there was epic but he allowed us into his world on a very personal level.” The current season of The Last Alaskans began filming in the summer of 2017, just around the time Harte appeared on camera for the last time before he died.


“To young men I’m an old timer. But to me an old timer is 80, 90 years old – the old trappers,” Harte, pictured with his wife Nancy, daughter Talicia and granddaughter Carmella, said in one of his final interviews on The Last Alaskans before he died. “I’ve had experiences all over the place up here.” (DISCOVERY CHANNEL)

“As we tackled how to portray his battle with cancer, we always wanted to make sure that Bob’s spirit came through every time we were with him,” Gara adds. “He’s such a rare mix of someone who’s tough as nails but also introspective and not afraid to be honest. We had to be honest as well as we told his story.”

A TRAPPER’S FAREWELL PARTY Harte, who legend says hitchhiked to Alaska over 40 years ago and had one of seven permits to reside on ANWR, opened the tribute episode in mid-December with a clip from three years before his death. Harte counts out 275 long strides along a rocky shoreline to estimate how much space his Piper Cub needs to take off from this crude makeshift runway, the likes of which Alaskans are accustomed to. The camera then cuts to an interview with an ailing Harte shot shortly before his death. “In this country you’re always on the edge,” Harte says. “That plane makes it so I can match my wits against the extreme. And it’s what I love.” 24

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“Toward the end of his life, his body was frail but his mind was still strong. He sat in his chair and watched the squirrels and talked about how they were getting ready for winter like him. He would study them and talk about how he could catch them if he wanted to. He still had that spark,” says Brigham Cottam, an executive producer with Half Yard Productions, which produces the show. “With Bob, you didn’t want to turn off the camera because you knew he was going to say something in a way that was unrepeatable. So we just filmed everything.” One moment Discovery didn’t film but felt fortunate to be a part of happened the day before he passed away. On that July Friday, Harte told his wife Nancy he want-

JANUARY 2019 | aksportingjournal.com

ed to invite many of his trapper friends, including fellow refuge residents Korth and his wife Edna, Ashley and Tyler Selden (Alaska Sporting Journal, June 2016) and Ray and Cindy Lewis, over to the Chena River camp in Fairbanks the Hartes were staying at for a cookout. “It was a last-minute get together, but fortunately most people were in town. Bob had a great time, they all told stories, (and) from what I understand it’s the first time all of these people had been together in one place in a long time,” Half Yard executive producer John Jones says. “At the end of the evening he says goodbye to everybody and retired to his camper. He passed away that night.” “To live the life he did required incredible instincts, and on that Friday it’s as if he knew that this was his last day to say goodbye.”

REFLECTING AND MOVING FORWARD It took another year for longtime viewers of The Last Alaskans to get their own sendoff for Harte as his plane rumbles down the same space he walked over to make sure it had enough room to take off.


“The freedom to come and go as a pilot is indescribable. It’s the best there is,” Harte says as that shot from three years earlier shows him soaring over the lands he lived on for so many years. “You get a different view of the land – just a different perspective flying over. From the air you can see tracks, you can see sloughs and lakes and what’s happening down below. It’s free and I can’t give it up.” Harte, Jones says, “wore his heart on his sleeve.” Cottam says Harte never was bashful to give his opinion even when the camera might have made him hold back. “He didn’t care. He just spoke from the heart.” Korth, his friend and fellow refuge trapper, also paid tribute on the show as he spent a night in a tent adjacent to Harte’s cabin. “What these walls can tell you,” Korth says as he picks out keepsakes Nancy Harte requested he bring back. Another grizzled veteran of this lifestyle, Korth talked about his own mortality when remembering his friend’s legacy. “I’ve been trapping and hunting so long, I realize death is part of life. Part of

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this place is gone. Something’s missing and Bob’s gone. I’m sure in spirit he’s still here. Someday I gotta go too.” Harte provides his own victory lap, reflecting about what made his choice of lifestyle unique and memorable as the camera alternated among scenes of the remaining living refuge residents on this sacred ground. What’s even more emotional is the reality that this legacy will end sometime in the next 50 to 100 years, when these families will no longer legally be allowed to live there (immediate next of kins will be the last to utilize the land before the feds reclaim it). “I came up to Alaska to make a living trapping. I wanted a place to spend the rest of my life,” Harte says during one of those final interviews. “But I found even more than I can imagine … Living here was the best thing I ever did.” ASJ Editor’s note: New episodes of The Last Alaskans continue on Sunday nights this month on the Discovery Channel (check local listings). For more go to discovery.com/ tv-shows/the-last-alaskans.


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MAKING DREAMS COME TRUE FROM AMERICA’S DAIRYLAND TO THE LAST FRONTIER, HOW A BIG GAME HUNTING GUIDE FOLLOWED HIS PASSION BY CHRIS COCOLES

H

is dreams are fulfilling yours. Consider this: Billy Molls, who’s led big game Alaska hunts for more than 20 years, got his start as a teen as the guiding world’s equivalent of office go-for. Yet ask him to remember his best Dall sheep or

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It’s almost as if Billy Molls was born to be a transplanted Alaskan. From a family of hard-working trappers and farmers, Molls achieved his boyhood dream of guiding in the Last Frontier, where he also produces DVD accounts of his hunting stories. (BILLY MOLLS) aksportingjournal.com | JANUARY 2019

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downed grizzly taken on a pleasure hunt and he can’t cite an example. “I’ve never shot a big game animal for myself in Alaska, and I really don’t have a burning desire to do it,” admits Molls, 42. “By the time I was 12 years old, I knew I wanted to be a hunting guide in Alaska. I figured that was my backdoor to experience the Alaskan wilderness. So this is pretty much all I ever wanted to do.” The grandson and son of hard-working, no-nonsense trappers and farmers in rural Wisconsin, Molls’ passion for the outdoors, adventure and drive has served him well. He’s still based in Wisconsin, where he lives with his wife and daughters and guides hunts in his home state. But his heart and soul is in the Last Frontier, where he regularly films the hunts and has produced several DVDs, including recent new releases that feature a Dall sheep hunt and fitness tips for the field. From the time his trapper grandfather Bill encouraged young Billy to chase his dreams of hunting in the vast wilderness of the 49th state, Molls knew what he

wanted and where he wanted to do it. His website (billymollsadventures .com) refers to him as a “Modern-Day Mountain Man.” It’s a moniker he takes pride in, inspired by his mentors back on the farmlands of northwest Wisconsin. “My grandpa told me, ‘If you want to have an outdoor adventure, Alaska is the place you need to go,’” Molls says. “So I figured, ‘I’ll go hunt in Alaska.’”

IN ONE OF MOLLS’ DVDs, High Country

Brown Bears, he takes on the giant spring bruins of the unforgiving coast along the Alaska Peninsula. There, besides the bears, Molls and his client Lonnie Cook face heavy rain and wind, strenuous climbs and a brutal packout of a 9-footer from a steep creek bed after the bear slid down the hill. “To be a consistently successful trophy brown bear hunter, it takes a wide-ranging skillset,” Molls narrates during the film. “Experience, strength, stamina, endurance and patience are necessary. But perhaps most important

Chip off the old block? Bill Molls, Billy’s grandfather, shown here with beaver pelts in the late 1930s, was a Wisconsin trapper who young Billy learned about the outdoors from. (BILLY MOLLS) 38

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is mental fortitude. Enduring those cold, wet, windy days Alaska is so famous for is not for the faint of heart.” And through the magic of the camera, Molls captures just how breathtaking and dangerous such trips into the Last Frontier’s remote backcountry can be. On his first hunt as the main guide years ago, a client’s request spawned a new title to Molls’ resume: filmmaker and storyteller. “The client had a video camera and he videotaped his hunt. He shot the bear and he had asked me to videotape him shooting the bear,” he says. “He sent a copy of all the footage that he took and of course I shot a little bit of him shooting the bear. And he sent that to my parents while we were in Alaska. And then after that I bought my own camera and started filming all my hunts.” What most fascinated Molls about the filming of he and his client’s successful hunt wasn’t so much the actual moment of connecting on the shot but what led them there in the first place.


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Molls is a successful big game hunting guide and filmmaker these days, but he had to work his way from grueling hikes as a young packer for guides in Alaska, such as this early moment in his career when he had to lug 150 pounds worth of bear hide for a 9-mile hike. “I was definitely a grunt. It was my job to carry heavy things,” he says. (BILLY MOLLS)

His parents shared the video with friends around their Wisconsin home. “It seemed like everyone was perhaps more interested in the lifestyle that we lived (in the field), what we ate, the weather – those kinds of things,” he says. “It’s not just killing an animal, but really it’s the adventure. And we started filming and after 10 years I decided to put this DVD together.” He has about 15 programs available for purchase, a selection that includes stories of moose and caribou hunting in Alaska, footage from one of Molls’ own adventures on a trip to New Zealand and multiple bear hunt recaps. Molls hopes all of his videos will provide viewers with a behind-the-scenes look at once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for his clients. “I love the storytelling aspect, especially in more of my recent videos. And we’re really trying to connect the human element of each adventure. Because I think I find hunting and life to be synonymous in so many ways and every way imaginable,” he says. “You can touch a deep chord that

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SO YOU WANT TO BE A HUNTING GUIDE?

B

illy Molls knew right away that Alaska was where he wanted to be to experience the hunting guide lifestyle. But like so many eventually hitting it big in various fields, he had to pay his dues first. Molls’ early jobs reinforced the notion that spending multiple days in remote, weather-affected locales in Alaska isn’t always as exciting as it sounds. He recalled one of his first trips as a packer for a hunting guide on Kodiak Island after he left the Lower 48 for Alaska. The party headed out into a snowy area after spotting a brown bear, and Molls knew as the “last man on the totem pole” he was going to do the dirty (and wet) work. “The guide and the client both had snowshoes but we only had two sets. So I had to go without them. So we’re going through 4 or 5 feet of snow during a 2-mile stalk,” he says. “I would go crotch-deep with every step. My hip boots were filled with snow.” As can be the norm on bear hunts, the long wait for the bruin to move was doubly difficult for the group’s packer. The snow that had accumulated in Molls’ hip boots turned to freezing water during the duration of the four-hour standoff. Hypothermia would have become a concern had he been stranded. The good news? The client finally shot the bear, which fortunately was in a spot where they could return the next day to pack it out. The bad news? Molls, as the newbie packer, was going to have to go through another brutal experience. “We got back to camp and I couldn’t even eat; I just huddled in my sleeping bag all night,” he says. When they got back to the shooting site, they found it was a big, 10-foot-7 bear, which meant it was going to be a pretty heavy pack that the new guy would be carrying back to base camp, though at least he had snowshoes this time around. “We’ve got about a 150-pound bear hide (to take) 9 miles back to camp. So that was just grueling. I took it like 6 of the 9 miles and I just couldn’t pack it the whole way. It was just so heavy. I think the guide was a little bit disgusted. We switched packs, and his was still real heavy but not as heavy as mine,” he says. The lesson here, kids, is this was the moment when 19-year-old Billy Molls might have become discouraged or doubted that such a life was for him, even after dreaming of Alaska as a youngster in Wisconsin. Even after spending a couple years learning the ropes in Idaho and Montana. But what happened on the way back to civilization made this a defining moment of a career, which has gone on now for more than two decades. “I felt like I was a failure. I thought, ‘There goes my dream. I’m not man enough to pack that heavy load.’ We cruised in our Zodiac for about 5 miles on the ocean back to our spike camp. As we’re riding back, I’m looking at the mountains on Kodiak Island, the guide and the client are on either side of the Zodiac,” Molls says. “I was just kind of despondent. I wouldn’t say depressed but I kind of felt lost. And after a while, I don’t know if the guide sensed it or not, but he punched me in the thigh and said, ‘Hey, you did a good job.’ That meant a lot to me – just that he recognized that I had a very heavy load. I didn’t get it all the way out but that he was happy with what I did. That gave me the confidence that I could actually do it.” CC

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resonates with enough people, and it’s something that will stand for a long, long time. I really enjoy that part of trying to connect with people.” In High Country Brown Bears, Molls gets some alone time between the departure of client Lonnie Cook and the arrival of the next hunter, Rob Mullins. He spends it soaking in the wild country he always wanted to explore thousands of miles away growing up in America’s Heartland. From his oceanside camp, Molls spies a group of seals circling offshore in an attempt to confuse the baitfish they were hungry for. He watches bald eagles soar above the mountains he and Cook had just climbed to approach bears. A fox prances along the beach near his camp. Welcome to Alaska. “I wanted to be an Alaskan hunting guide. That worked out. I wanted to be an outdoor writer or I would have liked to be a hunting video producer. So strangely I was able to do all those things.” From where he started, it was a remarkable journey.

WISCONSIN IS KNOWN FOR beer, brats, the Green Bay Packers and its farming culture. America’s Dairyland lives up to the state nickname. Farming is how the Molls family made its living in Turtle Lake, about 100 miles south of Lake Superior at the Wisconsin-Minnesota stateline. But Billy’s grandfather Bill was also a professional trapper dating back to the Great Depression, a skill he handed down to his son Joe and grandson Billy, who was mesmerized by their trapping prowess when they brought back muskrat, beaver and pelts of other small mammals. “They knew. They would set a trap (in a specific location) and in my mind I always thought of it as, they knew a language that I didn’t – the language of these animals,” Molls says. “Why are they setting a trap there? They’d answer those questions, but to me it was this big riddle. They thought like wild animals.” And it fascinated young Billy. When he was 8 years old, he and Joe left by boat for a muskrat trapping expedition on Lightning Creek. Once they passed one of their family friend’s farms and into Wisconsin’s version of the bush, it solidified what Billy wanted to do with this life.


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Besides bear hunts, another of Molls’ passions is taking clients out on Dall sheep hunts in the mountains. He recently released a new DVD, Spirit of a Sheep Hunter, which celebrates another of Alaska’s most challenging species to harvest.

“As soon as we oared the jon boat away from the road, passed the neighboring farm and got out of sight of the power line and there was no evidence of man, something came alive inside me,” “I knew that day I wanted to make my life in the wilderness.” Grandpa Bill, though he never had and never would make it to Alaska – he passed away 14 years ago – still made a convincing argument to his grandson that if hunting for a living was Billy’s career choice, there was no better place to pursue it than the Last Frontier. So Billy began to read every magazine article on Alaska hunting. The state became his obsession, the white whale so many young outdoors geeks want to conquer. Somehow, someway, he would guide there. Alaska was 3,000-plus miles away from Wisconsin, but felt even further way spiritually as well as geographically. “As a kid we really never went on vacations or anything like that. I’d never really been more than 200 miles from my house until I was 18 years old,” he says. “We always had food on the table, but by today’s standards we were most defi-

(BILLY MOLLS)

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What really brings Molls (right) the most satisfaction in Alaska are the reactions of his clients after scoring a bear, moose or sheep during a hunt of a lifetime. Hunts like this in the Last Frontier aren’t cheap, so Molls wants it to make it a special experience. (BILLY MOLLS)

nitely poor. I never saw my grandpa or my dad go on any hunting trips of that magnitude. So I just kind of assumed that it was beyond me.” Yet right after high school graduation, Molls left Turtle Lake and started his pilgrimage to the north. He made stops in Montana for guiding school, then Idaho where he cut his teeth as a packer. By the time he made it to Alaska, he also had to start out as a packer for a guide there. And as you might expect it 46

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wasn’t the most glamorous of first jobs (see sidebar). Still, Molls was well on his way to eventually opening his own big game guide service. “My first two years as a packer I was definitely a grunt. It was my job to carry heavy things. (But) I was pretty good at skinning and I knew a lot of the basics of hunting. I had so many years of trapping and being a farm kid in general, I knew a little bit about everything. I could run chainsaws, had common sense and

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could drive vehicles and think on my feet,” he says. “And I had a good work ethic more than anything. To me, none of it was ever work. I could carry heavy loads all day. I mean, that was my dream. I was in Alaska; it didn’t matter what I was doing.”

THESE DAYS, MOLLS GUIDES whitetail

hunts in Wisconsin and spends parts of spring and fall taking hunters out for Dall sheep, moose, caribou and, of course,


“Perhaps most important,” narrates Molls in his DVD, High Country Brown Bears, about what makes chasing these remarkable giants in Alaska such a challenge, “is mental fortitude.” (BILLY MOLLS)

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bears. Trips like these are expensive hunts but bucket-list items for everyone from the wealthy to average Joes – just like the Molls – who have saved for years for that one special trip. “I’m not so much about getting a 28-year-old kid that’s an ultra-marathon runner a Dall sheep. I want to get one for that 65-year-old man with two artificial knees who worked his full life so he can finally afford to go on his dream hunt,” says Molls, referring to one of his most memorable hunts. “This guy’s only got one climb up the mountain, so he’s got to make it count. For me, that’s where I get the most satisfaction and personal pride in what I do. I really try to take all my time and experience to make the client’s dream a reality. It makes it pretty rewarding.” Zig Ziglar, the famed motivational speaker, talked a lot about dreams during his seminars during his 1970s and ’80s heyday when he barnstormed the map inspiring businesspeople. That includes that aspiring Wisconsin hunter. “I’m paraphrasing (Ziglar) now, ‘If you want your dreams to come true, make


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“By the time I was 12 years old, I knew I wanted to be a hunting guide in Alaska. I figured that was my backdoor to experience the Alaskan wilderness,” Molls says. “So this is pretty much all I ever wanted to do.” (BILLY MOLLS)

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enough other people’s dreams come true,’” says Molls, who himself hopes he can someday educate those unsure about the sport or even anti-hunting activists. He even made his dad’s dreams – and in many ways, Grandpa Bill’s – come true when Joe made it to Alaska to hunt with Billy a few years ago, and one of Joe’s high school buddies joined them. It was a sentimental experience for the Molls – Billy made a DVD about it called Hunt for the Unknown – as they paid tribute to Bill, who never had that chance to join his son and grandson in Alaska. “(Joe) used my grandfather’s old .303 Savage rifle that my grandfather deer hunted with. So in a way it felt like my dad, my grandpa and I all hunted together,” says Billy, who in many ways feels like he’s living out two dreams as he’s evolved into the big game hunting guide he vowed to follow through on. “You might even say he kind of lives inside me. A lot of times when I’m in the wilderness, I still kind of feel connected to him,” he says of the old trapper Bill. “I know him better even though he’s been gone 14 years. I feel like I have a better idea of who he was now. The more I’m in nature, the more I understand about him.” ASJ Editor’s note: Check out billymollsadventures.com for more information on his hunts and DVDs. Like at facebook.com/TheModernDayMountainMan and follow on Instagram (@themoderndaymountainman).


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Three undersized bull moose were shot and left to waste last September on the Kenai Peninsula, and the suspect was convicted and sentenced to pay around $100,000 in fines and restitution, among other punishments. (U.S. FISH AND

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PUNISHMENT SEVERE IN ‘EGREGIOUS’ KENAI MOOSE POACHING CASE BY CHRIS COCOLES essage sent? For one Kenai Peninsula man who was charged with multiple moose poaching violations, the punishment was stiff but clearly Homer prosecutors wanted to make a statement. In September, wildlife officials were alerted to separate incidents of rotting bull moose carcasses found near Anchor Point, just up the coast from Homer. Rusty Counts, a 39-year-old Anchor Point resident, was eventually identified after photos showed him leaving the crime scene. A third poached moose was also connected to him. All three bulls had antlers less than the 50-inch minimum spread. In November Counts was convicted on 21 violations: three counts of wanton waste, three counts of taking a moose during a closed season, unlawful possession of game, three counts of failing to validate a harvest ticket, three counts of

M

failing to seal antlers, three counts of failing to report harvest, two counts of taking over limit of moose, and three counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Sentencing took place on Dec. 6 and it was clear prosecutors were committed to making an example out of the perpetrator. In a State of Alaska Department of Law press release, assistant attorney general Aaron Peterson went all in on his criticism of the crimes. He “argued that this was one of the most egregious poaching cases seen by wildlife troopers in decades.” the press release stated. “In requesting the sentence, Mr. Peterson argued that ‘given the severity of the offenses the court should find that no punishment short of a lengthy jail sentence, substantial fine, and forfeiture of the instrumentalities will adequately deter others from engaging in a similar slaughter.’” In a state where hunting and fishing are considered vital to the people who reside there, the penalties Counts faces

will be costly. Most eye opening was his fine, $97,650, with another $3,000 in restitution. He was also sentenced to 270 days in jail and must forfeit the rifle and ATV used when he shot and left behind the carcasses and their meat. Counts also loses his hunting license for three years. “Alaska is one of the last places on earth where a person can hunt big game in their own backyard. People from all over the world dream of coming here to spend a week doing what we do each fall.” Peterson said. “That will only remain true if game management regulations are taken seriously and the punishment for poaching and wasting animals is severe. The state of Alaska takes wildlife crimes seriously and the public should know that if a poacher kills and wastes big game animals he will be sentenced to a significant jail term, a substantial fine, he will be ordered to pay restitution, and the vehicles and instrumentalities used in the crime will be forfeited.” ASJ

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OUTDOOR CALENDAR Jan. 1 Jan. 1 Jan. 1 Jan. 15 Jan. 31 Jan. 31 Feb. 2

Second brown bear season in Game Management Unit 5 (Yakutat) Nonresident black bear hunting (without the use of registered guides) opens in GMU 2 (Prince of Wales Island) Resident brown bear hunting opens in GMU 26 (Arctic Slope) Last day of resident moose hunting season in GMU 9B (King Salmon) Last day of goat season in GMU 6 (North Gulf Coast/Prince William Sound) Last day of wolverine season in GMU 13 (Nelchina/Upper Susitna) Yukon Quest sled dog race begins, Fairbanks; yukonquest.com

Winter’s boat and sportsmen’s show season allows hunters and anglers to kick the tires, per se, on everything from new fishing boats to Alaska salmon lodges to backcountry hunting outfitters. (SEATTLE BOAT SHOW)

2019 SPORTSMAN SHOWS Jan. 17-20 Jan. 23-27 Feb. 6-10 Feb. 28-March 3 March 22-24 April 4-7 April 24-26

International Sportsmen’s Expo Sacramento, CalExpo, Sacramento, California; sportsexpos.com Washington Sportsmen’s Show, Washington State Fair & Events Center, Puyallup, Washington; otshows.com Pacific Northwest Sportsmen’s Show, Expo Center, Portland, Oregon; otshows.com The Idaho Sportsman Show, Expo Idaho, Boise, Idaho; idahosportsmanshow.com Mat-Su Outdoorsman Show, Menard Center, Wasilla, Alaska; chinookshows.com Great Alaska Sportsman Show, Sullivan and Ben Boeke Arenas, Anchorage, Alaska; greatalaskasportsmanshow.com Fairbanks Outdoor Show, Carlson Center, Fairbanks, Alaska; carlson-center.com/outdoor-show aksportingjournal.com | JANUARY 2019

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‘AN EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES’

FROM JANUARY ON, ALASKA PROVIDES LOCALS WITH UNLIMITED ADVENTURE BY PAUL D. ATKINS

M

y question to Lew – via text, as usual – was direct. “What do you want to do to-

day?” “It doesn’t matter to me,” he replied. “But let’s go for a ride.” Now, the term “riding” can mean many things here in the Arctic. If we’re talking the months of July through October, then it means by boat. But the rest of the year the transport is by snowmachine. That is, if we have snow. Seasons in the Arctic dictate a great deal about a person’s mode of transport, let alone the comfort level you’ll experience. Cold, hot, wet, dry or windblown, all are part of the experience. Despite these feelings, fun or otherwise, there is plenty to do and see if you live up here.

For an Arctic Alaskan like author Paul Atkins, hunting muskox in the harshest of winter conditions is part of a calendar full of outdoor opportunities. It’s why this Midwest transplant calls his adopted home state an “embarrassment of riches.” (PAUL D. ATKINS) aksportingjournal.com | JANUARY 2019

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THERE IS NO DOUBT: Alaska is an embar-

rassment of riches. From the far southeast to the reaches here in the northwest, there is something special about each place and the things you can do there. Every town and village is known for something extraordinary, whether it be the culture, people or in most cases the wildlife and abundance shared in the region. Life in the Arctic is no different. For me it’s the reason I choose to live here. I love the Arctic. Living in Kotzebue has been an incredible ride for more than 20 years, providing me with some of the greatest adventures and experiences that anyone could ever hope for. Still, with the holiday season over and most hunting seasons closed, January can be tough. It’s cold for sure, with temperatures plummeting into the negatives

and never rising above zero for what seems like weeks on end. It’s still dark too and with the lack of vitamin D, you can get pretty lethargic at times. But for me, the thought of what lies ahead keeps me in good spirits and pushing forward. Many people ask me: How do you handle the cold and the dark? Well for one, I know that the sun is coming back – a whopping additional eight minutes a day – and the other lies somewhere out there. A country full of adventure.

MY WINTER, OR MORE specifically my thought process for winter, goes something like this: As many of you have read or seen chronicles of my adventures, you know that I have a muskox tag that will soon be or hopefully is already filled by

March and April are prime times for drilling holes for ice fishing. With it comes the hope of pulling a big boy through the ice. Great anticipation awaits those who travel “out there.” When you do feel the tug on the end of your line, it will be like no other. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

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now. It’s a blessing, I know, and I have been very lucky to get it over the years. February is the time for muskox and my hunting partner Lew and I will be out ASAP to hopefully find one. It’s cold, hard, frostbite-level work, but it’s also fun and filled with awe once we do find a bull and make our plan. Then March rolls around and so does ice fishing, with thoughts of pulling a big boy from beneath the ice and spending time with family on the frozen water. Every month is like that. There is always something to do, which not only allows us to fill the larder but also to fill our soul. Bear hunting is next and for me it’s my favorite time of year. A full sun and warm temperatures have returned, so sunglasses and sunscreen will help in your search for a fresh track and eventu-


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you going. You’ve waited through a lot to reach an Arctic summer.

Every village and town in Alaska has something on offer that makes them unique. Dog mushing is one and if you’re here in the Arctic around April, you’ll get to see it firsthand. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

ally what comes at the end of it. It’s the unexpected that keeps you going. Break-up arrives and so do the birds. Geese, ducks and other assortments of winged critters make their way to the half-frozen ponds and lakes behind town

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and down the beach. You can always get a few for the pot, plus spend time with shotgun in hand. May and early June can be dull if you let the slush and mud get to you, but the thought of what riches lie ahead keeps

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BY THE TIME JULY comes around, we make our plans for our annual fishing trip when we head upriver. It’s a long way to travel by boat, but it’s also worth the gas money it takes to get there. The planning is as much fun as the actual doing. We’ll figure out the food and gear, what to take and what to leave behind, knowing we’ll certainly need something we didn’t bring. And then when we do get there, we can breathe a sigh of relief, relax and be in a place that few see or get to experience. We’re lucky, I guess. Everything goes in cycles. Berry picking in the fall is a big winner and the abundance is second to none if you have the courage to brave the mosquitoes and don’t mind coming home with a sore back. I always gripe about going, but my wife loves it and the blueberries and cranberries we accumulate will serve their purpose throughout the year. Then fall arrives and we start all over again.


I’M ALWAYS EXCITED AND eager to get

Like a 747, swans are a sight to see, especially when they are within gun range. Atkins recently added hunting these birds to his year-round calendar. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

out and see either what the country has to offer or to notice if anything has changed. Are the old hu nting spots going to produce this year, or do we need to go further in search of what we’re after? It’s all a part of the life we live up here and it’s exciting; plus it never gets old. And even though sometimes – or at least most times – we come home empty-handed, we’re still richer for the ad-

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venture and fortunate to have been there. The sights and sounds of Alaska are never boring, no matter where you live in the state. There is something to be had no matter the time of year. Whether it’s fishing on the Kenai or hunting goats and bears on Kodiak, Alaska has so much to offer. Here recently, it has been bird hunting that has caught my fancy. Being part of Ducks Unlimited’s Alaska chapter has been a real eye opener for me as a big game hunter. The good they do and the support they give the state has influenced many like me who really haven’t hunted birds that much. The work DU does, combined with the fact that we have so much waterfowl

here in the Arctic and the sheer number of bird species that actually show up, makes it a no-brainer to be a part of it.

NOT TOO LONG AGO, when the first signs of

winter started to show up here, Lew and I made our last boat ride up the Noatak in search of our winged friends. We weren’t disappointed. The flats where we hunt were loaded as usual. We knew we were in business from the moment we saw white specks in the distance. I’ve written about this before, but every year is different and the way we approach this hunt and the number of the birds is always changing. We cruised up the river and headed into an old familiar drainage, where the

W t S a c f c m

N Friend and hunting partner Lew Pagel (right, this image) was the one who turned Atkins (left and above) on to bird hunting, especially for bigger ones like swans, geese and cranes. It has become one of their favorite hunts. (PAUL D. ATKINS) 68

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spruce trees are shorter and you can see for miles. On this day the lakes were open, and waterways were full of birds ranging from swans to a few remaining ducks. The wind was right too, allowing

us to sneak into position. With head-to-toe camouflage on and shotguns in hand, we crossed the marshlike tundra and before long we had made it to the shore of the big lake. The

place was familiar, due to the fact that we had been there two years before. We quickly made a makeshift blind and waited. Swans were everywhere, but getting one to come in our direction was

Pagel climbs aboard with his trophy for the long ride back home.

(PAUL D. ATKINS)

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Author Atkins thinks Alaska’s state animal should be the caribou. They don’t number what they once did and it’s getting harder and harder to find them each fall. But when a hunter can harvest one it means a freezer full of meat for the winter. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

a challenge. If you haven’t hunted swans, then you don’t realize how tough it is to bring one down. Shooting a 12-gauge with 3-inch Nitro steel in double-ought BBs should be enough to take down a charging grizzly. But if you don’t hit a swan just right, then you’re just shooting to shoot. We continued our sitting after downing always delicious MREs. It wasn’t long before the birds got closer and closer; just not close enough. Birds tend to use the wind to guide them where they go, and even though we were in a great position, it wasn’t quite right. Swans were coming in from the lakeside and landing just out of range. Finally, we had a group come in from the shore. Even though they were a bit high, I knew it was now or never. I raised the shotgun, fired and missed. Quickly jacking another shell, I gave the swan in back a bigger lead and down he came. Swan hunting on the tundra! I’m not a shotgunner but would like to be. Either way, I was elated to get one of these monster birds down. It wasn’t long after that that I heard

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You never know what lies ahead; you can only search and hope that it will be your lucky day. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

Lew fire and down came another bird. We both had scored! With the cold wind and darkness approaching, we felt that we had enough and made the long walk back to the boat with a heavy load. It was also a time to reflect on the richness of this place and what the fall did bring us. No, we didn’t get a moose or a caribou, even though we tried endlessly to do so. We did, however, get to see a lot of country, some of it the same and some of it new. We had bear encounters, caught a lot of fish and shared great times at camp. We also shared in adventures and looked forward to the next ones. There is no place like Alaska, from the beginning of the year on! ASJ Editor’s note: Paul Atkins is an outdoor writer and author from Kotzebue, Alaska. He has written hundreds of articles on big game hunting and fishing throughout North America and Africa, plus surviving in the Arctic. Paul is a monthly contributor to Alaska Sporting Journal.

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FIELD

EMPERORS ARE WATERFOWL ROYALTY ALASKANS AND NONRESIDENTS CAN NOW HUNT ICONIC GEESE BY SCOTT HAUGEN

I

n fall 2017, Alaska’s emperor goose season opened for the first time in three decades. And though it was only open to residents and strict quotas were in place, it was a start, and every serious waterfowler in the country – not just Alaska – had their eyes on it. Mike Petrula, a waterfowl biologist of over 20 years with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, made a clear statement on this development. “We have a bird that’s not been hunted in 30 years, and they are not in very easy places to access, even for res-

idents,” he said. “On the other hand, we only have 8,000 to 9,000 residents who buy duck stamps each year, and most of them hunt early in the season, typically for the first few weekends.” What that means is more hunting ops.

WHILE INDEX NUMBERS HAVE been the

focal point of recent emperor goose studies, there’s no doubt that these birds have rebounded. “The management plan was set so that once the three-year average of emperor geese was estimated to be 80,000 birds, then there would be a fall season,” shared Jeff Wasley, owner and operator

of Four Flyways Outfitters (fourflywaysoutfitters.com; 608-385-4580) and a resident of Cold Bay. Wasley is more than a lifelong waterfowl hunter. In addition to being one of the best duck hunters I’ve spent time afield with, he’s one of the most passionate when it comes to waterfowl conservation. Wasley is a former biologist who worked throughout much of Alaska. He is the best of the best when it comes to guiding waterfowl hunters for emperor geese and prized sea ducks on the Aleutian Chain. Wasley knew that that first season was coming, and so he started paying

After years of being off limits, emperor goose are now available for residents and nonresidents to hunt in select parts of Alaska, though it is difficult to do so without local connections or a guide. (SCOTT HAUGEN) aksportingjournal.com | JANUARY 2019

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FIELD

Corning is a great and creative option for dealing with potentially gamey waterfowl meat like goose. (TIFFANY HAUGEN)

GET A BIT CORNY WITH YOUR WATERFOWL BY TIFFANY HAUGEN

T

he challenges of cooking waterfowl go beyond cooking according to species. From early-season pintails to black brant – considered by many to be the prime rib of the goose world – to the almost always strong taste of seafaring scoters and eiders, finding the right recipe is important in order to achieve enjoyable table fare. Even within species, the flavors of

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waterfowl can change drastically with the time of year and food sources. Surprisingly, individual ducks or geese harvested on the same day can taste different. When deciding what to do with waterfowl, take into consideration all the possible flavor profiles. When you know you’re dealing with mild-flavored waterfowl, don’t hesitate cooking it up in a stir-fry or grinding it for your favorite chili. If a duck or goose smells strong, it’s highly likely it will have a more “liver-like” flavor. To combat that gamey taste think about using the breasts to make

JANUARY 2019 | aksportingjournal.com

an extra-zippy jerky or corned duck. Slowcook the legs and thighs in a spicy Indian or Asian curry. After corning, waterfowl breasts can be smoked or slow-cooked. 2 pounds goose breasts 1 quart water 2 tablespoons Morton TenderQuick or kosher salt 2 tablespoons brown sugar 1 tablespoon pickling spices 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper 1 teaspoon granulated garlic


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In a glass or plastic bowl, whisk dry ingredients with water until sugar is dissolved. Clean goose breasts of all silverskin and inspect for shot. Place goose breasts in brine. Cover and refrigerate five to 10 days, stirring at least once a day. Smoke three to four hours between 180 and 200 degrees (or until goose reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees), or use a slow cooker on high and heat two to three hours or until goose reaches desired tenderness. ASJ Editor’s note: For signed copies of Tiffany Haugen’s best-selling Cooking Game Birds cookbook, send a check for $20 (free S&H) to Haugen Enterprises, P.O. Box 275, Walterville, OR 97489 or order online at scotthaugen.com. Follow Tiffany on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and watch for her on the online series Cook with Cabela’s, The Sporting Chef TV show and The Hunt, which airs on Amazon Prime.

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closer attention to emperor geese a few years prior, noting their behaviors and flight patterns. He knew he’d soon be guiding clients for these prized birds and was ready when the time came. ONE THOUSAND EMPEROR GEESE tags were issued to residents for the 2017 season

via a registration permit system. Surprisingly, a very low percentage of residents even picked theirs up to hunt what many consider the pinnacle of all geese in the Northern Hemisphere, if not the world. “Even residents don’t realize how costly it is to hunt remote parts of Alaska,” Wasley said when asked why he

Because emperor geese travel along ocean shorelines, hunting over decoys placed on the beach can be very effective. (SCOTT HAUGEN)

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thought hunter participation was so low in 2017. “For residents who got a permit, they had to fly to a remote location where emperor geese reside, had to get access to a boat, decoys, find a place to stay, get food, and be ready to get weathered in for extended periods. It’s far from easy when going about it on your own.”


This is why Wasley was prepared to guide emperor goose hunters. “It’s like a big game hunt, but for birds,” he said. I was hunting black brant and sea ducks with Wasley in November 2017 when he had two Alaska residents in camp to hunt emperor geese. “If the weather isn’t right, you can’t hunt emperor geese,” he said. “Emperors live in rugged habitat, and your gear has to be top-notch. You also have to know how to navigate in rough waters. This isn’t your weekend goose hunt at the local pond. This is remote Alaska, which can be unforgiving.” Emperor geese spend most of their time along the beaches, picking kelp and searching for clams, snails and other animal matter. In early fall they can be seen on the tundra, foraging for various berries. But late in the season – November and December – is when you want to hunt emperors. That’s when they are fully feathered.

When we got a break in the weather, I hopped in the boat with Wasley and his two goose clients, Anchorage residents Kyle and Gina Smith. No sooner had we set out a half-dozen decoys and nestled into the long, dead grass along a shoreline than a flock of emperors approached from the east, but they swung wide. The flock behind them did the same thing. Then a flock of four nearly landed in the decoys, silently slipping in from behind us. It didn’t take long and both Kyle and Gina had their goose of a lifetime. The feeling of success was one every waterfowl hunter would appreciate, and holding one of these stunning birds was something none of us thought we’d ever have the opportunity to do.

EVERY SERIOUS WATERFOWLER wants to

hunt emperors, but in reality, few likely will. In 2018, Alaska issued 25 nonresident emperor goose tags through a drawing. I put in and didn’t draw but a

Alaska residents Gina and Kyle Smith were all smiles during their memorable emperor goose hunt with guide Jeff Wasley of Four Flyways Outfitters in Cold Bay. Wasley offers hunts for various waterfowl species. (SCOTT HAUGEN) 86

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buddy did. He hunted with Wasley and took a magnificent goose. In all, Wasley guided 18 emperor hunters in 2018 – both resident and nonresident. His hunts carried an astounding 100-percent success rate. That’s why I’ll hunt with Wasley whenever I get the opportunity to fill an emperor tag. If you’re a resident looking for a unique waterfowl hunting opportunity, search no more. Head to Cold Bay with Jeff Wasley. And once you fill that emperor tag, you can hunt brant from layout boats, go after multiple species of sea ducks and comb the beaches for glass floats. In this part of Alaska, there’s no shortage of adventure. ASJ Editor’s note: For signed copies of Scott Haugen’s best-selling book, Hunting The Alaskan High Arctic, visit scotthaugen. com. Scott is the host of The Hunt, on Amazon Prime. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


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TOOLS FOR CONQUERING MR. FREEZE BY PAUL D. ATKINS • ILLUSTRATION BY JOSEPH FRUEAUF

M

an, it’s cold," I said to hunting partner Lew. Sitting on a snow bank and glassing for muskox will chill you to the bone, but add a 30 mph wind and minus-30-degree temperatures and it's almost unbearable. Luckily, I had done this often enough to know how to dress

for the conditions. Winter in Alaska, especially here in the Arctic where I live, requires the right gear and can be a life-or-death situation if you’re not properly prepared. For most of us winter arrived a month or so back and the annual digging out of winter clothes has already started. But if you’re

looking for things that work, here’s a list of items I do not leave the house without when conditions are tough.

BUNNY BOOTS These white rubber boots are all I have ever worn here in the far north. They are big, bulky and warm. I can say for fact

Recreating in Arctic Alaska in winter can be a challenge, but if you have the right gear and are properly prepared you will do fine, as Gear Guy Paul Atkins (left) and his fishing and hunting buddy Lew Pagel can attest to. (PAUL D. ATKINS) aksportingjournal.com | JANUARY 2019

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What’s the first rule of staying warm in any conditions? Keep your feet and hands warm via “bunny boots” and a good pair of gloves.

(PAUL D. ATKINS; CABELA’S)

that my feet have never been cold even in the most extreme of temperatures. These foamed-lined boots line your feet and surround it with air that is regulated by a pressure gauge located on the side of the boot. Worn by the military in cold conditions, these boots have become a must-have here Alaska.

SNOW BIBS If you’re out as much as Lew and I, braving the snow and ice is second nature. Total warmth is always a priority, but keeping the snow and ice out of your backside is a must as well. In my opinion, snow bibs are the way to go. I use Cabela’s Guide Wear Xtremes with Gore-Tex. They are tough and waterproof, and with the proper layers they are extremely warm. They fit great too!

LAYERING UP Layers are as important as anything else you decide to put on. They must be warm, do their job and keep you in the game, no matter what the adventure. For me personally, I like those made by First Lite. They’re thin, not bulky and retain heat like nothing else I’ve used. They also dry quickly and prevent that moisture attack we all hate. Whether cutting wood or chasing muskox bulls in February, they do their job. When hunting or doing something else outdoors during the cold season, the right layer is the most overlooked or underrated piece of gear you’ll choose. Pullovers made by First Lite have served Atkins well. They feature a wool blend and will keep you warm and comfortable; plus they dry quickly in case you get sweaty from exertion. (FIRST LITE)

Cabela’s great-fitting, secure, waterproof bibs keep wearers warm and dry. They are also tough and will last for years. (CABELA’S)

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OTHER ITEMS YOU’LL NEED A beaver hat or one with fur will keep your head warm. You can’t have cold hands either, so wear good gloves, preferably those made for riding snowmachines in cold weather. For a facemask, carry either a Balaclava or some other type of fleece that covers as much of your face as possible. I’ve come to realize that all neck gaiters are not created equally, but finally I found one that really works. The fleecelined full gaiter made by Sitka Gear does wonders and provides you with the ultimate protection for the most harsh of Last Frontier freezes. ASJ Editor’s note: Follow Paul Atkins on Twitter (@aktrophyhunter).


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Author Tony Ensalaco’s home is in Chicago, but even during the heart of the Windy City winter, his heart is thinking about fighting a Situk River steelhead. (TONY ENSALACO)

DREAMING OF THE RIVER EVEN IN THE HEART OF WINTER, STEELHEADERS ARE ALWAYS ON TOPIC BY TONY ENSALACO

W

hile I was perusing my kids’ homework assignments, I came across a handout that contained some interesting facts about the human body. One tidbit that caught my attention was that the capacity of an adult human cranial cavity is roughly 1,200 to 1,450 cubic centimeters and that it is typically stuffed with 3 pounds of gray matter. Now, I am not a neurologist, but I am quite certain that a steelheader’s brain bucket will fit within those dimensions, although the wiring probably isn’t up to code.

If a typical steelheader’s synapses are firing on all of its cylinders, then how does one explain the ways in which he perceives certain situations? Or how does he reason in ways that are so different from what is considered to be normal? For example, do reasonable, downto-earth people become instantly depressed when they look outside and see a gorgeous blue sky and dry pavement? No, that would be crazy. Right? No, not in the twisted world of a steelheader. Most people will embrace the beautiful weather conditions and will want to engage in some kind of outdoor recreational activity, and they would

consider the weather to be a blessing. On the other hand, a steelhead enthusiast, looking outside and noticing the bright sunshine, would let out a deep, disturbing groan and climb back into bed, wishing that the vivid colors and the clear air were parts of a bad dream. A true hardcore metalheader would rather stand in a 36-degree river up to his berries with a stiff wind blowing at 25 mph straight upstream, causing freezing rain to shoot painfully into his face. If you watch that dude long enough, there is a good chance you will eventually see him stick his hands in the frigid water to check to see if the water temp is as cold

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as it seems. Then he will give the crappy weather conditions a big %$#@ you by rubbing his frozen fingers through his unkempt mane, as if to say to the weather gods, “Is this all you got?” He will then adjust his tattered baseball cap low enough to shield his eyes from the howling wind, take two steps downstream and reposition himself to make another cast. There is almost no chance that a casual fisherman would be caught dead in that situation, and if he does become temporarily insane for some inexplicable reason and attempts to fish in that bone-chilling, miserable scenario, he probably won’t last very long. It would only be a matter of time before his feet become completely numb and his body starts to quiver from the effects of early-stage hypothermia. This is when a rational thinker will call it quits and make the smart decision to hightail straight to the comfort of his home. Being oblivious to lousy climates and having a high threshold for self-in-

duced pain aren’t the only things that separate a steelheader from the rest of the population. He just sees and interprets things differently than does a normal person. For instance, I have never driven over a bridge with a steelheader who hasn’t looked out the window of

the vehicle to see if there is any prime holding water flowing below. Steelhead anglers will do this, even when we suspect that there might only be a road or a set of railroad tracks below the highway. Do you want more proof that steelheaders are deranged?

It might be the dead of winter, but how can a true steelheader not dream of putting the boat in the river and pushing off? (TONY ENSALACO)

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It’s Alaska so of course it’s going to be cold. But that won’t stop Danny Kozlow a few months from now when fish will be running into the Southeast Alaskan coastal waters. (TONY ENSALACO)

OK, WHY IS IT that while he wouldn’t be caught dead going to a grocery store or running any other necessary errands accompanied by his significant other, if the excursion involves a craft store he’d be the first one out the door? That’s because there might be a remote possibility of stumbling upon some obscure paint color that no other fisherman has yet discovered, or that he might even come across a hard-to-find shade of marabou feather that will allow him to concoct a jig with a never-been-seenbefore color scheme. Only a devout steelheader can correctly identify over 30 different shades of pink, and will include every one of those tints in his arsenal of lures and flies. Below are some other quirks and behaviors that I have observed over the years that set steelheaders apart from the rest of the world: • Steelheaders who survived for days by dining solely on gas station food microwaved to perfection, drinking stale, lukewarm coffee and guzzling 64-ounce fountain drinks as though they were all health foods.

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Seeing how much wear and tear the boats receive, you wonder why these anglers are such diehards, but you have to have the mind of a metalheader to understand. (TONY ENSALACO)

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• Steelheaders driving six hours to a river, taking a 12-hour float, then getting back in their vehicle and driving another six hours because the fishing sucked. • I’ve observed some of the young bucks who can spend an evening drinking whiskey and pounding beers in a bar until last call, then going to sleep (or should I say passing out) for two hours in the backseat of a rental vehicle packed to the max with equipment. And after awakening, brushing their teeth with a Pop-Tart and rinsing their mouths with Gatorade before hitting the river as though it were nothing. • Guys who can down a thermos full of coffee in an hour and a half while on their way to the river and not have to take the time to relieve themselves until the end of the day because of the hot bite that was going on. • Hardcore steelheaders camping in a Southeastern Alaskan rainforest for nine days straight and thriving without ever experiencing what it is like to be 100 percent dry for the entire time they were in the woods. • Steelheaders who feel more at


The author’s best man at his wedding, Pedro Gonzalez, got some fishing-related instructions at the altar. Yeah, these guys are serious about their craft. (TONY ENSALACO)

ease sleeping in a one-man tent than staying at a five-star hotel. • Steelheaders giving themselves sponge baths in a roadside diner’s bathroom between the entrée and the desert.

YOU MIGHT THINK THAT these things sound ridiculous and you would never consider behaving in any of the above ways. Think again. When you partake in steelheading long enough you will eventually start acting and thinking like the rest of your piscatorial brethren. I don’t care if you perceive yourself as the most down-to-earth, rational person in the world; it’s inevitable that you will begin picking up some of these traits and do things that you never could have imagined. You will start to automatically gravitate toward other steelheaders without even knowing that you are doing it. You can walk into a crowded tavern, usually the one in closest proximity to a river, and you will without a doubt come in contact with the only other angler in 112

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the establishment. How do you find him? Well, there is a good chance that he’s bellied up to the bar, still sporting his waders and wearing apparel that is littered with logos from various tackle companies. And if you do come across the one steelheader in this world who is willing to take the extra time to shed his fishing garb before entering the bar, you will still find him. He’ll be the guy on his cellphone checking the river’s water level every four minutes with a half-eaten cheeseburger and a pile of onion rings getting cold in front of him. He won’t be concerned that he hasn’t eaten a scrap of food since dawn, as long as the river appears to be dropping into shape. The funny thing is that you don’t always have to be on a river, or even in a river’s vicinity to pick out a steelheader in a crowd. Recently, while on my way into work, I was walking through the business district of Chicago in a steady rain amongst a mass of commuters who were trying to stay as dry as possible as they made their way to their

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places of employment. While I was huddled in the crowd of people wielding a myriad of umbrellas, I noticed a man standing away from the pack. He was wearing a high-end GoreTex raincoat – with the hood down – which allowed drops of rain to trickle down his red, windburned face. As I stared at him, he appeared to be giggling, nodding his head and waving his hands as if he was reliving an event in his mind, to no one in particular. I knew right away! As soon as the light turned green, everyone started to go in various directions – except for me. I held my ground and waited for the guy to approach me. When he got close enough, all I that I needed to say was, “How was it?” He paused for a moment, and then he looked at me with a puzzled expression on his rain-drenched face and said without hesitation, “Three for five – all chromers!” What can I say? Steelheaders seem to attract one another with no logical explanation.


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TO BE CLEAR, I’M not trying to imply that the average steelheader doesn’t have the common sense to come out of the rain – which we already know that he doesn’t – and that he can’t be an intelligent individual. No, quite the contrary. Some of the brightest minds with which I have had the pleasure to converse with are in my steelheading inner circle. I have been fortunate to share a stream with several professionals, including educators, high-powered corporate raiders, engineers and even a few doctors and lawyers. Most of them are so sharp that if I wanted to match wits with them, I would have to wait until they have fallen asleep just so I could be competitive. With that said, even the smartest people in their respective fields don’t appear to have the cognitive architecture to think rationally during situations when visions of chrome become infused in their psyches. Now, I wish I could tell you that I am immune to the antics and questionable decisions that my fellow steelhead compadres seem to make, but I too have my WTH moments. The following is the one

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“A true hardcore metalheader,” Ensalaco writes, “would rather stand in a 36-degree river up to his berries with a stiff wind blowing at 25 mph straight upstream, causing freezing rain to shoot painfully into his face.” (TONY ENSALACO)

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that still haunts me from time to time. I got married to my beautiful bride, Lisa, on October 16 several steelie seasons ago. Although she wanted to have an early September wedding, I was adamant about choosing to delay our nuptials until the middle of October. Why? Because as any Midwestern river maggot can tell you, the salmon run would be winding down by then. It was also unlikely that any fishable numbers of steelhead would show up before the end of October. If I had agreed to get married in September, my anniversary would have coincided with the heart of the salmon run. I didn’t really have a problem with sitting out one year, but I wasn’t prepared to be sidelined for the rest of my life. And that isn’t the crazy part of the story. When I walked into the church a half an hour before the start of the ceremony, one of my regular fishing partners was the first guest to approach me at the door. I was assuming that his intention was to give me the obligatory handshake and wish me good luck. Instead, he proceeded to inform me that the Department of Natural Resources had changed the regulation on the gap size of hooks on some of our favorite streams. I was immediately blown away by his disregard for the moment, and I had to remind him that I was about to get married and that I wasn’t all that concerned about the rule change at that particular moment. Without saying a word, he grudgingly nodded in agreement and then immediately proceeded to find a seat. Then again, a few minutes later, I was standing at the altar next to my best man and another longtime fishing partner, Pedro Gonzalez, waiting for the show to begin. Without thinking, I leaned over to Pedro and whispered, “Hey, while I’m on my honeymoon, do you think you can swap out the hooks on some of the size 35 Hot Shots for me so they’re ready to use when I get back from the Bahamas?” Some people might consider my actions to be crass, or at the very least, insensitive, and I get it. Am I proud of myself? No, but I’m not surprised either. Look at it from a steelheader’s point of view: You are only expected to have one wedding day in your life, but when it comes to steelheading, you never know when the fish will show up! ASJ


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THE SKINNY HERRING I

t’s a new year and I’m making a resolution not to make any more New Year’s resolutions. This is something I learned the hard way. ConGUIDE FLY trary to what adverBy Tony Lolli tisers would have us believe, apparently I don’t look so good in knee-high leather boots and hot pants. Ask the neighbors. But I digress. Capt. Ben Zander of Seattle owns Sound Fly Fishing (soundflyfishing.com). He’s a sea-run cutthroat specialist who’ll guide you on Washington's Puget Sound from a boat or while wading the flats. He doesn’t care if it’s New Year’s or not, but his Skinny Herring works any time of the year, including January. Zander started guiding in Puget Sound for sea-runs in 2006. At that time there were hardly any commercially tied flies for this fishery. Most anglers were using Clouser Minnows and pinheads. The Skinny Herring, one of Zander’s Skinny Series, can be fished in both skin-

ny and deep water. It has a thin profile to mimic the appearance of speeding baitfish in the water column. This fly incorporates lots of flash to attract predator fish while maintaining a slim profile. It’s the motion and profile of the fly that attracts fish. Cutts can be in all types of water in the Sound. Zander focuses mostly on the shallows. Most of the time the Skinny Herring is fished on an intermediate sinking line. After the initial cast, count from five to 15 to achieve desired depth, then strip! Puget Sound baitfish stay horizontal in the water column unless being chased. The sinking line keeps the fly moving horizontally. “2018 was my 11th year and for various reasons, my favorite,” recalls Zander. “On the last trip of the year I had two excellent anglers. We were nearing the end of the day and fishing had been somewhat slow. I decided to fish an ultra-skinny water section with the thought that the fish might be in tight to shore due to the high sun creating a bright day. “We had fished depths of 2 to 22

feet throughout the day. I use a push pole from my Boston Whaler Montauk and guided the boat in about a foot of water. I polled for five minutes and told the guy on the bow to cast the fly on the beach and strip it back to the boat. Man, the fish were in tight and laid up over a shallow eel grass line. We produced about 12 fish in one mile. We didn’t take the Skinny Herring off once and boy, was it was beat up at the end of the day,” he said. You can also learn more about Sound Fly Fishing on Facebook and Instagram, but don’t expect to see any knee-high leather boots and hot pants. ’Tis a pity, no? ASJ Editor’s notes: This new column will rotate monthly between Alaska Sporting Journal and sister titles California Sportsman and Northwest Sportsman. Autographed copies of Tony Lolli’s new book, Art of the Fishing Fly, with an intro by President Jimmy Carter, are available from Tony Lolli, 1589 Legeer Rd., Grantsville, MD 21536 for $30 with free shipping.

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Hook: Daiichi 2546, size 8 Thread: Danville Mono Thread .006 Under body: Polar Flash Pearl Top body: Polar Flash Black Rainbow Top wing: Krystal Flash Herring Back Gill plate: Tuft of red rabbit off strip Head: Epoxy Eyes: Wapsi Flat Stick On Eyes 3/32 Mirage (BEN ZANDER, SOUND FLY FISHING)

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HER ARTWORK IS ALASKA-STYLE WILD BY MARY CATHARINE MARTIN

A

bout a year ago my friend Julienne Pacheco dropped by our house with an ocean-caught steelhead. Before we cooked it, she got out a fillet knife and carefully separated the flesh from the glittering scales. She had a plan that would leave them glittering long into the future.

It’s a plan that, with time, experimentation and perseverance, has grown into a business called Wild by Nature, for which she makes jewelry using all sorts of natural Alaskan materials, including fish skin.

FISHY BUSINESS Arctic grayling had been Pacheco’s favorite fish since she was gifted a metal print of one after volunteering as part of a fundraiser for Trout Unlimited. A few

years later, she asked a colleague to take close-up photos of grayling and other fish she had caught while working and fishing in Western Alaska. Initially, Pacheco hoped to print the photos on metal plates and inlay them into a belt buckle. She also wanted to create earrings, her “jewelry of choice” since first donating her hair to Locks of Love. Pacheco knew there were artists making jewelry with fish leather, she said, but Artist Julienne Pacheco, who makes jewelry out of fish skin and other natural materials, poses on the downtown Juneau Seawalk with earrings made out of Arctic grayling dorsal fins. (JULIENNE PACHECO)

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Some of Pacheco’s most recent earring designs, seen here as shown for sale at Juneau’s 2018 Public Market, an annual event held each November. Her “Mountain sunrise earrings” are one of Wild By Nature’s most popular designs. (JULIENNE PACHECO)

she wanted to develop a technique to retain the beauty of the scales – and, instead of printing photos, that’s what she ended up doing with Wild by Nature. “Fish are beautiful. And they’re all different; they all shimmer in a different way. King salmon shimmer purple-gold. Arctic grayling are very unexpected. You see them in the river and they look brownish – mottled brown-gray. Then you land them and the sun hits them and they’re teal, and red, and blue and their eyes shimmer purple green, like they’re wearing 1980s eye shadow,” she said.

THE FUTURE’S SO BRIGHT…

From left to right, humpback whitefish, Dolly Varden, Arctic grayling and northern pike skin, examples of Pacheco’s vow to use natural Alaska materials to create her jewelry and other items. (JULIENNE PACHECO) 122

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Because of their brightness, ocean-caught sockeye and steelhead are two of her other favorite kinds of fish to work with. In 2016 she started collecting and experimenting with processing fish skin, from fish she had caught to eat or those that friends had, or were bycatch, for the most part, though she has occasionally purchased from processors. Pacheco credits her science background (she graduated from the University of Alaska Southeast with a bachelor of science in marine biology in 2012) with helping her to figure out how to process the skin on her own, though it took until the second season before she fig-


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ured out how to do it efficiently, she said. Still, it can be tedious. Sometimes she has to individually glue scales back on. The biggest challenge, though, may be retaining certain colors that are hard to preserve – like the once-blue spots in one of her favorite pairs of earrings, made out of Arctic grayling dorsal fins. Other kinds of fish lose their color completely. It’s a problem she’s trying to figure out.

ALASKAN ART At the same time, she chose her business’s name, Wild by Nature, intentionally, knowing she also wanted to work with other natural Alaskan materials. Some of those materials have included leaves, birch bark and her newest addition, jewelry made with driftwood and resin. She hopes the jewelry made with fish skin will remain the cornerstone of her work.

“I didn’t know how to do any of this before,” she said. “It’s all been a learning curve. The challenge has been learning to let the materials guide me. What I initially envisioned my jewelry would look like – it doesn’t look anything like that.” Processing materials and making jewelry “has really forced me to slow down and find beauty in small things – not just the macro, but the micro,” Pacheco added. “To value unexpected beauty … Unexpected beauty is something really wild to be able to share with people. When a person is admiring a piece of your jewelry and then you tell them what it’s made of, their surprise is unforgettable.” She’s been at Ninilchik’s Salmonfest and Juneau’s Public Market two years running, and plans to do more events and holiday markets around the state. Her work is also at a Seward location and several Southeast Alaska stores, and she

hopes to have it elsewhere soon. Pacheco’s working on a website and can also be reached for sales and commissions through her Facebook page (facebook. com/wildbynature907/). “There’s this humility when I see my jewelry on someone – especially if they buy it from one of my retailers and they don’t know who I am. It means a lot to see something I’ve created valued by someone else,” she said. One of my own favorites of Pacheco’s work is a pair of bright, steelhead-scaled earrings. I like to think they’re made from that same steelhead she filleted in our kitchen. ASJ Editor’s note: Mary Catharine Martin is the communications director of SalmonState, a nonprofit initiative that works to ensure Alaska remains a place wild salmon thrive. Go to salmonstate.org for more.

Rings that include the skin of salmon and other wild fish add an only-in- Alaska theme that many can’t resist. “When a person is admiring a piece of your jewelry and then you tell them what it’s made of,” Pacheco says, “their surprise is unforgettable.” (MARY CATHARINE MARTIN)

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ALaska SJ Jan 2019  
ALaska SJ Jan 2019