Alaska Sporting Journal - Feb 2021

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FISHING • HUNTING • ADVENTURE

AKSPORTINGJOURNAL.COM

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Volume 12 • Issue 9 www.aksportingjournal.com PUBLISHER James R. Baker

INFORMATION SERVICES MANAGER Lois Sanborn

GENERAL MANAGER John Rusnak

ADVERTISING INQUIRIES media@media-inc.com

EXECUTIVE EDITOR Andy Walgamott EDITOR Chris Cocoles WRITERS Paul D. Atkins, Bjorn Dihle, Tony Ensalaco, Scott Haugen, TiffanyHaugen, Brian Watkins SALES MANAGER Paul Yarnold ACCOUNT EXECUTIVES Mamie Griffin, Jim Klark, Mike Smith DESIGNER Lesley-Anne Slisko-Cooper PRODUCTION ASSISTANT Kelly Baker WEB DEVELOPMENT/INBOUND MARKETING Jon Hines

MEDIA INDEX PUBLISHING GROUP 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 ON THE COVER Paul Atkins (right) and his son Eli, now a high school senior, have enjoyed many adventures together during their time together in Alaska, including a snowy Arctic hunt for snowshoe hares. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT Katie Aumann

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CONTENTS

VOLUME 12 • ISSUE 9

FEATURES

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IT’S A BEAR’S WORLD

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AN ALASKA OBSESSION

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BACK TO THE EGEGIK Following Ensalaco’s lead on going back to an old friend, consider Scott Haugen’s love for the Alaska Peninsula’s Egegik River. He first fell in love with the Egegik during a trip there 15 years ago, and it’s easy to see why, considering the numbers of silver salmon he consistently catches during repeat trips to his favorite lodge on the river’s banks. Haugen talks about why you should also visit, and Tiffany Haugen smokes salmon in our monthly From Field to Fire feature.

(PAUL D. ATKINS)

HOW TIME FLIES

Our longtime correspondent Paul Atklns’ son Eli is now a college-bound, soon-to-be high school graduate, so it’s easy for dear old dad to get nostalgic about the duo’s adventures in the Last Frontier. Some of the Atkins family’s best memories include catching sheefish through the ice near their Kotzebue home and hunting game both big and small. As winter settles in, Paul shares a memorable story of his, Eli’s and wife/mom Susie’s experience hunting hares in the Arctic snow.

Alaskans who venture out to fish, hunt or just explore know that they’re not alone in sharing the wilderness. Bears are the kings (and queens) of the tundra and the forest, and lifelong Southeast Alaska resident Bjorn Dihle has compiled many stories – including some his own encounters – about the 49th state’s connection with ursine royalty. Check out an excerpt from Dihle’s new brown bear book. Chicago-area resident Tony Ensalaco loves his Cubs baseball and Blackhawks hockey; he loves his family. And he loves coming back to the Panhandle to fish for steelhead and other species in the Situk and nearby coastal waters. So, while Ensalaco has bucket-list destinations like any other traveler, why does he always make it a point to get back to the Last Frontier? He has his reasons.

ALSO IN THIS ISSUE 11 13 14 41

The Editor’s Note: The pull of travel Outdoor calendar Tough sledding for Brooks Range Dall sheep hunters Pride of Bristol Bay column: Mark Emery is the region’s version of the ‘Most Interesting Man in the World’

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 $49.95 (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 © 2021 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. 8

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EDITOR’S NOTE

Tourists touch the John of Nepomuk bas-relief sculpture on Prague’s Charles Bridge; legend has it that doing so will ensure a return to the Czech Republic city. For the editor, who touched it too, and our correspondent Tony Ensalaco, the draw of going back is particularly powerful. (CHRIS COCOLES)

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hen I visited Prague, Czech Republic way back in 2010 – it seems like a lot longer than a decade considering the tragic, surreal, outrageous and shocking moments of the past 11 months – there was one moment that had me thinking. Legend has it that when walking across Prague’s Charles Bridge, which crosses the Vltava River, if you touch the plaque on a statue of 14th century priest John of Nepomuk, it will not only result in good luck but also guarantee a return to the city someday. I touched, but haven’t been back yet to touch it again. But after reading Tony Ensalaco’s story on why the Chicagoan consistently returns to Alaska for his fishing trips (page 47), I started thinking about going back to Prague. Ensalaco makes a compelling argument that while he’d like to get his fishing fix in other places, there’s just something about Alaska that draws him back. Actually, many things. I’ve been lucky enough – thank you, John of Nepomuk – to see a lot of different places since my Prague visit with a friend in 2010. Part of me wants to go back to several of those destinations and do it all over again. Fishing in Slovenia’s Lake Bled. Wine tasting on Waiheke Island in New Zealand. The buzzing activity on the streets of Tokyo. The smiles of the people I met in Cuba. Then again, the angler in me is intrigued by casting for trout, salmon and char in Iceland. The sports fan in me wants to go to the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne. The foodie in me wants to devour the cuisine of Paris. The history nerd in me wants to soak up World War II sites in Poland and Germany. Even domestically I’ve never been to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland; nor the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan; nor the Grand Canyon; nor the Florida Keys. Will I have the time and money to do it all? Then again, there’s Prague. Oh man, I loved Prague. The beer. The hearty food. The gorgeous architecture. The people. There’s also supposed to be some pretty great fishing in the rural Czech Republic. I need to go back. Perhaps Ensalaco had it right all along. John of Nepomuk too. -Chris Cocoles aksportingjournal.com | FEBRUARY 2021

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OUTDOOR CALENDAR*

Alaska resident caribou hunting opens Feb. 1 along the North Slope (Game Management Unit 26B). (CHELSEA ARNOLD/USFWS)

Feb. 1

Resident caribou season opens in Game Management Unit 26B (North Slope) Feb. 15 Wolverine season ends in GMUs 2 and 4 (Prince of Wales Island, Admiralty/Baranof/Chichagof Islands) Feb. 19 ADFG draw hunting results expected to be announced March 15 Spring brown bear season opens in GMU 1 (Southeast Mainland) March 15 Resident spring brown bear hunting season opens in GMU 3 (Petersburg/Wrangell) March 15 Spring brown bear season opens in GMU 4 April 17 Homer Winter King Salmon Derby (homerwinterking.com) 2021 SPORTSMAN’S SHOWS March 11-14 Central Oregon Sportsmen’s Show, Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center, Redmond, Oregon (otshows.com) March 17-21 Washington Sportsmen’s Show, Washington State Fair & Events Center, Puyallup (otshows.com) March 24-28 Pacific Northwest Sportsmen’s Show, Expo Center, Portland (otshows.com) April 9-11 Great Alaskan Sportsman Show, Sullivan and Ben Boeke Arenas, Anchorage (greatalaskasportsmanshow.com) April 9-11 Mat-Su Outdoorsman Show, Alaska State Fairgrounds, Palmer (matsuoutdoorsmanshow.com) CANCELLED FOR 2021 Yukon Quest sled dog race, Fairbanks (yukonquest.com) Fairbanks Outdoor Show (carlson-center.com/outdoor-show) For more information and season dates for Alaska hunts, go to adfg.alaska.gov/index. cfm?adfg=hunting.main. Note: Check with local contacts on events that could be postponed/cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. aksportingjournal.com | FEBRUARY 2021

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SHEEP HUNTING CAN BE RAM TOUGH

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BOWMEN GET CLOSE TO A FULL-CURL TROPHY BY BRIAN WATKINS

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Dall sheep hunters enjoyed great weather, breathtaking scenery and some hard hikes during a long trek in the Brooks Range, but would it bring a ram for these intrepid archers? (BRIAN WATKINS)

y pal Trevor and I were on quite the high from successful goat (Alaska Sporting Journal, December 2020) and caribou (January 2021) hunts. We were able to double up on both species and decided to push our luck into sheep hunting. Why not? So, we took our bows into the Brooks Range and set out to test our luck again. The weather forecast called for the opposite of a typical Brooks Range hunt: sunny and 60 degrees every day. My best friend from college, Dave, was still along for our hunts and was dead-set on exploring the Brooks. He wanted to tag along on our hunt to see the feasibility of doing a 1,000-mile trek across the range next year. We packed eight days’ worth of food

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A panoramic view of the Brooks Range provides perspective on how spectacular – and steep – Alaska ram country is. (BRIAN WATKINS)

and headed into an area based on a tip from a friend.

TAKING A RAM WITH a bow is arguably the hardest hunt there is in Alaska. I was lucky enough to draw an any-ram tag in 2018 and successfully harvested a ram. This year was different. It was an over-the-counter tag. The ram had to be 8 years of age or be a full curl, meaning the horn completes a 360-degree circle back to the base of the horn. You can age a ram based on the annuli rings on his horns. It's not an easy thing to do, especially in the field. A muskox bull was among the critters author Brian Watkins, Trevor Embry and their pal Dave Moore spotted during their adventure. (BRIAN WATKINS)

Embry gets in some selfie action while Moore scours a slope with a spotting scope for signs of life. (TREVOR EMBRY)

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Watkins glasses for sheep along a far mountainside. They spotted some potential full-curl rams that would have been tag-fillers. (TREVOR EMBRY)

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Having both taken full-curl rams in the past with our rifles, Trevor and I decided to up the ante. As we headed into our area, we carried high hopes. But that high was quickly grounded as we found a lot of boot prints headed to the spot we preferred. We hiked in several miles, only to find tents and tracks into every nook and cranny of the first 5 miles. The terrain was beautiful and the weather complimentary, but the sheep were nonexistent. With so much hunting pressure, we ended up hiking out of the bowonly corridor. At last light on the third day, we glassed up two rams. One was



an obvious young ram, but the other looked close to legal. Maybe the next day it would happen for us.

WE SET OUT EARLY on day four into the bowl where those rams were. We used the spotting scope on the bigger ram and could tell he was decent. He was close to full curl, but we had to rely on aging the ram to determine legality. From half a mile away, we guessed him to be around 8 years old, but we couldn’t be certain. We stalked within 300 yards and indeed aged him between 7 and 9 years old. As we crept closer to fully ascertain his age the wind shifted. The bigger ram lifted his head from feeding and looked straight at us. We had made a classic stalking mistake in the mountains. When we began to close the distance, the wind seemed nonexistent. That’s because we had been shielded from it by the mountain. As we hiked up, we should have kept doing wind checks. We would’ve realized which direction the wind was blowing and could have

A vast, lonely looking wilderness and solitary tent bely the numbers of fellow hunters who were also chasing wild sheep in that part of the Brooks Range. (BRIAN WATKINS)

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Pro tip: “If the water is red and metallic looking, stay away,” advises Watkins. “As most sheep hunters know, finding water can be a difficult task. On the trip we filtered water that had a rusty look to it. Even filtered it tasted like battery acid. We had to drain all our filtered water and use snow melt instead.” (BRIAN WATKINS)


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salvaged the stalk. Instead, the rams blew out of there quickly and we lost our chance. I had brought a Scent-A-Way Windicator bottle too, but failed to use it.

WE SPENT A FEW more days in the area

and found more tent sites and boot traffic. Hunting from the road is a challenge, as a lot of sheep hunters do it that way. We added the extra challenge of a bow and came up short. The hunt was not lost, however, as we gained experience and were able to enjoy

Watkins and Embry have been through this grind before and understand that chasing a ram is hard. While it was a bit frustrating for them to come down from the heights empty-handed, they’ll keep heading back up for more. It’s what Alaska hunters do. (BRIAN WATKINS)

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eight full days of sunshine in the Brooks Range. Not every hunt needs to have a harvest to be successful. We saw a gorgeous bull moose and a muskox, plus a couple of rams that we just couldn’t get the best of. Maybe we’ll get ’em next time. ASJ


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“I cherish those days on the tundra,” says author Paul Atkins about trips afield in Northwest Alaska with son Eli, who is now preparing for college. “Whether it was in the snow or in a boat, or on the ice, it is something he and I will always have.”

(PAUL D. ATKINS)

RABBITS AND REMINISCENCES

WITH HIS SON GRADUATING SOON FROM HIGH SCHOOL, AN ARCTIC SPORTSMAN RECALLS THE LAD’S ‘FIRST REAL HUNT,’ A WINTER’S PURSUIT OF SNOWSHOE HARES BY PAUL D. ATKINS

“DID YOU SEE THAT?” I whispered to my

T

then 7-year-old son Eli. “Where, Dad?” he asked, as I pointed towards a small rise above the creek. Standing as tall as he could, he peered over the willow, just in time to see a white ball of fur flying through waist-deep snow. Twenty yards ahead of us the big Arctic hare finally came to a stop, perfectly camouflaged in his white

his story is more about remembering than anything else. Twenty-plus years here in the Arctic will do that. Some memories have been forgotten, but many haven’t, especially those days spent afield with my son on the frozen tundra.

surroundings. Now, if he would just stay there. I’ve lived and hunted here in Northwest Alaska for a long time and, in most instances, my focus has been during the fall. Moose, caribou and bear have consumed me and when the season does open, I become possessed. I know there are many like me, and if I were a betting man, I’d say just about

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It’s 10 miles across Kotzebue Sound and another 3 to the cabin that Atkins and his family stay at. If the trail is smooth, the snowmachine ride over the ice is pretty quick. If not, it can take a while and be rough on a person’s backside. Either way, it’s a beautiful way to see a part of the Arctic that many don’t. (PAUL D. ATKINS) everybody in Alaska enjoys venturing outside at some point trying to capture the excitement of the chase or at least a chance to fill the freezer. Sometimes that possession becomes an obsession and when that happens, I get so tied up in it I forget what’s important. I’ve been this way all my life. Whether it was judging livestock back in the old days, teaching, writing, whatever, it didn’t matter. I’ve always tried to pour every bit of energy and effort into what I was doing, trying to find success. It wasn’t until a few years after arriving here that I realized what was truly important; it was something grander than guns and bows and the rest of my hobbies combined. First, it was finding my wife Susie and then a year or so later, my son Eli came along. Becoming a father changed me and for the first time in my life, my priorities also changed.

HERE IN THE ARCTIC, the winter can be a long time going. It starts pretty much 24

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after caribou season ends in October and extends all the way through late April, when the bears have decided enough is enough and exit their dens. Seven months is a long time, believe me, but somewhere towards the end of February and early March life on the tundra comes alive. Bright sunny days combined with good snow and frozen ground are ideal for snowmachine rides, especially if it’s a family affair. When it does arrive, the sunshine is just bright enough to break out the sunglasses and sunscreen. By then you know it’s time to go. It’s also time for small animals to break out of their winter homes and run amok along the frozen creeks and willow thickets that line their banks. Flocks of ptarmigan, still in their semi-white plumage, burst onto the scene. Big snowshoe hares, larger than any rabbit I’ve ever seen, bound endlessly against the frozen landscape and try to hide themselves the best they

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can. The opportunities at each are usually endless. Being able to chase these critters with your family is priceless.

I REMEMBER THIS NOSTALGIC time in my life like it was yesterday. And it was during this time when my family and I loaded up our snowmachines and went north across Kotzebue Sound. The sound is part of the Chukchi Sea, and it’s a 10-mile trip across frozen ocean ice that is 4 to 5 feet deep. I remember that since the trail was good that day, within the hour we pulled into camp along a winding creek that was encased in ice, which gave off a bluish, green color. Up the hill from the creek, surrounded by tall spruce trees, a small bright green cabin with yellow window seals welcomed us for the weekend. Tearing ropes from the wooden sled, we unloaded our gear and began trudging it up the bank to our temporary home. We assembled sleeping bags, coolers full of food and dry bags with extra clothes



“When I close my eyes, I can still see that creek bank, clogged with willow and spruce and a plethora of tracks,” Atkins says. “I can also see Eli, shoulder-deep in the snow trying to catch up and trying not to fall.” (PAUL D. ATKINS)

on the small cabin floor. We checked to make sure the wood pile was full, which it was, but figured we’d have to cut more for the small iron stove that sat in the corner. It was perfect. I remember unpacking our weapons for the weekend – my bow and Eli’s trusty .22. There’s always something special about spending time with your kid outdoors. This was also Eli’s first real hunt, which made it even more special. He was excited and begged me to go immediately, telling me, “Hurry up, Dad.” I told him there was plenty of time, especially with the long days we were having. The sun wouldn’t set for hours.

AFTER GETTING THINGS ORGANIZED, we did a quick warm-up with hot chocolate and Rice Krispies Treats before making our long trek down the narrow creek. I told Eli we had to be careful and to make sure to watch the banks and adjacent willow flats for any kind of movement. My wife Susie accompanied us with her camera, and she also served as a spotter. Having another set of eyes is always a plus, especially when the action comes quickly and from all directions. 26

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It wasn’t long before Susie pointed out a white flash in the willow. “There’s one!” she said, just as excited as we were. We plowed toward it through snow that was up to my waist and Eli’s shoulders, and we quickly climbed the bank. I told Eli to walk in my tracks and use the willows as handholds to keep from sinking down into the white powder. It worked somewhat, but not much. We could see the big rabbit bouncing just ahead of us, before finally coming to a stop. We weren’t in range yet and had to get closer for a shot. I figured he would break and run, but he didn’t. I told Eli that these things think they’re smart and that if you don’t know what to look for, they can be. “Look for their eye,” I told him. However, this rabbit made a mistake and stopped on a small snow pile that was easily visible. With Eli right on my heels, I got the bow up, drew and placed my 20-yard pin on his head. It was awesome; we had our first rabbit and I don’t know if Eli or I was more excited. After we gathered our kill, we stomped on down the creek before taking another big rabbit not too far from where we got the first one. We

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were having so much fun, and it wasn’t just the hunting. Embedded in the snow and ice were hundreds of animal tracks, everything from the lynx to moose that inhabited this frozen landscape. It was a learning experience that became a game of who could identify them first. I believe I lost. Looking back, it’s hard for me to explain the sheer joy I was having that day with my son and wife. I have hunted all over the world and taken hundreds of big game animals, and this was by far one the best experiences I’ve ever had.

AS WE CONTINUED DOWN the frozen creek, we spotted a third rabbit in the willows. I’d told Eli before we left the cabin that our plan was to take three or four, enough for a good meal that evening. With a little luck, this would be our third. In snow that wasn’t too deep, the rabbit ran into a hole beneath some overgrown willows. I pointed him out to Eli and we slowly began our stalk. Eli was excited when I handed him the .22, telling him this one was his. Thinking he was safe, the rabbit stayed in place only to have Eli draw a bead on him and



The snowshoe hare is a formidable and worthy target for anyone, but also more than something to shoot, harvest and eat. They provided quality time spent with family and created bonds and memories that will last a lifetime. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

squeeze the trigger. The rabbit fell over and didn’t move. I was so proud of my son, and even more so when he trudged on ahead of me to claim his trophy. He reached in, grabbed the big snowshoe by his hind legs and exclaimed this was the greatest day of his life. I looked at Susie and said, “Mine too!” We had our rabbits but continued down the creek and hoped for a chance

at something with wings. Besides being the state bird of Alaska, ptarmigan is one of the few bird species that is abundant in the Arctic year-round. They can be found just about anywhere, but tend to like the willows and low-lying alder brush, where they feed on the twigs and leaves of both. I wanted a few for dinner, or at least to take back home. But it wasn’t to be; they weren’t there. So, we

Like an old friend, this camp has become a welcome sight over the years. It’s gone through many transformations – a new paint job, a new addition – but it always feels like a vacation every time the Atkins family stays there. (PAUL D. ATKINS) 28

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gathered our quarry and headed back the way we came. Back at camp we dumped the rabbits onto the snowbank. I told Eli it was time to clean the bunnies and prepare them for dinner, which was something just as important as the hunt itself. He was fascinated as we sat there in the snow, pulling hides and cutting out everything we wouldn’t use. I thought he would find it gross, but he didn’t. I don’t know if that experience hooked him or not, but in the years since he has always enjoyed cutting meat and fish. He has proved it many times, especially when we’ve had caribou and moose to cut up. He always grabs a knife and joins right in. Teach them early, I guess. After dinner it was time to sleep. I stoked the old stove as we settled in for the night. It was peaceful in that little cabin. The quiet of the Arctic surrounded us with the smell of woodsmoke as our only friend. The next morning, we awoke to cold temperatures, but we didn’t really care. I could see from the cabin door that something had cleaned up our mess on the snow – probably a fox or gray jay, sometimes called a camp robber, that had eaten well while we slept. The rest of the weekend was devoted to digging snow caves, sledding and snowmachining down the creek and up into the hills. I thought we might see a



bear, but it was a bit early for that. We did see a moose meandering behind camp and Eli wanted to shoot it. I told him, “Not today.” That would have to wait.

THAT TRIP HAPPENED A long, long time ago, but it was one of the best times I’ve ever had up here, and still today I think of it quite often. Seeing my boy so young, so excited to be outside in the country where he was born and where he eventually would grow up, was special. Since that time, we’ve had more adventures around Alaska and around the world, for that matter. But that weekend is etched in my mind. I wish I could go back and do it all again. ASJ

“I think back on these times with great joy and happiness and a little bit of sadness,” the author remembers. “Eli was little then – full of awe and wonder and ready to go anywhere. Some ask me if I regret raising my kid in such a cold, unforgiving place, and I tell them I do not. He has had experiences like no other.” (PAUL D. ATKINS)

Editor’s note: Paul Atkins is an outdoor writer and author from Kotzebue, Alaska. He’s had hundreds of articles published on big game hunting in Alaska and throughout North America and Africa, plus surviving in the Arctic. His new book, Atkins’ Alaska, will be on bookshelves soon and available online. Paul is a regular contributor to Alaska Sporting Journal.

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NORTHERN LIGHTS AND A NASTY BEAR NEW BOOK CHRONICLES AN OBSESSION WITH ALASKA BRUINS

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f you’re an Alaskan, you likely spend a lot of time outside and you likely share a lot of those outdoor adventures with bears, whether you’re aware of their presence or not. Lifelong Southeast Alaskan Bjorn Dihle has plenty of stories to tell about encounters with the state’s iconic ursines. Dihle, a longtime Alaska Sporting Journal contributor, has graced the pages of this publication with reminiscences of many hunting and fishing trips, often with his brothers Luke and Reid. Now the father of a young son with a second baby on the way with another of our correspondents, Mary Catharine Martin, Dihle has a new book out, entitled A Shape in the Dark: Living and Dying with Brown Bears, that examines our relationship with Ursus arctos. “I’ve always been drawn to wild country, and no animal better embodies the spirit of the wild than the brown bear,” Dihle says. “I’ve been lucky to get to spend a lot of time in close proximity with them – much of the spring and summer I work guiding wildlife film crews. When I vacation, I generally go wander in brown bear country. This book is a project that gestated for 10 years. Probably even longer. One of my earliest memories is being on Admiralty Island, wading up a salmon stream and finding a dead and mostly eaten brown bear. The carcass, along with the hundreds of spawning salmon surrounded by ancient giant trees, was damn impactful.” A Shape in the Dark looks at both our history with brown bears in North America and chronicles some of Dihle’s interactions with the Last Frontier’s biggest, baddest bruins. The book captures the thrills, the terror and the beauty of Alaskans’ connection with brown bears and the role the animals play in the ecosystem. The following is excerpted with permission from A Shape in the Dark: Living and Dying with Brown Bears by Bjorn Dihle (Mountaineers Books, 2021).

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A male brown bear on Admiralty Island studies a fishing hole after running off a smaller bear. Author Bjorn Dihle’s new book, A Shape in the Dark: Living and Dying with Brown Bears, pays homage to bruins. (BJORN DIHLE)


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BY BJORN DIHLE

F

or a second, before I remembered to be afraid, I was overcome by its sheer presence. Dark brown with silver forelegs. A moment later, our eyes met. Fear and rage flashed in its small brown eyes. It closed the distance separating us in one stride as I reached for my bear spray attached to my pack strap. Incredibly muscled and poised, it appeared too real to be real. There wasn’t time to unclip it. There wasn’t even time to realize the bear was about to knock me down and what that might mean. But instead of smashing me, the bear stopped short – at what felt like only inches away – and recoiled to the side. I took a step back and was fumbling with my pepper spray when the bear came again and, just before contact seemed inevitable, bounded away. For the longest seconds of my life, we participated in a strange and violent dance until the bear crashed off into the willows. It was only then that I had the pepper spray in my hand and ready. During the rest of the hike out, every set of grizzly tracks I came across seemed to radiate with the promise of death. At any moment, I expected a bear to emerge from the mountains and come for me.

AT COLDFOOT, THE ONE gas station between Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay, I picked up two Japanese hitchhikers who’d come to Fairbanks in search of the northern lights. In most of the Interior that summer, visibility was limited to a couple hundred yards due to smoke from forest fires. Instead of leaving defeated, they’d hitchhiked north a few hundred miles, far enough from the fires to where they made out a faint green glimmer in the sky one night. “We see aurora borealis. Then we wait on the side of the road for three days! No one would pick us up. So cold! Now we know why they call it Coldfoot!” the younger of the two said. He was close to my age. Much to his parents’ disapproval, he’d decided to travel for a year before finishing a college degree in economics. “I don’t want to go back to Japan,” he said. “My family wants me to go to school, get married and work, work, work.” The other man was older and possessed a calm intensity. His English 34

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Author Bjorn Dihle and his son Shiras walk a bear trail on Admiralty Island. (CHRIS MILLER)

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“A moment later, our eyes met. Fear and rage flashed in its small brown eyes. It closed the distance separating us in one stride as I reached for my bear spray attached to my pack strap,” Dihle writes of his terrifying encounter. “There wasn’t time to unclip it.” (BJORN DIHLE) aksportingjournal.com | FEBRUARY 2021

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The beautiful and rugged islands of Southeast Alaska are home to many bears, thanks to the rich forage that includes plentiful salmon runs. Dihle spied this sow and her cub on Chichagof Island. (BJORN DIHLE) This Brooks Range mama bear and cub got in a staredown with Dihle, who noted they were “investigating” him as they approached closer. (BJORN DIHLE)

wasn’t good, but I learned that he’d been traveling for more than a decade. “I never go back Japan,” he said. “I just go.” We rode through thick smoke and smoldering black spruce without seeing another vehicle for over an hour. At one point small fires burned along both sides of the road, and I began to worry I might get us killed. When I mentioned that I was thinking about turning back to Coldfoot, they encouraged me to keep driving south. I dropped them off in downtown Fairbanks at a hostel.

AT THE UNIVERSITY I fumbled through the proper motions, stared at the eastern Alaska mountain range and felt lost. Instead of renting a cabin or room, I pitched my tent in the woods a few miles from campus. October came. With the first snow, the fires and smoke vanished, revealing blue sky, stars, and the 36

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occasional display of northern lights. At night I listened to small forest animals, or silence, or the panting and grunting of a rutting bull moose, or the soft hissing of falling snow, or the screeching of a lynx, and I thought of the bear .... ... I thought of how the threat of death made me realize how deeply in love with life I was. I woke at the smallest changes in the forest and wondered if the bear had traveled 300 miles south to find me. In the morning I watched my “pet” mouse raiding the food bag and wondered what the bear was doing at that exact moment. What was it thinking? What was it feeling? Did it remember me? Was it in its winter den yet? I tried to apply myself to my studies, but there seemed little of truth or worth to be found. I missed the wild expanse where words, concepts and beliefs meant nothing. I missed the wind and open horizon. I missed the mountains and the tundra. Most of all, I missed the bear. ASJ

“I thought of how the threat of death made me realize how deeply in love with life I was,” the author writes. “I woke at the smallest changes in the forest and wondered if the bear had traveled 300 miles south to find me.” (BJORN DIHLE)

Editor’s note: Order a copy of Dihle’s book at mountaineers.org/books/books/a-shape-inthe-dark-living-and-dying-with-brown-bears.

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INTRODUCING BRISTOL BAY’S ‘MOST INTERESTING MAN’ BY BJORN DIHLE

M

ark Emery may be the most interesting man in the world. Legend has it that he decided to move to Bristol Bay after getting the best of the biggest alligator in Florida in a Greco-Roman wrestling match. Emery was on the eve of turning 30 and had already lived a storied life – he began his career working with wildlife under the employment of famous herpetologist Ross Allen at the Reptile Institute in Silver Springs, Florida. He would give talks to visitors and show them how to wrestle alligators and milk rattlesnakes. “It didn’t pay great. Three bucks an hour. If you worked there any length of time, you were sure to get bitten by rattlesnakes and alligators,” Emery said. Still, he loved it. His time with Allen, he says, taught him how to tell stories and exposed him to the world of wildlife filmmaking. Silver Springs was also a famous scuba diving center, and Emery, apprenticing with underwater cinematographer Jordy Klein Jr., learned how to film underwater. During this time period, Emery also fought as a professional heavyweight kickboxer. “I quit while I was ahead,” Emery said.

IT WAS AROUND THEN, in 1984, that Emery moved to King Salmon in Bristol Bay. He’d taken a job guiding visiting sport fishermen, but he was equally drawn to the prospect of exploring and filming the surrounding wild country. When he was a kid, he was captivated by articles in Outdoor Life magazine about the impressive concentration of brown bears at nearby Brooks Falls. One of his first impressions of Bristol Bay was about as opposite from wilderness magic as it gets, though. Emery was visiting the

Whether he’s filming bears around Bristol Bay or alligators in his native Florida – he’s also wrestled the latter – Mark Emery doesn’t shy away from adventure. Author Bjorn Dihle calls him Bristol Bay’s version of “The Most Interesting Man in The World.” (MARK EMERY) aksportingjournal.com | FEBRUARY 2021

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local watering hole when a guy came swimming down atop the bar, knocking down other patron’s drinks as he went, until he was right underneath the recently retired heavyweight kickboxer. The swimmer, full of liquid courage, looked up and not so politely asked what Emery was doing here. Emery shrugged it off. Others might have asked the same question had they known that Emery, though an avid angler, had never fished for salmon. “I caught king salmon with plastic worms that first season,” Emery said, laughing. Emery, with his love of wildlife and camera skills, was soon venturing into the surrounding wilderness. He was blown away by the pristine rivers filled with salmon and the brown bears feasting on them. Getting to work with brown bears did not disappoint Emery; he quickly realized they were as intelligent as primates and a highly nuanced animal to work with. Once, on a half-mile of stream, Emery counted 73 different bears. His first Alaskan film project was The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, which tells the story of the June 6, 1912 eruption of the Novarupta volcano – the largest volcanic eruption in the 20th century.

Alaska has captivated Emery, who can experience both bear tracks and epic salmon fishing in the Bristol Bay area. (MARK EMERY)

The event occurred in what is now Katmai National Park, roughly 60 miles from King Salmon. The film focuses on how wildlife came back to the land after it was devastated. “There were 40 square miles of ash. It was a monster of destruction. Now it’s a place of great renewal,” Emery said. The film was picked up by National Geographic and was the beginning of Emery’s long relationship with the production company. And Emery’s resume is impressive – he’s been a co-recipient of two Emmys for his work on National Geographic Television’s series Great Migrations and Untamed Americas – and now salmon play a vital part in Emery’s professional and personal life. Capturing underwater footage of alligators and other Florida critters helped shape who Emery is today.

(MARK EMERY)

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EMERY IS NOW A long way from the days when he caught king salmon with those plastic worms. When asked about his thoughts on the proposed Pebble Mine



– the project recently had a key permit denied by the Army Corps of Engineers for being “against the public interest,” among other things – he expressed his sympathy for the limited number of people in the Bristol Bay region who want the mine in hopes that it’ll better their economic situation. “But there’s no question of what sort of future we want. We need to hang on to salmon as hard as we can,” he said. One of his favorite film projects over the course of his career was National Geographic’s 1998 Seasons of the Salmon. It was a project that involved two years of filming and went through the whole life cycle of sockeye salmon. Besides working as a wildlife cinematographer and as a crack fishing guide who can get fish to bite whatever he throws at them, Emery is also a talented musician. He’s written the scores for more than 300 television shows’ soundtracks. Despite his impressive career, Emery is one of the most humble and likable guys you’ll meet in Alaska. He and his wife Mary, the office manager for the Commercial Fisheries branch of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in King Salmon, split their time between Alaska and Ocala, Florida. Typically, Emery spends the spring filming brown bears on the Pacific side of the Alaska Peninsula. He’s back in King Salmon and ready to guide visiting fishermen by the end of June. By the first week of August, he’s back to filming bears and salmon. During the fall and

Emery and his wife Kim have settled into the Alaska lifestyle well and they understand the importance of maintaining the ecosystem. “We need to hang on to salmon as hard as we can,” he says. (MARK EMERY)

winter, he’s busy filming alligators, deer and other wildlife in Florida. King Salmon will always be home to Emery, and he counts himself lucky to have such a great community of friends there. “It’s so fortunate to have a place like Bristol Bay. I’m always humbled to be out there,” he said. “I’m going to be living in King Salmon until the day I fall down.” ASJ

“There’s no question of what sort of future we want,” Emery says of the need to protect Bristol Bay wildlife like moose and especially salmon from the potential Pebble Mine. “It’s so fortunate to have a place like Bristol Bay.” (MARK EMERY) 44

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Editor’s note: Check out Mark Emery’s work at markemeryfilms.com and follow him on Instagram (@markemeryfilms). Pride of Bristol Bay is a free column written by Bjorn Dihle and provided by its namesake, a fisherman-direct seafood marketer (prideofbristolbay.com) that specializes in delivering the highest quality of sustainably caught wild salmon from Bristol Bay to you.


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So why does author Tony Ensalaco (third from left) keep coming back to the Last Frontier? Of course, epic fishing is a major reason why – this halibut limit offers good proof – he’s made multiple trips over the years, but the Chicagoan cites plenty of other factors for his passion for Alaska. (TONY ENSALACO)

WHY HE HEADS NORTH AN ANGLER RATIONALIZES HIS OBSESSION WITH ALASKA BY TONY ENSALACO

D

addy, why do you go to Alaska?” You would think a simple question coming from a then 8-year-old girl would be easy to address. But at that moment, I felt like a fool because I couldn’t come up with a specific answer. So I said to my darling daughter Brooke, “I

don’t know. I just like it there.” I was hoping that she would accept my lame response and move on to the next subject. Yeah, right! Every parent knows there is no chance that the conversation is about to end there. “Do you really have to go? Why can’t you fish here instead? I think you should

stay home,” she innocently replied. “What? Did your mother put you up to this?” was what I wanted to blurt out, but I decided that it would be better for me to shut my mouth to keep the peace. “Sweetheart, it’s early in the morning and Daddy just woke up. Can we talk about

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this later?” “OK, Daddy; I’ll come back, but you have to tell me later.” Then Brooke kissed me on the cheek and disappeared to another room in the house. Two takeaways from that brief encounter: One: I am not prepared for the day when my children come to me with a serious question like, “What is the meaning of life?” or “Where do babies come from?” Second: I never gave it much thought as to why I feel compelled to go to the Last Frontier. I just know in my heart that I need to get there. Sure, I can catch most of the same species of fish for a fraction of the cost closer to home on some of the fabled Great Lakes tributaries, but there is something more that draws me to the North. I just never had to verbally express my reasons. My daughter got me thinking that day, and these are some of the things I could come up with. THE JOURNEY Come on; it’s frickin’ Alaska! How cool is it to know that you just pulled the trigger and booked a trip to a location that is on nearly everyone’s bucket list? And nothing beats seeing the reactions you get when you mention where you plan on going. Let’s just say you’ll definitely capture someone’s attention. One of the things that makes Alaska such an exciting travel destination is the different levels of adventure the state has

to offer. On any given flight heading into Anchorage, the plane could be filled with visitors from all corners of the world, all who have completely different itineraries. One passenger might be chartering a de Havilland Beaver into the bush, which will abandon him for a two-week, DIY float trip down a wilderness river, leave him at the mercy of the elements and resort to harvesting some of his food via hunting or fishing. The guy sitting next to him is booked at an upscale, five-star, fully guided, allinclusive lodge that includes gourmet meals, offers top-shelf booze and a comfortable bed fitted with 400-count Egyptian cotton sheets to nestle into. When it comes to living on the edge, my Alaskan experiences have been somewhat benign, because I have always relied on the basic modern amenities to make it through my stay. Still, I am not there to test my survival skills; I’ve grown accustomed to being able to take hot showers in a private bathroom and devour meals prepared by someone else. Even when I fished out of a remote tent camp, there were porcelain toilets and running water in the latrine, plus a professional chef in the mess tent serving fancy fourcourse dinners every evening. And even though my trips are relatively tame compared to some of the hardcore outdoor excursions that take place every year in the state, the intensity level still

Whenever the Alaska Airlines jets send him on his way toward Anchorage and beyond, the author knows it’s time to ceremonially crack open a local beer enroute to his dream destination. (TONY ENSALACO) 48

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beats an average outing around my home. My idea of “roughing it” locally consists of drinking stale, lukewarm coffee and gorging on day-old breakfast burritos from an allnight gas station. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy fishing some of my favorite Midwestern steelhead and salmon rivers that I cut my teeth on, but even those places have cellphone service along the stream and fast-food restaurants in the immediate vicinity of the boat ramp. I have never returned to the office after a weekend outing and said to a coworker, “Wow, what an ordeal I just went through. The Starbucks didn’t open until seven, and I had no idea how I was going to persevere without my venti Frappuccino and blueberry scone.” No matter the degree of difficulty, Alaska has an adventure suited for everyone’s risk tolerance, and it still remains one of the most exhilarating and talked-about destinations in the world. THE SCENERY OK, full disclosure: I spent more time of my college years parading around a river than studying in a classroom (my sincerest apologies to Mom and Dad). So my limited vocabulary cannot begin to articulate the true essence of beauty. Therefore, I’m not about to embarrass myself by trying to verbalize something that can’t be accurately put into words. The only way someone could comprehend


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the magnitude of Alaska is to see it for themselves the way God intended – up close and personal. Even after gazing at thousands of professional photographs in travel books or watching hours of footage on a highdefinition television, it would be impossible to capture the astounding vistas and the immense size of the state. Sure, there are plenty of amazing places in this world that offer stunning, jawdropping landscapes, but for my money nothing compares to Alaska. Just ask any globetrotter who has visited and they’ll tell you that Alaska is the total package. Besides having the tallest mountain in North America, Denali, with a summit reaching 20,310 feet above sea level, Alaska has over three million lakes (Minnesota boasts of having a measly 10,000), countless glaciers and fjords, and it is home to the Tongass National Forest, which happens to be the world’s largest temperate rain forest. This untamed wilderness provides crucial habitat for wildlife, and if a tourist is fortunate to be at the right place and at the right time, there is a strong possibility that you can see bears, moose, wolves, caribou and even several species of whales, all surrounded by their natural habitat. A visitor could spend several lifetimes exploring Alaska by land, sea, or air and could never come across everything there is to see. FOOD AND DRINK There is a ritual that I have been practicing every year that goes back to my second journey to the Last Frontier in 2003. In my mind, the trip doesn’t “officially” start until I am buckled into my seat on an Alaskan Airlines jet and the first sip of that sweet nectar of an Alaskan Amber touches my lips. That is when I finally mentally concede my responsibilities at home and am able to fully focus my attention on the vacation. There are some years when I don’t get around to taking my first pull until I’m flying over Alaska’s air space, and then there are those with exceptionally difficult circumstances leading up to the trip, which causes me to order a beer and a backup as soon as the drink cart makes it down the aisle shortly after departing from Chicago. What makes me covet the brew is because for many years, the Alaskan Brewing Company beer wasn’t sold in

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Ensalaco and his daughter Brooke enjoy a moment together learning about Brooke’s dad’s passion for fishing. (TONY ENSALACO) my area. So, every year, when I take that initial taste my brain sensors start to fire, letting me know that I’m about to embark on an adventure. Now, the Alaskan Brewing Company has been shipping its merchandise throughout parts of the Lower 48 and beer distribution has migrated into my Chicagoland zip code. And even though I find the suds delectable, I refuse to purchase a six-pack because, in my mind, it would be bad karma. I don’t want to take a chance of upsetting the fish gods if it wasn’t consumed in the right setting. What can I say? Fishermen are superstitious and I’m not willing to risk throwing the Earth off of its axis because I sometimes get thirsty. As far as the grub goes, I definitely would not consider myself a connoisseur, but I do like to challenge my conservative

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Midwestern pallet by expanding my dining horizons wherever I travel by indulging in the local cuisine. However, there are a few unconventional Alaskan delicacies that I refuse to taste and defer them to the diehard foodies or the native Alaskans who have developed the gastric fortitude to properly digest some of the more exotic dishes. When I first started going to Alaska, my idea of crossing over to the wild side was ordering the reindeer burger at Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse during a layover in Ted Stevens International Airport. Since then, I’m proud to report that I’ve challenged my taste buds by sampling moose, black bear and seal, and I even got a hold of a chunk of muktuk, whale blubber. I wouldn’t say that I left Alaska craving any of those foods, and there is a good chance that I will never voluntarily consume


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many of those recipes again, but I’m sure glad that I got a chance to try them. THE PEOPLE Whether it is meeting another visitor from a different continent, or perhaps reconnecting with past acquaintances from previous trips, the camaraderie is becoming one of my favorite reasons to return to the 49th state. I truly look forward to catching up with the employees of the lodge where I stay, as well as the locals who frequent the bar and restaurant, just so I can listen to their tales about what they had to endure since the last time I saw them. What’s fascinating is the cross-section of cultures and backgrounds that I come across on any given night. There aren’t too many places in the world where you can belly up to a bar and, quietly enjoying a beer on the left of you, there will be a commercial longliner who lived his entire life in a remote Alaskan village of less than a few hundred people. And on the right barstool is a boisterous hedge-fund manager from the

East Coast putting on a show and pounding down the brown water like he’s going to the electric chair. And just to spread out the diversity, standing across the hardwood taking dinner orders and pouring drinks is the sitting mayor of the town. Again, only in Alaska. And what really intrigues me is discovering the myriad motives about why a person would choose to move to Alaska. When you ask most of them, they are usually more than willing to share their backstories. The reasoning can be as simple as looking for work or wanting to add some adventure in their lives. I also have met a few hopeless romantics who chose to drop everything in the Lower 48 and move to Alaska in the name of pursuing a love interest. And I’ve encountered more than a few lost souls who wanted to leave their past in the rearview mirror and get as far away as possible from their previous lives. They felt they had no choice but to run away, so they figured where’s a better place to relocate and attempt to make a fresh start

“Sure, there are plenty of amazing places in this world that offer stunning, jaw-dropping landscapes, but for my money nothing compares to Alaska,” states the author. (TONY ENSALACO)

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on life than the Last Frontier? There was one particular trip traveling with my father that we had a rotating guest list sitting around us on each leg of the flight. It seemed that almost everyone we spoke to was trying to disappear from society for a variety of reasons, and blending into Alaska was the best solution. It was a mind-blowing reality check to hear some of the reasons for their escape, but it was a little disturbing as well. THE FISHING Who are we kidding? It’s all about the fishing. Where else on the planet can you go out in the morning and catch a 100-pluspound barn door halibut, along with a 25-pound feeder king salmon trolling in the saltwater, take a lunch break, and then go hit the river in the afternoon and watch in awe as a 27-inch leopard rainbow trout attached to the end of your fly rod goes cartwheeling downstream out of control? Only in Alaska, baby! Sure, there are tremendous fishing opportunities around



Father-son Alaska trips – Bob and Tony Ensalaco waiting at the airport – have been cherished over time. (TONY ENSALACO) the world and I would love to investigate all of them, but those dream destinations will never be my first choice. Don’t get me wrong; I understand why some fishermen might wake up in a cold sweat after dreaming of a 50-inch musky following a bucktail to the side of the boat and then glomming onto it during a figure eight. Or why someone can’t function at work because he’s daydreaming about

The camaraderie between fellow travelers and locals he meets along the way – here is Ensalaco’s buddy Ryan McClure with a nice Dolly Varden – makes for an awesome experience. (RYAN MCCLURE)

double hauling a 4/0 crab imitation in front of a school of tarpon as they silently glide across a sand flat. There are just too many excursions to list that provide outstanding piscatorial challenges throughout the fishing grounds that would have no problem falling into other people’s wheelhouses, but I have other aspirations. Give me the raw brutality of a giant Chinook peeling 100 yards of line

“I can’t cure my addiction of pursuing mint-silver, anadromous fish that return to their Alaskan natal rivers and streams,” writes Ensalaco (right). “So the only thing I can do is accept my weakness and make it back to Alaska as often as possible.” (RYAN MCCLURE)

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off the reel on its initial run, and there is nothing anyone can do but hold on and prey that the salmon decides to stop. Or, when it becomes “go time” to start frantically casting towards a school of 50 silvers that just miraculously appeared in the tidal pool you have been patiently waiting at for the last half-hour. I even enjoy messing with those “nuisance” pink salmon with some light tackle when the right situation arises. If someone thinks that I’m biased, then I would have to say they’re correct. I can’t cure my addiction of pursuing mint-silver, anadromous fish that return to their Alaskan natal rivers and streams, so the only thing I can do is accept my weakness and make it back to Alaska as often as possible. I think I’m ready to confront my daughter. “Brooke, Daddy wants to talk to you.” “Yes, Daddy?” “I think I could answer your question now.” “You mean the one about why you go to Alaska?” “Yes, that one dear.” “I already know why. It’s because you love to fish. Everyone knows that. But, can I ask you something else?” “What’s that, honey?” “I have a question about babies.” “Go ask your mother, and if anyone’s looking for me, I’ll be locked down in the basement tying jigs for the next 10 years!” ASJ


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FIELD

THE EGEGIK DIARIES

AN ANGLER’S ODE TO HIS FAVORITE ALASKA COHO RIVER AND LODGE

BY SCOTT HAUGEN

A

fter more than an hour of watching friends catch coho after coho, I felt the urge to cast. The action had been red-hot, yielding salmon on just about every cast. Then the bite stopped, as it often does when salmon move out of a hole. I walked a short distance upstream, where I’d been seeing dorsal fins splitting the surface of the calmly flowing Egegik River. I baited my hook with freshly cured eggs, and no sooner had the cluster hit the water than a hard-fighting coho attacked. The same results came on the next cast, and the next. Twenty-one casts saw me landing 21 coho, keeping four that were hooked too deep to release. I kept my fifth and final salmon a few casts later.

Author Scott Haugen has been fishing the Egegik River for 15 years, and he ranks it atop his favorite rivers in Alaska, for many reasons. Maybe this summer you can join him at his favorite Egegik lodge. (SCOTT HAUGEN)

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a longer period of time. Some folks like a drier, chewier fish and may choose a hotter smoking temperature. Smoked fish can even be “candied” and served as an appetizer or used as a topping like bacon bits. Beyond the smoke flavor, both wet and dry brines can add incredible diversity to smoked fish. When feeling creative, be sure to take good notes on the changes you make to favorite recipes. Once you develop that perfect recipe, you want to be able to recreate it.

Tiffany Haugen knows what to do with a freshly caught salmon: smoke it. Smoked fish can be kept in your refrigerator for more than a week when you vacuum-seal it until ready for serving. (TIFFANY HAUGEN)

THANK YOU FOR SMOKING BY TIFFANY HAUGEN

T

here’s nothing like the taste of a deliciously seasoned, perfectly textured bite of smoked fish. Whether enjoyed warm, straight from the smoker or out of a vacuum-sealed bag several days later, smoked fish is a treat

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for everyone. Since fresh fish has a relatively short shelf life, smoking it will preserve it for up to a week under refrigeration and even longer if vacuum-packed. Freezing smoked fish will extend storage even further and makes a great add-in to soups, chowders, pasta dishes, crab cakes and more. Fish is an incredibly versatile protein, as its quick cooking allows for simple, fast meals on the grill, in the oven or fried up in a skillet. When smoking fish there are many options. Use it as a simple salt/sugar wet or dry brine for hot or cold smoking, or season fish for baking and setting a smoker to higher temperatures in order to both infuse smoke flavors and speed up cooking time. Smoking fish not only adds a layer of flavor in the choice of chips you use – alder, apple, cherry, hickory or mesquite, to name a few – it changes the texture of the meat, too. If you desire a moist end product, fish can be smoked at a lower temperature for

FEBRUARY 2021 | aksportingjournal.com

FISH SMOKING TIPS 1. Get to know your smoker and read manufacturer instructions, read company blogs, watch product videos, and be aware of the difference in the performance of propane, electric and pellet smokers. 2. Take ambient temperature conditions into consideration. In colder climates and seasons, smoking times can increase, while smokers may run hotter on summer days. 3. Wet brines work better on fresh fish and dry brines are better for previously frozen fish. 4. When adding extra spices and flavorings to brined fish, be sure they are salt-free. 5. If the smoker isn’t full, add vegetables like onions and peppers, as these will benefit from time in the smoker, making a flavorful addition to salsas, soups and stews. 6. If your smoker can reach temps of 250 to 450 degrees, think about using it as an oven to make a quick fish dinner or even a smokey casserole or side dish. 7. With many smokers, cold smoking is also an option. Once chips are smoking, turn off the heat source and smoke cheese, hardboiled eggs, seafood or even chocolate. 8. If your smoked fish is overcooked or over-salted, dice it up and use it as a topper in place of bacon bits. Editor’s note: For signed copies of Tiffany’s popular book, Cooking Seafood, and other best-selling titles, visit tiffanyhaugen.com.


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FIELD I FIRST LEARNED OF Alaska’s Egegik River 15 years ago. Having fished throughout the Last Frontier for three decades, and penning the top-selling book, A Flyfisher’s Guide To Alaska, the Egegik is my favorite coho river in the state. I first fished with Becharof Lodge in 2008. In 2019 the lodge sold to two men who are equal partners; George Joy, a longtime fishing and hunting guide I’ve known for years, and Mark Korpi, a building contractor from Oregon. These two are a great team and I love the changes they’re making. The name was changed to Becharof Lodge On The Egegik River (becharoflodgefishing.com), and the team wasted no time erecting multiple cabins, which replaced the tents used for years. They installed more flush toilets

and showers and continue improving upon the amenities at the lodge, including expanding the electricity. Last August I spent the entire season at the lodge. The new owners and their staff were simply wonderful. Clients came and went, and the positive spirits of most everyone were contagious. It was a happy place all season long, for everyone – men, women, couples, kids and families. We spent mornings taking in the sunrise with a hot cup of coffee or cocoa. Big breakfasts were the norm and dinner menus were incredible, with no shortage of food. The friendly, comfortable atmosphere made it easy for people to help themselves to as much as they liked, including cookies that were baked fresh from scratch each day. No one went hungry, ever.

WHILE THE COMFORTS OF camp play a big part in pleasing many people, it’s the salmon fishing that brought them here. Many serious anglers wake up early and have their coffee and breakfast downed

in time to be catching fish before the sun crests the tundra horizon. There are also those who sleep in, appreciating the freedom to do what they want on their vacation. They catch fish, too – a lot of fish. An average angler can expect to catch 20 coho a day; veteran anglers often catch and release over 75 salmon a day, sometimes more. Last season thousands of coho held close to shore right in front of the lodge. After dinner for nearly half the season, anglers caught salmon after salmon adjacent to the lodge from the bank. And I was surprised at the number of folks who were happy fishing only in the morning. They’d return to camp after catching their five-coho daily limit, enjoy a hot shower and lunch, take a nap, read, then sit atop the viewing platform overlooking the river and expansive tundra. There they’d watch the local wildlife – brown bears, wolves, red fox and birds – until the lodge’s appetizers were served.

THE FISHING HERE IS simple, and the gravel,

Becharof Lodge On The Egegik River has been upgraded under new ownership, and the world-class coho fishing is right out the front door. (SCOTT HAUGEN)

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Lodge guest Leslie is all smiles over this Arctic char she caught while on a flyout to a remote stream, one of many trips you can take from your Egegik base. If you want to experience ultimate Alaska, consider a flyout adventure in this part of the state. (SCOTT HAUGEN)

gently sloping banks easy for anyone to negotiate. If you can’t walk, you can sit in a chair and fish from the shoreline. The Egegik River is wide and shallow, and very little weight is needed to get presentations into the strike zone. Eggs, jigs, beads and lures are all great for catching coho here. This is also a great place to fish topwater with a spinning or fly rod. Many anglers use only a fly rod all week long, stripping streamers, moving wogs, and swinging surface poppers. Spey rod anglers love the vast amount of prime, open water to be fished. But the true beauty of Becharof Lodge On The Egegik River is its proximity to even more remote places in Alaska. Flyouts take you to captivating streams, where the pursuit of trophy-class Arctic char 62

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and grayling, along with rainbow trout, captures the essence of fishing in Alaska. If you want to experience brown bear viewing at famed Brooks Falls, that’s only a 25-minute floatplane flight from the lodge. Watching 1,500-pound bears gorge themselves on sockeye salmon is a sight to behold, something that brings back many anglers year after year.

THE MORE TIME I spend at Becharof Lodge, the less important catching high numbers of coho becomes. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown more aware of all the other things this magical place has to offer. Maybe it’s because I find myself getting more pleasure watching others catch fish. Then again, maybe it’s because I know I’ll be back next year, and the year after that.

FEBRUARY 2021 | aksportingjournal.com

There are few places I keep going back to in Alaska, as there’s so much to discover in this state. But the Egegik River is an exception. Each year the coho run gets me excited, and the tranquility of this place continually captures my mind. Simply put, it’s the best Alaskan fishing experience I know, and I’ve covered much of the state. Who knows? Maybe you can join me this coming season, as I’ll be up there most of August to enjoy all that this amazing place has to offer, for I simply can’t get enough of it. ASJ Editor’s note: To book your trip on the Egegik River and maybe fish with longtime Alaska Sporting Journal columnist Scott Haugen, drop him an email at sthaugen@yahoo.com for details.


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