Alaska Sporting Journal - August 2022

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FISHING • HUNTING • ADVENTURE

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Volume 12 • Issue 3 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 Randall Bonner, Bjorn Dihle, Scott Haugen, Tiffany Haugen, Brian Watkins, Dave Zoby SALES MANAGER Paul Yarnold ACCOUNT EXECUTIVES Hanna Gagley, Mamie Griffin, Riland Risden, Mike Smith DESIGNER Lesley-Anne Slisko-Cooper PRODUCTION ASSISTANT Kelly Baker WEB DEVELOPMENT/INBOUND MARKETING Jon Hines, Jon Eske

MEDIA INDEX PUBLISHING GROUP 941 Powell Ave SW, Suite 120 Renton, WA 98057 (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 The Situk River features some outstanding silver salmon fishing, as correspondent Randall Bonner discovered when he tried his luck on the Yakutat-area fishery by using “add-ons” with his spoons and spinners. (RANDALL BONNER)

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CONTENTS

VOLUME 12 • ISSUE 3

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SPOONS, SPINNERS AND SITUK SILVERS The Situk River is one of Randall Bonner’s favorite Alaska fisheries, as his previous reports on steelhead fishing that famed stream near Yakutat can attest to. This month, Situk silvers are on Bonner’s mind – he shares spoon and spinner “add-ons” that can drive these salmon wild.

FEATURES

(RANDALL BONNER)

ALSO IN THIS ISSUE

39

MORE TIPS, MORE COHO

47

KEEPING IT IN THE FAMILY The women of Homer’s charter boat fishing community have made their mark, as our correspondent Dave Zoby chronicled in a March profile. Another female skipper among the Homer crew, Shannon Zanone, is featured by Zoby this month, along with the family-owned business she captains for, including the female deckhand known simply as “C.”

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GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN … HUNTING

If you think this is the summer of silvers in Alaska, then you’re on the right track. As you’ll see in this issue, king salmon stocks are struggling badly throughout the Last Frontier, but coho are much more plentiful. In part two of a special From Field to Fire series, Scott Haugen offers up more secrets for scoring limits of silvers. And in her half of their column, chef Tiffany Haugen fires up the grill with a tasty game-bird-venison-pineapple-and-veggie kebab recipe!

15 The Editor’s Note 17 Alaska Beat: A lost season for Chinook 21 Outdoor Calendar 22 Kenai Silver Salmon Derby preview 62 Bear baiting station checklist

Bjorn Dihle, a longtime Southeast Alaska sportsman, gained new perspective while hunting with his three nieces, who have all become quite the adept hunters themselves. “Kiah, Adella and Braith … taught me that just about all my conceptions of what it meant to be a girl were wrong,” Dihle writes in this coming-of-age blacktail-hunting tale, where the adult grew as much as the youngsters did – if not more.

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, 941 Powell Ave SW, Suite 120, Renton, WA 98057 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 © 2022 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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I

ncluding this month’s piece on September’s Kenai Silver Salmon Derby (page 22), I’ve written previews for several 2022 Alaska fishing contests in recent issues, adding Kenai’s derby to the Homer Winter King Salmon Tournament, the various Valdez Fish Derbies and events and the Seward Silver Salmon Derby, which takes place this month. In all of those instances, I have been impressed with the enthusiasm tournament organizers and the communities have for hosting these contests, which serve the dual purposes of giving anglers a chance to catch big fish for big money and showcase the cities/regions to visitors and participants. And as you’ll see this month, it’s hard to not root for a successful turnout at the Kenai Silver Derby. Besides the unique format – the heaviest fish doesn’t claim the daily prizes to discourage anglers from releasing smaller silvers – proceeds from ticket sales and sponsors will fund a Kenai River habitat restoration project to be determined. That’s important, as like many fish-

EDITOR’S NOTE

eries in Alaska, the Kenai’s king salmon runs are struggling. In our Alaska Beat news feature this month (page 17), we list several waters where Chinook fishing is closed or limited to catch and release. State managers announced that the Kenai, one of the state’s iconic salmon rivers, would close for king fishing July 17-31, and retention of kings was not allowed during the dip-netting season. The state also announced that Kenai River anglers had to fish with unbaited single hooks and artificial lures only from Aug. 1-15. As with so many other locales throughout the state, Kenai residents are angry about low returns of kings that are prompting closures. “It’s incredibly frustrating. It not only impacts our sportfishing, but with the low abundance of kings because it’s a mixed stock, it impacts our commercial fishery as well,” Kenai city manager and derby cofounder Paul Ostrander told me, reinforcing the approach his city’s fishing derby has taken to help protect coho salmon as well. “The fish stocks in the area, some of

them are in a time of very low abundance – king salmon in particular. So we think it’s really important for people to be responsible when they’re out fishing. And this certainly advocates for that. So it is a really important concept. And the other thing is, when we talk to (Alaska Department of) Fish and Game, if it ever gets to the point where they’re concerned about coho abundance, we would cancel the derby. We haven’t had to do that.” Let’s hope it stays that way. Ostrander and others are considering salmon projects to fund with proceeds from previous and upcoming derbies. One he mentioned would help restore Kenai River tributary habitat that young coho utilize. Could that also benefit the river’s Chinook runs? “I don't know what the impact of preserving the small tributaries is for our king stock, but it likely could protect the king stock as well,” Ostrander says. “Anything that could help protect the river and is going to improve the habitat is going to make it better for those fish.” We’re rooting for you, Kenai River! -Chris Cocoles

King salmon retention on the Kenai River was curtailed in July, including for dipnetters. The low runs are causing a lot of angst and frustration around the community, which will still carry on with its silver salmon derby in September. (KENAI SILVER SALMON DERBY) aksportingjournal.com | AUGUST 2022

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ALASKA BEAT TWEET OF THE MONTH The waters have been murky in recent years for king salmon in Alaska and this summer the state has seen plenty of fishery closures and restrictions. (KATRINA MUELLER/USFWS)

THE (NOT SO GOOD) RETURN OF THE KING I t’s been a far hotter than normal start to summer in Alaska, which has meant dry terrain and plenty of wildfires (more on that later). But summer has also meant a constant barrage of Alaska Department of Fish and Game press releases limiting and often closing king salmon fishing in various sections of the state. Here’s part of a list of restrictions announced this spring and summer: • April 7: King salmon fishing closed on Kuskokwim River • April 13: King salmon fishing closed on Situk River • April 14: King salmon (and chum) fishing closed on Yukon River • April 25: Hatchery king salmon fishing only allowed on Kuskokwim River drainage • May 30: Early-run Kenai River king salmon fishing limited to catch and release • June 15: Copper River king salmon fishing limited to catch and release • June 16: Little Susitna River king salmon fishing closed • June 20: Susitna River king salmon fishing closed • July 11: Chignik River king salmon fishing closed Some of these fisheries reopened on a limited basis, but clearly 2022 is not the year of the king. ADFG biologist Lee Borden, talking about a reduction limit for kings on Bristol Bay’s famed Nushagak-Mulchatna Rivers’ drainage, could have been talking about multiple fisheries in the state when discussing a river in his territory. “This year’s run has fallen behind on the projection curve,” he said. “With the possibility of the escapement goal not being met, we are taking a conservative approach with this restriction to slow down inriver sport harvest.” To keep up with the changes, go to adfg.alaska.gov. Meanwhile, here’s to better days ahead for Alaska’s iconic salmon royalty.

Each week on our website, aksportingjournal.com, we feature a YouTube video from the account Raised in Alaska. Subscribe to get all of their videos and follow them on Twitter (@akkingon).

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The asking price for the famed Bristol Bay Lodge in Aleknagik, which went on sale last month for $9.5 million. For more information, check out the listing by Hall and Hall realtors on its website, hallhall.com.

aksportingjournal.com | AUGUST 2022

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FROM THE ASJ ARCHIVES – AUGUST 2016

ALASKAN ‘SALMON SISTERS’ ACT IS PRETTY FISHY

W

e didn’t want to give up fishing in the summer but needed some fulltime, year-round employment,” Claire [Neaton] says. “So we started Salmon Sisters.” The ladies wanted to create a clothing line durable enough to handle the unpredictable conditions for Alaskans, but also with a stylistic and creative touch that buyers “would feel good about wearing,” Claire says. Claire majored in business at Vermont and figured she would utilize that degree to sell fresh and wild seafood for a processor. Emma’s Williams degree was in studio art and English, so with one sister’s understanding of how to start and maintain business and Emma’s artistic touch – plus their love of all things fish – why not combine it all and make good use of their time in the offseason? “She’s always sketching something or dreaming (up an idea); she just excels at it,” Claire says of Emma [Teal Laukitis]. “I can’t draw anything.” “I actually get a lot of my ideas from my sister and my dad,” adds Emma. They started out modestly – creating a few designs for apparel meant for family and close friends. But as they wore hoodies with their own artwork, it started to sink in how symbolic the gesture was and the reaction they received. Claire recalled a defining moment when they were delivering fresh halibut in Dutch Harbor. “‘This is us; we fish here and this is our identity and I feel so proud to wear this,’” she remembers being told. “It was such a good representation to what we were all about. We started screen-printing rockfish or salmon on shirts and they were received so well by our peers and we were so excited to wear them. And we just can’t thank Alaskans enough for supporting us.” -Chris Cocoles

THEY SAID IT “Our back-to-back low salmon returns have been devastating to Chignik’s communities. Wild salmon has been the backbone of our culture for millennia. Without wild salmon, our cultural identity and our food supply is in jeopardy.”

–George Anderson, president of the Chignik Intertribal Coalition, reacting to a new program, Fish to Families, which will distribute Bristol Bay salmon to Alaska communities with struggling runs of fish.

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FANNING THE FLAMES Bristol Bay’s Pebble Mine opponents obviously had karma vibes when a portion of the Lime Complex fire destroyed equipment at a Pebble Partnership supply camp the corporation was using for exploratory purposes as the proposed copper and gold mine is on hold. Pressure has mounted on the Environmental Protection Agency to implement permanent protections and shut down the mine for good, but this mishap allowed opposition to go scorchedearth after the fire literally created scorched earth. “The proposed Pebble Mine’s supply camp at headwaters of Bristol Bay burned to the ground in a wildfire, leaving a charred mess of melted metal on state land. Meanwhile, July 11, Bristol Bay’s fishing fleet broke its harvest record, reaching 46,564,310 sockeye salmon harvested,” the press release stated. “The contrast between the charred mess of the proposed Pebble Mine’s helicoptered-in materials and the sustainable, record-breaking, world treasure of the Bristol Bay sockeye salmon run could not be more clear.” Tim Bristol, SalmonState’s executive director, was also clear in his own destruction of the project. “This mess is a prime example of how unable the Pebble Partnership is to predict, prevent and respond to climate-change-driven events like wildfires and extreme weather – and showcases the risks of locating a giant open pit and waste site at the headwaters of the greatest sockeye salmon fishery in the world,” Bristol said. “Twenty years of fighting this ill-conceived idea is enough.”


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The Seward Silver Salmon Derby is set for Aug. 13-21. Go to seward.com/salmonderby for more information.

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Aug. 1 Deer and goat seasons open in Game Management Unit 1 (Southeast Mainland) Aug. 1 Deer season opens in GMU 2 (Prince of Wales Island) Aug. 1 Wolf season opens in GMU 3 (Petersburg/Wrangell) Aug. 1 Goat season opens in GMU 4 (Baranof Island) Aug. 1 Goat season opens in GMU 5 (Yakutat) Aug. 1 Caribou season opens in GMU 9D (Alaska Peninsula) Aug. 10 Caribou season opens in GMU 7 (Seward, north of the Sterling Highway and west of the Seward Highway) Aug. 10 Caribou season opens in GMUs 9C (south of the north bank of the Naknek River) and 9E Aug. 12-14 Golden North Salmon Derby, Juneau (goldennorthsalmonderby.com) Aug. 12-Sept. 4 Valdez Tagged Fish Contest (valdezfishderbies.com/tagged-fish-contest) Aug. 13 Valdez Women’s Silver Salmon Derby (valdezfishderbies.com/womens-derby) Aug. 13-21 Seward Silver Salmon Derby (seward.com/event/ 67th-annual-silver-salmon-derby/10) Aug. 15 Goat season opens in GMU 1C (Revillagigedo Island South) Aug. 17-19 Ted Stevens Kenai River Classic; krsa.com/events/ ted-stevens-kenai-river-classic Aug. 20 Goat season opens in GMU 6A/B (North Gulf Coast Prince William Sound) Aug. 20 Caribou season opens in GMU 8 (Kodiak) Sept. 13-18 Kenai Silver Salmon Derby (kenaisilversalmonderby.com)

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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 Covid-19 pandemic. aksportingjournal.com | AUGUST 2022

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WELCOME TO ‘TH MOST RESPONSIB FISHING TOURNA CONSERVATION OVER SIZE THE PRIORITY IN KENAI SILVER DERBY

BY CHRIS COCOLES

S

almon and halibut fishing derbies make for some of Alaska’s most popular – not to mention profitable – activities throughout the year, particularly in summer. The community of Kenai, located at the mouth of the iconic Last Frontier river of the same name, also takes pride in its now annual event, the Kenai Silver Salmon Derby. Now in its fifth edition, the 2022 event is set for Sept. 13-18. “I was incredibly excited last year to see it grow to the point that it did, and I’m going to be really excited to see this derby continue to grow,” says Paul Ostrander, Kenai city manager and one of the founders of the tournament. “There’s not as much notoriety around this Kenai Silver Salmon Derby as (derbies in) Valdez or Seward, or even the Homer Winter King Derby, but this derby is something that I think once people are aware of it and recognize, one, the significant cash that they could (win), but also just the fact that it’s a really unique derby that does things in a different way.”

CONSERVATION OVER SIZE Sure enough, as Ostrander and a colleague at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce – Brendyn Shiflea – brainstormed half a decade ago to start a fishing contest in the Kenai River, they had something a little different in mind. 22

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THE WORLD’S IBLE NAMENT’

The community of Kenai takes pride in its unique conservation-first fishing contest, which organizers of the Kenai Silver Salmon Derby tout as “The World’s Most Responsible Fishing Tournament.” (KENAI SILVER SALMON DERBY) aksportingjournal.com | AUGUST 2022

ALASKA SPORTING JOURNAL

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“As we began working on it we realized that to make it best for the resource and the fish, we’d have to modify it from your normal big-fish derby to one that would have less of an impact on fish,” Ostrander says. “So we worked with our local (Alaska Department of Fish and Game staff) and we proposed that we use this ‘magic weight’ to determine the winner. And what that does is it encourages folks to not catch and release as many silvers to win.” ADFG officials and the tournament organizers agreed that the mortality rate for Kenai River coho salmon recently arriving from saltwater would be high if anglers participating in a more traditional derby were releasing more smaller fish in the hopes of scoring the biggest salmon. “So we wanted to make sure that

folks weren’t going to be practicing catch and release trying to get that big fish,” Ostrander says.

THE MAGIC SHOW So how does the magic weight fit into the tournament’s format? The concept started in a garage, where Ostrander and his father built two wheels that would be spun at the end of each fishing day to determine that session’s winner. Each coho brought in by derby participants – tickets cost $10 a day, $50 for the entire length of the six-day event – must weigh at least 4 pounds, but the daily winner plus overall adult and youth winners won’t be based on the heaviest fish brought to the weighin station. Rather, the first wheel – marked between 4 and 14 – gets a spin, and

It’s not necessarily the heaviest fish that will win the daily and overall prizes at this derby. Spins of two custom-made wheels will determine a “magic weight” and the lucky angler whose coho is closest to that mark, wins. (KENAI SILVER SALMON DERBY) 24

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whatever number it lands on marks the magic weight in pounds. Wheel No. 2, labeled 0 to 9, then gets two spins to determine tenth and hundredth of pounds. “If you spin a 7, a 0 and an 8, it’s 7.08 pounds. That’s the magic weight. And whoever’s closer – above or below – wins the daily prize,” Ostrander says. “And then, at the end of the derby following (the last day) over at the chamber, we spin one more time. Every fish that was entered in the derby qualifies for the final spin, regardless if you won a daily prize or not. We spin the magic wheels one more time for the adult winner and the youth winner.” The daily prizes last year included $100 for daily winners and $5,000 for the final spin for adults, and $50 a day and $1,000 overall for youth anglers.



“Last year was our biggest year ever and we’d like to see it continue to grow into the future,” says Ostrander of the Kenai Silver Salmon Derby. (KENAI SILVER SALMON DERBY)

G P

D “So in total, we paid out almost $7,000 in cash prizes,” Ostrander says. All in the name of conservation and bolstering derby organizers’ tout that they run the “World’s Most Responsible Fishing Tournament.”

FISHING FOR A GOOD CAUSE The proceeds from the tickets sold in all the tournaments – Ostrander said last year’s event sold an all-time high 194, and has been steadily increasing during most of its short run – plus additional sponsorship donations will eventually be used for a Kenai River restoration project that is being mulled. “The whole concept behind it is not only conservation of the resource being the fish, but also protecting and conserving the river. We’ve been accumulating the revenues from the derby over the previous five years, and we have the anticipation of trying to conduct a significant project that would benefit the river. And this year we started looking at possible projects,” Ostrander says. “We haven’t pulled the trigger on any of them yet, but we want to make sure the project is highly visible to the public and makes a meaningful, positive impact to 26

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the river. So we’re being selective.” One possible idea Ostrander and his colleagues have discussed focuses on restoration work on several small Kenai River tributaries located in and around the community. The plan would partner the derby and Kenai Chamber of Commerce with the Kenai Watershed Forum and other agencies. Ostrander says it’s surprising how important “these small little trickles are, particularly to coho stocks.” “They’re not for spawning, but for the rearing of the smolts that are just all over in these little streams,” he says. “So protecting those and increasing the quality of the habitat along those streams is all really critically important to preserving coho stocks.”

COMMUNITY PRIDE Sponsorship from local Kenai businesses has been crucial for growing this conservation-first fishing contest in its short history. Ostrander talked about the companies that lended their financial support to the 2021 Kenai Silver Salmon Derby.

AUGUST 2022 | aksportingjournal.com

“We had Marathon Oil, Tote Maritime, Kenai Coolers, First National Bank of Alaska, IGA Country Foods (grocery store), Buckets (sports bar and grill), the Cannery Lodge (hotel), Little Alaskan (children’s clothing store), East Rip (Kenai marijuana dispensary), and Northrim Bank,” Ostrander says. “Our total sponsorship was over $13,000.” And it’s that upward trend for this unique derby, which is still in its infancy, that has the Kenai community so enthusiastic about the future. “It’s something that has seen slow and steady growth, but it’s been something that I certainly have been pushing and the chamber’s been engaged. Last year was our biggest year ever and we’d like to see it continue to grow into the future,” Ostrander says. “It’s been really encouraging to see, and the number of sponsors over the years I think tells you that people are interested in it. And, of course, with the sponsors’ participation, the prizes increase.” ASJ Editor’s note: For ticket and event information, go to kenaisilversalmonderby.com.


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ADD-ONS CATCH COHO DRESSING UP SPINNERS, SPOONS WITH SPINYRAYWORLD PLASTICS, HOOCHIES, FLYTYING MATERIAL BY RANDALL BONNER

C

asting and retrieving spinners and twitching jigs are pretty standard approaches for targeting coho. But the versatility of spoons allows anglers to combine elements of metal and fur from both tactics to catch fish that have often seen the same two techniques again and again. Fished with a steady retrieve, drift and/or a few twitches in the mix, the combination of flash with the erratic movement of natural materials are the best of both worlds. Given that there are always circumstances in which a spinner or twitching jig are better options, a spoon can effectively target coho in some situations that aren’t fishable with other conventional methods. The variety of components available to customize spoons allows the lure to be fished in different environments with different depths and current speeds. When throwing into brush, having a single hook on a split ring with the point facing up from the concave side of the spoon allows the slow wobble from side to side to slide over limbs without snagging up, making it a deadly presentation for the mangrove of willows and timber that makes the Yakutat’s Situk River known for its incredible coho habitat.

HEAD ON A SWIVEL Swivels are a necessary component

Author Randall Bonner with a Situk River silver salmon. He likes to work the stream using spoons tipped with materials that give his lures more life, making them a more versatile option to traditional coho spinners and twitched jigs. (RANDALL BONNER) aksportingjournal.com | AUGUST 2022

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Sometimes, getting the blade to turn over requires those first few cranks of the reel during the first few feet of your retrieve, meaning you’re not actually fishing effectively until you’re beyond the strike zone of those fish hanging tight to the brush along the banks. Fished alone, a spoon has a very limited range of motion with a very tight wobble and sinks much faster, meaning it’s probably going to find snags before it finds a biter.

’ADDING’ IT ALL UP

This coho absolutely ate a yellow plastic curltail grub threaded onto the hook of a blue spoon. (RANDALL BONNER)

to building a spoon, but different configurations serve different purposes. While a swivel on the tail end of a spoon attached to a hook may help prevent a spinning coho from spitting the hook, it does very little for line twist during your retrieve. A swivel built into a split ring on the top of a spoon will help prevent line twist while minimizing the profile of the components. A snap swivel is a slightly larger component, but allows an angler to swap out presentations faster and more effectively. The usefulness of this feature will become evident when a noticeable difference in environmental conditions (sunlight, water clarity, etc.) occurs, turning the fish off to one color and on to another with a brief moment to make those game-changing decisions. 30

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SHALLOW WATER HAZARDS Coho that are resting in the current breaks of brushlines are often settled into very shallow areas with lots of potential snags. These areas hold lots of fish that see very little pressure because they’re difficult to target with conventional methods of twitching jigs, spinners and even spoons. Twitching jigs fall into the zone quickly, but shallow water leaves very little room for their range of motion, which is reduced even more by the presence of snags. A spinner may be more effective in this kind of water, but if the fish are tight to the bank, the effectiveness of the action from a spinner is reduced from the moment it hits the water until the retrieve begins the spin of the blade around the body.

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Beyond snaps, swivels, split rings, hooks, and configurations, add-ons that turn the spoon into an articulated/jointed profile not only create a deadly presentation that will draw the attention of finicky biters and pressured fish, but change the sink rate and action of the lure so you can fish areas that other anglers avoid all-together. One example of a popular add-on to a metal presentation is a hoochie squid, especially when it comes to spinners. Even with the tight rotation of the blade, the wire body and hook built into these lures will spin. The addition of a hoochie skirt will provide colorful movement to the flash of the blade, with the rotating tentacles spinning like the bristles on a drive-thru car wash or a tutu on a dancing ballerina. Hoochie skirts move a little differently on a spoon, but they create a wider, more erratic articulated side-to-side motion, like a kokanee dodger that can be fished at a much slower retrieve, or jerked and twitched midretrieve to make it turn over. Using a hoochie in combination with crystal flash or tinsel will reflect more light from the full profile of the lure, while the addition of darker colors can create a presentation with more contrast. Tying hoochie skirts on a hook with a vise before building them into a split ring on the tail end of a spoon will not only prevent them from sliding down the hook, but allow you to be creative with your add-ons (more on that later).

PLASTIC POWER One of the most simple add-ons for hardware is soft plastics. They’re easy to thread onto the hook and remove to replace or change presentations, which might be their best and worst attributes. Most soft plastics don’t hold up quite as well as the plastics from a hoochie squid



“Marabou, tinsel, chenille, rabbit fur, and other fly-tying materials can be tied onto a hook with a vise for a more permanent solution that is a little more aesthetically pleasing,” the author writes. (RANDALL BONNER)

The sun provides quite a backdrop for anglers fishing for Situk silvers. (RANDALL BONNER) 32

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and need to be frequently replaced. Different shapes and styles of soft plastics create different movements. For example, a trimmed-down steelhead worm might create more subtle articulated motion and a faster fall than the resistance from a curly tail grub. While I’ve fished jetty spinners with hoochies for Chinook, I never really dove too far into experimenting with soft plastics on hardware until I did a season of guiding for coho on the Situk. Back home, I had plenty of success targeting coho on spinners on coastal rivers, and adding anything else to them seemed like overkill. One day, a client was leaving Yakutat on a jet and asked me if I wanted a few packs of curly tailed crappie grubs from Bass Pro Shops he was planning to leave behind. “I’m not sure how I would use those, but it’s hard to resist free tackle, so sure; I’ll take em!” A few days later, I was fishing spinners during what seemed to me like a slow bite until I kept passing other guide boats that were roping in fish. I


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The bears are also here for the salmon! (RANDALL BONNER)

The fishing can be tricky depending on the conditions, so have different add-ons for your spoons and spinners to increase your chances of scoring salmon limits. (RANDALL BONNER)

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paid close attention to what they were using, and to my frustration, all of them were throwing spinners too. This made me question what they were doing differently that was working for them but not for me. I began to notice that I was the only guide without a hoochie on my client’s spinners, and also realized I didn’t have any in my tackle box. What I did have were those crappie grubs given to me by a client a few days ago, and nothing to lose by giving them a try. I found myself in somewhat of a survival situation that made me recall a quote by Theodore Roosevelt: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” I grabbed a crappie grub with a black body and chartreuse-tail, which was the same color pattern as my most effective twitching jig that week, threaded the soft plastic on the hook of a chrome spinner and sent it into battle. That became my “ah-ha moment.” My so-called “luck” changed almost immediately and turned the second half of the day into an action-packed afternoon of catching coho. I never threw another naked spinner the rest of that season.

SPOON MAGIC Another part of this learning curve happened when I was having a conversation with a client who had been having luck on a spoon with a hoochie that I found in a snag and tied onto the lure. The angler had otherwise been struggling to get their spinner to turn over with the slow and erratic retrieve the situation called for. I explained how the action of the spoon actually made it easier to fish in certain situations, like shallow-water brush lines. Enthusiastic about wanting to try throwing the spoons he had brought, he reached into his tackle box and tied one on but without a trailer, tossing it into a shallow brushline at a visible group of fish. We watched his spoons sink like shiny rocks and get caught in snags. Recalling that I still had all those crappie grubs, I threaded one on a spoon for him and it was like hitting a switch. The sink rate of that spoon changed drastically and the bite was on again. Another difference I noticed fishing


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metal was that fish would often violently strike a spinner during a retrieve and immediately spit it out while the clients never even knew there was a bite. Once I began to add soft plastics to metal, I observed multiple occasions where the fish not only chomped the presentation, but completely inhaled the hook with the soft plastic trailer beyond their gills, which is something to consider for catch-and-release fisheries. Regardless, they stopped spitting out the spinners and allowed more time for clients to react. Soft plastics are less durable and typically only useful for a fish or two before they begin to slide down the hook, but they are convenient to replace or change color combinations on the fly. Marabou, tinsel, chenille, rabbit fur and other fly-tying materials can be tied onto a hook with a vise for a more permanent solution that is a little more aesthetically pleasing. These materials will add additional color and flash to the profile, but with less resistance than soft plastics when moving through the water column for a tighter wobble and a faster sink rate that doesn’t compromise

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the size of the profile and its articulated motion. The erratic movements are a little more sharp and fish better with a faster retrieve or with more twitches and jerks. When tying materials to your hook, bear in mind that they will be matted down once they’re wet. Long pieces of marabou will be thin and extend well beyond the hook, which along with the fact it will taste like a mouth full of feathers, might create more potential for short bites.

CHOOSE THE RIGHT COLORS Regardless of what you add, color combinations can really come into play with varying conditions. When creating color schemes, you might want to think in the same terms of your selections for twitching jigs and spinners. On sunny days, when you might reach for a chrome spinner or a black and chartreuse twitching jig, a chrome spoon with a black body and chartreuse tail grub is a go-to combo. While fishing with fellow writers Dave Vedder and Scott Sauder on the Situk, I was excited to show them the pattern that had been working so well

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for me that week, but in the afternoon clouds rolled in and the bite died. Dave mentioned he liked throwing brass, gold, and copper on cloudy or rainy days, so I pulled out a copper spoon with a red/ orange/yellow flame pattern tied on the hook with marabou, rabbit fur and tinsel that I hadn’t tried yet and found success. On similar days with similar conditions, a copper spoon with an orange curly tail grub did well for me, even when visibility wasn’t ideal. A white-chrome-patterned R&B spoon with a trimmed-down section of a Seahawk-pattern Western Fishing Operations worm on the hook seemed to work well when nothing else would. On partly cloudy days with lots of light in low, clear water, black spoons with pink trailers, pink chrome with purple trailers, and blue chrome with chartreuse trailers also seemed to work well. These additional luxury options to the standard configurations will expand the possibilities and opportunities for catching more fish. Understanding the tactical versatility of add-ons for spoons makes spoon-feeding silver salmon a bowl of fun! ASJ




FIELD

MAKE IT YOUR BEST COHO YEAR MORE TIPS FOR LIMITING OUT ON SILVERS (SECOND OF TWO PARTS) BY SCOTT HAUGEN

L

ast month we looked at targeting coho in a single hole three ways: twitching jigs, drifting soft beads and casting lures. This month we’re picking up where we left off. The purpose of my coho focus is intentional: to take pressure off Alaska’s prized king salmon, runs of which are diminishing and have been for years. Coho are plentiful in many rivers and streams, can be caught from shore, can be fished for many ways, are hard fighters and they taste great. The coho season is also long in many places; they can be fished from late July into early November, with August and September being prime time.

FLOAT FISHING COHO Not long ago I fished a deep, fast-moving section of water with a buddy. He fished a spinner, but couldn’t get it down through the heavy water. I switched to cured eggs suspended beneath a float and concentrated on hitting the seams on either side of the fast water he fished. I had to add a ½-ounce weight to get the bait down, but it worked. On the first cast I caught a big coho right where my buddy had been casting lures. I don’t care how old you are; watching a float go under never grows old. It’s even more exciting when you know the fish that just pulled it down could be a 15-pound coho. Beneath a float you can suspend eggs,

Author Scott Haugen has been coho fishing throughout Alaska for over 30 years, and he regards them as the salmon species that could most help alleviate pressure on dwindling Chinook runs. (SCOTT HAUGEN) aksportingjournal.com | AUGUST 2022

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FIELD

½ teaspoon salt ½ teaspoon pepper

BIRD MARINADE ⅓ cup orange juice 2 tablespoons soy sauce 2 to 3 cloves minced garlic ½ teaspoon red chili flakes

From birds to big game – even mixed meat – use your outdoor grill to cook up some delicious kebabs for a summer meal via this Tiffany Haugen recipe. (TIFFANY HAUGEN)

FIRE UP THE GRILL WITH TANGY KEBABS BY TIFFANY HAUGEN

A

ugust in Alaska means grilling season! If looking for an easyto-prepare meal ahead of time, look no further than simple grilled kebabs. Regardless of the meat you have available – be it fresh from the field or taken from the freezer – kebabs can be customized to please any eater. Most everyone loves moose meat, but any venison or big game meat will work in this recipe. The same goes for birds.

Ducks and geese can be cooked up, as can sandhill cranes, grouse, pheasants from a preserve, even turkey you may have taken in another state or bought at the store. When using multiple meats, try marinating them in their own separate brine to enhance the flavor of an all-meat kebab. Many fruits and vegetables taste great when paired with wild game on a kebab, and they need no extra seasonings. It’s summer, so get creative and throw some kebabs on the grill. You’ll love it!

MIXED GAME KEBABS 1 pound venison 1 pound bird breast One onion One bell pepper Half a pineapple

VENISON MARINADE 2 tablespoons raspberry balsamic vinegar 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 40

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Chop both the venison and bird breasts into bite-sized chunks. Place venison in a medium bowl, add venison marinade ingredients and stir well. Cover and refrigerate for six to 12 hours. Place birds in another medium bowl, add bird marinade and stir well. Cover and refrigerate for six to 12 hours. Prepare onion, bell pepper, pineapple and any other desired kebab additions by chopping into bite-sized chunks. When ready to assemble kebabs, drain and discard meat marinades and thread meat, fruits and vegetables onto skewers. Let meat sit at room temperature 10 to 15 minutes before grilling. Heat grill to medium-high heat. Lubricate grill grates and place kebabs a few inches apart. Close grill and cook two to three minutes. Carefully turn kebabs every few minutes for even cooking on all sides.

PRECOOKING TIP If you didn’t get rid of all the bloodshot and silver skin prior to freezing your big game meat or game birds, do it before cooking. Any remaining blood will result in a wild flavor, while any sinew or silver skin will make the meat tough. Wild game, even game birds, can get a bad rap for being gamey tasting. It all comes down to proper field care and making sure the meat is clean prior to freezing, and cooking it. Editor’s note: For signed copies of Tiffany Haugen’s popular book, Cooking Big Game, send a check for $20 to Haugen Enterprises, P.O. Box 275, Walterville, OR 97489 or visit scotthaugen.com for this and other titles.



FIELD

Well-cured eggs are likely the best coho bait there is, and they can be fished multiple ways. (SCOTT HAUGEN)

jigs, plastic worms or beads. The idea is to drift the terminal gear at the natural flow rate of the river, keeping it off the bottom so it doesn’t get hung up but stays in the strike zone, where salmon can see and smell it. Bobber fishing is the best way I know to cover water. By using a sliding ⅛or ¼-ounce float threaded onto 30-pound braided mainline, you can fish a lot of water. Prior to putting the float on your line, slide a bobber stop and a 3mm bead up the line, in that order. The stop becomes your depth regulator and the bead keeps the stop from passing through the float. Slip the float up the line and tie the braid to a size 7 barrel swivel. The leader, tied to the other end of the barrel swivel, can be as short as a foot for fishing shallow water. This will allow you to slide the float tight to the other end of the swivel and fish in shallow water, then slide it up the line as the water deepens. 42

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Try keeping the bait or jig a foot or so off the bottom in most situations. In the right conditions within a coho hole, you can fish multiple seams, ledges, chutes, eddies and breaks, which could range from a foot to 20 feet deep, with this one setup. Using eggs with scent is hard to beat, but in faster water, a jig, rubber worm or bead can be used. Experiment with different presentations throughout the hole.

POPPER FUN A favorite way for many anglers to catch coho is on the surface. A buddy from the Lower 48 once joined me on the Egegik River. “All I want to do is catch a coho on a surface popper,” he clearly said. Mind you, this man had fished throughout Alaska for decades and caught loads of coho, but he’d never fished for them with poppers. The morning was calm; the river, like

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glass. On his first cast, my buddy slowly chugged and retrieved the plug. It was nearly back to his feet when a slow, gentle swirl took shape behind the surface popper. Another, more aggressive swirl lunged at the plug. Then the pink popper disappeared and the line went tight. The fish hooked itself. Soon, my friend was admiring a 13-pound bright hen, his first coho on his first cast with a popper. He caught and released five more coho on the popper, then sat on the bank for the next few hours. He sipped coffee, took in the beautiful sunrise and watched friends catch fish. He’d accomplished his goal and from that point on, all else was a bonus. When starting the day in a coho hole, I like fishing poppers first. This technique will attract the most aggressive biters. The more fish you hook, the slower the surface bite can become, as the frenzy pushes fish deeper into the hole or forces them to relocate. Then again, if fresh coho keep showing up, you can hook salmon all day long. One morning I had 29 silvers attack my fly popper, but I landed less than half. I don’t know why, but coho miss a lot of takes on the surface. Nonetheless, seeing multiple big boils engulfing a popper is addicting. Poppers can be drifted, swung, slowly stripped and forcefully chugged. Start with the most subtle of approaches so as not to spook fish. Once a few fish have been fought and the water disturbed, you can get more aggressive in an effort to catch their attention.

RODS AND REELS Whether packing multiple rods or only a couple, get an all-purpose spinning setup when looking to fish for coho multiple ways. When I’m traveling on bush planes and wanting to conserve space, I like a G.Loomis Escape GLX three-piece spinning rod. This 7-foot rod has a fast action, a medium power, a lure weight rating of ¼- to ⅝-ounce, plus a line weight of 10 to 17 pounds. If packing multiple rods on a trip, the E6X 9-foot, 6-inch 1145-2S is a very versatile option. This longer rod allows many methods to be precisely fished, and the fast action and medium-heavy


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FIELD

If you’ve never fished topwater poppers for coho, you’re in for a treat. This photo shows the author’s favorite color option. (SCOTT HAUGEN)

weight are perfect for hooking and battling coho. Always take at least two rods in case one breaks. As for reels, I’m partial to Shimano’s Stradic CI14+. Its low profile makes it easy to travel with and it’s very durable. The smooth drag system and overall performance of this reel make it perfect for fishing multiple approaches in a range of water types, be it with braided line or a copolymer. This fall, concentrate on reading a single hole and figuring out where coho hold and move within that hole. From there, don’t be afraid to try multiple techniques to catch those fish, for once you get dialed in, catching coho from one hole in multiple ways can be both rewarding and addicting. ASJ Editor’s note: For signed copies of Scott Haugen’s best-selling book, Egg Cures: Proven Recipes & Techniques, or to book an Alaskan coho fishing adventure with him, visit scotthaugen.com. Follow Scott on Instagram and Facebook.

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BORN FOR IT A FAMILY-RUN AND HEAVILY FEMALE CHARTER COMPANY IS SHAPING THE HOMER FISHING INDUSTRY BY DAVID ZOBY

C Shannon Zanone is the captain of the Homer fleet charter boat Snow Goose II. She’s one of several prominent women in the community’s fishing industry and is happy to work for a family-owned company there. (DAVID ZOBY)

apt. Shannon Zanone steered the Snow Goose II in the light chop between Elizabeth and Perl Islands. We already had our halibut limit of two fish apiece, and now we wanted to round off the trip with limits of rockfish. Shannon scanned her electronics and checked the depth: 156 feet. Six of us, all men in our 50s and up, stood on the deck and waited for her to make the call. Deckhand Ciara Lambert – “C” as she is known in the fleet – had switched us over from heavy halibut gear to lighter jigging

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rods with spoons. “OK; drop ’em,” said Shannon. I watched as my silver jig disappeared. In the distance I could see the Barren Islands, and further still, Mount Augustine, a semidormant volcano which rises out of the sea. “The other day it was 8-foot swells out here,” C told us. “We wouldn’t be out here in that.” Jigging for rockfish in these remote areas – we were 40-plus miles out of Homer – is a fast-paced and exciting

style of fishing. You never know what you are going to pull up. The limit is five rockfish, only one of which can be nonpelagic. And though we had doctors and financial whizzes on board as clients, none of us really knew much about which species was which. C told us to make sure we kept track of our fish ourselves. She set out – a blur on the deck – releasing fish into the fish hold, untangling lines and marking fish so the clients would know which were theirs at the end of the day.

Deckhand and now captain Ciara Lambert, known as “C” on the boats, is another part of the business her brother Garrett co-owns with his wife Desiree, D&G Charters. (DAVID ZOBY) 48

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Shannon reset the drift, making sure we went over the pinnacles that surge up from the sea floor in dramatic fashion. Occasionally, she called out our depth. She ran back and forth between the captain’s chair and the deck. I peeked at the screen to see blips of blue connoting schools of rockfish. While reeling up a rockfish, I felt a heavy jolt on the line. The drag sang a bit. “Color!” I called out. But I wasn’t sure what I was seeing: A huge lingcod – C later estimated it to be well over 40 inches –


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twisted in clear water beneath the Snow Goose II. The quillback rockfish shed scales, but otherwise had accepted its fate. “Whoa. Shannon, come see this,” said C. The lingcod swam with the rockfish in its jaws. I haven’t kept a lingcod in over five years; either I can’t catch any or, when I do, they are out of season; or the ones I catch in season are under the 35-inch minimum. Lingcod season was closed when I fished with C and Shannon, so there was nothing to do but watch as the ling tenderized my quillback. After chewing on my fish, he let go and spiraled into the depths. C explained that June is when these fish spawn and they are more aggressive. As the summer goes, lingcod become

harder to catch. “When I was running the boat last year I had my sister, Callie, as a deckhand,” C said. “With lingcod, I told her ‘If it scares you, kill it.’ Those things are prehistoric.”

AFTER LIMITING OUT ON rockfish, we took photos of the deck awash in fish, then headed back to town. Shannon said she’d stop if she saw any whales. After all, like many of the upstart captains I have met over the past seasons, Shannon began in Homer on an ecotour. She worked on one of the larger vessels that take people to Gull Island

“I took my captain’s course over the winter, and I was planning on just deck-handing for another year. But then the captain for this vessel fell through. I was asked if I would step up,” Shannon says about how she became a charter skipper. (DAVID ZOBY) 50

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to see the seabirds and otters. Daily runs to Seldovia, and the occasional humpback sighting left her wanting more. Shannon drifted to the high-octane lifestyle of charter fishing, where no day is like another. Fishing 100 days straight in all types of conditions with all types of clients, she found her home working as a deckhand under David Bayes on the Current Lady, one of the more modern, high-tech boats in the Homer harbor. “I took my captain’s course over the winter and I was planning on just deckhanding for another year. But then the captain for this vessel fell through. I was asked if I would step up,” said Shannon. “This year it’s a lot more of a mind game


thinking through the different aspects of the tide and the weather. Thinking through the entire day, from top to bottom, is something I’ve never done before. I touch a lot less fish, which is kind of disappointing, but I really enjoy this part of it.”

SHANNON DESCRIBES HOMER AS a closeknit community, where women coming up as deckhands are encouraged to take their captain’s course. “We had a couple of female captains start like five to eight years ago – they did a really good job. People were really impressed with them, so it paved the way for the rest of us to jump on boats and do the same thing with little to no hesitancy,” she said. She rattled off a series of boat names and their female crews. The phenomenon of female crews in Homer isn’t a gimmick (Alaska Sporting Journal, March 2022). Perhaps it comes off as a curiosity at first, but when you see the hauls of fish brought in by all-female crews, and you hear other captains sing their praises, you begin to understand that this trend is here to stay. “The Legacy is an all-female crew this year. Faith. Mickie. Chelsea. Ayjan. Me. Ciara is going to be running the Sweet T eventually. I think there are at least eight female captains this year,” she said. I watched in amazement as C filleted piles of Pacific cod, halibut and rockfish. She had her earbuds in and I felt like I shouldn’t disturb her with journalistic pursuits. So I just watched. We all did. The three brothers from Colorado were heading off to fly fish in Bristol Bay. The other two men were making overtures to returning and booking with Shannon and C. Shannon navigated and called Homer Fish Processing to tell them we were coming in with a full load. The end of the day is always bittersweet because you’ve looked forward to the trip all winter, and now, you are fish-rich, but the day is gone. When C was finished cleaning fish, she power-washed the deck and stared at the ocean. She told me that the other night she had cooked a whole quillback tempura-style, dipping it in a simple sauce of ginger, sesame and soy sauce. She said she likes to eat fish fresh, never freezing them. Then her face lit up.

C shows off a black rockfish during a deep sea fishing charter out of Homer. She is one of several siblings who work the boats their brother Garrett oversees. (DAVID ZOBY)

“Have you ever had rockfish ceviche?” she asked. “You have to try it.”

LIGHT POURED INTO THE Green Can, a new bistro-style restaurant that specializes in local seafood and craft cocktails. From the expansive windows you can see the whole splendor of Kachemak Bay. In the distance, charter boats were speeding back to the marina. Though I was suffering from dockrock from being out on the water all day in flat seas, I met the owners of D&G Charters (907-435-4019; homerhalibutfish.com), the people who hire and support Shannon and C. Garrett and Deziree Lambert started D&G over seven years ago as a family-run business. Garrett is C’s big brother. Currently, they own two charter

boats, the Snow Goose II being one of them. Four of Garrett’s sisters work as deckhands and captains. One can only imagine how their dinner conversations must go during the busy season. Garrett said people like Shannon and his sisters excel in people skills, are patient with customers, and are quick to master the fishing techniques made difficult by enormous tides and iffy weather. “A lot of captains right now started off as deckhands. So you think about where we were eight, nine, 10 years ago – everyone here was green to the industry. A lot of those people are vessel operators right now, boat owners,” Garrett said. “Everyone started bottom and worked their way up. And there were a handful of girls that tagged along with their brother, or family member, or friend from college.

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The Lamberts say that their business was doing well, but when C joined fulltime and began captaining, things really took off. “You got to understand, Ciara, Shannon, Chelsea – all of the women in the industry – are so attentive to detail,” Garrett said. “While we’re having a good time talking to you, we’re counting down – ‘Eight minutes from now I need to head to the third finger for my slowdown. I need to be there by 9:47.’ They’re so dialed in while fishing that it's an enjoyable day. We live and die by the tides. So it’s very easy to make the fishing look easy, or look impossible.”

THE LAMBERTS ARE THE quintessential Shannon checks the reading on a fish finder screen. “We had a couple of female captains start like five to eight years ago – they did a really good job,” she says. “People were really impressed with them, so it paved the way for the rest of us to jump on boats and do the same thing with little to no hesitancy.” (DAVID ZOBY)

Because it looked like a fun time. But it turned into a leadership fishing role.” He described how he and C came up and entered the industry, first in Ninilchik, and then in Homer. All their

life, Garrett would take C along on adventures: duck hunting, bow fishing, Alaska. He said that when she came to Alaska, she immediately took to it. “She was born for it,” Deziree said.

A happy angler shows off the spoils from a trip on the water with Shannon and C (left). (DAVID ZOBY)

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Alaskan couple. Young and fit, they are quick to compliment the community of fellow charter boat owners who support them. Deziree ordered king salmon and various dishes representative of Kachemak Bay. The chef stopped in to say hello. Garrett runs a charter boat in the summer and transports hunters to remote areas in the fall. Deziree, who says she will go fishing once or twice



a year, markets the operation onshore with her gracious people skills. Before meeting Garrett, Deziree was “straight from Atlanta; pumpkin-spiced lattes and heels.” She had never fished or shot a gun before she fell in with the Lamberts. “D&G is very word-of-mouth. So everyone who comes on our boat turns into family. Our business is probably 90-percent repeat. The 10 percent that is not repeat, that is new, that kind of found us on Google, or whatever the case may be, they’re coming out looking for an experience,” said Deziree. “They don’t really care about the size of the fish. They want to get out. And they love the female captain/crew. They see it on Instagram and see it’s really fun.” She feels immensely satisfied when she “You got to understand all of the women in the industry are so attentive to detail,” Garrett said of Shannon and the other female fishing stars of Homer. “A lot of captains right now started off as deckhands. So you think about where we were eight, nine, 10 years ago – everyone here was green to the industry. A lot of those people are vessel operators right now, boat owners.” (D&G CHARTERS)

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hears that clients had a good experience and want to rebook with Shannon and C. The Lamberts also described a changing clientele. They said more and more professional groups – sports teams, healthcare workers, female organizations – are booking with them. International bookings pick up during the shoulder season. They say the fall can be wide-open fishing with “exiting” halibut and massive schools of baitfish. Things slow down in Homer, but the Lamberts keep going. D&G offers a “laid-back” king salmon/crabbing trip in the winter and spring. Garrett and Shannon will team up and take clients. Sometimes C captains the boat. “You have the whole place to yourself,” said Garrett, “Most of the stuff is half-price, as far as lodging goes. All the fish are here; we just don’t have anyone to catch them.” ASJ Editor’s note: Dave Zoby is a freelance writer out of Casper, Wyoming, and the flyfishing editor at Strung Magazine. Follow him on Instagram (@davidzoby).


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THESE GIRLS CAN HUNT

AN UNCLE FINDS PERSPECTIVE IN WATCHING HIS NIECES THRIVE IN THE FIELD

BY BJORN DIHLE

H

unting is often thought of as a tradition that’s passed down from father to son. For me and my two brothers, growing up in Southeast Alaska, that was the way it was. During much of my boyhood, though I was chubby and near-sighted, I dreamed of becoming a hunter who would rival Daniel Day Lewis’ character Hawkeye from the movie The Last of the Mohicans. I spent a significant amount of time staring into the mirror, shirtless and flexing, while repeating tough one-liners like “I put Copenhagen on my Cheerios” and “You call that whiskey? Tastes like apple juice.” To train to become the ultimate man-predator, I’d strip down to my underwear, stumble through the woods and attempt to leap over downed trees while yelling things like “Wolverine!” and “I will find you!” During this era, I believed that women were unable to hunt and found it distasteful. A few years later, though, my older brother Luke and his wife Trish had three little girls. Kiah, Adella and Braith – from eldest to youngest – taught me that just about all my conceptions of what it meant to be a girl were wrong. Sure, on occasion they’d do things like pretend to be a princess or a fairy, but that didn’t prevent them from helping butcher and process the deer and salmon that make up the bulk of their family’s protein. I’m convinced their wearing butterfly wings, gowns and high heels only made them that much more efficient with a knife. When the girls got older they began accompanying their dad on hunting trips. Often, Luke invites me along to teach them life lessons. The girls love my long-winded lectures, which range from me elaborating on the limitations of existentialism, to pantomiming how to explode a charging grizzly bear’s heart using a five-finger death punch, to explaining why it’s OK for guy hunters to wear pink. In fact, due to a lot of people’s negative feelings towards hunters, it’s

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Author Bjorn Dihle, now a dad of his own, got a lot of perspective about hunting on a Southeast Alaska trip with his niece Kiah, who scored a nice Sitka blacktail buck. (BJORN DIHLE) aksportingjournal.com | AUGUST 2022

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my belief we should replace “hunter’s orange” with “hunter’s pink.” I quickly realized these girls’ aptitude for the woods and ability as hunters far exceeded mine when I was their age. The biological reality is that women can hunt just as well as men. The only difference is that for generations society has said otherwise.

ON THE DAY BEFORE 2019’s August 1

Sitka blacktail deer opener, I lectured Kiah and Braith about proper 21st century pronoun usage with regard to wild animals as we hiked up a mountain on Admiralty Island. It was bucks only and we were heading into the high country where they were fattening up on greens. “Don’t ever assume gender. Just because a deer has antlers doesn’t necessarily mean it identifies as a buck. Always consider that before pulling the trigger,” I said. Both girls sighed.

Deer hunting is a rite of passage for the extended Dihle family and others in Southeast Alaska. (BJORN DIHLE)

We gorged on fat blueberries as we neared the treeline. Kiah and Braith politely asked me to stop my chattering when we began seeing good deer sign.

Soon a few does appeared. Then a forkhorn buck stood silhouetted atop a ridge. We hunkered down and made a quick dinner as the sun set on an expanse of mountains and ocean. I studied Braith and Kiah as the shadows grew long and alpenglow crept down the glaciers and mountains of the Coastal Range. It was pretty cool that my dad had hunted this mountain when he was young and, now, his granddaughters were doing the same. Despite state and federal politicians trying to start a tidal wave of exploitation in Southeast Alaska, including logging the last stands of old-growth forest, I hoped these girls would be able to one day bring their kids to hunt the mountain.

AT FIRST LIGHT, KIAH and I struck out in

one direction, while Luke and Braith went the opposite way. Fog hindered visibility, so we moved slowly, hoping a buck would appear in the gray. Admiralty Island has one of the densest concentrations of brown bears, which makes a deer hunt a little edgy. We spotted two does before a small buck appeared downwind. We were busted, but Kiah slowly sat down and took a rest with her rifle off her knee. Before she was able to work the rifle’s bolt, the buck was gone. We walked to the edge of an area I figured would have deer. It was too foggy to see anything, so we lay on our bellies and hoped the clouds would clear. I began to whisper a life lesson about the importance of patience, but Kiah hushed me and told me

Adella Dihle, one of the author’s brother Luke’s three daughters, has become an accomplished hunter, like her sistters and proving a point to their uncle Bjorn. “I believed that women were unable to hunt … A few years later, though,Kiah, Adella and Braith taught me that just about all my conceptions of what it meant to be a girl were wrong.” (BJORN DIHLE) 58

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to stay focused. Swirling clouds began to break and, sure enough, a big buck stood sky-lined on a ridge 400 yards away. We belly-crawled over wet deer lettuce and heather to a rise. A number of other deer were closer on the mountainside. Alarming any of them would spook the monarch. I glassed the different animals and spotted three smaller bucks. “He’s big!” Kiah whispered, staring at

the distant ridge. “These young bucks will eat better,” I whispered. We crawled to within 150 yards of a fork horn and, slowly, Kiah eased her pack off and laid her rifle atop it. At the sound of her shot, the buck collapsed. I gestured to one of the other bucks, a big spike, and asked her to shoot it for me. She calmed her shaking hands, then waited for the animal

to turn broadside and offer a clean shot. Hunting, at its most basic and honest, is about having a direct relationship with nature and your food. There are few things I find more rewarding than this privilege. I knelt and put my hands on each animal and whispered my thanks and apologies. Kiah did the same in her way. Then, we set to butchering. We’d each take home close to 50 pounds of the best meat in the world,

Mary Catharine Martin looks over rugged Southeast Alaska terrain where deer roam and the hunting is challenging. “I thought about a recent conversation I had with a guy who expressed his frustration with how difficult hunting Sitka blacktails can be,” writes her husband, author Dihle. “I wondered if I should start telling them the yoke of masculinity was weighing them down and that they need to learn how to hunt like a girl. ” (BJORN DIHLE) 60

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not to mention the several quarts of broth the bones would yield. We loaded our packs and hiked back to camp. Luke and Braith showed up a short while later, their heavy packs filled with the meat of a nice buck.

I FOLLOWED MY BROTHER and his two

girls as we began the long pack out. I thought about a recent conversation I had with a guy who expressed his frus-

tration with how difficult hunting Sitka blacktails can be. Other men have said the same thing. I wondered if I should start telling them the yoke of masculinity was weighing them down and that they need to learn how to hunt like a girl. At treeline, we paused and glanced out at the ocean, forest and peaks. I looked back up the mountain and thanked it and the deer one last time

before wading through blueberry bushes into the forest. ASJ Editor’s note: Bjorn Dihle is a Juneau writer. His most recent book is A Shape in the Dark: Living and Dying with Brown Bears. Buy it at mountaineers.org/books/ books/a-shape-in-the-dark-living-anddying-with-brown-bears. This story originally appeared in Alaska Magazine and is being reprinted with permission.

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Author Brian Watkins has had plenty of success drawing bruins to his bear baiting setups and says it boils down to three things: “Hard work. Time. Patience.” (BRIAN WATKINS) 62

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EFFORT PAYS FOR BAITERS LURING IN BEARS WITH FOOD IS FAR FROM A SLAM DUNK – HERE ARE 5 TOP TIPS FROM TWO HUNTERS WHO GO THE EXTRA MILES TO ENSURE SUCCESS BY BRIAN WATKINS

A

fter another successful spring bear season, my pal Trevor and I were sharing a couple celebratory beers and talking about our accomplishments. Trevor had just taken his fifth consecutive bear and I had taken my biggest brown with a bow. Every spring we get similar questions regarding our success. And we talked about how we have come this far. People often mention how easy baiting bears is. I agree that it alleviates the challenges and mistakes with stalking, but it is a lot more work. And that seems to be the key to success. Hard work. Time. Patience. Bear baiting is an awesome change of pace from hunting the mountains the rest of the year. I’d like to share some tips for better success.

DON’T GO CHEAP I see posts and hear people talk about loading up on bear bait. And it’s pricey. Whether you skyrocket your electric bill by popping popcorn or go to Walmart and grab a pallet of dog food, don’t go cheap. Some hunters will drop two bags of dog food on their site and wait for the bears to come. Instead, load up your site with five to 10 bags. If it’s a new site, five should suffice to get you started. But when you hunt over a matured site, set out a mountain of food. Once a site runs dry, bears can leave without return. Keep it stocked! Even on a tenured site, put tons of

Don’t get to your stand too late in the day, as it can spook bears. Seven p.m. is as late as you want to push it, and then hunt till a bit after sunset, advises the author – who also acknowledges walking out in the dark can be “terrifying.” (BRIAN WATKINS) aksportingjournal.com | AUGUST 2022

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scent out. Use different attractants; sprinkle sugars on the ground; spray vanilla extract in the trees; lay pastes all over the area. If you try to save a couple of dollars in this area, you’re wasting the rest of your time.

Rule No. 1 in Watkins’ book: Don’t go cheap when it comes to purchasing bait. Buy that extra bag or two of dog food, as it might do the trick. (BRIAN WATKINS)

GO THE EXTRA MILE People like hunting close to home. Everyone does – and that’s the problem. The further you get from a big metropolis, the better the hunting. We spend way too many hours each spring in our trucks pushing the limits of our sanity. But I look at it this way: I could spend that time in a stand without bears or use it to travel somewhere I will see a ton of bears. It is a daunting task, but it breeds success.

HUNT ALL NIGHT Alaska has a short window of complete darkness. It's worth investing in a comfortable stand that you can stay in for eight-plus hours. A priority for us is to bring a sleeping bag. Wrap yourself in the bag and take a nap – always be sure to use a harness! When there are big bears on camera, we will sit for an infinite number of hours. A friend of mine once waited for 36 hours and took the 54th largest bear on record. If you can get yourself comfortable enough, then it shouldn’t be a problem. Honestly, I couldn’t do 36 straight hours. My longest sit was 16 hours, I didn’t kill a bear during that period, but that’s what it takes sometimes.

DON’T GO INTO YOUR STAND AFTER 7 P.M.

Tree stands aren’t known for comfort, but investing in one you can stay in for long hours can pay off. A buddy of Watkins killed a record-book bear after 36 hours in just such a perch. (BRIAN WATKINS) 64

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I cannot stress this point enough. People always talk about how hard it is to get to a stand earlier in the day with work schedules. If you cannot get to your stand by 7, don’t go at all. Going in after then will drive bears away, or it will make them come in only when it's too dark. Bears will be able to pinpoint where your stand is and check the area before committing to coming in. If there’s a will, there’s a way. Ask to leave work early or work extra the day before so you can make the logistics work. I typically sit between 7 p.m. and midnight. If a bear is on camera, I’ll sit from 7 all the way to 10 a.m.


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Along with that tip, don’t leave a stand until it’s too dark to shoot. I won’t leave until 15 minutes after sunset. I won’t be able to shoot that last half hour because of the dark, but it keeps bears from being spooked off when they’re most likely to come in. I will, however, agree it is terrifying to leave in the dark.

KNOW YOUR BEARS

“If you’ve hunted brown bears long enough, you know how hard it is to consistently get a giant,” Watkins writes. “But extra effort will boost the chances of success.” (BRIAN WATKINS)

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As I’ve mentioned, going the extra step will increase your odds of killing big bears tenfold. A large brown bear is one of the hardest animals to kill, even while baiting. They are smart, cautious and know how to survive. There’s a false notion that brown bears are aggressive monsters. The truth is they are quiet, cautious and spooky. If you’ve hunted brown bears long enough, you know how hard it is to consistently get a giant. But extra effort will boost the chances of success. It may seem daunting, but in the end that minute of pure adrenaline is worth every ounce of effort. Good luck, my friends! ASJ