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FISHING • HUNTING • ADVENTURE

FALL BULLS

AKSPORTINGJOURNAL.COM

N EW FEATU R E!

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Plan A Dream Alaska Moose Hunt Nunivak Island Muskox

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CLOSEST SEAPORT TO PORTLAND, OR!

Volume 10 • Issue 4 www.aksportingjournal.com PUBLISHER James R. Baker GENERAL MANAGER John Rusnak EXECUTIVE EDITOR Andy Walgamott EDITOR Chris Cocoles

The Port of Garibaldi encompasses three coastal towns, including Bay City, Garibaldi and Rockaway Beach. Besides housing RV parks and lodging, restaurants, seafood processing, a lumber mill, and commercial and charter fishing, the Port’s harbor has moorage for 277 vessels. The Port’s property also features the Lion’s Club Lumbermen’s Park and an antique train display. A walking path is also a popular draw for locals as well as visitors to Garibaldi.

Follow us for updates!

WRITERS Paul D. Atkins, Scott Haugen, Tiffany Haugen, Jeff Lund, Mike Lunde, Bixler McClure, Krystin McClure, Dave Workman SALES MANAGER Katie Higgins ACCOUNT EXECUTIVES Rick D’Alessandro, Mamie Griffin, Mike Smith, Paul Yarnold PRODUCTION MANAGER Sonjia Kells

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DESIGNERS Kayla Mehring, Jake Weipert WEB DEVELOPMENT/INBOUND MARKETING Jon Hines PRODUCTION ASSISTANT Kelly Baker ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT Katie Aumann INFORMATION SERVICES MANAGER Lois Sanborn ADVERTISING INQUIRIES media@media-inc.com ON THE COVER Moose hunting can be expensive and grueling to execute properly, so Scott Haugen – on the cover with his 2017 Alaska trophy – says to plan well to make the most out of that tag in your quest for a big bull. (SCOTT HAUGEN) MEDIA INDEX PUBLISHING GROUP WASHINGTON OFFICE 14240 Interurban Ave South • Suite 190 Tukwila, WA 98168 (206) 382-9220 • Fax (206) 382-9437 media@media-inc.com • www.media-inc.com CORRESPONDENCE Twitter @AKSportJourn Facebook.com/alaskasportingjournal Email ccocoles@media-inc.com

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CONTENTS

79

VOLUME 10 • ISSUE 4

GETTING CHUMMY

ON THE KOBUK

The Aug. 1 salmon opener on the Kobuk River has become something sacred for our Paul Atkins, who likens the anticipation for this special day to April boyhood baseball game outings in Kansas City near his Oklahoma home. He and fellow outdoor adrenaline junkie Lew Pagel (right) braved flesh-feeding bugs and a griz in camp to fight a mess of chum salmon as well as sheefish and more. Call this opening day a home run!

(PAUL D. ATKINS)

FEATURES 45

BULL MARKET Volcanic Nunivak Island resembles another planet more than an Alaskan hunting paradise, and while this sparsely populated land mass just offshore the Yukon-Kuskowim Delta isn’t an easy place to fly into, when Bixler and Krystin McClure drew a muskox tag they couldn’t pass up a second chance to try their luck on this snow-covered Bering Sea outpost – toddler in tow.

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MOOSE MUSINGS Chasing bulls in the Alaska bush is among the most pricey and exhausting hunts for visitors. But for those who want a true Last Frontier trip of a lifetime, moose offer a spectacular opportunity to experience something special. Our Field to Fire team of Scott and Tiffany Haugen have embraced the thrills of this hunt. Find out what you need to know to score a bull and prepare a memorable meal from the meat afterwards!

109 FINE AND PLEASANT MISERIES Correspondent Jeff Lund isn’t sure whether trying to catch big halibut lurking hundreds of feet below the surface is more miserable than coming down from the alpine with 100 pounds of meat on his back, but they both make good topics among sportsmen afterwards. So which is worse – and will Jeff head back out tomorrow?

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RAINBOW CONNECTION The Parks Highway connects Alaska’s two largest cities, Anchorage and Fairbanks. All along its 362-mile length are river drainages featuring not only salmon but some of the state’s best rainbow trout fishing. Whether you fling flies or cast lures, Mike Lunde shares the best techniques for reeling in the route’s rainbows!

ALSO IN THIS ISSUE 35 67 95

Hunting partners can be mentors, pupils Expert’s take on .300 Magnum cartridges Interior chum salmon fishing tips

DEPARTMENTS 17 21 31 77

Editor’s Note Protecting Wild Alaska: How pink salmon abundance affects sockeye, other species Outdoor calendar New feature: Gear Guy on water filtration devices

Alaska Sporting Journal is published monthly. Call Media Inc. Publishing Group for a current rate card. Discounts for frequency advertising. All submitted materials become the property of Media Inc. Publishing Group and will not be returned. Annual subscriptions are $29.95 (12 issues) or $39.95 (24 issues). Send check or money order to Media Inc. Publishing Group, 14240 Interurban Ave South, Suite 190, Tukwila, WA 98168 or call (206) 382-9220 with VISA or M/C. Back issues may be ordered at Media Inc. Publishing Group, subject to availability, at the cost of $5 plus shipping. Copyright © 2018 Media Inc. Publishing Group. All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be copied by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying or recording by any information storage or retrieval system, without the express written permission of the publisher. Printed in U.S.A. 12

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EDITOR’S NOTE

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Eight-year-old Axsel Hutchinson was winning the Valdez Silver Salmon Derby with about two weeks remaining. If he held on, he’d win the $10,000 first prize for the biggest coho. (VALDEZFISHDERBIES.COM)

A

s journalists, we’re told not to root for anyone – “No cheering in the press box!” I was always told during my sports reporter days. But as the Valdez Silver Salmon was winding down, it was hard for me not to pull for Axsel Hutchinson to hold onto his lead. With about two weeks remaining – the contest was scheduled to wrap up on Sept. 2 – Hutchinson’s 17.28-pound coho caught on Aug. 11 aboard the Amanda Rose was pacing the derby that began on July 21. Hutchinson is not only a local from Valdez who was vying for the $10,000 cash prize for first place. He’s also just 8 years old. That’s right, of all the anglers who purchased a $10 daily ticket, the kid had caught the biggest fish and his mom was delightfully shocked in the moment. “When I caught that fish, she couldn’t believe her eyes,” Axsel said when he was interviewed on a local radio program that was included in a Valdez Fish Derbies press release. “She thought that she was seeing things.” My only real brush with such success was when I won my California city’s 10-year-old Punt, Pass and Kick competition. I got a trophy and my name in the local paper and even advanced to the next round at San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium, once the home of the 49ers (I shanked my punt and my 15 minutes of fame was literally kicked away off the side of my foot). By the time you read this it’s possible some old guy could very well have landed a silver that beats out Axsel’s fish. But can you imagine the thrill the young angler’s had with his name atop the leaderboard at the end of each passing day? In his interview, Axsel said he named his potentially very valuable silver salmon “‘Grandpa,’ because it was very old.” Whether or not his fish stays biggest as the final silver gets weight, this very young competitor is surely making his hometown proud. -Chris Cocoles

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RETHINKING PINKS

YOU MIGHT NOT CONSIDER HAVING TOO MANY SALMON TO BE A PROBLEM, BUT HIGH NUMBERS OF HUMPIES APPEARS TO BE NEGATIVELY AFFECTING MORE COVETED SPECIES – EVEN SEABIRDS – ACCORDING TO BUILDING RESEARCH 20

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PROTECTING

WILD ALASKA

Some biologists’ research studies conclude that ubiquitous pink salmon (left) have affected growth and survival rates of sockeye, including Alaska’s, in the North Pacific. (KATRINA MUELLER/USFWS; DR. GREG RUGGERONE)

BY CHRIS COCOLES

T

hough the smallest of salmon species, pinks appear to be taking an outsized bite of the available forage in the North Pacific and Bering Sea, and that’s affecting more prized stocks – even seabirds – according to a building body of research. Some experts have concluded that the huge numbers of humpies in the saltwater – as many as 500 million to 600 million in some recent odd years – are impacting both the survival and growth rate of sockeye returning to Bris-

tol Bay, the world’s last great untouched salmon habitat. “Over the years we’ve published a lot of studies on this, especially the relationship between pink salmon and sockeye salmon,” says Seattle-based biologist Dr. Greg Ruggerone of Natural Resources Consultants (nrccorp.com). Ruggerone has been studying Alaskan waters for just about 40 years, working for the University of Washington along the way. “Back in 2003, we published what I think was a key paper looking at how pink salmon impact sockeye growth

and we documented this in part by using the pink salmon’s biennial or alternating year pattern of abundance. You can see the pink salmon’s effect on the growth of Bristol Bay sockeye salmon scales and by analyzing the length at age of returning adult sockeye. “We looked at annual sockeye scale growth at sea back to the 1950s and discovered a very strong alternating year pattern of growth during the sockeye’s second and third years at sea. In odd-numbered years the pinks are very, very abundant in the North Pacific and the Bering Sea, and sockeye growth is

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PROTECTING

A female pink salmon moves upstream near Cordova. With their short lifespan and sheer numbers, the species outcompetes sockeye for similar forage at sea. (KATRINA MUELLER/USFWS)

WILD ALASKA

greatly reduced. And in even years it’s just the opposite: there are relatively few pink salmon (around), and the growth is much better.” The primary pink salmon stocks that interact with Bristol Bay sockeye are those from Russia, especially eastern Kamchatka, though sockeye have a broad distribution at sea and probably interact with other pink salmon, too.

ONE OF THE MAJOR factors in the connection between pink and sockeye salmon is their diet, which is very similar on the high seas. A key source of food is zooplankton, tiny aquatic creatures that drift along in the saltwater. Since pinks are the most prolific species of Pacific salmon – comprising nearly 70 percent of all five species in the North Pacific 22

ALASKA SPORTING JOURNAL

PINKS AND ALASKAN SEABIRDS Like his colleague Greg Ruggerone, biologist Dr. Alan Springer, research professor of marine sciences emeritus at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, has done his own research on how pink salmon are affecting sea life off the Alaskan coast. Springer’s work has an ornithological twist in relation to pinks. “My research has been looking for an apparent effect of pink salmon on seabirds,” he says. “We have found very strong evidence that, just as with other species of salmon, pinks negatively affect aspects of the breeding biology (such as laying date, number of eggs laid, productivity) of several species of seabirds nesting in the Bering Sea,” Among the birds most impacted include black-legged kittiwakes, red-legged kittiwakes, tufted puffins and horned puffins. “We have just published a paper where we present evidence that pinks also negatively affect short-tailed shearwaters,” Springer adds. “These birds nest in Australia and Tasmania, and spend the rest of the year (their winter, our summer) primarily in the Bering Sea. Not only are the birds affected, but so too are indigenous residents there who depend upon the shearwaters for traditional lifestyles, and the very ecology of the islands where the birds nest because of the role they play in soil aeration and fertilization that affect plant communities.” CC

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PROTECTING

“We found that the size and age of sockeye salmon has been reduced during years of high pink salmon abundance,” Ruggerone says of studies done throughout West Coast waters from Southeast Alaska to Washington’s Puget Sound. “The survival of 35 populations declined consistently with pink salmon abundance.” (DR. GREG RUGGERONE)

WILD ALASKA

– it becomes a numbers game for the available food options among reds and humpies. Are pinks crowding the buffet line and grabbing all the good stuff before the sockeye can fill their plates? “Pink salmon do not directly interfere with foraging sockeye; rather they eat the same types of food, and pink salmon are exceptionally abundant compared with sockeye,” Ruggerone says. “And pink salmon grow fast, spend only one year in the ocean, and then come back at a fairly large size.” A 2018 publication by Sonia Batten, Ruggerone and Ivonne Ortiz provides substantial new data showing the impact of pink salmon on zooplankton abundance in the southern Bering Sea, where many Bristol Bay sockeye feed. This study provides three lines of evi24

ALASKA SPORTING JOURNAL

dence for this impact, which had been previously described in less detail by Japanese scientists 20 years ago. “Zooplankton are very important to both species. But as the pinks and sockeye grow, like in their second year at sea for both species, they will eat much bigger prey. If you look at the diet data that (salmon scientist) Nancy Davis collected in the North Pacific and Bering Sea, both sockeye and pinks are eating a lot of the same food – a lot of fish and squid in addition to the zooplankton as they get older,” Ruggerone says. “As sockeye and pinks get older and bigger, they’ll eat bigger prey such as fish and squid that Chinook also like to eat.” Ruggerone thinks that the exceptionally high abundance of pink salmon and the large quantity of prey consumed by

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them, as reflected in their high growth rate, makes pink salmon the dominant salmon competitor in the North Pacific. “One way to look at that is they are growing so fast. They enter the ocean with little or no rearing in freshwater as a tiny fry,” he says. “They spend one winter and then come back the next August or so at a pretty big size. So in other words, their growth rate is probably faster than the growth rate at sea of other species of salmon.” While pinks outnumber their Chinook and sockeye counterparts in the North Pacific, they are not only not as big but are less desirable for sport anglers and foodies who have made wild salmon such a coveted delicacy. So in some ways, pinks might be considered villains among their more


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celebrated salmonid cousins. One of several papers Ruggerone has co-authored in his career studying Alaskan and West Coast salmon was a 2005 entry on pinks’ places as the most dominant species in the North Pacific. “It’s not that they’re beating up on sockeye salmon or Chinook salmon. They’re just so abundant and growing up so rapidly, they have to eat lots of food. They scarf up a lot of the food like the zooplankton,” he says. “They may be the a bit lower on the trophic food chain compared to, say, Chinook salmon, but they impact Chinook in two different ways; one being simply that pinks are feeding on zooplankton, the building block for all squid and forage fishes that Chinook like to eat. And then as the pinks get older in their second year in the ocean, we see more diet overlap with species like Chinook.”

ONE MAJOR QUESTION THAT biologists

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are continually researching is whether pinks affect not only the growth rate but the survival rate of sockeye originating from Bristol Bay and other regions. In 2015, Ruggerone teamed with Canadian biologist Brendan Connors on a paper that looked at sockeye and pink salmon interaction from the state of Washington all the way up the coast to Southeast Alaska. The study found that British Columbia’s Fraser River had similar patterns to what’s gone on in the Bering Sea. “We found that the size and age of sockeye salmon has been reduced during years of high pink salmon abundance. The survival of 35 populations declined consistently with pink salmon abundance,” he says. “We also incorporated oceanographic variables such as sea surface temperature. And also, there was a delay in sockeye maturation when competing with higher abundances of pink salmon, which is what you would expect; a reduction in growth can lead to a delay in maturation of salmon.” Consistent with these patterns, Ruggerone and colleagues also documented how pink salmon have influenced forecast error of Bristol Bay sockeye salmon since 1968. ASJ


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OUTDOOR CALENDAR

Mountain goat hunting season is in full swing for multiple game management units this month. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

Sept. 1 Sept. 1 Sept. 1 Sept. 1 Sept. 1/6 Sept. 1 Sept. 1 Sept. 1 Sept. 5 Sept. 5 Sept. 6-8

Black bear season opens in Game Management Unit 1 (Southeast Mainland) Archery elk season opens in GMU 3 (Etolin Island) Moose season opens in GMU 5B (Yakutat) Brown bear season opens in GMU 7 (Seward) Bison season opens in GMU 11 (Wrangell Mountains/Chitina River) Wolverine season opens in several GMUs Goat season opens in GMU 14 (Mat-Su Valley) Brown bear season opens (at GMU 15 Kenai) Nonresident moose season opens in most GMU 9 areas (Alaska Peninsula) Moose season opens in GMU 17 (Bristol Bay) Kenai River Women’s Classic; krsa.com/ events/kenai-river-womens-classic

Sept. 8 Sept. 10 Sept. 15 Sept. 15 Sept. 15 Sept. 15 Sept. 25

Nonresident moose season opens in GMU 12 (Upper Tanana/White River) Black bear season opens in GMU 6D (North Gulf Coast/Prince William Sound) Moose season opens in GMU 3 (Petersburg/Wrangell) Brown bear season opens in GMU 4 (Admiralty/Baranof/Chichagof Islands) Goat season opens in GMU 6 (North Gulf Coast/Prince William Sound) Black bear season opens in GMU 16 (Lower Susitna) Elk season opens in GMU 8 (Kodiak/Shelikof)

Editor’s note: For more hunting regulations, go to adfg.alaska.gov/index.

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Author Jeff Lund (left, with outdoor buddy Jesse Knock) says having a supportive and understanding partner in the field goes a long way toward a successful hunt. (JEFF LUND)

BRAINS OF THE OPERATION BEHIND EVERY GREAT HUNTER IS A MENTOR AND HUNTING PARTNER BY JEFF LUND

H

iking up a mountain is more difficult on your engine, but hiking down is really tough on your brakes. With this in mind, it shouldn’t be a surprise that many dread the descent just as much, if not more, than getting to the top. Sure, there’s the promise of pizza, beer, a doughnut, steak, anything but Mountain House, to get back to the truck, car or plane – but that doesn’t mean it’s particularly fun. With a good hunt comes good memories that can fuel a hunter, and it’s amazing how the body can calibrate. It can gauge the distance remaining, measure the energy stores and make it happen. In the face of sudden change, recalibration can take a little while and

can lead to illogical, irrational and irritating whining or decision making. The body is likely capable, but it’s the brain that can get in the way. There might be a buck, bull or billy that is just one ridge over, or just down in that bowl. You feel like you need to make the move now. Your body can get you over or down there, but is your brain right enough to get your body back?

THE SAME PAGE Two weeks before I started my teaching career, my mentor teacher asked if I had any questions. I replied, “I don’t know enough to know what to ask.” It was true; I had never student-taught, so without being in the classroom I had no idea what to expect, nor did I know what needed clarity. The same goes with hunting. The more you

hunt, the more you establish a hunting program. How you prepare. What you take. How you handle adversity and the amount of risk you tolerate. Then there are the specific logistics pertaining to the quarry. You’ve hunted the alpine, but have you been on an unfamiliar mountain in fog? You’ve been cold, but have you been cold and wet? You’ve hunted bear in Washington, but that’s not Alaska. Same goes for deer, etc., and even for a new hunting buddy. Often you don’t know how this new buddy will pan out because a hunt is more complex than who gets first shot at the first shooter critter. You can be great friends off the mountain, but what happens when your buddy trips on a root? Do you say, “You OK?” every time? Or just when it looks bad? Your buddy is packing out a huge

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bear he shot with his bow. His pack is heavy. He is out of shape. Do you say, “Hey, you’re almost there! Doing great!” on the pack out, even though he’s putting you on schedule to reach the dock four hours after the sun sets? Do you walk ahead to pull him, or walk behind? Some people don’t want encouragement. They just want to be left alone. They don’t think it’s funny to play the Rocky theme song to motivate. Others need it. These sorts of things ruin hunts. Along with attitude, communication is important. The plan was to meet at the back of the muskeg and decide what to do from there. You don’t have radios. You don’t have cell service. You’re back at where you pointed to on the map. It’s a half-hour after you planned to meet. What’s the move? Assume your buddy is on a deer? Assume he is lost? Wait? Search? Or just assume he’ll meet you back at camp if you don’t hear a shot? You’re 1,000 yards from the road, crashing through thick brush. You take a left to check a game trail that might be easier. Your buddy follows one to the right. The forest and a creek conspire to swallow all other sounds. Before you know it, you’re separated. Do you backtrack and assume he or she will too? Or just continue to the road, hoping your buddy does too? Being on the same page is of vital importance. It’s best to know who you are hunting with before you agree to the hunt, especially if you’re just along for the experience and to help pack meat. Are you a valued asset to the program who will earn some of the take, or just a sucker tricked into sharing the burden?

When you score that bear or buck, it sometimes takes a lot of teamwork to finish the job. (JEFF LUND)

THE MOST IMPORTANT ELEMENT Trust is at the core of the hunting buddy. Trust first that the buddy is in shape enough mentally and physically to execute the hunt. I know that the dudes I hunt with can keep it together because they have proven to take it seriously. They appreciate that ordinary day hunts can turn into overnighters. They are in shape, have the same ethics and aren’t just driven by foolish bravado. They all would walk away before putting the program at risk. You also owe it to whoever you are 36

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Not everyone is as prepared to cover mountainous terrain like this, so it’s important to have patience if your partner is falling behind. (JEFF LUND)

hunting with to do and be the same. Prove you can do the smart thing, not the risky thing. Few people want to hunt with a loose cannon. A good buddy will take care of you should something hap-

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pen, but making foolish decisions puts you both at risk. That’s selfish.

THE FINAL PUSH The knees are done. Muddy soil giving

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way beneath your boots has become old. Branches to the face is passing over into something more than annoying. The monotony of a trail or old logging road, or lack of both; everything plays


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“Few people want to hunt with a loose cannon,” Lund writes. “A good buddy will take care of you should something happen, but making foolish decisions puts you both at risk. That’s selfish.” (JEFF LUND)

against you or drives a wedge between you and your hunting buddies. Remember that the whole thing was a choice and is much better than the alternative – stagnancy. You know as soon as you get back to the truck you’ll

be happy you endured it all, especially if you have fresh backstrap for the grill. If you need to, take your time. Stop for a drink of water and some Sour Patch Kids and get your head right. Your mindset makes all the differ-

ence. ASJ Editor’s note: Ketchikan-based Jeff Lund is the author of Going Home, a memoir about hunting and fishing in Alaska. Get it at amazon.com.

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‘THAT WAS A BIG ONE’ MUSKOX HUNTERS JUMP AT CHANCE TO RETURN TO REMOTE, SNOWY NUNIVAK ISLAND TO FILL RARE TAG

Volcanic Nunivak Island, west of Bethel in the Bering Sea, is sparse and desolate, but drawing a rare muskox tag made it a must-do hunt for authors Krystin and Bixler McClure last March. (BIXLER MCCLURE)

BY KRYSTIN AND BIXLER MCCLURE

A

be, we aren’t going to make it,” I told the transporter I had hired for this coveted Nunivak Island muskox hunt. We were stuck in Bethel, and after spending the night listing to the wind whistle against the B&B we were staying in, I knew the hunt was hopeless. It was raining, snowing, foggy, and turbulent along the entire Yukon–Kuskokwim Delta. “Well,” Abe David said after a pregnant pause, “come back in March.” “I don’t think that Grandma wants to have our little guy for another night,” I replied. “I guess last night was pretty miserable for her.” “Bring him,” Abe said. “My wife Mona can watch him.” I had pretty much written the hunt

off at that point as we boarded the plane back to Anchorage, despite Abe’s efforts to convince me otherwise. The hardest part of a Nunivak Island muskox hunt is simply getting there, and the cruel Alaskan weather seemed to be trying to prevent every village flight from leaving Bethel that weekend. We returned home and I lamented my decision. I hate giving up on hunts, especially dream ones like muskox, as it takes an average of 25 years to draw a tag for the species. But as February came to a close and March rolled around, I started to take Abe’s words to heart. The weather started to improve in Bethel and in Mekoryuk, on Nunivak. “I think we should try again over my birthday weekend,” I told Bixler. “What about Lynx?” he said, noting

the pushback from his mom as we discussed the idea of leaving Lynx with her for a few days. “Let’s just bring him,” I replied. “He’ll love it.” Bixler texted Abe to avoid the delay from the bush cellphone network and Abe booked us over my birthday weekend.

WE HAD HARDLY UNPACKED when we headed back to the Anchorage airport, this time with our toddler in tow. Unlike our first flight over, everything ran smoothly. Our plane was on time and the weather was pleasantly sunny in Bethel, with a fresh layer of snow. We landed in Bethel and checked in. To our surprise, all of our tubs and gun case were immediately loaded onto a Caravan bound for Mekoryuk. Lynx enjoyed running around the tiny terminal

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in Bethel and making friends with kids of all ages. A little boy came up to me and jokingly asked if he could take Lynx back to his village and teach him Yupik. We were a little late but landed in Mekoryuk, the only village on Nunivak, a volcanic island in the Bering Sea. The island is completely treeless and fresh snow covered the gentle slopes. The runway was the only feature on the landscape and appeared tiny on the vast island. We taxied to the turnaround and a procession of people started to unload the plane and greet the passengers. Bixler, Lynx and I met Abe and Mona David, who have lived on Mekoryuk their entire lives. They immediately fell in love with Lynx and arranged for Lynx and I to catch a ride with the quiet village public safety officer while Bixler hopped on the snowmachine. The short drive led us to the David’s house. Abe and Mona showed us to our room and brought out toys for Lynx. 46

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Their daughter came by to drop off their grandson on her way to work and soon he and Lynx were playing with the Davids’ variety of kid’s toys. While the two played, Abe and I talked about the hunt and where to go. As a transporter, he can’t guide me to a location, so we talked about routes around the island. During our discussion, Mona prepared a delicious meal. The hospitality of the Davids was wonderful and we happily enjoyed our evening in their household.

THE NEXT MORNING, THE fog had rolled in over Mekoryuk and Abe suggested we wait until it broke. Lynx played with David’s older grandson while we waited. Almost immediately, the sunshine rolled through the front window and Abe wasted no time in getting us going. Bixler and I jumped on Abe’s twoseat Bearcat. I waved one last goodbye to Lynx – he started to cry – and soon we sped off from the village. We nav-

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The flight to and from Nunivak can be a bumpy one, but when the McClures returned with their young son Lynx it was a little smoother ride. (BIXLER MCCLURE)

igated the drainages and treeless hills along the deep blue Bering Sea. We stopped at one point to take a break near a cinder cone, a good vantagepoint along the expanse of Nunivak. “This is like snowmachining on the moon,” I told Bixler. We watched foxes run around in the distance, feeding on remnants of muskox harvested by the


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ISLAND HUNTING FOR BULLS

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Congratulations! You are one of the lucky few to draw the Nunivak Island muskox tag. I happened to talk on the phone with a winner who had called Abe to inquire about the same hunt we made. I told him it would be expensive and daunting, but he should do it. The following offers some advice and lessons learned from our experience to turn a hunt of a lifetime from a headache into pure joy. I still tell people that nothing will ever top this muskox hunt; it was the best birthday present a sportswoman could want. This hunt is expensive. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game will send you a letter with your tag saying the cost is around $10,000 for a hunt with just a transporter. They are right. We spared no expense in making this hunt work for us between the refund-

able tickets, checked baggage, freight, taxidermy and transporter fees. Be prepared to spend a little to make this all work. Hire a transporter. This hunt can be done unguided/untransported for residents, but ADFG (and we) highly recommend hiring a transporter. Nunivak Island is owned by a Native corporation and going unguided or transported may cause some tension among the residents of Mekoryuk. There are no hotels on Mekoryuk and coming back to a warm house and nice meal is a great way to end a hunt, not to mention getting to meet amazing people. Get refundable plane tickets and be flexible. Winter weather in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta can be hard on flights, so make sure you build some flexibility into your schedule in case you plan on spending a few nights in Bethel

or can’t get out of Mekoryuk. The only airline that flies to Mekoryuk, Ravn, is very aware of the tight schedule most muskox hunters are on and will work with you to change flights. Know your animal! ADFG has a great slideshow on muskox identification and I encourage hunters to take a peek at it. The easiest way to identify a cow versus bull muskox is by the boss – the base of each horn. When the animals are on the move, you better be sure you can spot the bull among the cows. Enjoy a slice of village life. We had heard that one of the biggest complaints of this hunt was the accommodations. Most of those people apparently are used to staying in five-star hunting lodges with lavish meals and all else that goes with it. For this hunt, you will stay with your transporter/guide, so come with an open mind, empty stomach, and enjoy the hospitality, good food and a glimpse of life in one of Alaska’s remote villages. KM

villagers and hunters like us. We went clear across to the south end of the island and skirted frozen sand

dunes dotted with the occasional buoy washed ashore by the ferocious Bering Sea storms. I was in such awe of the

landscape that I didn’t spot the muskoxen off in the distance. I felt the snowmachine lurch to a stop as Bixler spotted

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The McClures’ transporter’s two-seat Bearcat came in handy to traverse the snow-covered terrain. “This is like snowmachining on the moon,” said Krystin. (BIXLER MCCLURE)

some muskoxen relatively nearby. I readied my rifle and pursued the animals on foot. At first, we were positioned upwind and they ran, surprisingly fast for an animal that looks like they lumber along the tundra. I ran around to the downwind side and crouched down behind a tussock and inched closer on my knees, cocking my rifle and extending the bipod. The muskoxen were huddled together, their defense mechanism against predators. Immediately I identified all three as bulls and noted that I would simply shoot the first one that stepped away from the herd. As soon as one stepped out, I fired the shot. I saw the muskox lurch from the impact and all three began running. The one I hit faltered and reset to brace for a second shot. The second shot was perfect and the animal dropped. Bixler and I yelped with joy as Abe joined us from afar and we gathered for an array of pictures. The horns and horn boss were very pronounced; this was a large bull. I stood for a moment staring at this creature straight from the Ice Age as Bixler began to ready the knives for field dressing the muskox. “Happy birthday, honey,” he said as we started to part the long hair to skin 50

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the animal. “Thanks!” I replied excitedly. “This is the best present ever.”

FIELD-DRESSING THE MUSKOX took longer than expected. The skin was so thick that the first shot had hardly penetrated the hide, but the second was right through the lung. Bixler and I bagged the quarters, tenderloins, backstraps, ribs, plus the odds and ends. We saved the heart and some of the bones for the locals. The skull and

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hide was tightly wrapped in a tarp and would go into a bag for the flight home. We packed the entire animal on the sled trailer and then used the satellite phone to call Mona to say we were on our way. Abe explained that we would go over the middle of the island to home. We sped off up the gentle slope, running into the other two muskoxen on the way home. Abe stopped to show us a giant crater left over from the island’s volcanic beginnings. The sun was setting and


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After it was field-dressed, the muskox bull provided a freezer full of deboned meat – about 350 pounds worth. (BIXLER MCCLURE)

the pure white horizon was slowly being replaced with hues of blue. We pressed onward and finally returned to Mekoryuk at about 10:30 p.m. under bright stars on a moonless night. Lynx was happy to see me. He had had a stellar day meeting the rest of the

Davids’ grandkids and others from the village. Mona greeted me with a purple birthday cake – the only color they could find at the store – and a huge meal. We were all exhausted but happy about the successful hunt and great company. I put Lynx to bed and Bixler and I

stood outside in the cold deboning the meat to fit them into the tubs. In total, the muskox produced a little more than 350 pounds of deboned (minus the ribs) meat. The hide/skull combination weighed in at 164 pounds and had to be air freighted back to Anchorage.

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The bones went to local residents. Packed and ready to go, we waited for our plane out of Mekoryuk. I tried to compare my muskox to the one on Abe’s wall, but he never really told me much about what a big muskox versus a little one was during our conversation about the hunt. I had told him in the beginning that I wasn’t big on trophy hunting and was happy with anything, but he insisted we should get a big one. The plane signaled over the village VHF that it was inbound and we all were whisked to the airport. We loaded up the meat and hide onto the Caravan and said our goodbyes to the Davids, who were wondering when we would return. I went to thank Abe for his transporter services and hospitality and the last thing he said came as a surprise: “That was a big one.” ASJ Editor’s note: Krystin and Bixler McClure own and operate Seward Ocean Excursions, which offers boat-based adventures on the Kenai Peninsula. For more, call (907) 5990499 or go to sewardoceanexcursions.com.

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Lifelong Nunivak resident and transporter Abe David (left) is no stranger to hunting massive muskox, but he was also impressed with Krystin’s bull, telling her it was “a big one.” (BIXLER MCCLURE)

SEPTEMBER 2018 | aksportingjournal.com


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A lot of work goes into a moose hunt. Getting a downed bull back to base camp is far from the end, as the meat must be kept from spoiling, away from bears and, eventually, transported home. (SCOTT HAUGEN)

NO BULL: MOOSE CAN BE A CHALLENGE

IT CAN BE PRICEY; IT CAN BE INTENSE; BUT IT’S ALSO A THRILLING ALASKA HUNT BY SCOTT HAUGEN

L

ast year marked one of the most successful moose seasons in decades for hunters throughout Alaska. Not only were a lot of tags filled, but there were also some monster bulls killed. Moose are one of the most coveted big game animals in the world. When I first moved to Alaska in 1990, a guided

moose hunt could be had for less than $3,000. Today, a guided moose hunt in the same areas can cost $25,000 or more. With supply comes demand, and there’s no doubting moose are demanding, no matter how you cut it.

YOU CAN DO IT, BUT … Nonresidents can hunt moose on their own, without having to hire a guide. What a lot of hunters don’t understand

– especially first-time, out-of-state moose hunters – is the magnitude of a DIY moose hunt, especially if aspiring to get a big bull, one with antlers spanning 65 inches or more. A moose hunt must be fully planned, start to finish, before setting foot on the tundra. While there are some good hunts that can be accessed by road, many moose hunters choose to reach remote areas via bush plane or jet boat.

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Pickling makes for a great approach to preparing gamey venison from rutty bull moose and late-season caribou.

FIELD

(TIFFANY HAUGEN)

THIS VENISON DISH A PERFECT ‘PICK’ BY TIFFANY HAUGEN

P

ickling is trending high in the world of food these days. Not only does it offer amazing flavors but also contributes to our health with good fermentation bacteria. This technique also makes for an easy preservation method. From spicy green beans to pickled fish to sweetand-spicy garlic, I have been pickling some tasty stuff lately. While much of the “pickling” of meats was traditionally done to preserve what could not be frozen, canned or refrigerated, sauerbraten should not be overlooked for the unique and delicious flavor it offers. Because of the heavy spices and pickling process, this recipe works well on any “gamey” cut of meat, be it rutting bull moose or late-season caribou. Grab a nice venison roast out of your freezer and try this recipe today. 2- to 3-pound moose roast MARINADE-CURE 1 cup red wine 1 cup red wine vinegar ⅓ cup soy sauce 2 tablespoons sugar 2 tablespoons pickling spice

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1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper 1 teaspoon salt 10 juniper berries, crushed (optional) One onion, thinly sliced Two carrots, thinly sliced Two stalks celery, thinly sliced 2 tablespoons olive or coconut oil ½ cup dried cherries In a medium bowl, mix wine, vinegar, soy sauce and sugar until thoroughly combined. Place marinade and roast in a sealable plastic bag. Add spices, salt and vegetables and seal bag. Place in a shallow pan (in case of a leak). Refrigerate 72 hours, turning at least two times a day. Remove roast from marinade (do not discard marinade). In a heavy skillet, heat oil on medium-high heat and sear roast on all sides until nicely browned. Strain marinade and add liquid to pot, discarding remaining vegetables and spices. Bring to a boil, reduce to medium-low heat. Cover and cook two hours or until meat is tender. (This recipe can be transferred to a Crock-pot and slow-cooked three to four hours on low heat.) Add cherries during the last 30 minutes of cooking time. Remove roast and let sit 10 minutes before slicing. Reduce or thicken pan drippings as needed for gravy. Serve

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with roasted red cabbage and new potatoes fried in olive oil and butter. ROASTED RED CABBAGE 6 cups thinly sliced red cabbage ½ cup thinly sliced red onion 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 tablespoon honey 2 cloves crushed garlic Salt and black pepper In a large bowl, toss cabbage with all ingredients until well coated. Spread cabbage evenly on a baking sheet and roast in a preheated 400-degree oven 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally (cabbage can also be stir-fried in a large skillet on medium-high heat). Editor’s note: For signed copies of Tiffany’s popular Cooking Big Game book, send a check for $20 (free S&H) to Haugen Enterprises, P.O. Box 275, Walterville, OR 97489 or visit tiffanyhaugen.com for this and many of her other cookbooks. Tiffany is a full-time author and part of the online series, Cook With Cabela’s. Also, watch for her on The Sporting Chef.


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Once a bull is down, the joy of moose hunting fades and the work begins. There’s no such thing as overpreparing for a moose hunt in remote Alaska, as author Scott Haugen can attest to with the bull he took last season. (SCOTT HAUGEN)

This can get pricey, time-consuming and it requires a good backup plan. A rule of thumb when moose hunting is to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Last fall a buddy and I were on a moose hunt on a remote river in Southwest Alaska. I tagged a nice bull on day two of our hunt and we spent that day and the day after that packing it out and taking care of the meat. While we were cleaning meat at base camp, a raft with three men came by. They were soaking wet and offered to pay us to run them to the nearest village in our sled boat with seven days to go in the season. They got dropped on a gravel bar by an air taxi, and one of their two rafts leaked and couldn’t be used. This should have been checked before leaving the bush plane service. They 62

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gave up after being whipped. Two days later, another moose camp, this one below us, called for help one night. All five hunters in camp went on a short hunt after taking their boat across the river. When their boat didn’t start, they realized no one had taken a pack along, so they were without food and water – even flashlights – and the bugs and brown bears were thick. It was a frightening experience and one that shouldn’t occur in Alaska.

A PROCESS IN PATIENCE When a moose is down, the fun of the hunt ends. It can take hours, even days, to break down and get a moose out of the field. Be sure to have the proper means to achieve this, and don’t shoot a bull you can’t get to.


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Since a moose is a big animal, depending on where one drops it can take several hours or even a couple days to properly take care of the meat. Here the author hauls a hindquarter from his bull onto a tarp, where it can be boned out and kept clean. (SCOTT HAUGEN)

Last fall my buddy and I watched a giant bull of over 70 inches feed in a swamp that we had no way to reach. We could have shot the bull with a longrange gun, but we couldn’t have gotten to that animal to pack it out. Chest waders are nice to have if hunting lowland moose. Be sure to have big game bags, a pack frame and even a small inflatable raft to get the meat out. Make certain that if you kill a bull early in the hunt, you can get the meat cooling. And always have a plan to keep bears away. You may need to use a satellite phone to call a bush plane or boat to come get your meat.

STORING YOUR MEAT Two days after I filled my tag last season, my buddy got a big bull. It took until the middle of the following day to get his meat packed out to the river, and once we did, we wasted no time heading 45 miles downstream to the nearest village, where we’d arranged for cold storage. We still had five days left in our hunt, but taking care of the meat was top priority. We returned to camp and had a great time fishing for silvers. My buddy got a nice wolf and another hunter in camp ended up with his very first moose. Yes, we lost a day of hunting, but making sure the meat didn’t spoil was the goal. This season, don’t overlook the obvious when planning your moose hunt, and don’t underestimate the magnitude of the task at hand, because a big bull moose is a massive beast when on the ground. Three buddies filled their tags last season, which they were hoping for but not expecting. What they failed to plan for was the $6,000 air taxi bill to get all their meat and their camp back to the nearest village, using multiple bush plane trips. When it comes to moose hunting, there’s no such thing as overplanning. ASJ Editor’s note: To order Scott Haugen’s best-selling instructional Field Dressing, Skinning & Caping Big Game DVD, send $20 to Haugen Enterprises, P.O. Box 275, Walterville, OR 97489, or order at scotthaugen.com. Follow Scott on his journeys via Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. 64

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THE SEVEN MAGNUMS OF WISDOM EXPERT ON .300 MAGNUM BIG GAME CARTRIDGES SHARES HIS THOUGHTS BY DAVE WORKMAN

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et’s get this straight about magnum-powered .30-caliber bullets: In the right gun, in the right hands, they are proven game killers from Alaska to Africa and all points in between. The .300 Magnum is one hellacious long-range cartridge. Oops, correction: The “.300 Magnum” is a bunch of different cartridges – seven in all – that share the basic “magnum” designation, but they are all different from one another. For hunters looking to purchase a new rifle in .300 Magnum, this identity crisis can be a headache, so let’s sort things out, shall we?

STARTING WITH THE .300 Ruger Compact Magnum, a short little devil also known as the .300 RCM introduced about 10 years ago, they’re all true performers. According to Nosler Reloading Guide No. 8, the .300 RCM has the muscle to scoot a 165-grain bullet out of the muzzle at more than 2,900 feet per second, depending on the powder charge. It was preceded by: • The .300 Remington Short Action Ultra Magnum (SAUM) that is capable of launching a 165-grain bullet at more than 3,000 fps, depending upon the propellant and the charge; • The .300 H&H Magnum, with a case length of 2.850 inches, has been around for nearly 100 years (it was introduced in 1925 as the “Super Thirty,” according to Wikipedia’s history of the round) and is also capable of plus-3,000 fps muzzle velocities with a 165-grainer, but is no slouch with heavi-

Several companies still offer the .300 H&H Magnum, including Nosler in its Trophy Grade ammunition line, featuring the AccuBond bullet. (NOSLER)

er bullets; • The .300 Winchester Short Magnum (.300 WSM), with its more tolerable recoil that belies its ability to push 165-grain bullets out of the muzzle at better than 3,100 fps using the right propellant, according to Nosler No.

8. It’s possibly the most prominent of the “short-fat magnums” that came along in that craze that began nearly 20 years ago; • The .300 Winchester Magnum, perhaps the most popular of the lot with a 2.620-inch case length. It arrived

For the sake of confusion, at left are more .300 magnum choices: (top to bottom) the .300 Remington Short Action Ultra Mag, the .300 Winchester Magnum and the .300 Remington Ultra Mag. (Yes, this is not cheap ammunition.) The image at right illustrates the difference in cartridge shapes; from left, the .300 Remington Ultra Mag, .300 Winchester Magnum and .300 Remington S.A. Ultra Mag. (DAVE WORKMAN) aksportingjournal.com | SEPTEMBER 2018

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Federal is among companies that load the .300 Winchester Short Magnum – just don’t confuse it with the .300 Winchester Magnum, loaded by Nosler. (FEDERAL, NOSLER)

in 1963 and has emerged as a champ among long-range big game hunters. With a bullet in the 165/168-grain category – depending upon the powder charge and propellant choice, this baby can produce muzzle velocities of

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more than 3,200 fps, though one might extend barrel life by shooting slightly milder loads; • The .300 Weatherby Magnum, with a case length of 2.825 inches. Introduced in mid-1940s, this round can

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roar with the best of ’em, with impressive downrange ballistics using Spitzertype bullets, and; • The .300 Remington Ultra Magnum (aka .300 Ultra Mag or .300 RUM), which can be loaded to produce a muzzle velocity of more than 3,400 fps using a 165-grain pill and the right propellant, according to Nosler No. 8.

BY NOW YOU’LL have noticed that I talk about 165-grain bullets when much heavier projectiles are available. Against deer, a 165-grain bullet is capable of massive tissue damage at long range when it comes out of a magnum. For an elk-sized animal, I suggest the 180-grainers for deeper penetration, and I know some guys who like even heavier bullets. There is no hard, fast rule. Use the bullet weight you like best. One finds a pantry full of bullet choices from Nosler, Hornady, Speer, Sierra, Barnes and others with available weights ranging from 125 grains up to 220 grains. Translation: the .300 magnums are perfect for the handloader, who can tinker with different projectiles and propellants to develop consistent loads for specific rifles that can deliver year after year. And there is also wide selection of factory ammunition with every popular bullet weight available. That said, any or all of the .300 mag-


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nums will be plenty of gun for deer or elk. And if one lives in moose country, where there might be grizzly/brown bears around, you’ve got a rifle that will bring down a large bull and also put the hurt on a bruin, using bullets in the 200- to 220-grain category. All of these rounds are also adequate for sheep, mountain goats, caribou and black bears. For long-range big game hunting, my recommendation is for the boattail bullet, no matter who makes it. This bullet design typically offers the highest ballistic coefficient; that is, the ability to go through the air with the least amount of drag, which improves trajectory. As explained in Speer Reloading Manual No. 14, “The higher the BC, the easier the bullet slips through air, resulting in higher retained velocity and less drop.” You needn’t be an advanced math major to sort it all out; you just need to know how to shoot. However, there’s quite a bit more to it. You need to do a little research on trajectory. Say you launch a 180-grain projectile at 3,000 fps muzzle velocity.

And then there’s the .300 Weatherby Magnum, which is among the rounds loaded by Hornady in its Precision Hunter series. (HORNADY)

It’s got a ballistic coefficient of 0.50. If you’re zeroed at 100 yards, that bullet will drop 2.9 inches at 200 yards, and 10.9 inches at 300 yards, according to Speer’s long-range tables. If you launch a 180-grain bullet with a ballistic coefficient of 0.30, and you’re

zeroed at 100 yards, that bullet – again according to Speer’s tables – will drop 3.4 inches at 200 yards and 12.8 inches at 300 yards. So, if you know that you will be taking shots of at least 300 yards, you will want to go high at 100, from 3½ to perhaps 4½ inches, depending upon the bullet and the muzzle velocity. Good loading manuals have ballistic tables in the rear of the book, and I think those found in the Speer manuals are the user-friendliest, though I’m sure to get a lot of disagreement.

MANY PEOPLE THINK the .300 Win. Magnum is perfect for hunting North American big game in wide-open spaces or pretty open timber country. There are tamer calibers around. The .270 Winchester comes to mind, though I think the late Jack O’Connor might have overhyped it a bit. There’s the .30-06, which I have suggested might be the best all-around North American hunting caliber, and then, again, maybe not. It has a recoil issue, and if you think the ’06 has a punch, the .300 Magnum in any flavor is going to rock your world. And there’s the .308 Winchester, with which I conked one of the biggest bucks I’ve ever shot at just over 200 yards with a 165-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip. There is an abundance of good pro70

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SIG SAUER ANNOUNCES RELOADING COMPONENTS

Sig Sauer is now offering components for handloaders. (SIG SAUER)

Sig Sauer, Inc. recently announced a new line of reloading components for rifle and handgun cartridge reloaders. These components are produced at the company’s manufacturing facility in Jacksonville, Arkansas. Dubbed the Elite Performance line, they are delivered primed or unprimed for pistol calibers or unprimed in rifle calibers. They come out of the package sparkling clean and ready for the press. For rifle shooters, Sig Sauer is offering 50-count packages in the following calibers: .223 Rem., .22-250 Rem., .243 Win., .300 Blackout, .300 Win. Magnum, .308 Win., and 6.5 Creedmoor. Sig also revealed that there will also be brass for the .270 Win. and .30-06 soon. For handgunners, brass is initially offered in 100-count packages in .380 ACP, 9mm, .357 SIG, .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .40 S&W, 10mm and .45 ACP. Find out more at sigsauer.com/ammunition. –DW pellants that work in the .300 Magnum family. One needs only to snoop through a current reloading manual to find many choices and load your ammunition to meet the needs you anticipate in the field. A good recoil pad is going to help considerably, but just remember, they don’t call these .300s “magnums” for laughs. You’re going to know when they go off! If you go for the .300 Magnum of one name or another, you’ve got a cartridge that will deliver. Combined with the right scope and rifle, it will definitely meet the standard set by the late Robert Ruark: “Use enough gun.” ASJ 72

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THE GEAR GUY

MY TOP GEAR: WATER FILTER

Author’s note: Having the right gear is essential on any backcountry trip here in Alaska. Starting this month, I will provide insight on items that have worked for me in the past, based either on what I’m pursuing or what that adventure holds. Some may do it differently or use different equipment, and that is OK; everyone needs to use what works for them. This is just a short piece on what I’ve found that works for me.

BY PAUL D. ATKINS

H

eading upriver – either by boat or plane – you need to think about your water source. I realize that it sounds simple, but next to having shelter and food, it ranks near the top, if not at the top on most trips. Granted, there is plenty of water in Alaska in various rivers, streams and the occasional lake, but it isn’t always drinkable. While you could do it if you were desperate, why take a chance on getting a bad case of beaver fever, only to come down with the giardia worm a couple weeks later? I was reminded of this on a recent trip to fish for a few days. I forgot my water filter and even though we had filled a few jugs for the trip, we did run out before the trip was over. Luckily, we didn’t have any malfunctions in getting home or we would have been drinking from the river. Yes, we could have boiled it, and likely everything would have been fine. But why take that chance? Water filters come in a variety of shapes and sizes and I’ve tried them all on numerous occasions. But what have

Paul Atkins (above) has spent enough time in the wilderness and bush of Alaska to know that having a water filtration system of some kind is the safe way to collect drinkable water from the state’s rivers, streams and lakes. Having a pump like the one made by Katadyn (left) that’s small enough to fit comfortably in your pack is a nice convenience to have while you’re on foot. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

worked best for me over the years are those made by Katadyn (katadyn.com). They’re simple to use, pump water effectively and are 99.99-percent germproof, even in dirty water. They also fit nicely in your pack, plus they work for both hydration packs and water bottles.

The easy-to-use pump is fast and efficient and will give you good, clean water in no time. Get one for your next adventure! ASJ Editor’s note: Follow Paul Atkins on Twitter (@aktrophyhunter).

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OPENING DAY ADRENALINE RUSH THE FIRST DAY OF FISHING IN THE ARCTIC MEANS CHUM SALMON AND SHEEFISH BY PAUL D. ATKINS

O

pening day! Now that has a ring to it, doesn’t it? It can carry images of baseball and that old red, white and blue bunting adorning the grandstand that you see on television. The visual takes me back to my youth and trips to Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium to watch the Royals play when the boys of summer had finally returned. But it wasn’t until I came to the Alaskan Arctic when those words took on a whole different meaning. That magic date is Aug. 1, when opening day means heading upriver to try our luck at fishing and the chance at seeing the first critters that make

After a while your back gets to hurting and your arms ache, but the action and fun is so intense you can’t stop when fishing season starts on the Kobuk River in Arctic Alaska. The guys loaded up on chum salmon. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

their way out of the bush. My fishing and hunting partner Lew Pagel and I were doing just that. That voyage has to start somewhere, and it begins by crossing a big piece of water. Now, I would rather have rain over wind anytime, especially when you have to cross a lake that is 50 miles

long, 20 miles wide and not very deep. I dread the crossing every time, knowing that a lot of fishermen have met their doom there or at least required searchand-rescue help. Boating across the infamous Kobuk Lake (or Hotham Inlet as it’s formally called) to our destination, with margin-

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Gravel bars are great places for setting up camp, especially if you can bring along all the luxuries to make it comfortable. A see-through netted mosquito shack is ideal for the late evenings, plus the big Cabela’s Outfitter tent complete with cots makes it pretty nice too. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

al wind, however, is part of the deal, especially if you want to find good fishing upriver or at least a variety of it in places where many do not dare to go. As we prepared to cross we knew the wind was “iffy” at best and could see the whitecaps in the distance, but as Lew revved the motor I knew we were committed now.

LEW AND I HAD planned this trip upriver for weeks; all year, actually. Our annual Arctic fishing adventure up the Kobuk River has been one of our favorites and produced some of the best fishing

we’ve experienced in all our years living up here. Such a variety of fish with nonstop action from the first to the last cast has kept us coming back year after year. It’s truly incredible! Getting there does take time in a boat, and flying has been an option in the past. But being able to navigate certain rivers and drainages with a boat has given us an advantage in finding the better channels with higher numbers of fish. If one spot doesn’t produce, we basically can pack up and move. It also allows us to motor up and float down while anchoring in some of the better

Moose are abundant along the river, or at least you hope you see a few. Mama cow and her calf swam the river in front of the guys. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

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spots. Rafting does the same, but it’s not as manageable as a boat. As usual, we scheduled the four days allotted for this trip around the opening of hunting season. It’s a good combination when spending time upriver in the Arctic. Fish during the day and hunt the mornings and evenings, in between some relaxing in camp. Many would pay a lot for a trip like this, something you can only do here in the far north. And I must tell you that the ride upriver was beautiful, with an abundance of wildlife around every corner, especially birds – endless flocks of ducks, loons and the occasional eagle swooped and dived near the boat looking for their next meal. We saw moose too – more than usual – cruising the shores for whatever reason. It was a perfect day for traveling. We had warm temperatures that tempted us to strip down to short sleeves, but we decided against it due to the swarms of mosquitoes that were following us looking for their first meal too. There are several rivers that braid off the bigger Kobuk that we were looking for. Two of those rivers, the Salmon and the Hunt, are a couple examples that Lew and I try and fish every year. They’re filled with early chums that have made the long journey north to spawn. Besides chum there are sheefish, which tend to hang out in the same


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Here is the first fish author Paul Atkins pulled out of the water, hooked on his first cast. This little spot at the mouth of this drainage was awesome and produced fish after fish. (LEW PAGEL)

pools, feeding off the early eggs that the chum produce. Whitefish and grayling are there too, and off in the dark water you can catch pike. It’s this kind of variety that makes it so much fun, making it kind of a super slam of fishing here in the Arctic. We were excited to give it another go.

OUR FIRST STOP – and what ended up

being our camping spot – was a large gravel bank at the mouth of the Salmon River. Chums were abundant there and could be seen from the deck of the boat. They covered the bottom, dashed here and there and worked their way upstream. We decided to stop and give it a go. Good thing we did, as almost immediately we had bent rods and fish

There is nothing better at the end of the day than to catch a last fish, fillet the delicate meat and turn it into a delicacy for an evening meal in a wild corner of Alaska. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

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What Atkins and fishing partner Lew Pagel really came for were sheefish. Even though they didn’t get a lot of fish, they weren’t disappointed. These big silver fish are abundant in certain areas of the river and finding the right location is key, which was for Pagel in this instance.

on. Granted, chum salmon are not highly thought of by most people. These fish are at the bottom of the salmon chain, but what people don’t realize is that they put up an incredible battle and are sure fun to catch. Once hooked, chums brawl like a madman and the action is nonstop if you get into a bunch of them. Chums are strong fighters that like to jump, run and can be very aggressive towards a variety of lures. Over the years we’ve tried a lot of those lures in many different arrangements and colors, being successful with many and not so much with a few others. However, we’ve had the most luck with spoons, usually ones that are pink. Blue Fox’s Pink Pixee with egg sac insert is one of our favorites, as they seem to be irresistible to these guys. Although it might take a few casts, they eventually will come around and take a bite. It’s been my experience that chums will usually strike the lure due to proximity versus hunger; it almost makes them mad than anything else. I’ve found that wading downstream and then casting upstream and letting the lure work its way down into a group provides the best chance at hooking into one of these monsters. There were times on this trip that every cast produced a fish. Even though we caught many, we released the same amount. Catch and release is always delicate, but chums are hardy and unless you hook one deep, they will safely head back to the deeper water. Chums are called “dog salmon” due to the spawning males having exaggerated teeth that resemble a canine’s. Many people outside the Arctic won’t eat chums, but they are an important part of the food chain up here and I find them great eating, especially at the end of the day over an open fire at camp. Chums are also becoming more popular in some markets, especially overseas, where they are considered delicacies. Lew and I used Fish Eagle rods and reels from Cabela’s and caught our fill of chums each day. The action was incredible and the number of fish we landed was a record for us, but for some

(PAUL D. ATKINS)

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reason we hadn’t hooked what we really came for: sheefish.

THE NARROW STRIP THAT lines the mouth of the river we were fishing didn’t produce one single “tarpon of the north.” In past years it certainly has. Figuring they may be in deeper water, we decided to motor upriver from camp and fish the main channel of the Kobuk, which turned out to be a good choice! We found a small eddy, anchored up and had fish on before we knew it. Sheefish are native to these streams; if you’ve read some of my previous articles then you know how much we love to catch them through the ice in late winter and early spring when they make their way south. Sheefish (also known as inconnu) are not fighters like chums, but they are aggressive and love to feed on chum eggs during the spawn. These big, white-colored fish are good eating (though halibut is my favorite). The cool thing is we didn’t have to change tackle. Sheefish love a Pink Pixee just like chum and will strike al-

Bear encounters are pretty common upriver, especially this time of year. This one also was looking for fish and even though it was the hunting opener and Atkins had a tag, he let the bruin pass. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

most immediately when the spoon hits the water. We didn’t catch many sheefish, but the ones we did were healthy and fun to net into the boat, something that we had only done from the shore. Late July is usually the best time if sheefish are on your list and we’ve found that in some areas of this river they are more

prevalent than others, especially where the current is swift. There have been times on previous trips that the ratio of sheefish to chums was reversed and we caught more than we could count, but not this time. Sheefish were few and far between, but we did land a couple of nice ones. We also landed a few whitefish,

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These chums weren’t the biggest, but a double of salmon meant another successful trip to the Kobuk. Pagel and Atkins have been coming up for years and it has never disappointed them. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

which are smaller and less aggressive than their bigger cousins. I had never caught one, so this was a first for me. Small spoons, Krocodiles that are made by Luhr-Jensen, were an excellent choice for hooking these small fighters. It didn’t matter whether we were trolling or jigging; they worked great! We also took time to venture off the river into some of the smaller drainages where the black water flows. These small creeks are ideal for catching pike, but you’re usually out of the wind, so be prepared to gather a few more mosquito bites as well. We did both with ease. Using steel leaders with a midweight Johnson Silver Minnow, these snakeshaped fish hit our set-ups repeatedly. Pike are great eating and fun to catch, but be prepared to get a few scrapes and scars if you don’t have the right gear. Gloves help, but most importantly make sure you have a set of pliers to battle those teeth!

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to an end, but not without excitement the morning of our departure. Bears in camp are never fun, and believe me, they will wake you up even if you’re in a dead sleep. No harm was done and even though it was opening day and I put the scope on him numerous times, I let him pass. We had caught our fill of fish and experienced the Arctic as it should be – on a river where few go and where the fishing is incredible. If your plans include boating or even flying up north to fish these Arctic streams, just make sure you’re prepared to cross a lot of water to get there, pack some tinfoil and a few spices, carry a gun and have plenty of bug dope! ASJ Editor’s note: Regular contributor Paul Atkins is an outdoor writer and author from Kotzebue, Alaska. He has written hundreds of articles on big game hunting and fishing throughout North America and Africa, plus surviving in the Arctic. aksportingjournal.com | SEPTEMBER 2018

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TRAVEL ALASKA Barrow

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Dogs may be everyone’s best friends, but the salmon nicknamed for their canine-like teeth get a bad rap. Yet as author Mike Lunde points out, hooking a chum on a fly means you’re in for quite the fight. This one was taken in Montana Creek near the Susitna River. (MIKE LUNDE)

THESE FOUR SCORE WITH CHUMS HOW TO TIE THE TOP FLIES FOR DOG SALMON BY MIKE LUNDE s summer transitions into the early fall month of September, alpine forests alongside Alas-

A

ka’s riverine highways begin to display the earliest signs of yellow leaves, a stark comparison to the Lower 48, still mostly enduring heat waves.

But as temperatures here cooled off in August, schools of salt-fresh chum salmon moved out of the tidewaters of the Cook Inlet and Bristol Bay and headed upstream. Throughout their spawning journey, they are highly susceptible

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to a swung fly, with specific patterns outperforming others based on the magnitude of their aggressive behavior. Here, we present some of the most effective flies to use for chums across Alaska.

EGG-SUCKING LEECH This pattern is recognized as one of the greatest salmon and steelhead flies of all time due to its simple design and ability to entice aggressive and nonaggressive fish to strike in almost any situation. Chum anglers have reportedly witnessed single salmon and groups of them race across backwater sloughs to chase down an Egg-sucking Leech and “kill it,” despite not being in feeding mode. An interesting characteristic about an Egg-sucking Leech is that it does not represent a common organism found in nature, like fly patterns generally resemble. It is typically tied onto a salmon-sized long-shanked streamer hook in sizes No. 2 to 4 or, more recently, on medium-diameter tubes.

Egg-sucking Leeches are considered one of the best salmon flies of all time. Fish will often strike one even if not in feeding mode. (MIKE LUNDE)

The tail consists of a marabou tail tied directly on the back of the hook curvature perpendicular to the hook point. The body consists of two materials – medium- to large-diameter chenille and saddle hackle or schlappen – that provides volume and enhanced profile to the pattern. Sparse applications of

Flashabou are typically tied in the marabou to provide additional swimming motion once the current stimulates the marabou fibers and flash. First, the chenille is palmered forward towards just slightly behind the hook’s eye, followed by the hackle. Once tied off and trimmed, dumbbell

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eyes are selected and which function as the primary weight option. The last tying step is to create the “egg-sucking head.” One strategy is to tie in orange or pink chenille and figure-eight wrap it until small head is achieved. The other method is to apply sparse applications of dubbing with a dubbing twister and figure-eight wrap it around the dumbbell eyes.

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ARTICULATED LEECH

Articulated Leeches are highlighted by a rabbit zonker strip for a tail. (MIKE LUNDE)

Perhaps to make a classic salmon pattern better by Alaskan standards is to create a supersized version of it. An Articulated Leech features a rabbit zonker strip for a tail with either a palmered marabou or crosscut rabbit body. Both material options suffice for the body, with most fly tiers nowadays favoring the marabou. When soaked after you’ve made multiple presentations, the marabou doesn’t hold water. The rabbit strip becomes waterlogged, so a different casting approach is required. The articulation resides between the body sections and is the main feature that gives the pattern its name.

Fly fishing tackle requirements and presentations for chum salmon are relatively simple. A popular combination matches a 9- to 10-foot, 7- to 8-weight fast-action fly rod matched with a large arbor reel containing a dependable sealed drag system. The reel should carry a minimum of 125 yards of 20- to 30-pound Dacron backing and a standard weight forward (WF) floating fly line. Tapered leaders should be a 25-pound monofilament butt section blood-knotted or Albrighted to 15- to 20-pound tippet. A typical technique and presentation for chums consists of the traditional wet fly swing, which begins with a strategic 10- to 30-degree-angled upstream mend. Once the fly is delivered to its target, lift the rod up in the upstream direction to engage the pullback mend. This literally pulls the line out of the water and thus prevents the fly from sinking against the force of the current. As the fly swings, it achieves maximum depth, so refrain from multiple mending attempts in order to let it swing, while at the same time paying close attention to rod positioning. ML

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GEAR UP FOR CHUM FISHING

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The articulation is generally made by taking a 12-inch piece of 30- to 60-pound braided line and threading one tag end through the back section. Gel-spun or Kevlar thread are the best thread choices for attaching and securing the line to the shank. Avoid monofilament because it slips out and has excessive stretch. An alternative option is to tie both the front and back sections onto a Waddington shank, which is basically a glorified shank minus the hook point and curvature on it. Umpqua and Fish Skull are two fly fishing companies that have excellent varieties of different-sized Waddington shanks to select from. Effective color combinations to use include purple, pink, black, black/blue, and chartreuse, depending on the water conditions.

would prove itself as a deadly weapon in the anadromous fly fishing scene, particularly for chums. Besides Bristol Bay, aggressive chums returning to roadside salmon fisheries off the Parks Highway are absolute suckers for a stripped or swung Prom Dress. The Prom Dress body construction is another simple variation like other fly patterns mentioned thus far. The original prototype developed by Scott Howell

can be tied shank-style on a sacrificial front hook with a No. 2 octopus stinger hook. Its body consists of 100-percent Flashabou with a New Guinea collar palmered up front against the flash. Flashabou is tied and distributed around the hook 360 degrees, with the assistance of a rotary vise helping tremendously. Dumbbell eyes are the primary weight option. Some chum salmon anglers have

PROM DRESS The Prom Dress was originally designed and field-tested on the turbocharged tidewater Chinook of Bristol Bay, then eventually on the famed steelhead waters of Washington and Oregon. The fly

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Prom Dresses are a productive option for chums – not only around Bristol Bay but also some Interior streams off the Parks Highway. (MIKE LUNDE)

SEPTEMBER 2018 | aksportingjournal.com


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explored additional options to maximize the effectiveness of this pattern. A recent exploratory option developed by expert guides in Alaska has been a Flashabou spinnerbait-like skirt tied in the back and a body consisting of palmered marabou. Center-tied bundles of flash and folded over in an angle form the skirt. The small threadhead in back is secured with a sparse application of quick-drying, UV-enhanced adhesive.

The earliest Intruders were tied shankstyle onto a sacrificial front hook, with the Mustad No. 36890 as a primary example and the stinger hook connection between the octopus stinger hook and sacrificial front hook with braided line, heavy Dacron or fly line backing. Some tiers currently favor Senyo’s Intruder Wire as a substitute method for making the connection. The body profile of an Intruder includes a dubbing ball in the back section of tube or sacrificial front hook to prop up marabou fi-

bers and other feather fiber and spread them as much as possible. A sparse marabou feather is palmered just in front of the dubbing ball, followed by a dubbing loop filled with ostrich or rhea feather fibers. Next, sparse applications of dubbing form the body, with just enough room to tie in the dumbbell eyes. Repeat the steps from the rear shoulder section to form the front section of the streamer. Common feather choices for the Spey hackle include Lady Am-

INTRUDER Three famed Spey fishermen – Scott Howell, Ed Ward and Jerry French – are equally responsible for the birth of the Intruder, arguably one of the best salmon and steelhead flies of all time. The innovative concept of the Intruder was to design a large streamer stinger-hook system instead of continuing to tie them on traditional long-shanked 2/0 and 3/0 Spey hooks, which resulted in deeply hooked chums and other migratory fish. Catch-and-release studies determined that this type of hooking increased stress on chums, Chinook, coho and steelhead.

For Parks Highway chums, go with dark Intruders, but for Bristol Bay fish, pink works best. (MIKE LUNDE)

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LODGING


herst, New Guinea, schlappen, or blueeared pheasant. A selection of Intruders for targeting chums would include flies in the colors purple, black, blue and pink. Parks Highway fish seems to be suckers for purple and black, while for fresh tidewater fish in Bristol Bay, pink is a must have.

WORTHY TARGET Although chums are frowned upon compared to the other species of Pacific salmon, pound for pound, they are one of the hardest-fighting fish in the genus Oncorhynchus. They will test your fighting skills and the quality of the craftsmanship of your fly fishing tackle. As demonstrated through countless broken lines, straightened hooks and trashed drags, chums have earned respect as true fighters. So if you’re looking for late-summer fishing adventures in Alaska that will send surges of adrenaline through your body, look to the countless roadside and remote coastal river systems jammed with tens of thousands of aggressive chums determined to unleash that dog bite. ASJ

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Guide and owner Trevor Smith of Fairbanks-based TSFLYCO with a nice Montana Creek chum. Despite being less desirable than more celebrated Chinook, sockeye and coho, these salmon can provide lots of action and excitement. (MIKE LUNDE)

SEPTEMBER 2018 | aksportingjournal.com


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MISERY OF THE DEEP THE SOMETIMES TEDIOUS AND EXHAUSTING CHALLENGE OF REELING IN GIANT FISH FAR BELOW THE OCEAN SURFACE BY JEFF LUND

I

am not sure there is anything in the outdoor recreational world in which the work is more dreaded than fishing in 400 feet of water. The best-case scenario is that you hook into a big halibut or lingcod and suffer for the foreseeable future. You try to find a spot to anchor the butt of the rod where it will do the least bruising or internal damage. Or you just keep moving it around – lower abdominal, armpit, hip bone, inner upper thigh (be careful) – so that you can widen the range of trauma in an effort to reduce it. This, of course, is if your buddy or guide doesn’t have something that cheats you out of a truly miserable experience. But there are many other miseries in the life of an outdoorsman and outdoorswoman. Hiking down from the alpine with a pack full of meat is grueling, but at least you can sit and rest. You can eat a Starburst. If you were smart, you prepared for the heavy pack with squats and lunges, hikes and runs, and exercises to strengthen your shoulders, core and hip flexors. You aren’t going to find a reeling machine at the gym or on Amazon for training.

REELING IN A LINGCOD or halibut from the deep, deep is not fun. At all. Not even in one of those weird, backward ways that hunters and anglers use to describe fun pain. I will gladly subject myself to reeling in a big bottomfish, but I’d never say, “I could do this all day.” I went to social media and did an unscientific poll on Facebook, knowing full well that anytime you ask a hunter or angler about anything, it’s likely that the response will be greatly exaggerated or so unclear that you’re not really sure what the answer was. By the time I’d be finishing my an-

Author Jeff Lund surely got a workout from even this modest but perfect eating-sized halibut caught off Southeast Alaska. Heading out to sea and reeling up giant fish from hundreds of feet below the surface can be an acquired taste. (JEFF LUND)

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swer to a question such as, “What is your favorite fish to catch?” I would have likely responded in such a way that would make the inquisitor think that I just provided reasons I didn’t like pursuing a certain fish. I would say steelhead, no question, but I’d rant about how miserable it is to take a 20-minute skiff ride on a 30-degree day, dock, then hike an hour and a half to stand in the cold water, only to catch a fish I have no intention of eating. So how does that make steelhead my favorite fish? Because all the misery was worth it? I’ve caught beautiful brown trout in beautiful places and there was no misery. It’s not the brown trout’s fault. Anyway, the social media question was telling. “Which is more miserable? A. 100-pound halibut from 400 feet? B. 100-pound pack off the alpine? Consider duration of blissful misery, meat yield, excitement, postability, whatever you’d like. Remember, everyone is entitled

to their wrong opinions, so respond and chill.” The last part of the post is important, of course, because there is always someone who will post the “if it hurts you so bad, then don’t do it” line rather than have fun and answer the question. Anyway, the responses were cloudy, as expected, but also had some important semantic differences. One guy thought that “A” was more miserable, but that the pack off the alpine hurts more. That is a very important distinction. Misery implies very little, if any, fun. Hurting doesn’t necessarily imply misery. A repeated motion slowly works toward discomfort and eventually pain but you can establish a pace while heading down the mountain and chip away at the distance. The same can’t really be said for reeling. You also won’t get most of the way back to the truck and get sent back to the starting point because the truck ran off. Either way, most of the posts ended with a derivative of “it’s worth it,” and

Klawock resident Daniel Peters with a big lingcod, one of Alaska’s most popular saltwater species. (JEFF LUND)

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most sided with the pack being prolonged discomfort, while misery was reserved for the deep sea adventure. This is about attitude, though, and less about a correct response.

Lingcod are known for their ravenous appetites and predatory tendencies. (JEFF LUND)

EVERYONE WANTS EVERYTHING to be easy. Some people know there is no joy if there is no work so they will take a bargain buck or a ‘but that doesn’t put up much of a fight, but they are willing to do what it takes to reap a better reward. Some people attempt to eliminate work with a disqualifying attitude or simple laziness. For those who have adopted the work mindset, tackling these comparisons can be fun, and telling. I’ve talked to people who take pride in saying the pack down a mountain was exhausting. “Oh man, it was rough,” they start, but the smile of a provider shines through. Oftentimes when asking about the experience of reeling in a halibut over 100 pounds, the face goes serious. “Dude …” I nod my head. I know. I know more than one charter cap-

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tain who much prefers watching a client suffer from the spot at the back of the deck than doing it himself. Another consideration is the repetitive and uncertain nature of bottom-

SEPTEMBER 2018 | aksportingjournal.com

fishing in deep water. When you finally reach the bottom, set on the first hit, feel a fish but soon realize it’s not of keepable size or species, you’ve still got to bring it up. Four. Hundred. Feet. Re-


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For anglers like California resident Anthony Zottarelli a big lingcod will make you work for your trophy catch. (JEFF LUND)

lease it, and drop back down. This does not happen in hunting. You don’t shoot a deer and discover it was really a squirrel. There is obviously no catch and release with .270 rounds either. You make the shot, do the work, pack up, then go home. As previously mentioned, the larger question is the joy hunters and anglers take in engaging in this type of discussion after partaking in these type of experiences. Not in the knuckle-dragging, misogynistic, toxic masculinity, traditional gender role – the “my dad telling me to ‘be a man’ ruined my life” sort of way – but in the way fishing and hunting buddies discuss the lives they enjoy around a campfire. The way athletes discuss grueling workouts. The way writers discuss hunting words that hide. The way artists discuss sleepless nights and insecurities. It’s the way people who do tough things discuss the joy of doing tough things, and the people who sit and watch other people do tough things, don’t. So, while I have spent the last 1,000 or so words whining about how reeling in big halibut hurts my arms, I’d gladly do it tomorrow if my buddy Dan had a spot on his boat. ASJ 114

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Lund’s friend JJ Ramirez retrieved this pair of halibut from 400 feet of water. It’s no wonder that Lund writes that he and probably others wouldn’t say, “I could do this all day.” It can be quite the workout. (JEFF LUND)

SEPTEMBER 2018 | aksportingjournal.com


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ALASKA TROPHY FISHING SAFARIS COMPANY NAME Alaska Trophy Fishing Safaris GUIDED WATERS Mulchatna River, Bristol Bay CONTACT INFO alaskatrophyfishingsafaris.com; (907) 299-1598

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laska Sporting Journal How did your family get involved with Alaska Trophy Fishing Safaris? Co-owner Melissa Carlin John Carlin started guiding for Alaska Trophy Fishing Safaris (ATFS) on the Mulchatna River in 1987, the summer of his senior year of high school. It was his summer job throughout his college career at the University of Notre Dame. He played college hockey for the Fighting Irish in the winter and was an Alaska bush guide in the summers – living the dream! John permanently moved to Alaska when he realized that he was not meant for suburban life in his hometown in Minnesota and continued guiding for ATFS in the summers while teaching and coaching high school hockey on the Kenai Peninsula. In 2003, he purchased ATFS from his mentor, Dennis Harms, a legendary bush pilot and Alaskan outfitter who wanted to focus his attention on his bear guiding camp. As a trusted employee of 16 years, Dennis knew he was passing the torch to John’s trusted hands. John celebrated his 30th year on the Mulchatna River this past summer – he took only one year off guiding when he went on a college-related trip to Europe – the same location for three decades. That in itself is rare these days – to have the same job for 30 years and still love it.

ASJ Tell us about the fishing opportunities you offer and the experience staying at the Mulchatna River Camp. MC Alaska Trophy Fishing Safaris is located in the heart of the Bristol Bay fishery on the Mulchatna River off the Nushagak River, the home to the world’s largest native salmon run. ATFS offers six-day, all-inclusive fishing packages at a remote and pristine tributary untouched by the masses. We only fish the absolute peak weeks of the salmon runs, so it is a short but productive season. That being said, the majority of our guests are return clients; some have been coming for 30-plus years. We offer conventional

fishing set-ups as well as fly fishing gear and tackle, and we can accommodate novice to seasoned anglers, young and old. We house up to 16 to 18 guests, with two anglers per boat/guide. Ask any of our crew and guests: It’s a magical place. Not only is the fishery bountiful but it is a tranquil place where families, associates and friends come to relax in an unplugged, comfortable yet rustic Alaskan setting. Our folks leave with a heart full of memories and friendships and a cooler full of fish. ASJ What kind of salmon run have you had this season? MC In a state where the salmon run count has dwindled so low that the majority of the road-system fisheries have had to have emergency closures and decreased limits, we are so blessed to have had a historically consistent healthy salmon run. The king salmon fishery was hot; the sockeye salmon fishery was incredible; the (chum run) was ridiculously productive; and the silver salmon were on fire. You can also catch rainbow trout, Arctic char, grayling and pike. ASJ There are so many Alaska destinations for Lower 48ers to travel to. What makes Alaska Trophy Fishing Safaris special? MC It’s a scenic adventure just getting here as you take a small commercial flight from Anchorage to a remote native village, traveling over snow-capped volcanoes and mountains. Then you board a floatplane and land on the Mulchatna River, where our boats pick up our guests and bring them back to a “mini village” erected each season on the bluff overlooking the river and mountains. We also take great pride in that John has been a conscientious steward of the river and fishery for 30 years. Although we host guests who enjoy bringing their fish home, John and ATFS crew encourage catch and release whenever possible to sustain the integrity of the fishery. ASJ aksportingjournal.com | SEPTEMBER 2018

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THE TROUT HIGHWAY HUNGRY INTERIOR RAINBOWS ABOUND ON THE ANCHORAGE-TO-FAIRBANKS ROUTE

BY MIKE LUNDE

Interior Alaska’s rivers and streams offer a lot of water where big trout should be as attractive a target as more celebrated salmon, as author Mike Lunde can attest. (MIKE LUNDE)

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chools of fire engine red-colored salmon maintain their stationary position in a deep cobble-bottomed pool. Their hormonal cues in combination with the outside environment signal that it is time to move closer towards their headwater resting places. Spotted submarines with pinkish-red lateral stripes camouflage themselves against the bottom and lay in close proximity to haggard deconditioned salmon, ready to suck in free-floating unfertilized eggs like Eureka vacuum cleaners. aksportingjournal.com | SEPTEMBER 2018

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A helpless bead floats towards the school of salmon and the orange indicator vanishes in the blink of an eye. At the other end, a 24-inch rainbow trout leaps out of the water. This scenario occurs frequently on the Parks Highway, a 365-mile road system that connects Anchorage to Fairbanks. Along this stretch, each clearwater tributary that connects to the Susitna River teems with large rainbows that average 18 inches and provide anglers with a legitimate shot at a 24- to 30inch monster.

LOCATION CHANGE During winter, rainbow trout generally transition from the clearwater tribs into deeper habitats of the Susitna. One reason for the migration is that interconnecting tributaries are plagued with low oxygen levels and ice thickness that commonly reaches bottom. After winter, Parks Highway rainbows set up early-season locations along silt lines and lower regions of clearwater

tributaries to go on intense foraging sessions to prepare for spawning. Primary forage items rainbows are interested in are salmon smolts, sculpins, terrestrial insects and the occasional small rodent. Once spawning is completed by early to mid-May, rainbows redistribute themselves in the lower to middle sections of rivers and mouths. They camouflage themselves against bottom and snipe out migrating salmon smolts. The signs of nature commonly tell when this significant predator-prey interaction occurs. Schools of gulls, kingfishers and other birds fly around the mouths of these streams on the Susitna and circle in clockwise formation. Once engaged, the birds dive-bomb the surface, a sign that smolts are present. Foraging continues aggressively until the conclusion of the smolt outmigration around late June. Occasional schools will outmigrate later in the summer, but most have already vacated. As adult king salmon numbers increase throughout July, rainbows op-

The 365 miles of the Parks Highway links Anchorage and Fairbanks. Along the route there is no shortage of fishable water full of trout. (MIKE LUNDE)

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portunistically switch foraging strategies towards the high-nutrition source of eggs and flesh. An identical pattern is followed for the duration of the summer as chums, sockeye, pinks and silvers initiate their spawning runs. Rainbows will also forage on decomposing pieces of salmon flesh as fall progresses. Best habitat locations at this time are deep runs or pools just downstream from riffles. Easy habitat identification of mysterious rainbows is to find schools of spawning salmon. Fly fishing and conventional tactics can be equally effective for enticing strikes from Parks Highway rainbows. Again, it is typically seasonality that determines which lure or fly should be selected. Specifically, we highlight the most effective ones.

FLY FISHING Using a fly set-up for large Alaskan trout is a timeless tradition, one that many local anglers as well as those from the Lower 48 have used to catch trophy rainbows. And similar to trout tactics


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from outside, multiple patterns and prototypes work to match the smorgasbord of forage present in the rivers. Once the Susitna and its clearwater tributaries are ice-free, smolt and sculpin patterns are typically the most effective. Common smolt patterns for Parks Highway rainbows are Dolly Llamas, Hickman’s smolt and Deceivers. Popular sculpin patterns include Willie Nelson, the Conrad sculpin, Woolhead sculpin, and deer-head prototypes. Mousing is another effective early-season technique. Skating a mouse pattern around logjams, boulders or vegetation is an adrenaline rush. Look to Mr. Hanky and Morrish Mouses to be the most productive patterns. A 9-foot, 5- to 7-weight fast-action fly rod suffices for casting and presenting these streamers, as well as mouse patterns, on a downstream swing. Once all the clearwater tributaries have adequately received a substantial amount of salmon, all other techniques discussed in this article seem to lose their mojo, with the exception of egg patterns and beads.

Out of all prey items available to rainbows, eggs are the most nutrient-rich resource rainbows require to put on the pounds before winter. Therefore, the best “match the hatch” technique to replicate a salmon egg is a bead. Beads should be pegged 2 inches above the hook with a Peg-it or nail knotted with a separate piece of mono. Use 10-millimeter beads to imitate salmon eggs, whereas 6- to 8-millimeter beads represent eggs from the other species of salmon. Effective colors to use early in the spawning run are natural roe, cherry roe, ruby roe and tangerine. As eggs become washed out, switch to glo roe, apricot and variations of cream and peach. During fall, use dark peach, milt roe and dirty roe, which resemble eggs that have been in the river for quite some time. A 9½- to 10-foot, 6- to 8-weight fast-action fly rod is perfect for dead-drifting beads over deep runs, pools and alongside schools of salmon. Use a floating fly line connected to a tapered fluorocarbon leader with 10-pound tippet.

CONVENTIONAL GEAR Although fly fishing has recognizably gained the most popularity in targeting rainbows in Alaska, conventional anglers should not necessarily feel at a disadvantage. There are several effective tactics that fly anglers cannot employ throughout the season. Soft plastics are an underrated tackle category to consider, and they are the most effective during the salmon smolt outmigration period, the important predator-prey interaction during late spring into early summer. Soft plastic minnows in the 2- to 3-inch category, which resemble the lengths of salmon smolts, are absolutely deadly when fished in slower current flow downstream from mouths that dump into the Susitna. Soft plastic minnows should be threaded onto a long-shanked 1⁄16- to ¼-ounce jighead. Casts should be pinpointed just slightly upstream at a 30- to 45-degree angle so the jig has a chance to sink faster against the physical force of rushing current. After the jig is cast and strikes sur-

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Whether you’re using a smolt pattern fly or casting lures with a spinning rod, the reward of a fat rainbow makes the Parks Highway a productive destination for troutheads. (MIKE LUNDE)

face, flip the bail on the spinning reel and reel in any slack line so it remains tight. Keep the rod tip at about waistheight position and make a series of twitches with your wrist. Each twitch makes the soft plastic minnow bobble in an up-and-down movement that resembles a struggling baitfish. Strikes typically occur on the freefall position when the jig isn’t twitched. A 7-foot, light to medium-light spinning

rod spooled up with 6- to 8-pound monofilament is the preferred choice for this technique and presentation. Other experts and angling enthusiasts prefer fluorocarbon when fishing clear water so the presentation remains stealthy. Other soft plastic bait variations that will work include Mr. Twister tails, 2- to 3½-inch tubes, and Sassy and Jerk Shads. Another technique that can catch

PARKS HIGHWAY STREAM LOCATIONS From Anchorage northbound towards the outskirts of Cantwell, many Parks Highway locations offer a plethora of rainbow trout streams that are interconnected with the Susitna, Chulitna and Talkeetna Rivers. All of these glacial river systems feature interconnecting clearwater tributaries that harbor populations of wild rainbows that can achieve the legendary 30-inch, 10-pound category, considered the holy grail of rainbow trout fishing by Alaska standards. With endless options, the best question to ask is where to fish? Here is a brief list of streams, starting at its furthest southbound location with the Little Susitna and ending at its northward point of the Middle Fork Chulitna River. Talkeetna River tributaries require either access to a boat or upstream drop-off transportation provided from outfitters in the town of Talkeetna off the Parks Highway. ML SUSITNA RIVER TRIBUTARIES Willow Creek Little Willow Creek Deshka River Kashwitna River Caswell Creek Sheep Creek Goose Creek Montana Creek Sunshine Creek

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TALKEETNA RIVER TRIBUTARIES Clear Creek Larson Creek CHULITNA RIVER TRIBUTARIES Byers Creek Troublesome Creek Horseshoe Creek Honolulu Creek East Fork Chulitna River Middle Fork Chulitna River

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rainbows very well throughout the course of the season are inline spinners, though they are best used earlier in the season prior to the arrival of spawning salmon. As salmon smolts outmigrate from clearwater tribs and into the Susitna, a simple inline spinner is really all it takes to draw an aggressive strike. Popular spinners to use include Panther Martins, Mepps No. 1s to 3s, and Blue Fox Vibrax No. 1s to 3s. Most manufacturers sell them with a sharp treble hook, so remember to swap it out for a single siwash hook to minimize damage to these precious rainbows. Under the Alaska Department of Fish and Game sportfishing regulations, single hooks are required for all Parks Highway streams when targeting rainbows and bait is not allowed.

MORE THAN SALMON With salmon numbers marginally increasing as the summer progresses, don’t focus all your fishing opportunities on the kings, sockeye and silvers, as the Last Frontier has some of, if not the best, rainbow trout fishing in the world. Whether or not you’re a veteran Alaskan angler or on that first vacation to the Land of the Midnight Sun, the Parks Highway is the perfect summer angling getaway. Come witness large acrobatic rainbow trout hiding under the densest underwater logs. The fish are eager, hungry and engaged to strike the first bead or soft plastic minnow that drifts past its hiding place. ASJ


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