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Fishing in the ‘spring’ Alaska style

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POSTED March 23, 2011 12:57 a.m.
It was a lot like that Kenny Chesney song, only we weren’t on stools, there were no shots, and the only reading we were doing was the river current through our warm breaths.

But we had nowhere to go and nowhere to be.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game claims there are only a few hundred steelhead that annually return, and based on how much success people other than my buddy Stephen have had, that sounds about right.

In contrast, a few million coho salmon fry are released each year from the hatchery making the late summer run of coho salmon epic. I know this because I used to work there. So it’s almost strange to see the river so lacking of fishy bodies.

The pristine water reveals every rock, branch or lost lure since the level is low. A few deep stretches hide the riverbed, but the entire flow, from lake to ocean is worth fishing, even if the chances of success are about the same as everyone leaving Charlie Sheen alone.

I spent six days on the river, walking its entire length, breath fading in the early morning cold, and water freezing in jagged triangles in the guides of my seven-weight fly-rod.

Friday, the weather completely cleared. By 10, I had put egg patterns in front of fussy steelhead the size of submarines on the Klawock River for the last time until I return for the summer.

Since spring seemed to officially appear in earnest around 11, Steve the cook and I eyed the top of Sunnahae, a mountain that rises directly behind the Port of Craig — Prince of Wales Island’s largest community.

It was almost in the 40s when we started at the base of the trail that does not believe in switch backs. Straight is the quickest way, so hamstrings and quadriceps hang on. Steve the cook had never been up the mountain, so he started off with an understandable zeal.

We hit snow once we cleared the old growth forest, and as we encroached upon the alpine, snow deepened, but there was enough crust to keep us from sinking to our hips, most of the time.

After 10 minutes I shed my outer layer.

Within 20 minutes, we had reached a 25-year-old clear cut that was being claimed by the forest. We could see past the last islands to open ocean. In the foreground, seemingly beneath us was Craig.

It was a little strange not seeing the wake of returning fishing boats like in the summer, but their absence seemed to add to weight to the solitude.

A wooden pathway fastened on top of a log had been rocked by a fallen tree during a winter storm. The log rolled 90 degrees, putting the “bridge” on its side, still hovering 15-feet above gnarly clear cut. The Forest Service recommended we consider this the end of the trail until its repair.

We took a picture of the official-looking sign, ignored it, and walked over the icy trunk.

We reached the first of two muskegs after about an hour of trudging through increasingly deep snow. By the time the Klawock Mountains came into view in the east there was almost a necessary dislocation of hips to retrieve our feet when we sank.

It was only now I considered snow-shoes.

We sat and hydrated quietly at the highest point we could reach within the limitations of time and gear, while an eagle softly steered itself toward earth, or lunch, beneath us.

Over the past decade or so, I’ve left a lot on the side of that mountain and in the Klawock and Thorne Rivers.

Nothing of which I care to burden myself with again, but life is inevitable. I guess that’s why greats like Thoreau, Muir and Biblical giants went to the wilderness.

To litter.

Getting there might be tough, but it’s well worth it to feel light again.


To contact Jeff Lund, email aklund21@gmail.com.
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