June 26, 2008


We're back!

(Handsome guy enjoying view from boardwalk)

...from an amazing and all too short 4 day fishing/camping trip on the Russian River. The Russian is located on the Kenai Penninsula about 110 miles from Anchorage. From the river's origin, Upper Russian Lake in the Kenai Mountains, this Clearwater stream runs 13 miles long, flowing down to Lower Russian lake and draining into the glacially silted Kenai River. There is a stunning contrast of milky blue/green and clear grey/brown where the two rivers meet. The confluence, located right off the Sterling Highway, is considered an angling hot spot. Or, to some, Combat Fishing Hell.
Although it’s not as remote as Alaska's more glorified, and logistically/monetarily more difficult to reach waters, the Russian is one of the most popular red salmon fisheries in AK. The river is most heavily fished on it’s lower 3 miles. Each summer there are two runs of sockeye/red salmon and one of silver salmon. As with the dip netting, one can find the masses rushin’ to the Russian when the runs are peaking. The river can be jam packed with combat fisherpeople at all hours of the day. Suicide runs(driving in from Anchorage after work to fish well into the night, catch a few Z’s and be back to work in the morning)are quite common. With combat fishing, fisherpeople, with about 5-8 feet between them, line the banks of the river for miles.

Fishing lines with bright flies whiz above their heads, plunk into the river for a 10 second ride downstream until SNAP! Flies leap out of the water to loop gracefully back around fisher heads for another go. Some lines will suddenly tighten-rod bowed in an arch. There are shouts of “Fish ON!” to announce that the fight is on. Sockeyes are said to be the hardest fighting and most acrobatic of the salmon. After the ensuing struggle, some folks are lucky enough to land the fish and still other’s fishing lines go suddenly slack-just a wisp blowing in the breeze-the fish broke away and most likely took the flies or whole leaders with them! When the fish are heading up river in droves it’s such an active exciting time. It feels great to walk out of the river with your limit for the day-which is 3 per family member. But on slow days most people can be seen just standing in the river, rod at the ready with a searching, disillusioned look on their faces. We had both kinds of fishing experiences on our trip.

We took off Saturday afternoon for the Russian River taking a couple stops to eat lunch and visit the Moose Pass Solstice Festival, a little gathering of artisans, musicians, and music on Trail lake up on a mountain pass.

It was a beautiful day to browse around and eat ice cream by the lake before heading to camp.

By dinner time we had settled by a crackling fire in the Russian River Campground with our next door neighbors, their kids, the grandparents and three dogs. It’s a beautiful place to camp, situated in a spruce forest with views of the mountains.

It’s right off the Russian and you can just throw on your waders and head down the trail to the river. All the kids had a great time going for walks and bike rides. I cringed when I found out that Grandma had set up a Wii in their RV, though!!! But that’s for another post! Lo and I had a fun time exploring from the get go! The woods seemed like such a magical place filled with dwarf trees, moss, low growing cranberry, much lupine and other mountain flowers. We decided it was a perfect place and time-being the solstice-to make a fairy house for the fairies! What a whimsical little dwelling we created! Can you make it out in this picture?! It blended in beautifully and is sure to be a lovely surprise for anyone lucky enough to stumble upon it! In turn for building such a warm and welcoming home, the fairies left little gifts inside for Lo to discover each morning. A sleepy baby made from felted wool , and wood bead with an acorn cap. A citrine gemstone and a shell. There was a fairy in the house the day after that, much to my own surprise! (It was made by our neighbors daughter from fishing tackle stuff-so sweet!) And on the last day, a handful of jewels(blue glass beads)!

One morning we collected and laid out various flowers, leaves, rocks, and twigs on construction paper to make some sun prints. By the time we returned from fishing in the evening the color of the paper had faded around the objects from the sun, leaving soft images behind!
Another fun campsite activity was making texture stones from some of the nature items found around the site. Just lay the items on a flat surface and press a warm ball of sculpy on top. Peel item off and you have a nice print-or “a memory of camping here” as Lo put it. We added a little color to them when we got home to bring out the more delicate prints. We definitely learned a lot about Alaskan flora on this trip!

Our first day of fishing just rocked! It had rained in the morning but was cloudy with a refreshing breeze by the time we got to the river. The conditions were perfect for allowing easy viewing of the fish heading up river. And they came in droves! No sooner had you cast your fly and a fish was on! Most fish were lost that day- which is frustrating and exciting all at the same time -but we all managed to catch our limit.

I had never seen such action on an Alaskan river!

I was like a junky!

Even when a *grizzly bear meandered by on the boardwalk that spans the first couple miles of the river, I kept on casting! Dea was in the river next to me and Huz grabbed Lo and waded out into the river as the griz passed by, so it was all safe and good! I wanted fish! I actually managed to pull out my video camera between casts while keeping one eye on the bear and the other on the fam. However, in the chaos I didn’t hit the record button and got nothing! We had another visitor a couple hours later. *The biggest black bear I have seen yet came down the embankment on the other side of the river to look for fish carcasses to munch on. There are several fish cleaning stations set up right in the water where you can clean and filet out your fish. Head, guts and tails, etc. just float down the river. It’s the safest and most eco-friendly way to handle your fish in bear country. And the bears enjoy scavenging for carcasses or catching the occasional live one. It’s not uncommon to have people and bears fishing in tandem -people on one side of the river and bears on the other! We all watched in awe as this bear snagged his carcass and lumbered back up the embankment.
As we headed back down the boardwalk with our fish that evening, we we’re warned along the way that another grizzly was “sitting up in a tree right next to the board walk!” Sure enough, there he was! Lounging up on a branch without a care in the world! I managed to get some video as we passed under him-much to Huz’s chagrin.

Just amazing. I felt no vicious vibe from him and wasn’t really worried as we hurried on by. He looked content to sit there and lazily watch. Must have had a full belly!

I know you're all jealous of me in my fetching and oh-so-slimming fishin' waders. Get over it.

Fishing the next day was dead. *See explanation of combat fishing above. We ferried Lo across the river to a nice rock bar where some people were fishing and we spent most of the time exploring and playing. We searched for minnows and practiced casting on Lo’s little fishing rod. We took a walk and gathered some flowers to identify in our native plant book and gathered other flora and a “Y” shaped branch to make the Alaskan version of an aboriginal weaving. This was one of the crafts I researched for Winter Craft day at Dea’s school. The kids had been broken up into 4 groups, each studying a different country. This one was hard for the little ones but they did ok with a little help. Lo and I scrounged up some old fishing line from the rocks and wound it back and forth tightly between each prong of thebranch. We then weaved in long grasses both fresh and dead, a couple interesting sticks, long and short stemmed flowers, spruce branches, lichen and moss. On our last day of camping we left it sticking up from a hole in the picnic table for the next family to enjoy. I set up a circle of big rocks along the rock bar to help contain Lo’s little wooden boats. She had a great time splashing and playing in it. We did have one casualty though. A boat “managed” to break through for a voyage down the river. Huz and some of our friends who were downriver a bit actually saw it float on by! “Hey! There’s one of Lo’s boats!” They were unable to retrieve it. I think Lo was just dying to see it float the river!
Our friend the ginormous black bear came for another visit, this time on our side of the river and heading toward the cleaning station where Huz and another guy were dealing with their fish.

Everyone yelled and whistled loudly at the bear and he eventually ran back up the hill. Trying to hold Lo out in the river made it impossible to get a picture. Bummer. He was really magnificent!
You may think we’re nuts to be out there but there are so many people around and if you make a stink the bears will take off. They really just want that salmon and don’t have much interest in us. As long as you’re cautious and respectful you can enjoy a fishin’ symbiosis with the bears. Even though it was not a productive day fish-wise, we thanked the river and salmon for what they did provide. We thanked the bears as well for allowing us to view them and learn from them.
Huz and the guys woke up at 5AM the next morning for one last try at fishing. Dea and I woke later to start packing up our things to go home. Dea actually stayed on with her BFF who will be camping until tomorrow. All in all, we pulled out of there with 15 glorious salmon, one rainbow trout, new knowledge, and some amazing visuals forever emblazoned in our minds. As much as we adore our home, we were all definitely NOT ready to leave the tranquility and freshness of being in a different environment. We’ll need to get back out camping very soon! Next up…DIPNETTING!!!!!!!!

* Video of griz and black bear coming as soon as I figure out what the heck I'm doing...
**Combat fishin photo taken by TobinPhoto



dottyspots said...

Looks wonderful! *sigh*

I really need a mountain fix (I'm trying to organise going to stay with my mother for a while - she's Norwegian, so similar countryside and wildlife), but right now I can look at your photos and dream :0)

Anet said...

Amazing! I can't get over the grizzly on the boardwalk photo!!!
I absolutely love the wonderful activities you did between the fishing with the children. It makes me want to be a camper! It's wonderful that the fairies came! There's probably tons of them in such a beautiful place! I'll be looking forwards to seeing the bear footage!

Dawn said...

There's so much in this post that I love. I'm a little jealous in fact ;) I gasped when I saw that first bear picture! I've never seen a bear in the wild. It sounds like you had so much fun. I love the weaving stick and the fairy house. Enjoy eating that fish!

ladybug-zen said...

what a wonderful adventure. i can't believe all of that happened in just 4 days...faeries, grizzlies, fishing, camping...so many lovely tales to tell. and the photos....brilliant. just brillaint.

Deb said...

I love your posts!!! That looks like an amazing trip- We're convinced, and moving up there! I love to say that- I loved our Prince William Sound fishing trip, but that looks just as much fun!!!
Your girls are gonna be hardcore Alaskan women- just like their MAMA. Love ya

RunninL8 said...

Get up here, NOW! I went into a depression after you left :(
I'll make fondue and serve cheesecake with it every week!

This too, could all be yours for the low low price....

denise said...

Oh my, what an awesome trip. Sigh. I love the photos. Yep, we made sunprints too. AAAAAND, guess what else? REally. We did plant pressings into clay yesterday and cut them into shapes to make necklaces out of. Yes, we did plant pressings in clay. I have pictures to prove it. ;)

I would love to be able to fish somewhere like that - where you can actually EAT the fish.

Lisa Anne said...

This is the most amazing trip! I grew up catching fish in the mountains of Washington State, your post jogged some of those memories of these trips. I can smell the fish guts and wood smoke and bacon cooking on the coleman stove, the smell of musty sleeping bags... I love it all. What an experience for your girls. The mountains are beautiful, I want to go on the next fishing trip!

anthromama said...

God, now I really crave some salmon.

Great fairy house...no wonder they immediately moved in and left gifts :)

Anne said...

I love your photos.
What a beautiful spot.
The bear photo is amazing.

Gypsy said...

Wow I love the look of Alaska. I'm afraid all I know about it is from Northern Expsosure and Men in Trees but its on my top ten places I want to visit list. And after those photos its going up that list really fast!

Lizz said...

Yeehaw! I'm so there!!!

I love the fairy house and weaving craft.

julie said...

what an absolutely amazing trip you guys had. I love all the crafts you had for the girls too. The fairy house is such a gift.

Tammy said...

It sounds like you guys had so much fun! I just love camping and fishing.....love it, love it, love it!

The fairy house is so cute, as are the little gifts the fairies left. And how cool is that the camping neighbors joined in the fun.

The nature prints are so pretty; the ones on the paper as well as in the clay.

Please oh please share another fish recipe with us! I'd love to taste some of those you caught. Oh, to dream..... lol

Mexanese said...

okay totally would have peed my pants.