Day 108 - Wednesday, July 17 - Milepost 8120 - Birdcount 278 - Hyder, Alaska
(BF's Journal). In the early morning hours I explore a nearby marsh filled with enchanting birds. The best is a Western Tanager, a bright yellow bird with a strikingly red head and contrasting black wings. At 9 AM I pick up Shari for fishing. We head a little downstream from where we saw the bears last night. The spot is close to the road and includes a small open space beside the narrow stream, so Shari feels safer. The fish are thick in the shallow water allowing us to watch each of them fight the swift current to stay above their particular gravel bed chosen for spawning. Although I try my luck a few times, Shari does most of the fishing.
During one session while Im using the heavy duty rod and line, she snags the dorsal fin of a Chum using the light weight bass pole and line. The Chum finds the hook annoying and swims upstream pulling line from Sharis reel. Shari cranks; Chum pulls. The salmon gains on Shari, pulling faster than she is cranking. I drop my rod and walk upstream to follow the fish. I can see the silvery lure hooked to the salmons fin, but watch helplessly as Shari tries to land the fish. After a few minutes the 30 lb salmon snaps the 6 lb line and Sharis lure disappears with the fish. So Shari confiscates the heavy test equipment and I alternate between bird watching and Shari watching. Every few minutes she shouts, "I got a fish!". But each time she has only snagged the salmon and it easily escapes. Finally one grabs the hook in her mouth, probably irritated with the lure disturbing her nest. This one is really hooked and Shari battles to bring it closer to our side of the creek. When it gets close, I jump into the water with my high rubber boots and kick it onto the shore. The Chum is a real fighter and continues to flop about and I kick it further in shore so it cant escape. The 30" fish looks enormous as I take its picture with the proud fisherman standing behind it.
After cleaning the giant, we drive uphill toward Salmon Glacier. Unlike all the other glaciers we have visited, this one we can view from the top down. But the drive is tortuous, along a steep rocky road clinging to the edge of a cliff. After climbing for close to an hour we have a terrific view of the glacier looking like a white and black striped race track curving down the mountain. Distances of this magnitude are hard to estimate, but the glacial race track must be at least five miles long and a mile wide. Even with my 50mm lens I cant get a third into view from our high perch.
On our way back we stop to check Fish Creek for bears. None are there when we arrive so we take a walk along the closed gravel road separating Fish Creek with its green belt of towering trees and dense undergrowth from a second unnamed tributary with a thinner edge of brush. After we walk 200 yds from the relative safety of the lookout stand I notice one of the small grizzlies in the stream a stone throw away from where we stand. While I struggle to assemble my camera equipment the bear wanders closer and when I aim the 300mm lens at him, he fills the view finder, overlapping the edges. With tension in her voice, Shari suggests we move back to the lookout platform, but by now the bear is between us and the platform and it disappears in the undergrowth. The two people walking near us try to get closer and I warn them the bear is climbing the creek bank. They step back slightly and soon the bear appears on the road in front of us. Meanwhile other tourists at the lookout see the commotion and walk toward us to get a better look. We now have the setup of a classic bear dilemma: a bear trapped between people. The park ranger soon recognizes this too and starts shouting orders, telling people not to run while he runs toward the scene waving his can of pepper spray. The grizzly looks at the four of us and then at the twenty in the opposite direction and, gratefully, the bear lumbers toward the twenty. He lumbers, they back up, the ranger shouts, the bear keeps walking, they back up some more. Meanwhile I shoot pictures showing the bear in the foreground and a mob of tourists in the background. Its hilarious! The grizzly keeps walking, the crowd disperses to the partial safety of the lookout stand and, finally, the bear walks past the spot they had been standing and descends the bank to the parallel stream. Wow!
(SF's Journal). Bert does birding and I do sleeping this morning. At nine he retrieves me and we go to the area where according to last nights ranger, the fish are located. I put the bear bell around my neck, look up and down and right and left and forward and backward and slowly inch my way to the shallow two foot deep, 25 foot wide stream located 50 feet from the car. I put on the single hook spinner that I bought, because in this stream fish are not allowed to be caught on the triple hooked one I used in Haines. There are hundreds of fish and they splash and wiggle their way upstream with an effort and seem to rest every three feet or so. I cast my lure and reel it in. I look up and down, in front and back for bear. Cast-reel-look. Cast-reel-look. The process goes. If I cannot get a fish here, I never will. Cast-reel-look. Cast-reel-look. Sometimes I snag my hook on the side of a fish and after a tug the lure pops loose with such force that it snaps back over my head and behind me. Cast-reel-look and now blow the mosquitos away with my mouth. Cast-reel-look. I have to be careful not to cast too far or my lure will end up in the bushes across the stream. Cast-reel-look-change rods. By now I am about decided that I will keep a salmon even if I do snag it. Cast-reel-look-put on bug repellent. Cast-reel-look. "Bert I got one. I got one. Get the bucket. Grab it. Hurry I cant hold on." Snap! The line broke and my lure swam off upstream on the back of the reprieved salmon. Cast-reel-look. Cast-reel-look. Whomp! "Bert I got one. Get the bucket. Hurry. Ill drag him to shore." Pull-reel in. Pull-reel in. No time to look for bear. Pull-reel in. Pull-reel in. As the fish hits the bank, lure still snugly fastened in its mouth, Bert gives it a good kick to get it farther on shore. It flops and flips and we are afraid it may flip right back into the water. Kick it again and hit it with a rock. Take pictures and measure it. What a beauty over 30 inches long and must be 20-30 pounds. Yum Yum Fish for supper tonight. Soon after the catch, a ranger pulls up and tells us we cannot fish here even though the ranger last night said we could. Mosquitos were getting to us anyway so we head back to clean our catch.
If that were not enough excitement for one day, we take a drive to Salmon Glacier 20 miles from the bear watch. As we travel up, up, up, the road becomes narrower and rougher. As we pass a mining operation a sign posted announces Travel Road At Own Risk. What do they think we have been doing? Up, up we go and gravel turns to stones and potholes appear inside of potholes. Up, up, more and more potholes and a close to empty gas tank. Up, up, sharp stones and boulders in road. Up and up. Bumpity bump. Up and up. Finally we get a fantastic view of the glacier, a wiggly bluish glob of ice thousands of feet below us and blocks and blocks long. Up, up. Water on the road and potholes and boulders so big that even Bert decides this is too much. Time to turn around. Forward-back-forward-back-turn wheels-forward-back forward back-turn wheels around and head down after taking pictures.
If that is still not enough for one day, we have two close encounters with the bear. The first one happens on the path at the bear watch area. We are walking down it, past the viewing platform and a bear comes out of the stream behind us 25 feet or less away. I am not frightened because the bear is moving away from us until I realize that 15 people are closing in on it coming towards us. The bear is caught between us and the crowd and bears do not go back the way they came. Since there are fifteen people in one direction and four in the other I think it is going to come our direction. Luckily for us the ranger yells at the crowd to get on the platform and yells at the bear to get in the stream and yells at us to not walk the path. The bear takes the rangers advise and heads to the stream. We spend the next hour watching another bear catch and eat salmon from the safety of the viewing platform. As we are getting into our car which is parked on the narrow roadside, a bear pops up right across the road from us, that is about 10 feet? I tell Bert to hurry into the car. The bear ignores us, goes potty and then lumbers off into the woods. My goodness: bears, bears, everywhere bears. I wish Bert would not go out bird watching alone. By now it is time to eat our salmon. I patiently wait for Bert to start the grill and I salivate over the nice big fresh salmon steaks we are about to saver. After about five minutes on the grill, the grill decides not to work even after changing a gas cartridge. So I take the steaks off the grill and pan fry them. They smell a little off, but I ignore it. Finally they flake when poked with a fork and we dig in. My first bite does not taste good and I mention it to Bert. My second bite does not either so reluctantly we decide to throw the salmon into the trash, eat the rice and cole slaw and ask someone tomorrow about female chum salmon caught in the spawning stage. Are they good? The bears were getting so fat off them that they wanted to catch only the females for the eggs. They did not seem to find them having an off taste. We are both disappointed.
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