fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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up close with the WP&YR, Skagway, Alaska

WP&YR Engine

White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad engine in Skagway. Completed in 26 months and finished at the end of the Yukon Gold Rush, the narrow gauge WP&YR climbs nearly 3,000 feet in 20 miles with grades up to 3.9%, two tunnels and multiple bridges and trestles. The WP&YR’s total length is 100 miles and connects the deep water port at Skagway with Whitehorse, Yukon. Close in 1982 with the decline of the Yukon’s mining industry, it reopened in 1988 as a tourism operation. June 15, 2017


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these aren’t the flies you’re looking for

Laying around on my hard drive…from an Alaska fly fishing forum:

Did you (or anyone else) happen to notice a beige plastic fly box on Quartz that weekend of Oct 13th? I last saw mine near the mouth at the lake (on the left side bank) up in the weeds that Wednesday the 10th and noticed it missing when I got back to the car at the bridge. If found please call Dan. It’s full of ugly streamers that don’t catch fish.”


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Sportsmen Descend on DC to Save Bristol Bay (guest post)

Though I’m taking the offer lazy way out and throwing up this guest post by Trout Unlimited on the Outdoor Blogger Network, please put in the effort to click the link below. It’s more than worth our time to fill out the form and pass along our desire to Save Bristol Bay by Stopping Pebble Mine.


The following is a guest post available to all outdoor bloggers who have an interest in the Pebble Mine/Bristol Bay issue. Please feel free to you use it on your blog.

Photo by B.O'Keefe

Photo by B.O'Keefe

Starting Monday, April 16, more than 30 sportsmen from around the country are traveling to the nation’s capitol to let their elected officials and the president know that protecting Bristol Bay is a top priority for hunters and anglers.

This is an important week to show the folks who have the power to protect Bristol Bay that sportsmen are in this fight. We’ve got folks from Alaska, Montana, Michigan, Colorado, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Texas, Wisconsin, Washington, North Carolina, California, Missouri, New York, and Virginia representing this great country and the millions of people who want Bristol Bay to be protected and left just like it is today–pristine and productive.

A recent report by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation shows that there are 34 million hunters and anglers in the U.S., and we’re a powerful constituency. Every year, we pump $76 billion into the economy in pursuit of our passion, through our spending on gear, licenses, gas, lodging, meals and more. All of that spending and activity directly supports 1.6 million jobs in this country.

We are also an influential group because 80 percent of sportsmen are likely voters – much higher than the national average. And, we also contribute the most money of any group toward government wildlife conservation programs. So, hopefully if we care about an issue and show our support, the decision makers will listen to what we have to say.

In just a few weeks, the EPA will be releasing a draft of its Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment. This huge scientific assessment will likely guide future decisions about large-scale mining and other industrial development in the Bristol Bay region. If they find that disposal of waste from the mine would adversely harm the surrounding clean waters or natural resources, the EPA can deny or place restrictions on a required dredge and fill permit. If warranted, we hope the Obama Administration would take that step to protect Bristol Bay.

You can support the fight for one of planet Earth’s finest and most productive fishing and hunting destinations by taking action today. Fill out this simple form that will send a letter to the President and your members of Congress asking them to protect Bristol Bay. Let’s carry our sportsmen into D.C. with a lot of momentum.


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cruising Alaska, part five: Victoria, then home

At the Empress Hotel in Victoria, B.C.

Cruising, for most people, invokes images of passengers in deck chairs with umbrellas drinks in hand.

That’s not the case with me. At least not yet.

For me, when in port there’s sightseeing to be done and the bustle that arises from acting every bit the busy tourist.

But one unique aspect about a cruise vacation is that — though already having “wound down” away from everyday life — one can take time to wind down between ports.

That’s what we did the day after leaving Skagway. We were at sea, steaming toward Victoria, B.C. Without conscious thought, we made it somewhat of a quiet day. Almost winning a passenger trivia game in the morning, a leisurely lunch, and time spent in a hot tub with a view astern to the ocean; a quiet pause in the closing days of a superb vacation.

Sunshine greeted us the next morning in Victoria, where what is regularly referred to as “High Tea”* awaited at The Empress Hotel. More accurately, The Empress refers to it as “Afternoon Tea.” To be polite, I’d practiced the proper pinkie curl.

Gwendolyn’s little finger would be curled under and away from the heat of the cup which might otherwise inflict a burn on her delicate skin. The little finger would never be arched upward. Arching would be deemed a sign of extreme arrogance. Should you know of moments extreme enough to demand an arched pinkie, contact us immediately.
— from The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde

There was a remarkable consistency to the extraordinary knowledge imparted by tour guides and bus drivers we met during this trip, and our driver in Victoria was no exception. He filled our nearly hour-long drive to, in and around the city with history, trivia and pop culture references. Soon enough we disembarked in front of the impressive Empress Hotel.

Above the commoners' side entrance to the Empress Hotel.

The 103-year-old hotel near Victoria’s waterfront can’t be missed, and there’s a story that for many years it did not have sign out front because of local sentiment that anyone who didn’t know it was The Empress shouldn’t be staying there. It is an imposing structure that’s hosted kings and queens and a fair share of celebrities.

Wondering if we weren’t worthy of a public arrival, we entered through a side door to find the Tea Lobby. With everyone seated on sofas upholstered with richly patterned chintz or in wing back chairs, our hostess set about placing tiered stands stacked with traditional tea sandwiches, pastries and cakes. Our starter was a bowl of big, tasty blueberries, certainly not an everyday occurrence for me, but something I could get accustomed to. Our cups were filled with The Empress’ tea (a blend of teas from Kenya, Tanzania, South India, Assam, Sri Lanka and China), and though I’m not a big tea drinker, it was tasty (and fun—how often does one get to say “I’ll take two lumps” without ending up with a headache?).

I don’t pretend to be a gourmand but found great pleasure in the tea sandwiches and cakes served at The Empress. Even the cucumber and watercress sandwiches were good. My personal favorite was the smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich. Our gastronomic climb up the stand found a second tier filled with some of the best-ever fresh scones and preserves, and ended with the top tier’s assortment of light pastries. It was all good, but I was left wondering how such dainty sandwiches and pastries could be so filling.

We’d have another day at sea before arriving home, and there’d be whales, porpoises, and a special dessert courtesy our maître’d. But Victoria was the last big “hurrah” for me on this fantastic trip.

A last sunset at sea…


*It’s interesting to note that what’s often referred to as “High Tea” (in the U.S. at least) may in fact be “Low Tea” or “Afternoon Tea”, and I’ll bet that most of my six readers didn’t know that there were two types of “Tea.” Gleaning the Internet will tell one that High Tea ttraditionally was a working-class meal served on a high table at the end of the workday and comprised of heavy dishes (such as steak and kidney pie, pickled salmon, crumpets, onion cakes, etc.). Afternoon Tea or High Tea was more of an elite social gathering with assorted snacks and tea. But in the end, who’d really want to go to “Low Tea?”


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cruising Alaska, part four: Skagway

There’s something about getting off the beaten path that brings about a certain type of inventiveness. That’s not to say that city folk don’t have their fair share of ideas. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that when left to employ natural resources, interesting things happen. Skagway’s just such a place. The ship docked in Skagway that morning under overcast skies. The ocean astern was steel gray. A later departure time for our shore excursion allowed for a lingering breakfast.

Our decision on a Skagway shore excursion was predicated on setting aside time for walking around town. So, to ensure we’d have the afternoon to explore, we chose the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway summit excursion, a 20-mile ride to the 2,865 foot high White Pass summit. The WP&YRR was built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush — ironically completed after the Gold Rush was finish — as an alternative to the trails climbing almost 3000 feet in just 20 miles. The narrow gauge railroad was a cooperative project that brought together American knowhow, British money and Canadian labor.

Headed toward the summit.

In a vintage coach car we passed through the east side of Skagway and began a climb that would take us past Bridal Veil Falls, abandoned trestles, Inspiration Point, Dead Horse Gulch and broad vistas looking back on Skagway and down to the Skagway River. The trees and bushes were painted with a blush of fall colors. Leaving the forest behind, we entered the alpine zone and arrived at the summit, our halfway point and the only point of the trip that entered Canada. The hard beauty of the summit was accented by trees dwarfed by a short growing season and heavy snow. Summit Lake seemed to kiss the edge of the railroad bed.

Fall color in the railway bed.

Then it was time for the “Summit Shuffle.” We were instructed to stand up, grab the back of our seat and pull it towards us, reversing the direction of the seat, then move to the opposite side of the aisle, guaranteeing that everyone would be have a new view for the ride back to Skagway. A neat trick. Just as remarkable was every passenger’s good natured approach to switching seats.

It was clear that on this trip we’d be laying groundwork for a return, as we soon accepted that our trip on the WP&YRR would one of those excursions that’d be repeated. Now knowing that Skagway isn’t a large town, next time I’d opt for the full-day 67½-mile WP&YRR trip to Carcross, Yukon.

The first sight to greet us after disembarking near town was that of pink salmon, stretching from bank to bank and filling the Skagway River. It’s one thing to see a few salmon heading upstream, or someone else’s video, but it’s another to see enough fish, hundreds of salmon, give reality to the old timers’ expression that “one could walk across streams on the backs of salmon.” I spent some time in awe of this sight, so stunned that I didn’t once wish for a fly rod in my hand. …well, maybe once.

The main part of town is a bit of a walk past what is probably one of the smallest immigration stations I’ve seen, the WP&YRR station and WP&YRR rotary snowplow #1. Downtown Skagway still has that small, frontier town feel, albeit with the obligatory stores focusing on cruise ship passengers (jewelry and souvenirs). If you ignore those tourist traps, there are some interesting local shops, including a yarn store that required a stop for the wife for a gander at qiviut (kee-vee-uh’ t) yarn. However, the price of this qiviut — the soft wool lying beneath the long coat of the Arctic muskox — made me wonder if it was laced with some of that Yukon gold (nearly $100 for 1 ounce!).

Skagway Brewing Co. appetizer.

But well within the budget, down near the end of 7th Street sat Skagway Brewing Co. Now, I’ve been scoffed at for usually refusing to drink, much less pay for, relatively flavorless beers. It’s a principle that serves me well and often leads to pleasant surprises. Skagway Brewing’s signature ale, Spruce Tip Blonde, was one such surprise.

We decided on lunch at the Skagway Brewing Pub, and started with an appetizer flight of the only-available-in-the-Pub beers: Prospector Pale, Chilkoot Trail IPA, Boom Town Brown, Blue Top Porter and the only outside beer, Alaskan Brewing’s Amber Ale. All were good, but absent from the flight was the Spruce Tip Blonde. Told by the waiter, of course, that Spruce Tip Blonde was worth a full glass, it would be the beverage accompanying some pretty awesome fish ‘n chips. Brewed with hand picked Sitka Spruce tree tips, Spruce Tip Blonde offers an experience that begins with an almost flowery aroma of spruce but tastes of a unique sweetness akin to a fruit and/or spice.

If you’re ever in Skagway, the Skagway Brewing Pub is worth a stop for lunch and beer. Or two.

Rotary snow plow #1 of the WP&YRR.

The steam engine of the WP&YRR at the dock.


The Picasa album with all the photos.


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cruising Alaska, part three: Juneau

Juneau, I’ve been to Alaska… (Commence rolling of eyes.)

Perhaps familiarity dulls one’s perception of what’s seen every day. Perhaps this is why the colors of Alaska amaze me; and Juneau did not disappoint.

It’s fascinating that a state capital would, to this day, only be accessible by boat or plane. But that’s Juneau, a city that will fine a person who doesn’t secure trash cans properly — because of bears — before putting them at the curb. Though much more of a metro area than Ketchikan, Juneau, obviously, is still affected by the wild surrounding it.

Soon after the Sea Princess was secured dockside, we hopped on an excursion bus heading north out of town. The urbanity that is downtown Juneau faded into suburbs, which in turn dissolved into a thick rainforest. The forest soon gave way to a view of Mendenhall Lake and its source, the Mendenhall Glacier.

Mendenhall Glacier.

My first visit to Alaska a few years ago entailed flying into Anchorage, over waters tinged teal, almost turquoise, by glacial silt. Mendenhall Glacier displayed similarly dramatic coloration, though for a different reason. The blues associated with glaciers arises from the compression of ice over time, its melting and refreezing, which eliminates air bubbles and allows the ice to absorb the longer wavelengths of white light, resulting in shorter wavelengths (blue) being transmitted. Mendenhall was no exception.

The Tongass Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center offered a great overview of the glacier and surrounding area, in both informational and visual aspects. The viewing of a short film and the visiting of various exhibits (and my wife’s visit with a fellow knitter) was followed by a walk near the iceberg-dotted Mendenhall Lake and along Steep Creek.

Beaver dam on Steep Creek.

Wildlife’s a big part of the Alaska experience, whether one purposely seeks out the wildlife or happens upon it. If my wife hadn’t pointed it out, I might have stepped on a small porcupine waddling on the visitor path. Small and unconcerned, it crossed the path and proceeded into the tall grass. Salmon, with the last slow movements of their life, edged upstream. Though unseen, beavers announced their presence with a network of dams.

Then there’s the bear, signaled by the “oohs” and “aahs” and crush of tourists to one side of the elevated walkway. Hidden beneath the leaves of streamside bushes, it waded upstream and swung from side to side, eyeing the water. Slowly, patiently, quietly it slipped upstream, unmindful of the cluster of people above. The sockeye was also oblivious…and soon was the bear’s lunch.

Bear stalking salmon in Steep Creek, near Mendenhall Glacier.

The next stop was one that began with concerns that it might be tourist trap: the Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure. (The “adventure” part is hyperbole.) Our group met near the base of a mountain among plantings of nonnative plants and unique “upside down trees.” While it’s a touching story of how this botanical garden was as much labor of love as it is a commercial nursery, it wasn’t quite what one would expect on a tour of an Alaskan rainforest.

In only a few minutes, however, we gained 300 feet in elevation and, with the commercial nursery far behind us, entered an untouched and lush rainforest. The drive was ably narrated by our knowledgeable and affable guide. Streams trickled under fern fronds. Rain dripped through the canopy. A walkway on the ridge offered a view over Juneau.

Alaskan Brewing’s Smoked Porter.

After lunch back on the ship, we spent time in Juneau as tourists, visiting various stores (focusing on those operated by local families), and stumbling upon the Alaskan Brewing Co. store. It was quickly learned that — and we took advantage of — a shuttle would soon depart for the brewery, where a tour and tasting were offered.

If you look up reviews of the Alaskan Brewing tour, they skew toward the positive. Don’t get me wrong, though the “tour” doesn’t entail walking around the actual brewery, the humorous tour guide did cover the entire history of Alaskan Brewing, brewing, and process by which the company develops new beers. I think, however, that the largely positive reviews may be slightly influenced by the generous size (see the photo to the right) and number of free samples.

I ended the day with a quick, late-evening walk into town to pick up an Alaskan Brewing glass for the oldest son. The sun set, the evening’s entertainment was enjoyed, and the ship set sail for Skagway, perhaps my favorite stop.

Sun Setting Over Douglas Island (West of Juneau).


The Picasa album with all the photos.


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photo prompt: Ketchikan, a bug, a brother’s visit on granite dome and a couple of sunsets

This post brought to you by the photo prompt
Goodbye Summer…” from the Outdoor Blogger Network (OBN)

It had seemed that summer slipped away, but in these photos is found evidence of time well spent…

At the Top of Lembert Dome

Me, my brother Mark & son Sean a the top of Lembert Dome. (After Mark and I rested for half an hour just a few minutes.)

Promise in the early morning over Ketchikan, Alaska.

Caddis on leaf over Rock Creek, Calif.

Sun Setting west of Juneau, Alaska, above Douglas Island.

Sunset somewhere off the coast of Canada.