Daily Archives: July 1, 2009

Big kings hit the Kenai — Early run posts weak numbers but strong fish sizes

Patrice Kohl
Redoubt Reporter

With weak returns, the first few weeks of the Kenai River early king salmon run have disappointed fishermen. But in focusing on dreary return numbers, fishermen may be overlooking one good piece of news in this year’s early king salmon run. Although fishermen have caught few fish during the early king salmon run, those who have may have been more likely to catch a big one than in previous years.

Creel surveys taken of fish harvested from the Kenai River suggest the proportion of large, early run kings harvested this year bumped upward after about eight years of proportionally small harvests of large kings.

The largest king salmon spend four or five years in the ocean before they return to the Kenai River. Creel survey data tracking early run Kenai king salmon harvested from 1989 to 2009 indicate a steep drop in the proportion of four-year ocean fish being caught, starting right around 2000, according to Jeff Perschbacher, a fisheries biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Soldotna.

From 1986 until 2000, the percent of early run kings harvested by fishermen that were four-year ocean fish hovered right around 75 percent. Between 2000 and 2006, that number dropped to about 40 percent, and by 2007 it dropped to 20 percent. In 2008, the percentage of harvested early king salmon that were four-year ocean fish inched back upward to about 30 percent, but so far this year it looks like it could be more than 50 percent.
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Fishing for violations — Parks rangers look out for illegal guiding, other fishing infractions

Photos by Patrice Kohl, Redoubt Reporter. Alaska State Parks ranger Ali Eskelin watches fishing boats from afar for signs of potential illegal activity on the Kenai River.

Photos by Patrice Kohl, Redoubt Reporter. Alaska State Parks ranger Ali Eskelin watches fishing boats from afar for signs of potential illegal activity on the Kenai River.

Patrice Kohl
Redoubt Reporter

Alaska State Parks ranger Ali Eskelin backed her boat out of the boat launch at Centennial Campground and headed down the Kenai River at about 10 a.m. Sunday. It was warm and sunny, but early season prohibitions on using bait and a slow king salmon run kept the river relatively quiet.

As she moved downstream, Eskelin did not stop at the first boat along her path, as she usually might. Instead, she cruised past two boats to reach a third. The boat had started its motor just as Eskelin appeared, and she wanted to make sure the operator wasn’t trying to hide anything.

The boat had the kind of large showy logo characteristic of a guide boat. On Sundays and Mondays, guides are allowed to fish with friends and family for recreation, but they are not supposed to bring registered guide boats onto the river or do any guiding outside of designated guiding periods — Tuesdays through Saturdays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

As Eskelin approached, the boat stopped and its two occupants greeted the ranger warmly. The boat’s driver and owner of Northstar Adventures, Dave Gayer, explained that the boat they were fishing in was an old boat he no longer uses for guiding and was no longer registered as a guide boat.

Eskelin checked Gayer’s and his friend’s licenses and asked them to show her they had the required safety devices onboard. Gayer and his friend, from Soldotna, also dutifully lifted their lures to demonstrate they were not using bait, which is prohibited on the lower Kenai River until June 30. King fishing had been slow and the two fishermen had swapped king salmon gear for egg-pattern flesh flies to attract trout. Eskelin also checked the king salmon gear they had been using earlier and sniffed it for sent, which is also prohibited before June 30.
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Casting cool eye on the sea — New cameras will enable monitoring of inlet ice

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard. Ice moves with the tides in this picture the U.S. Coast Guard took of Cook Inlet in March 2007 near Nikiski.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard. Ice moves with the tides in this picture the U.S. Coast Guard took of Cook Inlet in March 2007 near Nikiski.

Patrice Kohl
Redoubt Reporter

In the winter, Kathleen Cole’s job is like a scavenger hunt. But instead of searching for clues to uncovering hidden treasure, she searches for clues to uncovering Cook Inlet ice conditions. Cole is the National Weather Service sea ice program leader for Alaska, and ships rely on her to help them determine if they can safely pass through ice along their route or need to change course.

For this important task, Cole has remarkably little data to draw upon.

Cole receives images of Cook Inlet from satellites, but they can be more than six hours old by the time she receives them. The quality of the images she receives is sporadic and images taken when clouds or the long winter night obscure the inlet can’t be used at all.

Consequently, Cole is always looking for additional image sources. Sometimes she’ll call the U.S. Coast Guard to see if they will take a picture for her while passing over the inlet on the way to somewhere else. Or sometimes she’ll try to see what she can of the ice through cameras aimed at Mount Redoubt or the Homer Spit.

“We scrounge for data very well in this business,” she said. “That’s what I spend most of my days doing in the winter.”

This winter, however, Cole hopes to spend more time learning about Cook Inlet ice floes and less time scavenging for images after the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council installs four video cameras in and around the inlet to help her monitor ice. The video cameras are the first of up to 10 cameras CIRCAC hopes to install in the inlet. They will provide Cole with real-time images, which is particularly important in Cook Inlet, where extreme tides and strong winds are constantly shifting the ice. In the main body of the inlet, the tidal range can reach 25 feet and result in currents that move nearly six miles per hour. The inlet’s Turnagain Arm exhibits the United States’ biggest tidal range.

“Cook Inlet ice moves so much,” Cole said. “It can be up against the northern side of the Inlet in the morning and the southern side in the afternoon, either because of the tides or the winds, it moves.”
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Vote digs up animosity — Cemetery initiative results in different takes on governing

Editor’s note: This is the third story in a series about Soldotna’s search for a cemetery site. To read last week’s story, visit http://www.redoubtreporter.wordpress.com.

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Since 2001, the push to establish a Soldotna cemetery centered on location, an attempt to fit together the puzzle pieces of contested details — road access, traffic patterns, lot size and ownership — into a pleasing configuration that allowed consensus and resolution.

As time and debate ground on, those details came to represent a larger disagreement, not only over what lot size was best and how far from town was too far, but who gets to decide, and how those decisions are reached.

There’s broad agreement that Soldotna should have a cemetery. There’s also the government-101 ideal that elected representatives should listen to the wishes of residents and do what’s best for their city. But what happens when those two ideals of government collide, spurred by the sharp differences in opinion over where the cemetery should be?
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Bound for winter — Athletes take shape during summer skiing school

ANR camp practice WebBy Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

Last weekend, some of the top Nordic skiers in the state — including the girls overall champion, Kinsey Loan, of Chugiak High School — took part in a midsummer dry-land training camp held by the Alaska Nordic Racing program in Kenai and Soldotna.

About two dozen kids from central peninsula schools, Anchorage and Matanuska-Susitna area teams, ran and biked, roller-skied, bounded and ski-walked up grassy slopes, performed core-building exercises and competed in obstacle course events as they worked to stay in shape for next winter’s ski season.

Participants in the ANR camp finish up a brief morning run on the Tsalteshi Trails at Skyview High School.

Participants in the ANR camp finish up a brief morning run on the Tsalteshi Trails at Skyview High School.

The four, two-hour sessions ran Friday and Saturday mornings and afternoons, and were a special segment of this summer’s eight-week ANR conditioning program. ANR head coach Ja Dorris, Eagle River coaches Stan and Gretchen Carrick, and Kenai Peninsula coach D’Anna Gibson ran the kids through their paces while attempting to maintain the kids’ energy and enthusiasm.

For Soldotna-Kenai kids a few years ago, taking part in such a program would have meant traveling to Anchorage or Fairbanks. Since Dave Feeken’s initial efforts in 2005, however, the benefits of ANR have been coming home to a larger and larger group of local skiers.
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Science of the Seasons: Ash goes with the flow

Tuxidnni Bay 25 June 2009 Crescent Web

Photos courtesy of David Wartinbee. Above, Crescent River flows out of Crescent Lake near Mount Redoubt. It is a high-volume, steep-gradient stream that is able to wash away ash that may have fallen into and around it. Below, ash accumulates along smaller streams near Mount Redoubt this June. These streams will probably have longer impacts than faster-moving, higher-volume streams, because ash will continue to be washed into the streams for years to come.

By David Wartinbee, for the Redoubt Reporter

I flew across Cook Inlet on Friday to get another look at Mount Redoubt, but low-lying clouds only gave me a “peek-a-boo” view of the mountain. And the Federal Aviation Administration has a temporary flight restriction in place for an area within a seven-mile radius of the mountain.

Even from that distance, and with the limited view of the mountain top, it was obvious that Mount Redoubt was once again covered with bright, white snow. That evening the clouds parted and we all got a nice evening view of Mount Redoubt venting and covered in white again. That made me think of the ash-covered Redoubt pictures I showed in last week’s article. Don’t you just love it when Mother Nature makes us reporters and prognosticators look awful?Tuxidnni Bay 25 June 2009 small streams Web

Well, why was there snow once again? The answer relates to two basic things. First, we had a fair amount of moisture — rain — last week, and much of Mount Redoubt is above the freezing altitude, so the moisture arrived as snow. As everyone knows, it gets colder when you go higher in altitude, but there are some interesting meteorological lessons here.
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Carter Lake a good place to find grayling, Alaska cred

Photo courtesy of Christine Cunningham. Carter Lake offers  a chance for year-round fishing, sweeping scenery and Alaska stories.

Photo courtesy of Christine Cunningham. Carter Lake offers a chance for year-round fishing, sweeping scenery and Alaska stories.

By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter

Over the last hill, the Carter Lake trail to Crescent Lake changes from an uphill struggle over rocks to a winding dirt path revealing the first sight of the mountains and Crescent Lake far off past a green valley. It was early morning July 1, 2008, and the fog hung in layers, lit from below from the sun’s reflection off the lake.
“It looks like Brigadoon,” my co-worker said.

He wasn’t with my fishing partner and I when we made the same hike in the winter, when the same flowering valley was flattened by snow. The trail, like the rabbits and the ptarmigan, changes from a rocky brown path with tangles of roots and rock to winter white and slick as a sledding hill.

When the incline finally stops, it doesn’t matter whether it’s summer or winter. Above tree line, the path leads across tundra for the final walk to the lake. The view is one of mountain summits that, instead of showing the world below, gives way to another world — high country with its own fields, lakes and valleys.
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Horse cents — Pack train may not have been profitable, but it was pleasurable

Photos courtesy of Hansen family. Eugene Hansen poses at a tree line camp near the headwaters of Funny River, high in the foothills of the Kenai Mountains.

Photos courtesy of Hansen family. Eugene Hansen poses at a tree line camp near the headwaters of Funny River, high in the foothills of the Kenai Mountains.

By Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

Eugene Hansen had “tailed up” the horses in his pack and was peacefully leading his animals out of the Tustumena bench lands when the bear hide slipped.

Like most horse packers, Hansen, who hauled hunters and outdoor enthusiasts in and out of the high country from the early 1970s to the mid-1990s, had tied his horses to each other, head to tail, to keep them together. In the line of horses was Cactus, minding his own business and stepping sturdily along. The trouble arose when Cactus turned his head to look behind him.

The pack on the next horse contained the hide and head of a recently killed black bear. During the descent, the head end of the hide had shaken loose, and when Cactus turned around he saw what he thought was a bear staring at him immediately over the shoulder of the next horse.

Cactus “went ape,” Hansen said. The horse and bear were eyeball to eyeball, and it didn’t occur to the horse that the bear was dead. His instincts kicked in and he panicked.

When Hansen glanced back from his lead horse, he saw Cactus preparing to buck, and before Hansen had a chance to remedy the situation, Cactus went berserk.

“He bucked his load clear off — everything off,” Hansen said. Valuable travel time was lost calming the horse, getting him back in line and reloading all his gear.

But such was the sort of event that occasionally happened on long forays into and out of the mountains. Once, one of Hansen’s horses went around the wrong side of a small tree alongside the trail and then bent the tree over until she effectively ground the pack train to a halt. When Hansen cut one of the breakaway ropes to free the misguided animal, the resulting change in tension caught the horse and flipped her upside-down.

“Of course, it never hurt the horse,” Hansen said. “She’s lying there with the packs on her and her feet sticking straight up in the air. It was difficult for her to get straightened out again.”
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Plugged In: Big things can come from small cameras

By Joseph Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

News flash! The author finally managed to post an article before deadline. Of course, having written that lead, I better get the rest of this week’s article completed promptly.

Sometimes, a good compact camera is all you need, depending upon the sort of photos you take and how you intend to use them. With the exception of Olympus’ new, highly anticipated large-sensor E-P1 compact camera, all compact cameras use small sensors that require a little extra thought in order to achieve optimum results.

I’ll be exhibiting large, 18-by-24-inch and 22-by-32 photos made with some of these compact cameras at my July photo show that opens on Thursday at the Kobuk Street Kaladi Brothers in Soldotna. The reception is from 5 to 7 p.m., with food and beverages provided. I’ll be happy to discuss using compact cameras with Redoubt Reporter readers. You’re invited. Continue reading

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Art Seen: All dolled up for the show

By Zirrus VanDevere, for the Redoubt Reporter

“Aurora Bri” is one of the intricate dolls by Karen Fogarty on display in a group exhibition, along with photography by Dale Otcheck and wearable art by Ann-Lillian Schell at the Kenai Fine Arts Center.

“Aurora Bri” is one of the intricate dolls by Karen Fogarty on display in a group exhibition, along with photography by Dale Otcheck and wearable art by Ann-Lillian Schell at the Kenai Fine Arts Center.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been driving along with my daughter, deep in conversation, and I’ve suddenly blurted out “beauty” in response to an amazing sunset, a water surface reflecting tremendous mountains or especially dazzling snowscapes. It’s the nature of where we live.

Dale Otcheck has presented us with a number of these images, and although they are all pretty standard fare, one can certainly appreciate his reasons for presenting them. His most successful pieces are those that capture the mirror image of mountains and trees in a nearby lake, like in “Healing Water: Jerome Lake” and “Bob’s Anchor: Summit Lake.” Some of his larger-format works do not appear to have the pixels necessary to be blown up as much as they are (i.e. “Brenda’s Eyes: Tern Lake”).
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