Courtesy of the snow bound folks in Valdez, Alaska
I stopped by the grocery store on Friday morning, and was amazed at how many people wanted to encroach into my 6 foot bubble. I wasn’t even in the TP aisle! I wondered if people just don’t know what a six foot gap looks like. Lo & behold, the fine folks in Valdez have had the same thought.
In all honesty, this is the only time of year in Alaska where one sees only 457 mosquitoes in a space of six feet. Swatting season is just around the corner!
It was an overcast morning when we crossed over the Naknek River for South Naknek. People were still using the ice road, but word was out that time was short. It would turn out that businesses were in a rush to get heavy equipment across ASAP.
The temperature had warmed up, but it was the tide that had the final word for the ice road. High tides had been increasing substantially, as the higher water pushes up against the ice, these huge pressure ridges grew. Some went right across the ice road, which limited access to anything without clearance. I saw no Subarus crossing with us.
An available home in S. Naknek
Of my time spent in the region, I enjoyed my day in South Naknek the most. We picked up a couple of locals for guides, and we had an absolute blast exploring the southern side of the river. We were welcomed by everyone we met, and had more than one offer to help us out if we wanted to move to the area.
I would love to come back to the region in the summer, but I can honestly say I’d want to spend my time on the south side of the Naknek River. It’s a much more relaxed way of life here, and we were told that the huge influx of crowds to Naknek & King Salmon do not hit the southern side. One can still meander down the river’s edge, fishing as you go, enjoying the solitude that Alaska is suppose to be about.
The canneries have all closed up shop in South Naknek. The killing blow came when a road was built between King Salmon & Naknek. It no longer made financial sense to process salmon from the southern side. Grant Aviation still makes daily flights, weather permitting, to South Naknek, and they have a really nice airstrip.
Driving across the Naknek River
The skies cleared well before noon, and we had absolutely beautiful weather as we traveled throughout South Naknek and the surrounding area. The Alaska days were already getting longer, and the sun had regained some of the power that we had been missing during the winter months.
Now that Covid-19 has us all hunkered down, it’s hard not to wonder if I should have taken that job offer I had after one day in South Naknek. Regardless, I can not wait for the rivers to open up, and for winter’s grip to be pried from the land.
By the way, it was -24F at the cabin on Monday morning. Not too hard to figure out why I’m getting a bit stir crazy, surrounded by nothing but snow. At 4pm, the temp had risen to +26F: A fifty degree swing. “Springtime” in Alaska.
Naknek sits along the shore of the Naknek River, where the river flows into Kvichak Arm of Bristol Bay.
Bristol Bay is Alaska’s famed salmon waters. It is the world’s most productive salmon fishery. Naknek is home to both Trident and Peter Pan Seafoods, among many others.
Hiking along the shore of the Naknek River
Naknek lies less than 20 road miles from King Salmon, which is also on the Naknek River. It’s definitely fishing country, with over 75% of the jobs in fisheries.
When we visited, the town had only begun to get ready for the fishing season. Many were worried about what the Corvid-19 virus was going to do to the industry. At the time, Alaska had no known cases of the virus, but Washington State was already a hotbed. Many summer workers come up from Washington every year. Concerns were rampant, and not unexpected.
The nightlife hotspot of Naknek
The community was welcoming and open about their unique lifestyle on Bristol Bay. Naknek has a population of less than 600 in the winter months, but explodes to around 15,000 during the summer. I have always wanted to visit the area in the summer, it must be absolutely beautiful. The sockeye runs are a major temptation, but I simply could not imagine so many people in such a confined space as Naknek. There is a nearby alternative, but more on that in a future post.
I flew out to King Salmon on PenAir, also known as Peninsula Airways. I’ve always liked PenAir and their Saab 2000’s, although the airline is now under the Ravn banner. The twin engine turboprop usually offers a smooth ride out to some of Alaska’s more remote locations.
The Alaska Airlines & PenAir terminal at King Salmon, Alaska
We landed in King Salmon, and drove over to Naknek. This is fishing country, both commercial & sport. Salmon is king here. Anti Pebble Mine signs were everywhere. No surprise that the fishing communities did not want to see the world’s largest open pit mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay.
We located our accommodations for our stay, only to find out that there was no heat in the building. Only in Alaska would the proprietor think that heat was an option. After scouring Naknek, we ended up back in King Salmon for our room & board.
Inside the Saab2000
Sitting in the emergency row on the Saab2000 does not really offer much of an advantage. It definitely cuts down on the view.
Since we’re in the middle of Katmai Week here between The Circles, I wanted to share this photo, although probably not for the reasons many would think.
The pic above was taken of two fishermen in Katmai National Park. I’ve found myself in a similar situation while fishing Alaska’s rivers. Once was with my Dad, which was more nerve-wracking than when I was solo! Forget the bear, I was worried about how my Dad would react.
What I love about this picture, from all my time in Alaska, is that the bear actually has little to no interest in the fishermen. The bear simply has salmon on its mind. We don’t have two fishermen in the picture, but three.
If given half the chance, man can live with wildlife. The two species above, can coexist. Katmai NP&P is a prime example of that. I would hope that is the lesson the photograph has to give. After all, Alaska would be a much poorer place without her bears.
The photo was taken in July by Robert Hawthorne, a photographer out of Bozeman, Montana. His link is below:
When I first set up the Beaver Cam, I was expecting some photos right away, but the Beav had other ideas. It didn’t come by the cam until I was out of town fishing. It does have an extensive area from which to fell his lumber, so I didn’t get too concerned.
That Pesky Rabbit; or Curatores Gignentia in Latin
The first week the Beaver Cam was up, I had 442 pictures of this rabbit. I’ve been asked, “How can you be sure it’s the same rabbit?” Because I waded through 442 pictures of the goofy thing hoping for a picture of the beaver.
The Bunny Hop
The funny thing about rabbits, is that they tend to twitch this way, and then twitch that way for endless hours of viewing entertainment. They may hop a foot or two, but then they go back to twitching. There were a lot of pictures where the only noticeable difference between shots was the placement of one ear or the other.
The rabbit returns to twitching
The second week the cam was up, when I was out of town chasing cohos, the beaver did stop by for a couple of dozen shots. I was grateful, although they were interspersed between 502 pictures of my favorite rabbit. When I finally took the cam down due to concern it may be carried off with a tree, I had close to 1000 pictures of Bugs, and 40 of the beaver.