ALASKA 2014 Trip Report (Part 3 of 3)

This young male Brown Bear was quite energetic as he 'snorkeled' in the shallow bay trying to catch salmon the hard way.

This young male Brown Bear was quite energetic as he ‘snorkeled’ in the shallow bay trying to catch salmon the hard way.  © Kevin Loughlin

 

The following morning we spent some time photographing the waterfalls that tumbled into the bay. It was low tide, so we had lots of rocks in the foreground to work with, offering some fun compositions. Sadly it began to rain, so we pulled up our tripods and headed back to the boat to begin another adventure.

We exited Warm Springs Bay and turned north into Chatham Straight. We had one more destination along Baranof Island’s coast before we explored Frederick Sound in the final leg of our journey. Hidden Falls Fish Hatchery was waiting patiently for the next salmon run to begin. However, we hoped that the Brown Bears were not so patient and would be hanging out along the river’s edge hoping for an early start to their annual feast. We were well rewarded for our efforts!

 

This big male found his own spot on the creek away from the female with cub.

This big male found his own spot on the creek away from the female with cub.  © Kevin Loughlin

 

We tied the skiff to the new dock at the hatchery and walked a short way, through the hatchery’s pools full of young fingerlings. As we approached the Hidden Falls, we saw the back of a Brown Bear through the tall grass on the far side. Getting closer we then found a mother and cub in a shallow ravine below the pond. A young male was also “snorkeling” at the mouth of the creek, face down in the water looking for fish. He would raise his head and shake off the water only to dip below, to snorkel again.

 

This mother and cub were patient as they waited for salmon to move into the stream.

This mother and cub were patient as they waited for salmon to move into the stream. © Kevin Loughlin

Baranof is known for its Brown Bears, and no Black Bears have been reported on this island. Admiralty Island which lies across Chatham Straight is reported to have the highest concentration of Brown Bears per square mile in the world, with Baranof a close runner up! As we watched and photographed these majestic creatures, the young male Brown Bear was replaced by a much older, larger male. However, the bruin and cub stood their ground and the big boar gave them their space as he came down to the creek’s edge. More bears would come an go while mom and cub remained throughout our photo session.

We knew we had to leave at some point, so when the bears that were present all laid down to nap, we took the queue and made our way back to the yacht. We were off, heading southeast toward Frederick Sound. Our timing for the motoring was perfect as rain and clouds spoiled our view allowing for a much needed nap time! Continuing east into Frederick Sound we followed the southern coast of Admiralty Island, passing a few Humpback Whales as we searched for bears, birds and other wildlife along our route.

Pybus Bay was our target location for tonight’s anchorage. As we entered the bay we dropped our shrimp traps in the deep water, then our crab traps further into the bay. We would pick them all up in the morning with hopes of a big catch! A few salmon jumped around us and we could hear loons calling to each other as the sun set and we enjoyed our dinner.

In the morning we returned to where we had dropped our crab traps. A heavy wall of fog diminished our view, but we did find our floats and haul in the traps. To our delight, each trap had crabs in them. All were males (females must be returned unharmed), and we were able to keep thirteen of the 20 crabs as they were easily above the minimum size limit.

Next, the shrimp traps! As we hauled them up from 160 feet down (this can be hard work!), we were quite pleased with our catch. We easily had enough shrimp for our evening feast! Along with the shrimp came some expected ‘by-catch’. Several Sculpin (an odd looking fish), Sharp-nosed Crabs, Decorator Crabs, Hermit Crabs in Whelk shells, and huge Sunflower Sea Stars came up with the shrimp. We had a fun time photographing these specimens before tossing them back into the sea.

We had not yet done any fishing so we proceeded to find a prospective halibut location and dropped our lines. Fishing does require patience and it was a good time to relax and enjoy the beautiful morning as the cloak of fog lifted. One of the fishing rods began to twitch, the telltale sign of a bite. The rod eventually bent over and a small halibut was reeled in. Soon after, another small halibut took the bait. This was not what we had hoped for so we decided to move on to another prospective location.

At the next location we dropped in our lines and almost immediately one participants rod bent in half! She began to reel and quickly realized she had a huge fish on! It took quite a while to reel it in from the depths and as it came to the surface it was evident that this was not going to be a keeper fish. Yes, it was large, but this region of Alaska has a reverse slot limit on halibut. All halibut between 44 inches and 76 inches must be thrown back. Halibut over 76 inches can be kept, however, they are not really good for eating as the meat at this size is tough ands stringy. Lisa’s fish was nearly 70 inches long and estimated at over 150 pounds!

While Dennis carefully unhooked the big fish a couple other rods bent over and we reeled in a couple of keepers slightly under 44 inches. As they were being unhooked another rod tipped and a large sculpin was hauled in and released. This wasn’t fishing… this was catching! The action continued for quite awhile. Sometimes the fish stripped the bait without getting hooked and sometime we hauled in species we preferred not to keep, but it was all fun! For the day we ended up catching thirty halibut, twenty-two of which were either too large or not large enough to bother keeping. However, we were able to keep eight halibut ranging in size from 36-43 inches or about 20-39 pounds each!

After our great fishing spree, we moved into the mouth of Stephens Passage, passing the Stellar’s Sea Lion haul-out at Brother’s Islands. We anchored near Five Fingers Lighthouse and a few of us went ashore to explore. A pair of Black Oystercatchers greeted us with calls of dismay as they had a nest down on the rocks well beyond our landing. Many wildflowers were in bloom, including Columbine, Shooting Stars, Chocolate Lilies and many others offered splashes of color along the trails. Harbor seals peered from just above the water’s surface, their eyes looking like little black swim goggles. As we walked, the folks who remained on board the yacht kept us apprised of the continuous whale activity, including a group of bubble-net feeders nearby!

After our lighthouse reconnoiter, we moved the yacht south to Cape Fanshaw for our final night’s anchorage as Chef Johan and First Mate Cassie readied our shrimp for dinner. We ate our meal surrounded by whales as the sun set over Frederick Sound.

In the morning, the whales were still abundant as we went ashore for a walk along the rocky coast. Small stones of many colors have been rounded and smoothed by the action of the tides and waves along this beach, making for some fun images. Unfortunately a heavy rain began as we were on shore, so we boarded the yacht again and hoisted the anchor for our final time and headed south toward Petersburg. However, our adventure would not be over that quickly!

As we motored south we could see blue specks on the water in the distance. Icebergs! As we neared the first iceberg we enjoyed the amazing blue tones within. Captain Dennis backed the yacht toward the huge chunk of ice so that all could touch it. We spent some time photographing it against the muted backdrop of Alaskan mountains and mist before moving on to another iceberg scene.

 

On our final morning we photographed a few icebergs.

On our final morning we photographed a few icebergs.  © Kevin Loughlin

 

This time, the iceberg had two Bald Eagles resting upon it as we approached offering another dimension to our images. We took time to shoot from all angles as we tried to prolong our incredible journey as much as possible, but inevitably, we had to return to port in Petersburg. We paused here to thank Captain Dennis, Chef Johan and First Mate Cassie for a wondrous adventure before we entered Petersburg Harbor.

After docking, we checked back into our hotel before taking our fish to the local processor (Coastal Cold Storage) to prepare it for shipping home. It was time for our final dinner together as a group and there was no lack of discussion about all we had seen and done over the previous eight days on board our beautiful, luxury yacht!

Download a printable version of the full trip report at:
http://wildsidenaturetours.com/workshops/alaska-photo-adventure-cruise/

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