Alaska Panhandle

In 1979 my father and I rented two rustic cabins in the panhandle of Alaska from the forest service for $5 a week each. The catch was that the cabins were 100 miles from the nearest road.

A floatplane flew us to a remote lake, landed on the lake and taxied to the shore. We unloaded our supplies and piled it on the beach. The pilot said that our cabin was 'that way', pointing to the forest. He started up the plane and yelled, "See you in a week," as we watched him pick up speed and take off from the lake.

After finding the cabin and settling in, we were ready to explore the new wilderness. We followed a trail leading from the cabin to the outlet river of the lake. Crossing the trail were numerous one or two-foot wide streams that we had to jump over. I got tired of jumping and didn't mind if I got my shoes went, so I stepped in one of the streams. I disappeared up to my chin before catching the sides with my elbows. I never touched the bottom and I never let jumping over the streams bother me again.

At the river was a wide, calm, deep hole with lots of large salmon. Catching salmon was much different than the trout that we were use to. Spawning salmon don't eat so bait was useless. Large hooks were needed to snag the salmon and we bought our share of those hooks before getting on the plane.

The salmon in the river hole had large cuts in their backs. I guessed that it was caused by the people who rented the cabin before us, trying to snag the salmon. We started to prepare our big hooks to snag one for ourselves when we heard splashing upriver. The splashing sounds were close.

"Who is that?" we asked each other. There wasn't supposed to be anyone within a hundred miles of us. I was shocked with reality. The cuts in the backs of the salmon were not from people trying to snag one but by a grizzly bear and it sounded like the grizzly was heading to his favorite fishing hole.

We quickly put away our big hooks and unpacked our guns and whistles. My father had a 44-mag rifle and I had a 44-mag pistol with what seemed to be a 12-inch barrel. We blew the whistles all the way back to the cabin. We were told that the whistles would scare away the bears so that we wouldn't happen to cross paths while walking down the trail. Thankfully the whistles worked because I had doubts about the 44's stopping a charging grizzly.

The next morning we noticed fresh paw prints all around the outside of the cabin. The tracks were large. I had a size 12 shoe and it fit inside one of the paw prints. I guess the grizzly came to retrieve any of his fish that we took out of his river. Unfortunately, or would it be fortunately, we did not catch any fish the day before.

That day we decided to explore the other side of the lake. We used the rowboat that came with the cabin but the lake was large and there was a constant headwind. One of us rowed as the other rested, then we would switch places. Progress was slow and we grew tired. Eventually we gave up and let the wind blow us back to the cabin.

As the days went on we found that the fishing was terrific. The trout were large and we even got the hang of snagging salmon. It didn't take long to catch enough fish for us to eat each day.

One calm day we were in the rowboat near the outlet river of the lake. That part of the lake was only 20 feet wide when I caught something. I started to reel him in as I did numerous fish before. When the fish got close to the boat, he took off. This too was not unusual except this time the fish went straight down. I watched in disbelief as my reel hummed from the line coming out and still the line went straight down into the water. "How deep is this lake?" I wondered. After that I felt safer fishing from the shore.

After a week at the lake we heard the plane flying overhead. We quickly packed what was left of our supplies and carried it to the beach. By that time I had already forgot what the pilot looked like so I was pleased that he remembered which lake he dropped us off at. We loaded the plane and he flew us a hundred miles to our next cabin on a lake. "See you in a week."

Read more of "My Adventures" on the top right of this page.

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