Landing a plane on a remote beach, salmon fishing in the wilderness, Alaska Jim, guns, and an unexpected guest… makes one amazing story!
Written by: Jay / Edited by: Gretta
Traveling to Alaska with his boys was on the very top of my father-in-law’s bucket list. There were many, many highlights that were had on this very special Alaska trip – hiking along a glacier, fishing for salmon in a remote mountain stream, flying a bush plane, traveling by water-taxi, buying a genuine Alaska “wreck” car instead of renting just to blend in with the locals, sleeping outside with a gun beside my pillow… now why wouldn’t that be on everyone’s bucket list?? We did many “manly” things on our Alaska family trip, including growing as much facial hair as we could. But, I will leave the writing of my facial hair to another blog post. I instead, have to tell you about my biggest highlight from this trip…a wilderness experience like none other.
Dwight, my father-in-law, is the patriarch of the family and he just has a way of making really neat connections with people. One of his connections was with a local pilot who often takes guests out in his bush plane salmon fishing. His name was Jim, and he was an Alaskan through and through. If you were to try and picture an old mountain Alaskan man, Jim is it: skeptical of the government, lives in a town called Kasilof, main food group is moose and salmon, and his house resides on top of a plane hanger! He was quite the character.
There we were, my father-in-law, my two brothers-in-law, myself, Alaska Jim, and another guest that we soon discovered was not playing with a full deck… you’ll find out later why. Our plane route took us across Cook Inlet, by Illiamna Mountain and into Lake Clark National Park. The flight was absolutely breathtaking with the snow peak mountains, the ocean views and the vast wilderness on the horizon. As I was gazing out the windows taking it all in, Jim our Alaskan guide leaned over and said “there you go.” I said “where you go?” He replied, “you better grab the controller or no one will be flying this plane.” Now that was a first! Once I got over the initial shock and loosened up it was a really cool experience. As we got closer to our destination of Dry Bay Creek, Alaska Jim thankfully took over the controls to everyone’s relief. Our Alaskan runway was quickly approaching, but this landing strip had no radio tower, no blinking lights and no pavement, it was just a smooth, long stretch of beach. In true Alaska Jim form, he started talking about all the different plane stories of failed beach landings. What a guy! Our landing thankfully went perfectly as we rolled along the smooth sand between the shore and ocean. Another amazing first, but that still isn’t the biggest highlight of the trip.
Here comes the really good part!
We hiked out from the beach and were walking along when we noticed a massive bear track alongside the trail. I have heard of grizzly bears in Alaska of course. I have seen them on the nature channel, on movies stalking humans, but never, up to this point, seen one in the wild. My last experience with a bear was a little small black one in Yellowstone National Park… there were park rangers 100 yards away from the bear on all sides with rifles keeping everyone back. You know, to be honest, I think all I saw of that little black bear was his butt running away from all the humans. Alaska Jim saw that we were all concerned and amazed at the size of the footprint, but he seemed to be a little disinterested… it was like the same kind of disinterest we on Vancouver Island who live in the country give to deer on our front lawn. Alaska Jim was also the one with the biggest gun strapped to his waist. I decided to take my nervousness level cue from Alaska Jim and quickly forgot about the grizlly track and who it might belong to.
We were all enjoying some great salmon fishing in one of the most beautiful wilderness settings I have ever been in. We were catching salmon here and there as we made our way up the stream all spread out. Life was good. Then everything changed in an instant! Out of nowhere my brother-in-law came splashing down the stream in the opposite direction we were going looking a little frazled and in a hurry. We heard him say something about a bear, but he was splashing by us pretty quick. One thing we knew for sure was that the owner of that grizzly footprint was right up stream. We huddled together wondering if our fishing was over. After a little while Alaska Jim motioned us to keep on fishing and not to let a bear ruin things. Now don’t get me wrong… I trusted Alaska Jim to a point, but he was getting up there in age and I was questioning how fast of a draw he was on that gun of his.
With no idea where the grizzly had gone to, with tall grass all around, there we were on one side of the bank fishing with one eye on the fishing hole, and one eye on the tall grass. I actually had one eye on the fishing hole and one eye on Alaska Jim’s gun. I don’t think my senses have ever been so heightened. Talk about extreme fishing. Were we crazy-stupid? Or did we just have way too much faith in Alaska Jim? I started wondering to myself whether catching another salmon was worth getting chased down by a grizzly bear out in the Alaskan wilderness. I didn’t have too much wondering time because a few minutes into getting settled into fishing again, the grass started rustling directly across from the fishing hole and out popped the head of a grizzly! Okay that’s it! I thought to myself, fishing’s over… But No It Wasn’t! We somehow decided it was a good idea to keep fishing while a grizzly stared us down. Can you picture this! The insanity? Alaska Jim yells out to everyone, “don’t mind the bear, as long as he is on that side of the stream we should be fine”. Should be fine? What planet are you from? A planet where bears can’t swim?
Well that bear didn’t stay on the other side of the stream… he smelt that salmon we caught earlier and wanted some, so in no time, he cut across the steam right by us. Alaska Jim took his gun out of the holster for the first time, and that’s when I said “Okay, I’m done”. We all booked it out of there as quick as we could. I remember looking behind me at one point and saw this elderly old man that we had left behind with a gun in one hand and a salmon in the other. He actually said to me before I left him behind “I’m not letting no bear take my salmon.” You remember that guy I mentioned at the beginning of the story that joined us? Well he was back there with Alaska Jim holding a couple salmon as well. He was committed to not giving his salmon up, but at one point when the grizzly was closing in he panicked and threw his salmon at the bear’s head and ran. The grizzly finally stopped pursuing us and with a salmon in one hand and a gun in the other, Alaksa Jim smiled at me as he walked by cool, calm and collected and said “see I told you he wasn’t going to get my salmon.”
And that’s the Alaskan fishing story…
What would you have done if you were fishing with us? Are you a salmon thrower or a salmon keeper? Comment below.