CORDOVA, Alaska — For its size, Alaska doesn’t have many miles of paved highways. But there are other ways to get around.
The air is important, of course, and it seems the sky is always full of little bush planes.
Water is another, and an important aspect of that is the formal Alaska Marine Highway System.
We just got our first taste of it, riding the ferry Chenega from Whittier to Cordova on Wednesday evening.
Visitors to North Carolina’s Outer Banks are familiar with the little open boats that ferry cars and passengers on the coast, such as to Ocracoke Island.
The Chenega is a different animal.
It’s a catamaran that’s 219 feet long, and it carries up to 35 vehicles and as many as 250 passengers.
Powered by a jet propulsion system that puts out more than 19,000 horsepower, its top speed is a whopping 32 knots. I don’t know if we’re doing that right now, but we’re close.
I spent a lot of time at sea and we were going faster than I ever went on a Navy ship. By far.
The weather was blustery and Prince William Sound was kind of rough, and the captain warned that we might experience “some weather” on the trip. If that was rough, I’ll take it. The ride was super smooth.
The cabin was super comfortable.
It wasn’t cheap. The one-way ticket for the three of us and our 24-foot RV rang in at a stout $466. The vehicle was the killer, but having it with us over in Cordova will ultimately be a money-saver because it will be our lodging.
We arrived at 6:30, and pouring rain commenced.
Cliff and Kraig were set on working out so we paid the one-day entrance fee for the Cordova Recreation Center (which is slightly larger than my living room) and got in a work out and, more importantly, an actual shower.
After “camping” in a parking lot last night, we got up this morning and headed to Ibek Creek on the recommendation of Chris Batin, who is a regular down this way.
It wasn’t hard to find. All we had to do was look for all the cars.
The scene at the bridge was not exactly combat fishing, but there was a pretty good crowd. We headed upstream and found some open water.
And found lots of fish.
The silver salmon were stacked in there. The guys immediately above us already had their limit (three apiece) and were fishing for fun, catching a nice silver every 10 minutes or so.
They were using pink spinners so we went with pink. It worked. Especially for Cliff. He had his limit before Kraig or I had a fish.
Not that I hadn’t gotten a chance. I hooked a couple, including one on my fly rod. Both broke me off.
There is no excuse for breaking off fish, at least not fish you are targeting. If you are breaking them off, you are doing something wrong, or using inappropriate gear.
I was guilty of the latter. You’d think that with all the thought and planning I put into this trip I would have been better prepared.
My fly leader was weak. My spinning leader was weak. These fish, which were 10 to 12 pounds each, were strong.
Not a good combination.
Things got worse before they got better.
We lost our best pink Blue Fox Vibrax spinners. Kraig tried in vain to save one he hung up, but ended flailing mightily, filling his waders with water and killing his radio. (We use radios to stay in touch on the stream. They are great. Bummer that we are down to two.)
He lost the lure, too.
Other colors weren’t working well, so we pulled the eggs sacs from a hen that Cliff had caught and started fishing eggs, though we had to scramble a bit for rigs because we weren’t anticipating using this technique. (I had smallish treble hooks, but the best hooks are larger single hooks.)
The quick version of using eggs is you fish a big clump of roe on the bottom.
Fish killed it. Every time.
I hooked many. I lost many. It got funny. And frustrating.
I seriously think I lost 10 fish that either pulled off or broke off.
Cliff and Kraig had their limits and were ready to roll. I said I wasn’t leaving until I actually got a fish to the bank. I told them that I would find a ride back to town.
I wasn’t kidding.
Not that I don’t appreciate the simple fact that I am here. But I am competitive by nature and I can’t help it. As I told those guys, “I don’t quit.”
I hooked up again and could see that it was a male that had some color, meaning it wasn’t as bright as the fish that are newest to the system.
Having lost some chrome-bright fish, I figured that the first one I would land would be a little dark. And that’s what happened. I released it.
A few minutes later I got another one in. It was also a little dark and I released it. If it wasn’t the biggest fish of the day, it was close.
A small victory, but one I’ll take.