Friday, December 12, 2008

Its all about eating...

I don't know about you but I'm sick to death of catch and release fishing being portrayed as a some kind of "holier than thou" exercise.

I don't fish for entertainment. I fish to kill fish. Of course I eat the fish that I kill because if fish tasted like chicken nuggets I just wouldn't damn well bother. I'm all for protecting our fisheries and such but catch and release fishing is tantamount to playing with your food. If the fishery won't sustain a harvest- then fishing shouldn't be allowed.

I had an experience recently that just reminded me of the very purity of predatory fishing and the wonderful simplicity focus thats recently been a big driver in my life. I took the family out for a drive and we happened to get out to a local lake known for its ice fishing and we happened to have enough stuff along that we could at least give it a college try. The ice was well over the safe limit for thickness so we drove out on to the ice and parked over an underwater shelf. There were a lot of folks out there fishing and I was quite intimidated by the fact my gear consisted of a hand auger and a single dime store ice rod. My tackle was a rusty, ancient hook and some very old salmon eggs. Most of the other folks had ice shelters and two stroke augers and one positively incredible looking underwater camera. I still don't know what that was for...

Not to be daunted a couple of minutes with the auger yielded a hole in the ice and a surplus canning ladle handled dipping chores nicely. A couple of eggs on the hook and plop through the ice it went.

After a few minutes of my wife giving me the "I'm bored and I gotta pee" stare sideways from her magazine I notice the rod is bouncing a bit. I pick it up and give it the slightest tug and lo and behold- a fish!
I yelled to the family that beloved Alaska term- "Fish ON!" and began to reel this thing in. A minute's work and the rainbow was on the ice. He was beautiful and perfectly sized for the skillet. My carniverous kid yelled quite loudly- "TAKE IT HOME AND LET'S EAT IT!"

A quick rap on the head and the fish was destined for the larder. I told my wife that we could go now and she gave me the "Your crazy, where are the salmon eggs" look and proceeded to plop some bait back down the black hole in the ice. A mere moment later she had another fish on the ice. Our trout sampler had grown to an appetizer and the bait went back down the hole. A few minutes later another feisty trout was wriggling across the ice. We had a full meal and it was time to go home. The temperature was hitting -8F and the family was getting hungry.

The trout yielded a wonderful meal. None of them were big enough to brag about but nothing was wasted. The flavor was enhanced by a little lemon pepper and the satisfaction that we had ripped sustenance from the wilderness. No restaurant in the world can serve that dish...

Monday, November 17, 2008

Snow has fallen...

Winter has been around a while up here in Interior Alaska. The snow adds a dimension to the Interior that simply doesn't exist in the summer. While a lot of folks dread the onset of winter there is an odd group that looks forward to its arrival.

With winter comes reprieve from the famous Alaskan mosquito and a reprieve from the also famous summer work season. For many tourists it doesn't seem like there is a lot going on in Alaska but the brief summer is often a brief period of hard work for the locals. Construction, road maintenance, tourism, fishing, and all the support services that cater to those industries experience a brief but powerful surge in the summer. Hours are long and the work can be hard so winter is often seen as a respite from work.

I believe that Alaska is truly a place where one must adopt the flow of nature and the seasons in order to adequately survive.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

I am so sore...

My first backpack hunting trip in about a decade and a half came off yesterday without many hitches. No carribou were harmed in the making of this blog but thats why they call it hunting. My size 12 boots carried my butt up a 6000 ft moutain with a loaded day pack and oversize rifle just fine and despite the lack of game had a wonderful time. I picked an area that only the suicidal and law breaking would dare take an ATV into and didn't hear a single motor the whole time.

I had some time to ponder while I was trekking around in some pristine wilderness "why exactly do I feel the need to hunt?" I didn't exactly grow up a hunter but I did grow up in a rural community with a tradition of hunting. Maybe its the experience. Maybe its the desire to be an active participant in nature. Maybe its the desire to fit in. Who knows but the need to hunt is deep, powerful and unexplainable. It is a "roaring in the blood" to quote someone I can't remember at this moment...

While I was up there roaming around on foot looking for carribou and visiting my Stone Age psyche I had some time to ponder the simplicity of hunting and how complicated it all seems these days. A visit to the local Sportsman Warehouse reveals that for a lot of guys hunting the best sale price on new camo and camp gear may be the closest these folks get to hunting all year.
My endeavor is to simplify my equipment to a meager backpack and a rifle. And thats when I went hunting with Tim...

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Carbohydrate Power

It seems that carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap lately and even myself (a born carnivore with a taste for beef and salmon) managed to shed a significant number of pounds on the "Atkins diet". Why has the lowly carbohydrate gotten such a bum deal? Well- we as Americans and Alaskans in particular tend to eat a whole darn bunch of them. A lot more than we need in fact. Coupled with a distinct lack of physical activity, an overconsumption of carbs have left a lot of folks more Porky Pig than ever before.

I know most folks will be saying "What does this have to do with the outdoors Hodgeman?"

Well the hunting seasons are fast approaching and I'm fully intend to go out and bring home some protein but this year I'm going to do it differently and I'm likely going to need some help from carbohydrates to do it.

After several dissapointing episodes involving my ATVs and a LOT of dissapointing behavior involving other peoples' ATVs, I decided to part ways with wilderness internal combustion- at least on a trial basis. It was frightfully easy- a brief ad and a reasonable price ensured my Hondas flew out of my driveway as if ridden by Hell's Angels.

Events that led up to my departure from petroleum powered transport involved a rather awful spectacle with my ATV becoming so stuck I had to walk 2 miles to retrieve another ATV to pull it out. I could have easily walked through the stupid hole or better yet went right around it through the woods on foot. Maybe I'm getting soft because i don't want to destroy a 48" swath of trees to get around a mudhole. Some might even call me a tree hugger for relinquishing my right to plow under barked flora while my patooty is parked astride the saddle.

As bad as I felt the behavior of others didn't really help me any. While gold panning in the White Mountains I watched a lady climb aboard her machine and ride 50 yards to a toilet facility and then upon exit- ride back. She was rather obese and I'll let her score points for even being there (albeit on an ATV and camping in an RV) but riding a $6000 ATV rock throwing distance to the crapper is just silly.

The behavior of other hunters is getting out of hand as well. I met a pile of guys on the trail last year and in the hunting area I frequented the sound of ATVs seemingly never ceased. I even thought I had the open tundra tactic of going high and glassing excessively for game all wrong as other hunters seemed to just ride standing on the pegs scanning as they went. One group that I observed from my frosty perch never got off there machines except to take a leak. It all seemed pretty akin to a more acceptable form of "road hunting" although no one is calling it that. Something rumbled in my gut- in my youth back in the East road hunting was prosecuted with excessive vigor by the game warden as was viewed as the epitomy of "white trash" behavior. An old timer at the ADFG open forum decried the use of the machines and told the sad reality- the average moose hunter in our area will wear out three ATVs before he wears out a single pair of boots. I kinda cringed at the statement but only from my gut telling me its true.

Now hunting season is waxing fast and I'm left looking at my size 12 boots and a left foot prone to pain from "plantar facisitis...". A rummaging through my gear revealed that I no longer owned a suitable backpack- plenty of day type packs but nothing I could cram a dressed carribou quarter into. Looking at my physical condition I'm sorely dissapointed to say I'll have to limit shooting much closer to the truck than I'd care to otherwise I'd never get the meat out. Moose may be off the menu altogether unless I find another spot.

That said, I'm entering hunting season with a renewed sense of hope. I can hike, I can pack meat, a backpack is available a variety of places and I have funds to allow for purchase. An exceptionally wet summer has left the trail system a total wreck and hunting from a wheeler may be an aggravating pursuit this year. Ethically I feel better hunting from my two feet and not using the machine at all.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

RV- ruins vacations...

I'll say right at the outset of this little post that I am not at all disposed to dislike RVs, their owners, or anyone associated in the RV industry. Those of you so inclined- rest easy and stop reading right here.

For those of you who continue to read be aware that I'm not going to be too kind to this whole idea of the RV infesting the Alaskan countryside.

Spring finally arrived in the Far North and my faithful wife spurred the family into camping gear and we decided to head up past Fairbanks to do a little gold panning and basically turn some firewood into ash while our young son played his favorite camping game- "Will It Burn and Will It Float?"

Our weather was unusually cooperative over the Memorial Day weekend with the weather only cool enough to be enjoyable, clear skies and a suspicious absence of insects- perfect camping weather. We settled into the campsite out near the Chatanika River and as we took a little stroll to acquaint ourselves with some of our fellow campers we noticed they were conspicuously absent. Where could everyone be? Well, tucked safely into their spanking big RVs of course! No one out and about to enjoy the fine weather. My son was pretty disappointed no other kids were out and about to rampage around with and I was sort of put off by the apparent lack of human habitation in this rather scenic spot. I just figured that maybe everyone would come out after meal time or some other event. Well...I was wrong.

The longer we sat and wandered around and generally had a fine time we realized that we were pretty much the only folks actually "in" the Great Outdoors. So there we were surrounded by "road barns" and generator noise until well past my usual bedtime. What they were doing in these big boxes was beyond me but I simply couldn't imagine myself surrounded by that much closed door activity. At one point the constant humming and coughing of the generators caused me no shortage of angst and the quote went something like- "That damn thing better be plugged into a dialysis machine or I'm gonna be really torqued..." A continuation of 4 letter expletives was deleted to spare my more delicate readers.

A similar situation arose with the dawn when I (the early riser in the family) got up in the early chill and put my percolator to perking a stout pot of coffee, stoked the fire and settled into a camp chair to watch the sun pop up over the horizon. Birds were singing, the sun was climbing in its northern arc and a slightly chill breeze rolled off the bubbling river- By God this is what camping in Alaska is all about! I was just putting the mug of coffee- real coffee with a little Colombian oil slick swirling around the surface- to my lips when.... BRRRRRRRRRR! An ancient generator with an oil change as recently as the Reagan era erupts from beyond the brush screen my camping neighbor. I must have been time to make coffee in the automatic drip.

So I began to question myself and my motives. "How much fun can a guy have driving a 10,000lb RV into the wilderness and finding himself there- sit in it?" So a trip to the RV store convinced my wife and I that we really didn't know what sticker shock meant as the units were thereabouts in the $70000 and up range. I'm not sure I could even relax without pharmaceutical help knowing that I spent $70000 on something as seasonal as an RV in the first place but what the heck- everyone has their own rationale. I'm pretty convinced however that I was the only guy on that lot who smelled like smoke and knew how to pitch a tent.

What really astonished me was the lack of outdoor activity associated with this type of camping (and friends you don't realize what a stretch that term is for me...). Camping as an activity was pounded into my being during my formative years as a Boy Scout. We had to be able to pitch a tent (and I mean a real canvas tent) in the dark, in the rain, and under most other impossible circumstances. We had to know how to cut wood and even in this more environmentally sensitive age one must know how to "forage" dead falls! We had to have a pocketknife. We had to use an axe. We had to keep a camp ship shape and "policed" as my former Scoutmaster was found of screaming in booming decibels. We had to tie knots. We pooped in the woods. We had to (horror of horrors) cook upon a real fire made of burning wood- and guess how many of us burned ourselves? All of us. We got over it.

A visit in my mind back to that draconian era revealed a couple of things- first of which is that some of my fondest memories from childhood come from those experiences and the sense of accomplishment I felt from sometimes purely surviving them. The second is that I learned some real skills that I'll carry with me for the rest of my life.

For those folks who've hung in through the preceding rant I apologize. There must be some folks out there really enjoying those RVs and I'm sure there are a list of compelling reasons to own one but I guess I'm just not getting it. I just can't see leaving home to drag it with me.