Two days after we arrived at Deep Creek State Recreation Area, we accidentally went fishing. That's a long story, but before I get to that, let me back up to our departure from Cooper Landing.
Along strategic points on the Kenai highways there are road signs that list the number of moose that have been killed over a year's time. It's a sad reminder that human and wildlife habitats intercept, often with deadly results, mostly for the wildlife. The numbers indicated 235 moose had been killed on Kenai highways since July 1, 2015. It's hard not to think about that as we're driving down the highway, wondering how such accidents can happen.
I'll tell you how. In a freaking instant, that's how. Most highways have a large swath of clear cut on each side for fire protection which affords drivers a broad view. There are sections, however, that run along rivers, steep hillsides or private property where cutting back the trees and vegetation isn't possible. And that's where a moose can pop out, right in front of your vehicle.
We had to really pay attention on roads like these. They are prime moose stomping grounds.
We were about 20 minutes into our drive from Cooper Landing to Deep Creek when a large female moose suddenly bounded up onto the highway in front of us. It took her about three long strides to reach the center of the road, where she promptly stopped and looked right at us. I slammed on the brakes and flipped on the engine brake. Then I laid on the air horn, which would scare the bejeezus out of any living thing. But all I got was a wimpy "beeeeeeeeep, beeeeeeeeeeep." Seriously? I didn't have the wherewithal at that point to flip the switch that would have actually turned the air horn on, it was all happening so fast and at that moment I wanted to keep my eyes on the road and the moose. All I could think was how this wasn't going to be good for Scoopy, us or the moose. As we approached her, still rolling to a stop, I veered Scoopy slightly to the left. The motorhome behind us, also slamming on his brakes, did the same and the two cars behind him followed suit.
Then, just as suddenly as she appeared, she took a couple of long strides and was gone! Oh, sweet relief! We finally did roll to a stop, as did the vehicles behind us. We all looked like we were parked at the supermarket, only we were in the middle of the highway! It was the closest call we've had on this trip and I hope it's the last. Needless to say, it took a while to get our heart rates back to normal. As you tend to do in these situations, we excitedly recounted the incident six ways from Sunday until we assured ourselves that our actions were sound. We just got lucky.
We drove through the busy town of Soldotna before turning south toward the tiny community of Ninilchik, located just about halfway between Soldotna and Homer, to Deep Creek State Recreation Area. You may recall we stopped here a week prior with Zac to check out the campground and at that time found all the waterfront spots occupied. That was a Friday, and we hoped that by arriving on Thursday, a few spots might have opened. As it happened, we couldn't have planned it better. The place was a ghost town and we had our pick of choice sites!
Not long after we settled into our spot, a couple named Dean and Jan from Tucson pulled in next to us. They were in Alaska celebrating their anniversary, I think it was their 5th. We had a lot of fun talking with them and found out that they actually dated in high school and were engaged to be married, but Jan got cold feet. It was years later before they reunited and the timing was right. We would have loved to have spent more time with them, but they were leaving early the next morning to go fishing. Which brings me to our accidental fishing saga.
Dean and Jan from Tucson.
Most coastal towns on the Kenai peninsula offer fishing charters. We had that option in Seward but decided to check out the options in Homer which touts itself as the Halibut Fishing Capital of the World. Then, when talking with Dean and Jan, they told us that many charters out of Homer motor into the Cook Inlet into the waters off shore a few miles from Ninilchik, right where we are staying! And there are charters within walking distance of our campground! How easy is that?
As you may recall, I have been angst-ridden over whether or not to go fishing while we're in Alaska. I have never fished before and I don't own any gear or appropriate fishing attire. Steven doesn't fish either, but he was not indecisive like me. He did not want to go. He is prone to motion sickness and does not do well on boats. But since I couldn't make up my mind, he made it up for me and said, "We're going." I guess he decided it would be easier for him to take one for the team than to listen to me moan and kvetch about fishing, possibly forever, if I didn't get out there and do it.
Still, even though we had "decided" to go fishing, it was a decision in theory only. I'm not sure either of us thought it would actually happen. But the next day Steven and I headed to the office. We agreed that our purpose was information-gathering only and that no decisions would be made. Twenty minutes later we were booked on a 6:00 a.m. charter the following day and were on our way to get our fishing licenses. Steven was like, uh, what just happened? It's just that the lady was so nice and she kept lowering the price over and over until I finally said, "Yes, I wanna do it!"
This spiffy hat was a deal breaker for the fishing trip!! (not really)
We were both kind of nervous and excited the next morning. We showed up at the office right on time and the first thing I noticed was that everyone was dressed appropriately. By that I mean they were all camo'd and rubberized. I wore my yoga pants and my black Walmart coat. It's all I had, really. We had packed a lunch, as we were told to do, and climbed aboard the passenger van with the two other fishermen, the captain and the deckhand for the 90-second ride to the boat launch. We got on the boat and waited for the tractor to come and drag us out to sea and send us on our merry way. It was a beautiful, sunny day but it didn't take long for us to realize the wind was howling and the seas were rough, like 4-foot seas kind of rough.
Click on the image above for a timelapse of the boat-launching process in Deep Creek.
We were on a 28' aluminum boat, the "Alaska Spirit" and boy did she get tossed around! I had a death grip on the seat cushions as we sped out into the Cook Inlet to a spot about 15 miles out. We all did fine, but when we stopped at the fishing spot and anchored, Steven lost it. Literally. For him, the trip went downhill from there. Rock and roll, baby!
I don't seem to suffer from sea sickness, so I got right out there with the boys and grabbed onto the first pole that was baited and in the water. About two minutes later, I yelled, "fish on!" (Actually, it was more like, “uh, fish on? Is it on? How do I know? What do I do?”) It was when I reeled it in that I learned they keep the bait on the bottom of the sea with a four pound weight. Yikes, that was some work, but I got that fish up and wow, it was a beauty! Keith (the deckhand) and Chris (the captain) said a 20-25 pounder! I was so proud! Our rubberized fisher buddies Dale and Okie were also hooking fish, but none as big as mine.
Linda, catching halibut like a boss!
At this point Steven was in the corner trying to make himself comfortable. He was so miserable. I could tell he was truly suffering. But we were here to get fish, damn it, so he had to buck up! I took over our rods and when I thought there was a fish on, I'd holler at Steven to come give the reel a couple of turns. Officially, he just had to claim it as his with a couple of turns. It took every ounce of energy he could muster but he did it anyway. Then he'd retreat to his corner while I brought up his fish. Poor guy. But what a trooper!
Keith, the deckhand and our boat, “Alaska Spirit”
I guess we fished for at least a couple of hours until Okie limited out. He went inside to lay down, as he wasn't feeling too well either. This year limits comprise of a total of two fish; one of any size and one under 28 inches. It's a real dilemma choosing which ones to keep. Since I got my biggie right off the bat, I was looking for a halibut less than 28 inches. My next catch was 27.99", perfect! Next we brought up Steven's big one, which was smaller than we would have liked, but throwing it back into the water and waiting for another larger one just seemed like cruel and unusual punishment to Steven (not to mention the fish). He was just happy to have his fish. Then I caught his small one, about 26". We had our limit. I went inside to sit down and Steven stayed outside, his favorite question being, "How many more?" Dale never really had a chance to keep fishing until he got the one he wanted, he probably felt bad for Steven too, and perhaps accepted a smaller-than-he-wanted fish for his biggie. I think at that point we were all ready to head ashore.
Filleted, vacuum-packed and flash-frozen.
Linda, the lady who booked us on the charter, felt so bad for Steven that she offered to fillet, vacuum-pack and blast freeze our catch for free! We had decided that in order to be "cost-effective", meaning equal to the price we would have paid if we'd just gone to a fish market, we would need to net 20 lbs. of halibut, and we came home with 23 lbs.! A few days later we bought 9 lbs. of sockeye salmon to add to our stash. Our freezer runneth over!
NEXT UP: Deep Creek, Part II!