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  • Writer's pictureInger and Jeff Latreille

Where Fishermen and Salmon Meet

~Friday, August 5, 2022~

Day 782

Day 46 of Alaska Trip

A rainy morning and a little too dark inside the trailer for my liking. I know….turn on a light! But there’s nothing that beats natural light. That’s one of the reasons we bought the Lance. Lots of windows and skylights to let the sunshine in! Once again, we chose a site surrounded by hemlocks and evergreens providing us with too much shade, but it does have the lake view! So no complaining! Before heading out the door, I thought a yummy pancake breakfast was in order. Jeff is trying to cut back on his consumption of bacon, so I recently found a turkey bacon alternative. He’s tried other brands before only to be discouraged by the taste. But this Boar’s Head brand is a thumbs up apparently and 65% less fat than regular bacon. If you’re interested, he says to make sure to get the “smoked” version.

Finally around 1:30, the clouds lifted in time for exploring Cooper Landing and Soldotna in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge which contains 1.92 million acres of land, of which 1.3 million are Congressionally designated Wilderness. That’s astounding!! Though it was tempting to pop into one of the many rafting companies in Cooper Landing, we decided to wait on this adventure when we’re in Talkeetna or Fairbanks sometime in August. I think Jeff’s looking for more exciting rapids, though the Kenai River provides a Class III experience which is fine by me. And most everyone wears some form of a wet suit with these chilly waters (provided by the touring companies). Helmets are always required. We look forward to sharing this experience somewhere with ya’ll in the next few weeks.

And if you’re not into rafting, or you ARE into rafting, this is THE spot to fish, near the confluence of the Kenai and Russian Rivers, being Alaska’s most productive Sockeye Salmon Fisheries. We drove to the Kenai Russian River Confluence where many fishermen launch their boats from (we didn’t realize it required a fee). So we told the guy we were just spectators for today where he recommended

a few pull-outs along the river where we could have a look. With the abundance of salmon making their way upstream, this is the time of year to watch or participate. We’ve never seen so many fly fishermen along a river, in the river, waist high in waiters. Fishing is allowed on the side we were on, but apparently the better opportunities are on the other side, so they offer a $2.00 ferry service to get there (see video), which takes all but 2 minutes to cross. The Russian River Ferry began operations as a private business in 1949. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service assumed ferry operations in 1954 and managed it for 30 years under a special use permit. The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge continues to operate the ferry through a private contractor, operating from June to September. Currently, anglers are allowed to catch up to 9 fish per day though that can change weekly as the Department of Fish and Game regulates this. Last week’s max was 6. The highest limit they’ve ever had was 11 catches back in 2019 which was a record year for spawning salmon. We even got a little educated on catch and release techniques. And as you can imagine, there are “keep bears wild” signs everywhere telling fishermen how to dispose of fish waste properly and how to avoid unnecessary encounters with the furry beasts. I don’t think that would be a problem today with the number of people around.

Much of the area from Cooper Landing to Soldatna has been ravaged by forest fire as we witnessed along our drive of the Sterling Highway. There was very little evidence of young saplings trying to reshape the landscape, but a lot of low lying shrubs seem to be making their way back. The Swan Lake Fire began in June of 2019, in a limited protection zone (it makes sense with all the vastness of land that Alaska has, that they would do this). But then the winds came and what was originally a 4 to 5 acre burn increased to 172,000 acres by August. This one like many was caused by lightning. It’s hard to imagine that this could ever be the new normal for Alaska. Time will tell like with everything else in regards to climate change.

Now that we’re on the west side of the Kenai Peninsula, it’s taking quite an adjustment to see flat terrain once again after seeing the grandness of all the mountains. This is just a sampling of change that’s about to hit us when we get to the Lower 48 as it will be a hard adjustment for sure. We noticed one particularly long section of tall, wired fencing along the Sterling Highway that at times would funnel to an opening along the highway. In Canada, along the Icefields Parkway, they have something similar. However theirs funnels into a landscaped overpass so the wildlife can cross safely OVER the highway, not onto the highway. Since July 1, over 17 moose have been killed 😢along the Sterling Highway alone, a high number considering the miles of fencing that has been installed to protect them. I guess those landscaped overpasses cost quite a pretty penny.

Could it be??? Did we just see a sign reading $4.99/gallon for diesel and at a Shell gas station in Sterling no less? Noted for our drive back (and more on that later). As we entered the town of Soldotna, it became evident I had mistaken it for another town named similarly……Seldovia which is closer to Homer (you will be hearing about this town in the coming days). Like many of the towns in Alaska, Soldotna was a settlement created under the Homestead Act. Land and property were given to those who promised to work, hunt and prosper in the town. Though it’s not as quaint and charming as we were expecting, it still satisfied these curious tourists with its convenient shopping, restaurants, and recreational opportunities. And what do you know, another brewery to add to the list.

St. Elias Brewing Co. is not only known for great beer, but for their brick oven pizza. With what ended up being a partly sunny day, we were shown an outside table and serviced quickly by Ally (a far cry from our experience in Whittier the other day). Along with the videos I had taken earlier of the fishermen at the Russian River, I sent our son Shane a text saying I had just met his future bride (our waitress)…..she’s adorable and loves fishing and hunting like many of the girls in Alaska. Shall I leave Shane’s phone number on the charge receipt? (kidding). I would never do that, but it did cross my mind.

The pizza was off the charts good….Jeff had a sausage, mushroom, onion pizza and mine was the classic Margherita Pizza. The beer….very good, but they were out of the Williwaw IPA. Shucks!

One of the great features about Soldotna is their 2,300 foot steel boardwalk that runs along the Kenai River at Soldotna Creek Park. Again,

we spotted more fishermen with their eye on the “prize” and the opportunistic seagulls waiting for leftovers. There’s plenty of areas for picnicking, benches for sitting while watching the world go by and a huge playground for kids. And what a beautiful big river the Kenai is!

Since our next destination is to Hope in the next few days, we thought it a good idea to take advantage of some shopping while in Soldotna. This Fred Meyer was the largest one yet which always makes for a longer shopping experience when you don’t stick to a list. Ever since we’ve been in Alaska, we’ve never seen such a high quality of fish anywhere! I’d move here just for that!

O.k. back to the gas story…..on our way “home”, we stopped at the Sterling Shell gas station to check out the $4.99/gallon gas. How can this be when everywhere else is over $6.20/gallon for diesel. Here’s the caveat…….Shell has a disclaimer at the pump that states they do not endorse the product nor take responsibility for its performance. Yes, there are different grades of diesel, but it has to meet government standards to be sold, so we went for it. You’ll be the first to know if we start having issues🤞. I can’t remember the last time we’ve been able to buy gas for under five bucks a gallon. Now about those shoes that I’ve been wanting……😉

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