The Gone Fishin’ Lodge in Soldotna, Alaska has hosted the “Cajun Invasion” for 14 summers, and WWL radio show host, Don Dubuc (with whom I do Hunt Fish Talk once a month), has attended for the last 13 years. Well, for about the past six years, he’s asked me if this was the year I might join them. In June, I finally decided that I could make the trip, and since it was so late in the game, I was pretty much an “add on” to the trip. Don and his Bayou Wild TV crew already had their flight scheduled, and as it turns out, Ralph Crystal, lodge host, was very accommodating toward me, last-minute Nellie! The Cajun Invasion consists of two, one-week sessions set aside for south Louisiana outdoor folks who want to experience fishing, Alaska-style; however, Don attends right in the middle of the two weeks, so that is how Ralph scheduled my trip. That way, I got to meet attendees from each of the week-long invasions.
I departed New Orleans International Airport July 31 at 5:30 a.m. on a flight that turned out to be a visually stimulating experience. I’m not a frequent flyer (nor a very good one!), but I always choose the window seat, and I’m really glad I did this time. I’m pretty sure I saw the glaciers of Montana as I flew over, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, and my excitement began building! Of course, I found myself wishing I had my camera in hand, but sadly, I had checked all my camera gear as baggage. I did use my iPhone camera, but it just doesn’t do the glacier view justice.
I arrived at Ted Stevens Memorial Airport in Anchorage around 1 p.m., their time, and finally connected with my rental car and began my trek south through the mountains and glaciers toward Soldotna. With road construction, it took me about three hours. I’ve never driven in the mountains before, and I was so distracted by the views! I’m sure everyone behind me was wishing I would hurry up, and as much as I wanted to pull over at some of those lookout spots, I was anxious to get to my destination as soon as possible. It’s definitely a different world for me, and my ears continued to pop at the elevation because the biggest hill down the bayou is a speed bump in the Office Depot parking lot in town! Oh, and there is NO cell phone signal during that long drive and very few places for a pit stop, which made me just a little bit nervous and taught me just how much I’ve come to rely on this gadget called an iPhone!
Once I arrived, I checked in at the lodge only to find out that Don and his TV crew had been delayed in Newark, NJ and would not be arriving until some time the next day, which meant that my first fishing trip the next day would be solo. What? As my good fortune would have it, two brothers from Utah strolled in at the right moment and offered to give me a ride to our fishing destination next morning, as they were also booked on that fishing trip. You see, the lodge is quite large and Cajuns aren’t the only guests there during the “Cajun Invasion”. It might help to explain that the lodge co-owners call Utah home, but they operate the lodge about four or five months each year and have lots of Utah friends that visit the lodge throughout the summer.
So, I met Jeff and Kevin in the dining room next morning, and we left promptly at 6:20 headed south for the boat launch at Anchor Point. Once we arrived, I looked down at the water and couldn’t believe how far out the tide had receded and wondered how in the world we could launch the boat when the water was at least 100 yards away from the shoreline. Enter a huge tractor!
The tractor hooked up to the boat trailer while we loaded our gear. Using a tall ladder, we climbed into the boat. There was Captain Amos, deckhand Rowan, Jeff, Kevin, and a father-son team also from Utah. And then the fun began. Down the hill the tractor towed the boat with us in it as it backed the boat down into the water. I have to admit that was pretty cool. Capt. Amos then explained that Cook Inlet would experience at 26-foot vertical tide that day, within six hours. What? I couldn’t even wrap my head around that, because down here, our tidal range is only about a foot over 12 hours. He also explained that the winds would be increasing, preventing us from a long boat ride out to a water depth of 200 feet where the big halibut reside. We would have to settle for about 100 feet of water and small fish. That way, the ride back in would be shorter in the event of rough waters. That was perfectly fine with me!
(Click on photos for larger image!)
Halibut fishing was challenging and tiring. I think I will let the video explain what I mean by that. The halibut limit is 2 per person–one under 28 inches, and one over 28 inches (or two under 28 if that is what you prefer). By 11 a.m. we had all caught our limits, and I’m proud to say I caught the biggest fish, although it wasn’t nearly as big as the monsters that some people land after reeling for an hour or more! I honestly don’t see how anyone can land a 160-pounder, but I met folks who have done so. Don Dubuc is one of those folks!
It’s a good thing Capt. Amos anchored us on a sweet spot, because by the time Rowan pulled up anchor, the winds had increased significantly and the tide was rising with great force. I have to admit that the boat ride back was rough enough for me, and at times it felt like my tail bone had been jarred up to my neck bone!! And suffice it to say, it did a number on my lower back that stayed with me for a few days afterward.
As we neared the boat landing, Capt. Amos radioed the tractor driver so that he could back the trailer down into the water for us. I really wished I could’ve seen how in the world Capt. Amos ran that boat up on that trailer at such a high speed. It has to be done that way in order to keep the wind from pushing the boat off course, and also because the water is shallow. I really regret that I don’t have video of this, but Capt. Amos wouldn’t let me stand up in the wheelhouse to get photos or video. Maybe next time?
After a delicious lunch in the harbor town of Homer, we headed north to the lodge where the folks at Gone Fishin’ Lodge definitely know what they’re doing when it comes to handling their customer’s fish. The Utah brothers had brought along ice chests to hold our fish for the ride back to the lodge, where they handed the fish over to Jecca, who commercially vacuum sealed and labeled the packaged fillets with our names and then stored them in one of their many chest freezers for us.
Oh, and did I tell you how cold it was? It was around 50 degrees when we left that morning, and on the water, it feels colder than that. I was definitely NOT prepared, so Kevin loaned me an extra pullover and a beanie to keep my head warm. If he hadn’t, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed myself nearly as much as I did, because I really don’t like being cold!
When I returned to the lodge dining hall, I found out that Don and crew still had not arrived, having spent 16 hours in the Newark airport due to another delayed flight, so I logged into the WiFi there and posted a few cell phone pics to social media. I then wandered down the hill to the Kenai River where about five Cajuns from Eunice, LA were standing waist-deep in the water fishing for sockeye salmon. They were using a fishing method I had never seen before, but you’ll have to wait to learn more about that in another post! After meeting several of the Cajuns, I headed to my room to clean up and wait for Martha Spencer (Bayou Wild TV co-host) to arrive and to rest up for the next day’s adventure.
And here’s the video I promised you. Enjoy!
So, stay tuned for Day 2 of my Alaskan Adventure!