Wednesday, August 31, 2022

My First Halibut Fishing Trip

(This is fourth in a series of posts recapping my recent trip to Glacier Bay National Park in southeast Alaska.)

To say my hubby is an avid fisherman would be an understatement.  This man loves nothing more than to be on a boat casting for the big one.  At home one can find him trolling the local rivers for salmon.  But one of his favorite things to do is fish for halibut in Alaska.

On the boat dock in Gustavus

When planning our trip to Glacier Bay and Gustavus Alaska, I purposely looked for places that offered halibut fishing charters.  Originally I was going to let the hubby fish for a couple of days by himself, but he talked me into coming along for one day.  His reasoning?  "We'll get double the amount of halibut if you're fishing too!"  (That's considering I actually catch one...)

Blue sky beginning to peek through the clouds

So the morning of our first full day in Gustavus had me nervously standing on the public boat dock eyeing the smaller than I expected boat that was going to take me and five other people out somewhere in the Icy Strait.  Not knowing how I'd react to the wave motion, I swallowed down a Dramamine tablet before boarding.  The forecast was for rain, but my boatmates and I were prepared - dressed head-to-toe with rubberized waterproof pants and coat, plus everyone sported the ubiquitous rubber rain boots that it seemed all Alaskans wore.

First fish!

Luck was on my side - the sea was calm as our captain motored down Icy Strait.  We saw lots of birds and sea otters floating in the water.  And it wasn't raining - yet!

Keeping an eye on the poles

After about an hour, the captain slowed the boat and announced we'd arrived at our first fishing spot.  He got right to work baiting six fishing poles, each with a chunk of fish and a herring.  Then he instructed each of us to drop our line to the very bottom and watch our pole tips like a hawk.  The boat we were on had built-in rod holder divots on each side so we didn't have to even hold our poles while we waited for a bite.

My first halibut was just over the size limit, so we had to throw it back

Besides hubby and myself, our other boatmates were a nice couple from Colorado that we instantly bonded with, and two young ladies who were cousins.  The girls had been gifted this Alaskan trip as a high school graduation present.  They were very friendly - the girls didn't mind chatting with us old folks at all!  Far from your stereotypical high schoolers, these young ladies were not only very mature for their ages but were also interested in everything to do with fishing.   I think one of them actually caught the boat's first halibut.

Waiting for a bite....

Not long after the first fish was landed, my pole tip suddenly arced downward.  The captain and my hubby excitedly told me to grab the pole and reel in the line.  The pole bent sharply and the captain remarked that it looked like a big one.  Suddenly filled with adrenaline, I took the fishing pole into my hands and cranked the reel for all I was worth.  It felt like I was hauling in an anvil.  It didn't take long for my arms to get tired (yes, I'm a wimp!)  But I didn't stop turning the handle.  I wanted that fish!

Finally, the halibut surfaced.  It looked big!  Our captain lifted it into the boat and I stood in amazement watching the fish flop all over the floor.  Halibut are funny looking fish.  They're flat, white on one side, and gray on the other.  And both eyes are on one side of their body. They may look weird but boy, are halibut delicious!

Hubby caught a nice halibut

The fishing regulations in this part of Alaska stated you could keep one halibut per person per day.  The fish had to be 40 inches or shorter, or longer than 80 inches.  Apparently whoever made the rules decided that the "medium sized" halibut needed to be protected in order to repopulate the species.  Well, when the captain measured my fish it was 41 1/2 inches long.  It was too big by an inch and half! very first halibut I've ever caught had to be thrown back......(whomp, whomp!)

Misty mountain scenery

Oh well, it was still early in the day.  Plenty of time to catch another.  So I sat patiently watching my pole for more signs of activity.  Hubby, who likes more action when he's fishing, elected to sit at the back of the boat and jig, hoping to attract the fish that way.

My hubby doing what he does best

Jigging must've worked because it wasn't long before my dear hubby was hauling his own halibut.  And measuring 38 inches in length, this one was just barely a keeper.  It also had the distinction of being the biggest fish (keeper, that is) caught on the boat that day.

Me doing what I don't do best!

As the morning wore on, I was happy to notice not only did the skies clear a bit, no rain had fallen yet today.  The weather was actually nice - a tiny bit chilly, but very pleasant.  We began to see humpback whales spouting off in the distance.  The clouds of their white exhaling mists looked like little smoke columns.  You could hear their discharges - loud wooshes - throughout the strait.  It was really a cool thing to see and hear.  (Little did I know that the following day on my whale watching tour I'd see some of these great beasts even more up close and personal!)

These two young ladies on our charter were a lot of fun

Close to noon, one of the young ladies on our boat hooked into a cod.  After reeling it in, she wasn't shy about holding her catch.  Her cousin snapped several shots on both girl's cell phones.

One of the young ladies wanted to try and club the fish

When a fish was pulled into the boat and the decision made to keep it, our captain always hit it over the head with a club.  This killed the fish so it wouldn't flop all over and potentially hurt someone (a bigger fish might do this.)  One of the young ladies (the one that had caught the cod) asked the captain if she could club her fish.  Although surprised that a girl would be interested in doing this, our captain handed her the bat and told the young lady where to smack it.  She did great!

Whale sighting close to the boat

Lunchtime came, and the fishing slowed down.  By now we'd caught four of the six halibut needed to fulfill the boat's limit.  The captain decided to pull anchor and try another area.  As he motored to the second fishing spot, we passed by a couple of humpback whales, and the captain was nice enough to pull the boat closer so I could get a photo.

Finally a keeper!

By this time our weather luck ran out.  Raindrops started to splatter onto the deck.  The young ladies sought shelter inside the boat, but the men stayed outside.  The other woman and I huddled in the lee of the boat's cabin which provided a good shelter from the wind and some of the rain.  Dressed in waterproof clothing, I never got wet, so it wasn't too bad standing outside.

Towards afternoon the sky clouded over and it started to rain

After anchoring at our second fishing hole, the captain rebaited everyone's hooks and we dropped our lines back into the water.  It wasn't long before my pole started moving.  Grabbing it and reeling with all my might, my second halibut was to the surface before I knew it.  It was a small one, about 20 inches in length.  The captain asked if I wanted to throw it back.  Consulting with my hubby, he noticed that this halibut's mouth was badly gashed from the hook.  Assuming it would probably die if we returned the fish to the sea, hubby decided to keep it.  It might be small, but at least now I'd caught a keeper!

Our boat caught it's limit of halibut

One more halibut to go and the boat would have it's limit!  Who would catch the last fish?  Surprisingly it was one of the young ladies.  Since it was still mid-afternoon and the boat wasn't due back until 5, the captain asked if we wanted to try and fish for herring to use as bait for the next day's charter trip.  Everyone agreed, so the captain took us to a very picturesque cove where the herring were supposed to be.  While my boat-mates jigged for herring, I was busy taking photos.  We spotted two bald eagles in a nearby tree on the shore, and I was able to zoom in just enough to capture one of them through the rain. 

One of the young ladies even wanted to try and fillet a fish

While everyone else was fishing, our captain lined up our catch on the boat's deck.  Turning the boat so the back faced towards the forested shoreline, he then had us pose for group photos.  That man knew exactly where to get the best backdrop!  I'm sure he'd done this many, many times before.

Bald eagle sighting

Photos done, the captain then began the task of filleting all our fish, so the meat would be ready for processing when we returned to the dock.  One of the young ladies asked if she could try and fillet a fish.  Again, the captain was surprised, but he was willing to show the girl how.  And, props to that young lady she did a pretty good job.  Neither one of these women were squeamish about anything we did that day.  They were both genuinely interested in participating in every aspect of halibut fishing, even baiting their own hooks.  I know I shouldn't stereotype, but it wasn't what I expected from these two young girls!  But they were mature beyond their years, friendly, and full of positive energy.  So refreshing to be around young people with such good attitudes.  Everyone on the boat enjoyed their company.

Our boat with their catch

So I survived my very first halibut fishing trip in Alaska.  It really wasn't as bad as I feared.  I even had fun reeling in the fish - really gets your adrenaline going!  And technically I caught the largest fish on the boat, even though it wasn't a keeper.  Would I do it again?  Probably.  

One thing for sure, I'm going to really enjoy eating those halibut fillets we brought home!

Sunday, August 28, 2022

The Critters of Glacier Bay NP

(This is third in a series of posts recapping my recent trip to Glacier Bay National Park in southeast Alaska.)

As promised, here's the second part of my Glacier Bay National Park tour recap.  This time I'm featuring photos of all the wildlife spotted from the boat.  If you missed my first post about the Glacier Bay NP scenery, you can find it here.

This brave sea otter swam right next to the boat

Our tour boat had barely left the dock when we began to see dozens of sea otters floating peacefully in the waters of Bartlett Cove.  Sea otters are such adorable creatures, I was bound and determined to get some photos of them!  The only problem was most of the otters weren't very close to our boat.  Even my 500 mm zoom lens didn't have enough reach for good images.

"What's that boat doing right here?"

Then I spotted one whiskered fellow that appeared to be floating right towards the boat.  Quickly positioning myself on the same side, I was able to capture the otter as he passed right next to the bow.  Success!  By the look on the otter's face I think he was a bit surprised to see a large boat so close by.

Rock full of sea lions

After about an hour of traveling, our tour boat approached South Marble Island.  The park ranger stationed aboard informed us that we'd see lots of marine life here.  The man was right!  The first rock lying near the island was packed with sea lions.


Then I noticed small birds floating in the water.  Puffins!  One of my hopes while in Alaska was to photograph some puffins.  And lucky for me, these adorable birds were close enough that I was able to capture several good images with my big lens.

Puffin flapping his wings

There is no bird more endearing than the puffin.  With it's huge orange beak, white face, and hairy tufts of feathers on top of it's head, this sea bird is definitely unique.

Gulls flying from South Marble Island

In addition to sea lions and puffins, South Marble Island was home to many species of birds.  We saw hundreds of gulls, cormorants, and Common Murres (just to name a few that I knew.)

One sea lion is king of the rock

Knowing the passengers would want adequate time to see all the wildlife, our boat captain thoughtfully cruised very slowly by the island.

Common Murre slashing in the water

I caught this little Common Murre taking a splashy bath.

Sea lions having a pool party

And this herd of sea lions looked to be having a rowdy pool party.  (According to Google a group of sea lions is referred to as a "herd" or "raft.")

One more puffin

I particularly liked this image of one puffin who swam the closest of all.

Our view as we drifted away from South Marble Island

After an eventful half hour, we passengers finally bid South Marble Island a fond farewell.

Mama bear and two cubs!

But there was more good stuff to come!  Not much farther up the bay my eagle-eyed hubby spotted a mother bear and her two cubs on the shore.

The best view I got of the bear family

She looked to be a grizzly bear (or brown bear as Alaskans call them).  It was hard to get a clear photo of the family as they kept ducking into the bushes.  I assume they were after berries.

The bears took off into the brush

Despite the not-so-clear views, it was still an amazing sighting!

Mountain goats at Gloomy Knob

Not long after our bear sighting the boat passed a rocky outcrop that our ranger said was named "Gloomy Knob."  There atop the knob, were a mother mountain goat and her kid.

Two goats having lunch

Further around the knob, we spotted two adult mountain goats intent on their lunch.

This goat looks like he's smiling

I loved this photo.  It looks like the mountain goat is smiling!  As the boat circled Gloomy Knob, we spotted two more mountain goats.  This was the only place we saw goats on the entire trip.

Two orcas kept jumping around the boat

More surprises were in store for our cruise that day.  A little bit later someone sighted two orcas jumping near the boat.  Everyone crowded to the side they were spotted, trying to guess where the pair would appear next.  I tried in vain to capture the orcas, but it was extremely difficult.  The orcas would surface so quickly that if you didn't have your camera sighted in the exact spot, you missed them.  The above image was the best I was able to get.  Still, what a great wildlife sighting!  Apparently it's rare to see orcas in Glacier Bay.  Even our park ranger, who sees this area everyday, was impressed.

Harbor seals on an iceberg

As our boat floated towards the Margerie Glacier at Glacier Bay's very end, we began to see icebergs floating in the water.  Perched on top of one larger iceberg was a family of Harbor seals.

Surprise raft of sea otters!

After spending a good long time viewing both the Margerie and Grand Pacific Glaciers, our boat finally started it's engine for the long trip back to Bartlett Cove.  As the boat turned around, it revealed the waters on the opposite side of the glaciers.  It was then my hubby and I spotted a huge group of sea otters perched on an iceberg.  We'd been so busy looking at the glaciers we nearly missed them!

Just hanging out on an iceberg

It was the largest group of sea otters in one place we'd seen that day.  And apparently, according to Google, a group of resting sea otters is also called a "raft."

There were so many otters floating in the bay here!  I'm not sure how we missed them on the trip in.  But luckily we didn't miss them upon our exit.  I noticed another large raft of otters all lined up, as if they were waiting for someone to take their picture.  Of course, I obliged.  

Everyone get in line for the picture!

As mentioned in my previous post, the return trip was much more mundane.  The weather turned cloudy, misty and windy.  The boat didn't stop by any wildlife areas and the crummy weather kept many animals away.  We did spot a few humpback whales near the entrance to Bartlett Cove.  However I'd had better sightings on the previous day's whale watching tour (see my whale watching post here), so didn't bother to get any photos.

Common Murres

Two days later, a couple we'd befriended at our lodging establishment took the same cruise.  The weather was miserable that day - foggy and rainy - and they didn't see much wildlife.  I felt very fortunate not only to have stellar weather but also to have experienced so many great animal sightings.  If you're ever in Glacier Bay National Park, I highly recommend taking the National Park boat tour that departs daily from Glacier Bay Lodge in Bartlett Cove.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Glacier Bay National Park by Boat

(This is second in a series of posts recapping my recent trip to Glacier Bay National Park in southeast Alaska.)

Nearly all of Glacier Bay National Park is wilderness so the best way to see the sights is by water.  The National Parks Service offers a daily boat tour from it's headquarters in Bartlett Cove.  On our third day at Glacier Bay National Park, hubby and I got a spot on this day-long parks cruise.

Mountains and aqua blue water

Since the cruise takes passengers all the way to the end of Glacier Bay, an early start is required.  The boat loaded at 7 am and departed a half hour later.  The boat was a double-decker, with indoor seating at both levels, but the top deck featured a large outdoor viewing area.  The day was overcast, breezy, and misty.  No matter, I was here to get photographs and stationed myself outside on the top deck, cameras at the ready.

Icebergs in the water close to the glaciers

Not only were passengers promised spectacular scenery and glacier views, the amount of wildlife living in the water and on nearby shores was rumored to be outstanding.  For this very purpose I'd packed two cameras, one outfitted with a large zoom lens for animals and another with a landscape lens for scenery.  (I'm sure I looked like a total dork toting around two cameras but I didn't care.)

Our ride for the tour

Because of the sheer number of images taken on this cruise, I'm splitting this recap into two separate posts - one for scenery and the other for wildlife.  Since this post is concentrating on the views, you'll have to check back for the critter pics.  But suffice it to say, as the boat motored up Glacier Bay, we saw tons of different birds and mammals and my cameras were kept busy.

Puffy clouds

As we cruised up the bay the first landmark of note was South Marble Island.  This small island in the bay was home to huge herds of sea lions.  The large brown mammals were sprawled out over every available rock.  I also noticed tons of birds in the skies and floating in the water, including puffins.  Such cute birds, I was very excited to see the puffins!

South Marble Island, home of many critters

Past South Marble Island, we began to see towering mountains on both sides of the bay.  The mountains were covered in dark green trees and their summits cloaked in clouds.  I learned that there are some seriously tall mountains in Glacier Bay National Park - several are over 10,000 feet and the highest is over 15,000 feet in elevation!  (That would be Mt. Fairweather at 15,266 feet.)

The top deck was the place to be

As our boat journeyed down Glacier Bay I began to notice small windows of blue sky poking through the cloud cover.  After the first two hours, sunlight began to shine through.  It illuminated the waters of the bay a lovely shade of gray-blue.  This unique color was due to large amounts of glacial silt suspended in the water.

Blue, blue water

Not only was there color in the water, the shoreline sported some beauty of it's own.  Glancing at the nearby banks I was delighted to spot fields of pink fireweed blooms contrasting nicely with the green vegetation.

Pink fireweed blooms brighten the shore

About mid-morning the boat passed by it's first glacier.  A National Parks ranger accompanied the cruise and this nice young man told us all about the tidewater glaciers found here in Glacier Bay.  These glaciers, fed by heavy snow, extend all the way to ocean level and calve icebergs from their faces.

Cell phone pano of the top deck

The first glacier we passed by was called the Reid Glacier.  The name was easy for me to remember as there is also a Reid Glacier on Mt. Hood.

Reid Glacier

As you can see, the Reid Glacier was mighty impressive!


Past the Reid Glacier, the boat started getting very close to the end of Glacier Bay where two other large glaciers were found.  I began to notice icebergs in the water.  First they were small, but as we traveled farther the 'bergs began to increase in size.  I even noticed a group of harbor seals had taken up residence on one of the larger ones.

Tall peaks shrouded in clouds

Alaska's inside passage is popular with large cruise ships.  As we approached the end of Glacier Bay, one of these enormous vessels was just leaving.  Although I've never been on a cruise, I'm not the least bit interested in taking one.  I suppose it's a great way to see this gorgeous scenery in style, but I much prefer smaller boats, such as the NPS boat we were on.

A large cruise ship passed by

After passing by the floating hotel, our boat finally approached the end of Glacier Bay.  It was bookmarked by two large tidewater glaciers, named the Margerie and Grand Pacific Glaciers.  And as if the tour company had purposely planned it, upon our arrival at the glaciers the sun came out in all her glory, illuminating the glacial ice and surrounding blue-gray seawater.  Absolutely stunning!

Almost to the end of Glacier Bay!

The Margerie Glacier was a breathtaking wall of ice.  Some of the ice was blue, some white, and some streaked with dirty brown sediments.  A huge rocky mountain rose straight up from this glacier.

Margerie Glacier

The Grand Pacific Glacier was not as striking.  It's ice was entirely covered by rock and dirt. I wouldn't have known it was a glacier if our NPS ranger hadn't pointed it out.  Apparently the debris on top of this glacier flowed down from landslides on the adjacent mountains.  Someone on the boat remarked that Canada was just beyond the glacier's dirty ice wall.  Later, when I got a copy of the park map I realized he was right - the US-Canada border is right at the edge of the Grand Pacific Glacier's inlet.  Fun fact!

Grand Pacific Glacier, buried under debris

Now having reached it's destination, our boat stopped and cut the engines.  It bobbed in place for nearly a half hour, giving all us passengers ample time to look at the glaciers and surrounding scenery.

Margerie Glacier close-up

I was having fun taking photos of the Margerie Glacier's face.  The ice was just fascinating to look at, especially through my camera's zoom lens.  It helped that it was a sunny day.  The sunlight illuminated the ice, showing all the hues, from blue to white.

The glacier ice was so interesting!

The adjacent mountains were also impressive.

The very end of Glacier Bay

Of course, everyone on the boat wanted to see the glacier calve.  This is when large chunks of ice break off of a glacier's face.  Tidewater glaciers are known to produce frequent icefalls from their front edges.  Our boat lingered in the water for several minutes in the hopes of witnessing a calving event.

After waiting about 20 minutes, we got to see the glacier calve

In the end, a small piece of ice did finally break off and sluff into the water.  Focused on a nearby iceberg, I almost missed the entire thing.  Luckily my eagle-eyed hubby spotted some movement, alerted me, and I was able to swing my camera in place and capture a couple of quick images.

Still good scenery heading back

Of course, no one wanted our time at the glaciers to end, but the boat was due back by 3:30, so it finally fired up it's motors and slowly turned around.

Ultra-blue Lamplugh Glacier

A short distance from the Margerie and Grand Pacific Glaciers the boat passed by another glacier named the Lamplugh.  It's ice was a bright shade of blue, much bluer than the other glaciers we'd seen so far that day.  I'm not sure why it was so colorful, but the Lamplugh Glacier was fun to photograph.

Our final view before returning to port

After a quick stop at the Lamplugh Glacier, our boat shifted into high gear and headed back down the bay.  Our captain announced that we could pick up a sack lunch in the downstairs snack bar.  I lingered on top taking photographs too long, so by the time I finally made it to the lunch counter there wasn't much left to choose from.  I ate the driest roast beef sandwich I'd ever had and an equally dry oatmeal raisin cookie.  

Clouds beginning to descend

The boat didn't make any stops on the return trip.  By now, everyone was tired from the morning's sightseeing and full of lunch.  Nearly all the passengers drifted off to sleep.  Not wanting to miss anything, I was one of the few who stayed awake the entire time.  But there wasn't much to see.  Not long after the boat turned around, the sky clouded up again.  By the time we were halfway back, thick fog shrouded the shoreline and a light mist was falling.  Hard to believe we'd experienced sunshine just a couple short hours ago!

On our return trip the weather turned cloudy and cold

Nearing the entrance to Bartlett Cove, our captain spotted a few Humpback whales spouting.  But I'd had much better sightings on yesterday's whale watching trip so didn't bother taking any more photos.  The only other item of interest, one of the large cruise ships followed us out of Glacier Bay.  Our NPS guide pointed out a small boat speeding towards the ship.  He said that boat was picking up another park ranger that had accompanied the ship while it traveled through Glacier Bay.  Apparently the NPS provides rangers for every cruise ship that enters the bay.  The boat drops them off in the morning and picks them up in the afternoon.  Providing narration on a luxury liner sounded like a great job.  (I wonder if the rangers draw straws for that assignment?)

Me and the hubby

What an amazing day!  The NPS boat tour through Glacier Bay National Park was a close second favorite activity while visiting Gustavus, Alaska.  (The previous day's whale watching tour was my hands-down favorite.)  My hubby and I enjoyed this park's jaw-dropping scenery and plethora of wildlife.

And speaking of wildlife......make sure you don't miss my next post, where I'll share images of all the birds and animals I photographed on this trip.