August 18th - 21st., 2000
Accommodated by Wolf Country Fishing, we explored the Kobuk River with it's pristine wilderness and wildlife to experience the trip of a lifetime. Our guide, Scott Ravenscroft, was truly at home with his magnificent river and eager to share his joy and knowledge of fishing the Kobuk. These pictures and stories can in no way relate our true experiences. Many video clips and memories remain with us and we are eager to return next year.
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The Kobuk River begins approximately 350 miles NW of Fairbanks,AK at Walker Lake and runs to the Arctic Coast. The fish available are Arctic Grayling, Burbot, Whitefish, Northern Pike, Salmon and Sheefish. Wolf Country Fishing concentrates on the Sheefish, the "Tarpin of the North". The state, as well as the world record Sheefish was caught here. Weights range from 18 to the tackle record of 53 lbs. Many Sheefish are in the 25 to 40 lb. range. Wolf Country Fishing supports "catch and release".
Our trip to Kobuk originated in Fairbanks via a small, private airline. The airline was equipped to fly IFR but there is no tower in Kobuk. A storm was moving in and around the area, we were forced to remain in Fairbanks overnight.
The next morning seemingly brought no change in the weather, my husband began to think we would not be able to make the trip and to say he was disappointed would be a vast understatement! We anxiously awaited a call from the airline, watched the rain fall in Fairbanks and thought perhaps the Sheefish adventure would become only a figment of our imagination this year. But, by mid-afternoon the weather cleared, another plane was recruited to accomodate additional passengers and we were on our way! A bit tired and anxious, grasping our fly rods and cameras, we were finally going to fish the Kobuk!
The Moral to the Story?? -- If you're flying to remote areas of Alaska, allow time for delays due to bad weather. The small village of Kobuk houses approximately 75 people, with a general store and - thats about it, folks!! A short gravel landing strip and no accommodations. An alternative route to Kobuk is via Anchorage to Kotzebue, then to Kobuk. Alaska Airlines flies this route frequently and might be a better option.
The Mess Tent. We were more than relieved to meet Scott at the landing strip and anxious to begin fishing. A brief stop at a generous native's house (Thanks Rosie!) prepared us for the 56 mile boat trip upriver to the campsite where Scott had been guiding since early August.
What a wonderful boat ride!. Everyone talks about taking the "riverboat" trip in Fairbanks but that could in no way compare to the scenery we saw. Nor could it hold with it the anticipation we felt as we met this gentleperson and seriously began the "final" ride into some of the most beautiful country I've ever seen. The weather in this area only permits fishing August through September as the snow often flies mid-September. It was COOL, 40s and 50s during the day with low 40s and sometimes mid 30s at night. While it is a little cooler in September, Scott says the days are brighter, sunnier and crisp, sometimes more pleasurable than the rain in August.
Our Tent - warm and cozy with hardwood floors and entry. Our tent was located a distance from the main tent. We had more-than-ample space, comfortable cots with lots of sleeping bags, a stove to keep us warm and a table for our use.
What's This? Yep - You got it - the outhouse!
The stove inside our tent
Well - Let's See Some FISH!
The 9 1/2 ft. 9 wt. rod Larry so lovingly built in preparation for the trip was sufficient to bring in this 18 pounder. Sorry, you can't hear the sound of the water or the fish fighting. I captured the complete experience on video!! Maybe someday I will learn how to transfer this to a web page.
It wasn't the first catch of the day, nor the last. It wasn't the biggest fish caught (a 25 pounder). It WAS the first Sheefish my husband, Larry, ever caught on a FLY ROD! This was what he came here to do.
As the story goes.. the bigger Sheefish lay like "rocks" on the bottom. They feel like one too!! About the time you think your line is hung on a limb or rock, the rock moves and you know you've got a big one! The smaller Sheefish jump and perform some good acrobatics at the top. This makes them FUN to catch, especially on a fly rod. The fly Larry used was a Salmon fly that was part of his Dad's collection, tied years ago while they fished in Canada. Thanks "Pops" - YOU were here too, in spirit.
What..who? Where's the fish? Where's the camera? Well, its just me..with the first catch of the trip although you can't see the Grayling I landed on a fly rod just offshore of our campsite (I am on the shore to the left of the main tent shown above). As Scott was preparing dinner, Larry and I "broke out" our fly rods in anticipation of the Grayling that are numerous and hungry. I was using my 8 1/2 ft. 7 wt. rod Larry made for me, and a nymph. By the time Larry found the camera I had released the Grayling. Although this is not the best portrait ever taken of me, just thought I'd share it with you to let you ALL know we fishin' women can have fun too!! AND, I had to brag about catching the FIRST fish!
Scott is holding one of the first catches of the following morning, a nice 15 pounder. Unfortunately, this dude swallowed the spoon "hook - line- and sinker" (as they say), and was kept for shore lunch that day. He was used in most of the still shots shown on this page, including the opening picture. We honored the practice of catch and release and didn't bring any fish home with us.
According to Scott, most of the big fish in these waters are up to 30 years old. Unlike Salmon, they do not die when they return to these waters to spawn. If my memory serves me right, the females return every year and the males every couple of years. Spawning season usually doesn't get into full swing until early September. So, while we missed the "height" of the catching season, we still did pretty good!!
Lunch Fish - the recipe!
Imagine eating lunch shoreside on this magnificant river. Then..imagine THE VERY freshest fish you ever had, the best cook, conversation with one of the most extraordinary people you'll ever meet in your lifetime and you have a recipe for a lunch you've never had!
Just in case the pictures and words don't satisfy you - this is Scott's recipe for grilled Sheefish:
1 very fresh Sheefish (MUST be caught in Alaska, preferably on the Kobuk)
1 large onion, chopped
1 large bell pepper, chopped
1 Tblsp cooking oil (or, PAM)
1 large skillet
Basil Leaves, to taste.
Small amt. of butter or margerine.
Salt & Pepper to taste
Aluminum foil or cover for pan
Shoreside camp fire started with dry birch bark (no need for kindling here !)
A spectacular view
Extraordinary people who enjoy fishing and the outdoors (must be happy, joyous and free, mild-mannered, humorous and kind).
To the chef - Forget about fishing for a while. Bring the boat "about" to a nice gravel bar or shore of your liking. Let the other crew members fish from the bank while preparing the meal. Of course, if they're interested, they can assist in the following preparations:
Clean and fillet the Sheefish (depending on the size of the fish, you might want to preserve some in the cooler for dinner!). Scott "bled" the fish on catching, he says it improves the taste. Heat the oil or PAM in the skillet over the camp fire. Add the onion and bell pepper. Lay the fish fillets on top of the onion and peppers. Sprinkle with Basil leaves (you could also add garlic and other seasonings to taste). Add a small amount of margerine or butter on top of the fish. We used "squeezable" margarine. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and let all of the ingredients cook until the fish is white and flaky. Sheefish are "oily". Make sure all of the natural oils have cooked out and the meat is flaky and tender. Turn the fish with the onions and pepper, to allow all ingredients to "brown". Cook until there is a crisp brown film on the fish and the ingredients, AND...enjoy!!
Who said there are no good seafood restaurants in Alaska?
Good eatin', good company and lots of fun. Thanks, Scott, for the recipe and for the company!
Solitude and Serenity Sunset on the Kobuk - This picture was taken from our campsite at approximately 11:30 pm. The days are getting shorter in Kobuk this time of year. The sun sets around midnight for a short period and rises early. Campfires and conversation filled the air as we remembered the day and poured ourselves into a nice warm tent and cozy cot. We arose early and fished late, still able to get in about 18 hours of daytime and LOTS of fishing.
The WCF Boat
A picture of Scott's boat at sunset, taken just a short distance from the above sunset picture. This boat, jet-powered and able to navigate shallow waters (providing the owner knows what he's doing), faithfully and comfortably, navigated us through the many miles of the Kobuk we traveled in search of fish and scenery. From the village of Kobuk to the Gates of the Arctic and back, he and his captain led us through river channels I would get lost in, and fishin' holes and waterfall scenery surpassing all others. BTW - Scott- Does "He", or "She" (the boat), have a name? :-)
Where's the NET??
This is a personal joke between Scott and us. Only HE will know where the net resides!! Scott is helping to bring in a Sheefish Larry caught at a shore side spot not far from our campsite. We also caught lots of Chum Salmon, which were spawning and "colored-up". Larry caught quite a few Salmon on his fly rod and the spinner outfits (supplied by Scott) with 3 in. "spoons".
Ok, humble as I might be This is ONE of MY Sheefish In the boat, caught on a "spoon".
I must admit that if I caught a "record" Sheefish I don't know that I could bring one in. Heaven forbid, I'm sure most "guys" would not admit it, by the end of the day, casting the heavy outfits and "reeling-in" the SMALL Sheefish with their acrobatics, my arms were extremely tired. Gotta get in shape for the next trip!! Sometimes I preferred to sit back, take pictures, listen to the water and the wild life, be at peace and extremely happy where I was and who I was with. There were no "trophy-hunters" here for me, just GOOD TIMES!!
On our way back - A Native Eskimo Village along the Kobuk
During our trip back to Kobuk, Scott honored us by stopping at a fishing camp which belongs to his relatives and friends. As you can see by the photo, they are smoking fish for the winter. We happened along in time to help them pull in a seine of Salmon and Whitefish.
Josephine, the elderly camp-member (82 years old) welcomed our appearance and graciously granted pictures and videos. She explained the process of smoking the fish - looking at a close-up of the picture you can tell the fish are filleted and hung to dry on branches. I was curious that the branches contained leaves and limbs, thinking perhaps this was part of the "curing" process. Alas - Josephine explained the leaves and branches were left there to ensure the fish didn't fall off!!
Leaving the River Short trip - We're on our way home, leaving the Kobuk and our memories for another year. As we left the campsite early Monday morning and began the 56 mile journey back to Kobuk, I felt a sadness about the length of time we had allotted here. When we arrived on the river the world stood still and I had forgotten all those "other" things that distract and require my presence.
Could I just STAY here?
What would it be like to LIVE here?
Recognizing that the river-life requires more than most of us are aware of, or are willing to do on a long-term basis (but we all dream of as an escape), I was ready but SAD to leave the river and our companion. Seeing this rainbow as it reflected in the waters of the Kobuk left an remembrance in my mind that I had been here before and an affirmation that I would be back.
Back in the Fairbanks area, fishing Birch Lake Our Son, Glenn, fishes Birch Lake accompanied by a Moose. Birch Lake is approx. 56 miles from Fairbanks. Larry and Glenn took a day to travel towards Delta Junction and catch a few fishin' spots in between. Little did they know they would be accompanied by this Moose!
Sorry..there are no pictures of the spectacular wildlife we saw in Kobuk here. Unfortunately, these are all on video, not still pics. There are also no pictures of our gracious Eskimo hostess, Rosie Wood, of Kobuk - who welcomed us into her house and shared with us a table of Caribou Roast, breaded Sheefish, Cranberry Sauce and local "fixins" for a lunch before we boarded the plane back to Fairbanks.
Link to Wolf Country Fishing Wolf Country Fishing , PO Box 57234 North Pole, AK 99705 , (Operates on Upper Kobuk River) Tel. (907) 488-5620, Email firstname.lastname@example.org , Remote tent camp. All equipment and food supplied. Very scenic. Trophy sheefish. Holds IGFA World Record for sheefish.
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