Hello readers, and welcome! Welcome to a visual tour of some of the highlights of my trip to Alaska! I know that a lot of you have been waiting for this, and I promise once I’m done I’ll get back to work on Shadow of an Empire, Stranded, and all my other projects, but let’s be honest … This is going to be a cool post.
A little background, for those of you that are new or unfamiliar with my personal history (and haven’t glanced at the About tab or read my author blurb at the end of my books): I grew up in Southeast Alaska. Also known as “The Panhandle,” it’s that little bit of Alaska that sticks down by Canada on the East side, where the capital of the state is. It’s also largely made up of islands, with the terrain severe enough that even cities that are technically on the mainland, like Juneau and Ketchikan, and only accessible via boat or plane. There’s no road to get to any of these places, the terrain is just too extreme unless you want to put a lot of money into it and go through Canada.
It’s a different place. Here’s a shot of my hometown taken on my flight out, from the air. No, you can’t see my house in that picture (it’s a ways south from the town itself), but you might notice the water all around it. Yup, it’s an island.
That’s mainland behind it, leading into a lot of mountains and then Canada. But yeah, that’s my hometown. That’s where I grew up. Not very big. Tiny, in fact, unless you’re from anywhere that’s tinier (and there are, in fact, small places, like Elfin Cove and its population of probably a hundred people). But hey, it’s home.
Anyway, since I grew up there, I do occasionally tend to go back to visit and take part in consumption of fresh seafood. Growing up in a fishing/tourism town (also once logging, but that era is gone for the time being), I started working on fishing boats in my family when I was about 12 or 13, and well, that’s how I made it through college without any student loans. That and dividend savings (a whole ‘nother topic).
In any case, that’s why stuff on the site was extremely light these last few weeks: I was back in Alaska! Partaking in crab, shrimp, halibut … You know, all the good stuff. Oh, and pitching in on a fishing trip as well (because fish!). While taking plenty of pictures to show off the experience on the return! So hit that jump, and let’s get looking at some cool pictures and videos of Southeast Alaska.
Because WOW did I get some good ones. Before we do hit that jump I’ll say this up front: I grew up fishing on boats and working in Alaska, and yet this trip turned out to be one of the most spectacular I’ve ever seen. And now you’ll get to see it as well, through the lens of my phone. So yeah, hit that jump.
And if you want to go to Alaska and experience this kind of thing yourself, there’s probably not been a better time. After the Covid year, the state is desperate for tourists, and I’ve seen a lot of deals on flights, travel, and hotels. Get your shot and get going! It probably won’t be this cheap again!
Oh, quick warning, you guys are going to see a little fish blood and guts in a few of these shots. Be wary if you’re sensitive to blood. You’ll see it.
So I’m going to structure this in several parts. First, I’m going to show you pictures and shots of boats and fishing. Commercial, not charter (though a lot of people don’t know the difference, so I’ll note that as well). From there, I’ll move into pictures of Alaska itself, and then just kind of go through some of the cooler stuff I got pictures and video of. That said, let’s get started!
This first picture here you probably recognize from the thumbnail or from the “I’m back” preview last week (though this is a larger version of that picture). This is a picture of the two boats my parents own, Nephi and Lehi. There used to be a third smaller vessel named The North Wind, but having three boats proved to be a little too much, and Lehi did everything The North Wind did but better, so … it was an easy cut.
Both of these are commercial fishing boats (berthed in a harbor of largely similar). Nephi is a forty-eight foot vessel, while Lehi is a bit smaller at forty-two feet. Both can be rigged to fish a variety of types of fish, and are pretty versatile overall. Any of the pictures you see aboard a vessel later on here are aboard the Nephi, since that was the vessel I went out on this trip. Though I did help shift some gear over and around on the Lehi to get my dad ready for a different opening.
Oh, and if you’re looking for interior shots of either boat, I have none from the Lehi, but a few from Nephi in my old shrimp trip photos, so type “shrimp” into the side search bar (or hit this link) to see that.
So I took this shot while we were running (AKA traveling on the boat; you can see the shadow of our poles and mast in the lower right-hand corner of the shot there). This is a gill-netter, which fishes by trailing a long net in the water behind it on floats (which you can also see if you look closely). The net floats on the surface and about 30 feet down into the water or so, and is sized so that the right species of fish that swim into it will get caught by their gills (hence the name). You let it all out, hang on the one end floating for a while letting fish swim into it, and then reel the net in, letting go any fish you don’t want and keeping the ones you were fishing for. This was a beautiful flat day, so for those who enjoy gill-netting it was probably pretty relaxing. As long as they were catching anyway. With a job like that, the idea is to “know” where the fish you’re looking for are going to be swimming, which as you might guess involves a bit of knowledge. Openings for this type of fishing are quick but limited, usually one to three days in an area with a several day break (or a week or more) before opening again.
Took this shot from the back deck of the boat on that same run, because well … look at that water. Look, as I’ll show you shortly, Southeast Alaska likes rain. The country is so damp it makes Seattle look like a desert. So when it’s sunny out, the sky is blue, and the water is flat and calm, you notice. And you take a picture.
Also, this picture shows off some of the gear used in the act of commercial halibut fishing. Those blue barrels you can see hold line—lots of it. Each barrel has about three-quarters of a mile (about 1.2 klicks for you metric readers) in it, and two barrels are used on a set. Behind the barrels you can see a tub of hooks, all of which will soon be baited and attached to the line in the blue barrels by means of a metal snap (not pictured). In the lower right-hand corner, you can see anchors that will be attached at either end of the set to keep the line firmly on the bottom. Halibut are a bottom-feeding fish, so you want all your gear lying across the seabed waiting for them to bite.
That blue tote on the left is insulated, and holds a bunch of ice and bait fish, the latter of which is chopped by hand into bite-sized chunks for a halibut.
Speaking of halibut, these things can be big. In fact, to my knowledge science doesn’t know how big they can be. The one that I’m standing next to is about 190 pounds with the guts out and the head removed (that last bit is done later). And it’s taller than I am. Being a flatfish, most of that weight is pure muscle.
How big do they get? The largest halibut I ever caught working back in the day was 352 pounds with the head off and the guts out. So large that the cannery it was delivered to couldn’t fit it in any of its containers and had to make a special shipment setup just for it. Sucker was big.
Keep that in mind with this next bit. See, while the body meat is awesome and what commercial trips sell, there’s also a bit of meat in the head. The cheek meat. How do you get it, well … blood and guts warning here, but here’s a video showing how it’s done:
Yeah, see the size of that head, relative to how much meat you get? Well … now take a look at this photo:
That is a tub full of cheek meat from a halibut trip. See, you can request to take all the heads back (fisherman aren’t paid for them anyway) and cut all that succulent cheek meat out yourself. That tub? From almost 4000 pounds of halibut. Yeah. 4000. For that little tub.
If you’ve ever known someone from Alaska and they give you halibut cheek meat, realize now how good a friend they are (or the standard of the favor/bribe you’re being set up for). By comparison, the price of halibut right now is around $6.50 a pound at a cannery dock, so right away that little tub of cheeks is all that’s gotten from about $26,000 worth of halibut.
Sands. And. Storms. Cheek meat is a treasure.
Okay, so earlier I mentioned rain, yeah? Well, now I’m going to talk about it. And show you. That shot above there? That’s a shot from inside the Nephi, going along while it’s raining. See that haze? That’s rain. And a bit of moisture on the windows too. But mostly rain. Imagine navigating in that.
Want more? Oh, I took video. Check this out. I took this in Petersburg.
Yes, as the caption says, I’m narrating this. But yeah, look at that. That’s a normal rain in Southeast Alaska. Imagine it doing that all day, for weeks on end. Sands, I had a summer as a kid where when the school year started up again, the middle school principle noted that he’d counted, and there had only been four days that summer that it hadn’t rained. He’d only needed one hand to keep count.
Oh, and look at what happens when this comes off of a roof.
Yeah. That’s a lot of rain. So to those of you who either wondered “Can it really rain that much?” or the few from the Southeast that have told me that I’m exaggerating … I’ve got video proof. It rains. A lot.
See? Here’s a mugshot of me after being out in that for just a bit. And I had a raincoat on for most of it. Yeah, when humidity is something like 97%, the rain is accompanied a lot of the time by mist that’s basically sideways rain. You cannot stay dry short of being in something with its own sealed environment.
What I wouldn’t give to have had a dive suit growing up. I envy the suits Jake and Sweets have in Colony (which you should definitely go read if you haven’t). I’d have worn it pretty much nonestop.
Speaking of which, I’ve mentioned Petersburg a few times now, so let me talk about that! Petersburg is a neighboring town to where I grew up, and also big on fishing. But there’s another unique thing about them: The town is situated in a narrow channel known as “The Narrows,” featuring strong tidal currents and markers through the whole length so you don’t run aground anywhere. It’s so well marked that the state ferries even go up and down it (or did, before cost cutting skags started trying to kill the program), even if some of them could only do it at high tide.
In fact, there’s one section of this channel where it opens up and sweeps to the west, the safe path marked by red and green markers that flash at night. It’s called “Christmas Tree Lane” because at night you’ll come out into it and see a whole string of blinking red and green lights in front of you. Sadly, I was too tired to get a video of this, but it’s cool.
But there’s something else neat about this marine highway: People live along it. Check this out:
Yes, those are houses. The “suburb” is near Petersburg, and connected by roads, but those others? They have boats. Skiffs. They get groceries by going across the channel. School for the kids? They take a skiff. Fire up the outboard, and off they go. Unless they catch the school-boat. And no, I’m not joking.
Pretty cool, huh? But there’s another reason people like living in a place like that despite the near omnispresent grey.
Yeah, that’s an Orca on its way up to the harbor. Or maybe past it, I didn’t ask. Northbound, anyway. Coming up for a look around just as I had my camera out. I actually didn’t know it was there, and was going for a shot of the waterfront when “Surprise!” Perfect picture.
But this actually isn’t the closest I came to Orcas on my trip. Earlier I said that I had stuff happen on this trip that I’ve never experienced before even in all the years I spent working on fishing boats? Well, I thought it would be this video you’re about to see, which I took when we came across maybe twenty or thirty humpbacks feeding.
Sadly, I did not get a picture of the pod coming up with a bubble net (it’s quick and easy to miss). But I did see it, from about fifty feet away. Which is pretty cool. Even had one whale breach and catch some air. Also cool! And, I assumed at the time, the coolest bit of my trip.
Yes. This happened. We were running along when we spotted a pod of orca pretty close by. So we slowed down to check them out, and well … they decided to check us out. And came right up close. How close?
And closer still, even, though as you might expect, I didn’t feel like dangling my phone over the side of the boat to get those shots. But I literally could have stepped off of the boat and onto an orca.
They were looking at us too. Coming up out of the water and eyeing us. I believe it was because orcas nurture their young. and they had two juveniles in this pod. Since we stopped moving and gave them a chance to get close, they did! “These are humans! Up close!” They were probably as excited as I was.
So for about a minute, these orcas swam around and even under our boat, coming right up to the side and rolling with their fins up so they could look up at us. I waved back because … why not? They seemed to enjoy darting all around us. I’ve seen porpoise do this before, but never orcas!
In fact, they were more curious than we were. Even once they were clear and we started moving again, they ran alongside us for a minute or two before breaking off, as seen here!
This. Was. AWESOME! Even growing up in Alaska, I’ve never had anything like this happen before. It was COOL. Orcas are kind of awesome, and being feet from one that was looking my eye to eye? Incredible!
Yeah. There’s not much that can compare. This was amazing. Also, it did make me wonder exactly how smart they are, really. I know they’re pretty smart, but this was pretty legit, as they only came close once we went to an idle and the prop was still. It’s like they were aware we were letting them do so. Pretty. Dang. Awesome.
Now, I took some other cool shots as well, as you can see in that gallery there. Limestone cliffs. A big old granite peak with a plateau one side that really made me wish I could see what was up there. Another mountaintop I did see with three lakes atop it. Other stuff that’s pretty self-explanatory.
Then there’s this. A Coast Guard buoy that had somehow had its anchor torn free of the bottom (read: big old storms) and drifted way out of position. We reported it, and I took a picture because it was just kind of cool to see this buoy floating in the middle of the wrong place.
But this is the last picture I’ll leave with you. Taken in a bay we anchored in one night, this is the ruin of an old saltery, now reclaimed (mostly) by nature. It was on our map, so we took to looking for it with binoculars until we found it. And it was pretty cool to look at. Easily 100 years old, you could still see the stone foundations for the dock, most of which had long since rotted away and collapsed. A hundred years ago, a whole swath of people would have been there each day, living in bunkhouses and collecting herring from fishing boats to be salted and canned. My dad spotted the rusted hulk of an old steam boiler silently fading away through the trees. All in all, pretty cool.
Yeah, maybe it’s an odd note to end this post on, but I thought it was really cool, finding that old ruin. Alaska is still very much a frontier, wild and unexplored despite centuries of mankind’s presence there. It’s neat to see a bit of that history and the industry that came with it. People lived chunks of their lives in that old saltery. Which is neat.
Anyway, thus concludes this post. I hope you enjoyed the pictures and video. Leave any comments below, and I’ll see you all again soon.
All pictures and video are the property of Max Florschutz and Unusual Things and are NOT for distribution or use.