random thoughts of doug
The forty horse Johnson was an excellent motor back in 1942 or whenever it was carved, but decades of living nowhere near any unplumbed water had gummed the carburetor with petroleum distillate residue.
The two American good old boys, sat sullenly as their "guide" pulled the starter cord repeatedly until the motor burped and sputtered grudingly to life, we'd troll for a few seconds and repeat the process. Eventually, one of them took pity on me and waved both arms in a downward, sweeping motion. A man of few words, "Take us in," was all he said.
And at the dock, he thrust a 20 in my direction and gave me this truly priceless advice: "Get yourself some equipment."
Well, short story short, I took his advice and the next fishermen enjoyed themselves much more as the 30 yamaha pushed us along without the annnoying clatter. 18 years of guiding later, and I have never regretted having a reliable motor on a boat.
Boats are a bit like airplanes in that, while saving money is always tempting, the quality of the motor is prolly the worst place on which to economize. You can always walk away from your car...
These days Teslin lake is slowly showing signs of letting go the icy grip of winter. Most is still ice-covered but there is a large open pool below the bridge and the ice is ready for the next big storm to pile it up on distant shores around the lake
I know my hooks could use some washing...
We're out on the water. Its a beautiful day and as we wait for the next violent tug on the line, I'm asked the inevitable question: "What do you do in the winter?" Well nobody is going to believe i'm a model or a brain surgeon so i tell them the truth! I'm a firewood logger. Faces usually go inexpressive at this point, as if i had suddenly announced I am a "climate denying" "fascist" "phobic" something. Well, firewood logging is actually a pretty cool occupation and north of sixty it can be profitable if you're willing to take on the challenges. Challenges that are very real at times. I cant believe I've been at this for almost 30 years, year on year! (Yes Im old as hell) Also i cant believe i still have all my limbs digits and appendages though i came pretty close to losing one one time.
The pictures i've posted with this article show one of my most efficient ways of turning a tree into cash.
I've found the Dodge one ton cummins diesel with a flatdeck, the Stihl MS260 saw and circa 1980 Toyota to be a "deadly combination".
First step is to locate a firekilled stand of pine. (Lodgepole pine is ideal because you waste almost no time limbing these things and the wood is straight-grained, easy to split and dense. And people like it.) Get all the apporpriate permits or dont and then just go to work.
I like to lay down about ten trees and buck them into 8 foot "cants" and get the Toyota as close as possible and pivot them all on there. These old trucks can take a lot. And the last thing you want is to take your 120k lariat in there and lean it against a tree.
Then i take the half cord or so i get on there to the waiting Dodge at the highway and slide the wood across. Haul it to the customer and cut it on the deck to the specified length and lo and behold you've got cash in hand!
When the snow is deep i like to use my skandic super wide trac to drag whole pine trees to the highway and follow a similar process after that.
So there you go. Now you can quit your boring job and go self-employed!
The main thing is to produce a product people want and are willing to pay for and, oh yeah, you have to be able to get up in the morning. You're welcome!
Looking out the window at the drifting snow and the "roosters of the north": (ravens) all bundled up, it seems impossible that in a few more weeks, like maybe 12? we won't be gabbing about taking the boat out of storage, but doing it in real time!
It"s always a little scary the first time I put the boats in the lake and crank the engine after a winter of sitting around in 30 and forty below. Will she start? Will she run? But so far, all my worries, almost, have been in vain. Running the engine dry of fuel before putting it away for the winter seems to do the trick nicely, cleaning the fuel system dry so there is nothing to turn to gum over the long winter months.
So if your thoughts are turning to spring and the Yukon, give me a call and let's put a trip together. I'm a flexible man, not like in my youth, but still flexible. Over the last couple of decades I've had the privilege of helping to organize all manner of outdoor trips in the Yukon, from fly in trips, fishing on various lakes and rivers, to water pickups from the end of Teslin Lake, to one pickup at the McKenzie Delta on the Peel River, a mighty long drive from Teslin!
And since my overhead is low, low, low.. (Dont drink, gamble, smoke, drug or swear much) I can offer you a rate that is, well, competitive at least. (Isn't that the word they all use, competitive? Maybe cutthroat would be more descriptive...."Its a dog eat dog world out there and I'm wearing milkbone underwear")
So good day and God bless as you plan your next adventure and remember: "Without a vision the people perish" Happy visioning as you make your plans.
Well, the summer solstice is behind us now and the nights are drawing in again. Six more shopping months til Christmas. Glad i got that off my chest. But, there is still a little bit of summer left! "Use it wisely, my son, use it wisely."
Several groups have run the Nisutlin recently and all arrived in Teslin happy and satisfied from all I can tell. The last group from Juneau told me they had experienced 5 minutes of rain on the five day trip for which i apologized. We Canadians are like that, always apologizing for our own existence. And I do try to provide good weather for my guests but often fail it seems.
Yesterday I received a request to pick up some people all the way up at the arctic coast, about a thousand mile one way tour for my truck and self. Seems they want to fly from Mayo into one of the tributaries of the Mackenzie and paddle to the confluence of the great river Mackenzie and at this point, start the kicker and run the rest on hydrocarbons. I applaud this idea and have used it successfully once on the Big Salmon River, which passes through amazing scenery and then hauls you through a hundred mile somewhat tedious flood plain. Still a nice part of the trip but no comparison to the mountainous portion and these days, some mighty nice little four-stroke outboards exist which are extremely light and easy to haul until needed. Being able to run a hundred miles on a cup of gas is also, *deep booming voice* "good for the environment"
As for fishing, I almost stepped on a pike warming himself in about four inches of water. He gave a flip and glided off while I assessed his fillets for width length and health. When I do this with women I get some odd responses but the fish dont seem to care at all.
June 1979 was the time the idea of driving to the Yukon became reality for me. It has been everything I ever hoped it would be. You'd think all the articles and hype I had read before coming up, all the hunting stories of bear attacks and huge bull moose would have been exaggerated and the reality would have been less than expected. But for me, overall, my entire experience in the Yukon has been one of literal jaw-dropping awe.
Even the northern bit, the Dempster and on to the Arctic ocean is largely ruggedly mountainous, not at all like the rolling tundra I had always pictured. My "mind's eye" needs a tune up. It seems to always be mistaken, as if it were deliberately lying to me so the reality could shock me more.
And In all the forty years I have known the Yukon, the land itself hasn't changed at all. I thought that development would destroy the beauty within 20 years, but it has not. In fact, the population today is not much more than it was in 1979.
The one disquieting thing from my perspective is the wild over-run of governmental authority which has taken place, decimating many homes and small businesses in the Yukon. Latest one, a boat-slip in Tagish, shut down because the government owns the land between the dock and the business, and the grandfathering clause expired when the new owner took over the property. Graciously, the Yukon Party Government only reportedly requires $400,000 for the piece of mud in between.
Imagine how soul-satisfying it was for a nineteen year old to spend an evening in the home of a co-worker, the home consisting of a house built of plywood and no more than 8 feet by 12 feet, and containing co-worker, wife, huge dog, daughter, barrel stove and me, the guest who sat listening to the stories pouring from the Czech's mouth as we sipped cognac and smoked cigars late into the dim Yukon night. Finally a place where i was free to build or do whatever I wanted and be accepted without having to pretend to be something I was not!
Today, a family living in a shipping crate would be totally forbidden and probably evicted from it's residence for it "own good". The largest employer in the Yukon today is the dang government which tells you all you really need to know. Even though I decried some of the environmental destruction I saw mining do the Yukon, the destruction of personal freedoms is doing far more damage to my heart and soul today.
And yet, perhaps, its all in the grand plan. One thing which is totally certain in the Yukon is change and change there will most definitely be in the human society we currently inhabit, while the wolves continue to encircle the moose, which lowers its rack, snorts and paws the ground as wolves and moose have done for thousands of years. Nature pays but little attention to the doings of man, and that is my continuing hope for the Yukon. I hope it will always be a place which welcomes the young, awkward types like myself from "outside" and provides them with quality memories for a lifetime, as I'm enjoying even today, though I'm way too young to reminisce just yet!! Whew! that was a close one.
This spring the ice went out much earlier than usual. I mean, like, waaay earlier! 80 year old residents cannot remember the ice leaving the lake on the last day of April. So very odd. Human-caused climate change? I don,t know about that. One rumor stated that this happened a hundred years ago but I haven,t as yet verified that one. What I do know is that I freakin' love it and so do a lot of other Yukoners I could name but won,t because you probably wont know any of the types I hang around.
And the weather, so far, has been absolutely fantastic. Yesterday we hit 23.4 Celcius, and around here that is stifling, sunbathing weather baby! Also great fishing weather! And the lakers are biting well along the mudline from the Nisutlin River.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of hauling a couple of folks up to the first bridge on the Rose River for the start of their five day canoe trip down the Nisutlin. I was worried the water might be too high and overflowing the banks due to all the hot weather we've had potentially melting the snow in the high country, but...not! The river level was just about perfect to help push them along and make the trip a little quicker than normal.
We saw a black bear and numerous porcupines on the way up and as I returned alone I saw two more fellows on the backtrip to Teslin.
My point? We just got blessed with an extra month this summer and I freakin' love it Baby! And so will you if the great weather holds and you get the opportunity to partake in some Yukon summer activities this year.
Living here in the Yukon brings you into contact with some hardy types. The sort who drive their trucks out of the bush on a flat tire by filling the tire with water and letting it freeze solid. The type who start their truck by re-charging the battery by spinning the alternator with their chainsaw, or drive back to town with heated gopher fat instead of motor oil.
But there is another bunch, and a couple of years ago when the Alaska Hwy shut down because of a landslide, the Super Store in Whitehorse virtually ran out of everything in three days! I was not there to see it but it must have been pandemonium or chaos or both with a side of bizarro. And this was in summer!
Whitehorse is a city built right on the Yukon River, which contains arctic grayling, northern pike, and in season, king salmon. The surrounding mountains are quite rich in wild fruit in the summer months. For game, there is mountain sheep, caribou, moose, black and grizzly bear, elk, bison, in addition to your predators. Wolverine Helper anyone? Mushrooms do quite well in a wet year though you have to know your 'shrooms, as some few may make you quite ill. But the Panic!
Three days in summer. Now let's consider three months in the winter shall we? A snowslide blocks the Highway. All consumables must be flown in at great expense. Well you get the picture. And as the worlds central banks flirt with negative interest rates, which will certainly devastate pensions and incomes all over the globe, it might make sense to have a backup plan.
The Alaska Highway from the lower 48 through to Alaska was only constructed around 1947. Prior to that, native people in the area where I live rarely saw a whiteman. They lived off the land and obviously were skilled and knowledgeable about how to go about that. There were no banks, though somewhere earlier in the century a grocery store was founded, supplied by sternwheelers coming up the Teslin River once or twice a year. My point is, though, that prior to all this people lived off the land without money, stores, banks, highways, cars, iphones, and heat-seeking missiles. And it could be done again.
If things get even remotely as bad as many think they will it will definitely be handy to know what is edible in the wild. If being homeless in a large city or in the country is my choice, there is no doubt which one i'd choose. Many of natures goodies are out there waiting to be pocketed and eaten. While far from being any kind of expert, I hope some of my experiences with wild edibles may benefit:
One trick I've often resorted to when i didn't know whether a certain thing was edible is to try a little taste and spit it out if its blech. Obviously i don't want any legal problems so i can't recommend the practice of eating just a bit and checking for ill effects, but it has always worked for me. With 2 exceptions. One was in northern Saskatchewan on a moose hunt. Walking across a frozen pond i noticed what appeared to be a short section of wild celery. We had just been discussing this and i decided to give it a try. After a brief chew i spat it out because it was blechy. That's when the troubles began. My mouth felt like it was full of tiny needles which worked their way into my throat as a desperately tried not to swallow. Happy ending though; in a few hours the sensation was gone. Water hemlock? Maybe.
But What if i would have chowed down on it?
Second similar experience was in Hawaii on a hike. Same scenario but this time a little berry-like bulb on a fern sort of thingy. Don't eat them.
Other than that word of caution, I've learned that the prickly pear cactus in Saskatchewan at least is edible after boiling or burning the needles off. It is a real green gooey mess when cooked with a flavour like rhubarb and strawberry. Also the bulbs on the top after flowering I have found to be delicious through experimentation with no ill effects.
Most of the berries I've encountered are a different colour than the surrounding foliage. Why are they bright red, orange, yellow? Well like the old Indian answered when asked why the salmon turn red in the rivers, "So the bears can find 'em."
Again, in Saskatchewan, as an experiment I once lived on nothing but chokecherries for three days to a week and this while working full time, hard, and mostly on my feet. I noticed no ill effects to my health whatsoever. Quite the opposite!
Here in the Yukon, I've done rather well on wild raspberries, the tiny wild strawberries, rhubarb which usually appears around old settlements and probably not indigenous, mossberries, high and low-bush cranberries and blueberries. Also many of you will know that the red berry found on the wild rose after the flower blooms is edible and full of vitamin C. You may not know that the flower itself is also edible. "OH honey, they are so Lovely! Crunch, crunch, munch. And Tasty!"
Another source of vitamin C is to be found on the spruce, not pine, but spruce tree. Early in the spring each bough extends new growth which is visible as a lighter shade of green. This new growth is very edible, and tastes a bit like lemon. You could try a little and see if it affects you in case of some allergy or other. But I eat all of it i want. Spruce also makes an excellent tea.
What concerns me now i s what I would do for carbohydrates if products ceased to fill the shelves in the store across the highway. The Yukon is capable of growing oats as there is at last some agriculture in the region, even as far north as Dawson City. But what interests me more is the possibility of using wild rice. It grows in Northern Saskatchewan and I've read there may even be some here. Of course, like all the wild edibles, these things come undistorted by large multi-national corporations who love modifying genetics and start with the letter "M".
Wild fruits, mushrooms, meat, fish, birds, and worse case wolverine meat, can all be dried for storage or in the more northerly regions buried down near the permafrost for storage. Personally I like drying as it has the added advantage of increased portability. Just lift a hindquarter of moose meat next time you get the chance and lift it again when it's been made into jerky. You'll notice less pulling on your shoulder muscles!
So that's it for now. Might add some more if there is any interest. I'll just add that whether or not the global financial system collapses wild food is a grossly under-utilized resource. Its fun and enjoyable to harvest these gifts and takes you into some of the most amazing places. In the process you may disappoint the taxmongers and the credit card people but they'll get over it. They always do.
1 2 3 4 I want to get away.... I want to fl yyyy. Yeah , yeah yeah yeah...
Ever feel like that? Well so do i! And when the folks needed a visit, (you know how parents can be) in Hawaii, who was I to refuse? And, as is always the case, all my misconceptions of havaii were shattered. Except that it was warm and had beaches that is. Other than that, well, lets take it piece by piece shall we?
First of all downtown Honolulu was, as expected, full of skyscrapers and people. The setting though is what differentiates it from other concrete jungles. The jungly mountains were unexpected. You don't have far to travel to get away and into the jungle. And jungle it is! I refrained this time from slashing and hacking my way through any of it having been warned by a somewhat bedraggled, grizzled older fella of the danger of the mongoose and his nasty bite. Although I would think I could be classified as a fairly experienced outdoorsman, i recognized all too well how lost and helpless i would be in this weird new environment, like a new-born baby deprived of his mother's milk.
And honestly there is so much to do on OAHU that i didnt have a lot of time for getting lost, bitten and medevaced from the jungle anyway. So i kept to the trails. From the day of arrival i began automatically to scan for wild edibles growing from the trees and so on and noticed a few things that looked alright. On a jungle joyride i reached from the bus and got a handful of what looked like chokecherries. They were good. But as is my habit if Im uncertain, I'll just taste a little and see what falls off me before going all buffet on the thing.
Its all a blur already. I stood on the battleship Missouri, on the exact spot where my namesake, Douglas McArthur signed the peace treaty ending the second world was with Japan, with two emaciated American soldiers, one on each side of him, representing the horrors of what the Japanese had done to American captives.
I sat by the see and listened to a one-man band, play his ukelele as the sun set and his wife danced gracefully before him. "Don't you ever, ever go." Dang! I didn't really want to ever, ever leave come to think of it!
The seafood, the white sand of Wiakiki Beach, the surfers toodlin' around on 25 foot rollers, and the highlight of it all, snorkelling in Hunauma bay, following a parrot fish, absolutely huge and verdant, as we travelled together for half an hour, me watching through the mask and he rolling his eye lazily as he scraped his dinner from the corral reef, unconcerned by this yukon dude way out of his natural element, it all was a true treat for the senses.
I saw where the opening scene of "Tears of the Sun" was filmed, and the surviving bits of the set where Jurassic Part scenes were filmed.
But there was another side to Hawaii, a side not so pleasant. The homeless "sweeps" casually announced on the evening news, wherein the homeless are told to vacate to wherever they may go, just be gone. The 70ish woman on the city bus in a wheelchair ravenously tying into a barren dinner roll, weeping in her wheelchair about the hardness of her life, the large number of tents and bicycles and inhabited junk under a concrete highway ramp. Soul-crushing stuff! What hope is there that these will ever own a house valued at typically 500,000 to one million, let alone 28 million? But as for homelessness, Id rather be homeless in Hawaii than some other places i can think of! It's warm all the time, usually in the 70s or 80s even in December and wild fruit is there to be found, as is a plentiful supply of fish just offshore.
Another highlight in retrospect was the paddling with my Dads cousin Leohoni and Kamu. They graciously took me paddling in a six-person racing canoe. These things move right along, the ama on the side helping to maintain balance on the tippey craft as the intermittent shouts keep everyone on time with the paddlestrokes. Well, everyone but me it seems. Keep your paddleside foot forward! Stop the stroke at your knee. Hold the upper arm straight! Return stroke low over the water. Timing! Dad's cousin sure knew her stuff and was doing her best to impart a lifetime of practise in racing canoes to her newest pupil. This was all very humiliating to someone who has done a thousand or two miles in a canoe, upriver and down. The stroke of a "normal" canoe is much different. Normally a much more relaxed and casual affair as the river sweeps you on lazily through the spruce thickets of a yukon river valley. But anyway, I did the trip without deliberately splashing her once, glory to God.
Well, its that time of the year again. Rain-mingled snow, icy highways, large ponds frozen completely over, geese, ducks, swans and most all creatures with this option: gone!
Of course, there are a few of the stupider animals which choose to stay in the yukon and brave the arctic, but most with the intelligence of a bookend have left the country by now, realizing that the 20 hour dark spells, coupled with, at times, temperatures hovering in the ouch-zone, are better off left to the brave and the stupid.
A friend recently shared about how he let a little dog out one night and forgot about the poor little thing until the morning. When the missing critter was noticed, the door was opened and there was pooch, standing just outside the door. Surprisinly, he wouldnt enter the house when invited, surprising until the cause was discovered, that is...
And, while on the weather topic, this year has been a dandy if you happen to make your home at the bottom of the lake. The cycle is becoming one of gorgeous January through May weather, with a general downturn after that, becoming gradually more muddy until, mercifully it begins to snow instead. We had a brief window of opportunity for a few days, right after the best time for moose hunting, which is the last half of September, and thankfully, during this spell, someone got his moose! The jerky is wonderful and all the more satisfying knowing that I dont have to fill myself solely on genetically modified cows this winter.
It was a fine thing to sit in my lawnchair on the riverbank, beside my little fire and its teapot, enjoying the surroundings and pondering the wonder of the fact that the moose meat was on the ground after a week-long search. Twice earlier had i come within yards of a huge bull, but it was not to be and i left him to his little family, consisting of a cow and calf and found my winters meat elsewhere.
The bull i eventually shot was with a cow which would not leave that evening, and became quite aggessive towards me, ears laid back, hair up, making unsettling noises... Apparently it was her calf from a couple years ago which i had decided to add to my freezer. I explained gently, that i needed the meat and told her i was sorry, which she seemed to understand and settled down a bit after that.
Winters wood is about in now as well and I rest in the contented knowledge that warmth and a full belly is really all thats needed to get through a yukon winter. Many i know, are not so blessed.
Warmth and love to you all from beautiful bountiful Teslin!
Your first indication that all is not well is the power is off when you awake. Befuddled, you check your phone but there are no new messages. Shortly you realize that is because there is no internet connection. The world is at war and they forgot to tell you... again!
Are you ready for this? If you are, you are probably a "prepper", one of those kooks who has his ducks in a pile for a scenario such as this, a rare animal to be sure. For the rest of us, it is an unsettling possibility and no more. We go about our daily routines as if nothing will ever change. And yet, many of us wonder about a different sort of life than the one we live. A life perhaps of living in greater tune with nature.
I draw on the experience of a close friend who lived this dream for seven years along the yukon river near Fort Selkirk. He told me that you work almost constantly to survive and sooner or later you run out of something that requires cash and need to go to town for that oh and maybe a job. Just a small glimpse of what living the dream looked like for him. They picked wild rosehips and made jam. They grew a large field of potatoes. They caught salmon in the river in the fall and dried them. They had a dog team and shot and ate moose and i rightly assume, other creatures as well, which brings me to the point of this article.
I know the subject of hunting is distressing for many these days. The thought of someone killing Cecil the Lion and hanging him on their office wall is not appealing to those who love the beauty of nature. Yet hunting for the purpose of survival outside the bounds of city life, is surely another matter entirely, is it not? A moose or a bear can provide a lot of valuable protein which is vital, especially in a climate as harsh as that found north of 60 in November through May.
And there is this to consider; If you prefer to keep your own hands free from gore, there is always the local butcher shop or market. But have you considered the living conditions of the typical factory-raised chicken vs the one i cook and eat? Wildlife gets to live its life relatively free of mans interference until the time comes for its consumption, and whether a wolf performs that task or a man is of little consequence to the animal! If the wild thing craves a certain plant or a drink from a certain stream it is free to go there. Most factory farm animals, in contrast, have little choice in the matter. So there is that contrast to consider.
Also, what about the fact that the genetics of wildlife have not been tampered with too much as of yet? Nor are they given growth hormones, or injected with chemicals. For those concerned with such things, consuming more wildlife may offer an improvement in diet.
And this: The fewer wild resources are consumed the more wildlands will be turned either into mining grounds or agricultural lands and the reason for that is your decision to buy your food in the store vs making use of what is freely provided in nature. Buying groceries in the store? How ecologically irresponsible can you get?
One thing we definitely cannot kick about this spring is the weather. Its been ideal, only interrupted by one powerful rain and hailstorm, yes hail! And large marble size too! Other than that, just a little smoke now and again from a distant fire, (where we like 'em!) and some distant thunder, where we like it too!
As for the lake trout fishing, its been excelente! The last trip out we caught our three, all nice legal trout in well under two hours, which is not half bad on lakers. The water in the lake is clear and the river coming down is warm enough to tempt the odd swimmer at the boat dock. This means the pike are getting active earlier than usual this year. No ones had their arm pulled off yet but we keep trying. Wishing you all singin' lines this summer whever you chose to do your fishing!
My first fishing trippers this year were... Mom and Dad, who decided to make the trip north to see their firstborn and maybe do a little fishing and a little helping and a little fish-eating. All of those were accomplished and a great time enjoyed by all to boot. Took Dad fishing I think four times and he slayed 'em on every trip but one, which is unusual for this time of year. Normally, there would have been a bit of ice floating around out there in the end of May and stubbornly slow fishing but the lake trout seemed to have forgotten their duty of ticking us off and bit well! Nice, legal size ones too, so most of them found their way to the frying pan.
Mom brought some seafood spice from Hawaii which did the trick of turning a fantastica fish feed into....well, something even more! Baked six pies, some cookies and rolkuchen to eat with our watermelon. Dad bought me a log splitter and we went through five cords of wood like a breeze. So, all in all, it has turned out to be a pretty good thing for Air North that I moved a couple thousand miles or so from the family farm back in '79. Not even such a bad thing for the folks as they seem to enjoy the trip, the scenery and well, the fish too. Many happy returns!
As for the weather, its gone downhill a bit, back to the normal highs of 18 and lows of 4 celcius, with a bit of wind and what we hope will turn into a nice general rain. Fire conditions are ripe for disaster. Down by the Yukon Motel they tell me that this area is 60 years overdue for a burn. In other words, the surrounding forest is over-mature and full of deadfall. This is concerning. No one wants to clearcut the area and destroy the scenery and so we wait for lightning or a tossed cig to do it for us...
Anna way, thats about it for now on the conditions around Teslin. Enjoy your summer. Theres only a few more days til the days get shorter again! :)
Its the sabbath, my favourite day of the week and I get to stop and say a few words about the upcoming season. Sometimes I think that above the 60th we really only have two seasons, "summer" and "winter", along with two tiny breaks between we like to call "fall" and "spring" as those last two seem to be awfully short and hard to recognize!
It is also May the 9th today and Teslin Lake is beginning to show signs of warming up to the idea of summer. Open water under the bridge, ducks swimming; always the first bit around here to open. Then the ice gets a sort of faraway look in its eye and the water in the lake rises, the melted area enlarges and pieces start drifting off and floating to this shore and that. Eventually the wind blows and piles the ice in sometimes huge piles here and there on the shore and it is. on. baby!
Normally the first thing I start guiding for is the lake trout. The interesting thing is that immediately after breakup they can be caught at a depth of 55 feet. Gradually through the month of June the hotspot rises to 30 feet of depth and around the end of June they can easily be caught on the surface. Later still they drop to depths of 70 feet and greater as the surface temperature rises. Crazy things hate warm water! And every year, the pattern continues.
(As a fishing guide I am crazy to give this information out freely because now you don't need my services. You can simply rent my boat or bring your own and catch 'em all by your ownself! As my wisened granddad used to frequently remind me at the dinner table, "twas not given for you alone.")
The downrigger of course, is a great invention which is useful to maintain the correct depth while trolling. Less expensive/ less effective methods such as divers and lead weights can also achieve similar results. In any case, the main thing is we are entering a period of time which has been known to produce a great deal of satisfaction along with some great dining and some freetime for the non-enlightened family members back on shore. Up here north of 60 we like to call it "Fishin' Season". Hope yours is the best ever!
No, this is not an article about my latest favorite bean recipe. Sorry to disappoint! Rather, its a little story about an inventor, or a parts designer maybe if you will, who noticed an interesting little thing online while searching for information on running engines on woodsmoke. And yes, that is possible! Apparently, the ever-resourceful Germans found a way to run their tanks on it after gasoline or diesel shortages appeared in WW2. The process is quite simple and involves burning wood in an oxygen-poor environment, as in a woodstove, and pulling the resulting smoke through a filter to remove the tar and impurities. The resulting gas is supposed to be sufficient to run an engine.
Anyway, as I researched this interesting use for wood, up pops a little clip on how to make a gasifier from tincans. Look it up for yourself. Its quite interesting. The idea is to pull the air down and through the fire so the smoke goes beneath the fire and circulates back up, exiting over the flames and igniting. I made one and it worked. Then I got the idea that making it from stainless steel would be really neat and long-lasting. And why not larger? I got a set of stainless steel cooking pots and some special drills and grinding wheels and constructed the item you see at the top of this article. I was literally shaking with excitement at the time, constructing something that had to my knowledge, never been made before.... an invention!!!
I was extremely pleased with the result and used it all over the place, making little fires of tiny bits of wood that seemed to last forever, finding I could boil water in minutes or roast a bratwurst much quicker than over an open fire. It even worked great on the deck, with precautions, as the outside pot didn't get overly hot. The unit produces almost zero smoke so is pleasant to sit beside. I was going to patent it maybe but some personal family-type problems took all my attention and one day I noticed a smaller stainless steel version of my little firepot right there on my facebook page. Well.
So I did the next best thing and got the distributorship for Solostove. Its a neat little machine which I'll let you have for a reasonable price. :) Handiest thing you can have in your daypack, saves lugging kerosene, gasoline, naptha, propane or all that because all you'll ever need to run is treebark or animal dung if you're so inclined.
In fact, I'm still all fired up about this glorious idea! It should be taken to tree-sparse regions of the planet for cooking without oil. Maybe you can take this fine invention even farther...
Trying to remember the time I caught my first grayling.... I believe the first time I saw this lovely little northern fish was in Fish Lake all the way back to 1979. Its June in the Yukon and I have a little time off from my new job in Whitehorse at the welding shop called Jacobs Industries...still operational by the way in 2015. I owned a brand new four wheel drive Ford short-wheel base 3/4 ton truck of which I was quite fond. And after all I hadn't driven all the way to the Yukon just to work in a smokey machine shop! And here it was. A day and a half with which to do whatever I wanted. I was experiencing some financial embarrassment at the time but there was fuel in the tank and I decided to take a little drive up the Fish Lake Road to see what I might see. Nearing the lake I noticed a fork in the road and took the left and shortly found myself climbing higher and higher up the mountainside, not having a clue how the day was going to go. Oh the peaceful rapture of not knowing the trouble you are headed for!
Reaching the top of the mountain wasn't a problem and the road continued on. Why turn around? Soon I was travelling down the opposite side of the mountain on a rather steep decline. On the top of a little knoll I felt the front differential pick up an enormous boulder which clunked its way beneath the length of the chassis and out the back. Well.
Maybe that was a warning of some sort because shortly thereafter I came to the brook. It didn't look like all that much trouble and whoever had gone ahead of me had negotiated it all right and I'm in this new four wheel drive baby! After weighing it all out I decided to proceed and learned one of the great advantages of the four wheel drive. This wonderful feature helps you get hopelessly stuck many many miles farther into the bush that you would with a two wheel drive!
I was amazed at the suctioning-power of Yukon mud! Soon my right front wheel was totally immersed! Undaunted, but close to being daunted I got out the jack and messed around for a few hours with flat rocks and whatever I could find all to no avail. Now those who know me best would not accuse me of being the sort to quickly give up, but clearly I was going to have to find another way. Grabbing the rifle for protection from the ever-present (in my young imagination) charging grizzly I set out on a short-cut down to the lake. Might have been wiser to stay on the road, but this was way more interesting. Now a Saskatchewan farmboy unleashed in the enormity of the Yukon boreal has no clue what he is doing. I was totally out of my element but made the best of it as I tore my way through several miles of spruce thickets, willows and whatever and finally, mercifully came to the lake and felt the gravel crunch beneath my boots. Where was I going? Who would I meet? I really had no clue as I crunched my way along,now and then forced off the lake and into the bush, sometimes into the water to get by an overhanging bush. No distance gain comes easily in this country but eventually I heard the howling of what I took to be a pack of wolves! Excitement! And I marched on forward, eager to see my first wolves in the wild. In the end however, they proved to be no more than a pack of around 30 huskies, tethered around a small pond. Dogs owned by Ian and Sylvia Williams, whom I was shortly to meet. And oh yes, I believe I saw my first school of arctic grayling in the incredibly clear waters of Fish Lake as I made my way to the small enclave of human life at the head of Fish Lake. But more on the Arctic Grayling later!
What was foremost on my mind was the problem I had to solve! My means of transportation and my home were both mired in a bog on the fair side of mountain! I wondered what it might cost to have it extracted by helicopter but was pretty sure this would be prohibitive. Well, turns out things worked out a little better than that. I met at Ian's camp, a couple of fellows in a very rude shack. One was from the East Coast of Canada and the other from Ontario. They had a little booze and I forget what to eat and they were both kindly folk who were eager enough for the company and to help me out the next day. We drank away the long dimness of the Yukon evening, as it never gets remotely near dark in the Yukon in June. I remember Neufoundland talking at some length of how happy he was going to be to "see the Yukon in my rear-view mirror" And he told me repeatedly again and again, "You are just beginning to meet the Yukon"
I was thrilled then, the next morning as we set out in his effectively two wheel drive truck loaded with wooden beams and a jack. I didnt' know these guys and they didn't know me and they could have much more easily told me to go sweetly on my way, thank you! I will always remember them with kindness for the trouble they went to to get me out of that bog-hole from hell that morning. I admired the ease with which he got the planks under the wheels and the truck popped happily back onto solid land! What did I owe them? Ten bucks. Even then, 1979, ten bucks was not all the world! The kindness I was shown will ne'er be forgotten Bye! I was just beginning to meet the Yukon. How right he was he never did find out for he followed his hood emblem on out of the Yukon shortly thereafter, leaving me to my various mis and other adventures.
And, actually, the friendly acceptance and ready helpfulness was to become a pattern for me during my time in the territory. Perhaps we all understand the helpless feeling of being hopelessly stranded way back in the bush. Or we've been helped out and we want to pass it on. Whatever the reason, whenever I've had a problem in the wilds, I've had no trouble acquiring the help I need, even to this day. Its the rare Yukoner who will ignore the plight of a person in deep trouble out in the back country and a very fine and a good thing that is, wouldnt you say?!
Now, then, with all that out of the way, lets move on to the subject of this article, the well-not-so-elusive Arctic Grayling...
He is a wonderful fish, no doubt about it. But perhaps somewhat despised by the resident fisherman because so common in the rivers and streams of the Yukon Territory. The grayling is not particularly difficult to catch, provided you leave your spoons in the box for the pike and the lake trout. It didn't take even me all that long to discover that the grayling will not take a spoon, but are absolute suckers for a mepps or blue fox brass spinner. Some years back, on a moose hunt, maybe due to running out of small spinners I tried a number 3 and found to my delight that they tended to get the bigger ones. Toss the spinner out into the current, for the grayling is normally found in moving water, let it sink awhile, and give a little twitch on the line. That's the trigger to get the grayling to strike.
Its been an interesting observation that the grayling strikes when the spinner starts to dart away, the pike will take a spoon as it flutters on down towards the bottom and the lake trout tend to slam the spoon just as it ceases to travel and begins to sink. Personal fish-preference I suppose. At any rate, grayling tend to like to hide under a log or behind a rock in the river where the current is slack. Normally a sandy bottom is preferable to the grayling and if you find a slowly circling eddy of deep green clear water in the river, going round and around on itself and yielding anywhere near six feet of water, you'll probably dine well.
Arctic Grayling is best eaten fresh as the flesh tends to soften rather quickly. Easy to scale, the skin shouldnt be wasted. It is crispy and delicious! My personal favourite is to fry 'em in butter and add a little lemon-pepper. That, and a tin-foil wrapped mess of potatoes, carrots and onion bits, slow-cooked beside an open fire in the evening, should result in a wonderful feeling of well-bean, as you crawl into your sleeping bag and listen to the little night noises of all the nocturnal creatures going about their nocturnal business. Sweet dreams, Yukon fisherpersons!
As a young farm boy in Saskatchewan, it was always a treat to head down to Diefenbaker Lake. I don't really recall who first took me fishing there. Probably Dad. I do recall practicing casting with rubber weights on the gravel of the farmyard one spring. Of course, all i could think of at the time is that there has to be a better way to catch a fish! It seemed like forever until we could really cast a real hook in the real water of Diefenbaker Lake. Of course, my younger brother Gary out-fished me consistently which fact caused me no end of discomfiture.
In any case I persisted and every doug has his day. I remember so well staying with my cousins in a little cove where my uncle set his trailer for the weekend. There were a couple of buffalo-berry bushes rising up from the water and i decided to drop my hook between them and let it sink. This was to become my favourite technique for triggering strikes from the northern pike, a technique I still use, lo these fifty years hence. What would it take to buy my memory of that morning? The sudden solid pull on the line, watching the nylon cut the water as the 7 pounder struggled to rid himself of my hook. I was a pretty excited kid that morning. And my brothers successes were the farthest thing from my mind. The fish and excited kid with the plastic glasses and the toothy grin actually made the Herbert Herald ! Fame, glory and fine dining, all in one joyful explosion of fishing prowess! I was more hooked on fishing than the fish i caught was hooked on me.
Fast forward. Fred, Charlie, and brother Dave are out on the Bay for some pike fishing. Fred and Charlie own a fishing lodge in Alaska and a farm in Missouri and so, they made the trip spring and fall and rarely failed to stop by for a little fishing or even just a visit and a laugh or too. We had so many wonderful times over the years and I guess they wanted their brother Dave to experience the pike fishing on Teslin Lake for himself. The day went perfectly, though there was some emotion in the air as Dave was dying of cancer. It seemed impossible as he seemed energetic and healthy.
We moved around the glass-calm lake, hooking up on a lot of pike and letting them go. Finally it was time to head in. Halfway back i had the sudden urge to stop near one of my favorite weed-beds just for a quick cast or two.
Dave immediately looped a line overboard at a random spot and got the strike of his life. The fish was big enough to pull the boat and the struggle went on for some time until finally Dave was able to bring the beast near enough the boat for me to slide my hand up under the gillslit and hoist him aboard. 26 pounds and 46 inches!
Of course, these are the fish I want to leave in the lake. They're great for business. But fishermen are funny. They seem to get a kick out of catching really big fish. No idea why that is, but it is. Just no explaining the mind of the die-hard fisherman. Unfortunately for my business ambitions and for this particular fish himself, Dave was a taxidermist and i realized there would be no point in trying to get him to release this specimen. Besides, hadn't God given him this moment, this time, this special fish for the purpose of lightening his load in this life?
So, we hauled it back to shore, took the photos, which are still some of my favourites. Now, Fred likes to bring home the salmon and the freezer on his truck was absolutely jammed with fillets from Alaska. How to install Daves pike for the long ride back to Missouri? There was just one way and the contribution of all those fresh fillets was much appreciated that winter!
Now, sadly, both Dave and Charlie have been taken from this life. Fred still stops by whenever he has a chance. The connection between us is the memories we share of the many special trips out on the lake, Charlies infectious laughter when she hooked up on a good one... and many unforgettable fishing trips in the land of the midnight sun.
(to be continued...check back!)
When I first arrived in the camp near the Barrier River in Saskatchewan I was struck by the large number of people who had set time aside and traveled from afar to see if they could somehow help find the eleven year old girl who had gone missing a week earlier. Ashley and her sister had become separated on the walk back to the guest ranch and young Ashley had yet to be found.
The next thing that struck me was the great difficulty of the search. The entire river bottom appeared to be mostly a mass of willow, stretching on for miles and miles. Though forested in the higher areas, the sheer volume of willow did not bode well for the search ahead.
And ultimately, though a huge, heart-touching effort was put forward, including helicopter infrared grid searching, the Canadian military, RCMP and a great many civilians, Ashleys body was only found by a hunter later in the fall, some seven miles from where she'd disappeared into the unforgiving willows of the Barrier River.
Unfortunately, people both young and old, do occasionally become directionally challenged. And interestingly, it is often the adults who are the most difficult to locate. Children will become tired and sit down to rest and maybe even await being rescued. Adults, well, they often feel a bit embarrassed about the situation and keep on moving in hopes of seeing something familiar. This often ends poorly for searcher and searchee alike.
From my own experience I can say that it is not difficult to lose ones sense of direction in the bush. Here in the Yukon, there are normally mountains high enough to view through the tangle of brush you're travelling through. Its great to have landmarks such as mountains, but what if they become shrouded in mist and fog?
A friend and I hunted moose in northern Saskatchewan some years back. He introduced me to the area, a flat heavily forested area actually not that far from where poor young Ashley met her fate. He started me off on my own, sending me down a trail and telling me to go a hundred yards or so and veer off into the bush to the right. He would meet me from the other side. A simple plan. The best kind.
About an hour later and I'm still heading in his direction and where are Lloyd and Gerry? I slow and look around a bit and notice two hunters coming up behind me. I had unknowingly pulled a complete 180! For the duration of this week-long hunt I paid a bit more attention to what i was doing, I can tell you that! And I'm happy to report that without a compass or gps I was able to successfully navigate all over the area without becoming lost again. That bit about the moss growing higher on the north side of the tree is very true and helpful. Also, I took note of the suns position in the sky and when the clouds obscured it, they moved in an east to westerly direction. Anyway, I got away with it though i had to spend a whole day moving to the west until i finally hit the road and walked back to camp thataway.
Now, its your turn. You've left your group on a short sorte. Out of earshot of the group you're with, you spy some cute mushrooms and follow them around the trees this way and that. An hour passes and you think to head back to camp. D' oh! Now what?
I used to teach the kids a trick i learned of somewhere. I think it makes good sense for adults too. You aren't lost really, you're just a bit uncertain of exactly where actually the hell you are. Its getting late and chilly and you realize that if you choose badly, you may just have to spend the night in a swamp full of scary-sounding owls. What to do? You are home. No, I'm not suggesting denial, at least not... yet! You just decide that where you are is your home for the night. Make yourself comfortable where you are. Build a lean-to. Light a fire. Gather enough wood for the night. Make a spruce-bough bed. Home sweet home.
In the morning do you take off all your clothes and run naked and screaming through the woods hoping to find a restaurant? Better plan is to start making trails this way and that. Mark the trees on both sides as you travel so you can always find your way "home" to your camp. If you make four trails even a mile in length it is pretty likely that you will notice something familiar and be able to restore yourself to the comforts of civilization. And even if you don't, you've created a wonderful way for a search team to find you, haven't you now? And probably best of all, you've given yourself something meaningful to do which has acted as a wonderful panic preventative. As a consequence of that you haven't moved another 20 miles in the wrong direction during the night!
The personal story i related about my own getting-turned-around experience is not the only one i could have chosen. And I can tell you from my other experience that the feeling you get when you are wet and cold in a vast and soaking/freezing willow-swamp with no visible landmarks and no fire-making possibilities with night coming on is a special feeling indeed! One that might just lead someone to throw off everything that hinders and run off madly in pursuit of fine shelter and love. At least, I can imagine how that sort of panic could arise and take charge.
Of course, the best plan of all is not to become lost in the first place! But honestly, what fun is there in that?
Sorry, Jack London, and sure hope you dont mind me borrowing the title to this short piece. I personally love the story, though the ending could have been made a bit less unhappy. Incidentally, there is currently a youtube with this title which is very much worth the watch, extremely well done.
It so well illustrates, as did the original story, the folly of heading off into the yukon bush ill-preparared and over-confident. Arguably, under-confidence is also a problem, but thats another story.
Now, I'll admit that virtually all my life, I constructed fires by starting with the small stuff on the bottom and piling progressively coarser wood on top with the biggest logs right on the top, the idea being that the flames shoot upwards and best ignite the pile from the bottom up... MREEPP!!! Wrong!
Well, really there is no wrong way to make a fire if it works and everyone stays safe. But there sure are some better ones! So just for fun, the next time you feel the need for a warming or cooking fire, try this: Build your fire upside down with the big stuff on the bottom and working your way up with finer kindling and the actual starting material right on the top. Its sounds crazy I know, but it seriously is the superior method. You'll probably never go back when you've mastered the technique. For one thing, this is a light and forget it fire, if there is such a thing. Once its ignited, you normally walk away and busy yourself with that painting or whatever you happen to be doing. Your fire is perfectly capable of looking after itself while your buddy is busy re-installing the logs that rolled off his inferior fire.
Another great tip is to tear up an old pair of jeans into little pieces say, ten by ten cms, drop them in an old coffee can, add a little diesel so they lightly soaked and re-install the lid. A better way to get a fire going in the rain probably does not exist, or at least has yet to be discovered. Do NOT substitute gasoline and especially DO NOT ever attempt to light a fire in an enclosed space using gasoline. The flames blow back violently and will burn your beard right off and melt holes in your grey tee-shirt and your neck will be red for a week.
Yet one more tip i've found extremely helpful came from my late friend Dick Persons. He taught me the value of using spruce pitch in igniting a fire under wet conditions. Set on a piece of dry tree bark, spruce pitch is a wonderful fuel which burns hot, with a bright high flame, making the rest of the job childs play.
One cautionary note: Fire is like government. It should be kept small, kept confined and carefully watched.
HERE THERE BE MONSTERS1/28/2015
With a heading like "No word of a lie fish stories" it seems appropriate to begin the collection with a topic that surely no one would glance at incredulously, namely the possibility that monstrous fish or other sea creature types as yet unidentified may lurk in the murky uncharted waters of Lake Teslin.
When you have the impossible privelege of getting paid to take people from all over the world out on fishing excursions and you get to spend hundreds and hundreds of hours with the finest people in the world , "fishermen" in the most scenic watery beauty imaginable, it is only a matter of time before something odd is going to happen out there and you are going to witness a thing for which no hallucinogenic substance could have prepared your imagination.
Such was the case on a warm summers afternoon very near the quiet little village of Teslin. Today the lake lay like a pool of oil underneath a bright blue sky. It is not difficult to hook up on a decent sized lake trout near the end of June on these waters and as my client fought his fish something caught my eye. At first glance i took the eruption of spray half way across the lake to be a flock of swans, flapping there wings. But the swan explanation didnt hold water because the water beneath was all turbulent and dark. These were in fact, huge splashes of water, the sort that would occur if you drove your truck into the lake. The turbulent area of water appeared to be some 50 or 60 feet across and the splashes were all over the area. Me, I as the "guide" kept asking my client what it was and he kept reminding me he didnt know. We hastily landed the trout and headed for a closer look, but by the time we arrived the waters had calmed and there was nothing more to see. I was almost shaking with a mixture of fright and excitement as we boated over the area of action. Probably it was foolish to even go near it. Whatever it was, whether seismic event underwater or a mad feeding frenzy of something unimaginable we will have go on wondering...
Before my time a man by the name of Watson Smarch used to guide fishermen in the waters of Teslin Lake. By all accounts, he was quite good at what he did. I had the privelege of interviewing him one afternoon, and althogh I had a little trouble understanding his accent with my less-than-optimal hearing, there were a few things i gleaned that day. I thought it best to question him on the subject of monsters because of all his experience on the lake and the fact he had lived on the bank overlooking it for many years. He provided me with three stories, one involving a shot-dead floating moose which suddenly disappeared beneath the surface, another of a v-like wake coming down the length of the lake, as if caused by a large boat which suddenly disappeared. His third story was perhaps the most intriguing:
Teslin Lake is some 86 miles long and drops to a depth of 600 feet beneath the large mountain on its western shore. Some individuals were travelling by boat near the southern end when they noticed a strange serpent like creature in perhaps 10 feet of water. They prodded it with their oar or a pole until it rolled over and swam away. It had some sort of parallel bumps on its underside.
I have another story of my own experience which leads me to think there must be something to it. After all, Teslin Lake is water-connected all the way to the Bering Sea via the Teslin and the yukon Rivers. Is it therefore so far beyond the reach of credulity to suggest that something may have swum up the river and entered the lake in the last say,, oh, 10,000 years? Salmon do this every year...
Eagle Bay has seen the bottom of my boat and the splash of hopeful boatfuls of fisherpeople hundreds and hundreds of times over the last 16 years. The Nisutlin River meanders through its delta and deposits its load of silt in this Bay. Eagle Bay is named for its summer stock of Bald Eagles. Eagles are ravenous fish-eaters and love the bay thats named after them because it supports a very healthy population of northern pike, the target of our trips as well.
The boat was full as we crossed the Bay to the north shore. There is a spot here which has proven very productive of large and small pike over the years and i was eager to let the folks in the boat have a go. Avoiding an underwater obstacle I moved the boat around the island and made for the honey hole. A glance backward over the stern produced an amazing sight! The wake, rising instead of dissipating as it normally would. It grew as we watched and then began subsiding only to produce a huge dark bulge of water which rose to the height of about a yard. This bulge was now around a hundred yards from the boat and I had the distinct impression that whatever was under the water producing this enormous bulge was soon to show itself. It looked for all the world as if a large headed animal of some sort was about to emerge with the bulge of water running off its head. Alas it was not to be. If it was a creature and not some function of the wake and the bottom of the lake, it opted for deeper waters, the bulge moved on slowly losing size and disappeared from view. Six witnesses to a very weird wave which I myself had never before witnessed coming off the back of my boat...
Another native friend, Joe Bob, who has since gone the way of the swan once told me that the animal living in this lake could swallow a large boat whole, an obvious exaggeration but he sounded so sincere! Also, the man who raced into the water near the town in order to grab his daughter from the shallows as a huge reptile plotted his course for her... So many stories... The two I have personally experienced are definitely true. All I can say of the rest are I personally tend to believe well, most of them....