Let’s Go Fishing, or Hunting


I think that the word multitasking was just entering my vocabulary in the early 1990s, but we sure did it on this fishing trip. 

September 15, 1995

Hey. Hello. 

I just decided that I had to tell you about my recent fishing trip. Besides, I have some time to kill just now. I am caught in the same situation that you have heard before. Yup, I’m weathered in again. But this time it is different because I am at home. I was scheduled to go out on a caribou hunt this morning at 9 a.m. (it is now 2:30 p.m.), but the weather is so bad that I have not yet departed to the air taxi service. Maybe we can start in another hour or tomorrow morning. 

The fishing trip. It is one of those stories that usually starts out “Only in Alaska . . .” It began simply enough. My longtime frequent fishing buddy, Joe, says, “Let’s go get some coho salmon. It’s late in the season and we both still need some fish for the freezer.” 

“Okay, where?” 

“Rabideaux Slough.” 

The Rabideaux Slough is a drive of about 2½ hours north of Anchorage on the Parks Highway. “I’ll pick you up at 5 a.m.” Groan. But wait. Moose season has just opened. “Maybe we should take a rifle, just in case.” 


At 5:30 a.m., Joe calls. “I’m just leaving now. By the way, do you have a harvest ticket permit to shoot a moose? Do you know what is legal in that area?” 

Seven o’clock. We stop in Wasilla to get a cup of coffee, a donut, a harvest ticket, and the regulations. 

Head north, toward the Susitna River. It is a pleasant, quiet drive. We are almost to our destination with 10 miles to go and finalizing our fishing plans and strategy for the day. You won’t guess what happened next. 

I saw a dark shape by the left side of the road, about 100 yards off. Double take. A bear! A black bear. Another look. It is a nice-sized bear in excellent condition–not huge, but very nice. “Should we stop?” 

“I dunno.” 

“Do you want to take it?” 

“Should we go back?” By this time, we are at the turnoff from the highway to the slough. 

”Why not, we really should at least give it a try.” 

Turn around. “Wait. Do you need a harvest ticket to shoot a black bear?” “How far from the road do you need to be?” 

Do you get this picture? Here are two long-term State of Alaska Fish and Game biologists who qualify for sourdough status, driving back down the road looking for a black bear, distracted from their fishing trip. The driver is eyeballing the road and the roadside for a sign of this great quarry. The other guy is frantically paging through the hunting regulation book to determine if they can legally take the game and how far off the road they must be to pull the trigger. This almost sounds like a scene out of an Abbot and Costello movie, doesn’t it? 

Well, needless to say, the black bear was not seen again. That ended our hunting for this fishing trip. Actually, it was kind of an omen. In fact, it was the high point of the trip. The slough was an interesting fishing area, but it was not terribly pretty. The water was low and the fishing was boring. There was virtually no action. Slowly, all the other parties left. Hey, what a deal, we had the spot all to ourselves. “Can we leave now, too?” 

 Actually, we did catch some fish. We didn’t get skunked. I held the high rod for the day—with two small burbot. Oh, boy. (Burbot go by many names—ling, ling cod, lawyer, eelpout, more.) 

 Joe didn’t want to take any and the fillets from both amounted to only about 1½ cups of meat. Karel and I were delighted to try something new and we were not disappointed. It was delicious. 

So, although our fishing plans didn’t work out very well, and although we were on the wrong side of success as bear hunters, we had a great trip and a nice, tasty meal, too. 

Only in Alaska . . . 

Now, if the weather clears, maybe we can get on with our caribou trip. We plan to be gone nearly a week. I plan to write and tell you about that trip, also. 

Mainly, my summer has been good. Terribly hectic, both at home and at work. Many little tasks. Many interruptions. I had house repair work that had to be done before I could paint. And I wanted to dig up some flowerbeds, but not before the painting. And I still have insulation work to do too. Some people argue that there are only two seasons in Alaska. Winter and Getting Ready for Winter. Sometimes I believe it. 

Donna was a starter on her soccer team again this summer and we went to most of the games. That sure eats into the fishing time. Now she is involved in high school cross-country running and will be in classes by the time I return from the caribou trip. She is presently doing some practice driving in a class, too. Bill is working at a gift shop while he is waiting anxiously to start college at the University of Oregon in a couple of weeks. Karel is working today, too. She has been quite uncomfortable lately with a slight herniated disk between two neck vertebrae. Hopefully, this will clear up sooner rather than later. 

I have decided that I don’t want to grow any older. I will be back from my hunt for a week before I have to go to Oregon with Bill for his start-week; then nonstop meeting and training till the end of the September. By mid-October, snow. Maybe it is time to get ready for winter. 

It was good talking to you again. Think about you a lot. Wish we could be closer, but we still enjoy Alaska and all the Great Land has to offer—talk to you later. 



March 2, 2007

Oh, wait, there is more . . . I don’t just write letters. I have been writing a column called “FISH TALK” for a number of years. It is about fish biology and it appears in the monthly newsletter for our local fly-fishing club, the Alaska Fly Fishers. As it happens, I once wrote a FISH TALK article about burbot. Here it is. 

Codfish in Lakes. Have you ever gone fishing for cod? Have you ever gone fishing for cod in freshwater? This may seem like a pretty silly question because we all know that marine fish cannot survive in freshwater. Actually, this is sort of a trick question because one member of the cod family really does live in freshwater. In fact, you may have caught a true cod in freshwater and never have known it. Few people know about this little fun fact because the fish is not called a cod. Meanwhile, there are other fish that may be called cod, but they are not. 

 The "freshwater cod" is often overlooked, and in many areas people may not even know or care that it exists. In some areas, however, it is well known and greatly appreciated. The misunderstanding begins with its name. It goes by many common names: eelpout, lawyer, spineless catfish, cusk, ling, ling cod, freshwater lush, and probably others, too; but the accepted common name is "burbot." 

First, the scientific name for burbot is Lota lota . I love the way that name makes my tongue roll and I must tell you a little story that goes along with that name. While I was in my last year of college, I was helping some graduate students to collect and study fish from a small lake in northern Wisconsin by electroshocking. One night we captured a goodly number of fingerling-sized burbot which we put into our holding tank. We giggled about how we had "caughta lotta little Lota lota." Say it fast. Doesn't that just make your tongue warble? Sorry, I get distracted easily. 

Burbot are easy to recognize. They are long and slender, with two dorsal fins; the first is very short but the second extends over most of the back half of the body. The anal fin is nearly as long. Burbot are generally dark with a blotchy pattern on the top and sides and pale yellow or white below. As with all true codfish, they have one prominent barbell, or feeler, at the tip of the lower jaw. 

Burbot are found in the northern latitudes around the world, usually in lakes, but also in deep holes in large rivers. They live on the bottom, commonly in deep areas, but they move into shallower water at night to feed. After they grow longer than 5 to 6 inches, they feed predominantly on fish, but they are not very selective. 

Spawning occurs in midwinter, at night, under the ice where the water is about 1 to 5 feet deep (sometimes, up to 30 feet.). There is no pairing and the fish form a great milling mass over clean gravel and stones where eggs and sperm are released. Burbot mature at as young as 2 to 4 years near the southern part of their distribution, but as much as seven years farther north. An average female will lay about 600,000 small eggs but large females may have nearly 1.5 million. After the eggs are fertilized, they settle to the bottom and develop without any attention or care from the parents. Newly hatched fry begin life only about 3/16 inch long. 

Growth depends on both good feeding conditions and good water temperature. Those near the southern part of their range generally grow faster than those from the north. Although burbot rarely live longer than 15 years, one 24-year-old fish from interior Alaska was nearly 40 inches long. 

In much of the United States, burbot are not well known and have been largely overlooked. Early explorers in the Canadian Arctic ate it only as a last resort, and over much of its range it is not eaten. In Alaska, however, it is often sought after, especially by ice fishermen. I have heard some people say that they prefer the flavor of burbot to that of halibut. 

One last tidbit . . . most members of the cod family are marine fish but some species are found in brackish waters and estuaries. 

Link: ADF&G Wildlife notebook series, Burbot - http://www.adfg.state.ak.us/pubs/notebook/notehome.php