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A hidden gem on the Middle Kuskokwim by John Chythlook Note: This article is reprinted with permission from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s ReelTimes newsletter. Additional species information is also from ADF&G. Ever thought of fishing a little-traveled river in the middle Kuskokwim River drainage? If so, a trip on the Hoholitna River should near the top of your list. The Hoholitna River is a tannic, clearwater river that flows 165 miles north from its headwaters in Whitefish Lake in the Nushagak Hills to eventually join the lower Holitna River. There is excellent fishing for Dolly Varden and arctic grayling, as well as large, voracious northern pike in the lower river and sloughs all summer long. King and chum salmon are available late June and July, while coho salmon are present during late August and September. Anglers normally access the lower Hoholitna by chartered boat from the village of Sleetmute.…

Reluctant Alaskan hero by Ray Cavanaugh Wrangel Island was never a place people would visit unless they had a really good reason. Technically part of Russia, it’s some 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle and almost as many miles away from the Alaskan coast. It tended to attract young men seeking adventure, danger, and perhaps some personal glory. For the first two, the island was a safe bet. The glory part, however, proved rather more elusive, often fatally so. This hostile piece of territory, with far more polar bears than people, had managed to become a source of international controversy, with Russians, Americans, and Canadians at different points making claims for their homeland. All this was far outside the thoughts of Ada Blackjack, until a set of life circumstances placed her directly on Wrangel’s icy surface and forever linked her name to its formidable legacy. An Alaskan Inupiat, Ada…

NOTE: Map is reprinted with permission from Travel Alaska (travelalaska.com) and Alaska Native Heritage Center (alaskanative.net); edited text is courtesy of Travel Alaska. IÑUPIAQ & ST. LAWRENCE ISLAND YUPIK The Iñupiaq and the St. Lawrence Island Yupik people call themselves the “Real People.” Their homeland covers Alaska’s northern Arctic region, remote and diverse, and accessible primarily by plane. Filled with an amazing array of wildlife and a landscape ranging from coastline to tundra, Alaska Natives here rely on subsistence. SUGPIAQ & UNANGAX The southwest region’s coastal communities and archipelago are defined by rugged shoreline and terrain. Having long depended on the sea for survival, water is central to the Unangax̂ and Sugpiaq way of life. Their homeland stretches from Prince William Sound to Kodiak Island and along the 1,200-mile-long Aleutian Islands Chain. TLINGIT, HAIDA, EYAK, & TSIMSHIAN The southeastern panhandle is home to the Tlingit, Haida, Eyak, and Tsimshian.…

Alaska’s complex relationship with fossil fuels by Larry Persily Oil and gas production —and the good-paying jobs that come with it—have helped fuel the Alaskan economy for decades, and likely will for the near future. The far future is less certain. The industry’s tax and royalty revenues to the state treasury have allowed Alaskans to enjoy life without a personal income tax or a state sales tax—plus, they receive an annual dividend from investment earnings of the state’s 46-year-old oil-wealth savings account. But there are a lot fewer of those jobs. And there is a lot less oil flowing through the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, putting a strain on the state budget. Still, the industry is an essential part of Alaska’s economy. Pay is still good, but fewer jobs Oil and gas jobs are among the highest paying in Alaska. State Department of Labor statistics put the average oil company wage…

8 Reasons to Visit Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area by Robert Manning When President Ronald Reagan dedicated America’s first National Heritage Area in 1984, he announced that this and other NHAs to come would be “a new kind of national park.” The purpose: to preserve areas of the United States that reflect distinctive regions’ sense of place, including natural and cultural history, and offer outstanding visitor attractions, recreation, and educational opportunities. Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area (Kenai Mountains) is the only national heritage area in Alaska, established in 2009, and is located on the Kenai Peninsula. Extending 150 miles, the peninsula is bordered on the west by Cook Inlet and on the east by Prince William Sound. While national parks are generally large areas of public lands managed by the National Park Service (NPS), NHAs are a mix of public and private lands, run by partnerships that usually…

Alaska’s true king of the uplands by Joe Jackson This is a tale of two spruce grouse, and it begins in mid-September.  The dawn is stingingly cold and the leaves flutter groundward to remind me that another year has passed. I try to ignore the impending winter and focus on the task at hand: a side-by-side shotgun in my grip, a pocket full of shells, a flurry of daydreams filled with hard-flushing grouse. That’s when I came upon the first bird of our story. He was a doddering male spruce grouse propped stoically in the middle of the trail, his tail fan spread proud as a turkey. I approached carefully. Given the circumstances—him sitting there all innocent, me refusing to shoot grouse on the ground—I decided to let this one go, but not before seeing how close he’d let me get. Each step brought me closer. Finally, as I nearly…

In Search of the Porcupine Caribou Herd Text by Doris Hausleitner Images by Peter Mather We peer out at the Yukon River from the dusty roads of Dawson City. “The smoke is definitely worse,” Jonathon concludes. “I see less of the other shore today than I did yesterday.” It is the end of June, and wildfire season has come early to the Yukon and Alaska. Aggressive fires burning north of Fairbanks have already changed our original plan—to fly into the Kongakut River in Alaska and hike to the Firth River in the Yukon with the hopes of intercepting the migrating Porcupine caribou herd. Now the fires burning between Dawson City and Old Crow and problems changing our landing permit into Ivvavik National Park are threatening to thwart our plans completely. Our team is a diverse group. I’m a wildlife biologist and instructor at a local college in southeastern British Columbia.…

Alaska’s Other Trout by Joe Jackson Alaska is a place of fish stories. Between our abundance of Pacific salmon, whose annual runs generate staggering amounts of biological productivity for virtually everything on the food chain, along with the state’s incomprehensible quantities of pristine water, we’ve got big fish—and lots of them. It only takes a quick Google search of “Alaska fishing” to verify this. You’ll be instantly met with photos of king salmon as large as Labrador retrievers, speckled rainbow trout with not a scale out of place, Dolly Varden all colored up like clowns for the impending spawn. But one fish you probably won’t find on the internet, at least without some more pointed investigation, and one fish you most definitely won’t find featured in tourism ads, is, in my opinion, the coolest one out there: Oncorhynchus clarkii clarkii. The coastal cutthroat trout. The first time I ever fished…

High Drama When the River Runs Again by Beth Grassi In late April 2014, I stood on a bridge in Fairbanks watching the Chena River waking up under my feet. Flat chunks of ice bumped and bobbed down the river, some a thin, translucent gray, others rafts of white several inches thick. Ice floes and slush hissed through the rush of river water. It felt like standing on the prow of a ship, pushing through to spring. “Spring breakup” may sound like a sitcom episode, but in Alaska it’s a landscape-size drama. Most of Alaska’s rivers freeze over in winter, with ice up to several feet thick. When the rivers finally break free, usually in April and May (or even June in the Arctic), ice floats downstream. Sometimes ice jams—jumbles of ice floes—dam up a river. Large ice jams can cause dangerous flooding. Breakup plays out differently each year on…

A Kayaker Fights for His Life in an ice-cold sea by Matthew Keiper The sun was low over Kodiak Island by 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve, 2014. It was just midday and yet nearing dusk as Frank Wolfe clung to the side of his flooded kayak. He frantically searched for an answer from the center of a small bay notched into the northeast corner of the Island. He turned to one shoreline, then the other while spitting sea water from his mouth. No way. There was no way he could swim any distance in these conditions, in these clothes, even with his life jacket on. He was an optimist and an analytical thinker—a problem solver by trade, he believed—but this situation was different. Grim. Even so, he hesitated before pulling the handheld marine radio from his pocket and broadcasting his predicament. He keyed the mic and announced into a void,…