Footloose at Handtroller Cove

Footloose anchored at Handtroller Cove-Southeast Alaska. Chilkat Range in background.
CLICK FOR VIDEO: Footloose anchored at Handtroller Cove-Southeast Alaska. Chilkat Range in background.

The sun sets behind the Chilkat Range of mountains as my 18-foot (5.5 meter) skiff named “Footloose” floats at Handtroller Cove, Southeast Alaska. Click the picture for my video taken from Shelter Island, our base for camping and kayaking. The dark low island beyond the skiff is Lincoln Island.

The Chilkat Range in the distance is inaccessible wilderness once you get past the narrow shoreline. Westward, the vast sharp mountains and glaciers give way to Glacier Bay. Fly beyond Glacier Bay, and you’re looking at the Alsek River watershed, the largest continuous designated wilderness in the world. Browse my blog to find a variety of posts about reefs and ecology of the Handtroller Cover area, and also about the spectacular beauty of the Alsek River.

Handtroller Cove is a dimple of an indentation on Favorite Channel, but the junction of Chatham Strait and Lynn Canal, two of the largest channels in Southeast Alaska, must be crossed to reach the Chilkat Mountains from here.

All of the major sea channels in Southeast Alaska follow geological fault lines that run from the southeast to the northwest. The channels have been carved by glaciers during the ice ages, giving them steep shorelines and surprising depths.

The water under the boat is only 6 ft (1.8 m) deep. But between the boat the Chilkat Mountains in the distance, the depth reaches 1,900 ft (579 m). If you imagine what the landscape would look like if there was no water, you would be standing on top of a mountain with steep slopes leading down into a 1900 ft (579 m) valley!

Southeast Alaska’s Gastineau Channel: Can you see the cruise ship?

Can you see a cruise ship, sandbar, navigational aid, and a research vessel?
Can you see a cruise ship, sandbar, navigational aid, and a research vessel? Juneau, Alaska

In the photo above, I stood on the left shoreline, the edge of the North American continent. The shore and mountains of Douglas Island form the right shoreline. Gray mountains at the far end are on Admiralty Island, 12-14 miles away.

Good eyesight? Can you see a cruise ship, sandbar, navigational aid, and a research vessel in in the saltwater of Gastineau Channel? Try it and then zoom in (if using phone). When boating, I constantly search the water ahead for other vessels, navigation markers, and hazards like logs or rocks. I scan the water for any shapes, spots, or projections from the water’s surface, starting closest to me, and gradually sliding my view look down channel until I reach the horizon.

Searching the water along the left shoreline, look for rocks, sand bars, and a navigational marker on pilings. In the channel, you’ll the small research vessel operated by NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration) heading away from us. You’ll also see a cruise ship coming toward us that must pass between the navigation aid and Douglas Island to avoid the sand bar the extends from the left shore.

Bonaparte's Gull & Fly fisher check each other out
Bonaparte’s Gull & Fly fisher check each other out. Fishing alone is communion. Click to go to Instagram.

Today’s reflections of a September sky, near Juneau, Alaska show an amazingly different view from my previous Instagram Post of a fly fisher in fog, taken 2 days ago a few miles down the left shoreline. 

 

Alaska Halibut Fishing Welcomes Me Home

Bill Hanson with 50-pound Halibut 2016
Bill Hanson with 50-pound Halibut 2016.

Just home from a six weeks away from my home in Southeast Alaska. Although I had half a day of freshwater boating on Keuka Lake in western New York, and a short saltwater kayak trip in the Atlantic,

I’ve been craving my weekly time on the fjords and channels, the network that separates the islands of the Alexander Archipelago.

A Gift halibut Trip from a Friend

So I am grateful to my friend Bob for inviting me on a halibut trip today, one of the most beautiful days of 2017: sunshine, light breezes, and easy water.

Alaska Halibut Fishing with Nathan and Eleanor
Alaska Halibut Fishing with Nathan and Eleanor

A happy day with Bob, his son Nathan, and friend Eleanor. In 7 or 8 hours of fishing, we caught a few halibut (although none as big as my 50 lb. first halibut of 2016) with a smorgasbord of octopus, herring, and pink salmon heads, so a successful freezer-filling day. See the pictures of Eleanor and Bob for examples of our big saltwater reels.

Channels and Currents Offer Food for Salmon and Halibut

My friend Bob knew that I needed time on the water
My friend Bob knew that I needed time on the water

More importantly to me, we anchored where currents from multiple channels mix and flow as the tide changes (a new high or low every 6 hours). These are my favorite saltwater places in Southeast Alaska. With the flood tide bringing in a moderate high tide of 14.6 feet in the morning, and then dropping down to about +3 feet, the currents were strong enough to drag our anchor several times. Look at the textures in the surface of the water in Photo 3: at least a half-dozen different smooth and riffled edges, tiny white-capped waves, the underlying small waves. This place can be extremely crazy in rough weather.

Chatham Strait with the Chilkat Range in background. Mixing zones have ever-changing textures and waves.
Chatham Strait with the Chilkat Range in background. Mixing zones have ever-changing textures and waves.

With a bottom that is mixed rocks and sand, shallow near points of land that separate different bodies of water, down to more than 1000 feet deep in Chatham, the lower and upper layers of water mix, making food available for salmon and halibut. I could have taken a new picture every 15 minutes with completely different surface conditions.

I love the spectacular view of the Chilkat Range of mountains on the Chilkat Peninsula that separates Chatham Strait from Glacier Bay. Other than the shoreline, these mountains are rarely penetrated by humans.

Ahhh … sharing special places with friends, the never ending ebb and flow of tides and life, saltwater and wilderness… home…