By Kelly Yelverton
Editor’s Note: Lyons resident Kelly Yelverton recently graduated from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. To celebrate her accomplishment, she and a friend have decided to paddle their sea kayaks on a 1200-mile journey through the Inside Passage to Alaska. She will be sending updates and photos of her adventure throughout the summer.
It took us forty days to catch our first fish. Technically, twenty-eight days in that we hooked a rockfish but we were unprepared to cook it so ended up releasing it. You’d think we would be having fish and crab for dinner every night, but something about waking up at four or five in the morning, paddling ten hours straight, battling current and
wind, scouring the shoreline for patches of flatness, and schlepping over a hundred pounds of kayaks and gear up kelp-covered cliffs keeps one from desiring to add fish-prep to the daily to-do list. Passing out at 8:30 p.m., also makes stoking a good fire difficult, as does rain and ocean-soaked driftwood. But on sunny day number forty, at high slack, there was little current in Frasier Reach and I decided it was about time to give fishing another go.
I let out our hand line and clipped it to my deck. Five minutes later the line snapped tight and I heard a splash behind me. As I did my best to pull in the fish, Brooke rafted up with my boat so we could get the job done more efficiently on a more stable platform. Not having an official “fish-whacking” club, we made do with a bilge pump handle and then proceeded to prepare the thing the best we could (better to not have fish guts in the camp while residing in grizzly country). Did that sound like a calm, orderly, tidy series of events? Ha! It was not. I can only imagine what someone watching the scene would have heard. There were plenty of loud noises, excited exclamations, and, I’ll admit, at least one or two girly squeals. But we got the job done. And, let’s just say it’s a good thing we dealt with him on the deck of my red kayak instead of Brooke’s white one.
So, then we just paddled ashore, started up a fire, cooked, and ate it, right? Oh no, the ocean has a way of making you earn your meals. Although the early afternoon was calm, the wind soon picked up and within an hour we were clawing our way north up the shoreline into a steady twenty-knot wind. Working around Kingcome Point, about eight miles farther, the wind whipped around the point and waves ricocheted off the walls, amplified by the shallowness. A ferry motored by, adding wakes to the already unstable mix. Several times we were hit broadside by waves breaking at our shoulders. Thank goodness for dry suits!
Finally, at 6:30 p.m., we landed at a promising-looking beach. By 7 p.m., I was out looking for fire fuel. Since it had rained the last two days, dry wood was nonexistent, and after two hours of searching and fire building all we had to show for our efforts was a sad-looking little pile of hot coals with an occasional flicker of flame. Our fish, a beautiful Coho salmon, we had wrapped up in bull kelp fronds. We cooked two pieces on the coals and the rest we fried up over the whisperlite stove having finally given up on the fire. By the time we sat down to eat it was past 9 p.m., getting darker, and looking like it might rain again soon. It could’ve been how exhausted and hungry we were, or maybe because the fish was fresh and we caught it ourselves, or because we ate it looking out over the water, but it was absolutely the most delicious thing I had ever tasted!
We ate as much as we could and when there was still more left over we cooked it up and bagged it for the following day’s lunch. This ended up being a good idea since lunch happened huddled under a tarp on a small beach amidst a downpour. When we tossed the final remains of the carcass into the ocean as far down the beach as we could manage, I yelled out a “thank you fish!” At low tide the next morning, as we sat silently eating our oatmeal in the rain, a lone wolf happened by. He stopped thirty feet from us, made eye contact, and seemed to say, “Yep, I’m pretty cold and wet too!” But, with his head and tail low he continued on his way, possibly down to the spot we’d left the fish the night before.
We’ve encountered many small blessings along this trip, like the fish and wolf sighting. Like the raging waterfalls we drifted by; gurgling streams; snow-capped peaks whose flanks drop straight into the sea; rainbows of anemone, kelp, and urchin; and more kind people who gifted us food and good company. We also experienced torrential downpours, bone-chilling gusts of wind, boat wakes that swamp kayaks and wash rain boots and clothes into the ocean, swarms of insects that leave itching scars between fingers and all over faces, wet socks and under layers, twenty-five degree slopes for pitching tents, and invisible cabins that are rumored to exist at the end of three-mile-deep inlets but which magically hide themselves from exhausted kayakers. So far, it’s been an adventure in every way, with all its challenges and rewards.
We are forty-five days in and taking two rest days in Prince Rupert. This will be our last stop in B.C., as the Alaska border is just twenty-three miles north. If we stop receiving gifts of canned food and smoked salmon from friendly boaters, who knows, we may even have ourselves another fishing experience! We certainly need to work on our filleting skills.
Sent from Somewhere North of Portland