The gang of six then traveled southward to Seward, home of the SeaLife Center, and also a great place to fish.
The SeaLife Center has an exhibit of seabirds, including puffins. The exhibit allows you to view the puffins from above, where they can be seen paddling about in the water, or hopping up on the rocks. Downstairs, the diving pool has a glass wall, where you can watch the puffins swimming furiously down to catch fish for their dinners. Lest you be concerned about the entrapment of puffins, these puffins were procured from captivity, including a pair which came from New York's Central Park. Needless to say, moving puffins from New York to Alaska is an act of mercy. The SeaLife Center is a working, research facility. It sits right on Resurrection Bay, in the old part of Seward. They also sponsor a camera on an uninhabited island not far away, and pipe the video feed of the sealife to the Center and to the local cable company. When you are in your room at the motel, you can watch the sealife channel. Amazingly enough, this channel was a hot ticket with the kids.
Visiting Seward also seemed like a good excuse to ride in a helicopter, so we flew up to the top of a local glacier to ride dogsleds and cuddle puppies. At the top of the glacier, a cacaphony of dogs greeted us with much barking and tail-wagging. The mushers explained to us a little about the dogs and the sleds, and off we went on an erzatz Iditarod. The dogs, unlike the tourists, like to run at night in weather close to zero. Apparently the dogs understand their preference does not make for a good business model, so they cheerfully pulled us along at 3:00 in the afternoon, and about 60 degree weather. They stopped a few times along the way, and threw themselves down into the snow for a good roll. They licked our hands, and wagged their tails, and it was definitely an "E-ticket." At the end, you get to see a little pen of wiggly, cuddly puppies, which can be yours for a mere $400 "to a good home." We wonder what kind of person can provide a "good home" to a dog who by nature wants to run, at night, in sub-zero weather. Someone could probably provide that, but we can't, so we bid the puppies good-bye and are whooshed back to reality in the helicopter.
The next day, the gang of six presents itself at the dock where M/V Crackerjack makes its home. Cap'n Nik and deckhand Brian have everything ready for our departure, and suggest that the day is perfect for halibut fishing. We hem & haw briefly, before explaining that this is the day the girls are going, and that we were looking for a day of salmon & rockfish. Tomorrow will be macho fishing day. Nik & Brian take this announcement in stride, switch the poles, fetch new bait, and we're off for a day of puffin watching & fishing.
The weather is perfect. The sea is flat. Crackerjack is an excellent vessel, with enough power to get up & move. This boat also has a real head. Luxury for a fishing boat.
First, we catch salmon. Jessica flinches when she sees that the salmon have to be bonked on the head with a bat. We assure her that the fish we drop down in the hold are sleeping comfortably. At one point, the salmon are hitting like crazy, and there's three or four fish all flopping about in the cockpit. They are quickly subdued. After spending a glorious morning of salmon fishing, we decide it's time to head out for some Ling cod. Up come the lines, and we head toward the Gulf.
Some days the ocean is just too pretty for words, and this is one of them. Nik and Brian show us how to jig, and we start fishing for rock fish. The kids are amazed at how prehistoric the cod look. Sara catches a yellow-eye, and is somewhat chagrined to find out how old the fish was to get so large. "I feel like I just cut down a redwood" she muses. This fish was not happy to be caught, and flexed his considerable muscle before being subdued. A few spines from the fin catch Brian's leg. "It's a good thing I'm not alergic to these things," says Brian, as small dots of blood begin to appear through the leg of his double-thick (brand new) canvas pants.
We are having good success catching Ling cod. We throw back some good-sized fish, and the ones we keep are monsters. We're feeling very proud of ourselves when Forrest yells that he has a fish on, and that he thinks it's big. We all watch as he fights, and fights. Nik & Brian grab the belt which will brace the pole, and he fights on as they strap it around his narrow waist. Man against fish. As he finally triumphs, we see he has caught a halibut. Not just a little chicken either, but a real hog (106 pounds as we will find out later). Looks like Nik & Brian were right, it's a good day for halibut fishing.
We return to the dock, tired but happy. We watch as Nik and Brian filet the fish. The cod all look pregnant, and the analogy is apt as we see them disemboweled to reveal freshly eaten salmon. The salmon emerge from their bellies almost whole, but with a slightly cooked look to the meat. The tender-hearted Jessica blanches, but gawks along with the rest of us.
We check in with Captain Jack's fish processor. A young girl, with short blonde hair, a friendly smile, and a direct gaze walks among the fishermen, handling the fish, explaining the process, and putting everyone at ease with her confidence and expertise. There is something mesmerizing about this georgeous girl, the new-age Captain Jack. She understands service. She understands people. And she understands fish. Sara sighs to herself, "If I could bottle that talent I'd be rich." But she feels blessed enough just to observe the girl in her native habitat. If you ever fish in Seward, be sure to have your fish processed at Captain Jack's.
If you ever fish in Seward, you also would want to use Crackerjack Sport Fishing. The folks from Crackerjack are great guides, capable sportsmen, and pleasant company. They also know more than your average fellow about sealife, and in fact may be seen over at the SeaLife Center where they also work. If you were a fish, you'd wish there were more people like this, making the world a better place for fish and people too.
The next day, the manly men go out hunting halibut. The girlie-girls sleep in, eat breakfast, mosey around town, and (dare I confess?) watch a couple soap operas. We meet our men at the dock when they return, the hold loaded with fish. Tom and Russ have the catch of the day, a couple big hogs. But everyone has done well, and there's lots of gawking at the docks when the catch is hauled up to be cleaned and fileted. Much to our amusement, perfect strangers want to have their pictures taken by our fish. When we get home, someone even accuses Forrest of having his picture taken by the plastic tourist fish. Tsk, tsk.
The last day we decide we want to see a moose and a bear. We drive to Exit glacier, and see a big moose standing by the side of the road. We turn around and come back to get a better look. He looks stupid. Really, really dumb. About that time, traffic (a couple cars is "traffic" in Alaska) comes down the road, and we begin to wonder what moose do when they are scared. Do you supposed they kick the crud out of parked minivans? We think this is a distict possiblity, so we head back toward Exit glacier. We keep watching for bear, but see none. When we get to the glacier, we decide to take a little walk up even though it's beginging to drizzle. When we get near the glacier, it looks like a moonscape where the glacier has retreated. The glacier itself is the signature blue. We can see how the glacier scours the valley with dirt on its retreat. The park service has put up signs to show the position of the glacier in previous years. We pass our various birth years as we go. By the time we make the circuit and return to the trusty minivan, we're drenched. We decide at this point that getting a little wetter can't hurt, so we stop at Red's for burgers, and take them back to the room. Red's is built out of the hollowed out carcasses of two old buses, with a little awning over the window where you order your food. By some magic, the decrepit bus produces wonderful cheese burgers, and pretty respectable fries and onion rings too. We happily eat too much, and sigh with contentment as our cholesterol rises with every bite. We pack up, ready to head out early the next morning, back to Anchorage.
Before we go to the airport, we meet our friend from Once in a Blue Moose. The kids chastise us for agreeing to meet someone we've only known through the Internet. She could be an axe-murderer! She could be, but she isn't. We arrive at her office, and she confesses that her husband was concerned that she was going to meet strangers who she only knew from the Internet. We could be axe-murderers! We could be, but we aren't. Instead, we all have lunch at a local coffee shop, chit-chatting like the friends that we are. We invite her to visit us if she comes to the lower 48, and she says maybe she will.
Notice to children reading this site. Do not ever agree to meet someone you met on the Internet! Adult supervision required! Do not try this at home...or on vacation!
We retrieve our fish, get it checked onto the plane, and wonder how we are going to pack 376 pounds of filet into the freezer. What a nice problem to have! We also have some nice puffin paraphernalia, for what better place to get puffin stuff than Puffin Mecca? We can bring gifts to Pacific Puffin. We can reassure her that Alaska is everything she's dreamed of. One day, she'll take us there.