Whether sifting through sand, or scrambling over a rocky shore, it's about finding treasures in every day. 

Smurf Cod!

We went out for a nice day in the runabout last summer. It was one of those misty, occasional rain showers, Southeast Alaska days, and the fishing was unusually slow. Slo-ow. Which gave us time to look around at the mellow day.

We were glad to see that the eagle was on station to watch over things.

A humpback whale worked the edge of a kelp bed, but didn’t seem to put much heart into the activity.  The cormorants just hung out on a kelpy rock.

A pod of killer whales cruised over to check things out, but they kept on going. That’s a good sign that there just isn’t much going on.

They did stop out at the edge of the kelp patch and toss around some ideas about where to go next.

It was a kelpy kind of day.

Suddenly my fishing pole dipped hard and I thought that I had caught bottom (again). Then it reeled hard and I thought that I had caught kelp. It finally bounced and I had a fish on! We brought in a lingcod, which is delightful because they are yummy. I stunned it, cut it’s gills, and then started to put it onto a stringer to let it bleed out. The blue-green mouth caught my attention.

 Hmm, interesting. Pretty…but weird.

Nice teeth, huh? Very effective, too. Lingcod also have very sharp gill rakers, so mind your fingers if you pick one up by the gills.

When I cleaned the fish its cavity also had that strange color. I started thinking about, well, you know, Martians and all. Now stop laughing at me! Nobody knows for sure that Martians have to show up as little green men. After all there’s all that talk about Mars having water way back when. If I was a smart fish and my planet was drying up then I would surely put intensive effort into the space program.

Back on shore (here on Earth) that evening I set a cutting board on some rocks and filleted the lingcod. I started to actually get a little bit concerned. Blue-green flesh? Ling cod meat is usually white.

A trip to the internet eased my mind and slowed my imagination. Lingcod meat can be white, green, blue-green, and even turquoise blue! The blue ones are lovingly called Smurf cod. The reason for this remarkable color is not entirely clear, but it has to do with a bile pigment called biliverdin being responsible for turning the blood serum such a lovely color. Beyond that there appears to be a lot of speculation about diet and habitat. The good news is that Smurf cod are delicious and healthy to eat, just like the standard white-fleshed lingcod.

Another name for Smurf cod around here is 'green ling' (pronounced with a pause between the two words), which is interesting because lingcod are not actually a cod. They are in the greenling family. Greenlings, such as the kelp greenling and rock greenling, are also known to occasionally have blue-green meat. 

Ling cod is one of those fish that you can cook a hundred different ways and all of them are delicious. Here’s some more good news: the green goes away when the meat is cooked. On the plate Smurf cod is tender, bright white, and scrumptious. Maybe it is even tastier than regular lingcod - just because it is special.

Wishing you interesting colors in your day,

Alaska Beachcomber

A Trip to the North End of P.O.W.

Along the northern part of Prince of Wales Island is a road system that gives access to fairly remote places. The roads are a legacy of the logging activity in the last century. While the U.S. Forest Service is shutting a lot of the roads down, there are still many miles to explore. The 'main line' is Forest Road 20, running 124 miles from Hollis to Labouchere Bay. Miles and miles of side roads branch off of the 20 road.

I headed up there, stopping at the community of Whale Pass on the way. At the harbor in Whale Pass one of the signs of spring was in strong evidence. Currents have concentrated pollen from the trees that has landed on the water. There are times when a breeze lifts tree pollen off of a forested hillside in a greenish-yellow cloud.

Pollen on the water by the Whale Pass dock.

I made a stop at Cavern Lake to walk down the short trail and look at the lake's outfall creek coming out of a cave. A lot of the northwest portion of this huge island is limestone, creating wonderful features such as caves and fossil beds.

Then I stopped at the lake to fish up a bit of dinner. In just a few minutes a fifteen inch cutthroat trout hit the small Pixee spoon, and the fish was just the right size for dinner and breakfast.

Sport caught cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki) must be between 11 and 22 inches long. This one was 15 inches, and made dinner and breakfast for one.

Along with signs of spring like deciduous trees leafing out, flowers popping open, and the dusting of pollen coating the hood of the truck, the bucks are sprouting antlers. By fall those stubby nubs will be curving, finely pointed crowns of bone to use in challenging other bucks during the rut.

It is shedding season now, also, and tufts of deer hair litter the ground. Some birds use the deer hair in nest building. Speaking of birds, the bird watching was great fun.

At Memorial Beach I moved slowly, and the sandpipers allowed me to be close to them. They were so cool that I will do a separate post about them.

Sandpipers in flight

Sitka Blacktail buck (Odocoileus hemionus sitkensis) starting to grow antlers for the season.

Memorial Beach has sandy/gravelly stretches interrupted by limestone outcrops with intriguing tidepools. Beachcombing here is more than pretty pebbles and shells. Curious mink worked the rocky areas at low tide.

Interesting beach pebble

Mink (Neovison vison) look for food in the seaweed at low tide on Memorial Beach, Prince of Wales Island, Alaska.

While I was enjoying the sunset at Memorial Beach, a cruise ship was just to the north in Sumner Strait. The passengers must have been enjoying the beautiful evening, too.

Since I was full up on fish I didn't try out any of the many streams that the road bridges, but did stop to enjoy their beauty. Red Creek, Big Creek, Alder Creek, Buster Creek, and more look very inviting.

Red Creek still has the bridge support from the old road.

Calder Mountain, a great, gray, bald peak, is a major limestone landmark. It is not far to Labouchere Bay from where Calder Mountain is visible. Lab Bay is at the end of the 20 road, and used to be a large timber sortyard. The sortyard is empty now, and mostly grown over. There is a place to drive down and see a nice sunset across Lab Bay if you get there in the evening.

A little road to the north of the old sortyard goes to a spot where people from Port Protection and Point Baker skiff across to the road system. It is a long, long drive from there to the grocery and hardware stores in Thorne Bay, Klawock, or Craig.

Calder Mountain on Prince of Wales Island, Alaska

The geology of this island is fascinating, and bits of it are evident in the rock pits and road cuts. On the north end I found calcite crystals, interesting conglomerates, and fossils.

Calcite crystals in the face of a rock pit.

There are various colors of metaconglomerate stone on POW.

Brachiopod fossils look similar to cockle shells, but were a different creature.

I was told about the location of some brachiopod fossils. I didn't find any of the beautiful whole 3.5" specimens that others did, but was happy to find a few partially exposed brachiopods. Thanks for the tip, Cliff!

Holding a 400 million-year-old brachiopod makes me aware that I can't even fathom that amount of time...even if the younger generation thinks that I was there when those fossils formed.

Three times as I drove along I caught glimpses of bears. As soon as each one saw the truck it turned and kicked up gravel while running into the woods. The bears here get hunted and they know it.

You know the sarcastic old question -  Does a bear poop in the woods? Send the next smarty pants that pops off with that one to this site for the answer: NO. The bear goes on the logging road, and by mid summer the road is dotted.

There has been a lot of timber taken off of Prince of Wales Island, so it may sound like the place has been mowed. It is the third largest island in the United States, though, after the Big Island of Hawaii and Kodiak Island, so there is lots and lots of old growth standing.  Being in the midst of giant trees inspires feelings of awe and reverence...and smallness. There is also a calmness to deep timber, that seeps into my being. I wish I could take every one of you into the woods to breathe good air and get to know the place.

Huge spruce and hemlock trees reach for the sun.

The north end of Prince of Wales Island calls to me. On the way back to Thorne Bay I was already feeling the pangs of being away. While there I gathered field mint for tea, violet leaves and flowers as snacks, other greens to eat, and photos of wildlife, plants, and scenery. It was more than that, though; the chatter of everyday life faded and I gathered peace of mind. It was a good outing.

Wishing you the peace and beauty of natural places,

Alaska Beachcomber

More around Prince of Wales Island:

Other posts with critters: An Alaskan Porcupine, The Doe Report, Long Tailed Ducks

Encounters of the Day

Moored in a small cove, leaning over the rail of the boat, the small sea life can occupy me for a long time. Yes, I know: easily entertained.

These are pipefish. They are in the same family as seahorses. They are about eight inches long, but way to skinny to make a meal.



Then a jellyfish came near the surface to get its picture taken.


This could go on for hours…but it was time for a skiff ride. O-oh, an immature bald eagle. They are brown and speckled for the first three or four years, then get their mature plumage with the white head and tail.

Immature bald eagle in a spruce tree.

See those talons? No wonder they can swoop down and hook fish out of the water.

Over there are some seals hauled out on a rock, and two cormorants drying their wings. Is that seal waving? Hi there!

Seals and cormorants

 This heron is headed to the water's edge to fish in the evening light.

Silhouette of great blue heron (Ardea herodias fannini)

Another wonderful day in Southeast Alaska.

G'night all,

Alaska Beachcomber