Friday, August 22, 2014

July 14-19: First of the season's end

July 14: While at dinner with my friend Phil, I had the joyful pleasure of catching sight of my nephew Rhett and Savannah, his fiancee. I knew they had been in town, driving taxi, but I hadn't seen them... until I looked up to see them waiting for their take out dinner and looking over at me. I was so thrilled to bump into them, even if it was late in the season. Rhett reminded me that his birthday was the next day, so of course, we made a plan for them to come down for birthday cake - chocolate chip orange cake, of course. After that slice of heaven, I received a text from the crew that the Friendly Ranger died out on the mud flats (that did not help the digestion of my chicken philly sandwich one little bit). They added that they towed it in to the beach and pushed it up above the tide line, awaiting the next move. Whew and groan. But no need to end the evening which included a tour of Silver Bay.

I am not usually a person who wonders how special effects are made or how bridges are built or how the internal combustion engine works. So I didn't start out curious about how Silver Bay does what it does. In all the years I've fished for AGS, I don't think I've ever asked for or been invited for a tour of their processing plant (though I am plenty familiar with the mug up room). So at first, I was just going along with the tour to be polite. But it was fascinating. I don't want to reward the kindness of the tour by disclosing the secrets to their success, but I'll just say that it was a marvel to see; it was exciting to learn that they are experimenting with new processing strategies; and I was happy to see our fishery moving forward.

I gave quite a bit of thought to the ranger, wondering whether we should get it fixed, again. Even I had to acknowledge that we had come to the end of the season's big tides, so we weren't going to need it to bring in a big push of ebb fish. We would bring the nets in with the skiffs; we could bring the buoys and lines in with the skiffs as well... but in the end, we decided to go ahead and get it repaired. Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

July 15: After checking the gas tank on the ranger and finding it low, David, hoping that his mechanical genius had finally paid off, sent Roger and Jeff on a quest to be sure that the problem wasn't just that the fuel was so low that rust chips were blocking the fuel line. It wasn't. So they loaded it up with and on the crane truck, took it in to AGS to wash it off, and took it up to Pen Auto. As a side note, I heard later about the tenacity of our mud from talking with Marc. David and crew thought they had washed it thoroughly, but Marc still had to wash it more thoroughly still. I think that as a side business, we should be looking for industrial applications for that mud. It does NOT come off or out.

David Duke, the Hawaiian guy, came to stay with us, accompany us on our end-of-the-season adventure, and check out end-of-the-season setnetting. He didn't know that he also came so we could celebrate his birthday, which, like Rhett's, was today. Though we didn't celebrate it till Saturday. He was also trying to put together a significant supply of homepack. He knew that Ralph, his captain, would come through with the homepack fish he promised, but he was looking at a big empty freezer back home, and a long winter. So he asked us for additional fish that he could buy or trade for work. And he does know how to work! We didn't really need the extra help, but he was such a pleasure to have around, it seemed like a good bargain.

On his first day with us, we pulled out some homepack, put a knife in his hand, and started to process our evening catch until pretty darned late.

The light in this photo confirms that it is late evening - just before sunset. As we drove into town, we saw this sweet and vulnerable little cabin perched bravely up on the cliff, no matter how dwarfed it is by the clouds over it.
And the same lighting once we got down to the conex. These are the boats that are still fishing, though for tonight, they are tied up at the dock. For the drift fleet, the process of resupplying or showering must be carefully timed. Very few can afford to be stranded at the dock and miss the next opener. But if they come in at high water, they are missing fishing time. There are so many reason I am glad to be a setnetter.
We processed fish very late into the night. David said the he had hoped that he would be processing fish on his birthday. Wish granted! This is a photo of the conex from the dock. I think AJ took this one. The processing crew is in the conex (David is closest to the door) while AJ is running the fish to the freezer as soon as he has a fair number to put in. This too must be approached thoughtfully. The more often the freezer door is opened, the harder the compressors must work - or the warmer the freezer becomes. On the other hand, we want the fish to start freezing as quickly as possible. So we try to maintain a good balance.

July 16: We recovered the ranger today. It had a broken fuse wire that I hope we can remember to check for if it dies like that again. I'm really glad Marc's shop has our back. The New Boat crew has been processing their homepack during the day, pulling fish from the early morning tide while our crew has been processing our homepack during the night, pulling fish from the afternoon tide. Although our crew lost a few fish to light-fingered people wandering through the freezer, the New Boat crew suffered heavy losses. After the fish are vacuum sealed, fast freezing requires that they are laid out in a single layer. If they are piled up, the fish in the middle will freeze slowly. So we must leave them lying about in all their glory, unprotected.

The fish processed by the New Boat crew are more vulnerable to theft than the fish processed by our crew because their fish are lying about the freezer in the afternoon and evening, when many people are coming and going in the freezer, whereas our fish are lying about between 2 or 3 am and 9 am when someone comes in to squirrel the fish away into wetlock boxes or wooden grates with locks.

By today, finally accepting that we were not going to crack 200,000 lbs this season, we started pulling out all the fish for homepack, including David's, and we processed late into the night. The green four-wheeler has two keys - the original which I try very hard not to let out of my possession, and Roy's copy, which he let out of his possession early in the season so we were using it all season long. Our policy is to leave keys in vehicles at all times. Mostly the vehicles are parked at the base of the cliff, or we are nearby. Often, we need to use a vehicle right now and if the key isn't in the vehicle, precious minutes can be lost going to find the key. So we just leave the key in. We use the green four-wheeler to ferry the fish from the processing conex to the freezer. The fish courier carries the fish into the freezer and lays them out to start the pre-freezing, then comes back to take the bike back to the conex. There was a party on the beach and we think that fact may have been related to the fact that someone thought it would be a worthy thing to remove the key from the ignition of the four wheeler. Aieee. We were down to the one and only original.

July 17: The beginning of Fishtival weekend! The New Boat crew took their morning fish in for homepack, in the New Boat. They had the New Boat pulled out of the water for cleaning and converting to a pleasure craft (warning the beach gang that it would be going right back in again), processed their fish and had the New Boat back in the water on the next flood. This may also be the tide that they took in the Ambi, just to get it out of the water and get the winterizing process started. The New David went in to town with the New Boat crew because he had some work to do for Ralph. The timing was good because Ralph had some salmon for him. Not sure what to do with them, New David brought the salmon back down the beach when he returned from stripping Ralph's nets. Hmmm... we'll need some ice to keep them.

During my town errands, I took the original key for the green four-wheeler in to Ace to try to get a copy made, and found that... they don't have the key blanks to do that. Huh??? Uh oh.

The Red Dog!! It was such a rare treat to be able to listen and dance to Wendy Lee and Todd tonight! Their show was early (6-9) and although I fish with a bunch of dance-shy young people, there was a significant group of old lady dancers that I fit right in with, agreeing that tomorrow's aches were worth tonight's ambitions.

We also had the pleasure of seeing Emma Hill at the Red Dog. She was scheduled to play the next night and we were very eager to hear her. She had performed at a house party (at my house in Seattle) the previous fall and we had just engaged her to do it again. It will be Oct 11 (I think), so if you want to come, let us know and we'll send you the info. I realized that since she isn't from Naknek, she might not know anyone and might not have the chance to discover what is beautiful and wonderful about our little town. So we invited her to get in touch the next day and we would try to do something with her. Alas, the next day had some plans of its own.

The New David, AJ, and I came back from the Red Dog early, missing the second act to go through the nets in the Bathtub.
Here is the New David learning how to pull the net, how to crosspick and how to keep it open to get the fish out.
And AJ watching over the super-newbie, ready to give help if it is needed.

Because we all wanted to go in to the Red Dog to hear our beloved Wendy Lee and Todd and we therefore wouldn't be processing tonight, we decided to sell our catch from the evening tide, though we didn't successfully communicate this to Brad and Brae and confused the matter even more by asking for ice for New David's fish. We did sell the flood fish (80 lbs) and then brought the Bathtub in at high water, anchoring it up as we usually do to be ready for the next tide, and finished the ebb on foot, picking the many late hitters into the sleds we pulled behind us. It can be a long haul from the outside sites to the beach when dragging 50 lbs or salmon. Since the truck was gone, we packed the catch into the slush ice, thinking we would process them with the fish Ralph provided for David, and whatever we would get from the final tide in the morning. Although I did wonder how we would manage to process that many, I wasn't awfully disappointed to have them, since like our New David, I too was looking at a long winter with my garage full of empty freezers.

After bringing in the fish, we turned to see the sun set over the Grayling that was anchored among the outside sites.
When I turned back toward my cabin, I saw the the sunset was wrapping around the horizon, diffused by the fog. Here is Debby's cabin silhouetted against the sunset that in a few hours will pop back up again in a sunrise.

July 18: Swamped again! I woke up early and when I saw the Bathtub edging up the beach, pushed by the tide, I realized that I had made a mistake when I decided where to anchor it. I had known the night before that we weren't planning to fish the flood, so I should have anchored the Bathtub out deeper, instead of letting it brave the tide through the Swamp Zone. There was a strong wind, but I thought it would be OK since the tide would turn soon and shouldn't come up much more; it would just be a little hard to get the Tub back into the water after the tide stranded it high on the beach. Will I ever learn to hear the warning when I say to myself, "It'll probably be OK"?

When I next looked over the cliff a couple of hours later, I saw that the tide had come up another three or four feet in that last 90 minutes of the flood (it isn't supposed to do that! My mom said!), swamping our valiant Bathtub. It produces a very sad and bad feeling to look into the skiff and see just the top of the power pack's air cleaner and hydraulic fluid reservoir poking up from the brakish water it is sitting in. Oh no!! And that was the powerpack that served faithfully in the Ambi in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. Powerpacks in the Bathtub don't last long because they ride on the deck, elevated just a few inches... and the Bathtub is prone to swamping. I raised the alarm and within just a few minutes, all hands were tackling the problem, recovering the items that had floated out of the boat, cleaning or replacing the fuel, checking for water where it shouldn't be in the outboard, and removing from the boat the gallons and gallons of water that had filled it.

We had planned to pull in the nets for the last time this tide, using the Bathtub. Scratch that plan. I thought we should take the New Boat that had returned, all clean and ready for the trip, but my David really objected because it would get all dirty again. So we decided to use the Grayling. Ulp. While Roger, Jeff, and Jake were ministering to the Bathtub and its outboard, we used the Grayling to go through the nets for the last time of the season, and pulled the nets into the boat. David really is a masterful skiff driver. And we got another 30 salmon or so. I'm glad to have the additional salmon; but worried about processing them.

When Jake - or maybe it was Roger - told us that after they made sure that the outboard's fuel line had only fuel in it, they pulled the cord and it started!, we thought we should send a letter off to Yamaha suggesting that they might want to keep making outboards like that one - which is almost 20 years old!

Emma Hill and her traveling companions, Mark, Eric, and Chad called us from the end of the Beach Access Road so we could come collect them. We had decided to bundle them into raingear and bring them along on our mission to bring in the buoys and anchor lines.
Here is Emma - how can anyone look that cute in a yellow raincoat? We decided to tow the Bathtub around with the Ranger, going from the inside to the outside of each site, turning the anchors up a half turn so they would stick up out of the mud, (enough to be able to find them next spring but not so much that the icebergs would have something to attach to and pull up (and take away)).
We thought Emma and company would enjoy that novel experience (and considering the distractions of the morning, that was about all we had to offer them, before they had to go get ready for their show).
I'm worried that I got her friends' names mixed up, but here is Eric...
and Mark and Chad. David towed us to each anchor where Roger pried it up with the turning bar to give it that half turn, and we loosened the shackles, coiled up the anchor lines, and deposited them into the boat with the buoys and the musicians.
This is Sarah and me, pushing our way through the wind to the next buoy while David pulls the Tub and our guests out to meet us. After collecting all the tackle, he would would then move to the next site while I stayed to tie corks to the heads of the anchors and wrap around some electrical wire so it would stand up like antennae. We really want to be able to find those anchors next season.

We were able to recover all the anchor lines except for the outside of my site (#1). We tied the ends of that anchor line together with a cork, and we will again hope for the best. It has been several years since we've seen that anchor. That is another way of losing an anchor - the mud buries it. Before we finished that project, though, Emma and company needed to return to town to prepare for their show. David brought them in and then came back out to finish the project with me.

We loaded the nets out of the Grayling into the crane truck, along with all of the fish and the fish processing paraphernalia.

Here is the crew loading up the fish to take in for homepack. I think if we ever make a statue about setnetting, it should be based on this photo. We ended up with about 200 fish which means a whole lot of work. New David wanted as many as his 150 lbs as possible to be fillets (wanting to take home maximum meat and minimum compost). We knew that before and after seeing Emma, we had some processing to do.

Some of the crew stripped nets, while others worked on winterizing the Ambi, and New David and I started processing.
Ralph gave New David two beautiful kings (including the biggest one in this photo) and we caught three.
We first filleted the kings - and New David wanted to photograph the process. My way of filleting is slower than what many people do, but I keep the maximum amount of meat. The first cut is to remove the head.
Then I cut down the belly and remove the guts. Next step is to turn the back toward me and slice off the left side fillet, cutting as close to the bone as possible. This photo shows the left fillet lying on the splitting table while I am cutting the spine away from the right fillet, again, cutting as close to the bone as possible. Then I skim off the belly bones and rinse the fillet.
This photo shows the finished fillet next to New David's hand (to give an idea of size). Also note up in the top left corner, a little bit of roe is in the photo. We worked our way through as many of the huge pile of fish as we could before peeling out of our raingear and heading over to the Red Dog to see Emma. (The crew also likes to play some pool - and I understand that Jeff is a shark - you've been warned!) When the show was over, we went back to processing. We finally got through them all, got them sealed and laid out to freeze. We went home and dropped.

July 19:Many Fishtival activities were planned for today, including the bazaar and a preview of a documentary about the Pebble Mine controversy, which the crew really wanted to see. In addition, we had a birthday dinner to prepare (for both Rhett and New David, who have the same birthday - this meant a cake for Rhett and panna cotta for David), a trip to prepare for, the Bathtub and Grayling to take in to be pulled up and winterized, and closing up to begin. This is the part of the season I don't like. I don't want it to end. I love it here. I love the crew. It's hard to let go of it all for the next 10 months. Other people get sick of their crews by the end of the season and most people are eager to leave, vowing never to return. Not me; I get more attached to my crew (because they are so great) and by the end of the season, I feel like I've gathered my whole self together and life makes sense. (Honestly though, these things that I love must step aside for a little while to make room for the next things that I love. Really, I can't complain.)

The crew came in to town early to continue with stripping nets and packing up the fish. David talked with Amanda a bit earlier about taking all our homepack up to her freezers for safe keeping. This was especially important after finding that Rohan's wetlock box of fillets had left the freezer without him, as had the king he prepared for one of his supervisors at work. I was shocked. We were all shocked when Roger said he caught someone in the act of walking out with some of our fillets. He is accomplished at confrontation and did so, taking the fillets out of the pilferer's hands. We scrounged through our boxes to come up with enough fish to make up for Rohan's losses. We get many benefits from storing our fish with Amanda - she will ship our fish with hers in the freezer van (for much less than it costs to send by air freight) and she will air freight out what we will need before the barge comes in.

Closing up camp requires pages of individual items that, if we forget to do them, or don't do them properly, could result in way too much Tang, clam chowder, and brownie mix next year, and not enough medium gloves, broken jars, spaghetti sauce covering everything, mold crawling out of jars, cans, and the tundra-ator, rusty cans of food, grains neatly stored in boots and shoes, under pillows, and in the underwear drawer (thanks to the cabins' winter residents) - along with mouse/lemming droppings and the persistent scent of rodent urine. We've experienced all of those, and some others - I would love to just leave the cabins open so people can come in and take shelter if they need it. But the time we did that, we ended up with dead seagulls on the table, a squirrel head wrapped up in the bedding that was stored inside the wringer washer, and an unfortunately placed - and left - latrine bucket. In summary, we need to protect the metal stuff from condensation, protect the dry stuff from condensation and rodents, protect bedding and clothes from rodents, protect glass items from breaking in the freeze, prevent battery corrosion, and protect the cabins from people who haven't yet learned indoors manners - at least as well as setnetters.

The wind continued strong all day and all night. We were all glad that we weren't fishing in it (though we probably would have picked up a few more fish - the wind seems to stir them up) and that our boats weren't at risk of swamping in it. I went out to try to capture the storm. The photos never convey the actual foul mood of the water,
I think this photo of Sarah trying to video the wind (before she gets blown over) gives a little better idea.

This gives a little preview of some of the weather with which we contended on our adventure up the Kvichak, the subject of the next post.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

July 21-22: Vacation: setnetters thrive on adversity

Another short post without photos yet. I just want to reassure friends and family that we got there (details to follow), stayed there (more details), and returned whole and unharmed, but not unchanged (lots more wet details).

As a preview, our tradition is to take off (rather brazenly) missing a crucial piece of information (that we don't even know we're missing), and then somehow cope with the outcome and so far, anyhow, come out whole. Rohan just reviewed the highlights of the return trip:

*Stopping in the village of Iguigig where the kind people allowed us to replenish our supply of gas ($107.10 for 15 gallons)

*Drifting lazily down river while Jake tried out his new fly rod (he caught a rainbow trout and accidentally snagged a big grayling)

*Heading the wrong direction up a certain creek... without paddles... for a while

*Recovering to the right river but the clock is running out on the outgoing tide

*Getting caught (semi-voluntarily) on a sandbar... for hours, thinking it would be 1 - 1.5 hours... and when the tide continued to drop for 4 hours after we expected it to turn, we began to wonder if a zombie apocalypse had occurred or someone took the moon.

*Once it started to come in, it made up for that lost time in the flood, flooding much faster than we see out here in the fishing district. When we could finally float, we drove through the confluence of rapidly incoming tide and outgoing river (yep, that equals whirlpools!) while trying to avoid whales (while it was light) and as darkness descended (and, because of the storm between us and our destination, darkness hammered down around us as we ran into the storm), trying to see and then avoid buoys and nets while keeping the water and the people and stuff on their respective right sides of the boat.

David did great at the helm, coping with all those conditions and trying to keep everyone as safe and dry as possible. He was successful on the first goal (safe) and I think the second goal (dry) may have been a bit too much to ask, given the conditions (despite the fact that unlike last year, everyone got into raingear early).

As I recount who did what, I find that overall, the New Boat crew was most active and I think this is probably because they have been working together all season and everyone knows his/her part in helping the New Boat get safely from Point * to Point # through Rough Points !*!?! with David at the helm. Sarah took over for David before we decided to dally on the sandbar and acted as his additional eyes and ears afterwards when the going got really rough. Jake once again served as excellent navigator and spotter. Rohan found multiple ways of pitching in, including helping with navigation, and facilitating communication between helmsman and navigator. Jeff and Roger were standing by to help in any way needed - Roger travels prepared with knife, flashlight, and knowledge. Jeff travels prepared with mightiness. AJ, confident in the crew, actually managed to get a nap during part of the trip home (an enviable ability!). David Duke led us in a game of Ninja on the sand bar and eagerly took over for me as a (more effective) spotter after I took a tumble in the bow of the boat when I tried to move just as a big roller hit. And Carbon, despite having what I think is a case of the End of Season Crud, also took his turn standing watch in the bow.

And that's just the highlights of the trip back. Details and photos on the trip up and back will follow.

Monday, July 21, 2014

July 18-20: Sleep wins again!

Argh! Another postponement. This time we've been busy with a storm that swamped the Bathtub, completely drowning the powerpack (restored with significant uncertainty by Roy) and leaving our beloved Yamaha 60 undeterred (where can we get another of those?!) Bringing in the nets, buoys, last of the fish, trying to keep the fillets we've made and sealed from walking out of the freezer without us. And now on Monday, we're off to explore the mysteries of the Kvichak River, destination Kokhanok and if that takes too long, Igiguig. It is a sorry thing to know about myself that somewhere deep in my psyche, I biologically believe that the world is flat. That's what my stomach thinks. Luckily, I have a downright adventurous crew that makes me prove my stomach wrong over and over. I'll report back - with photos! when we get back sometime on the 22nd.

Friday, July 18, 2014

July 14-17 placeholder

We have been fishing, rescuing a dead ranger, saying goodbye to friends and family for the season, welcoming a new honorary crew member from Hawaii, seeing my nephew!!, preparing homepack, beginning the closing up process, planning how we'll attend Fishtival, and preparing for this year's end-of-season trip adventure. I have many more details to report and photos to post, but I can't pass up this rare opportunity for a full night's sleep. I just wanted friends and family to know that this gap in posting is not ominous - we are all well and happy. We even got to spend a few hours at the Red Dog tonight watching a rare performance by Wendy Lee and Todd!! Dancing! I'll write more soon...

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

July 13: New way to homepack

We are always looking for fresh produce that will keep for months in our conditions. In early May, we shipped up 20 lb of sweet potatoes, 50 lbs of red potatoes, 50 lbs of sweet onions, 50 lbs of fuji apples, and a few butternut squashes, acorn squashes, and kabocha squashes (which hold for a long time, but intimidate me!). I wasn't involved in packing them for shipping, but David, Sarah, Rohan, and Jeff put layers of newspaper between them and packed each type of produce in its own box. Once they got to the cabin, we've just stored them in my porch which is usually cool... except when the weather is hot.

All the produce did really well. The crew also unpacked them and I understand there was some early loss, but not much. They discarded those before they got to the cabin. Just today, we ran out of apples. The last one was a little bit soft, so we just put it in pancakes. We still have a few sweet potatoes, and most remain unblemished and delicious in our herbed mashed sweet potato recipe (mmmm), the remaining squash are still firm (though the acorns have turned yellow and red). The red potatoes have not started to sprout (though by this time in past years, some of them had), and only a few of the onions were a little moldy. We also just ran out of those. Last year, it seemed that about half of the yellow onions arrived moldy. The produce man told Jeff that the sweet onions store better, and so far, that seems to be true for us in these conditions. Rohan mentioned that it seems to depend on the batch - sometimes yellow onions keep better, sometimes sweet onions do.

Next year, I think we'll bring the same things, less a few of the squash, plus about 20 lbs of onions and maybe 10 lbs of apples and see if next season's conditions continue to be friendly to produce on the porch.

Today's weather was mild enough that we could break into two crews of two (though with the strong current, it is really hard to hold the crosspick!). Rohan and AJ infiltrated the New Boat! Here is a photo of them delivering to the Jacqueline W. The New Boat is tied up on the starboard side of the Jacqueline and they are in the process of lifting the brailer off the skiff to deliver it to their hold. We love it when the Jacqueline can come our way to take deliveries - it's so much less stressful than delivering to the beach where we need to worry about the tide going out from under us, drifting into other people's nets, or hitting the bottom (or worse, a rock) with the prop.

As it turns out, though, we are quite capable of getting ourselves into trouble when the weather is calm and the water is plenty deep enough. After delivering and before going in, we all got into the Ambi to address the location of the Grayling, which had wandered a little too close to our neighbor's net. We decided to pull its anchor and tow it back out of everyone's way before re-setting the anchor. I should have been more alert to the loose anchor line floating in the water during the tow, making sure it was pulled into our boat so that it didn't wrap the prop. Thunk. Whoops. Drop the anchor so we don't drift into someone's net! Rohan lifted the outboard and there was the prop, well wrapped up in the anchor line. Sigh. Luckily there was another skiff nearby (the Grayling) so I could jump into it to get access to the Ambi's outboard without having to hang out of the stern of the Ambi, clinging by my toes to avoid falling in. But it was so well wrapped, I had to cut the anchor line to get it loose. That's twice this year we've had to cut that anchor line. So we have added a new anchor line for both the Grayling and the Ambi to our 2015 shopping list.

We saved out a pile of our most beautiful salmon for homepack. We put them in a brailer and realized that we had a much bigger brailer of "most beautiful salmon" than of "least beautiful salmon," and I was worried about whether we could process that many in one go. So we talked it over and decided that instead of filleting the salmon into sides, we could head and gut them, and fit them into the vacuum seal bags without their tails. So the processing part should be quite a bit faster and it would require only half the pre-freezing space in the big freezer and most importantly, only half of the sealing (which takes almost as long as processing). We decided that we could risk trying to process 60 that way. So Roger and Rohan counted out 60 from the homepack brailer into another brailer... and we discovered that we had originally pulled out exactly 60. I'm glad my crew is tolerant.

Even though these salmon were not for AGS, we asked Brad to help us load them into our truck to take them in to process ourselves and he very generously did. Brad is great! I think this new approach to processing our fish will work well for us. It did turn out to be faster, with the added benefit that if a seal breaks, the whole salmon won't be freezer burned. Maybe at the collar and possibly in the belly, but most of the fish will still be easy to salvage. The downside of this approach is that we pay for shipping the backbone which will then be discarded in Seattle. It might be a worthy trade.

Even though I have a great preference for being down at our cabins instead of in town, I have to give credit where it's due. As we emerged from the conex after finishing the processing, we stepped into this scene... and me without my camera. But as he so often does, Roger saved the day with his, so you too get to see the beauty that washed us at the end of the day. And AJ mentioned that he had seen a rainbow as he was running fish from the conex to the freezer, not realizing the part of his job description is to alert me to such phenomena because I love to see them. Our friend Phil is fond of pointing out that we are all "Bristol Bay millionaires." What more could we ever want?

July 12: Moosen at the lake

As boats start pulling out of the water and the yard at AGS starts filling up, I begin to feel the melancholy of the end of the season, even though it is weeks away for me. Harry, Makenzie, Ev, and Hannah will leave soon and having already eaten their celebratory dinner at the D&D came down the beach to join our farewell dinner in their honor and in the honor of the Goat Roper crew, Phil, Tom, and Trevor who will also leave soon. My crew is still fishing the day-into-evening tides, but Rohan and I needed the ebb to get ready for dinner. Jeff replaced us both. Hmmm. We made the salads and the cheesecakes. What more is needed for a farewell dinner?

I just paused here for a minute to read The Sentimental Fish, the lead article in the Summer 2014 Wild Alaska Salmon issue of Alaska Women Speak. It was written by our very own Makenzie. I found it to be so moving: beautifully written, poignant, and in so few words conveys such depth and breadth of feelings - describing my own feelings about this time of the season better than I do. Really, it's more than "describe." It's like she picks verbal snapshots that, when taken together, are like a plucked guitar chord - a chord that elicits a feeling. Because that's what her article does: it does describe, so that the reader might grasp what she is talking about, and the images that she weaves together also create an emotional chord. I'm so proud (and comforted) to share this melancholy with her. And how fitting that she and Ev are both moose, Palmer High School's mascot, because...
Jake, our outdoorsman, burst into the cabin with a moose sighting! I feel I must tell the truth and admit that he had to keep showing me where to look to see them. Standing in the lake right behind my cabin! Someone wanted to know where the antlers are - answer: they don't always have antlers. And Roger voiced his suspicions that they are just donkeys, with those big ears. He also settled the question about what the plural of moose is. In my lexicon, it's now "moosen."

I went back in to keep working on dinner - guests would arrive soon! And came back out in time to see the moosen ambling off into the tundra. They were right up on the horizon with a perfect silhouette when Jake pointed out that they were walking toward an eagle, with a mountain in the background. I thought I was doing pretty well to see the moosen. He wanted me to see the eagle too? So I handed him the camera, and here is the story that those pictures told:


You can see why I couldn't pick just one.

We all returned to the cabin. Roger was in rare form tonight. When I cleaned the salmon we planned to grill, I placed the waste in a grocery sack to be emptied below the tideline on the beach. I asked the out going crew to do that, but they forgot.

When the crew came back in, I asked them to start the charcoal grill, telling Jeff where to find the charcoal - in a white plastic bag in my porch. He brought it and the grill over and went looking for the chimney to start the charcoal. As he returned with the chimney, Roger stepped into the crew cabin, walking between the two grills that were just transported from my cabin, with the bag that used to hold the charcoal, asking if we had any plans for the stuff that he had just emptied onto the beach, thinking it was the forgotten waste from the salmon and noticing, too late, that it was something else entirely.

We excel at Plan B. Time to use the blocks of mesquite, also on my porch.

I also asked him to tear the lettuce, as the base for the summer salmon salad. He asked if you can just twist the stem off, while twisting the stem off... so that lettuce flew onto the lemon cheesecake. And that's how we sneak more vegetables into our meals here at Moose Camp.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

July 11: Homepack fury

Fishing remains strong and we continue to split the crews. David's crew is managing the night tides (without any help from us) and my crew is managing the day tides, with occasional help from David's crew. These photos are from July 11.
Here is Rohan using the ranger to tow in the Bathtub with the tide's last several hundred pounds of salmon. AJ is ready to address problems as they inevitably occur on the trip. We are so glad to have the ranger back!

After dragging or pushing (depending on whether we can use the ranger) the Bathtub across the mud to the sand, we have to remember to anchor it (an easy thing to forget when the boat is not moving). Anchoring requires a little thought. In this photo, AJ is pulling the anchor up higher on the beach. This is because the next time the Bathtub will be used is when the night crew takes it out on the flood. They will probably be out there as soon as it floats (so if we forgot to anchor it, it would still be OK because they would be there to tend it). But we work hard not to rely on luck. Maybe the night crew would decide not to go out till later or would just be delayed. In that case, we'd still want them to be able to get to the Tub easily. With an onshore wind, as the tide comes in, it just nudges the boat higher and higher up the beach. But with an offshore wind, though, as soon as it floats, it will head to deeper water. If the anchor is placed deeper, that makes the boat out of reach as soon as it floats. When the next use is later in the ebb, though, it is important to anchor it out as deeply as possible (but still shallow enough to jump out and walk to shore without getting wet) so that it will still be floating when the crew returns to it, maybe an hour or two later. There are also lateral considerations in where to anchor. The nets are about 300' apart. The anchor line is about 50' and the boat, another 20'. When the tide comes in, the nets all swing north and that swing can travel quite a distance - 50' at the anchor and even further at the belly of the net. When the tide goes out, everything swings south to the same extent. We try to anchor in the middle between them so that if there is no wind, boats and nets will just swing together and as long as the boat is anchored at least 100' from the net on either side, there is no problem. But if the wind is blowing, even if the anchor is not interfering with the net, the boat, at the end of its 50' anchor line, may be. By the time we leave here, I'd say we're ready for our graduate degrees in anchoring.

The previous photo also shows Rohan pulling the ranger higher up the beach to wash it off, and Roger, in the distance, riding on the Gehl with Brad, picking up some homepack fish we pulled out to fillet later in the day.
As they got closer, I could get a better shot. With Roger's interest in equipment, I thought that he might especially enjoy this particular chore. Brad said that as Roger was riding, he said, "This is like being a garbage man!"

Despite the continuing strong catches, I must accept that at some point, the fish will all have arrived. Before that time, we must finish our homepack. I mean to take home most of the kings (I've made a commitment this year to do a better job of sharing), and about 200 sockeye. Most of the crew is taking between 25 lbs and 50 lbs of fillet. In the past couple of days, we've filleted 60 or 70 salmon for homepack. Instead of asking the crew to help me fillet 200 sockeye, maybe we'll head and gut them, cut off their tails, and seal them whole. That way there is less risk of freezer burn and it will probably cut the processing time in half.

Here we are, starting the filleting process with way more salmon in the not-yet-filleted pile than in the ready-to-pre-freeze pile. AJ has been piling them up and Rohan is wasting no time in starting to fillet. We are working in a conex provided by AGS. It's a great facility, with running water and everything! The waste goes into a garbage can and later goes into the grinder.

Jeff wasn't able to come with us this time because he wouldn't get back in time to go out with the night crew, but Roger, Rohan, AJ, and I were a processing force. This photo shows our progress, with Roger honing his new knife skills.

After filleting the last of the salmon and cleaning out the conex, I turned around and saw this. The full moon rising over the Naknek River. If I can just keep looking, even though I'm tired and my back is sore, I can turn around and see something like this.

Several years ago, when David, Harry, and I came up in November to see if we could prevent the crew cabin from falling over the cliff (we could do nothing but it didn't fall anyway), David and I went out and got insulated Carhartt overalls. They are amazing and kept me warm that November when the -20 degrees weather was freezing my nose hairs, and in the 9 degrees freezer when I went to join the sealing/freezing crew.

When the salmon are all piled together, it freezes slowly. So we spread them out to help them freeze faster; much better for quality. But it takes a few hours to freeze and we worry about our beautiful vacuum sealed fillets finding their way into the boxes of others who are in and out of the freezer. So when we decide to leave them unattended, as we did on this day, we try to be the last ones to use the freezer (that is, we leave around midnight) and the first ones back (in by 9 or 9:30 the next morning).


We worry less about the kings walking off - partly because they are harder to fit into luggage and because... what would someone do with it when they get it home? Me, I plan to give a few to my son's school for their graduation dinner, and I think we're planning on having a salmon bake this year, and I'll make lox. Yum!