Sunday, July 24, 2016
I got up at 5:30 for a 6 AM ebb pick. The wind was howling. The anemometer said 25 MPH ... and we had decided that the 14-16 MPH winds we were expecting were enough of a reason to forego the flood pick in the dark. 25 with higher gusts is quite a challenge. I did what I always do: step into my hard-soled slippers, throw a coat over my fleece jammies, and go look over the cliff. There's the New Kid (check), the Ambi (check). Uh oh - where's the Cockroach - oh, the anchor dragged and it's full of water, but it's there. Sigh. Where is the Bathtub?!? Jeff and I walked along the tideline for a while to recover the stuff from the Bathtub and Cockroach, joined shortly by Patrick. We figured that since so much of the stuff we saw was Bathtub stuff, it must be around here somewhere – probably just underwater. The poor Yamaha! We knew we'd see it as the tide went out further. Jeff and Patrick decided to go back for the Carry because we were finding lots of things - like the 25 fathom net we had replaced on #3, the sleds, brailers, bailers, slush bags, bin boards, assorted lines, totes, and more. We also saw that we weren't the only ones whose skiff had swamped - all we could see was the picking light on the post of the skiff of one of our neighbors. Aieee. Jeff and Patrick returned in the Carry to continue the search with me and told me that they found the Bathtub, in front of the stairs, under water, upside down. The poor Yamaha!
We had two good tides today and it's time for homepack. We decided to pull out 20 off the morning tide - just to get an idea of how long it would take us... and allow us to get some sleep before the next tide. So the Ambi crew pulled out 20... plus a few others we just couldn't resist. And the New Kid crew did the same. So we ended up with something like 50 fish to process. Yikes! When we arrived at AGS to use the processing facilities they set up for their fishermen (thank you!), we found that the Williams family were also working on their homepack. Lucky for us, they are fast! We didn't want to waste time, so we put the fish in slush ice and Inku and I pulled out the big cutting board that sometimes lives in the back of the truck, and went to work right on the tailgate. Matt and Sarah set up our (very heavy!) commercial vacuum sealer in the fiberglass shop, one of the few places that it won't blow the breaker, and we developed a system.
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
I asked at dinner how long people slept and the answers ranged from 10 hours to 15. We were a tired crew. I went to sleep at 6 PM, setting my alarm for 1 AM when I went out to check on the boats. (All were doing fine.) Then I went back to bed and slept until 7 AM. I understand that Matt went to bed as soon as he came in from the half tide we fished and just slept straight through until we went out today to reset the nets. We pulled out one good anchor we had and Roy was able to perform emergency surgery and fix one we brought in today, giving us two straight-enough anchors to outfit the New Kid and the Ambi. The New Kid crew also added a lot of chain to their pretty-short anchor line. It is no longer short, but about half of it might be chain. I don't think that anchor will drag any more. It may not even get buried very deep in the mud, even on stormy days. The New Kid crew beached the skiff as the tide was going out and Jeff walked the anchor out. I knew we would be getting more wind on the early morning tide, so I wanted to reset the anchor as deep as possible to be sure the skiff wouldn't be anywhere near the swamp zone. Usually, we just pick up the anchor and walk through the mud, dragging the line and chain behind. There was no dragging that outfit. Oh my! I will await a report on how it is to work with... and if the anchor doesn't get buried any more, maybe I'll add some chain to the Ambi's anchor line. The plan was to pile three of the nets into the Bathtub and use the ranger to drag it out to set the three outside sites at low water (about 10 AM) - or just as the tide was coming in. It would be moving slowly, coming from a big hold up low tide of 6' to a modest high of 17'. I like having the ranger safely off the mud flats when the tide is coming in. Alas, our plans didn't work as planned. The first deviation was that I decided that I would run into town to grab a new net to replace some of the extra torn up net on #3 and drop off the Bathtub's bent anchor to Roy, hoping he would have the time to straighten in while I was there so I could take it back and have four functional anchors for four skiffs. I was glad to see that Trina was up and I asked if she wanted to go with me. Efficiency-minded as she is, she suggested that we combine trips because she was already planning to go in to get us gas, water, and mail. Sure, I thought, we can do that. I knew better than that - nothing in town takes only a few minutes and we only had a couple of hours. So we loaded everything up and I recruited Patrick to join us because I wasn't sure we could get the nets into the truck without some extra help. By the time we finished all the side errands it was already past our targeted time to set the nets. Even so, we didn't have enough room in the back of the truck for all the water, gas, and nets, so Trina and Bruce and Davey went back in anyway to get it. As we pulled up to the cabins, we looked out and saw Jeff heading out with the ranger and a net in the back of it. The nets had been left in the Ambi (the nets for #1 and half of the inside) and the New Kid (the nets for #3, #4, and the other half of the inside). The Ambi and the New Kid were anchored on the moon crater mud where we haven't created ranger trails. Jeff intended to set #1 with the ranger, but he was driving in uncharted territory and the ranger was stuck. Really good and deeply stuck. Even with Matt and Inku pushing it, it was not climbing out. If I had been on that ranger, I'd have been very happy to see the truck pull up about then. Patrick went up for line because the line we usually use to tow the boats was in the back of the ranger under a net. We were able to pull it out, but overall, we found that the ranger just wasn't very successful pulling that Bathtub around through foreign mud. Jeff was able to tow the Bathtub to the New Kid so we could pile those nets into it, but it wouldn't tow. So we decided to get the ranger to safety and just wait for the tide to reach us. The mud flats are flat, and from my years of fishing on foot, I remembered that the water isn't much deeper out at the outside sites than it is at the midpoints of the inside sites. Well, either that has changed or I didn't remember right. It was too deep to do a push set where we attach one end of the net to the buoy and push the boat along, letting the net pop out over the gunnel until we get to the other buoy, and then move on to the next net. I think that would have worked if we could have gotten out there at low water as we meant to, but now it was too deep. So it was either set it out of the skiff, or don't fish this tide either. That would have been too tough a pill to swallow, so we went for it. The thing that made this an option was that Jeff had fixed the Yamaha outboard after its dousing on swamp night. He had just given it the final couple of pulls to be sure it worked. So we counted on that and we were not disappointed. I am usually a disaster at deep water sets. Several things make those difficult. The buoys are attached to 50' anchor lines and they swing in the direction of the tide and the wind. When I try to motor around those anchor lines, they tend to wrap the prop, effectively anchoring the skiff, stern first. Further, the inside buoy does the same thing, so it will be 50' away from where we need it to be once we get the net in place, and we'll have to go get it in the skiff. So to avoid fouling the prop, we decided to run the skiff backwards and let the net run out the bow of the boat, and to give ourselves the elbow room we'd need to catch the inside buoy without letting go of the net, we attached extra line to the bottom end of the net so that even if the net left the boat, we'd have a line to it. Patrick, Matt, Austen, and Inku were part of this operation and each one was crucial and did his job perfectly. They were great! And it was very helpful that there wasn't any wind to speak of and that the current was mellow. The first net we set was easiest. When there is less water, the current isn't as strong. As the water deepens, it becomes harder to overcome the current with the outboard. An outboard that no longer locks down, so in reverse, it kicks up. But they all went out like we had done it before. Yay us!! We came in for pancakes made by Sarah - chocolate chips in some, pineapple and blueberries in others. Mmmm. And then we went out to fish. Here we see Oksanna holding the king, with Jeff and Matt on the right behind her. The New Kid got about 100 lbs in the next-to-last ebb pick through and took the skiff as far as they could into the beach to reduce the poundage we'd have to push across the mud. We waited in the Ambi to give them a ride out to the Bathtub. I couldn't choose which photo I liked best of them coming back out, especially after Patrick said that this would be the cover of their new album. So here they all are: Oksanna, Matt, Jeff, and Inku.
Monday, July 18, 2016
I wish I had a photo for you, but when the going gets really tough, a camera is far from what I'm thinking about. While standing with our neighbor and his swamped skiff, we looked out and it looked like the Bathtub anchor had dragged, putting it in the swamp zone. But I really didn't want to take the rowboat out to move it even though Patrick - the source of all energy - was willing to do it. Shoulda listened to Patrick's work ethic conscience. I came out to check on all the skiffs - but especially the Bathtub - several times as we were waiting for the sky to lighten a little - maybe 4 or 4:30. We knew it would be a slow ebb, so I wasn't too worried about being stuck with fish in the mud. Whenever I came out to check the skiffs, I shined my heavy duty flashlights at the 'Tub and the Cockroach... and they both seemed to be riding out the storm OK. I decided to lie down for 39 minutes to get a little sleep. I was twitching all over. I decided to get up and go look one more time. This time, it didn't look right. I saw a headlamp in the Bathtub, and not as much Bathtub as I expected to see. I ran back to the crew cabin to sound the alarm - they got suited up really fast. We all rushed down to the Bathtub to try to rescue it. Mark (the neighbor) saw it happening. It took a big wave over the bow (something I just hate to see in any skiff I'm in) so he jumped in and started bailing (didn't I already say he is the world's best neighbor?), but it was already too late. So he rescued all the stuff that washed out of the skiff - binboards, brailers, gas tank and so much other stuff. Sadly, we did see the water splashing over the Yamaha, but it wasn't submerged. So it might be OK after all. Bray and Jack had been there to take delivery of flood fish. When they saw us in trouble, they came over to help and pulled the full 'Tub out of the water. That makes bailing much more effective. After un-swamping it, we got a ride with Mark to the Ambi. Then we came in and picked up the rest of the crew. Yep, it was windy and the breakers were big and scary. It was so shocking to go through the nets and see the fish hitting behind us. We haven't seen that all season. Even so, by the end of the tide - and it was a really long one in which about 90% of the fish were caught on the ebb - we had about 8000 lbs of salmon to haul off the mud flats. That was my nightmare at the beginning of the season. And yes, it was a reasonable nightmare. The tide turned as we were bringing in the fish. I do not like running the ranger, low on gas of course, out toward an incoming tide through mud that I am not confident the ranger can navigate. Eek! We pulled in one load of fish with the ranger and the Bathtub. We pulled in one load with the Cockroach and the pulley system using the ranger to pull it. And another using the Bathtub and the pulley/ranger combination. The final Bathtub load was just floated in on the incoming tide. Don't like that one little bit. Trina saved us by making sandwiches. Everyone needed a little more fuel. The crew (including me) talked it over and decided to skip the big fat winds of this afternoon's tide by pulling the nets at high water and sleeping out the night tide. That's hard because the fish that don't get caught tonight will be gone, period. But everyone was running on fume. They were still running, though. Some had gone just a little bit brain dead, but no one quit or complained. Everyone stuck with it. They were great. The pick up went as smoothly as could be expected when we're trying to fish in little skiff in 25 MPH winds. I think my weather program calls that a "Fresh breeze." Ha! It feels like a hurricane and just try to pull against it. Waiting for the tide to turn so we could begin picking up a net, one of the crew members shouted a warning and I turned to see a huge wall of water curling into and engulfing our very-difficult-to-swamp skiff. There was nothing we could do to stop it or evade it. It had us fair and square. So we all took a dunking. But it didn't fill the skiff and there were no follow up monster waves. One was plenty enough for me. We delivered twice to the beach, also a great challenge in this weather. We threw the anchor to help us stabilize the boat during delivery - and to pull out on so no one has to be outside the boat up to their waists so that our outboard has enough clearance even when the wave stands us on the stern. All our boat anchors suffered from the storm yarfing on them. Slightly bent means it can't move in both directions; therefore it can't be trusted to land and grab. But Patrick threw it twice and twice it grabbed. We delivered four bags of fish to the beach in 25 MPH winds without swamping! Yay us! Then we wrapped up the roundhaul, delivered that and came - staggered, really - in. I think that having decided that we will have the tide off, my body is showing me just how tired it is. So falling asleep at the keyboard, I'm about to go to bed at 6:30 and will sleep through the night!!. Yahoo! Boats are safely anchored (I hope - these are strong winds), the nets are in the boats, the crew will get the truck and other equipment up and out of the way of the tide. And we'll set our nets tomorrow at 10 AM.
The fishing continues to be remarkable mainly in its steadiness. We still haven't had a big tide, just chipping away a few thousand pounds at a time. Well, that's better than a few hundred pounds at a time. Sarah took Trina and Bruce into town today to show them where we freeze our kings. I hope that they will be able to take them in for us in the future. We really like to save our kings, but it definitely cuts into our sleeping time to run any in after each tide. If Trina and Bruce are comfortable taking that role, that will ease it for us quite a bit. We continue to break into three skiffs to be sure we have the chance to get through all the nets on the flood, beating the turn of the tide. We missed it one day, but since then, we've been doing well - sometimes getting through them twice before it turns. We made it over 100,000 lbs a few tides ago - and in a few tides, I hope we make it to 150,000. The forecasted winds arrived on the afternoon tide. I was hoping the forecast was just an exaggeration - more fear-mongering. Nope. We have now gone into July 18th. We are just in from the flood pick - at least as much of it as we could manage. The crew did great and it was really hard. The winds are at about 16 MPH tonight. We went out on the flood - swift current, strong wind, pitch black - sounds like setnetting! Jeff is doing a great job as our pilot. He has nerves of steel in the face of big waves and big surf. He dropped us off at the Ambi (and then ran back to shore through the surf to retrieve a forgotten life jacket) before transferring to the New Kid. I don't know how they noticed that the Bathtub was starting to get away from them, but the anchor was dragging and the wind and current were conspiring to push it onto the shore. They rescued it in time. We decided to call it a night and wait until the tide turns and the sun begins to come up. It'll still be windy, but at least we'll be able to see. We all transferred back to the Bathtub - harder than that sounds in winds like these. Jeff and Patrick dropped us off and backed back out before being thrown up on the beach. Matt, Inku, Austin, and Davey ran for the rowboat and pulled it out for them. A rogue wave swamped the rowboat and knocked over the people. They pulled it back to shore, emptied it out, and pushed it back out again. This time they made it. While Jeff was keeping them from being pushed in, Patrick called for the line and tied it off. I asked them to anchor so that the boat would drift over one of the running lines, so we could pull out to it. As I stood in the breakers waiting for them to make it back in, I just wasn't sure how they would get through those breakers without swamping. They were as tall as I am and the rowboat isn't that big. As soon as we could reach them, Inku rushed out to grab the bow of the rowboat and pull it in. This happened to be during the two or three breaker lull. Everyone was OK. Matt observed that this is really fun... once we know that everyone is OK. As we pulled the rowboat the rest of the way in, we noticed another skiff right next to us, swamping. Oh no! It belongs to our neighbors! Patrick went over to let them know - they had the sense to stay in on the flood. There wasn't much to do except for collect things that had been washed out of it and anchor it so it won't be washed out as the tide goes down. We noticed that the Bathtub was working its way in as well. It seems that that anchor was dragging. We've been watching it. It may have dragged into the swamp zone, but stopped on a running line. It seemed to be riding the waves OK, not taking water over the bow. As soon as I finish this, I'll go out and check on it. It's 3:45 AM now. The tide should have turned by now, but it's overcast so it remains black outside. I'll let you know in the next post whether it swamped.
David D left today on the evening jet. He had a training to attend for his other life as a movement teacher, and the opportunity to meet many of his sweetheart's relatives. Even though I know the leaving part of the season is inevitable, I never like that part! I feel like I should get better at it, and yet, I'm still me. And as he was going out, Trina (my dear sister) and Bruce (her capable husband who is about to be drafted into helping us with our many projects) arrived. I am so very happy to have them here. And not only because of the goodies they brought with them - granola, spinach, eggs, brownie mix, and their little dog, Jojo. I have a small shred of civilization left in me and that shred is embarrassed to be such a poor host. We're pretty much sleeping, eating, and fishing - and doing those things at many odd hours of the day and night. Trina and Bruce have a more normal schedule. Our schedules intersect sometimes. I know that they know how it is and they are perfectly capable of amusing themselves. But still -- they came all the way up here and we're not really changing our program much. These next few days are the days that, about a week ago, had the biggest showing at Port Moller. The genetic samples from those days suggest a healthy percentage of salmon heading to our rivers here. So we may be in for a couple of good tides. However, we are also bracing ourselves because the weather forecast is predicting strong - and very strong - winds. Though in weather-speak, they say things like "moderate breeze" and "fresh breeze" when they are referring to winds that has us all lying on the corks to keep them from bouncing over the fairleads and to keep the fish in the boat that we're trying to pick.
Sunday, July 17, 2016
Today was a busy fishing day for us. It was so exciting that on the afternoon tide, the fish kept up even on the ebb! It felt good. We still had time to lounge around (meaning, we could have handled more fish if they were there to handle), but it was a really good feeling to have some fish on the ebb, other than those difficult ones we get at the last minute. We handled them well. But because we were busy, David D didn't get his apple pie and homemade ice cream for dessert. Instead he got D&D pizza and brownies. Not a bad consolation dinner. Today's other notable event was the arrival of Sarah Y, a refugee from a drift boat with Egegik setnetting experience. She will be standing in for David while his solar work occupies his attention for a critical few days. It will be so good for Naknek when that installation is in service! The final ADFG announcement of the season is that the fishing period that started July 8th has been extended until August 1 when the fall fishing schedule will resume, from 9 AM Monday to 9 AM Friday. We've had a lot of fishing time this season. In the final news of the day, I thought it was hilarious when Davey asked if he could be promoted to "Duke" from "Davey" when it's time for David D to depart for his other responsibilities. We are clawing our way closer to the painful part of the season (the saying goodbye part) - and this from a person whose hands don't close easily.