Sunday, July 24, 2016

July 21 2016: Is someone trying to tell us something?

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 comforted ourselves by assuring each other that we may have lost the Yamaha, but our two main fishing skiffs were out there and seemed to be doing well. The immediate problem we were facing was that we couldn't get to them without our shore-runner. If we had a lot of fish, we were going to be in trouble. It is a crisis if we end up with fish in the mud. The buyer doesn't really want to take them. And we really don't have the water to wash them. And even if we did, we're tired! Wash them?? But no matter what, in that 25 MPH wind, I wasn't about to let anyone from my crew try to row out to the Ambi anchored about 600' away from shore. We would just have to wait till we could walk to it. And not one minute longer.

I had alerted Bray by text of our situation, asking him if he'd use the Gehl to right the Bathtub. They came over immediately when they got to the beach and were masterful in how they turned it.
This photo shows them with the Gehl holding up the Tub while Jack and Bray tied a strap to it and the Gehl so that once they got it to the tipping point, it wouldn't just slam down the rest of the way. Instead, they would be able to gently lower it.
When they did, we saw that the Yamaha was in every bit as bad shape as we feared. And the stern post had been torn off.

As this process was unfolding, I kept watching for the first moment I thought we could make it out to the Ambi on foot. Austin and I started out to it. If the water had been calm, we would have barely made it without getting wet. As it was, the water was anything but calm and Austin and I both took a lot of water into our waders. I was watching both the Ambi (which was anchored just a little bit closer than the New Kid) and the New Kid as we made our way out. I wasn't sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. It looked like the New Kid was turning over. Yep, judging by all the stuff that came floating past us as we continued to the Ambi, the New Kid, with its two year old Honda 90, capsized. That's three. Groan.

I don't know about Austin, but I was giving those little gasps that you give when you think you're about to go under some deep cold water. Once he reached it, Austin hauled himself into the skiff - don't ask me how they can do that. And then he had to haul me in. We immediately removed our waders to empty the water so we could move - and then put our wet waders back over our wet clothes. We made a short-lived attempt to retrieve a mostly submerged slush bag as it floated by - in the direction of the wind, not the tidal current. That's a strong wind.

The rest of the fishing crew was geared up, on the beach, and heading toward us. The rest of the crew still back at the cabin could see what was happening and they were mobilizing on their own, going to the Beach Access Road to bring back trucks and make sure lines are available.

We waited for the crew to get to us - I was afraid that as soon as we pulled anchor, the wind would throw us on the beach, and if we headed in there, it would only be worse. I was worried that against these winds, the crew wouldn't be able to keep us from being beached... and swamped in the Ambi. Matt and Jeff made it out to us first and the four of us went to see what the inside site held. It is a rare thing when I despair over lots of fish in the net, but I was despairing now. All we could do was roundhaul - pull the net into the skiff with whatever was in it. We started at the outside end - it would have been impossible to start at the inside and pull against the wind. But starting at the outside had the risk of being pushed into water that would be too shallow to leave, especially weighted down with a net full of fish.

So with Jeff already at the helm (he is a better skiff pilot than I am) I jumped out of the Ambi and detached the outside end of the net from the buoy and the v-line. When I saw that they were sliding down the running line toward shallower water, I used the bow line to tie them to the running line so that they would have to pull that net to them. I knew it would be heavy and I couldn't begin to imagine how they would be able to pull the whole 50 fathom net with all the fish to them. So I detached the net in the middle, leaving them 25 fathoms to pull in and leaving me 25 fathoms to try to figure out how to keep out of the mud.

Patrick was with me and we decided that he should go ashore and bring down a tote that we would get at least part of this 25 into before it went dry and left the fish in the mud. Meanwhile, Jeff, Austin, and Matt had finished pulling in the outside 25. They indicated that they were going to see if they could do anything to help the New Kid and if not, proceed out to the other three nets to roundhaul them. They were firmly instructed not to put the Ambi at risk in any way in an effort to rescue the New Kid. It turned out that there was nothing they could do from the Ambi for the New Kid and I saw them heading out to #4. I turned my focus to the net in front of me.

As I looked to shore, I saw Patrick wrestling the tote off the cliff with someone else picking up the other side and walking fast out toward me. They kept up the pace even as they hit the mud. I eventually realized that Patrick's partner in this particular heroic was Oksanna. They told me that as they were walking, Patrick checked in to see how Oksanna was doing. "Well, my arms are about to fall off. Can we take a break?" "No, there are no breaks right now." And they kept coming. I asked them to put it in the middle of the net and we just pulled the net through the increasingly shallow water and into the tote... until the last cork and the last fish was in that tote. Whew.

That was when I looked up and saw that the Ambi was working its way to #1. Jeff later told me that he hadn't expected to be able to roundhaul all three outside nets. He thought they would be lucky to get two of them. And there were so many fish that they had only inches of freeboard. But through some miracle, they were able to get all three in. The boat went dry toward the end of #1. I imagine that someone jumped out and detached the inside end of the net from the inside buoy and pulled it to them, as they had with the inside site. Those guys were amazing and they must have extra long arms by now.

I'd been thinking about how to right the New Kid. It was way out on the mud flats and there was no way the Gehl could make it out there. There was also no way to drag it in, upside down. I tried to think of how we might flip it over on the mud flats. My first idea was that we might be able to jack it up on one side with borrowed car jacks - little by little, propping it up higher and jacking it up a little more until the ranger could pull it the rest of the way. David N had another idea that involved pulling it with a long line and spinning it. I'm not doing his idea justice here because really, I didn't understand it. But he is a much better spatial reasoner than I am and a downright creative thinker, so I was fine with trying his idea first and using my idea as a back up. Patrick suggested asking Trina and Bruce to go into town to try to borrow the jacks so that the fishing crew could stay there to tackle the roundhauls.

So I went up to the cabin to recruit Trina and Bruce while David tried his approach. After taking a few minutes to get dry clothes and a new pair of waders, I returned to work on the tote of fish from the inside site. I'm not sure whether David tried his idea, but before long, the wonderful Williams joined my crew to make 14 people and one ranger trying to flip the New Kid. It didn't budge and after a valiant effort, the Williams took their leave. My crew remained gathered around the New Kid, trying to figure out how to right it. I was worried about the roundhaul in the Ambi, so I called David (so grateful that these phones work out here!) and told him that the skiff would float upside down and we could just float it in on the incoming tide. He didn't realize that it would float - he was afraid that it would just get increasingly buried in the sand and disappear within a few tides.

The crew headed out to the Ambi for the roundhaul picking party while I continued to work my way through the net in the tote before joining them. Sarah Y had everyone well organized in tackling the roundhaul. It looked like about 5000 lbs to me. I let Bray know what we were dealing with. He was very supportive, patient, and sympathetic. We powered through it more quickly than I expected and the fish were in surprisingly good shape. David N had used the ranger to bring the engine-less Bathtub out to serve as the delivery vehicle with the pulley system. Part of the crew pitched fish into the Tub and the rest of us finished the picking. I glanced up and saw the water advancing. The tide had turned and was almost upon us. The wind was still very strong and now it was pushing the tide.

As we picked each net, we piled the cleared net outside the skiff onto the mud. That seemed like the best approach so that we would have room to keep the picked fish and the cleared net separate. Now that the tide was returning, it was time to get those nets back inside the skiff! We knew that we wouldn't be fishing the upcoming tide - we were too beat up by this one. But we hadn't completely worked out yet that really, with only one functional skiff, our season was over. How can the season be over when we have 5000 lbs of salmon in the skiff??

We decided that the ranger shouldn't try to pull the Tub with 5000# of salmon in it. Instead, we'd just bring out more line for the longer pull from the outside site through the pulley, using the powerful crane truck to do the pulling - in first gear, low range.

Both the Bathtub and the line were already where we needed them on the mud flats, and the tide was coming in. So I asked David to get the ranger to safety. He went in by way of the tote of net and fish to be sure to get those picked up before the tide made a total mess of them. And with that load, the ranger got severely and deeply stuck. We could see that from the Bathtub/Ambi. Matt and Pat started running (yes, running in that mud) to push the ranger to get it un-stuck. Sarah N who was driving the crane truck also noticed and left her post to see if the truck could help the ranger get un-stuck. She drove the path she's driven many times already this summer... and got stuck. Luckily, the AGS truck was there and pulled her out.

The tide continued rising, relentlessly. We needed to get the fish in, of course, to deliver it. We much prefer doing that before we can float in on the next tide. But we don't always get what we want. We also needed to get the Ambi in. As our only working skiff, we needed it to be within rowing distance. And, of course, we needed to try the grand experiment of floating the New Kid in, upside down. (Trina and Bruce were unable to borrow the jacks, so we were down to Plan C.)

The Ambi floated first. I just asked Inku to get it to where we would need it next and out of the way of the Bathtub (once the pull started). Sarah, Oksanna, and I had put lines on the New Kid that we could use to guide it into the beach after it floated. With the strong wind and unsure how the upside down skiff would respond to our efforts to guide it, I wanted to be sure we were clear of it if it decided to do something violent. We felt it start to move. The water was about to our hips before it really began to float. And even then, it felt like it was stuck - maybe on the outboard? Or the hatch covers of the dry/wet bins?

Finally, the Bathtub pull began. After that was completed, the delivery crew joined the New Kid recovery crew. David called for the pull line to come back out for the New Kid. I strongly did not want it towed in upside down, but this was good insurance that it wouldn't end up in Dillingham. I thought of it as an anchor line, more than a tow line. Still, even though it seemed to be 80% floating, one corner seemed stuck.
Many of the crew climbed up on the high side of the boat to try to pop loose the low side. (So much for my concern about keeping clear of this potentially dangerous combination of forces.) They looked marooned.

David tried to tow us by pulling on one of the lines, but it just didn't seem to be moving. (He did comment that we looked really lazy sitting on the skiff while he towed.) Finally, he called for the Ambi, hoping to transfer its buoyancy to the New Kid's stern to help it float. I was concerned that they would have to somehow anchor the Ambi while they were waiting for it to float the New Kid, or it would be blown away from it.
Like many problem-solving processes, the first idea didn't work, but another presented itself and eventually, they worked out that they could attach the Ambi to the New Kid and use it as an anchor, while the New Kid used the Ambi as a sail. Sort of a symbiotic relationship.

Using this configuration, they floated the New Kid in to the hard sand while the beach crew took up the slack in the pulley line. Once it was close enough for the Gehl to reach, we anchored it so it would still be there when the tide went out.
Bray told us he wouldn't be back on the beach, but the other beach pick up crew would come help us.

While we waited, some of us were able to nap (we didn't expect the beach gang till after 8 PM), and some of us were too anxious so we walked the beach, looking for more lost items. I should say here that throughout the day, other setnetters came by bringing us things they knew we had lost. They were not required to do that and I am very grateful to them for their generosity.

Trina got some good shots of what we were left with. Mike and Jordan came after they picked up their last fish of the evening and Jordan was an artist in how he flipped the New Kid. We got to see what was left. There was a lot of sand. The roller was in there, torn off its hinges but held on by the hydraulic lines. The steering wheel was broken off. The outboard had sand packed inside the cowling. Surprisingly, the filtering funnel and the food bag survived and stayed with the skiff. The floor straighteners had floated out, as had the brailers, many of the fairleads, and the slush bags.

As a crew, we decided that our season was over, except for fishing for homepack. We would put out the inside site, high up on the beach, using the ranger. We would plan to fish it on foot, the old fashioned way, instead of using a skiff. (The winds were expected to continue for the foreseeable future.) We would use the ranger to pull the Bathtub out to pick up the outside buoys and anchor lines.

So we straightened out the nets that had been either heaved into the ranger box or piled into the Ambi and laid them out of the ranger. While I put on the ties, Jeff took the ranger to the righted New Kid to pull out recovered items and then drove the ranger up to the washdown.

I thought the day had finally ended. But it hadn't. Jeff came to my cabin to tell me that the ranger was out of commission. Somehow, the wheel rim had torn off the thing it attaches to. When I looked at it, I could see that it looked like the holes that the bolts go through had been ripped and the wheel had fallen off. Three skiffs and a ranger all in one day. That might be a record. Well, now how are we going to get the buoys in?

This was one of my most difficult days in fishing. And it revealed character, reinforcing my already high opinion of this new crew. They were unflagging, focused, uncomplaining, hard-working, determined, and cheerful through the entire process. Never a cross word, always looking for ways they could help. They gave everything they had and pulled off achievements I didn't think were possible, including those unbelievable roundhauls, the power walk through the mud carrying a tote, running through the mud to un-stick the ranger. I'm very proud to be part of this crew.

July 20 2016: Homepack!

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.

We are getting faster and faster and the fillets are beautiful. It took us a total of 3-4 hours to process that original 40-50, from set up and icing, to filleting, to vacuum sealing, to freezing, and clean up. Inku and I did the filleting that first day, but Matt joined the fillet line eventually.

When we accumulated a pile, Matt would take them to the fiberglass shop. He and Sarah Y developed a system of sealing really effectively and quickly, and then distributing them around the freezer so that they would freeze more quickly. Sarah volunteered to stay and guard the fillets. They are so beautiful and so nicely sealed, we had reason to worry that they might leave the freezer without us. In fact, it turned out to be a really good move to have Sarah stay. A captain came into the freezer and was unable to find his homepack. He proceeded to throw a fit, eventually suggesting that Sarah had helped herself to his fish. She stood right up to him and he backed down.

Brad H was our beloved Gehl driver for many years, and we hope that he will be returning soon. He is a middle school teacher and coach during his off season. One year he mentioned a John Wooden quote, "Sports don't build character. They reveal it." Brad linked this observation to fishing. "I don't know if fishing builds character; but it sure reveals it." That has stuck with me. I think of it when I hear of captains losing their cool over their 30 pilfered homepack fish (something I definitely agree is frustrating and feels worse than you would expect it to - I know; it has happened to me), and when I see my crew perform. This is a very stressful environment. We do hard physical work most days, sometimes for most hours of most days. We have little control over much of it. We become exhausted. We make mistakes. We aren't always able to eat all we need. Something new breaks at least once a week. And we all stink. We don't know if we're making money and at least I constantly second-guess myself about whether I chose the right mesh size. Add a spark to that pile of tinder and see what happens. That is character revealed.

Here are Inku (foreground), Matt (mid field), and me in the filleting conex. I hope anyone who is lucky enough to get to eat some of this salmon will appreciate the effort and loving care with which it was removed from the net, brought to the filleting station, kept in slush ice, filleted, vacuum sealed, frozen and guarded, packed up, and flown to its destination. I don't think we ever lose track of our appreciation of the role we get to have in bringing these beautiful salmon to the plates of our friends and family.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

July 19 2016: Fishing again after a long sleep

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.

We have some photos from today, and a few from the day David D left. We got a big king right after he left the boat, so here is the new Sarah and the new king.

And Austen, on his birthday, with his birthday king.

And Davey, with his peek-a-boo king.

And Patrick, with his pirate king. Behind him, the New Kid has joined the king party, with Inku on the left behind Patrick, and Oksanna and Jeff on the right.

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.

We got a big, beautiful red which Patrick admired greatly. So much that he felt music when he picked it up. Not just any salmon can inspire guitar riffs.

Jeff wisely persuaded me to skip the flood pick on the morning tide. This makes sense because the wind and current will be strong and it will be dark. And it's unlikely there will be many fish. So that means possibly a reasonable amount of sleep before our 5 AM pick.

Monday, July 18, 2016

July 18 2016: It swamped

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.

July 17 2016: Winds delivered as promised

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.

July 16 2016: Comings and goings

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

July 15 2016: Happy Birthday David D! And welcome new Sarah!

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.