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.
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.
Friday, August 22, 2014
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
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
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
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
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. 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?
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...
Sunday, July 13, 2014
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.
Saturday, July 12, 2014
Thursday, July 10, 2014
I know I skipped July 8. After this morning/afternoon's tide, it seems very long ago. The 8th was a modest day for fishing - the fish tickets tell me that. And the wind was blowing off shore, and the weather felt ominous. We weren't awfully busy so I took some time to fillet a king and vacuum seal it. But July 9 brought us a surprise that shouldn't have been a surprise. Back on the fourth(?) I mentioned the Port Moller Test Fishery and that they were surprised by a bump in their catch - such a bump that they increased their estimate from this being a 20-something million salmon run to a 38 million salmon run. That's a big difference. They are circumspect and calm about it, saying, in the fine style of an honest statistician, that they could be wrong - their conclusion is based on their model (which is based on assumptions) and the observed data. The data could be spurious for unrelated reasons and the model could be flawed, but based on what they have, it's looking like a bigger return than anyone expected. And most of the difference is the number of Kvichak fish. (These are the fish headed to Lake Iliamna, the lake where the Pebble Mine was proposed.) As a preview, I received a report from their listserv this morning saying that "The fish missed the end-of-the-season memo today. Highest catches since June 23-24." OK, maybe we're not done. We have started to split into two crews - one crew takes the evening/night tides (the New Boat crew) and one takes the morning/day tides (the Ambi crew). Since the tides advance about 45 minutes a day, these will eventually turn around. For various reasons - Jake's alertness and my nervousness about the season's heavy flood tides being two of them - the Ambi crew has joined the New Boat crew for their flood pick. But then we come in for their ebb pick and get some sleep. We have not been getting a lot of fish on the flood of the morning tides, nor on the ebb, so the New Boat has been sleeping through those.
Monday, July 7, 2014
The fish tend not to run in the dark. Debby and I used to speculate about the fish hotels where they tuck in at night and stay until the day has been under way for a while. Others suggest that it's the size of the tide, speculating that the fish are harder to find in the big tides. These theories are hard to disentangle since the day tides are almost always smaller than the night tides. To further confuse the issue, most years, we do better on the flood than on the ebb, so until we do some analysis - which we are way too tired to do during the season and too busy with other stuff to do outside the season - these factors will remain entangled, allowing me to maintain my superstitions about when the fish do and don't run. The fishing on last night's tide dropped off quite a bit after the flood, so half of us stayed in to wash dishes (a HUGE task by then) and prepare dinner for when the intrepid fishing crew got back in. It was a special meal of grilled hamburgers with carmelized onions, bacon, avocados, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese - the works! Rohan also created a vegi burger alternative for Sarah that we all thought was pretty darned good. We also had a couscous salad (I forgot to get cucumbers so we substituted a can of corn) and sweet potato fries and brownies. We ate at about about 3 and all slept well until getting up in time to fish at 8:30. Fishing on the morning tide was slow, so we took a break over high water. I used that time to make some calls about the ranger's tire - what can be done? And the White Truck's oil problem - what is the problem and how can we get it fixed? Our friend Eddie said to crawl under the truck with a flashlight and a cell phone and give him a call. It would be a sort of low-tech version of tele-medicine, applied to a truck. David and Rohan used the boom truck to go into town, taking the ranger to Naknek Engine for tire repair (it sounds hopeful - it has a tube. They might be able to repair it. If not, they can put in a new tube or find another tire), and then went to be Eddie's eyes under the truck. From what Eddie "saw," it didn't sound like the feared rear main seal (whew), so David and Rohan took it to Pen Auto for what we hope will be a less extensive repair. After gearing down, I got a call telling me that food was ready (thank you, Rohan!) When I went out, I saw that the skies had cleared - at least temporarily, and at least over the water in front of me. But when I looked over toward my sister's tin cabin, and back at mine, the sky was gun-metal gray and the silver of her tin positively shimmered in comparison.
When the catch slackens its pace, it is easy to feel like the season is over. But looking over our catch history from the past four years, I see two years where we still had 27% of our catch to go after July 7, one where we still had 12% to go and one, the only one where we weren't given much fishing time after July 3, where we still had only 4% to go. I think this year looks more like the other three than this one. As with most things in fishing, time will tell. Since most of the activity on the afternoon tide was during the flood and since we are expecting another push of fish, we decided that we'd better get prepared for it. Reflecting on that process, I realized that most of a person's success in fishing can be traced to preparation - preparation for things we hope for (being out there on the nets when they are full of fish) and preparation for things we hope against (having a second truck, and a boom truck, and a back up skiff, and a back up outboard, and a spare prop, and another set of nets... you get the picture). Some of our nets were looking pretty darned ragged - one because I caught it in the prop early in the season; the others just because of standard wear and tear. So we decided to pull in the most ragged nets and roll out the new ones. Rohan suggested laying one net out the stern of the boat while pulling the other in over the bow. Sounds a little scary, but it should work. The tide was falling so we hurried to the beach, planning to load the nets (those same nets that were scattered along the tide line early in the season, picking up all kinds of high water debris) into the ranger to take them out to the Bathtub. (We didn't want to risk getting the Ambi stuck in the mud on the falling tide.) While Rohan and I went to investigate the nets to be sure they were what we thought they were, Roger went to air up the slowly-leaking ranger tire. He came with some good news and some bad news. (Sigh.) The good news was that he could tell where the tire leak was; the bad news was that it was no longer a slow leak - he could feel it on his cheek and hear it hissing near the valve stem. That means the ranger is out of commission. OK, let's use the Red Truck (the White Truck is parked at AGS pending repair of its prodigious and threatening oil leak) - load the replacement nets into the back of the Red Truck, back it down to as close to the Bathtub as we can get it and transfer the nets. (If it gets stuck, well, the processor's trucks are right there and they will pull us out.) The Red Truck won't start. (Sigh.) I conclude it's time to stop trying to do this this tide - we have time tomorrow. We went out to share this decision with the New Boat crew, who had already pulled in their shredded net. Oh. I guess we do have some urgency now. Having a net in the water is the #1 step in being able to catch the fish coming past. So Jake and Jeff joined our efforts. With Roger driving, we used the boom truck to transport the replacement nets as near the Bathtub as we dared. Rohan traumatized Roger in the process by raising a great alarm as he backed up. Roger felt that the amount of alarm Rohan raised was appropriate to the risk of running over a person, when Rohan's concern was that Roger might run over a tote. Roger continued to mention this for the rest of the tide. With Jake's and Jeff's additional muscle power, the crew was able to (quickly) pack the replacement nets from the back of the truck across the 20' or so of mud to the Bathtub. Then we needed to spin the Bathtub and push it back out to the water (the water had receded during our procedures). The crew just got on one side or the other and all pushed in the same direction - it turned. Then we used Rohan's strategy to lay out the net on the almost dry inside site Roger and AJ pulled in the old net while Rohan alternated between helping them and making sure the new net didn't snag on something. I jumped out of the boat to push it at first (it was bottoming out and that would put a quick end to our plans) and once it was in a little deeper water, I scouted ahead to pull out fish so they wouldn't have to stop. Success! Then we moved to the outside site and repeated the procedure. Meanwhile, the New Boat crew laid out their replacement net ... and we were done. Now the nets are ready for the next 27% of this year's catch. We all then finished going through the nets for the last time and pushed the remaining fish into the beach in the Bathtub, which we would then use to go out early in the next tide.
Sunday, July 6, 2014
We have settled into around-the-clock fishing. This means, for example, that we need to be at the boat by 6:30 AM on July 4, two hours before high water. If there are a lot of fish, we'll stay out, clearing the nets, delivering the fish (that is, if the trucks or tender are out taking deliveries) and doing it again. If there are not a lot of fish, we might come in for... between 15 minutes and 2 hours, depending on what we expect for fish. (It's a bummer when we underestimate what is out there.) On the 4th, it seemed to slow after the first pick through so we went in at about 8:30 and came back out at 10:30 or 11 AM to complete the tide. We underestimated by a little bit on this one, but wrapped up the morning tide by about 1 PM. (We often have kings from the tide, including on the 4th, so someone - usually Rohan - uses the truck to run them in to the freezer in town.) Our pattern is to eat protein bars during the tide (you can hear, "Bar me!" to mean, "Hand me a protein bar!") and a real meal afterwards. After the meal, we nap for a while and then go back out about two hours before high water to do it again. On the 4th, we were back out by 7 PM. It was a short tide and there were a lot of fish, at least on the flood, so we stayed out all tide that night, coming in at about 1 AM. The next day, we were earlier to the net in the morning, because some fish have arrived and that's what we do during the run. So we were out again by 7 AM on the 5th to find the fish hitting constantly, so we stayed out all tide and got back in by about 1:30 or 2 PM. Then a meal and another trip to town with kings. Jeff and I did that one. We were back out to the nets by 8 PM and found that they were plugged! So our round-the-clock fishing schedule goes: July 4 6:30 AM - 8:30 AM flood pick July 4 8:30 AM - 11 AM break July 4 11 AM - 1 PM ebb pick and delivery July 4 1 PM - 7 PM break July 4-5 7 PM - 1 AM flood and ebb pick, delivery July 5 1 AM - 7 AM break July 5 7 AM - 2 PM flood and ebb pick, delivery July 5 2 PM - 8 PM break July 5 8 PM - 2 AM plugged! Fish fast... until it slowed down at high water What happens during that break period? Everything other than fishing and eating bars. It's when we gear up, gear down, replenish the food bag, replenish the water containers, cook, eat, blog, read, figure out when we'll go out next, sleep (is it a nap if it lasts less than 4 hours?), brush our teeth, feed the dog, do the dishes, hang wet things to dry, take kings in to town, and other mandatory town things, like get drinking water and gas, and get things fixed so we can keep fishing, as well as other non-mandatory town activities, like shower (I had the first shower since my birthday on the 5th!), laundry, check mail, get groceries, and here at camp, check/respond to email, pay bills (using our very spotty Internet)... what are the other things people do in their lives? Anyway, all that stuff has to fit into the break periods. So on July 4, we had from 8:30 AM to 11 AM (2.5 hrs), and 1 PM - 7 PM (6 hrs) to do everything we need to do, other than fish. On July 5 we had from 1 AM to 7 AM (6 hrs) and 2 PM to 8 PM (6 hrs) to do everything we need to do, other than fish. You can see how the dishes might pile up and personal hygiene... well... It is interesting, though, that making notes in the blog rates higher in importance to me than most things - certainly more important than dishes, showers, and sometimes, even sleep. In our afternoon tide on the 5th, we were plugged which is fishing jargon for lots o' fish. We went through one of the sites and because it was kind of windy, decided to deliver without going through our second site first because we were already pretty heavily loaded. Returning from the delivery, we looked at our second site - it hasn't been performing nearly as well as the outside sites - and finding it much less full than the outside site, we headed out to help the New Boat crew that has been shouldering the weight of those two high producing sites all season. They had finished one of the sites and decided not to go deliver then; instead they went on to the other site. We took over for them so they could go unload and together we tackled the less full inside site. When we went through the outside site again, it was again loaded up but by high water, most of the fish activity had slackened.