Wednesday, July 23, 2014

July 21-22: Vacation: setnetters thrive on adversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 21, 2014

July 18-20: Sleep wins again!

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

Friday, July 18, 2014

July 14-17 placeholder

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

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

July 13: New way to homepack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 12: Moosen at the lake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 13, 2014

July 11: Homepack fury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 12, 2014

July 10: Happy Birthday, Debby and Bruce!

Two days in the summer are especially hard for me to write about - one is June 30, the anniversary of my younger son's accidental death in 2012, and the other is July 10, the birthday of my sister and my brother-in-law. But it is also the day my sister died in 2010. So every July 10, I think about my sister even more than usual. I think about how I didn't realize how extremely important she was to me, until she wasn't there anymore. She was the one who would always be there. And I was the one who would always be there for her. I think she was probably aware that I didn't realize how important she was to me, but I also think she knew, which is probably more important. And my whole life, she just forgave me for being dense that way - probably in other ways too that I haven't yet noticed. That is one of the many things I miss and appreciate about her.

Here we are in 2006. Even though she just came up to cook for us, she saw we were in trouble with this huge roundhaul, and she came down to help. That was Debby. I also have photos of her coming to help when I bit off more than I could chew with a commercial salting effort. She was always there to help.
She loved to garden and this was a photo that Trina got that really felt like Debby - she was allergic to everything and used to refer to herself, mostly jokingly, as "a delicate flower."

In fishing news: The ranger was ready to come home today!! Ryan at Naknek Engine told us that he had to replace the tire because if he put another tube in it, the rough spot inside the tire would just make another hole. I just feel glad that it was possible to replace the tire. And today is the day we started processing our homepack. So both the boom truck and the Red Truck went into town after the afternoon tide - the boom truck to pick up the ranger and because it has been carrying the vacuum sealer, and the Red Truck so that once David puts the ranger onto the bed of the boom truck, he can take all the bluies and the gas cans and get us all filled up with water and gas, respectively, and then return to the beach to prepare for the night tide while the processing crew processes.

Rohan, Jeff, and I filleted the fish while AJ ran them to the freezer to try to pre-freeze them before sealing them. Several people mentioned that it seemed that a lot of bags broke last year and we are hypothesizing that it is because the slime interferes with the sealing process. So to get around the slime, we are trying to pre-freeze for maybe an hour, and then seal them. This calls for fillets to be draped around the inside of the freezer, with a runner bringing a few newly sealed in, and returning with a few partially frozen. We were able to fillet 20 fish in an hour. Sealing them takes just about as long.

After we got back to the cabins (something that always elicits a sigh of relief from me), the crew let me tell stories about Debby. A friend recently sent me a quote about the worthy goal of being able to live with pain and loss side by side with joy and energy. Here we all are.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

July 9: Surprise!

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.

So we weren't surprised when we found only about 1000 lbs in the net on the flood pick. The Jacqueline W was here to take our flood catch. The Jacqueline is owned and operated by a family out of Kodiak. This photo shows the delivery of one of our brailers - and not a very full one. They have weighed the bag (the scale is that cubish-shaped thing above the yellow hook). The pelican is hanging from the yellow hook and the bag is hanging from the pelican. They hand the pelican over to the skiff and we hook up the brailers. Then they use the crane to lower the hook and we attach the pelican to it. Then they raise it off the skiff (that's an excellent time to have one's raincoat hood up to avoid a sliming) and over to their seiner. Once it stills, they record the weight and then empty the brailer into their hold. The boy pulling on the line is opening the pelican hook to release the lines that are holding up the bag. This drops the bag into the hold. There is a fifth line that is attached to a different hook on the pelican, the tag line, so that when the crane is raised up, it pulls the brailer out of the hold and they return it to us. We are always glad when they make it down to our sites because it's much less risky to deliver to the Jacqueline than the beach and wherever we deliver, it's best to get the fish off the boat and chilling as soon as possible. Though the weather has cooled down a lot so I don't worry about them as much as I do on the hot days. We saved out about 50 reds with the idea that we would start working on our homepack after we finished the ebb.

We also got a text from Roy that Harry's Level Wind needs repair. (That's a contraption that many drifters use to level out the net as it is being wound onto the reel.) So Roger thought he would fix that while the rest of the crew was processing the salmon after we finished the ebb pick. Mop up, we thought.

We went out for the pick while water was still on the rocks, but just off the big rocks. It took a little time to get the boat because we had an off shore wind that blew the Bathtub away from us. I took a little trickle down the armpit so I asked someone taller to try. That was AJ - he too took a trickle, but he was brave and persevered. We proceeded without incident and, as we have been doing, our small crew of four has been breaking into two boats. We dropped Rohan and AJ off into the Grayling to tend #1 and the inside site, while Roger and I would use the Ambi to go through #3 and 4. On the way to #4, Harry called. Makenzie blew out her rainpants. He tried to mend them (with duct tape and 5200(?)) but to no avail. Could we bring her some? They were nearby. We didn't really have the time to go back to the cabins for a new pair, so I took off the rainpants I wear to protect my waders and we ran those out to her. Then we went back to the nets. That's when I saw how many fish we had! Too many for the four of us to get on ebb.

I immediately called David and woke him up with, "We've got fish!" "We'll be right there!" We pulled off the net to take the Bathtub into shore for them to get out to the New Boat. Then we picked up Rohan and AJ and started to blaze through #1 - though Rohan and AJ had an excellent start on it. The New Boat crew went from sleeping to geared up and on the beach in 8 minutes!

When we finished #1, we went to deliver fearing that if we went to the inside first, the tide would be out too far to deliver anything to the beach from the Ambi. Because the ranger is still out of service, if that happened, we would have to transfer all the fish to the Bathtub and push it in by hand from two nets. At least this way, we were sure we could get the fish in from one net (and this tide's heavy-hitter at that), leaving the net that is already closest to the beach for a Bathtub delivery. The New Boat followed us to deliver after going through # 4. But another boat was there and brailering, unwilling to step aside to let the New Boat deliver. Afraid they would run out of water, the New Boat crew abandoned the direct beach delivery plan and instead transferred their fish to the Bathtub with the idea of pushing it a lesser distance since the tide was still in somewhat. After we delivered the fish from #1, we went out to #3, pulling off 2/3 through to go deliver what we could. David's crew was pretty sure we wouldn't have enough water, so we added that fish to the Bathtub's load, and asked them to start on the inside - which we still hadn't been through yet, after they finished pushing the Bathtub in to the beach for delivery. I was very glad to see that the beach gang was there waiting for them. We returned to #3 to finish it and then went directly to the inside site. After delivering out of the Bathtub, Jake and Jeff were already going to the inside with sleds. The sleds are actually designed to be pulled behind snow machines. They are sturdy, about 3' long and 1.5' wide with 8" sides, and they float. We use them to have a place to put the fish that we pick out of the net when we're on foot. I took the Ambi in as far as I dared on the falling tide (about mid-calf) to start picking out the fish, moving out into (slightly) deeper water as we go. The shallow-est part of the net was probably ankle deep and losing water fast. I could see about 40 fish and if we didn't get them out while they were still wet, it would be a mess. I grew up running that race, so I had Jake switch places with me and get into the Ambi so that Jeff and I raced that water on foot with the sleds while Jake worked with Roger, Rohan, and AJ to get through the rest of the net in the Ambi. It was a really close thing.

Jeff and I were successful - and believe me, it doesn't always work out that way. The Ambi wasn't done with the rest of the net yet, so Jeff and I climbed in, setting Rohan and AJ free to get out to the Grayling to go through #1 again. When we finished the inside (with Roger pushing from outside the boat), we all pushed the Ambi through the scant remaining water so it wouldn't drift onto the net when the tide returned, and Jake and Jeff went off to help the Bathtub with #3 and 4. The Ambi had a couple thousand pounds in it - maybe a little more. With the ranger out of service, it would be hard duty to push the Bathtub in with that load (and impossible to push or pull the Ambi in with it), so Roger and I got the pulley system set up. Years ago, we planted a screw anchor at the just at the beginning of the mud. In desperate times (like today) we pull out our giant pulley and attach it to the screw anchor with a giant shackle. Then we attach one end of a line to a truck and run the other through the pulley and out to whatever needs to be pulled in - in this case, a skiff full of fish.

6 people pushed the Bathtub to the Ambi, and filled it up with fish from #3 and the inside. Roger had already walked the line out while I got the giant pulley in place. We were able to pull the load in that way with our faithful old Red Truck, the White Truck still being out of service, maybe because of blown oil pan gasket. It could have been a very difficult and draining ebb, but because everyone worked hard and understood the race we were in, it turned out much better than expected.

We all tried to get some sleep, but it didn't work for me, so I decided to take a little time to write this out. Now it's 10:30 PM and it's time to go again. This is turning into a darned good season! We're all pretty happy about that.

Monday, July 7, 2014

July 7: In for a pelting

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.

Meanwhile, the six of us that went out fishing looked into the face of a pelting. Everywhere we turned, it looked like this - at least like this. I learned one year that although Nature is a favorite of mine, I am not a favorite of Nature's. It's not personal; I'm just part of nature, as important as the salmon we are catching, the flounders we are trying not to catch, and the tender tundra on the bluff. Nothing more; nothing less.

Knowing that the tide was going out and this was the last pick before it went dry, meant we couldn't run in to escape it and made us glad for our raingear. It didn't really feel like the wind would start to howl, but we could feel the pressure of the pent up rain.

And here it goes, finally. I don't know if this photo shows the disturbance in the water - that's the pelting rain. There are parts of the world where it rains harder than this, but this was a pretty good one. It lasted for about 30 minutes, through the final pick, the transfer of the fish to the Bathtub, and the push through the mud, slowing down just as we reached the hard sand.

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.

July 6: Getting ready for the next push

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.

Once we got the fish from the tide delivered, we got serious about the equipment, knowing we'd need that to be ready for the final 27% of the catch. So David, Jeff, and Roger started to work with the boom truck to lift the ranger onto its bed. The plan is to take it into town to get the tire repaired. We weren't sure whether that would be possible, so we were preparing to cannibalize the Killer Ranger for one of its tires. And as it was Sunday, it was difficult to find out what to do. While they were doing that, I went to try to start the Red Truck... and found the battery dead because the key had been left on. (Sigh.) For a reason I don't quite understand, we have the world's shortest jumper cables, so after getting the ranger on board, David had to re-position the boom truck to jump the Red Truck. OK, that's working again... for now.

One year, we worked hard to build a nice boardwalk (out of the scraps we could scrounge) between the Crew Cabin and my cabin. The main reason for this was because my mom was here with us that season and we wanted to be sure she wouldn't trip or twist her ankle. The very next year, it needed repair and that made me think that chaos is actually the natural order of things. Is that entropy? And we industrious humans are locked in a constant and doomed effort to create order from it. On the other hand, what else are we going to do? If we don't repair that boardwalk, then we'll be living in chaos with twisted ankles and skinned knees. So we'll keep having the tires repaired, the batteries jumped, and the boardwalk restored, until the next time it or something else needs repairing. And then we'll repair that, too.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

July 5: Fish hit hard on the flood

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.

That gave us time to motor out to visit Harry and family on the Janice E - here is a photo (from another day that I forgot to post earlier) with the New Boat visiting the Janice. You can see David still on the New Boat but the rest of the crew has boarded the Janice and is visiting Harry, Ev, Hannah, and Makenzie who had just arrived.

We were happy to see that our friends on the Goatroper were also in the neighborhood, so we also went to see them. This is a photo of their boat, with Tom and Trevor on the deck - ready to pick the heck out of a net... or a guitar. A very talented crew.

Coming back from seeing our goat-roping friends, we noticed another bit of beauty that we get to live under. These are our humble little cabins under a glorious water color sky.

July 4: Happy Fourth of July!

This is the date that most of us in Bristol Bay think of as the peak of the season. This year, I was ready to think it was about a week past the peak. But we heard yesterday that another spike came through Port Moller, headed our way. So, we remain ready. The Bristol Bay Economic Development Council (BBEDC) has boats out test fishing at Port Moller (which, in fish time, is about a week+ from us) under very controlled conditions. They count the fish caught and conduct some scale and DNA analysis to determine which district they are bound for: Naknek/Kvichak (that's us), Egegik, Nushagak-Wood River, or Ugashik and apply a statistical model to let us know what to expect about a week+ hence. Their website is and I really appreciate the science of their approach.

Even when the fishing has been slow relative to the big tides, it hasn't been that slow. The Kvichak run is returning stronger than expected - ADFG now believes that at least 7 million are coming back, up from the 5 million they expected pre-season. Regulations allow them to adjust the escapement goal mid-season to half of the return, which they have done, from a goal of 2.5 million salmon to 3.5 million. The impact of this on us is that it slows down the transfer of the drift fleet from whatever district they're in to the Naknek/Kvichak.

Sometime early in the season, each drift fisherman must "drop their card," meaning they have to commit themselves to a district, registering it with ADFG and that's the district they are allowed to fish in. One of the four mentioned above. If they want to change districts, they can, but once they drop a new card, they have to stop fishing in any district for 48 hours. That's referred to as the 48 hour transfer period. Fishermen do not like to change districts mid-season because they lose too much fishing time. This is an important management tool to the ADFG because if the drift fleet were allowed to fish freely whatever district they wanted from one tide to the next, ADFG wouldn't be able to anticipate the fishing effort (or impact) in any fishing period. The 48 hour transfer period is waived for a district once it reaches its escapement goal. By increasing the escapement goal in the Kvichak, those of us already in the Naknek/Kvichak district get a little more time fishing without the competition from the part of the hungry drift fleet that would immediately come here if they could do it without taking their gear out of the water for 48 hours.

For the sake of completeness, I should mention that there is also a fifth district: Togiak. I don't really know much about Togiak, but I do know that they are managed a little differently. People who fish in Togiak make a season long commitment.

The difference between the super heavy tides and other tides, even the ones where we have a really good catch, is whether we ever stop moving during a tide. The afternoon/ night tide of the fourth was really good for us, but it dropped off after the flood. So here we are in a beautiful sunset, rocking in the gentle breeze on the water, all in a row, waiting to go through the nets for the last time in the tide. I took this photo from the stern of the Ambi. You can see Rohan's silhouette on the left and on the right are AJ and Roger, sitting on the rail. The Ambi is tied off to the New Boat, with Jeff on the left, then Jake, David, and Sarah. The New Boat is tied off to the Bathtub, which is anchored until the end of the tide when we'll use it to deliver the last of our fish. If you squint, you might be able to see its tall fairleads beyond and through the New Boat's power roller. In the distance you can see the Grayling. That's the fleet and being the big boss lady of a fleet, we've decided that that makes me an admiral. I'll be expecting the hat in the mail any day now.

Even without the fish and the fishing, I think this is a spectacularly beautiful place to be. This is just after the sun had set and I don't know why there is a ghost sun in the photo, but it was there in real life too and it was just after midnight. The sun, though not its light, was below the horizon. The sky was this sort of turquoise color and pink and golden clouds feathered across it. I remember in third grade walking home from school and looking up to see the tall green Douglas Firs against the Seattle blue sky and thinking, "It didn't have to be this beautiful." I think that was the beginning of feeling lucky to just be able to look around and see this gorgeous world. It's possible to do and though not always easy, I think it's helpful to do, even (or especially) at the worst of times. And it was doubly beautiful tonight because to the west over the water, we got this beautiful sunset and on the beach, people were setting off their Fourth of July fireworks.

We watch where the tide is on the beach - has it receded to the sand? Is it off the sand? At about half-sand, it's time to run through the nets again if we hope to deliver those fish to the beach under outboard power. If the tide has dropped too far, the boats won't be able to get far enough onto the beach for Brad to drive the Gehl out to pluck the bags of fish out. It can be a frustrating matter of just a few feet, but in this case, a miss is as good as a mile. We have to return to the flats with the fish in the boat, only to have to transfer them by hand to the Bathtub and push them in through the mud by hand, or if there are too many, by ranger. It's always a near thing. We want to wait till the very last minute so that we can deliver as many of our ebb fish as possible under outboard power, but if we wait too long, we miss the window to deliver what we can.

So here is the noble New Boat crew, charging off into the light of the sunset and in the direction of their next-to-last ebb pick, with Sarah at the helm and Jake navigating. Jeff? Actually, that's Mighty Jeff. He's an apprentice navigator.

I was so excited that we came in with enough time for me to get out The Big Camera with tripod and manual exposure and everything to take a long exposure shot of the early moonset over the processors on the horizon.
We watched it descend and become more and more orange, and bigger and bigger, looking like it was going to land on those processors - and those processors are the size of a small village. It was a big moon that night.

Friday, July 4, 2014

July 3: The greenhorn groks the gillnet!

As I watched AJ tackle the net and the salmon caught in the net today, I realized that something has happened and he now understands the net. I did realize that he was getting better and better with each opportunity to interact with the net and the salmon, but as of this morning, he consistently put the salmon on the correct side of the net and knew where to focus when picking one out.

He already was fast to see a few things that needed to be done: bail (always), pull in the anchor, set up the brailers, keep Rohan in the boat when he's leaning over the roller to pull out floaters! But the nets and the salmon caught in them... those are tricky. Happily, he stayed with it and now understands the fundamentals of how they work. After that, it's just a matter of practice (and maybe opening a tiny little can of... uh... aggression) to get the fish out quickly.

Rohan has been great at volunteering to run our kings into town and generally do town errands. This time, he planned to take the 45 hp Evinrude up to John at Charlies - to get it out of the back of the truck. He first stopped at AGS to put the kings into the freezer. Luckily, he was standing near Roy when the rear seal on the white truck just let go. I think Roy used the verb, "pour" in his text to me. He poured in some "mechanic in a bottle" to try to preserve it. I'm not sure what to do next. Can we drive it if we check the oil each time? Do we have to park it until we get it fixed? I'm not sure, but I guess I'll find out.

One of the things they did while in town was pick up a package that had been mailed to AGS for me, with some delicious cookies (I think there may be a half a cookie left, and only because Rohan advised AJ not to eat the last of my cookies). Thank you, Meredith, Steve, and Acadia! It was such a welcome treat, packed with so much love! It was just what we (I) needed.

We planned to go out at 7:15 pm to pick the afternoon flood, but luckily, my brother is watching out for me. He called me at about 5 to say that he was getting lots of fish and he thought they would be coming my way, advising us to treat this flood like the run.
So we went out about an hour earlier and it made a big difference for us. Thank you, Harry! We were able to go through the nets three times on the flood, with more on the second pick through than the first.
When we deliver, we run up to the beach, Brad sends over the "pelican" hook for us to attach a brailer of fish and then he pulls it up and over to the beach truck, waiting there with six totes of slush ice. Then he comes back for more. It's a little tricky for us - when the tide is coming in, we can be calm (unless the weather is rough) because if the tide is continuing to rise, we won't go dry. But if the tide is falling, it can be a very iffy proposition for us as we really can't afford to have our fishing boats out of commission early in the tide. So one of the common things the crew will hear is, "keep us floating!" Tonight, delivery at the end of the tide was a challenge, but thanks to the ranger, it went fairly smoothly.
While we were waiting for the Bathtub and the ranger at the end of the tide, we turned and saw this sunset. The sun itself has already gone down in this photo, but we can still see where it was.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

July 2: I have a great crew

Yesterday, I hurt myself at the end of the tide. I believe the power roller is leaking hydraulic fluid onto the deck of the Ambi. The positive thing is that thanks to Roy, we are using food grade oil. The negative things are 1) there's something wrong with the roller and 2) it's slippery. My feet went out from under me and I went down hard, right on one of the ribs on the deck of the boat, traumatizing my tailbone. That hurt. But I don't think it hurt as much as Roger got hurt last year, when we were in rough weather and he was trying to settle the brailers in the bow as we were leaving the beach from a delivery through some rough surf. In his case, the Ambi caught the surf and was tossed up, just as Roger was coming down, right on the rail. His tailbone was cracked; I'm pretty sure mine was only bruised. He just kept working through the season, which I admired and appreciated at the time. Now, with my much milder injury, I don't know how he did it. I start to bend over to pick up a line... nope, no, no, no, nope. Someone else will need to do that. I lift one leg to transfer to the other boat and nope... let's try the other leg... nope... OK, belly roll... owww owww owww... don't want to do that again. Let's see, can I start the power pack for the roller using just my arms and shoulders? And nothing that is connected to my tailbone? How about pushing in the Bathtub at the end of the tide? Waahhh waahhh.

I keep thinking, "Suck it up, you big baby!" But my crew is so kind - Roger, Rohan, and AJ - all thinking of how to minimize me having to... well, having to do anything, really, since it turns out that just about every muscle in my body seems to be connected to my tailbone. That isn't to say that David, Sarah, Jake, and Jeff are unkind - they are just in another boat and don't have as much opportunity to help. But I'm sure they would given the chance.

We had another early morning set, with more fish on that morning tide than the previous morning tide. We're all waiting for the "bump" they say is coming, according to the test fishery at Port Moller. It's really important to be able to sleep whenever, wherever, no matter what because the opportunities for sleep come around fishing periods. They are no respecters of time of day or anticipated length of time. But my body doesn't always cooperate, and judging by comments from other crew members, I'm not always alone. So I just couldn't sleep before the 4 am set, nor after it while we were waiting for the tide to turn. But finally, I slept for a good four hours in the afternoon waking up to hear that we had an extension so we wouldn't have to pull our nets until 1 am on July 4 (yay!), and then we all headed out for the evening pick. Those few hours of sleep were particularly welcome once we realized that the weather was a bit rough and the tide brought us almost 5000 lbs.

One of the many reasons we love the Bathtub is because it slides so easily across the mud. We didn't realize this until about 5 years ago, but we've been making up for our earlier ignorance ever since. When it's fully loaded with salmon, we bring the ranger out to pull the fish in. When there are just a few salmon at the end of the tide, we can usually push it in by hand.
This photo shows Jake (at the bow) and Jeff (at the stern) pushing the Bathtub. Other crew members were also pushing, out of the camera's field. This photo was taken at about 10:30 pm, with the sun setting behind us.

While I was wrapping up the final delivery (moving very gingerly to hook up the final bag), David and the crew were re-positioning the stairs. (They had twisted slightly in the earlier big tides.) It wasn't until after I was back at the cabin that I realized I should have had photos of the process. David was using the boom truck to lift up the stairs at the bottom, while Roger either walked down them and shoveled away at the cliff so they could rest flat, or heaved them around at the top. Ungh! I was too distracted by the development of the beautiful sunset to think about pointing the camera elsewhere, like toward the action. Instead you can see the McClain's skiff in the sunset and the Hakinnens in the background bringing in their final fish for the tide.

Rohan went in early to make us some batter-fried Dolly Varden (the same as Arctic Char, I think) for dinner.
I couldn't resist one last shot of the sunset, this time, with Alex's chairs looking out at it.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

July 1: Fog morning

Even though we started fishing very early this morning, today was more about the beauty of being here than the fish itself. It was dark when we set the nets at 3:30, and the water was much higher than we hoped it would be. The New Boat crew has the running set down. In my boat, I'd say we are fair at it. It was dead calm this morning, and even though we could walk the net out of the boat, because it was so calm and Roger, AJ, and Rohan were out there about up to their armpits, we decided to experiment with running the Ambi backwards, feeding the net out the bow (and keeping it away from the prop as the prop and the net have a known affinity for each other). It worked out pretty well, though the net got tangled up with the brailers in the last fathom or two, so they crew jumped out and finished the set on foot. The New Boat came over, standing by to help if we needed it. Jake and Sarah went on to the inside site to set that for us. All the nets were set by 4 am.

After setting, we anchored the Grayling in the "quad," the space between the outside buoys of the inside site and the inside buoys of the outside sites. As the sun began to rise, the fog thickened. Sometimes it is so thick it is hard to know which way is toward the shore. When I was younger before we started using skiffs, we experienced that a few times on foot... and it's scary.

We always go through the nets at least once after setting it. There are three reasons for doing this: 1) there might be fish in it and if they are hitting hard, we want to get started as soon as possible getting them out (and if there is a way to deliver, getting them on ice) and making room for more to come in; 2) there might be only a few fish in it, but when they hit in very shallow water when the net is very billowy, they are able to pinch the net closed by getting caught toward the leadline and then thrashing around and getting caught along the corkline too. They can also get caught twice 5' away, becoming the lynch pin in a strained net. When that happens, it is very hard on the fish as the tide rises, and the rest of the net doesn't fish so well; and 3) we might have messed up the net in setting it and this is a chance early on to correct a mistake. Here are Roger and AJ - they are on the roller side of the boat, Roger on hydraulics and AJ helping to pull. (Rohan and I are on the picking side of the boat. Roger and AJ have the frustrating job of keeping Rohan and me in fish, meaning that they sometimes have to give up the fish they are working on to keep the net moving.) Here they've stopped the roller to get some fish out of the net. That light behind them that looks like a search light, is the rising sun.

Here is Roger, making sure we're ready for him to pull in some more of the net. This crew is great to work with. More than one person has said that fishing out here is my religion and I think it's kind of true. But I don't think I'm the only member of this church.

I think we went through both nets twice this morning. Sometimes, they don't hit in the first 20 minutes and come around a little later. But there were only a few in each pass. So we decided to go in and wait until just before high water. Here are Rohan and Roger with the great big sun burning behind the fog, waiting for the New Boat crew to transfer to the Grayling and come to get us.

The fog didn't really let up this morning. We could see well enough to see the four New Boat crew members crowding into the Grayling. It is so great to have a working outboard on that skiff. Even if there had been no fish and no obvious beauty, it would have been worth coming out this morning just to go for a ride in the Grayling under its own power.

The fog was beginning to burn off to reveal a beautiful blue sky. In this photo, the sun is still low on the horizon over to the left, about a quarter turn from where it sets. After rising it follows a big looping arc across the sky, sort of tracing the shape of a C. In the winter, the pattern is the opposite. The place of the sunrise is still surprisingly close to the place of sunset, but in the winter, the sun takes the short path between them, staying low in the sky. This photo shows the crew dispersing to separate cabins - David, Sarah, and Roger over to the Space Hut; Jake to the bunkhouse, Jeff, AJ, and Rohan to the crew cabin. We came together briefly to agree on the time to return to the boats. Some people napped, some read, some ate.

Before we came up, AJ noticed a "rainbow without any color." This is the second time I've seen one of these. I don't really understand it. Maybe someone out there does? I think both times it was in the fog - if it doesn't already have a name, I want to call it a lightbow. It was still out when we got up to the cabins, so I was able to grab a different camera and get a broader view to try to capture the whole thing.
Here is the crew cabin and the walkway from my cabin, both under the lightbow, which ends on the left right on the Space Hut.