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.
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 http://www.bbedc.com/?page_id=1405 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.
Friday, July 4, 2014
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.
Thursday, July 3, 2014
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.
Wednesday, July 2, 2014
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.