Friday, August 22, 2014

July 14-19: First of the season's end

July 14: While at dinner with my friend Phil, I had the joyful pleasure of catching sight of my nephew Rhett and Savannah, his fiancee. I knew they had been in town, driving taxi, but I hadn't seen them... until I looked up to see them waiting for their take out dinner and looking over at me. I was so thrilled to bump into them, even if it was late in the season. Rhett reminded me that his birthday was the next day, so of course, we made a plan for them to come down for birthday cake - chocolate chip orange cake, of course. After that slice of heaven, I received a text from the crew that the Friendly Ranger died out on the mud flats (that did not help the digestion of my chicken philly sandwich one little bit). They added that they towed it in to the beach and pushed it up above the tide line, awaiting the next move. Whew and groan. But no need to end the evening which included a tour of Silver Bay.

I am not usually a person who wonders how special effects are made or how bridges are built or how the internal combustion engine works. So I didn't start out curious about how Silver Bay does what it does. In all the years I've fished for AGS, I don't think I've ever asked for or been invited for a tour of their processing plant (though I am plenty familiar with the mug up room). So at first, I was just going along with the tour to be polite. But it was fascinating. I don't want to reward the kindness of the tour by disclosing the secrets to their success, but I'll just say that it was a marvel to see; it was exciting to learn that they are experimenting with new processing strategies; and I was happy to see our fishery moving forward.

I gave quite a bit of thought to the ranger, wondering whether we should get it fixed, again. Even I had to acknowledge that we had come to the end of the season's big tides, so we weren't going to need it to bring in a big push of ebb fish. We would bring the nets in with the skiffs; we could bring the buoys and lines in with the skiffs as well... but in the end, we decided to go ahead and get it repaired. Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

July 15: After checking the gas tank on the ranger and finding it low, David, hoping that his mechanical genius had finally paid off, sent Roger and Jeff on a quest to be sure that the problem wasn't just that the fuel was so low that rust chips were blocking the fuel line. It wasn't. So they loaded it up with and on the crane truck, took it in to AGS to wash it off, and took it up to Pen Auto. As a side note, I heard later about the tenacity of our mud from talking with Marc. David and crew thought they had washed it thoroughly, but Marc still had to wash it more thoroughly still. I think that as a side business, we should be looking for industrial applications for that mud. It does NOT come off or out.

David Duke, the Hawaiian guy, came to stay with us, accompany us on our end-of-the-season adventure, and check out end-of-the-season setnetting. He didn't know that he also came so we could celebrate his birthday, which, like Rhett's, was today. Though we didn't celebrate it till Saturday. He was also trying to put together a significant supply of homepack. He knew that Ralph, his captain, would come through with the homepack fish he promised, but he was looking at a big empty freezer back home, and a long winter. So he asked us for additional fish that he could buy or trade for work. And he does know how to work! We didn't really need the extra help, but he was such a pleasure to have around, it seemed like a good bargain.

On his first day with us, we pulled out some homepack, put a knife in his hand, and started to process our evening catch until pretty darned late.

The light in this photo confirms that it is late evening - just before sunset. As we drove into town, we saw this sweet and vulnerable little cabin perched bravely up on the cliff, no matter how dwarfed it is by the clouds over it.
And the same lighting once we got down to the conex. These are the boats that are still fishing, though for tonight, they are tied up at the dock. For the drift fleet, the process of resupplying or showering must be carefully timed. Very few can afford to be stranded at the dock and miss the next opener. But if they come in at high water, they are missing fishing time. There are so many reason I am glad to be a setnetter.
We processed fish very late into the night. David said the he had hoped that he would be processing fish on his birthday. Wish granted! This is a photo of the conex from the dock. I think AJ took this one. The processing crew is in the conex (David is closest to the door) while AJ is running the fish to the freezer as soon as he has a fair number to put in. This too must be approached thoughtfully. The more often the freezer door is opened, the harder the compressors must work - or the warmer the freezer becomes. On the other hand, we want the fish to start freezing as quickly as possible. So we try to maintain a good balance.

July 16: We recovered the ranger today. It had a broken fuse wire that I hope we can remember to check for if it dies like that again. I'm really glad Marc's shop has our back. The New Boat crew has been processing their homepack during the day, pulling fish from the early morning tide while our crew has been processing our homepack during the night, pulling fish from the afternoon tide. Although our crew lost a few fish to light-fingered people wandering through the freezer, the New Boat crew suffered heavy losses. After the fish are vacuum sealed, fast freezing requires that they are laid out in a single layer. If they are piled up, the fish in the middle will freeze slowly. So we must leave them lying about in all their glory, unprotected.

The fish processed by the New Boat crew are more vulnerable to theft than the fish processed by our crew because their fish are lying about the freezer in the afternoon and evening, when many people are coming and going in the freezer, whereas our fish are lying about between 2 or 3 am and 9 am when someone comes in to squirrel the fish away into wetlock boxes or wooden grates with locks.

By today, finally accepting that we were not going to crack 200,000 lbs this season, we started pulling out all the fish for homepack, including David's, and we processed late into the night. The green four-wheeler has two keys - the original which I try very hard not to let out of my possession, and Roy's copy, which he let out of his possession early in the season so we were using it all season long. Our policy is to leave keys in vehicles at all times. Mostly the vehicles are parked at the base of the cliff, or we are nearby. Often, we need to use a vehicle right now and if the key isn't in the vehicle, precious minutes can be lost going to find the key. So we just leave the key in. We use the green four-wheeler to ferry the fish from the processing conex to the freezer. The fish courier carries the fish into the freezer and lays them out to start the pre-freezing, then comes back to take the bike back to the conex. There was a party on the beach and we think that fact may have been related to the fact that someone thought it would be a worthy thing to remove the key from the ignition of the four wheeler. Aieee. We were down to the one and only original.

July 17: The beginning of Fishtival weekend! The New Boat crew took their morning fish in for homepack, in the New Boat. They had the New Boat pulled out of the water for cleaning and converting to a pleasure craft (warning the beach gang that it would be going right back in again), processed their fish and had the New Boat back in the water on the next flood. This may also be the tide that they took in the Ambi, just to get it out of the water and get the winterizing process started. The New David went in to town with the New Boat crew because he had some work to do for Ralph. The timing was good because Ralph had some salmon for him. Not sure what to do with them, New David brought the salmon back down the beach when he returned from stripping Ralph's nets. Hmmm... we'll need some ice to keep them.

During my town errands, I took the original key for the green four-wheeler in to Ace to try to get a copy made, and found that... they don't have the key blanks to do that. Huh??? Uh oh.

The Red Dog!! It was such a rare treat to be able to listen and dance to Wendy Lee and Todd tonight! Their show was early (6-9) and although I fish with a bunch of dance-shy young people, there was a significant group of old lady dancers that I fit right in with, agreeing that tomorrow's aches were worth tonight's ambitions.

We also had the pleasure of seeing Emma Hill at the Red Dog. She was scheduled to play the next night and we were very eager to hear her. She had performed at a house party (at my house in Seattle) the previous fall and we had just engaged her to do it again. It will be Oct 11 (I think), so if you want to come, let us know and we'll send you the info. I realized that since she isn't from Naknek, she might not know anyone and might not have the chance to discover what is beautiful and wonderful about our little town. So we invited her to get in touch the next day and we would try to do something with her. Alas, the next day had some plans of its own.

The New David, AJ, and I came back from the Red Dog early, missing the second act to go through the nets in the Bathtub.
Here is the New David learning how to pull the net, how to crosspick and how to keep it open to get the fish out.
And AJ watching over the super-newbie, ready to give help if it is needed.

Because we all wanted to go in to the Red Dog to hear our beloved Wendy Lee and Todd and we therefore wouldn't be processing tonight, we decided to sell our catch from the evening tide, though we didn't successfully communicate this to Brad and Brae and confused the matter even more by asking for ice for New David's fish. We did sell the flood fish (80 lbs) and then brought the Bathtub in at high water, anchoring it up as we usually do to be ready for the next tide, and finished the ebb on foot, picking the many late hitters into the sleds we pulled behind us. It can be a long haul from the outside sites to the beach when dragging 50 lbs or salmon. Since the truck was gone, we packed the catch into the slush ice, thinking we would process them with the fish Ralph provided for David, and whatever we would get from the final tide in the morning. Although I did wonder how we would manage to process that many, I wasn't awfully disappointed to have them, since like our New David, I too was looking at a long winter with my garage full of empty freezers.

After bringing in the fish, we turned to see the sun set over the Grayling that was anchored among the outside sites.
When I turned back toward my cabin, I saw the the sunset was wrapping around the horizon, diffused by the fog. Here is Debby's cabin silhouetted against the sunset that in a few hours will pop back up again in a sunrise.

July 18: Swamped again! I woke up early and when I saw the Bathtub edging up the beach, pushed by the tide, I realized that I had made a mistake when I decided where to anchor it. I had known the night before that we weren't planning to fish the flood, so I should have anchored the Bathtub out deeper, instead of letting it brave the tide through the Swamp Zone. There was a strong wind, but I thought it would be OK since the tide would turn soon and shouldn't come up much more; it would just be a little hard to get the Tub back into the water after the tide stranded it high on the beach. Will I ever learn to hear the warning when I say to myself, "It'll probably be OK"?

When I next looked over the cliff a couple of hours later, I saw that the tide had come up another three or four feet in that last 90 minutes of the flood (it isn't supposed to do that! My mom said!), swamping our valiant Bathtub. It produces a very sad and bad feeling to look into the skiff and see just the top of the power pack's air cleaner and hydraulic fluid reservoir poking up from the brakish water it is sitting in. Oh no!! And that was the powerpack that served faithfully in the Ambi in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. Powerpacks in the Bathtub don't last long because they ride on the deck, elevated just a few inches... and the Bathtub is prone to swamping. I raised the alarm and within just a few minutes, all hands were tackling the problem, recovering the items that had floated out of the boat, cleaning or replacing the fuel, checking for water where it shouldn't be in the outboard, and removing from the boat the gallons and gallons of water that had filled it.

We had planned to pull in the nets for the last time this tide, using the Bathtub. Scratch that plan. I thought we should take the New Boat that had returned, all clean and ready for the trip, but my David really objected because it would get all dirty again. So we decided to use the Grayling. Ulp. While Roger, Jeff, and Jake were ministering to the Bathtub and its outboard, we used the Grayling to go through the nets for the last time of the season, and pulled the nets into the boat. David really is a masterful skiff driver. And we got another 30 salmon or so. I'm glad to have the additional salmon; but worried about processing them.

When Jake - or maybe it was Roger - told us that after they made sure that the outboard's fuel line had only fuel in it, they pulled the cord and it started!, we thought we should send a letter off to Yamaha suggesting that they might want to keep making outboards like that one - which is almost 20 years old!

Emma Hill and her traveling companions, Mark, Eric, and Chad called us from the end of the Beach Access Road so we could come collect them. We had decided to bundle them into raingear and bring them along on our mission to bring in the buoys and anchor lines.
Here is Emma - how can anyone look that cute in a yellow raincoat? We decided to tow the Bathtub around with the Ranger, going from the inside to the outside of each site, turning the anchors up a half turn so they would stick up out of the mud, (enough to be able to find them next spring but not so much that the icebergs would have something to attach to and pull up (and take away)).
We thought Emma and company would enjoy that novel experience (and considering the distractions of the morning, that was about all we had to offer them, before they had to go get ready for their show).
I'm worried that I got her friends' names mixed up, but here is Eric...
and Mark and Chad. David towed us to each anchor where Roger pried it up with the turning bar to give it that half turn, and we loosened the shackles, coiled up the anchor lines, and deposited them into the boat with the buoys and the musicians.
This is Sarah and me, pushing our way through the wind to the next buoy while David pulls the Tub and our guests out to meet us. After collecting all the tackle, he would would then move to the next site while I stayed to tie corks to the heads of the anchors and wrap around some electrical wire so it would stand up like antennae. We really want to be able to find those anchors next season.

We were able to recover all the anchor lines except for the outside of my site (#1). We tied the ends of that anchor line together with a cork, and we will again hope for the best. It has been several years since we've seen that anchor. That is another way of losing an anchor - the mud buries it. Before we finished that project, though, Emma and company needed to return to town to prepare for their show. David brought them in and then came back out to finish the project with me.

We loaded the nets out of the Grayling into the crane truck, along with all of the fish and the fish processing paraphernalia.

Here is the crew loading up the fish to take in for homepack. I think if we ever make a statue about setnetting, it should be based on this photo. We ended up with about 200 fish which means a whole lot of work. New David wanted as many as his 150 lbs as possible to be fillets (wanting to take home maximum meat and minimum compost). We knew that before and after seeing Emma, we had some processing to do.

Some of the crew stripped nets, while others worked on winterizing the Ambi, and New David and I started processing.
Ralph gave New David two beautiful kings (including the biggest one in this photo) and we caught three.
We first filleted the kings - and New David wanted to photograph the process. My way of filleting is slower than what many people do, but I keep the maximum amount of meat. The first cut is to remove the head.
Then I cut down the belly and remove the guts. Next step is to turn the back toward me and slice off the left side fillet, cutting as close to the bone as possible. This photo shows the left fillet lying on the splitting table while I am cutting the spine away from the right fillet, again, cutting as close to the bone as possible. Then I skim off the belly bones and rinse the fillet.
This photo shows the finished fillet next to New David's hand (to give an idea of size). Also note up in the top left corner, a little bit of roe is in the photo. We worked our way through as many of the huge pile of fish as we could before peeling out of our raingear and heading over to the Red Dog to see Emma. (The crew also likes to play some pool - and I understand that Jeff is a shark - you've been warned!) When the show was over, we went back to processing. We finally got through them all, got them sealed and laid out to freeze. We went home and dropped.

July 19:Many Fishtival activities were planned for today, including the bazaar and a preview of a documentary about the Pebble Mine controversy, which the crew really wanted to see. In addition, we had a birthday dinner to prepare (for both Rhett and New David, who have the same birthday - this meant a cake for Rhett and panna cotta for David), a trip to prepare for, the Bathtub and Grayling to take in to be pulled up and winterized, and closing up to begin. This is the part of the season I don't like. I don't want it to end. I love it here. I love the crew. It's hard to let go of it all for the next 10 months. Other people get sick of their crews by the end of the season and most people are eager to leave, vowing never to return. Not me; I get more attached to my crew (because they are so great) and by the end of the season, I feel like I've gathered my whole self together and life makes sense. (Honestly though, these things that I love must step aside for a little while to make room for the next things that I love. Really, I can't complain.)

The crew came in to town early to continue with stripping nets and packing up the fish. David talked with Amanda a bit earlier about taking all our homepack up to her freezers for safe keeping. This was especially important after finding that Rohan's wetlock box of fillets had left the freezer without him, as had the king he prepared for one of his supervisors at work. I was shocked. We were all shocked when Roger said he caught someone in the act of walking out with some of our fillets. He is accomplished at confrontation and did so, taking the fillets out of the pilferer's hands. We scrounged through our boxes to come up with enough fish to make up for Rohan's losses. We get many benefits from storing our fish with Amanda - she will ship our fish with hers in the freezer van (for much less than it costs to send by air freight) and she will air freight out what we will need before the barge comes in.

Closing up camp requires pages of individual items that, if we forget to do them, or don't do them properly, could result in way too much Tang, clam chowder, and brownie mix next year, and not enough medium gloves, broken jars, spaghetti sauce covering everything, mold crawling out of jars, cans, and the tundra-ator, rusty cans of food, grains neatly stored in boots and shoes, under pillows, and in the underwear drawer (thanks to the cabins' winter residents) - along with mouse/lemming droppings and the persistent scent of rodent urine. We've experienced all of those, and some others - I would love to just leave the cabins open so people can come in and take shelter if they need it. But the time we did that, we ended up with dead seagulls on the table, a squirrel head wrapped up in the bedding that was stored inside the wringer washer, and an unfortunately placed - and left - latrine bucket. In summary, we need to protect the metal stuff from condensation, protect the dry stuff from condensation and rodents, protect bedding and clothes from rodents, protect glass items from breaking in the freeze, prevent battery corrosion, and protect the cabins from people who haven't yet learned indoors manners - at least as well as setnetters.

The wind continued strong all day and all night. We were all glad that we weren't fishing in it (though we probably would have picked up a few more fish - the wind seems to stir them up) and that our boats weren't at risk of swamping in it. I went out to try to capture the storm. The photos never convey the actual foul mood of the water,
I think this photo of Sarah trying to video the wind (before she gets blown over) gives a little better idea.

This gives a little preview of some of the weather with which we contended on our adventure up the Kvichak, the subject of the next post.