Tuesday, July 26, 2016

July 22 2016: I guess the season's over

It took a little while to accept that all the losses of yesterday mean that we're done fishing. If it were the middle of the season, we'd fix things (well, have them fixed) and replace things and keep going. But at the tail end of the season, I figure it's time to take a hint. But acceptance of that hint can take a few hours. We ended up concerned that sending us out there with only one functional boat felt a little thin for security... plus, what about those ebb fish?

When we're going into a season, I often describe it as knowing we're standing on train tracks and knowing that that train is heading toward us and we'll need to deal with it. We don't know what it's carrying, how fast it will be traveling, or from what direction. But we do know it'll run right over us and we'll need to be ready to pick up the pieces. I think we've seen the train this year and it was the wind.

Although we've started on our homepack, I didn't have mine yet, so we decided to keep the inside net in and just fish it the old-fashioned way: on foot, putting the fish in the little sleds as we remove them from the net, and pulling them into the beach as they fill.

This method of fishing requires a little more precision time-wise. If we are late to the net (and there are fish in it), the seagulls will start pecking at them as they lie on the sand, no longer protected by the water and we may end up with dreaded fish-in-the-mud. If we are too early to the net (and there aren't enough fish in it to keep us busy) we have to wait for the tide to drop to reach the end of it.

This morning, as we were going out to pick at 8:30 AM (without a skiff, it's ebb pick only), I looked at the weather and saw that we were in the beginning of the only hours without high winds for days. This is the time to get the New Kid out of the water. We'd have to tow it with the Ambi. After a little bit of thinking about it, we realized that we should just get the Ambi pulled in the same trip. That demolished our plan of anchoring the Ambi out near the outside sites and putting the buoys in it, and then running them in with the tide. Need to come up with another plan.

I consulted the tidebook and just looked out at the beach and saw that the New Kid was about to go dry. So I called AGS to see if they could pull us out of the water (yes) and Jeff, Austen, Matt, and I quickly got into our gear, threw ourselves into the skiffs and took off... at a rather stately pace. It's only about five miles between our place and AGS, but it's a long five miles when towing another boat.
Here we are, the crew bringing in the Ambi with the New Kid in tow. Remember, I only said it was relatively calm compared to many days before and after; I didn't say the weather was fine. Here is Matt, the photographer for this part of the trip...

Here I am, driving the easy part that requires little old lady speed. All those nets in the boat are the remains from yesterday's roundhauls.

And Jeff, who is about to take the helm when precision and a steady hand are needed to land us next to the pump barge tied up to AGS' dock.

And Austin who has said many of the best things I've heard this season, the most recent one being, "Put me in, coach" when I called on him to drive a trailer, something he just told me he was pretty good at. I just love having a multi-talented crew!

The beach gang asked us to drop the New Kid off at the pump barge (some of the beach gang climbed down to help us land, something that Jeff's piloting skills made pretty easy). They wanted to lift the Ambi first (maybe they were afraid I'd change my mind...).
Here is Jesse from the beach gang helping to ease the Ambi into the slings they'll use to lift us. Jeff and Austin, on the port side, and Matt, on starboard are helping to place and hold the slings. The beach gang is very careful to balance the skiffs before they lift them into the air.

Here they are, the guys we are entrusting our flagship to. They are so far away because the tide is getting pretty low. We got in when the water was about 2-3' deep at the dock. We didn't have much time to spare.

Once they get it balanced, they have everyone get out so they can lift it with minimal risk to the people.

This is the Ambi flying. They're about to swing her over to the dock. From there, they move her either with extended forks on a big fork lift, or on a truck.

And now the crew that's been tending the New Kid prepares it for the pull. And with this, the season is largely over.

But the work isn't. This is the part of the season where we have to shift into low range and dig in to climb the mountain of closing up work. Over the years, I've created a five-page checklist... and the only reason it's that short is because I know how to use tables. It takes some time to put away four skiffs, four trucks, two four-wheelers, four sites, and five cabins. And the crew is exhausted to their bones.

We are experiencing different kinds of grueling days. Yesterday was a day of things flying apart, sort of spectacularly. Today is a day of carefully and meticulously taking things apart. Those filthy nets in the Ambi need to be stripped, meaning, we need to cut each knot that holds the web onto the leadlines and corklines, figure 8 the lines and ship them south for hanging for next year.

We need to clean the inside of the boat - I don't know how it got so dirty. It's kind of like greasy mud. It's probably best not to think too hard about what that stuff is. And the roller and power pack need to be removed, winterized, and stored. Of course, we needed to shovel out the New Kid. By the time the boats are put up, they need to be empty and clean with disused raingear firmly covering anything that might be adversely affected by the weather.

Roy took a few deep breaths and went to survey the damage in the New Kid. We got a hopeful report. Apparently because the console is so high, it took most of the pounding when the boat turned over, giving some protection to the outboard itself. The steering wheel is on the console and it was broken off. The roller was ripped from its hinges, but stayed with the boat thanks to the hydraulic hoses. Landon, Roy's handsome and able assistant, gave us quite a bit of help, washing off the prodigious amount of sand that was packed into the engine under the cowling, flushing the cylinders, trying to drive water out of where it shouldn't be and overall, applying rescue strategies until the fully equipped outboard hospitals in Seattle can work on it. Cross your fingers!

At the same time, part of the crew was assigned to processing more homepack. The brailers needed to be washed, dried, and folded up and stored, the slush bags needed to be washed, dried, and returned to Debby's cabin. The slush bags are a little sensitive - they are waterproof, until they get a hole. This is a place with heavy boots and lots of gritty sand. So far, no holes, but the environment is perfect for creating leaks. We also needed to prepare the net locker to receive all the fishing equipment for four sites in such a way that we will be able to restock the boats next spring with minimal frustration. That means labeling things well.

Those long days in town are doubly exhausting, even if, as Matt put it, we got to mug up three times. Donuts and tea can take you only so far. This was also fishtival weekend, with fishing-related events, activities, and music. In most seasons, I can find both the time and the energy to go listen to the music, but not this season. Neither the time nor the energy.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

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

I got up at 5:30 for a 6 AM ebb pick. The wind was howling. The anemometer said 25 MPH ... and we had decided that the 14-16 MPH winds we were expecting were enough of a reason to forego the flood pick in the dark. 25 with higher gusts is quite a challenge.

I did what I always do: step into my hard-soled slippers, throw a coat over my fleece jammies, and go look over the cliff. There's the New Kid (check), the Ambi (check). Uh oh - where's the Cockroach - oh, the anchor dragged and it's full of water, but it's there. Sigh. Where is the Bathtub?!?

Jeff and I walked along the tideline for a while to recover the stuff from the Bathtub and Cockroach, joined shortly by Patrick. We figured that since so much of the stuff we saw was Bathtub stuff, it must be around here somewhere – probably just underwater. The poor Yamaha! We knew we'd see it as the tide went out further. Jeff and Patrick decided to go back for the Carry because we were finding lots of things - like the 25 fathom net we had replaced on #3, the sleds, brailers, bailers, slush bags, bin boards, assorted lines, totes, and more. We also saw that we weren't the only ones whose skiff had swamped - all we could see was the picking light on the post of the skiff of one of our neighbors. Aieee.

Jeff and Patrick returned in the Carry to continue the search with me and told me that they found the Bathtub, in front of the stairs, under water, upside down. The poor Yamaha!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 20 2016: Homepack!

We had two good tides today and it's time for homepack. We decided to pull out 20 off the morning tide - just to get an idea of how long it would take us... and allow us to get some sleep before the next tide. So the Ambi crew pulled out 20... plus a few others we just couldn't resist. And the New Kid crew did the same. So we ended up with something like 50 fish to process. Yikes!

When we arrived at AGS to use the processing facilities they set up for their fishermen (thank you!), we found that the Williams family were also working on their homepack. Lucky for us, they are fast! We didn't want to waste time, so we put the fish in slush ice and Inku and I pulled out the big cutting board that sometimes lives in the back of the truck, and went to work right on the tailgate. Matt and Sarah set up our (very heavy!) commercial vacuum sealer in the fiberglass shop, one of the few places that it won't blow the breaker, and we developed a system.

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

July 19 2016: Fishing again after a long sleep

I asked at dinner how long people slept and the answers ranged from 10 hours to 15. We were a tired crew. I went to sleep at 6 PM, setting my alarm for 1 AM when I went out to check on the boats. (All were doing fine.) Then I went back to bed and slept until 7 AM. I understand that Matt went to bed as soon as he came in from the half tide we fished and just slept straight through until we went out today to reset the nets.

We pulled out one good anchor we had and Roy was able to perform emergency surgery and fix one we brought in today, giving us two straight-enough anchors to outfit the New Kid and the Ambi. The New Kid crew also added a lot of chain to their pretty-short anchor line. It is no longer short, but about half of it might be chain. I don't think that anchor will drag any more. It may not even get buried very deep in the mud, even on stormy days. The New Kid crew beached the skiff as the tide was going out and Jeff walked the anchor out. I knew we would be getting more wind on the early morning tide, so I wanted to reset the anchor as deep as possible to be sure the skiff wouldn't be anywhere near the swamp zone. Usually, we just pick up the anchor and walk through the mud, dragging the line and chain behind. There was no dragging that outfit. Oh my! I will await a report on how it is to work with... and if the anchor doesn't get buried any more, maybe I'll add some chain to the Ambi's anchor line.

The plan was to pile three of the nets into the Bathtub and use the ranger to drag it out to set the three outside sites at low water (about 10 AM) - or just as the tide was coming in. It would be moving slowly, coming from a big hold up low tide of 6' to a modest high of 17'. I like having the ranger safely off the mud flats when the tide is coming in.

Alas, our plans didn't work as planned. The first deviation was that I decided that I would run into town to grab a new net to replace some of the extra torn up net on #3 and drop off the Bathtub's bent anchor to Roy, hoping he would have the time to straighten in while I was there so I could take it back and have four functional anchors for four skiffs. I was glad to see that Trina was up and I asked if she wanted to go with me. Efficiency-minded as she is, she suggested that we combine trips because she was already planning to go in to get us gas, water, and mail. Sure, I thought, we can do that. I knew better than that - nothing in town takes only a few minutes and we only had a couple of hours. So we loaded everything up and I recruited Patrick to join us because I wasn't sure we could get the nets into the truck without some extra help. By the time we finished all the side errands it was already past our targeted time to set the nets. Even so, we didn't have enough room in the back of the truck for all the water, gas, and nets, so Trina and Bruce and Davey went back in anyway to get it.

As we pulled up to the cabins, we looked out and saw Jeff heading out with the ranger and a net in the back of it. The nets had been left in the Ambi (the nets for #1 and half of the inside) and the New Kid (the nets for #3, #4, and the other half of the inside). The Ambi and the New Kid were anchored on the moon crater mud where we haven't created ranger trails. Jeff intended to set #1 with the ranger, but he was driving in uncharted territory and the ranger was stuck. Really good and deeply stuck. Even with Matt and Inku pushing it, it was not climbing out. If I had been on that ranger, I'd have been very happy to see the truck pull up about then. Patrick went up for line because the line we usually use to tow the boats was in the back of the ranger under a net. We were able to pull it out, but overall, we found that the ranger just wasn't very successful pulling that Bathtub around through foreign mud.

Jeff was able to tow the Bathtub to the New Kid so we could pile those nets into it, but it wouldn't tow. So we decided to get the ranger to safety and just wait for the tide to reach us. The mud flats are flat, and from my years of fishing on foot, I remembered that the water isn't much deeper out at the outside sites than it is at the midpoints of the inside sites. Well, either that has changed or I didn't remember right. It was too deep to do a push set where we attach one end of the net to the buoy and push the boat along, letting the net pop out over the gunnel until we get to the other buoy, and then move on to the next net. I think that would have worked if we could have gotten out there at low water as we meant to, but now it was too deep. So it was either set it out of the skiff, or don't fish this tide either. That would have been too tough a pill to swallow, so we went for it.

The thing that made this an option was that Jeff had fixed the Yamaha outboard after its dousing on swamp night. He had just given it the final couple of pulls to be sure it worked. So we counted on that and we were not disappointed.

I am usually a disaster at deep water sets. Several things make those difficult. The buoys are attached to 50' anchor lines and they swing in the direction of the tide and the wind. When I try to motor around those anchor lines, they tend to wrap the prop, effectively anchoring the skiff, stern first. Further, the inside buoy does the same thing, so it will be 50' away from where we need it to be once we get the net in place, and we'll have to go get it in the skiff. So to avoid fouling the prop, we decided to run the skiff backwards and let the net run out the bow of the boat, and to give ourselves the elbow room we'd need to catch the inside buoy without letting go of the net, we attached extra line to the bottom end of the net so that even if the net left the boat, we'd have a line to it. Patrick, Matt, Austen, and Inku were part of this operation and each one was crucial and did his job perfectly. They were great! And it was very helpful that there wasn't any wind to speak of and that the current was mellow.

The first net we set was easiest. When there is less water, the current isn't as strong. As the water deepens, it becomes harder to overcome the current with the outboard. An outboard that no longer locks down, so in reverse, it kicks up. But they all went out like we had done it before. Yay us!!

We came in for pancakes made by Sarah - chocolate chips in some, pineapple and blueberries in others. Mmmm. And then we went out to fish.

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

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

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



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

Here we see Oksanna holding the king, with Jeff and Matt on the right behind her.

The New Kid got about 100 lbs in the next-to-last ebb pick through and took the skiff as far as they could into the beach to reduce the poundage we'd have to push across the mud. We waited in the Ambi to give them a ride out to the Bathtub. I couldn't choose which photo I liked best of them coming back out, especially after Patrick said that this would be the cover of their new album. So here they all are: Oksanna, Matt, Jeff, and Inku.

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

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

Monday, July 18, 2016

July 18 2016: It swamped

I wish I had a photo for you, but when the going gets really tough, a camera is far from what I'm thinking about. While standing with our neighbor and his swamped skiff, we looked out and it looked like the Bathtub anchor had dragged, putting it in the swamp zone. But I really didn't want to take the rowboat out to move it even though Patrick - the source of all energy - was willing to do it. Shoulda listened to Patrick's work ethic conscience.

I came out to check on all the skiffs - but especially the Bathtub - several times as we were waiting for the sky to lighten a little - maybe 4 or 4:30. We knew it would be a slow ebb, so I wasn't too worried about being stuck with fish in the mud. Whenever I came out to check the skiffs, I shined my heavy duty flashlights at the 'Tub and the Cockroach... and they both seemed to be riding out the storm OK. I decided to lie down for 39 minutes to get a little sleep. I was twitching all over. I decided to get up and go look one more time. This time, it didn't look right. I saw a headlamp in the Bathtub, and not as much Bathtub as I expected to see.

I ran back to the crew cabin to sound the alarm - they got suited up really fast. We all rushed down to the Bathtub to try to rescue it. Mark (the neighbor) saw it happening. It took a big wave over the bow (something I just hate to see in any skiff I'm in) so he jumped in and started bailing (didn't I already say he is the world's best neighbor?), but it was already too late. So he rescued all the stuff that washed out of the skiff - binboards, brailers, gas tank and so much other stuff. Sadly, we did see the water splashing over the Yamaha, but it wasn't submerged. So it might be OK after all.

Bray and Jack had been there to take delivery of flood fish. When they saw us in trouble, they came over to help and pulled the full 'Tub out of the water. That makes bailing much more effective. After un-swamping it, we got a ride with Mark to the Ambi. Then we came in and picked up the rest of the crew. Yep, it was windy and the breakers were big and scary.

It was so shocking to go through the nets and see the fish hitting behind us. We haven't seen that all season. Even so, by the end of the tide - and it was a really long one in which about 90% of the fish were caught on the ebb - we had about 8000 lbs of salmon to haul off the mud flats. That was my nightmare at the beginning of the season. And yes, it was a reasonable nightmare.

The tide turned as we were bringing in the fish. I do not like running the ranger, low on gas of course, out toward an incoming tide through mud that I am not confident the ranger can navigate. Eek! We pulled in one load of fish with the ranger and the Bathtub. We pulled in one load with the Cockroach and the pulley system using the ranger to pull it. And another using the Bathtub and the pulley/ranger combination. The final Bathtub load was just floated in on the incoming tide. Don't like that one little bit.

Trina saved us by making sandwiches. Everyone needed a little more fuel.

The crew (including me) talked it over and decided to skip the big fat winds of this afternoon's tide by pulling the nets at high water and sleeping out the night tide. That's hard because the fish that don't get caught tonight will be gone, period. But everyone was running on fume. They were still running, though. Some had gone just a little bit brain dead, but no one quit or complained. Everyone stuck with it. They were great.

The pick up went as smoothly as could be expected when we're trying to fish in little skiff in 25 MPH winds. I think my weather program calls that a "Fresh breeze." Ha! It feels like a hurricane and just try to pull against it. Waiting for the tide to turn so we could begin picking up a net, one of the crew members shouted a warning and I turned to see a huge wall of water curling into and engulfing our very-difficult-to-swamp skiff. There was nothing we could do to stop it or evade it. It had us fair and square. So we all took a dunking. But it didn't fill the skiff and there were no follow up monster waves. One was plenty enough for me.

We delivered twice to the beach, also a great challenge in this weather. We threw the anchor to help us stabilize the boat during delivery - and to pull out on so no one has to be outside the boat up to their waists so that our outboard has enough clearance even when the wave stands us on the stern. All our boat anchors suffered from the storm yarfing on them. Slightly bent means it can't move in both directions; therefore it can't be trusted to land and grab. But Patrick threw it twice and twice it grabbed. We delivered four bags of fish to the beach in 25 MPH winds without swamping! Yay us! Then we wrapped up the roundhaul, delivered that and came - staggered, really - in. I think that having decided that we will have the tide off, my body is showing me just how tired it is.

So falling asleep at the keyboard, I'm about to go to bed at 6:30 and will sleep through the night!!. Yahoo! Boats are safely anchored (I hope - these are strong winds), the nets are in the boats, the crew will get the truck and other equipment up and out of the way of the tide. And we'll set our nets tomorrow at 10 AM.

July 17 2016: Winds delivered as promised

The fishing continues to be remarkable mainly in its steadiness. We still haven't had a big tide, just chipping away a few thousand pounds at a time. Well, that's better than a few hundred pounds at a time.

Sarah took Trina and Bruce into town today to show them where we freeze our kings. I hope that they will be able to take them in for us in the future. We really like to save our kings, but it definitely cuts into our sleeping time to run any in after each tide. If Trina and Bruce are comfortable taking that role, that will ease it for us quite a bit.

We continue to break into three skiffs to be sure we have the chance to get through all the nets on the flood, beating the turn of the tide. We missed it one day, but since then, we've been doing well - sometimes getting through them twice before it turns.

We made it over 100,000 lbs a few tides ago - and in a few tides, I hope we make it to 150,000. The forecasted winds arrived on the afternoon tide. I was hoping the forecast was just an exaggeration - more fear-mongering. Nope.

We have now gone into July 18th. We are just in from the flood pick - at least as much of it as we could manage. The crew did great and it was really hard. The winds are at about 16 MPH tonight. We went out on the flood - swift current, strong wind, pitch black - sounds like setnetting!

Jeff is doing a great job as our pilot. He has nerves of steel in the face of big waves and big surf. He dropped us off at the Ambi (and then ran back to shore through the surf to retrieve a forgotten life jacket) before transferring to the New Kid. I don't know how they noticed that the Bathtub was starting to get away from them, but the anchor was dragging and the wind and current were conspiring to push it onto the shore. They rescued it in time. We decided to call it a night and wait until the tide turns and the sun begins to come up. It'll still be windy, but at least we'll be able to see.

We all transferred back to the Bathtub - harder than that sounds in winds like these. Jeff and Patrick dropped us off and backed back out before being thrown up on the beach. Matt, Inku, Austin, and Davey ran for the rowboat and pulled it out for them. A rogue wave swamped the rowboat and knocked over the people. They pulled it back to shore, emptied it out, and pushed it back out again. This time they made it. While Jeff was keeping them from being pushed in, Patrick called for the line and tied it off. I asked them to anchor so that the boat would drift over one of the running lines, so we could pull out to it.

As I stood in the breakers waiting for them to make it back in, I just wasn't sure how they would get through those breakers without swamping. They were as tall as I am and the rowboat isn't that big. As soon as we could reach them, Inku rushed out to grab the bow of the rowboat and pull it in. This happened to be during the two or three breaker lull.

Everyone was OK. Matt observed that this is really fun... once we know that everyone is OK.

As we pulled the rowboat the rest of the way in, we noticed another skiff right next to us, swamping. Oh no! It belongs to our neighbors! Patrick went over to let them know - they had the sense to stay in on the flood. There wasn't much to do except for collect things that had been washed out of it and anchor it so it won't be washed out as the tide goes down.

We noticed that the Bathtub was working its way in as well. It seems that that anchor was dragging. We've been watching it. It may have dragged into the swamp zone, but stopped on a running line. It seemed to be riding the waves OK, not taking water over the bow. As soon as I finish this, I'll go out and check on it. It's 3:45 AM now. The tide should have turned by now, but it's overcast so it remains black outside. I'll let you know in the next post whether it swamped.

July 16 2016: Comings and goings

David D left today on the evening jet. He had a training to attend for his other life as a movement teacher, and the opportunity to meet many of his sweetheart's relatives. Even though I know the leaving part of the season is inevitable, I never like that part! I feel like I should get better at it, and yet, I'm still me.

And as he was going out, Trina (my dear sister) and Bruce (her capable husband who is about to be drafted into helping us with our many projects) arrived. I am so very happy to have them here. And not only because of the goodies they brought with them - granola, spinach, eggs, brownie mix, and their little dog, Jojo. I have a small shred of civilization left in me and that shred is embarrassed to be such a poor host. We're pretty much sleeping, eating, and fishing - and doing those things at many odd hours of the day and night. Trina and Bruce have a more normal schedule. Our schedules intersect sometimes. I know that they know how it is and they are perfectly capable of amusing themselves. But still -- they came all the way up here and we're not really changing our program much.

These next few days are the days that, about a week ago, had the biggest showing at Port Moller. The genetic samples from those days suggest a healthy percentage of salmon heading to our rivers here. So we may be in for a couple of good tides. However, we are also bracing ourselves because the weather forecast is predicting strong - and very strong - winds. Though in weather-speak, they say things like "moderate breeze" and "fresh breeze" when they are referring to winds that has us all lying on the corks to keep them from bouncing over the fairleads and to keep the fish in the boat that we're trying to pick.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

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

Today was a busy fishing day for us. It was so exciting that on the afternoon tide, the fish kept up even on the ebb! It felt good. We still had time to lounge around (meaning, we could have handled more fish if they were there to handle), but it was a really good feeling to have some fish on the ebb, other than those difficult ones we get at the last minute. We handled them well.

But because we were busy, David D didn't get his apple pie and homemade ice cream for dessert. Instead he got D&D pizza and brownies. Not a bad consolation dinner.

Today's other notable event was the arrival of Sarah Y, a refugee from a drift boat with Egegik setnetting experience. She will be standing in for David while his solar work occupies his attention for a critical few days. It will be so good for Naknek when that installation is in service!

The final ADFG announcement of the season is that the fishing period that started July 8th has been extended until August 1 when the fall fishing schedule will resume, from 9 AM Monday to 9 AM Friday. We've had a lot of fishing time this season.

In the final news of the day, I thought it was hilarious when Davey asked if he could be promoted to "Duke" from "Davey" when it's time for David D to depart for his other responsibilities. We are clawing our way closer to the painful part of the season (the saying goodbye part) - and this from a person whose hands don't close easily.

July 14 2016: Is this turning into a scratch season?

Such an odd season! Usually when I talk about scratch fishing, I'm thinking 100 lbs a tide. We've been getting a couple thousand pounds a tide but it takes a whole lot of those tides to make a season. Usually we get a few pretty big tides - thinking about seasons past, a few 20,000 lb tides will boost the season's total really quickly. Then a few more between 10,000 - 15,000, even more in the 2000 - 5000 range and many in the few hundred range. And we've got a season. But this year, we haven't had any of those 20,000 lbs tides yet. We haven't had so many fish that we've had to eat our Clif Bars as we pick... or that we have had to eat our Clif Bars or we'd just run out of gas.

Recently, we've had to race the flood to pick through at least once before the tide turns, but that's at least partly because the floods have been small. We haven't had enough water to get to the nets until shortly before the tide turns. The nets have been full - once or twice, even plugged. But then it has died off and the ebb has been slow. Our ability to handle those busy floods, though, has given me much confidence about our ability to handle a 20,000 lb tide should one come our way.

Everyone remains well, optimistic, and hard-working. We've had a few days of scorching hot weather which has interfered with people's ability to sleep during the day between tides. But still, we are all out there and rising to whatever the tide asks of us.

I am sometimes embarrassed by how mechanically inclined I am not. And I know that this isn't really any big achievement... but I noticed that the fitting that goes into the Yamaha outboard was broken (making it harder to stay connected). So Sarah got another on a trip into town and I replaced it! I think I'll ask Jeff how he cleaned the water out of the fuel system of the Yamaha earlier... and maybe even how he fixed the power pack that took water into the exhaust. He just said that he opened it up and let it evaporate. I know that the second "it" is water, but what is the first "it?"

I think the most trying thing about this season is to not become complacent in our grind. We have fished 26 tides since July 1 - and every tide since July 8. It is easy to begin to think that because we had a light tide yesterday, we'll have a light one today. It doesn't work that way - at least not until the end of the season, if then. In fact, for the next three days, we might be in for some of those big tides. The test fishery at Port Moller had some very big catches seven or eight days ago, and the genetic testing they did on those fish suggest that a good percentage of those salmon were headed for us. So the next few days may just wear us out in the best way for fishermen.

As of today, the cumulative escapement into the Naknek is 1.2 million and into the Kvichak it's 3.2 million. So both rivers have what they need for the future... and despite the fishing effort, daily escapement remains high. 76,000 escaped into the Naknek today and 114,000 into the Kvichak. We go again tonight at 10:45 PM probably till about 3 AM.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

July 13 2016: Fishing continues up and down

We've been listening every morning at 9 AM for the announcement that will tell us whether we are allowed to continue fishing or whether we must pull our gear. This morning's announcement told us that the setnetters will be open until further notice. This is because the Naknek River has reached its escapement goal (1.06 million salmon) and so has the Kvichak River (2.85 million). ADFG clarified, however, that the 48 hour waiting period for transfers between districts is still in effect and will continue to be in effect until either July 17 or when the Naknek escapement exceeds 1.4 million and the Kvichak escapement exceeds 4 million.

The 48 hour waiting period means that if someone is fishing in Egegik, but wants to start fishing in Naknek/Kvichak, they can notify ADFG of their intention to change districts, but then they must take their nets out of the water for 48 hours until the transfer goes into effect. This prevents people from hopping between districts and lets the ADFG have a much better idea of how strong the fishing effort will be.

We had a moderate day tide, but Patrick was able to see a lot of activity in the nets as the evening tide came in. We got out on them as soon as we could and raced to make it through all four nets before the tide turned, again fishing out of all three boats. We ended up with something in the neighborhood of 10,000 lbs. We don't know exactly because a couple of totes went to custom processing for Naknek Seafood's customers and there's a delay in getting the weights on those.

As soon as we realized how many fish we'd have on the flood, we asked for a tender. The beach trucks just can't keep up. We were so happy when we saw the Jade V coming toward us. Here is our first delivery to the Jade. They use their cranes to lift the brailers out of the skiff. The brailers are hooked up so that it's possible to release the handles and lift the bag by the tail, turning the bag upside down and dropping the fish into the hold.

It was my turn for a tide off, so after the flood, I went in and let the rest of the crew finish up the tide. That gave me a little time to try to catch up on the blog and finally use a tripod to get a photo of the gorgeous moonset we've been watching for the past several nights.

July 12 2016: Is it the run if we have time to wait?

Whatever else is (or isn't) happening, it is definitely beautiful here. We have a lot of sky and it does some really interesting things. Someone told me these stripes are related to ice in the atmosphere?

We are still fishing around the clock - two tides a day. It's hard to tell what's happening with the fish. In some heavy years, there's just a mass of fish out there and whenever we dip our nets into the water, they fill up. This year, they seem more spotty. And elusive. Many fish are still going up the river, despite the best efforts of the fishing fleet. As of July 11, almost one million salmon had escaped up the Naknek and 2.2 million had escaped up the Kvichak, a number growing by nearly 200,000 salmon a day. By this date, the catch in the Naknek/Kvichak district was estimated at 5 million and seems to be growing at a rate of about a million a day.

Instead of rotating out two crew members every tide so they can catch up on their sleep (or wash some dishes, prepare a meal for the rest of us, run errands in town), we're starting each tide with all hands on deck: four in the Ambi and in the New Kid and two in the Bathtub. Then if fishing slows down on the ebb (except for the late hitters), the two crew members who are scheduled to rotate out can leave after the flood and the rest of the crew will mop it up.

We usually get kings only when there aren't many reds. I'm glad for that because we like to keep the kings and we really don't have time to process them when we're really busy with the actual business of fishing. We got these three kings on Monday - one was pretty big for the kings we get. Probably more than 30 lbs (Jeff is holding it). The other one was pretty good sized too, around 20, I suppose (held by David D). The third (held by Matt) is probably around 8 lbs and one or two of those is just about right for dinner for the crew - or today, it would be breakfast.

Inku is considering just eating it in a very sushi state, with Matt's help, while he holds the other two. That's David D to the left of Inku and you might be able to see Jeff's head poking up behind Inku. It was David N's tide to rotate out - and he had a solar meeting in town to attend.

Instead of eating the salmon raw, we usually fillet them, brine the fillets for about 30 minutes in very salty water (about 1 cup of rock salt dissolved in 1 gallon of water). Then we dry it off and rub the flesh with olive oil and grind lemon pepper from Trader Joe's on it. I like to grill it on a hot grill starting with the flesh side down. When it's cooked long enough for the meat to let go of the grill (usually a few minutes), I flip it over and after a few minutes, poke it gently to see if it is beginning to firm up. Once it does, I'll put the spatula under it and lift gently to see if the meat flakes... and what color the flesh is inside. I take it off just a little before it's done because it'll keep cooking after it's off the flame.

Because the tide was pretty slow and we were low on fuel that I trust in the outboards, we cut Patrick loose early so he could run into town for gas, driving the Carry. It can carry a load and is easy on the fuel budget. I had driven the Carry through some salty sticky mud recently, so, in an uncharacteristic fit of maintenance concern, I asked him to take the time to use one of the fire hoses at AGS to wash it down. As he left AGS, it started to make a bad grinding noise, so he parked it at the library and called David to come help him. The good people at Naknek Engine, just across the street from the library, diagnosed and cleaned the grit out of the brakes. I think this means that I should not try to turn over a new leaf in the maintenance department. It just seems to make things worse.

David was back on for the next tide. You can tell the slower days because we have time for photos. Here are Inku and Davey on the port gunnel, David N looking like a pirate who owns the beef jerky and Jeff, looking innocent but possibly plotting for the beef jerky.

Over on the Ambi, here is Austin looking intellectual and thoughtful. Probably considering his next meal.

And Oksanna and me, in our relaxed-but-alert-and-ready-for-action pose.

Matt and Jeff have been doing great in the Bathtub, powering their way through the inside site and finishing not far behind the Ambi crew finishing the outside site with four people and a power roller. They are good!

Fishing slowed down on the ebb, so we took advantage of having a camera on board and the most beautiful sunset all around us. Here is an almost-silhouette of the Hawaii contingent, David D and Oksanna.

And here is the New Kid, basking in the setting sun.

We have noticed that Oksanna isn't in many of the photos... because she's often the one with the camera!

Good tide tonight - but again, mostly on the flood.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

July 11 2016: Maybe the fish have arrived. To sleep or to blog?

Just a short blog. I'll have to catch up with photos later. All is well here, except for some swollen hands and sleeplessness. It was supposed to be my tide off this morning, but I thought we'd get some fish, so I didn't take it. Austin wasn't going to be outworked by a 61 year-old lady, so he also declined to take the tide off. The morning tide brought only a few so we decided we'd take the afternoon tide off. Since we could sleep later, Austin and I ran some kings into town and got some hardware at Ace to try to fix the rowboat's stern and the ranger's box. And I had my... second? third? shower of the season!

Success on the rowboat! Success on the ranger box, though it will be harder to open now. Mostly, we don't need to anymore. I finally lay down at about 5:30 PM. The crew was planning to go out at 8 PM for the evening flood pick. They would have gone sooner, but it's a short tide and we really couldn't get out to the nets yet.

I'd been asleep for an hour or so when my phone rang. It was Harry letting me know that they were getting lots of fish and we'd probably get some too. I'd been having second thoughts about taking the tide off anyway because the wind is up again, though not as rough as it was a few days ago. Harry's call decided me. And if it was slow, I could always come back in. I was so glad he called!!

We got out as soon as the outboard would push us and we probably had 4000 lbs on our first site. I think it took us an hour and a half to get through just one net. We filled five brailer bags. Thank goodness AGS sent us a tender! We delivered 10,000 lbs to the Beachcomber before they had to go.

The crew gets better and better. Poor Austin - he didn't get the call from my brother, so he was sleeping blissfully away in the bunkhouse and missed all the excitement.

Jeff piloted the Ambi as expected, and Patrick, David D, and Oksanna crewed - and I put in a guest appearance. David N piloted the New Kid with all new crew (Inku, Davey, and Matt). Both crews did great! Never stopped working, never complained, good to each other, good to the fish, getting faster and faster. We had a good tide!

Now it's time for sleep.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

July 10 2016: It's 4 PM and there's still more to report

So, it looks like the ranger isn't pulling the skiffs as well as I'd thought - maybe that's true only when it comes to blazing new trails. I wasn't out there, so I don't really know what was going wrong. I just know that the solution involved a long line and the hope of using the crane truck... except that it got stuck just at the bottom of the beach access road. The crew says there are big deep ruts made by the combination of the loaded deuce and a half trucks and the heavy Gehls, and all the mud and high tides we've been having.

The AGS drivers didn't want to use their equipment to help pull in the skiff because the ground is so soft there, they don't want to take the chance of getting themselves stuck. I don't know if they'll help pull out the crane truck. Patrick went with Sarah to use the outriggers to lift the truck up and pack gravel under the tires so they could drive out. I hope that works - the tide is coming in.

Final report before starting to nap at 5 PM, resting up for the 7 PM flood pick: while Sarah and Patrick were preparing to implement the unsticking plan, Sarah noticed that the hubs hadn't been locked and anyway, a friend just pulled the truck out. Good, one truck safe.

All the fish are delivered. The ranger didn't do as well as I'd hoped - the mud has relapsed. But it turns out that the ranger is able to tow the boat through the mud using the pulley. That is great news!

All boats are anchored and we are ready for the next tide. Jeff is singing the praises of the roundhaul - where you just pile the whole net, fish, floaters, flounders and all into the skiff when you're running out of water. Then at least everything is clean, even if it is a bit of a mess.

I got a text warning that we might expect a wall of fish heading our way late in the week. OK.

And just one final word about the crew. This was a ridiculously difficult tide. And everyone stuck with it. That is the sign of a good crew on its way to becoming a great crew. And that ain't easy when the crew has as many new people as this one does. I'm proud and happy to be working with them. And relieved to find that they are made of solid stuff. It's the stuff we're really going to need in the next few weeks.

Time to get some rest.

July 10 2016: Happy Birthday Debby, Happy Birthday Bruce, can you do something about these ebb fish?

Debby is my sister closest to me in age. She was always like my partner in the three legged-race. Today is both her birthday and her death day. She was a wonderful sister. I didn't realize how much she meant to me until she died... and then I really realized it. My only comfort is that she is the type of wonderful sister that probably knew perfectly well how much she meant to me and never did hold it against me that I could be (and can be) as dense as I could be/can be/am. It would just be one of those things that she knew and it didn't really matter whether I grasped it or not. I was about to write that I especially miss her fishing. That's true - it's one of the things we did as partners, even when the rest of the family wanted to fish independently. But I'm not sure that's when I especially miss her. It also when I'm wondering which book to read next, or how to treat this lump on my neck or how to make pot roast or how to get flowers to flourish in my yard or where that hand is that I'd like to hold as I find my way through life. That's when I especially miss her.

One thing about losing her when I didn't realize how much she meant is that I looked around at other sisters and my brother and other relatives and started to appreciated more explicitly how much they each mean to me. I know everyone says, "family first." But we really weren't that kind of family. From here, though, I'd say that that oversight doesn't really matter. Family really does. So the other Happy Birthday is to Bruce, the charmingly cantankerous husband of my beloved older sister, Trina. I think he's celebrating some anniversary of his 29th birthday today. Trina and Bruce will be visiting on July 16 this year. Yay! (And yes, I have every intention of putting them to work. Bruce knows how stuff works and he's creative. He's gonna get a list.)

Ack! We were out at 6:15 this morning for the flood pick. We are getting more fish. And of course, the wind has been blowing, though it calmed down a bit on the ebb. However, the fishing picked up on the ebb. I recall specifically hoping we would NOT have that circumstance this year. Ahem.

The powerpack for the hydraulics in the New Kid took water on yesterday evening's tide, so it's out of commission until that can be fixed. Sigh. (It's missing its exhaust, so the water can just pour right in.) I went looking for my turkey baster to suck the water out of the exhaust port and settled for a couple of fuel lines and the thing you check your antifreeze with.

It was a pretty good show of fish for a big tide and while I was on the hunt for something to sock out seawater, the crew was able to deliver to a tender (much easier on windy tides in general, especially with a couple thousand pounds of fish on). They returned from that, collected me, and we started going through the net again - more fish! The Ambi crew went through #1 and the inside while the New Kid crew transferred to the Bathtub and went through #3 and #4. We delivered at the last possible moment before the tide receded too far for the boat and the Gehl to meet safely. Then we went back out to try to stay ahead of the ebb fish.

The New Kid crew split up with Jeff and Oksanna in the Bathtub on the inside site (because it can go very shallow) and David and Inku on #1 in the power roller-less New Kid. David D (new nickname: Slinghand Duke) and Davey (new nickname: Blade) and Austin and I worked in the Ambi on #3 and #4. They fish just kept coming. Each time we went through it net, it was as if we hadn't picked it - several hundred more pounds, all on the leadline.

After we went through #3 for the umpteenth time, we were pretty sure we couldn't get through #4 and get back to #3 before it went dry. So we dropped Blade off with a small tote to pick out the late hitters while we went to #4 to try to fly through. Again, as if the net hadn't been picked. (I'm never sure whether we end up with more because we keep clearing it out. I mean, say we get 300 lbs per pass through each net on the ebb and maybe we can make 2 passes through. That's 600 lbs per net. If we waited till the last minute, would we get 600 on one pull through? Or would some of the fish that were caught between the first and second late ebb pick through not be caught? Maybe if we waited, we would get 450 per site. Anyhow, I'm pretty sure we don't get any fewer for going through it - unless we happen to have the net out of the water and in the boat just when a big school is swimming by.)

Jeff and Oksanna needed more help on the inside site and the net went dry under them. Argh! Mud fish. I guess that's not exactly "dry," more like "gooey." They had lots of late hitters and just didn't realize how many fish they had. I happen to be an expert in picking in the mud - I grew up doing it. So I went to help them with that very difficult task while David got the ranger and started the delivery process. I am very happy to report that the ranger is seeming more and more capable of pulling the Bathtub around and through the mud. That is an enormous relief with so many ebb fish!

After getting those mud fish picked, I didn't really have much more to contribute. So at 2 PM I came up to get lunch started and found that Matt and Pat (who had the tide off) and Sarah had started lunch (barbecue ribs and mashed potatoes). I mixed up some corn bread. Sitting back in my cabin, I can still hear the ranger running. I have complete faith that they'll get all those fish in and delivered.

Addendum: I hurried this post because I suddenly remembered that I hadn't set a timer on the cornbread. Yikes! I just ran over to see if I had created a fire in the stove... Patrick noticed and took it out.

It's now 3:30 pm and I think the crew is just about done getting the fish in. I am sorry to say that the tide is now coming back in and we'll need to be out again at 7 PM for the evening tide. My poor exhausted crew!

July 9 2016: Time for bread

The day started at 5:30 with the morning flood pick. I had noticed Inku fishing cracker crumbs out of a Ziplock bag and thought that maybe it's time for bread. So when we came in from the flood pick, I asked if they'd rather handle the tide alone while I baked bread. That was a definite yes.

Oksanna and Jeff had the tide off, but after they slept a little bit, they got a meal ready for the crew while I made the bread. The crew got to return to a cabin where lunch was ready and where maple bars and four loaves of bread were just about done rising. Oksanna is looking forward to making roti when the next bread need arises.

The wind has kicked up and I think it'll keep blowing through the night and through tomorrow morning's tide. We went out for the evening tide at about 6 after watching the neighbors seemingly have very little in their nets. So we weren't expecting much. But we were surprised! And we had to rush to clear the nets before the tide turned. The ebb wasn't quite as full, but we seem to be having a lot of late hitters again. We went through for our last pick in about knee deep water. Patrick went back to walk through ... and found about 60 more! Really, it's highly inconvenient.

We got in at about 1 AM and will go again at 6:15 AM. So... time for bed.

It's looking a lot like the 2015 season.

July 8 2016: Slow fishing resumes and someone stole the truck!

We have about 30 minutes before heading out for the next pick. When we're fishing two tides a day, our schedule goes something like this:

4:30 AM out for the morning flood pick, watch the glory of the sunrise

7 AM not many fish behind us so we go in for a while. To do this, the New Kid crew piles into the Bathtub and they come to collect us in the Ambi as we usually finish a little later. Here, Matt is surfing in the Bathtub - something new; usually he is dancing.
While we're waiting for our delivery service, we have a little more time to take sunrise photos.

This time Jeff dropped us off at the stairs and he and Inku went out to anchor the Tub and paddle back in.

8:30 AM head back out for the ebb pick and listen for the 9 AM announcement (extended 25.5 hours - two tides); stay out till the end of the tide

11:30 PM Come back in

Sometimes the people who had the previous tide off will have prepared a meal for the people coming in. On this day, I came in early to make a big breakfast of coffee cake (using our last real egg and venturing into our egg substitute - it worked well) and a hash of potatoes, onions, garbanzo beans, and canned ham with some egg substitute (that didn't work as well).

Austin and I had the next tide off, so we went into town to freeze some kings for homepack, check the mail, get some ribs from the freezer, get some drinking water and Austin had a little laundry to do. On the way out of town, I passed the white truck coming in. I was surprised that it took the four-wheeler trail - we drive the truck on the road. I pulled to the side in the Carry so they could stop and tell me what was going on. I did notice that I couldn't figure out who was driving. It was definitely our truck - push bar in the front and distinctive rust design. They didn't pull over to talk to me. Hunh.

I thought for a few seconds and concluded that it was unlikely that it was someone in my crew, so I turned around and tried to follow. I saw the truck poke out below the gas station (between the gas station and the store) and head back up toward the Fisherman's, and turn right. Since I was in the Carry, I couldn't just follow on the road - it isn't license-able in Alaska. So it took a little while to follow.

I saw dust going down past Ace Hardware, but there really isn't anywhere to go that way, so I went toward the air field instead. Didn't see the truck there. I stopped to call back to camp to see if anyone there had taken the truck. David was able to account for everyone (though it took him a while to find Matt since he wasn't sleeping in his assigned spot - and we did entertain thoughts of Matt being unable to resist a joy ride... all totally unjustified). So we called the police and reported it stolen. Then I went back to the service station and told them - eventually they would need to get some gas. At the service station, they told me that there is a road that runs down from Ace to the Red Dog. So I went back that way... and found the truck, pulled into someone's driveway.

It was all a little scary - did someone drive it to their home? Eek! I was afraid to leave it because now that they couldn't keep it, they may just decide to vandalize it. So I called the police again and they couldn't come right then because they had another call that took precedence because it involved an injured person. Bernice, who works at the Red Dog came up from work because she had seen two scrawny looking young fellas coming down the path from her place (where the truck was parked) past the Red Dog and head into town. She looked up and saw the truck... and thought she should come lock her door. Andy, her neighbor, has a video camera and he also came out to help. He looked at the DVD and saw that he couldn't identify the guys. But said that the driver jumped out before the car even stopped rolling. I decided to lock the door and take the key. I had called the service station to see if they could help me get the truck out of there and somewhere safe. Rodney came to drive it back for me. Matt and Oksanna rode into town on the four-wheeler to pick it up. Sheesh.

5:30 PM the crew that's fishing went out for the ebb of the afternoon tide while Austin and I did a pile of dishes that had accumulated for maybe about a week. And we made tacos for dinner.

8:30 PM the crew came in briefly and when they went back out, I went to sleep.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

July 7 2016: Fishing is closed for the tide

Everyone but Inku and David D (who had the tide off) went out for the morning flood pick at 4 AM and came back just in time for sunrise.
It was nice to have the sunrise as fishing was slow.

At 8 AM we went back out for the ebb pick and possibly to pick up the nets by 10:30. It was a beautiful and very very calm morning. I actually prefer just a little bit of wind - enough to be refreshing and keep the bugs off.
Here are Oksanna, Patrick, and Austin picking up the inside net to go through it for the first time on the ebb. To do this, the pilot eases the skiff up to the corkline and the crew hangs over the bow and picks up first the corks, then mesh by mesh, the leads. They haul it back to the center of the skiff, hoisting it up onto the roller and between the fairleads.

After clearing the nets the first time on the ebb, we went to deliver to the AGS truck parked over by the Williams. It was a breeze because of the calm weather. It's hard to understand what this picture shows. To the right, Bray in the Gehl is holding our second bag of fish, preparing to take it to the big red truck (over on the left) where Jack will receive it. Patrick is trudging up the beach to take the brailer from Bray once he empties it. You can see the Williams' cabins up on the cliff.

We still didn't know whether we'd be fishing next tide. Fish and Game will give us a fishing period which they may extend or close as scheduled. Until yesterday, they've been giving us 25 hours extensions. Yesterday, they gave us a 13.5 hour extension and told us to listen at 9 for the next possible announcement. That could be an extension (meaning we'd leave our nets out), or if we didn't get an extension, we'd need to pick up our nets so they wouldn't be fishing in closed waters.

We motored to the New Kid and used them as an anchor while we waited the few minutes till 9 AM. We did not get an extension - another opening was announced for the next morning tide and they told us to stand by for possible short notice announcements, though they were expecting to make the next announcement tomorrow morning at 9. They reminded us that things do change quickly.

So, time to pick up the nets. Both crews pick up the nets from two sites. We have #1 and the inside. The New Kid crew picks up #4 in the New Kid and #3 in the Bathtub. That way, each of the outside sites can be set at once, limiting the possibility that any of them will need to be set as a running set (though we are doing that voluntarily more and more just for the practice).

After picking up the nets (and taking out whatever fish have been caught since the last pick), we anchored the Ambi and the New Kid at the outside of #1 and #4, respectively, where we'll need them next for setting. This photo shows Austin and Patrick watching for Jeff to come over in the Bathtub to collect us and any straggler fish. The fish are in the bow bin of the boat and the nets are stacked in the middle bin. Jeff will run us in to the beach, and then return the Bathtub to the outside of #3.

Ah, here they are - Davey, Jeff, Matt, and David coming for us in the Bathtub.

Now it's time to try to catch up on some sleep.