I've been part of this fishery since I was 4. We homesteaded in Kokhanok, on Lake Iliamna, the destination of the largest red salmon run in the world now at risk from the possible development of the Pebble Mine for copper and gold. We moved to Naknek ("Muddy Place") when I was 4 and after 4 years, on to Seattle. My father ran the drift boat and my mom, the setnetting. She quit her nursing job every spring to bring herself and six kids back to the fishing grounds for months of salmon, freedom, and renewal. My kids have been fishing since before they were born, first specializing in the freedom of the life and the joys to be found on the cliff, eventually becoming important contributors to the family business with David and Sarah (my dream daughter-in-law) taking it to the next level with Naknek Seafood. Their goal is to make the best food in the world affordable and accessible to everyone who wants it. David, Sarah, and I awaited Alex's return to fishing. He said it was home to him. But he was killed in an accident on June 30, 2012 halfway around the world. We will find him in his beloved tundra, on the cliff and in the bouncing waves.
July 25 2016: The last net comes in, Trina, Bruce, and Harry leave our little slice of heaven
The wind stopped and we had intermittent rain and sun. This is one of my many favorite things about this place. We don't get one of these every year, or if we do, we don't get to see it. But my friend Phil says when he is drifting past our cabins, he often sees rainbows gather there. So we may have rainbows more often than we know. We got to see this toward the end of the day, but I thought it was a good way to start the post.
Today, besides standing inside a rainbow, the crew learned how to pull in the net in the old-fashioned way. The keys to this method are: (a) the inside end of the net has to be on the sand or on the gravel - not in the mud; and (b) we have to untie the outside end just as soon as we can reach it. It is much easier if we can clear out the fish first, but more important is being able to float the net as much as possible, rather than drag it through the mud. In the pre-ranger days, we also did this on the outside sites, but of course, we didn't try to tow them in to the beach. Instead, we'd pile them up out there (and in those days, it was more sandy than muddy in that stretch of the beach) and carry them in to the beach on our backs, one at a time, in four trips. We used lighter leads in those days, but still.*
I wouldn't say that in today's tide we honored (b) as well as we could have, but it was close. As soon as the outside end was loose, we distributed ourselves along the net, gathered it up so we held the leadline, and we all pulled toward the sand. The goal is to get the net to the sand, carrying as little mud as possible. Then we separated the two 25 fathom pieces. For each piece, one person starts at one end of the corks and the other starts opposite them, on the leads. We each take a couple of steps toward the middle of the net and reach down to pick up the corkline or leadline. Then we walk five paces and pick up another hitch and so on until our hands are full and then we lay it down and start at the other end, doing the same thing. Finally, we stack it into neat piles of leads and corks separated by about 12' of web. Walking it toward the middle means we don't have to pull the net across the sand, dragging the beach with it. Instead, it's right there. I hadn't remembered that this kind of stacking is actually a different skill from stacking it in the boat for laying out of the boat. In the boat, you want to keep the cork pile kind of low and it doesn't usually matter if the corks spread out a bit. But on the sand, we want as compact and neat a pile as possible so that after we tie the corks together they can be easily lifted onto a shoulder. Likewise, the leads.
We somehow wrestled the nets into the back of ol' Red which also held the last fish for Copper River and the last fish for homepack - really for Trina and Bruce who were going home today, and the 10 we'd been promising Roy all along. The buoy for the inside site also needed to come in, along with the running line. We have not seen that anchor for many years, so Jeff went out with the expectation of leaving the anchor line with the anchor, and just marking the end of the anchor line. We decided just to let the buoy and running line wash in with the tide and gather them up in the truck after the tide went back out.
First, though, most of us went into town to strip the last net, clean the last fish, get the Honda onto that outboard pallet, finish putting up the skiffs, and get Trina and Bruce to the airport (with their homepack). Davey and Oksanna stayed behind to finish re-attaching Debby's roof and to wash buoys and lines, and get them to Debby's cabin.
When the outboards for the Bathtub and the Cockroach became non functional, we had planned to use the crane truck to pick them up and just drive them in. But when the crane truck started limping, I didn't want to take the chance of creating a more serious problem with it, so we arranged with AGS to bring their Gehl and deuce and a half down the beach and bring the skiffs in. We did give some thought to just buying the outboards I would need to buy for next year and running them in with that... or walking them in. That is, waiting for the water to rise enough so that a few people could walk the skiff in the water along the tide line the five miles to the processing plant, and have them lifted out of the water. We thought it might take a couple of tides - maybe we could do it in one. I have to say that Matt was ready to give it a try. But really, it seemed so much more reasonable to ask AGS to help us out.
We got back to the beach in time to see the rainbow and hopefully to gather up the buoy and running line... but it hadn't moved! What? Jeff, did you forget to detach something?
All day, we wrestled with the question of whether we could afford the time to take a trip to Katmai, and if so, when? We decided that it could only be a day trip. We really didn't have the time to stay over, plus it would be too complicated to figure out how to care for the dogs and preparing for a camping trip is far more complicated than preparing for a day trip. Which day? We depend so much on David's confidence for that trip that I really wanted to arrange it for when he would be able to come. He had flight reservations for Wednesday, so it would have to be Tuesday. Eek! That's just tomorrow and we still have to get gas, figure out how to hook up the chains on the trailer, and generally get everything pulled together. Besides, David can't come on Tuesday because he had some more work to do at his solar site. So Jeff and I swallowed hard and determined that we could do it without David, and if we weren't organizing around him, we would go Wednesday, giving ourselves one more day to keep closing up and prepare for the trip.
*A story from history
One time, we did tow the nets in from the outside sites to the beach, and it was terrifying. In 1979, way way way too many fish were hitting the outside sites. They would overpower us. We decided the only thing to do was to get the nets out of the water. That was still three years before we started using a skiff. We still had time to reach the nets, even though the tide was coming in. So we charged out there on the incoming tide and detached the nets to tow them, full of fish, nearly a quarter mile to the beach. Fish were hitting all around us and my mother's terror was that someone's foot would get entangled in the web that was swirling around us. If that happened, we would be in trouble. If the person fell, we would really be in trouble. We would have to stop towing to disentangle the person. The tide would still be rising. The fish would still be hitting. The web would still be swirling. Everyone else's feet would be in increased danger. We made it, but we did that only one time. Come to think of it, that may have been the event that moved us to buy our first ranger that year. Even with the ranger, we couldn't get all the fish off the mud flats before the tide came back in. One time, when I saw we wouldn't make it, I ran up to the cabin to get long pieces of coated wire and we made multiple piles of hundreds of fish each, all threaded together by the coated wire. We left them to the tide, hoping for the best. When the tide went down again, we took the ranger out and found them, moved only slightly, and brought them in to deliver.