Wednesday, July 5, 2017

July 3: I didn't know fingernails could get sore

This will be a rough post. There will be many references in it to things I haven't had the time yet to write about. I'm really going to try to catch up, but it won't be today.

We fished on July 3 and were surprised by the biggest catch in our family's history of keeping track: 29,513 lbs on one tide! That's a whole lot of salmon for my mostly green and completely hard working crew. They were great - I can't think of how they could have been better, considering that on the biggest tides they've had before this one we delivered 654 lbs. What a shock for everyone.

Of course, it wasn't just a wall of fish that we needed to climb. We got some handicaps. We had heavy weather with southwest winds up to 20 mph and 4' seas. If we have no fish in that kind of weather, we end up tired at the end of a tide. Winds like that do tend to blow us some fish, but they also make it very hard to delivery them to the beach. The risk of swamping is great, especially if we have a big load of fish on board which the winds make more likely. The safest (and most convenient!) way for us to deliver in weather like that is to a tender. But for reasons I don't understand, that's when we're least likely to see a tender. It's an ongoing frustration.

We were fairly outgunned by the combination of weather, fish quantity, and limited delivery options. Having said that, though, I also want to thank Jesse and Mike, AGS's Gehl driver and truck driver respectively, for working so hard to pick up everyone's fish. When we came in to deliver, loaded and taking a lot of water, they worked hard to get the weight off the boat in the order we needed. They were just seriously understaffed.

The New Boat was completely swamped during an early delivery and they didn't recover from it for the whole tide, so we were down one of our workhorse boats before the tide even turned. Luckily, no lasting harm was done. Harry (my brother) recently gave us a vinyl cover made to fit over the brand new powerpack - and it protected it! The brand new outboard never went underwater - though water and mud were everywhere else in the boat. We took the New Boat crew out and put them in the Bathtub for the rest of the tide. No power roller. Argh!

When we went to deliver in the Ambi (photos later), the weight of the fish, the big crashing waves, and the crew's inexperience worked together to take on A LOT of water. We hadn't done the training yet where the crew has to jump out fast and get the boat turned so the bow points into the weather. I'm so grateful David was there to buy his fish for custom processing. He just jumped into the water (in his street clothes - brrrr!) and got that bow turned out. As a result, there was a lot of bailing ahead of us, but we didn't swamp. And as another result, my crew - who may be green but they are smart, hard-working, and willing - learned how to get the bow turned out.

The second time we went to delivery, it was worse. Jesse was determined to help us and get those fish off our skiff as fast as possible, but the waves started crashing over the bow. The more experienced New Boat crew was nearby and rushed over to help us bail and get the fish off. Saved again!

After that, our power roller stopped working. Oh no! Those loaded up nets are so heavy and without a power roller, they are soooo long! My crew was valiant, though. We planned to pick through each 300' net (for the second time that tide) and then pick it up (as the fishing period was due to close at 3:30). But it was taking too long to pick through the net because there were so many fish - the tide was running out too fast and we definitely did not want to be left with fish out on the mud flats! So Chris, Eli, and Tristan started to pull. They pulled with everything they had and little bit by little bit, they pulled all 300' of net with probably more than 5000 lbs of salmon into the Cockroach. That's a roundhaul. Eli jumped out to help push the fish in and I jumped out to push the boat toward the net. What a lot of work and the work only begins with getting it into the boat! Our plan was to leave the Cockroach there where it would be close to the shore and maybe the ranger could tow it to where Jesse could easily pick up the brailers as we filled them. No such luck - too much weight.

We couldn't stop to pick the fish out yet though, because we had another net we were responsible for. We headed out to that outside site which had already been picked twice, so that roundhaul was only 2000 or 3000 lbs and the Ambi is a big boat. But we also finished that one just in time because the stern was starting to drag. We stayed out there and cleared that roundhaul while, I hoped, the New Boat crew was clearing the roundhauls of the other two nets. 1200' of roundhauled nets is a lot to process.

But we did it - boat by boat. First the Ambi. Then the Cockroach. Josh burst my fantasy that they had already cleared the nets in the Bathtub. Ha! One of those nets had been picked twice, so it had only a few thousand pounds, but the other had only been picked once and it had probably twice that much. Here is where the dogged determination comes in. And "boat food" (beef jerky, power bars, fruit cups, and WATER).

While we were clearing the roundhauls in the Bathtub, I realized that the tide had turned. Fish and Game reported that the Naknek River got about a quarter of its escapement goal in that one tide, so they were opening us again that evening. Honestly, we all groaned. Then we started talking about what we could handle. Not another tide like this one! Remember, we didn't have any functioning power rollers for most of this tide. We decided to put out two nets. And we hoped we'd have a little time to rest and eat between the two tides. Picking through the roundhaul, I kept my eye on the tide which I knew had turned and was coming back in. When we cleared the roundhaul in the Ambi, we piled the fish in the bow - probably 2000 or 3000 lbs. It wouldn't be good if the water arrived and the Ambi was so bow heavy. So Tristan and Malcolm marched out there and redistributed the fish.

Even though the ranger was making multiple trips, lightening the load of the Cockroach, it still couldn't budge it and pull it in. Dang. And the Bathtub was even further out with even more weight in it... and we had been stacking the nets we were clearing outside the boat. (There isn't enough room in the Bathtub to keep the cleared nets inside the skiff, but that returning tide can sneak up on a person and we were tired.)

David pitched in with the ranger work and somehow got the Cockroach to move in. Whew! Just as we were finishing clearing the nets in the Bathtub, I saw that the Ambi was about to float and we were nearing the time to set the nets. So my crew headed out with me to do that. But as we walked out there, I decided that if we couldn't do a walking set (if the water was too deep for it) we would scrap that set and just fish the inside site. Then I realized that I was hoping that the water would be too deep for a walking set and that told me that we shouldn't try to fish that site. No one disagreed.

We stayed with the Ambi to bring it in on the incoming tide. As we waited (not very long) for the tide to rise enough for us to move, even with our heavy load, I looked over at the Bathtub we had so recently left and saw that it was surrounded by water. David noticed that too... and he also noticed that the water was halfway up the side and it wasn't floating! So he bravely drove the ranger right into the incoming tide -- up to its floor boards (eek!!) to try to pull the Bathtub to safety. That was a good time for me to look the other way. (I don't watch car wrecks, either.) The next time I looked over, I saw that David as the ranger captain was motoring along with that fully loaded Bathtub in tow. Once it started moving through the water, it had no trouble sliding through the mud. Safe! But Josh and Malcolm were still where the Bathtub had been with our little 6' aluminum boat, Skook. And they were putting something in - maybe just a little bit frantically. I think they were shoving the net that they didn't have time to return to the Bathtub. I looked at my watch. It was 9:31 pm. At least they weren't "fishing in closed waters," which carries a heavy fine. Fishing opened at 9:30.

We walked the Ambi in to where the Gehl could reach it and delivered those bags without having to re-pitch them or any more serious catastrophes. Yay!

We had 15 minutes between tides and we were all exhausted! So were Jesse and Mike who pulled a 24 hour shift trying to get all that fish picked up. Then we went back out to fish the flood just on the inside site. The wind had calmed down! We were relieved. We delivered about 5000 lbs from that site. At the end of that tide at about 4 AM, we decided we could handle two others and we set them for a total of three sites. We got in at about 5:30 AM and needed to be back out at 10 AM, two hours before high water (still without a working power roller!). But the crew was dragging. They were willing, but dragging. We pulled the inside site out of the water just after high water so we had only two outside sites left. ROGER GOT OUR ROLLER WORKING WITH (wait for it) BAILING WIRE!! The throttle had died.

We went through our outside site with the working power roller and had two big bags to deliver. But it was too late because there were other people ahead of us. Remember the zones? We would definitely have been in Zone 4 territory after Jesse and Mike picked up the fish from the people ahead of us. If we'd waited in Zone 3, we would have gone dry and wouldn't have been able to pick up our net using the Ambi. DON'T GO DRY! The New Boat went dry trying to deliver. Sigh.

Feeling good about our functioning power roller and knowing that the other crew was fishing without one (theirs, though it survived the swamping - was that a week ago? - seems to have developed a hydraulic leak), we went over to help them and to deliver the fish from our site to the Bathtub since it can be pulled in with the ranger. All of that brought us to announcement time where we learned that escapement in the Naknek River had reached 750,000 (nearly to the goal), so our fishing was extended for 25 hours. We decided that we were ready for our full set of four sites. We set the net that we'd taken off the inside site on #3 and Josh went in to use the ranger to set the inside site out of the Cockroach, pulled by the ranger.

Still feeling good - end of the day, no roundhauls to clear, tide is still going out and we're ready for the next tide... and we'll get about 5 hours of sleep before that happens!! Josh and David stayed down to deliver. The rest of us were in the cabin eating and planning when we'd need to get out to pick the flood. David and Josh came up to let us know there was a crisis. AGS has suspended buying - at least for this tide, maybe for the next one too. Groan. David, Josh, and Matt volunteered to take the ranger and the two flat-bottomed skiffs out to pick up the nets, two in each skiff. I tried to sleep, but have not been successful. Yet. Remember the New Boat going dry when they had to wait too long to deliver? We need to move that out to Zone 4 where it can safely ride on its anchor until we fish again... tomorrow? The next day? It's 10:45 PM now and we're just waiting for the water to come up enough to move it. We need to call in tomorrow to find out if AGS is buying yet. And that brings us up to date.

The fingernails: picking fish is a fingernail-heavy process. I use a fish pick as well, but I find that my fingernails became very tender yesterday and looking at them, they look bruised. I'm sore down to my fingernails. And I wasn't doing the heavy pulling!