Notes from the Fishing Grounds
The Alaska commercial king Salmon troll fishing season wrapped up after eight days. While it wasn’t our best opener, it also wasn’t my worst either. My crew member, Jacob, and I iced up the day before the opener. Then, I wanted to head out and look around for feed, whales, or a spot that looked really fishy. But my computer that runs my navigation software on my boat wouldn’t power up. It worked last week but not this week. My backup worked fine, but over the last 16 years, I’ve learned that I like to have backups for my backups.
So, off to the computer store I went to buy a new computer and drop the computer off with our local electronics guru to load the navigation program. Then we spent that night and the next morning installing the computer, monitors, and GPS and hooking up the depth sounder.
With the new computer working, we headed off to anchor and get some sleep.
For the next six days we had decent fishing. Jacob and I have fished together for three years and we make a great team. We anchored in a nice calm bay surrounded by beautiful mountains. I’d get up at 3:30 in the morning, and by 4:30 after a cup of coffee, I would throw out eight hooks on my four lines and head back inside to gently wake Jacob. As a deckhand I hated waking to a yelling captain first thing.
Jacob would grab a cup of coffee and pull on his boots and rain gear, head to the back deck, and start pulling and cleaning fish. At times we would both pull fish off the gear and clean the fish. Jacob would climb down in the ice hold and carefully arrange the fish in tidy rows while I drove up above.
The fishing action was not hot and heavy where I was as it has been in some years. We did not fill the boat or use all of our ice. Every three days we would pull our poles and meet up with our awesome tender boat, the 110-foot power scow called the Deer Harbor 2. Captain Amber and her three women functioned like a family of bees working perfectly: Without words but with looks, nods, and hand signs, our lines were tied, our fish were hoisted off the boat, fresh ice was lowered onto our boat, fuel tanks were filled, fresh water topped off, and fish were sorted into totes of king salmon, coho salmon, lingcod, and rockfish — with an occasional sockeye or keta. These women expertly arranged fish in icy totes labeled with our boat name and date written on the side. After the fish ticket weights and payment sheets were signed, the tender crew would give us fresh baked cookies and we’d speed off (at 7 knots).
Like a dog circling around before lying down, I like to drive my boat in a circle to make sure I have enough room to safely anchor for the night. After “dropping the hook,” I switch off the diesel engine, turn off the hose, running lights, VHF radios, autopilot, controls, depth sounders, computers, GPS, radars, aft inverter, satellite radio, lights, and water pump, inverter. And I hopefully I didn’t forget anything and leave it on. I don’t want to drain the battery and not be able to start the engine in five hours.
I check the inreach satellite messages one last time and make sure the alarm is set on. Then I am asleep almost before my head hits the pillow.
Up at 3:30 a.m., the routine repeats each day, with different scenery, trials and tribulations, and adventures. As always, each fish is handled with pride, from the ocean to our icy hold to the tender and to our fish plant where it is packaged and sent to you.
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Know Your Author
Karl is a third generation fisherman in Sitka, Alaska and a fisherman-owner at Sitka Salmon Shares. When he isn’t catching and carefully handling line-caught salmon — just like his father — he is helping lead the future generations of ocean and forest stewards as a teacher at Sitka’s Blatchley Middle School.