It’s been a while since I’ve updated this thing and I’ll be honest, there’s a lot to cover. So, I’ll start at the beginning. Sorry for no photos, I’ll add some soon.
Our first week started June 10th. We had 5 anglers in camp, all of which were great people and wonderful anglers. No salmon had come through the bay yet so, obviously there were no salmon upriver. Fishing was limited to streamers and mice, which produced no complaints. The rainbows were big and made the reel scream with every run. We fished cover hard (By cover I mean, logs, trees, cutbanks, etc), and inevitably lost quite a few flies. Bears were around but usually didn’t cause any problems. Although, we did have one try to join the campfire with us one night.
The following weeks were much the same. Throwing flies into death traps, and sometimes 15 feet up in the trees (those are always fun to try and get back). The weather was marginal. Rain somedays and sun the others. It’s been a very cold and wet summer for us this year. I would give anything to have just one day of sunshine. Anyway, the bugs were aweful as always. It was impossible to get away from them. They got so bad that I could hardly breath without snorting a mosquito….seriously. It was almost commical.
Salmon started showing up about the 30th of June. A chum here and there. Nothing to write home about, but it got us excited that the river would be coming to life soon. When the salmon show up they also bring other small fish with them. Like Dolly Varden, smaller Rainbows, and Grayling. All of which are hoping to benefit from the buffet of eggs that will soon be released by spawning salmon.
I had the opportunity to experience commercial fishing for the first time this summer. Dylan Braund and Ole Olson, from the movie Red Gold, invited me to go fishing with them for one week. So a packed my gear and off I went to Nushagak Point. I spent my first night on a tender. A tender is a 40 ft boat where fishermen sell and off load their fish. It was a real eye opener. I watched as the crew went about their business, working the cranes, and moving fish. I tried to stay out of the way but my curiosity got the best of me. I had to see what was going on. Anyway, sleeping on a boat out in Nushagak Bay was interesting. It took a while for me to get used to the constant rocking and the hum of the engine, but I relaxed and feel into a deep, fish smelling sleep.
The next day I woke up to Ole waiting for me in his skiff ready to go fishing. I look out the door to see a small fishing skiff and three people dressed in bright orange rain gear. It was howling out and I thought to myself, “I’m gonna be one of those people out in the pouring rain, wind and cold for 12 hours catching fish. HELL YES!!” Ole looked at me and asked, “You wanna go to the beach or go fishing?” I looked at him and said, ” I wanna go fishing.” So I threw on my waders and rain gear and went commercial fishing for the first time.
The next few days were undenyably awesome. I worked 12 hour shifts and had two 24 hour shifts. It’s amazing how mixed up your sense of time gets once you stay up for a couple days straight. The days just mesh together and become one long one. I spent time fishing one several different boats. I fished with Ole one day (the first day) then with Dylan for one, and after that I spent most of my time on Jordan’s boat, the Viken. Which was (no offense to Dylan or Ole) my favorite. Jordan, or Captian Crunch, was the skipper. Justin and Matt were the crewman and were great guys. We all got to know eachother fairly well after spending 12 hours on a small boat together. Justin was a fellow Bobcat (Montana State University in Bozeman, MT. Where I go to school.) who recently graduated. It’s amazing how small a world it really is.
The 4th was spent on the beach. Fishing had been slow so there was no reason to spend 12 hours freezing your butt off when you could be enjoying the company of fellow fishermen. Ole put together a big party, Peter Pan Cannery sent out hotdogs, beer and pop for the occasion, and some of the crewman built a bonfire. I guessed about 40+ people showed up, bringing home made food with them. I never ate so good at a potluck before….the cake was to die for. Being the mayor of Nushagak Point, Ole made a little speech and thanked everyone for coming. High tide was getting close so everyone started getting ready for the night shift. So did I.
I know this sounds crazy but, I prefered the night shift over the day shift. Time went by faster and the experience was that much neater. I was in Jordan’s boat that night and we decided to pick the nets quick and then head for a tender. A couple of the tenders provide hot chocolate and snacks for the fishermen when they came to sell fish. We were headed for the Thor that night. The Thor is an old wood boat, that pretty much looks like a house on water….almost. You wouldn’t think that it could float at first sight but it was by far the most comfortable. We tied the boat up and went inside. As you walked in the first thing you saw was the kitchen. Directly to the left is an ancient looking stove, a small counter, and coffee pot and a small sink. Then past that you’d see a small table. We took off our wet and stinky rain gear and made ourselves at home. The room had to have been over 90 degrees, and it felt wonderful. The candy bowl sitting on the table was immediately grabbed and raided of starburst and laffy taffeys, while everyone else reached for the coffee. Jordan and myself dove into the hot chocolate. It was there that I learned how to play 10,000. A dice game that required only good addition skills, something that was sometimes non-existant after so many hours without sleep. The game was easy and I thoroughly enjoyed it, even though I had no luck and took last place every game.
About half way through the week, fishing the bay was closed due to low numbers on the Nush so Fish & Game opened the Wood River. This is something that happens very rarely. The last time Wood river was opened for commercial fishing was 10 years ago. The river is less than a mile wide, and over 200+ drifters and set netters rush to get the best spot for fishing. Dylan and Ole were lucky and got the four best spots on the Wood. We were the envy of every boat that went by. An hour before the opener, we were all scrambling to get everything ready. Once 7 am hit every set-netter dragged his net out and began catching fish. The drifter’s opener (which are those big fising boats you see in the harbor) was set one hour later. Once 8 am hit, the chaos began.
“WATCH OUT FOR MY BUOY!” yelled Ole, as a 40 foot drifter rolled by us less than 6 feet away. “I’LL CUT YOUR NET IF YOU CATCH MY BUOY!” he yells. It was utter chaos. Over 20 boats trying to fish on spot right off our nets. It was like watching bumper boats. People were screaming four letter words at eachother, raming other boats, cutting nets, and running over nets. I’d never seen anything like it before so I was grinning and laughing from ear to ear. That is until the fish started to sink the net.
We had 6 crewman, including myself, picking the net. 6 people in one boat is a lot for a skiff, but we had so many fish in the net that every person was busy. Every boat that went by had all eyes on us. There were so many fish that we were standing almost knee deep in fish. I can honestly say that I caught more fish in just 1 hour than I have in my whole life. It was a trip! After the long day some of the guys took the last load of fish to the Thor to sell. I stayed behind and helped on the beach. The opener had closed and we were going to head home to Nush Point so catch a hot shower and tell stories to the night crew. I was thinking about hot chocolate and how good it would taste right about now. The long boat ride home wouldn’t be so bad with a cup of hot coco warming my tummy. Low and behold, one of the sweetest guys (you know who you are) brought me a cup of hot coco back from the Thor. It was the best hot coco I’d ever had. 😉
My time at Nushagak Point went by too fast. It was one of the neatest most rewarding experiences I’d ever had. I will never forget the fish, the cold, the tides, and most of all, the people who I met and got to know.
That’s all for the moment. There will be more posts to come.