End of Season
Rain trickling down has sent us inside to do some important catching up, writing! The fishing season ended for us about two weeks ago on an okay note - not the worst catching overall, but a little below average. This business and lifestyle has taught us to be flexible over the years; there are comparisons to be made with farming where we too are at the whims of mother nature. This is all a little blip in the big picture of life and after the dust has settled on the season itself and our gear is sorted and stored for winter, we have more time to think about our part in this amazing food chain and ecosystem.
Less philosophically, we think practically, as we are closing up for winter, about our machines. As much as we curse them for slowly deafening us and for breaking down at inopportune times (such as when Adelia's 340-pound outboard had to be unbolted from the skiff while in the water, hoisted on to the deck of the tender, and driven more than 6 hours to the mechanic in town), they allow us to harvest our catch and live this fishing life, so we have to take care of them. Regularly scheduled maintenance is a good start to preventing problems; changing the oil every 200 hours, the filter every 400, the lower unit oil at the end of the season, the water pump every couple of years. Then there are the self-inflicted break downs to tend to; bending an aluminum propeller on a line or log, grinding the prop in the rocky beach, breaking off a hydraulic fitting on the steering ram, dealing with water in the gas. Systems are evaluated this time of year for deep repairs only possible in the off-season; what’s up with the cooling pump on the diesel powered RSW (Refrigerated Sea Water) system which got a new belt but didn’t lose its erratic behavior? One of the bow rollers tends to suck web into it in certain sea conditions, so what welding needs to happen to fix that? Now, at the end of our season, we make notes, plan parts to buy, and put engines away with Stabil fuel in the gas, fogging oil in the spark plugs, and bolts greased up with the extraordinarily messy NeverSeez and/or Corrosion Block. Salt water eats metal, so we fight a constant battle to prevent the ocean from consuming and returning metal to its primal form and bringing machines to a halt along the way.
We also take special care when storing our nets after the long fishing season – one of the longest in the state. We put them together by hand every spring and need to inventory what shape they’re in in the fall so we know if they can fish again or need to be retired. Making notes on tags cut from rectangles of deflated buoy tied to the net with scrap twine is a helpful practice. What happened to this net during the season, does the web need to be stripped off the lead line or cork line or is it repairable to be used again? One end of the net had two mysterious motorcycle-sized holes ripped into during the night. Was it a shark chasing coho salmon? Those type of holes are patchable, but is the rest of the net in desperate need of attention too, thereby making more sense to strip the web off and start over again?
Part of our old, ratty net gained an unplanned extra span of life this fall. While the season was still in progress but winding down, we started stripping a section of net that wasn’t being used, but only got three fathoms down the cork line before being called away to something else. By the time we got back to it, we had already pulled all our other commercial gear out of the water and hung it up for the season. Since we could sense fish still around, rather than finish stripping the web, we turned it into a subsistence net and caught the last two silvers to eat and can up for our future enjoyment. Good thing we didn't finish the job started earlier, but we did spend about 10 minutes lacing the web back onto the cork line so it could hang in the water for a couple more hours. The salmon it caught were delicious and it was extra rewarding to have given a last hurrah to this hard-working scrap of net – even though it was sort of like going backward to go forward – before wrapping it up for winter.
All our nets are sleeping now under the blue tarps which are ubiquitous across bush Alaska. In the fishing world, tarps are used to prevent UV damage to the nets, lines, corks, and buoys, or to keep the majority of rain off of equipment. Preventing snags as a net is being dragged over something is a common use; less so is wrapping a leaking vessel in a blue tarp to slow the entrance of sea water (it works in emergency, says local lore).
As we look out at our net burritos, tidy and dry(ish) in today’s soothing drizzle, lying cozily next to our skiffs parked high and dry on the bank above the beach, we make our notes for next season, filling pages in our notebooks with needs, reminders, and ideas. We reflect with gratitude not just on the beautiful calm and sunny weather we had in September, but also on the sparkly salmon filling our nets and holds over course of the season.
In the not so distant future, we will personally transfer our salmon into the hands of our appreciated salmon eaters. In this moment, though, our own hands - the physical focal point linking to the culmination of nature’s multi-thousand nautical mile journey - appreciate the rest time after months of gripping lines and lightly pawing through web to harvest our catch. In treating them right, we cup a hot dark beverage, take a break from our notes, and soak in the view of misty mountains while listening to the patter of fresh water falling gently from the sky.