Written by Jen Finn
July 12-13, 2008 — The peak had passed, and the 2008 Bristol Bay sockeye salmon run was winding down. Catch limits were gone but not forgotten, and we were fishing longer periods for less fish.
I would sit on the flying bridge and watch my crew guys push the net onto the reel as it was hauled in, human levelwinds in action. Then I thought about the levelwind I had sitting up in the locker, which, after of years in mothballs, I got ready to go for when fishing slowed down. And it looked like fishing had slowed down.
I've fished without the levelwind since 2000. During heavy fishing it is nothing but a hassle — it has to be moved out of the way at the end of each set before I can shut the hydraulics off, it creates another snag for the net when we set, and it is always breaking down. It causes more stress than anything, so why bother?
I figured my current crew guys are sharp enough to diminish the negative aspects so they could enjoy the benefit of having the machine ease the burden of directing the net onto the reel. The next slow opening I decided to run up to camp and put the levelwind on.
The wind whipped across Johnson Hill on another day of crappy weather on July 12. Very few fish came across the line for most of the evening flood, so I decided this would be a good time to run up and put the levelwind on. With a little bit of the flood remaining, I ran with the wind and tide up to Nornak camp, making 10 knots all the way.
As I ran I kept an eye on other nets in the water, and noticed there were a few fish hitting 5 miles north of the line, closer to the mouth of the river. I slowed down and va-rumped the motor a few times to signal the guys we were going to set. I thought they would be surprised, but they immediately popped out on deck ready to go. They were more surprised I had decided to run in, and expected I would be making a few sets on the way.
Part of my decision to go in was because it was really blowing, and I was getting tired of beating my brains out running up to the line for no fish. To avoid the weather I ran right up close to the bank in the lee of the offshoreish wind, and set out my net. And waddyaknow — there were a few fish around!
I viewed these as bonus fish since I had already decided to run in, so I just put the towline on the bow and hung on it in the wind, which I guess was blowing about 35 knots at this point. Then I went down and relaxed, instead of towing the end around in the nasty weather; I figured just being here was enough — I didn't have to kill myself!
The wind did a great job of pushing us offshore back into the swell, and when it got too rough to be comfortable, we picked it up, ran back in, and made another. We were one of the few boats fishing, so there was always a set, and we enjoyed pretty good, easy fishing for a few hours.
When the ebb started pushing out real fast the fishing slowed down, and I jogged with the tide back down to the line and delivered. With the levelwind idea on hold until the wind, and the fishing, slowed down, I fished another opening through the remainder of the blow.
By Saturday evening, July 13, the storm had moved through, and so had the fish. Nobody was catching anything to speak of and I knew this was the time for a run to camp. We traveled in flat-calm seas, and didn't miss a thing when we put the levelwind on.
TO BE CONTINUED...
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