Written by Jen Finn
July 10, 2007 — On Tuesday, July 10, fishing was pretty good. I was fishing the first part of the ebb out by the Johnson Hill buoy. There was lots of room because everyone had run up a few miles to make a longer set before the current carried them back down to the line. The weather was clear, sunny, and a bit rough with a 25-knot wind from the south.
I felt fortunate just to be out fishing because my alternator was legally dead, and I was living on borrowed time until its replacement could be flown in. If I shut my engine off there wouldn't be enough battery power to restart it, so it had been running nonstop for 24 hours. I charged my batteries at the tender during the closures in order to keep the batteries up enough to run my radios.
At night I fished in darkness with no deck lights, but just the draw of the running lights, along with the necessary electronics that run all day, would drain my batteries to the point that eventually my radio wouldn't work and the cabin lights offered only a dim glow. All this charging and draining stressed my batteries so much that they hardly held a charge, so I had a fresh set coming out on a tender.
I was making quick ebb sets, running back a mile from the line and drifting out in the clear water amongst a foamy tiderip. There were fish in the clear water, but they wouldn't hit the net unless I ran them in with the boat, which is a very common practice in Bristol Bay. So I let go of the net and ran right along the corkline the entire length of the net. Big schools of salmon that were lying against the net all pushed in at once, pulling the corks down then powering up all together as they fought against the net.
Even though I've done it a million times, I am always a bit wary of running the net when making an ebb set. The current is moving toward the line, and if some unforeseen difficulty befalls me while running the net, like getting the net wrapped up in the propeller, there would be no way to clear it before I drifted over the line.
In this instance, running the net was the only way to catch these fish, so run it I did. I let go the end of the net and ran the Sunlight III along the corkline, close enough to scare lots of fish in, but with enough distance so there was no way I could catch my net in the prop.
Then, halfway down my net as I ran full-speed ahead, my engine suddenly died. I knew what it was right away, because I had done it before. And I knew how to fix it, because after this happened the first time I prepared for it, although it should never happen in the first place... I had run my boat out of fuel.
The solution is simple: Pull out my spare fuel jugs and add my emergency fuel to the tank. The problem I faced was that my batteries were so low I knew they wouldn't start my boat. But that was the least of my concerns at the moment because I wasn't even attached to my net! If I didn't act quickly my boat would drift helplessly away with no way of restarting. I pictured us drifting over the line and into the custody of the Alaskan State Troopers.
Thankfully the wind was blowing my dead boat toward my net instead of away. I put my crew on point, and set it in their minds to grab that corkline at all costs when we drifted over it. With just a small bit of drama we got a hold of the net, pulled it around and through the stern roller, and started pulling.
First we pulled the shorter end aboard, which extended out about 40 fathoms. It was all twisted up under and around the boat so it came up in a big twisted pile of net and fish. Next we pulled the remaining 110 fathoms aboard, which was no small task, pulling against a steady 25-knot wind with no hydraulics or propulsion to ease the burden.
TO BE CONTINUED...
National Fisherman Live: 3/10/15
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