June 26-July 5, 2007 — When the Free Week ended at 9 a.m. Friday, June 22, I went back to the dock to wait for an opening, just like everybody else who was fishing the Naknek/Kvichak district. Once the Free Week is over and the Emergency Order period begins, Alaska Fish and Game gives openings only if there is a sign of fish in the district, or if the escapement of fish going up the river is on schedule.
So we waited on the beach for a couple of days, and my brother Frank went out and did a little test fishing for Fish and Game, and although there were good enough fish outside, there weren't enough heading up the Kvichak River to warrant an opening.
The Kvichak is the driving issue in the determination of an opening. It has been lagging in its escapement over the past few years, so the run managers wait until there are an acceptable number of fish going up that river before they give us an opening outside, even if the fishing area is isolated to the Naknek side of the district. If a certain amount of fish don't show up by a certain date, then we fish in the Naknek River Special Harvest Area, which I refer to as "the river."
Just as I expected, these predetermined run management triggers kicked in, and all of a sudden we were fishing in the river. The boundary line is drawn across the mouth of the Naknek River, which is about a mile across, and we can fish about five miles upriver from that line. We are allowed only 75 fathoms of net in the water at a time, and a total of 150 fathoms aboard the boat.
We started fishing in the river on Wednesday, June 26. Fishing started out all right, and only got better. We were getting three tides in a row, and then the setnetters would fish a tide, and then the driftnetters would fish another three in a row. There were quite a few boats fishing in the Naknek River this year. If I were more attuned to what all the runs were doing in the other rivers I could explain why so many guys chose to fish in Naknek, but I just plan on fishing here every year, so some years it is crowded, and other years it is not.
There were a lot more guys fishing upriver this year, perhaps due to the rule change that allows us to fish up to 75 fathoms instead of just 50 fathoms of net. In past years fishing upriver was good through most of the period, but this year from what I hear it was pretty much a mop-up operation, and then scratch-fishing for the rest of the period. But I guess there was a shitload of fish caught up there; of course there is no way of really knowing because it is so tough to get a reliable report that is not distorted by relative terms like "a shitload of fish." Just how many fish are there in a shitload, exactly?
One day while fishing during the peak of the run, there was a definite shitload of fish that came pushing across the line. It was a day of pretty good fishing, but then during the ebb when it usually tapers off, this colossal wave of fish began pushing into the river. Everybody got tangled up (in a good way) with a bunch of fish in there net, so there were sets open to take a shot at this huge volume of fish. They were pummeling the corkline in solid waves of hitters.
Because it was on the ebb, I set only 50 fathoms because I had to pull the net up before I drifted out over the line. I wished I could have set the whole thing out, but it was quite a show watching them slam into my little piece of net. The good part is that after we pulled that 50-fathom piece aboard and totally loaded the stern, I had a clean 50-fathom piece of net in the bin ready to set, so I ran up and slapped it out again, and drifted out for another super-stuffer of a set, and piled on more fish than I had ever before put in the stern of the Sunlight III.
If I had another piece I would have set it; I don't know where I would have put it when it came time to pull it aboard, but it definitely would have gone in the water. Unfortunately, my third 50-fathom piece of net was buried underneath that giant pile of fish, and it had only 60 fish or so that needed to be cleared. Had I known this was coming I would definitely have taken three or four minutes clear that piece, and been money ahead with a third helping from this insane shot of fish that pushed into the Naknek River that day.
TO BE CONTINUED...
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