Since Madeline is only 11 years old, she traveled with Bruce, a family friend who happens to be her former second-grade teacher. Bruce wanted to come up to the bay and check it out, and there was nobody else we would want to chaperone our daughter on a trip to Alaska.
Bruce and Madeline arrived Naknek on Wednesday, July 18. I ran in after fishing the flood. I bucked the current all the way in, so by the time I reached the dock I had only a few minutes before the falling tide left me high and dry on the bottom. By the time Bruce and Madeline were all loaded up and I was done screwing around with my dock errands, there was no longer enough water to float my boat, so we had to stay on the beach for that tide. It was just as well since it was the end of a long day of traveling for the new crew.
We were back out and fishing on the next tide in the morning. I left two of my regular crew, Conor and Edward, on the beach to strip gear and just relax, and Anthony came out fishing with us to show the greenhorns the trade. Bruce had come fishing with me a few times in Puget Sound, but he couldn’t believe the difference in Bristol Bay. He finally understood why I call the Puget Sound fishery vacation fishing.
Fishing was pretty slow, but we managed to scrape up a few decent sets. Madeline liked to ride up on the flying bridge with me as we tooled around the bay. She came to Alaska as a spectator, so I suppose she picked a great spot for spectating. I enjoyed her company as she soaked up the scene. I was a bit concerned about all the foul language she was soaking up while listening to me talk on the radio. There is no “off” switch for my habit of a foul mouth when fishing; I could only hope she wouldn’t bring it home to her mother.
After a full day out Anthony and Bruce bailed off the boat, and Conor and his brother Devin hopped aboard on Friday, July 20. Conor was excited to come out and do some home-pack high grading for himself and the rest of the crew, and he was definitely the right man for the job. The way he looked at every one of them before he tossed it into the brailer — like he wanted to take a picture, frame it, and then eat it — was almost scary. He was so serious about packing fish, I thought he might eat me if I couldn’t catch enough fish to satisfy his appetite.
Fishing was real slow, but fortunately we were catching enough to keep Conor satisfied. It really started blowing toward the top of the tide and I was concerned Madeline was not going to like the weather, but she hung in there like a veteran. She did take a nap during the height of the storm, but since her commission aboard began she had been living quite the life of leisure, so it very well could have coincided with her beauty sleep.
When Conor had enough, we called it quits for the tide, and for the day, and for the season. This sockeye run was done, and now it was time to hit the beach and pack the Sunlight III up for the long, cold winter.
We may have been done catching the fish, but we certainly weren’t done messing with them. Conor had organized a fish processing assembly line with people filleting, vacuum packing, loading the freezer, and tending the smoker. There were so many fish, the packing went on for days, and the tribal-like feeling created by their large-scale effort of preserving of the seasons bounty was a great way to sign off on for the season.
TO BE CONTINUED…