It was an overtaxing preseason, but we managed to have the boats in the water and ready to go fishing Wednesday, June 14, in order to make the Thursday 9 a.m. opening in Egegik. The following week we fished the 48 hours of scheduled fishing in Ugashik, which was basically 12 hours of fishing each day, starting Monday, June 17.
I spent those early openings running drills with my entirely new crew, consisting of Conor, a longtime friend of Crosby’s, who fulfilled the Maine requisite on the SLIII; John, who is the guy who leases my Puget Sound crab permit; and Edward Albert, the man with two first names, who called me via a reference from one of my Santa Barbara friends.
My wife, Maureen, became an advocate of his hiring because of his disadvantaged upbringing and his need of a leg up in life. All three of these guys turned out to be great hands, although they lacked the speed on this first season, which would come with time.
Crosby spent the early time in Egegik running drills as well, along with other antics, such as searching the mudflats for his bow thruster propeller, which spun off because the nuts weren’t tightened enough to hold it on. In Ugashik he spent the majority of one opening anchored up because his battery was dead. This was the beginning of a chronic alternator problem that would lead to a small engine fire, and much lost fishing time later in the season.
Upon our arrival back in Naknek after the preseason fishing, we welcomed aboard the PSG film crews, who were shooting a documentary about the Bristol Bay fishery for the National Geographic Channel. They came out with us during several openings of fishing in the Naknek River Special Harvest Area.
Fishing was slow all over the place; the run was late. The fish were still trickling in on the second of July. Nobody was really panicked, because the runs have been coming in late all over Alaska. And that is what happened in Bristol Bay as well, and finally the fish started showing up in big numbers. The fleet was moved out into the Naknek and Kvichak districts later in the season, and the fish kept coming. In fact, they kept coming all the way through the end of July.
Crosby had no end of problems with the Claude M. Bristol during the season. The alternator caught fire; the high-tech hydraulic pump kept blowing hoses; the U-joint drive shaft to that pump spun out of round, and then the pulley to which it was mounted on the engine spun out as well; he blew hydraulic lines on the antiquated deck system; he got the web in the wheel a couple times; he got the bow line wrapped up in the bow thruster; and he had a hell of a time keeping the engine room pumped out because the float switch didn’t work on the bilge pump.
There was more than that which burdened his season, but those were the highlights. But through it all, he kept up a good attitude, and he managed to land a respectable season despite all his in-season disasters.
While we were fishing outside in the Naknek side, catching good fish in some really shitty weather, I found it a slick trick to deliver to the Stellar Sea, Peter Pan Seafoods’ floating processing vessel; I actually delivered to whatever tender was offloading its fish at the time.
Although the wind was a really shitty southerly of 25 to 30 knots with the waves stacking up absurdly high against the outgoing 2-knot current, the Stellar Sea, and the tramper to which it was tied, and the delivering tender, all swung sideways in the wind with the Stellar and the tender on the leeward side.
This made an ideal delivering condition, with a relatively flat-calm oasis alongside the tender. I even figured out a way to tie off to the leeward stern of the Stellar so I could tend to damaged nets or even take a nap. The Stellar oasis was definitely a cool trick.
The end of the season was kind of a dud for us during this season when so many fish arrived late. I had the best of intentions when I scheduled, even before the season began, to bring the wife and kids up at the end of the season to check out the fishery. Well, dad had a tough time just turning off his fishing switch when there are still fish being caught.
To make a long story short, the family adventure didn’t turn out as I had hoped. It had its good parts, for sure, but my inability to focus on my family rather than the fishing I was not partaking in really fouled this family holiday retreat in Bristol Bay.
The lifesaver of the family vacation was the trip to Brooks Lodge to see the bears chomp down on salmon, and the trip we took to Seward to check out the town that I frequent when I am longlining. That was good, fun family time that helped make up for the distorted family misadventure in Bristol Bay.
All in all it was a good season, full of much adventure and angst, and definitely one to remember.
TO BE CONTINUED…