Boat of the Month July 2018: Granger Gear

Today we are used to seeing boats and fishing operations reliant on new technologies and the latest and greatest gadgets. However, just a short ferry ride from Lummi Nation territory to Lummi Island, just north of the fishing city of Bellingham, Wash., you’ll find a fishing setup, gear and boats that may be unfamiliar to even the saltiest gillnetter, seiner or troller.

Pete Granger.

Pete Granger has been fishing on the “Granger Gear” — an anchored but floating set of gear where fish are trapped, accompanied by a transport skiffs — in the Legoe Bay reefnet fishery since he was a young boy. He’s been working his current gear since 1999, when he and cousin Roger Granger took over the operation from their friend and mentor Bob Jewell.

The setup with a live fish hold, a crow’s nest lookout, many winches and recently updated with two solar panels, is known as the gear and set in the same spot year after year. The skiff ties up alongside as the crew waits during the flood tide for schools of sockeye or pink salmon headed for Canada’s Fraser River to swim up past the fishermen’s artificial reefs and into their nets, which are then lifted by the winches at the spotter’s call.

This traditional but little-known fishery is unique in many ways — one of which being that the pieces and boats lack names and clean black decals labeling the home port. The Granger Gear consists of: two 40-foot boats tied up to four large cement anchors with durable polyline, a net-bottomed live tank that holds up to 2,000 fish, and winches that close the underwater net directing the fish into their gear. An 18-foot skiff with 25-hp Yamaha outboards delivers the fish to the tender and the crew to the gear.

The inside-stationed boat is a gillnet hull that was original to the Jewell operation “that had been built out but never finished, so they scooped it up out of some boatyard close to 40 years ago,” Granger explained. Granger helped build the outside-stationed boat with local boatbuilders Travis Moose and Bryan Martens in 2015. That one has a treated wooden deck and two fiberglass pontoons. The skiff has two ice totes on deck that hold 100 fish each.

The most welcome update to the gear has been the solar panels on each boat that charge the batteries, which run the winches responsible for scooping and trapping fish into their live tank and other electronics, like lights.

During this 2018 season, the Granger Gear will be one of nine similar operations in Legoe Bay, on the west side of Lummi Island, north of Rosario Strait.

They are excited to welcome a ninth gear onto their line this year, as it will be run by members of Lummi Nation. This style of reefnetting is an old Salish tribal method, invented hundreds, possibly thousands, of years ago. The boats and platforms have certainly been updated, but Granger explains not much has changed.

“We just refined it a little, and now we’re fishing in the same basic spot that the Lummi fished for centuries.”

Home port: Lummi Island, Wash.

Owners: Pete and Debbie Granger

Builders: Bob Jewell, Travis Moose, Bryan Martens

Year built: Inside boat, 1975; Outside boat, 2014

Fishery: Fraser River sockeye, pink, chum and silver salmon

Hull material: Inside boat, fiberglass hull, treated wood deck; outside boat, fiberglass pontoons, treated wood deck, aluminum stands and fairleads

Length: Both boats 40 feet;
18-foot skiff

Beam: Inside boat, 8 feet; outside boat, 10 feet

Draft: 4 inches

Crew capacity: 5

Main propulsion: 25-hp Yamaha on the skiff

Hold capacity: Outside boat, 6,000 pounds; skiff, 600 pounds

Electronics: 3 solar panels on each boat; 24 12-volt marine batteries

About the author

Elma Burnham

Elma Burnham is a writer and Bristol Bay setnetter. She launched Strength of the Tides in fall 2016 from her home in Bellingham, Wash.

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