While the average American is contemplating whether to grill up hot dogs, hamburgers or both for their Fourth of July celebration, commercial fishermen in Alaska’s Bristol Bay have salmon on the brain.
That’s because they’re in the thick of their annual harvest. Last year, Charlie Ess, our North Pacific Bureau Chief, was picking nets alongside his son, Clarence, in Bristol Bay’s Ugashik District. His story about his first salmon sabbatical appeared in our May issue.
You may recall that Charlie hadn’t had the pleasure of setnetting for salmon for some 17 years before opportunity arose to fish at Ugashik with his cousin Cate Bursch. And as fulfilling as fishing with his son was, the experience wasn’t without a fair amount of aches and pains.
But those aches and pains evidently weren’t enough to quell the desire to go back for more this year, as the above photo Charlie sent of this year’s crew demonstrates. From left are Jake Easton, Howard Mozen, Ike Walker, Danny Rozenkrans, Travis Haskin, and Charlie Ess. That’s Garrett Rozenkrans behind Charlie facing away, and skipper Parker Sorenson is mostly visible behind Charlie’s left thumb.
Charlie was also kind enough to email from the fishing grounds an update to share with you all on this year’s sojourn:
Well we’re back at it again. I had thought that last year was to be the last year setnetting for salmon. We had come to my cousin Catie Bursch’s fish camp, in the Ugashik District of Bristol Bay as a sendoff for my son Clarence. We fished together in the same skiff; made money and made memories But his life took a twist when doctors found a vein in his leg that voided his contract as a Navy SEAL.
So he headed off to college for the winter, and I continued plugging away at my job. But winter has a way of working on fishermen, and in February Clarence was again considering the setnet fishery. When I learned that he was going I didn’t want to be left behind and begged my cousin for a job. Miraculously, she had an open spot.
Flash forward a month, and Clarence suddenly has on offer on a salmon tender in Cook Inlet. He decides that he wants to try something different and goes for that while I remain committed to the Bay. A month later, the tendering contract has not been forthcoming and what should appear but a chance for Clarence to jump on for a season aboard the 58-foot Sea King, a salmon seiner out of Sand Point.
So as I’m writing this he’s well into a fantastic season on the seiner. Meanwhile, sockeyes showed up in unprecedented numbers here on the Ugashik. We have been fishing every day since June 21. The fish are hitting the nets. I’m spending long hours in the open skiffs and living once again by the tides.
Glad to hear the fishing is good, Charlie. Just keep the ibuprofen handy.
And however you spend the day, whether you’re grilling up some dogs or filling up fish holds, have a great Independence Day.