Like some great magnet that pulls folks from mainland Alaska, Kalgan Island, in the middle of Cook Inlet, has lured four generations of Hermons to its beaches each summer to set their salmon setnets. The fishermen in the family range in age from 2 to 86 years old, with a healthy number of siblings in between.
George Hermon and his brother left the family settlement in the Matanuska Valley, near Palmer and began making their summer sojourns to the island to fish back in the 1940s. They were just little kids then, recalls George’s 60-year-old son, Kent.
“Can you imagine? Here you’ve got an 11-year-old and a 9-year-old, hitchhiking all the way from the valley to meet a supply scow headed to the island for an entire summer,” says Kent Hermon. “And all they have with them for supplies are their .22 rifles and two cartons of breath mints.”
As the decades wore on, George and his wife, Evie, raised Kent and his two brothers, Mark and Tom, in the fishing life. Now the three sons have established operations of their own.
Meanwhile, Kent and his wife, Suzanne, 54, raised their three kids, Eric, 35, Jacob, 34, and Kathryn, 33, on the island. Jacob and his wife, Jordan, recently introduced their 2-year-old daughter Elizabeth to the fishing operation. Though the couple had been living out east and making summer pilgrimages to fish the island, Kent says they’re moving back to Alaska so they can spend more time out on the island.
At the same time, the Hermons have fortified their fishing operations to include four permits, which enable them to fish a dozen 35-fathom nets, and the camp has evolved from tents to buildings and the ameliorations of a permanent settlement.
“We all have our own cabins,” says Kent.
Last winter, the Hermons acquired a 36-foot bowpicker to help haul supplies and tender their salmon either to larger tenders or to processing plants on the mainland more than 30 miles away. Though fishing time — and the subsequent salmon harvest — has dwindled since the heyday of the 1980s in Cook Inlet, the island continues to pull the Hermons together every year.
“The great thing is that it’s kept the family close,” says Kent. “I’ve never spent a summer off that island.”
The fishing season on Kalgan Island runs from June 1 to the end of July, but Hermon anticipates that he and his wife will be spending more time at their camp in the years to come. The Hermons work as teachers in the Matanuska Valley during the school year, but plan to retire in five years. Part of that plan includes living on the island from April to September each year, then traveling south in winters.