Well, that’s a wrap! I’ve been fishing in Alaska for the last month, and we are finally heading back to land! Proud to say I helped my dad bring in over a million pounds of salmon this season!
It was my first season fishing in Prince William Sound. Typically, we fish in Chignik, way out along the peninsula. It was nice to be a little more connected here, having cell service on the fishing grounds most of the time. So, I really enjoyed sharing more of my story via my personal Instagram page throughout our long, adventurous days.
Looking for Jumpers in Alaska
My dad is a seasoned fish hunter and will drive for hours to find the fish, sometimes days before we have an opener.
“All eyes on deck!” he will command.
Meaning get on deck and look for jumpers. “Jumpers” are salmon that jump out of the water and give up their location.
Nothing quite like waking up to my dad’s morning wake up call…“Look alive! The fish are jumping!”
I swear the man doesn’t sleep. The more seasoned you become as a fisherman, the more you learn where the fish are and how to catch them. Ultimately, the fish are all headed a similar direction…up river to spawn. Sometimes we are lucky to see schools of salmon swim in the water right by us.
On average we catch anywhere between 20,000 lbs and 90,000 lbs a day. There are 5 grades of salmon. King (Chinook), Red (Sockeye), Silver (Coho), Chum (Keta), Pink (Humpie). Our primary catch in Prince William sound are Humpies and Silvers. Our primary catch in Chignik are Sockeye. And we will catch chum and King Salmon too.
Sometimes Fish and Game will close fishing for anywhere around a day to a few days for management purposes, but we typically stay on the fishing grounds the whole time and rarely come to town unless it’s an emergency or we have a repair.
Deadliest Catch Support Vessels
Right after we catch the fish, they go into our fish hold that’s filled with 34 degree RSW (refrigerated sea water). Every day we deliver our fish to a tender boat, and they then take it to the processor that same day so we can keep fishing. Fish dictate our schedule, so there’s no stopping.
They also operate as our support vessels. When we need fuel, mail, food, or parts to make quick repairs on the water, they keep us going. Many of you might be familiar with these big boats as they are the ones you see on Deadliest Catch. (see photo of our boat tied up to F/V Wizard). Their fish capacity holds anywhere between 300,000 lbs to 900,000 lbs. In the winter months they will work as crab boats in the Bering Sea. Our boat packs 50,000 lbs at a time, and so sometimes when we are on the fish, we will deliver multiple times a day.
Living On a Boat With Our Crew
A typical crew size is 4 people, but because our boat is more of a “family boat” we often have a couple more. For instance my mom, sister and nephew joined us for a week of fishing. It was me in the skiff, my dad (captain) and two deck hands (Chris and Colton) pulling in the net.
Living in closet size quarters on the water for months on end can make anyone a little crazy. So sometimes things get tense. The good thing though is issues get resolved a lot quicker in this environment because we are quite literally living, working, eating and sleeping together. There’s no escaping each other. Sorta like a marriage, right?! The only privacy one gets is on the toilet! But in my case, I often have to use the bucket in the skiff, and that isn’t always private when other fishing boats are swarming around.
One of the hardest parts for me being on the boat and in my case, in the skiff, is a lack of exercise and not being able to train. I call it “restless body syndrome.” This season I brought my bike to ride. My dad said if I looked for jumpers I could ride, lol. Or I would do little exercises on the back deck as much as I was able. I also enjoy reading when there is time, too.
The biggest highlight this season for sure was having my nephew on board! My sister and mom were able to join us for a week of fishing, and they brought Roku. I took him in the skiff with me, and he loved it. He still calls me up and says, “I want to go fishing with Auntie Sierra”…music to my ears. He loved fishing, and it was sweet to see and share a piece of what my childhood looked like through his eyes.
Mechanical Issues Resolved
The toughest parts of the season were facing some mechanical issues. Our generator had a leak in the keel cooler and was difficult to maintain, so we had to pull the boat out of the water. We spent all night working on it, so we could get back out fishing the next day….and that we did!
The next mechanical pitfall was when our port engine died on us with over a week of fishing to go. Our power steering is attached to the port engine, and since it died, we were left only the starboard engine and having to steer the boat manually by wheel the rest of the season. Luckily, we were still able to fish…even though it was a little more difficult.
Fishing in Alaska Is Good For the Soul
Fishing is gratifying for so many reasons. I love being able to catch my own food and bring it back to my community. I love working in the outdoors and being in Wild places. I love the disconnect that being on the ocean affords us. The wildlife we get to see is like being on safari.
Alaska is truly the last frontier. I’ve seen over 50 countries on 6 continents, but none like this place.
Alaska speaks to the soul….because it’s that last true and unadulterated wild place that still exists. That’s a big reason why I am passionate about keeping our resources sustainable and managed well.
I think deep down in the human soul there’s a “wild” part of our souls that needs to be quenched. Skimo and fishing are like one in the same for me.
Back To Life on Land
I’m excited to be back on land, reconnect with my friends and mountain life again, and continue training for another skimo season.
I’m looking forward to being my own boss again, managing my work/life/training schedule more intentionally. On a fishing boat you are quite literally a slave to your master, that being your captain and the boat and the unpredictable cycles of fishing.
Even though living in tight quarters definitely gets old and we need space from one another, I found a certain element of joy in the camaraderie that fishing builds. I will miss this. But this is the part of fishing that I naturally tend to incorporate into the rest of my life and in skimo.
Working together on a fishing boat is like working together on the mountain. Necessary and beneficial.
Thanks for following my adventures in Alaska this month, and I look forward to seeing you at the end of October during deliveries!
2 thoughts on “It’s a Nautical Life – Commercial Fishing in Alaska”
Loved your report and the small bit of vicarious experience through it. Thank you for taking the time.
We have a daughter living and working in Christian Camping missions in the French alps and this summer we experienced the balcony trail at Mont Blanc. I know you have travelled the world and been in the alps with your training and skimo. I so admire your training and commitment. We wish you a great season.
Looking forward to ordering our fish again this fall. It is always a challenge since we live in southern Colorado now but we make it work!
Thank you for sharing this Jan and thank you for the kind words. I’d love to know more about where your daughter is based! We so appreciate knowing you and having you “on board” this fish train. Look forward to seeing you at pick up this fall! ~Sierra