FAREWELL BRISTOL BAY
We were tied up next to three other fishing vessels at Trident’s dock, washing down the Erika Lynn and mending the net. Another gill netter pulled up alongside us and asked permission to tie off to us. Harry Jay Follman said, “Sure, but we going out again this evening.”
Trident Seafood Dock approaching high tide in Naknek, AK.
“Thanks, no problem. “How did the Erika Lynn do this morning?””
“Not as well as we expected, just a few thousand pounds. How about you?”
“The same. We hope it’s better tonight.”
When we had the boat ship-shape, the skipper said, “Let’s go ashore, and look around.” I thought to get off the boat and stretching my legs was a good idea. I followed the crew across the decks of three boat and climbed the few feet up the ladder onto the dock. We headed for the nearby LFS marine store to pick up some odds and ends, and a set of Gunden’s all-weather gear for myself, the full share greenhorn.
On the way back, we stopped at the cafeteria in the bowls of the cannery. It was almost two o’clock, and the place was nearly deserted, except for a dozen or so shifty-eyed fishermen, who were killing time until the evening opening. We got a spartan, but decent lunch of chili and cornbread, and charged it to the boat.
We returned to the Erika Lynn to hang out, sleep, read, or do whatever suited us, as we waited for the evening flood tide which was six hours away. I beat Mike out of the Greenhorn’s bunk and took a short nap, after which, I sat at the galley table daydreaming about that morning’s exciting opening and looking forward to tonight’s fishing, which would be my last.
The marine radio crackled to life. It was Shady, asking for Harry Jay Follman. Kris, who apparently knew this captain, answered and told him, “He’s not here, Shady I’ll have him contact you when he gets back.”
“No, this is important, go find him.”
Kris told Mike, “He’s up at Tridents office, go get him while I see what Shady is up to?”
Mike scampered across the three boats, climbed the ladder, and disappeared. Five minutes later, Harry Jay Follman was back aboard, laughing and joking with Shady over the radio. Shady told him. “I’ve been in Egegik the last couple of days. There are only a handful of boats here with me, and it’s been a hell of a run of fish so far. I’ve already delivered thirty-thousand pounds of sockeye to the tender, Maybe you want to think about a transfer down here.”
“Thanks for the heads up, We transferred our permit to Egegik two days ago, and we might even to be able to fish tonight’s tide. We’ll head down there this afternoon.”
Harry Jay Follman hung up, turned to me and said, “Sorry Full Share. You heard Shady and me on the radio. We’re leaving you here on the beach this afternoon and going to Egegik.”
I was disappointed. I had counted on fishing tonight’s opening before flying out the next day. I thought about it for a minute and realized, not only was I damn lucky just to be here, but this sudden change of plans presented me with a welcome opportunity to explore and photograph this part of the world.
I loaded up my suitcase and duffel bag, bid farewell and good fishing to the crew and left the wheelhouse. I was shocked when I looked up at the dock and saw that it towered over the boat. The afternoon low tide dropped the Erika Lynn nearly fifteen feet below the dock’s deck. Harry Jay Follman saw the look of panic on my face and knew It would be a struggle for me to climb the ladder with a suitcase and duffel bag. He quietly told Mike, “Take Full Share’s gear up the ladder for him.”
I followed Mike up to the slimy ladder and watched as the Ruth Ellen’s engine roared to life, and her nimble crew skillfully slipped the Erika Lynn out of the growing flotilla of boats and closed the gap in the tie-up behind them, I gave them a John Wayne salute as they headed down river for Egegik, a good three hours away.
I rented a pickup for the rest of the day, and drove over to the Naknek River and checked out one of the nearby neighborhoods that was home to the year-round fishermen and cannery workers. I would love to spend a summer here. There is so much to see and do if you are a fisherman, adventurer, or boat person. That’s a tender anchored up in mid-river and a cannery in the town of South Naknek across the river.
On my way down to Kvichak Bay, there wasn’t much to see until I found this cool little lakeside house out in the middle of the tundra. On closer examination it appeared to be a weathered, old shack that the owner had re-roofed with a striking metal roof. Undoubtedly at the urging of his wife or girlfriend.
I continued south, left the road, and drove along the edge of the cliff until I found a safe well-traveled beach access driveway that lead to a dock and storage building below. I carefully dropped onto the beach, snapped a photo, and continued down the beach. I managed to skittered around the drift wood and debris until I came upon a group of local set net gillnet fishermen pushing off from shore.
The crew appeared to be a native family. Gramps, pop, and two teenagers. I wondered why the drift net guys had issues with these folks. I think it had something to do with long ago feuds over native fishing rights and. quotas.
set net – courtesy of Safina Center
A drift net and a set net are basically the same thing, except the set net has one end anchored close to shore, sometimes with a steel stake, and the other end anchored off-shore and marked by a buoy. It remains in the water for the length of the opening. A drift net is reeled off a drum from the stern of a thirty-two-foot gill netter vessel and reeled back in when it’s loaded with fish. A series of floats keep the net at the proper depth. When the fish hit the net they get trapped in the net’s mesh.
The set net fishermen pulled up to the off shore buoy and dragged one end of the net aboard the starboard beam of their skiff. They picked the trapped fish off of the net and placed the net back in the water on the port side of the skiff, while pulling the next section of net aboard the starboard side and repeating this over and over until the arrived at the shore end of the net. It looked like pretty hard work.
I returned to town, stopped at the D & D for a pizza and a six-pack to go, and made my way up river towards King Salmon. I stopped to see the Naknek International airport that the guys were joking about last night. At first glance, it looked like a junkyard for abandoned aircrafts. I was surprised when two men pulled up, and stopped their truck next to one of the several aircrafts which were backed Into the bushes. They got out and removed the tie-down straps, boarded the plane and started her up. As the pilot pulled the throttle out, the little plane shuddered, bolted forward, slowed momentarily on the steep berm, then lurched onto the gravel runway, They turned into the wind and they rattled down the gravel runway, tires squealing, engine roaring and they were gone.
I was tired, emotionally drained, and ready to call it a day. I drove up to King Salmon and pulled up to Eddies, where Harry Jay Follman told me I could get an inexpensive room for the night. I was disappointed to learn they were full. However, they suggested I try the nearby King Salmon Inn, or one of the fishing lodges up river. I had an early morning flight and wasn’t interested n that adventure this evening.
It was about seven when I entered the high-end King Salmon Inn. A woodsy themed hotel/restaurant and cocktail lounge which obviously catered to the expense account crowd. They would soon be flocking here to take their turns at spending a few day sports fishing the iconic Naknek river and its tributaries. It was very early in the season, and the place seemed nearly deserted, except for several people in the restaurant and the busy, noisy bar. I banged on the little bell at the reception desk until a guy emerged from nowhere, and introduced himself, “I’m James, the hotel manager. How may we serve you, Sir?”
“I need a room for the night.”
“You’re in the right place. Our rooms are under renovation, and unavailable until next week, but I can put you in one of our very nice bungalows. The daily rate is $459.00 plus taxes.”
“Look Mister. I’m just here for the night, my plane leaves in the morning. I don’t want to buy your bungalow, I just want to sleep in it for a few hours. Can you do better than that?”
He looked me over carefully, and said, “You’re a commercial fisherman. Right?”
I nodded my head. He smiled and said, “Okay, friend, One-hundred-fifty-bucks for the night and you be out of the room by eight a.m.”
“You got a deal. One more thing. I have to be at the airport by six. Can your shuttle take me there?”
He gave me an odd look, smiled and hollered at someone in the kitchen. A tall, attractive, thirty-something woman approached the desk. He smiled a knowing smile, and asked , “Can you take this man to the airport at six tomorrow morning?”
“She gave the manager an inquisitive look and said, “I’m not sure, Boss. I don’t always get here that early. Do you have a lot of stuff to check at the airport?”
“No just this carry-on and duffel bag'”
She glanced at James, winked, and said, “Sure. I’ll do it.”
I thanked them both, found my way over to my bungalow, called the rental place and told them where they could pick up their truck in the morning.
The next morning, I was up at five-thirty and anxious to be on my way. I walked over to the office a little before six and sat in the lobby waiting for the shuttle. When it didn’t show up by six-ten, I panicked and hollered, “Is anybody here?” A wizen old Aleut came out of the kitchen and asked, “What you want?”
“The shuttle was supposed to pick me up ten minutes ago and take me to the airport. It didn’t show up. Can you call somebody?”
He beckoned for me to follow him out to the front porch, where he pointed to a dilapidated building a hundred yards north of the hotel and said, “That’s the airport, Son.” He gave me a pathetic look and returned to the kitchen. I really felt foolish as I gathered up my bags and walked over to the airport. However, as I thought about it, it angered me to be played the fool by the hotel staff last night.