Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Learning Curve

Tuesday - a 24 hour mandatory closed window, so I'll try to get updated between other tasks.
We still haven't caught any fish, but not for lack of good fishing. The neighbor are hauling out excellent catches, and the official numbers reaching the rivers continue to increase. The said around 15,000 fish came up the Kenai river on Saturday, and they all have to swim past us to get there!
Kevin came yesterday and we got all the education our little peabrains could handle, so we launched a skiff and went out to see what our bodies could do. I have a number of muscles left, I'm sure, because they are all sore! Maybe if I explain how it works, you'll see why!

The fish: The main fish caught here is the sockeye, or Red salmon. The fish in this area were hatched in the Kenai and Kasilof rivers, and are mature fish trying to return to their river to spawn. They weigh roughly 4-7 pounds at this stage. Look them up for all the real scientific details. The occasional King gets in the net, and they range up to 80 pounds; later in the game, a few Silvers (Cohoe) begin to appear, but this fishery does not target them.

The place: Look on your Alaska map and find the town of Kenai, just down the coast from Anchorage. Follow the coast south a few miles, to Cape Kasilof, just near the mouth of the Kasilof River. Locally called "Humpy Point", this is about 5 miles north of us. Cook Inlet is the water part -- roughly 30 miles across, it runs from the open ocean all the way up past Anchorage. Prevailing winds from the south bring the big Pacific swells up the inlet. It can be calm and glassy, or quite exciting even close to shore!

The tide: The tide rises and falls, as you all learned in grade school. What most of us don't learn until you see it in action, is just what a force this really is! Here in the Inlet, when the tide rises, water from the Pacific comes flowing into the inlet as the level changes. For 6 hours it streams in, just like an immense river headed north. On shore, the level rises, i.e. the tide rises.
In the water, you can anchor your boat, and there will be a big wake behind it, due to the rushing water. It's a scarier force when you work with fishing gear than the size of the waves, because one slip and everything is out of control. Of course, waves don't exactly help the process, and they do occur here. Yesterday morning, the 24 foot skiffs used to fish were going completely out of sight in the troughs of the waves, about a half mile offshore. Our fishing limit for setnet is a mile and a half.

The sites: People lease the sites from the State of Alaska. There is a huge pile of sandbags holding down an anchor arrangement, which has a big orange buoy attached to massive ropes. About 200 feet away is a second such arrangement-- just the length of one net.
You have to own a commercial fishing permit to set the net, and these also are bought and sold since only a certain number of permits are allowed by the state. So, you lease a site, and you have to also own a permit to set a net on it.

The boat: To get out and fish, you have to use a boat in general. Most use open skiffs around 24-26 feet overall, powered by an outboard engine. They are heavy aluminum, not your average sheet-metal recreational boat, and are extremely seaworthy. You have to launch and land them directly from the beach, which can be a real trick, as well as dangerous. Each site has it's own launch ropes that run from a huge piling on the beach out to an anchor site several hundred yards out beyond the low tide mark. The boat is trailered down to the water and unloaded in the surf. The bow man takes the rope and begins to pull the bow around to face the surf. The rest of the crew pushes and gets the boat headed in the general direction, then climb in and grab the rope. It's a hand over hand sprint against the waves for a hundred feet or more, until the motor can be safely lowered and started. Did I mention I am SORE today? I immediately lost my feet while pulling furiously, and floundered around till I could keep pulling. You simply don't let go of the rope, because the boat will swing sideways in the surf, and if the right wave is there, flip it upside down. People die this way, so you don't let go!
Landing, you brace yourself and the skipper speeds full throttle with the surf to get as far on the beach as possible. Again, Lovie and I weren't quite expecting the abrupt stop on the sand, and flopped all over the boat when we hit!

more later - gotta go mend nets.

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