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Setting Nets for Salmon in Naknek, Alaska-Part Two
Thursday, August 24, 2023


It’s 9:30 p.m. on another day in Bristol Bay. The tide is rising, water trickling between the white oval corks in a 50-fathom line on the surface of the Kvichak Bay just outside of Naknek, Alaska. Mud sediment in the water obstructs the sight of most sockeye hitting the net, but I see heads and tails splash against the corks just fine. This net is filling fast, and the water continues climbing onto shore, submerging the inside net undoubtedly catching even more.

Daniel--my crewman and my brother-in-law--and I have just finished setting the outside net into the water. The final outside fathom of it still rests across the bow of my 22-by-6-foot aluminum skiff, and we won’t even bother dropping it. With nets filling with fish this fast, it’s already time to get to work.

I slip back to the stern to lift a hatch on the portside. Beneath it is the motor for the hydraulic-powered roller, a treaded black cylinder, also on the portside. I flip the lever, pull the cord one time, and it starts--the odd scent of bread in a toaster wafting my way. The roller helps us pull, but it doesn’t change the name of the game: pull the net to make the money to buy the bread to gain the strength to pull the net.

Daniel stands in front of me, pulling the cork line. I pull the lead line. Fish roll into the bow. I stop the roller after every fathom. There are fresh, live sockeye in each pull, and we pick every one of them.

Some of them pop right out. Some of them are a tangled mess. We’re getting to them fast though. Each one is still flapping, still making a futile effort to swim to their headwaters to spawn and die.

I’m cutting their lives short by just a bit, popping a gill in the process. The processor pays a bonus for bled fish. They all go into one of the four brailer bags, each holding about 900 pounds--what the processor allows.


One round through the nets produces a full load, and fish are still hitting. It’s after midnight now but our night has just begun. I fished with my dad for 27 years, and I’m well-versed. Daniel works his tail off, but it’s just his second season. Doubts about our ability to handle it all creep into my mind, but we need to offload these fish to make room for more.


The waves are relatively calm, so driving around the Pederson Point Dock takes just about five minutes. I steer us there, Daniel ties to a piling, the crane comes down, and it lifts up the brailer bags one at a time to dump them into a hold. I move the skiff for the next skiff behind us, and I climb a ladder to sign my ticket--my IOU from the processor. 

When I drive us back to the nets, I notice a familiar F150 on the beach. My dad is in his raingear, wading along the inside net. Word has arrived that fish are in full force, and he’s returned from retirement to help. I’ll take it. Mandy, my wife, has also walked down to shore from the cabin. My mom is here as well to watch our son so Mandy can join us in the skiff.

The three of us pull through the nets one more time. My dad stays on shore, picking as many fish from the inside net as he can. The more fish he can get out of the net, the less fish we’ll have left to pick in shin-deep mud. When it’s time to make a second delivery to the dock, the bottom rung of the ladder is exposed. The mud is inevitable.

This time we get back to the nets, Daniel clips the bow to the outside buoy where it will stay. The three of us splash into hip-deep water and wade into shin-deep mud. Now the real work begins.

Water recedes as though someone pulled a plug, and as it does, fish are revealed onto the mud. We pick them and rinse them in totes and load them into a trailer on the back of one of my four wheelers. I dismiss the crew--the family I can depend on when I need them. I’ll wait for the truck to deliver. The tide will turn again in a few hours, and it starts again.

~  Today's Topics ~

‘Alma’ Humanizes the Immigration Story

Muffy Davis Statue to be Unveiled

Volunteers Needed to Fish for Trash in the Big Wood River




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