Another first happened yesterday.

Heading Out to Fish

Heading Out to Fish

We went out on our first subsistence opener: gillnetting for Copper River Kings and Reds.

I realize I’ve used 4 terms in the first sentence that are already making this post unintelligible to those not immersed in fishing culture, but it’s all about context and hopefully I’ll sort you out by the end .

This subsistence fishery allows rural Alaskans, in this case residents of Cordova, to use gillnets to catch a certain amount of salmon each year. Our household of two is allowed 30 salmon, 5 of which can be Kings…yum.

This is our third salmon season.  We’ve fished for silvers in the fall with rod and reel and bought reds (Sockeye) & kings (Chinook) from local fishermen in early summer to smoke and can.  We’ve never had it together to go out on a subsistence opener. You need a boat, or a friend with a boat, and a net and buoys and probably some other things I’m forgetting at the moment.

Bowpicker Subsistence Fishing

Here’s some folks using a commercial bowpicker during the subsistence opener. Notice buouy, net & boat all present.

But either way we finally got all that stuff together and were eagerly awaiting the next required trifecta:

1. an opener (currently a 12 hour period when fishing is permitted in certain areas: usually falls on Mondays and Thursdays around here)

2. a nice day with calm seas (we have a small jet boat…not exactly very sea worthy)

3. a day off of work for both my husband and I (remember it needs to fall on Mon or Thurs…)

It all lined up on Memorial Day and what a treat it was.  We did get up at 4:40am but it was totally worth it…and yes the sun was already up.

Early Morning Heath

Early Morning Heath

It’s nice to get a taste of what all those commercial fishermen are doing out there.  I live in a town that revolves around fishing, you could play the 7 degrees of separation game between fishing and any person in this town and there wouldn’t be more than one degree.  Everyone knows, works with, lives next to or is related to a fisherman.  That being said I’m pretty clueless about the actual process of fishing.  This one day experience was incredibly educational…and super fun.

The Corkline on the Gill Net

The Corkline on the Gill Net

I actually understand what a gillnet is now…cork line, lead line, web…got it. It’s only taken a few years. I really needed to just see it and do it, to understand.  That’s the corkline in the picture above, the net or web hangs directly down from it and it pulled down by a lead line.  This net is 50 fathoms long or 100yds, the length of a football field, which I guess is a “known” distance to most people…myself not exactly included.  The commercial gillnetters use nets 3 times as long…and luckily hydraulic reels to help haul them in.

So the fish are just heading inland, doing their anadromous salmon thing, and they run smack in to the net getting caught behind their gills…or all tangled up in it, in the case of a king.

I'm supposed to be Helping

This was our first king and I was supposed to be helping untangle the net quickly, not taking pictures, but I couldn’t help it, it was so exciting!

It was surprisingly fun and so satisfying to pull in the net and find salmon stuck in it. It seemed half a miracle to me.

We spent a day getting the boat ready, a long day out fishing and it will be another day putting the boat to bed and getting all the fish smoked.  But at the end of it we’ll have a year built around many delicious meals of salmon that we pulled from the ocean ourselves.  It makes a person feel pretty good.

End of the Day

End of the Day

We’ve got salmon drying now and waiting for the smoker and I feel very protective of it.  The taste of King Salmon is divine, and hot off the smoker we’ve affectionately named it “bacon of the sea,” because it’s that good.   So here’s to a successful first, and a successful fish, and hopefully many more.

Subsistence Opener

Subsistence Opener

12 thoughts on “Subsistence

  1. “Bacon of the sea” Ohh, sounds amazing! Alaska is on my bucket list of places to travel, your last photo with the mountains is beauitful, seems like an amazing place to be.

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