Living in rural Alaska has its perks. Sure, we occasionally complain about our remote location and the inconveniences of life that go along with our setting. But the Summer months fully make up for any challenges.
As rural residents of Alaska we are allowed to use a 300 foot gillnet in bays and inlets to fish for returning salmon. Our primary target is sockeye salmon, but we also get our fair share of chum salmon, pink salmon and silver salmon. It is not uncommon for us to catch 30 to 40 sockeye in under an hour, if the fishing is good. We’ve also spent hours on the water and been completely shut out. It’s fishing after all.
We have some stiff competition while driftnetting in the calm waters of our local, deep fjords, and it’s not from other fishermen. Stellar sea lions and harbor seals patrol the floats of our gillnets and race us to the trapped fish. Usually they win. When they win they also leave quite a hole in the net. Lacking opposable thumbs, it seems to be a challenge for these huge creatures to remove a salmon from the net cleanly without tearing the web.
Dean Olsen taught me how to mend the web of my gillnet last night after 6 seasons of battling sea lions. He’s been commercial fishing since he was a teenager growing up on Kodiak Island, and has a lifetime of experience mending nets.
“It’s a pattern”, Dean says as he initially makes the hole in the net larger with a knife. “You have to be able to envision the pattern and then recreate it”.
He kept on talking about starting and finishing on a three bar, and mending down the side with the fewest meshes to the next pick-up. I tried to absorb as much as possible, but I wasn’t catching the pattern. Possibly it was the speed of his hands as they intuitively moved through the mesh. Possibly it was the new Lagunitas Undercover Shutdown Ale I had just discovered at our beer store on the way home from work.
“How can I repay you for all this mending?” I asked.
“Let me sit in on your next fly tying session”, Dean replied.
Done and done. I might just stick to fly tying.