And for those of you following along at home… here is our last two weeks of commercial fishing on the Akwe in a word – bad. More specifically – “bad to worse”.
We’ve been having a slow season anyway. A week ago, things picked up a little bit over the first two weeks. Tanis and I managed to land about 1400lbs of salmon each, which would be what we should expect for the worst week of the season, not the “peak”. This past week, we landed about 600lbs total between our two nets. We had some rain, which brought the rivers up quite a bit. The Situk never broke 180 CFS, but both the New Italio and Akwe Rivers were flooded. Running dark and flushing a tremendous amount of debris downstream.
It appeared that a beaver dam or two on the Ustay washed out and into the Akwe. Our nets – even 10 miles downstream from the Ustay confluence – were constantly filling with beaver sticks and branches. We were also blessed with big full moon tides this weekend, making it impossible to leave the nets in the river through the strong outgoing tides. The best we could do was set our gear up in some of the ordinarily dry lagoons somewhat protected by the sandbars. The one time we left my net in the current through the outgoing tide, the anchor dragged and swung the net downstream.
We may have one last chance for catching something this season next weekend, but it appears the weak run of 2014 is basically over now. 94 sockeye, one chum and two humpies were our take in week #4. Not quite enough to cover the week’s flights, fuel and food. Certainly not enough to attempt to make a dent in the permit fees, cabin fees, or aircraft insurance and annual costs. Oh well. That’s fishing.
I know I’m not about to garner any sympathy from anyone out there… Even if fishing was terrible and we’re so far losing money on the season, I still get to play with planes and boats and ATV’s without seeing any other human beings, except for my son. Living a few days each week in a remote cabin far from phones and electricity and cars… The horror…
And since I seem to be the only “commercial fishing” fly shop owner in the world… And some of the fishermen coming to Yakutat are not exactly “fans” of the commercial fishing industry… Last week, we inadvertently caught a wild steelhead in Tanis’ net. We ate it.
Bi-catch can be a really big problem with many fisheries. Net fishing in general gets a really bad rep because of the way some net fisheries scoop up everything in their path… The set-net fishing we do in the Yakutat area has probably the lowest bi-catch rate of any fishery in the world. We are not intercepting fish bound for other regions or river systems farther south with endangered runs. We’re up inside the river that is the species destination. Runs can be managed based on what the river escapement actually is, as opposed to ocean intercept fisheries where you have no idea where the fish are really bound.
We do catch a handful of dolly varden char and an occasional sea-run cutthroat though. Most of the cuts are small enough to slip through the web and if they do get caught, it is because they are swimming with their mouth open and get flossed. Those can almost always be released without harming their gills for easy survival. Many of the bigger dollies get gilled and die, so we eat one or two every week while out there. Last week, we caught a smallish steelhead hen and she was dead when we came to her. We usually catch two steelhead a year, which is pretty incidental an has absolutely zero effect on the run.
We baked her along with a nice dolly, for a taste test. The dolly was nearly white when cooked, but still firm. Had a light flavor, but mostly tasted like the butter and garlic. The steelhead hen was mushy and flavorless. I would honestly rather avoid eating one of our local steelhead – not because of any environmental love for the species – but because they are an awful eating fish. I’d rather eat a humpie! I think I’d rather eat a spawned-out humpie.
There’s another reason for steelheaders to hate me… :-)
I’ll try and get some photos posted tomorrow before we fly out for what will probably be our last week of the season.