Well, this has been one for the record books! It is so hard to guess what the run timing will be, especially following a steelhead run that was a month and a half early. Salmon (each species actually) are sent to the rivers by completely different triggers than the steelhead, so would this run end up early, late, or on-time? Or not come at all?
Mom saying goodbye, as we head out for a weekend on the river
Tanis and I went out for our first week of fishing the Akwe, with Eden in tow. Teen is working for KNIK Construction on the runway project, so it was just me and the kids. Since Tanis is a whopping 17 years old now, I decided to let him make all the major decisions this season. That means he wouldn’t let me take my much-deserved nap on that first Saturday. “Come on dad, let’s get the boat down to the Akwe and get the logs cut out of the New Italio”.
I tried to “suggest” we wait for the outgoing tide, so the sand would be more firm for towing the boat down the outer beach, but Tanis would have none of that. “No, let’s do it NOW!”
How the Middle Italio loos this season, with lots of turns and holes in the lower river
Looking up the Akwe… The lower commercial fishing marker is where the river bank on the left rises and the sand starts. Tanis’ net goes at the top end of the marker hole, while mine is in the next hole above it on the ocean side.
So we loaded up and headed out. He was responsible for getting the boat ready. I just drove. We crossed the Middle Italio and then I drove right into a big mud hole at the lagoon. OOPS! After lots of muddy pulling, we got the ATV out and swung the boat away from the sloppy pit. We were off again and out to the outer beach.
The drive went slow because with the incoming tide, we were pushed up higher toward the tideline and into the lighter softer sand. We made it though. Launched the boat at the mouth of the Akwe and… no fuel hose. With the tide pushing in fast, Eden and I raced back to the cabin to try and find the hose, with no luck. Back out to Tanis and the boat, we couldn’t leave it there in the surf, so we put the wheels back on and took it back to the Middle Italio. No place to get the boat above the incoming tide in the soft sand other than back at the Middle.
Thankfully there are no photos from our first week of fiascos, so I’m filling this in with some of our goof-off pictures…
So, we got to wait till the outgoing tide after all, only without my nap… Tanis apparently took my boat fuel hose to town last fall, but he found enough parts to piece together a complete hose. Back to the boat, we had no trouble getting it down the beach when I had wanted to in the first place, launched it, drove up the Akwe to look at places to set the nets and then up the New Italio where Eden was waiting with the ATV.
The Arctic Terns don’t nest in the same areas two years in a row. Last year, they were miles down the beach and will be again next year. They nested heavily at the Middle Mouth this year.
Not exactly camouflaged… Hard to get the shadow of the diving parent in the shot with my little digital…
Next morning, we hit the river for our 6am opener with all the excitement of a fresh season. We set Tanis’ net and immediately a nice big king hit. That’s a great way to start your season! Unfortunately the king escaped before we could get him into the boat. Next, we set my net and waited. And waited. Nothing. In fact, Tanis’ brief encounter with his king was the ONLY fish we saw for the week. NOTHING else hit either net. Except a LOT of moss.
One last shot for you nature lovers… This is what a cuddly baby moose calf looks like after passing through the digestive tract of a brown bear. There are several of these piles every year near the cabin. This one was right in the yard.
We shook and shook and shook the moss, but still no fish. Through the high tide, nothing. I think we held out for about 14 hours of shaking moss for zero fish, we finally gave up and pulled the gear. Teen was a little surprised to see us taxi back up to the hangar before dark.
One genuine photo from our first week of fishing – back home without a single fish to show for it
Next week, everything was all set up and ready, so we headed out pretty late. We’d be out through 4th of July, but we planned to stay up all night and fish through the big 11+ foot tide. Again, fishing was mighty slow. Two nets through the entire day, we had about 20 fish total. I think it was 19 in Tanis’ net and 1 in mine. After I was allowed my nap, we went back out at 10pm ready to stay up through the night. Through the night, we actually started having some fish hit the net. Tanis’, not mine. By 330am, the bite died and the moss started again. “We” decided to try and make it back to the cabin, but I knew there was too much water for us to get back across the Middle Italio. I brought along an empty fish tote on the trailer, so we could use it as a boat to drift back across the river and down to the cabin.
Ah… Heading out in the beautiful weather
Two kids and an overweight dad in a fish tote can be a little tippy. Tanis and I attempted to row across with our hands, which usually just made us spin around in circles. Eden insisted in periodically freaking out and shifting her weight, so we would nearly tip over. This needs to be a Olympic sport – competitive 3-man fish tote paddling. With the three of us as groggy as we were, we didn’t stop giggling till about 6am, long after we settled into bed. Obviously we made it across without drowning.
We made it ashore! Add my fat butt to that “boat” and you can see why it took a miracle!
Next day – nothing. The nets were back to loading up with moss, even though we had seen a bit of a reprieve the day before. We fished till about 4pm before we quit with just about 6 fish for the entire day. No point in holding out for the last 2 hours.
Now for week 3… I have to be back in town on Sunday night, so I can do the ground handling for the morning mail plane at 330am Monday. We fished hard all day through 2 full tides and had 14 sockeye and one chum to show. OK, “working hard” included going swimming in the Akwe at high tide… That evening, I brought our big load back with me, after pulling my net and leaving the kids alone to pup-tent camp on the beach near Tanis’ net. I told them I’d buzz the tent when I was back and ready for them to pick me up. What a waste of a perfectly good buzz job! They were already awake and driving back to the cabin. I think I left tire marks on the top of the tent though.
Getting the net set
Untying the net… we tie the leadline to the corkline when we head back to the cabin for breaks, otherwise it just fills with moss in minutes
It was another gorgeous day and the fishing was even more dead than the day before… We caught another 3 fish for the day and went swimming again. I flew the load back, then returned for the kids and gear. If not for Tanis working through the entire night alone (although Eden kept the bon fire burning through the night), we wouldn’t have had much to show for it.
And now (drum roll), week 4… Our local Fish and Game biologist stopped by the fly shop a couple days ago to tell me she is closing the Akwe by emergency order this week. Yep, the run is really that bad. No fish above the markers at all. The water is just so low and clear, the fish don’t want to move. Ahh… the exciting life of a commercial fisherman! Right now, we’re a long way away from covering the cost of the boat and ATV fuel, let alone pay for this darned airplane, Forest Service cabin fees and all the other expenses that are built into our little operation.
So far, this is officially my worst sockeye season ever. We still have another 2 weeks of the season after this, but then we have to change our focus. If the run ends up coming late, I won’t be able to fish it. Our big 75th Anniversary celebration will consume the first weekend of August, so we’ll have to call it quits before then.
Oh well. Could be a lot worse. I still get to play on the beach with my kids, see nature in all her glory, splash around in the surf, chase baby Dungeness around in the lagoon and fly around the wilds of Alaska… I may be broke this season, but I’m rich in many ways.
Speaking of our Dungeness hunting…