Day in the life of a Bristol Bay, Alaskan Fisherman

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So, what is a day in the life of a Bristol Bay, Alaskan Fisherman like? 

Pure living. That’s what fishing all comes down to for me, and it’s what keeps me going back every year to spend 8 weeks on a 32ft aluminum drift net boat with no toilet, shower, or access to land. Something about being out on the water with one focus, one goal, and no outside news or media is so refreshing and pure, it’s almost addictive.

Well, it’s basically eat, fish, maybe sleep, repeat. In the early part of the season, fishing times are limited to 5-8 hr periods twice a day. This allows a specific amount of salmon to escape upstream and ensure a healthy return for the coming years. It doesn’t matter if it 2:00 am or 4:00 pm; when they give the go, it’s time to get after it. However, once the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game believes they have reached the appropriate escapement numbers for the coming year, they waive the scheduled closures to us, fisherman. That’s when the wild times start. 

With fishing open 24 hrs a day, we take advantage of all the time we can. The sound of an alarm clock wakes us from sleep, then I (Levi) usually pull the anchor, make a pot of coffee, and get the deck all set up to start fishing. After everything is ready to make the initial set of the day, we all head up into the wheelhouse to start driving around looking for fish. A good indicator for finding salmon is to look for “jumpers,” or salmon that launch themselves out of the water. Someone will grab a pair of binoculars and scan the water, looking for those splashes, helping us decide where to start fishing. A lot of jumps? That’s where we begin!

Usually, the Balrog will fish from 18-48hrs straight in an adrenaline-fuelled frenzy backed by coffee, protein bars, and the excitement of the catch. We make a set, let the net soak for a bit, and tow it into different S shapes to help corral the salmon and get them to hit. If it looks like there are a lot of fish bordering the net but not swimming into it, we disconnect the net from the boat and drive down it startling them into getting caught. This process goes on for between 30 minutes and an hour until the net is full. Once full, we put our gloves back on and begin reeling in the set, picking out all the salmon as they come over the back of the boat onto the deck. The quicker we can get the salmon picked out, bled, and put into the holds, the faster we can get it set back out to start the process over and over and over again.

When our holds are at capacity, we take a break and head to offload our catch to the nearest tender (large holding boat). Offloading is more of a 2 man job, so we sleep in shifts so one of us can get some sleep while the others handle delivering our salmon. Aside from the delivery breaks, it’s really a lot of cat napping in your rain gear, finding that comfy area on the deck, or downing a pot of coffee and giving yourself a quick pep talk on why you spend your summers participation in this insanity. When it finally gets too dangerous to work due to lack of sleep, we find a calm spot to anchor up for a couple of hours and get what is, in my opinion, the most luxurious sleep a person can experience. After 36 hrs of hard fishing, even a steel plate feels like memory foam! 

Of course, with being on the go all the time, we all burn many calories, so keeping ourselves fuelled is a must. We eat when there’s time, usually after we’ve anchored up for the day or night to take a break; otherwise, there are many meals eaten on deck in between sets in our rain gear. 

That makes up a regular day on F/V Balrog! It’s an incredible experience, you never know what surprises the day will bring, but it’s guaranteed to be exciting no matter what!

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