Gillnet Fishing, A How-to Manual

So, this whole fishing thing… what’s it like? Here’s a short summary of the process, based on what I’ve seen so far…

20110627_05-17-48.jpg1) Pick your starting spot. Undoubtedly there’s a ton of experience and wisdom involved, but to the undescerning eye it looks an awful lot like throwing a dart at a map. As the day progresses, based on your own catch, the reports from your friends, and rumours from further afield, you adjust your location accordingly. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) sets all sorts of rules on the general areas you can fish and if there are any special restrictions to protect species of fish you’re not fishing for. In our case, we were required to stay a half-mile offshore on one side and a mile offshore on the other to let a coast-hugging species of fish get by us. Also, the area in which we’re allowed to fish is specifically proscribed by the DFO

20110627_06-00-46.jpg2) Set your gear. In the case of a gillnetter, your “gear” is a net (called “mesh”) of specific size for the species you’re trying to catch. Fish that are too small can swim right through the mesh and fish that are too large just bounce off. For fish that are the right size, they go headfirst into the net and stop when they get stuck, usually when the net is as far as their dorsal fin (the bit one on their back). If they try to back out, the net gets caught in their gills, holding them in. (Hence the name: gillnet). The net has a lead-core rope strung along the bottom and a string of “corks”, or floats, on top. Large orange marker buoys are attached to the start and end of the net to help make them more visible to other passing boats. You roll it all off the net drum, as seen below, and get it in the water in a slightly arcing shape. There are specific restrictions, also, on how long and how deep your net can be.

20110627_06-05-52.jpg3) Let your gear “soak”. In really calm weather, like we have today, you can actually see the “corks” bobbing when a fish hits the net; if you see several floats go below the water, you know you’ve got a big one. “Soak time” is another restriction the DFO can put on you when they’re trying to protect a species at risk; shorter soak times mean that it’s less likely that something will get caught in your net and die. In our case, there was little concern and so there were no restrictions placed on us. Also, every once in awhile, we’d cruise along the length of the cork line to get an idea of how many fish were in the net.

20110627_06-55-10.jpg4) Reel in your gear. When it’s time to bring it aboard, you first have to hook one of the large buoys and attach the rope to your net drum. Then, you start to reel it in. As you reel fish in, you have to untangle them from the net; if it’s a species you’re not supposed to catch and looks pretty energetic still, it can go straight back in the water. There are also “revival” tanks that are dark boxes with sea-water pumped in; the water moves pretty quickly and has a good amount of oxygen, so it perks the fish right up, before they’re released back into the water.

20110627_07-42-54.jpg5) Count and store your fish. The fish, when caught, have to be carefully counted before being placed in your fish holds, which are full of salt water/ice slush. For some species, like spring salmon (but not sockeye) they have to be cleaned (gutted) right away because enzymes in the gut can break down the flesh quite quickly.

6) Lather, rinse and repeat. At least until your fishing day ends, which is either when the DFO has said to stop (10:00PM, in our case), when the weather becomes too rough or when you have a couple “water catches” (nets with no fish) in a row and feel dejected enough to stop.

20110628_07-47-25.jpgThe wind is starting to pick up here and the waves are getting bigger; apparently this is common for the body of water we’re in right now. We’ll see how long we feel like continuing to fish, before retreating to the bay for the night before resuming tomorrow. I’m sure I’ll be asleep quickly, so I’ll wish you a goodnight for now.

During the trip, you can either check this blog for the latest entries, or you can go to this interactive map of all the blog posts related to this trip. You can also find photos from the trip on Flickr.