Tag Archives: Hecate Straight

Leaving the Fishing Grounds

20110627_06-52-58.jpgI’m not sure where to start, apart from the fact that today was even less productive than yesterday. A ton more boats left the fishing grounds early; we only caught a handful more fish ourselves and our fishing buddies Terry and Rod had similar experiences. So, it’s now mid-afternoon and we’re on our way back to Port Edward, where we’ll have to deliver our fish in the morning.

It’s been raining and windy since mid-morning and a misty fog has descended on the ocean around us, giving us only about a half-mile of visibility. Fortunately, we stay close enough to shore on this trip that it’s easy to see the landmarks necessary to keep us on track. (If the weather was worse, we could always use the radar on the boat, but that’s not a fun way to navigate and it doesn’t always see debris in the water.)

20110628_07-47-25.jpgFishermen like Otto are some of the last hunter-gatherers in our culture; they go into wild and wonderful places far off the beaten track to gather food and bring it back to us. It’s physically challenging work and you have to have a particular kind of personality to accept that you’re completely at the whims of the natural world, both above and below the waterline. If the weather and the fish don’t cooperate, a great day can turn into a lousy one quite quickly.

One of the upsides of leaving the grounds early is that we’ll be in Port Edward with enough time tonight for a shower and early evening; we also won’t have to get up extra early to ensure that we deliver our fish on time. We’ll tie up at a wharf that’s only five minutes from the drop-off point.

Terry has already transferred his catch to our boat, so he’s heading into Prince Rupert while Terry will be joining us in Port Edward.

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.

Fishing, Day Two

20110627_08-43-13.jpgGood morning from Sommerville Island, where we anchored again last night after our first day of fishing. Although yesterday started off glassy calm and sunny, by mid-day the wind started to pick up and the tide changed, making things a little rougher (as you saw in the “reeling in the net” video yesterday). Although we were allowed to fish until 10PM, we gave up about 7PM because the fish got sparse, making the bumpy weather not worth it. A relaxing evening in a quiet sheltered bay was just what was needed before giving it another shot this morning.

20110628_07-46-08.jpgThere’s about 80 fish in the hold now, mostly sockeye with a few pinks and a few springs (including a *big* 20lb one!); hopefully we can double that today. If we get good fishing today we’ll stay as late as we can, getting up extra early to get back to Port Edward tomorrow morning to get the fish on a truck to come down to Vancouver.

Although fishermen are often tight-lipped about their catch, it’s pretty clear that no one had a stellar day yesterday; 20110627_08-47-47.jpga ton of people left the fishing grounds even earlier than we did and a few even headed back in the direction of Prince Rupert. There are rumours of some boats that only caught a handful of fish all day. That must be profoundly disheartening…

Time to get some coffee into this groggy body so that we can hit the ground running.

There’s fish out there, somewhere… hopefully Otto can find them.

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.

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.

Fishing, Day One

20110627_05-03-01-2.jpgIt’s just after 5:00AM on our first day of fishing; we’re out of bed and heading to where we’re going to drop our nets first this morning. On the radio, Otto, Terry and Rod are all staking out their spots, fairly far removed from one another; in theory, that’s of benefit to all three so that they have a better sense faster of where the good fishing is going to be.

Already, most of the others who anchored in the same bay as us last night have headed off to claim their spot. It’s not looked on very kindly when one fisherman fishes too close to another, so those who head out early usually get the best spots.

20110627_05-03-28.jpgNets can’t get dropped into the water until 6:00AM, but there’s still a lot that needs to be done: breakfast needs to be cooked (bacon and eggs, of course!), the pumps that feed the revival tanks need to be switched on, Otto needs to suit up into his rubber gear and the big orange floats need to be in position to be deployed.

The sun hasn’t peeked over the mountains yet, but it’s looking like it’s going to be a great day; winds are calm and the tides don’t look to be very strong. It’s looking like a good day for fishing. Let’s hope it’s also a good day for catching.

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.

Arrival on the Fishing Grounds

20110626_15-59-08.jpgHello from the fishing grounds! We’ve just met up with Otto’s fishing buddies, Rod and Terry, in a long protected bay where we’ll be anchored for the night. There are over fifty other gillnet boats here as well, waiting for tomorrow at 6:00AM when we can all start fishing. Most of the boats are in pairs or threes, tied up together with one boat dropping their anchor.

I’ve come to learn that fisherman are a competitive group (squeezing accurate information about fishing conditions from these guys is as easy as holding on to a greased pig.) That said, everyone seems to have a couple or three friends that they can trust, sharing (mostly accurate) info as they try to assess the scene. I suspect those are exactly the groupings I see people tied up into.

20110626_19-08-13.jpgThe trip up here was uneventful, and shorter than expected, possibly because of all the long days of traveling we’ve had just to get here. We’re about six hours north of Prince Rupert and can see Alaska from here. (I joked on Facebook this afternoon that Sarah Palin might be able to see Russia from her house, but we can see Alaska from the boat…)

The area we’re in is huge and beautiful; there’s still snow on the mountains around us, but the water is glassy calm.

Let’s hope it’s like that tomorrow. Also, tonight will be my first night on the boat where we’re not tied up to a dock to sleep; I wonder how much we’ll move around when we’re only held in place by an anchor.

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.