Thursday, August 9, 2012

Friends, Fish, and Big Smiles!


Several weeks ago a friend invited me to go dipnetting on the Kenai. I've never been much of fisherman and the few times I've tried to go sport fishing I've always come back empty handed. Dip netting though... to hold a large net in the water and wait for salmon to swim in. No rod, no reel, no bait, or hook. Sure. Sounds like my kind of fishing.

At one point I had 3 fish in my net and Nathaniel 4. We were tossing back the females and the small ones and within a few hours we'd both caught our personal limit, 15 each.  And then the work began- cleaning and filleting.

It had been a long time since I'd gone on an adventure with with another photographer. Most people would have opted for home to deal with the vacuum sealing or smoking, but when the light is good and there's interesting things to take pictures of - no way. We both disappeared into the abyss of nets, families, and fish - cameras in hand to fish for images of this unique Alaskan culture. Hours later we drove away from the Kenai with giant smiles on our faces replaying some of the highlights from the day. I couldn't believe I had been missing this in my life.

The following week Betsy and Emily, two longtime friends from college, invited me for for round two. The Copper River. Nathaniel had warned me of how different the Copper River is compared to the Kenai; steep dangerous cliffs, less people, a long hike in, and a long haul out. But then admitted that the Copper is his favorite. Again - how could I say no?

There's only so much fish one can eat and I already had my share for the season. I was more interested in helping Betsy and Emily get their harvest for the winter. We arrived late, 7pm, and starting hiking from O'Brien creek out of Chitna. About 3.5 miles in on the old railroad route two guys on a 4 wheeler stopped and pointed out their spot and said the fishing was good. By 9pm Betsy had her first fish and immediately started bossing me around. God - I love her! The excitement of more fish was thick in her tone as I scrambled to grab her fish and string it onto a rope. I knew there was only an hour of good light left, so much to Betsy's disappointment I pulled the photographer card for the first 5 or 6 fish. Soon I found myself gutting and filleting under my headlamp as Betsy and Emily handed me one fish after the next. At 26 Sockeyes we opted to set up the tent and get a few hours of sleep. By 6am Betsy and Emily were back at it again. We made it back to the car by noon and in less then one day we had managed to catch 37 fish and pack it out. They said it was a new record. I'm calling it beginners luck.

Alaska always ceases to amaze me in its raw beauty and abundance. Its these kinds unique opportunities combined with wonderful people that make me proud to call Alaska home. I'm so grateful to have such quality friends who value this lifestyle. Thank you Alaska and all those salmon we'll be feeding us this winter.

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