August 19, 2015
One of the highlights of our summer is the Kachemak Bay Personal Use Salmon Gillnet fishery. This fishery opens mid-August each year to Alaska residents only. Each resident has a limit of 25 salmon each, plus 10 additional salmon for each dependent. This family friendly fishery is a efficient and fun way to fill your freezer locally. In Homer, most people fill their freezers by driving about 90 miles to fish the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers. The use large nets called dip nets to catch salmon among crowds of thousands of people. Since it's super crowded and chaotic there, so we prefer to wait until later in the season when the personal use fishery opens in Homer.
I started eating our inventory (not good), so I was eager to get on the water with Mike to add some sport-caught salmon to our freezer. We are not able to sell or barter this salmon- it's for personal use only to ensure the fishery remains sustainable.
On August 16th, we woke up at 3am, so we could get to the Homer Spit before any other boats to secure our special fishing spot. The fishery begins at 6am. Last year, we arrived just before it started and we weren't able to get a very good spot. It's quite a bummer to be out there, all set up, catching nothing while you watch fish swim into everyone elses' nets. We learned our lesson last year, so we had our spot staked out and our nets ready at 5:30am. Of course, since we were totally prepared, come 6am there were zero other boats to compete with. They finally started showing up around 7am. Better safe than sorry!
We fished using a gill net, which is what Mike uses on the Dr. Jack. This net is smaller than the commercial net (180 feet long) and easier to manage. We tied one end to a log on shore and set the other end using a skiff. The end of the net must be no further than 500 ft. from the high water mark- we have 26 foot tides in Kachemak Bay, so this is a little bit tricky. It also must be 600 ft. from any other net. Before the net was even set, fish were hitting everywhere! It's super exciting to see them jumping around, one after the other, only minutes after setting the net. Within 5 minutes, we had 12 salmon!
It's difficult to maneuver the skiff around to pick the fish out of the net, so we use a canoe. Sitting in the canoe with Mike picking salmon is definitely a happy place for both of us. Since I'm at home running Smart Source Seafood while he's fishing in Bristol Bay, I'm not able to see him in his element commercial fishing. It's such a treat to see how excited and enthusiastic he is about picking fish out of the net- he's a true hunter/gatherer. At one point, a salmon squirmed out of the net and through his hands. He reached into the water and grabbed it before is swam away... and nearly flipped the canoe doing it!
Within the first couple of hours, we had around 20 fish. Mike's buddy Grant came after that to help and fill his family's freezer. As long as an Alaska resident holds a permit, they are able to fish the same net as others, which makes this fishery even more fun. Once you get a great spot, you can call friends to join in on the fish picking fun.
The guys fished all night and then finished up the following morning around 10am. After cleaning and putting away the net, they headed and gutted all the salmon before taking it to our processor to be filleted, pin boned, and flash frozen. It's entertaining to watch two guys take care of such a huge haul, so they had quite a few spectators while they worked. When I came to meet Mike and Grant, they were surrounded by spectators taking photos and asking questions. Mike LOVES talking fish, so he soaked this right up.
The guys caught 80 salmon total. Each fish weighs around 4 lbs. Recovery after processing is around 56%, so that comes out to around 175 lbs. of salmon for the freezer. Not bad for 30 hours worth of work!
Operation "Fill Our Freezer 2015" has officially begun. Stay tuned for veggie processing, berry picking, and moose hunting in the next few weeks!
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