Two ways to catch Bristol Bay Salmon

Sometimes sunrise on Bristol Bay leaves you with grey low hung clouds heavy with rain. Or fog so thick you can't see the other boats working their nets around you.

In Bristol Bay, commercial salmon fishing is done either by drift gillnetting or by setnetting. If you fish using a setnet, your net is anchored on shore and extended out into the water where another anchor holds it off shore. The fish that swim into the net on the rising tide are caught in the net and the crew picks them out of the net. Setnetters live on the beach near where their setnet site is located. These areas are even more remote than Dillingham and the only community they have is the one they build themselves. Shacks, tents and other small structures make up the homes and workspaces for the setnetters. They stay there pretty much until the last fish is caught and the fishing season finished.  If you get seasick setnetting might be the perfect thing for you. 

I fish from my boat, F/V Potential, as part of the drift gillnet fleet. We are on the water and one of our goals is not to end up on land! With crazy tides that rise and fall 30' twice a day, the distance from the bottom of you boat to the bottom of the bay constantly changing. 

To fish from a boat using a drift gill net, you throw a buoy from the boat that is attached to one end of your net. The net is unfurled from the reel on your boat as you pull away from the buoy. Once fully extended, the net hangs in the water column, suspended by corks (floats) and fish are caught as they swim into the net. Sounds easy enough but everyone else is out there with their boats, nets and crew doing the same thing. It can get tight and often tense as you try to keep boats from colliding and nets from getting tangled in each other.  And remember, you are always moving with the tide that can really rip, sometimes as much as 4 knots.  With the tide my boat only does 10 knots maximum. 

One of the worst things that can happen when you are gillnetting is to have someone (another boat) or something (a whale, drifting log, etc.) run over or through your net. It sucks for all involved and is an expensive loss of gear and fishing time. In the earlier blog called Preseason: hanging net while you hurry up and wait you saw fishermen working on their nets to get ready for the first commercial salmon fishing season opening. It takes a lot of time patience and skill to hang gear. It is hard to be patient if you are back on land mending a net midseason instead of fishing because of an incident on the water.


As for boats banging into each other on the water, you try to avoid that too. But sometimes the tide, wind and chop combine and take control of the situation out of your hands. That's when the protective skirt of rubber buoys that is lashed to the rail of most boats is your best friend. It protects your boat and other boats. Buoys are both a common courtesy and insurance plan.