Saturday, July 21, 2007

'I feel so alive for 4:40 in the morning!'

We're back from Chitina and we've got fish. Got fish? Yes, actually, we do.
We got our 40-salmon limit in about five-and-a-half hours, though we were out on the rock for 10 hours because we chose to stay overnight. We didn't sleep much because a) we wanted to make sure we got all our fish; b) it was cold, even with layers of fleece; c) we were on a rocky ledge with a tree on the ridge above us that kept creaking like it was going to crash onto us at any moment.
In the approximately one hour of fitful sleep I did manage to nab, all I did was dream about that tree. I'd wake with a start to hear the familiar creak and then check to make sure my nose was still there (I couldn't feel it at that point).
We got to Chitina just in time to catch the last boat out - we would have been there earlier but the truck broke down at Summit Lake. That must have been our bad luck for the trip, but it turned out just to be bad gas (isn't it always?) and we were on the road again in about an hour. The charter guys took us to a sweet spot in the canyon and left us for the night. Sam caught the first fish before the boat was even out of sight and I had a sneaking suspicion it was going to be a good trip. On the way through the canyon I spied many fisherpeople teetering precariously on the ledges like mountain goats on a rocky bluff. We, as humans, are not nearly as nimble, however, and people die in Chitina after plummeting off their fishing rock and getting sucked away by the swirling, glacier-fed, silty waters of the Copper River. Many people tie themselves to trees so they can lean out and wrangle the mighty red salmon with the 12-foot dip nets and not worry about falling in the drink.
We didn't tie ourselves off as we had a pretty level rock to perch on. We took turns catching and then bonking the fish. After Sam's initial catch, I caught nine in about an hour, easing the two-foot-round net into the eddy (salmon swim upriver, remember) and resting it on a rocky ledge under the water. The river was moving fast in all directions and sometimes it was hard to tell if there was a fish in my net or if the water had simply changed direction under the surface causing the net handle to vibrate. Sometimes it would be a fish, but more often that not there was nothing in the net upon hoisting it out of the water. When there was a salmon in it, it was thrilling. And as the night stretched on and my body grew weary, that excitement never dwindled.
Then Sam showed me how to bonk them to death, slit their gills and snip their tails. I was ginger at first, lightly tapping the fish on the head and apologizing under my breath. But after a few, I was wailing away, somewhat enjoying bludgeoning these fish to death. At one point, Sam was a little frightened with my gusto for delivering the driving, deadly blows. 'Easy, baby,' he'd say.
(He's just informed me that he has hidden the fish bonker since we've arrived home.)
I still have mixed feelings about it; the killing I mean, but we need meat for the winter and the heads and tails will go to the dogs to keep them nice and fat, too. Nothing is wasted. Nothing except of course, the fish the got away after Sam had clubbed it to death. It slipped out of his hands and off the rock. Sam almost did, too, trying to get it back. But even that little floater will make a nice snack for a bear or a bird or least maybe some Adams, I mean maggots, farther downriver.
We fished and killed until about 11:30 - we had 32 at that point after just 4 and half hours on the rock - to eat some stew. The sun went down and though it never got completely dark, it was too dark to fish. We made coffee and talked, tried to sleep, and then got up at about 3:30 a.m. to fish again. We got the last eight in about an hour and finished our thermos of coffee just in time for the boat to pick us up at 5 a.m.
We went to back to shore to gut our fish and put them on ice. We had a greasy breakfast, drove for a few minutes, pulled over and crashed hard. We slept for a couple hours before continuing on our six-hour drive home. We arrived here at 7 p.m., making it a 30-hour round trip to Chitina and back. This weekend we are filleting, wrapping, vacuum sealing and smoking our fish.
I fear the smell will be with me for weeks.

Sam dipping soon after our arrival on the rock.

Me hauling a fish out of the river.

The view upriver from our perch.

Our fish on the stringer.

The view downriver.

Our diningroom and bedroom for the night.

Guys on a rock as we headed back to land. Notice the guy on the far right is leaning way over and not tied in...yikes.

There are shopping carts set in a fresh-water creek back at the landing site to rinse the silt off the fish before gutting them.

Our fish.

The gulls back at the processing site were crazy.

Crazy, I say!


Anonymous said...

Looks good Jill. Its a great experience.


Anonymous said...

looks good jill wish i could have been there cold nose and all .those salmon looked mighty tastetlots of love gran'.

Anonymous said...

Jill, I have tears running down my face! I had to read this entry outload because my co-worker wanted to know why the hell I was laughing so hard. Thanks for the entertainment girl, fish look awesome! Lisa