It’s all about Perspective

It’s all about Perspective

Published: Friday, 01 July 2016 22:54

“It’s all about your Perspective”

One of the most common questions I get is “Do you like living in Alaska?” Well, that is not a simple answer for this southern gal, and it really is all about your perspective. But, I will give it my best shot in the form of an informative newsletter for those of you who have “befriended” Virgin Bay Seafood.

It all started about 7 years ago when Mike and I met. Although, I traveled extensively for business – and even had a Western territory that included Alaska, at one point – I had never been there. Until now, I really didn’t know how clueless I was about our 49th state, (I still have friends in TN I swear think I live in another country) salmon and the salmon fishing industry.

Cathy Copper River

I’ll start by giving you some facts about Alaska in general. It is the largest state in the USA. Alaska is larger in land mass than CA, TX and Montana combined. This represents over 650,000 square miles of land.  In the most recent census, close to 700,000 call Alaska home – with half of that number living in Anchorage, about 75,000 live in Fairbanks and the surrounding communities, with the balance sprinkled all across the state. If you think about it, each Alaska resident could have almost 1 square mile to call your own – wow! Wide open space, for sure! I like to tell friends if you drive from our home in Fairbanks 30 miles in any direction – you are in the wilderness…..and I mean wilderness. What’s that like? It’s all about your perspective.

I have always loved seafood, something I think I inherited from my father, and have particularly always enjoyed salmon. I had no idea how complex the Alaska salmon fisheries were and really no idea why I like what I liked – I just knew I liked it. I will tell you there is nothing as good as catching your own salmon and preparing it that evening for dinner. Never thought I’d have that experience, but now it seems almost common.  Again, it’s all about your perspective.

My first trip out the “fishing grounds”, as Mike likes to call it – was about 6 years ago to the date. Mike loves to tell the story about how I took cocktail napkins out to our cabin and out on the boat, as any proper southern gal would. I had no idea that a drink would not sweat in AK – it just doesn’t get that warm out on the water. Ha!! Nonetheless, I was prepared – or, I thought I was.

I packed more unnecessary things – no one dresses for dinner – but, luckily Mike was prepared for me. He packed for me Xtratuf boots, head-to-toe rain gear, and a float coat. A what?? Yes, a float coat – and there is such a thing as a survival suit on board for each passenger, as well.  All of this became my uniform for the next week or so, with the exception of the survival suit – thank the good Lord! As it turns out, the water temperature in Prince William Sound, where we fish and recreate, is always about 55 degrees.  If you fall in, you have only 2-3 minutes before hypothermia gets you. Not exactly the boating experience I had been used to.

Now onto fishing, and let me say it’s more catching than fishing usually, and that’s pretty fun. That first summer – while wearing my float coat – the salmon runs were strong where we were, and in my opinion almost seemed to jump into the boat. We caught lots of king salmon that year – which, now I have come to truly appreciate.  Not a lot of down time, we would hook a fish or two- most of the time trolling with two or three lines out-  just get them in the boat, reset the lines and boom “fish on” again. To me, it seemed like constant activity and not the relaxed (sometimes boring) memory of “fishing”. I would experience a lot that my first summer in Alaska. This is something I have come to truly appreciate.

About 6 weeks ago, Mike headed out to begin the salmon season on our boat,Outsider. The Outsider is a 30’ “bow picker”- a salmon gillnetter that sets its net off the bow (front) of the boat, enabling it to fish in extremely shallow water.The Outsider 1

  This twin engine, shallow draft fishing vessel is designed specifically for fishing the rough waters of the Gulf of Alaska, in what is considered one of the most dangerous salmon fisheries in the world – an area called the Copper River Flats. Here we pursue and hope to catch the coveted “Copper River Reds”, to send down to our market in the South. Although, the first few days were tough and the fishing was slow, I went down for a long weekend visit to help Mike on the boat.

I am including a photo of the journey – as the only way to get to Cordova, AK is by plane or boat – that just doesn’t do it justice.Anchorage-Cordova flight

 I arrived in the evening, we had dinner and got to bed, as we would head out into “the flats” early the next morning. It was about a 1 hour boat ride out of the harbor – where we are surrounded by other fisherman and vessels with the same goal in mind – to capture as many of the “Copper River Reds” in our net as possible. (Sockeye will not bite a hook, they are not predatory fish, so the best way to catch them is in a gill net)Cordova harbor 1

After travelling through Orca inlet and between mazes of sandbars we passed through a narrow, unmarked, channel between the crashing breakers, and ended up in the Gulf of Alaska.  We set out our drift gillnet, and hoped for the best. While watching and waiting for fish to hit our net we were treated to an amazing and towering Panorama of massive mountains and glaciers and long desolate beaches that are continuously pounded the Pacific Ocean.  Although, all reports were the fishing was slow and the salmon were not running strong. We put out our net, and backed away from it – where you let it sit and watch and hope for the fish to come into the net. Well, we had more fish eaten out of our net by massive sea lions than we actually got into the boat. But, the experience was eye-opening for this gal from TN. People in these AK coastal communities, Cordova being one of the largest (pop. approx 2500), depend on this run of salmon returning to the Copper River to spawn for more than just their livelihood. It is a way of life, a tradition and their identity in many cases. They fish for salmon for 12-16 weeks out of the year to support their families for an entire year. It is a mind blowing statistic.  (the good news is the salmon are running stronger now, and the numbers are improving for the fisherman)

I still haven’t really answered the question – “Do you like living in Alaska” – but, I hope I have given you some insight to life in this great state. I think it is important to see, hear, and observe what and where you are.  Everyplace can be a perfect “10”, if you happen to be there at just the right time. I have just returned to AK, from a visit to TN where it was hot & humid – some would say miserable. Hum…..I loved it.  However, as I arrive at midnight, the sun still up, cool dry air…’s pretty amazing. I guess “it’s all about your perspective”.