Some are born into it, some stumble upon it, and some, like me, seek it out.
The lure of Alaska’s “Red Gold,” the Sockeye salmon run of Bristol Bay, hit me when I was twenty. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I often heard how rewarding a summer spent fishing in Alaska can be, so I decided to give it a go. Now at twenty-eight, with five fishing seasons under my belt, I have learned that commercial fishing is a lot of hard work with very little sleep, oftentimes rewarding, and incredibly addicting. If you are willing to endure the physical and mental stress of a season for that gamble, here are some tips on how to start fishing.
First, choose your fishery. You’ll need to learn the duration of the season, the boat type, the work/living conditions, and the requirements for the position you seek to fill.
Next, exhaust your contacts. The best way to get on a boat is through a connection. Captains hiring a first-timer, or “greenhorn,” are more willing to do so if someone can vouch for you.
Lastly, if you or your friends don’t know a skipper or fisherman, walk the docks. Months before the season starts, skippers and crew are working hard to get their boats in “fighting trim.” Oftentimes these vessels are lacking crew, so walking the docks and introducing yourself to the community is an excellent opportunity for you and the skipper to fill empty positions. When you see someone aboard a vessel, ask if they are looking for crew. Don’t be shy and prepare for a lot of “no”s. If a greenhorn is given a shot, he or she will be asked to prep the boat during preseason, when the skipper will test your ability to learn and stay positive, and decide if you’re a good fit for the crew. Listen, ask questions, and work hard. If all else fails, be there.
When the season is imminent and fish are on their way, things move fast and change quickly, and sometimes so does crew. If a position suddenly becomes available, skippers will accept those willing and able to fish at the nearest port of call. So much of being successful at fishing is personality and positivity, especially in stressful situations.
Fishing will test you and allow you to learn a lot about yourself. While fishing can be incredibly dangerous and physically and mentally exhausting, it will introduce you to an entire world of amazing people, beautiful places, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. At the end of each season, crew can’t wait to get off the boats, weary from their work. However, by the time the fish begin to run again, the fisherman are always eager to return to the fishing grounds.