Another fishing season in this most trying of times

Forrest Johnson

Here we are again, younger daughter and I and crew Joe, in Bristol Bay, Alaska, waiting for the greatest run of salmon in the world to reach our nets. As of this moment they are still far out in the Bering Sea but moving toward the bay as I write.

It’s a brief respite from the turmoil of our times since I’m not reading the daily paper but enough Rumptspeak does seem to ride the airwaves to our little radio from a small wonderful station in Dillingham, Alaska, across the bay from us here in Naknek. You can’t seem to be able to escape the ranting of a lunatic and his lackeys.

Fire the judge and hold a rally.
Claim victory over COVID as cases mount.
Build that wall and keep the immigrant troublemakers at bay.
Blame the protesters and not the police or systemic racism and injustice.
Throw the environment in the ditch and go golfing.

The National Union of Friendly Americans (NUFA) has been working overtime to offset the bad vibes emanating from the worry warts that wish a return to the heady old segregated days of the post-World War 2 world rather than make the necessary changes toward a more just social system. Rumpt and his followers are going backwards so fast they think it’s 1950 not 2020 and Ozzie and Harriet live just down the street.

My fishing crew ran the gauntlet of covid testing and quarantine plans here in Alaska. We sat on a nearly empty plane from Minneapolis to Anchorage but found the flight crowded from Anchorage to King Salmon as flights have been cut back to a single flight a day. It was a scene I hope will never be repeated as masked fishermen and processing plant workers watched the mountains and tundra below, wondering just what this pandemic might mean for the industry. Already the companies are complaining that with overseas markets in limbo because of the virus, not to say the bad ju-ju created by trade wars waged by our fearful leader, fishermen might have to settle for lower per pound prices for our catch.

What a morale booster that is as we pick fish in weather both sublime and ridiculous here at the head of the Bering Sea.
As always, we just have to see what the season brings and that doesn’t happen until it’s over.

In the meantime, everyone is immediately aware of the COVID in Naknek since thousands of workers have flooded this little village. There have been a few cases detected and those people are being isolated in refitted container vans up near the clinic. Testing is available Monday through Friday with a one day turnaround for the results. The entire crew of three set net boats and two drift boats tested last Friday and we were all negative. Our Minnesota crew is quarantined in our boatyard and we’ve decided that there’ll be no runs to the bar so we set up our own in a cleaned out shed, complete with twinkly lights and a fine selection of spirits. We named it the Sandbar which is appropriate not just for the sandbars that are out in the river and bay but for the amount of dust and sand that whirls around here when the winds blow. I’ve always found it funny that this area gets so dry and dusty sitting next to an ocean. One dry summer a few years ago lightning started the tundra on fire and it smoldered until the winter snows came. But when the weather shifts and the rains come the boats are soaked and fishermen are wet, plain and simple. The dichotomy can come in a single day, warm and sunny on an incoming tide, wet and cold on the outgoing.

I don’t know what it was this season but organizing our flights was a debacle for me. When we got to Anchorage the crew decided to take a walk since we had a few hours and we went up to check in their bags and lo and behold Alex, our guy at the ticket desk, found our reservation code but no seating for us on the plane. Turns out I’d booked dad and daughter’s flight from Anchorage to King Salmon July14 not June 14. Alex worked his magic and dad and daughter got the last two seats on the plane, last row. We headed out on our walk and daughter just happened to look at the booking again and noticed that on our return flight I had screwed that up as well. Back into the airport to see Alex and he cleared that up for us. We headed to a nearby store because daughter had forgotten her tubs of hummus at home and was really craving some hummus. When we came back and headed through security we were stopped by the hummus. Not a liquid or a gel, but spreadable, so the TSA lady said we could try to send it through as luggage and we excused our way out of the security area, apologized to the TSA guy who looked us over in the first place and made our way back to Alex.

“Oh, Alex,” I said with a sheepish smile. “Trouble is back.”

Alex found us a box that we cut apart and taped back together to fit two tubs of hummus and he checked it through at no charge. What a pal. We filled out one of those little cards from Alaska Airlines that wanted us to comment on their service to us…” all our most valuable customers.” I wrote that Alex should be promoted and never laid off or fired for any reason short of murder.

I’m hoping that Alex is a bit of good luck for us this season.

Two nights ago we had a bonfire and when I was about to toss the hummus box into the flames I found a TSA notice of baggage inspection stuck to the bottom. The hummus had been found a suspicious item, was opened and then cleared for boarding. I’m taking that as another sign we just might have a good season here in Bristol Bay, Alaska.