by Tia (Deckhand) on January 26th, 2013

It's January. In the weeks since solstice, we've slowly been gaining light. It's 8:33 am and I'm beginning to see signs of a sunrise on the horizon.  The boat has been out of the water for a couple months, wrapped tight as to keep the snow out.

The winter season isn't void of work and projects, however. Captain Wes has reworked the hydraulics on the boat and installed a system which will vent the heat from the engine into the wheelhouse so we no longer have to burn stove oil constantly. He's working out the kinks; this will be the third season fishing from this boat and improvements will certainly make operations run more smoothly. The second engine was replaced and we will have a chance to break it in when the boat is back in the water. I foresee a fun halibut fishing trip on a nice crisp day in March in my future! 
I've been working on another website, www.fvnightsedge.com, which will function more as a fan page once the show "Alaska Fish Wars" has aired on Nat Geo Wild. We hope the show will get picked up for another season and I guess I'm just planning ahead!

The first episode airs February 8th and we are all getting a little excited and nervous to see it. There is a clip of the show below which features the F/V Night's Edge.

We hope you'll tune in.

In the months until fishing season, we will continue to work on our direct marketing and spend time getting the boat ready for the best season yet.
Video wouldn't embed so here's the link to Nat Geo Wild:
http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/channel/videos/veteran-fisherman-learns-a-hard-lesson/

by Tia (Deckhand) on July 13th, 2012

I knew it wasn't going to be flat calm, just based on the marine forecast and the wind howling around my house at 3 AM as I left for the harbor. But I was not prepared for the extreme nature of the seas and weather on Thursday. Our trip out of Kachemak Bay (see map below) was pretty decent. Depending on the tides and which way the wind is blowing, it can be perfectly pleasant in Kachemak Bay yet gnarly out in the Inlet.

The seas picked up off of Anchor Point, but not enough to deter us from continuing. We saw a couple boats headed back to port but communications with other boats farther out gave us hope that it was still potentially fishable weather. However, the tide was still ebbing and Captain Wes knows from experience that the seas can really stack up on a flooding tide. This meant the seas would get worse as the day went on. I tried to catch some sleep on the trip out but it was impossible as we were already getting knocked around in the wheelhouse. Cups of coffee, bags, and other items in the cabin were falling to the floor. It was so rough that I was not able to get any decent photos or videos of our trip that day. I wondered if we'd be able to set the net at all.

The first set of the day is always a little nerve-wracking. I always hope that it goes really smoothly and we have a good catch as it sets the mood for the day. Getting the net out in rough seas is challenging. It is harder to maneuver the boat, making it harder to smoothly set the net and put it where it needs to be to most effectively catch fish. The seas were so rough, it wasn't very long before we lost sight of the buoy on the other end. The wind and rain stung our faces. There were no signs that the weather would be letting up anytime soon. If anything, it would get worse as the tide started to flood. We ran the net and couldn't see any sign of fish but we couldn't get very close. The wind gusts were so strong, the boat could be easily blown into the net.

We picked half of the net for 31 fish. A lovely number with lots of fish spread along the net. We were definitely in a good place (can't tell you exactly where as I'm sworn to secrecy!). We set the net back out and ran to the other end to pick. This is called a "yo-yo." The net only catches fish in the water so, if it's evident you are "in the fish," it's better to set the net back in the water to work while you pick the other half. Because of the nature of our special market, we pick our fish when they are fresh in the net. This allows for the fish to bleed better and ensures the highest quality of fillets. We picked the second half of our "yo-yo" for 57 fish. This was good fishing!
We made a second set in the same area as the first set, hoping to continue with good numbers of fish. While we let the net "soak," we saw a couple of hits in the net. This happens when the fish swim hard into the net and are driven up to the surface when they are caught by the gills. It is exciting to see that splashing along the net. At that point, we were pretty excited, whooping and high-fiving each other. We started to pick up the net, hoping to put it back in for another "yo-yo" set. About two shackles in and knee-deep in fish on the deck, Captain Wes assessed our progress. We were pinned between a boat on one side and some seriously massive floating pads of kelp on the other. There was no option but to pick the entire net up and quickly! Given the weather conditions, which were getting worse by the minute, and the proximity of our boat to the other hazards, we picked the net up feverishly. At one point, the swells were so massive that our cork line was jerked high enough to pop out of the guides at the bow. This was not good! The cork line was on the outside of the guide and there was now a hole in the net from the guide. Reni and I wrestled with the cork line, trying to push it back up and over the guide with out creating a larger hole in the net, all the while trying to stay on our feet. We managed it, I think, due to sheer adrenalin; the guide is taller than we are and I can barely reach the top of the guide if I stand on my tiptoes.

There were fish spread along the entire net! The fishing was excellent. We stopped counting and just let the fish stack up on the deck. Our estimate, as we put the fish in the hold, numbered over 100 fish that set. Unfortunately, there were also hundrends of jelly fish, the kind that sting if you come in contact with them. As they came flying across the reel, we were sprayed with water and jelly fish bits. Our faces and eyes were burning! Due to the speed at which we needed to pick up the net, it was impossible to clean the net of all the jelly fish and bits of kelp we were picking up. As we finished picking, several waves broke over the bow. These consisted of serious, solid green water, not just spray. Simply put, the seas were becoming treacherous. It was time to try to find calmer water.

At about 10 AM, Captain Wes made the call to head east for Homer and, if we found calmer seas, we might set the net out again. He said this was some of the most severe weather he'd ever fished in Cook Inlet and our safety is always his first priority. Even if we managed to continue to catch fish in this weather, the weight of any added fish would further compromise the maneuverability of the boat in the rough water. Captain Wes estimated the seas to be about fifteen feet with larger swells at times. The F/V Night's Edge is a solid sea-worthy boat and Captain Wes guided her through the large swells with finesse. As we reached the edge of the area that we are allowed to legally fish, we plunked the net out just to clean out all the jelly fish and bits of kelp. As we picked up the clean net, we noted our first water-haul of the season but I don't think it really counts!

Postscript...

As I sit at my computer this morning, every muscle in my body aches. Not from fishing, but from trying to stay upright on the boat yesterday! I'm grateful to my captain for returning us all home safe and sound. I appreciate his knowledgeable, experience, and respect of the waters we fish on. And, despite feeling bruised and battered, I'm eager for our next trip out and feel confident that I can handle almost any weather now!

by Tia (Deckhand) on July 10th, 2012

Good morning, Cook Inlet!

We left the harbor earlier than normal, meeting at the boat at 4 AM. Commerical drift net fishing on the 9th was restricted to the "corridor," a narrow swath of water running from the point off Ninilchik up to the point off the Kasilof (pronounced "Kah-see-loff") and Kenai rivers. We would have to run farther to reach these fishing grounds. The use of the corridor is dictated by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game's management plan for the salmon fisheries in Cook Inlet. By restricting commercial fishing to the corridor, certain numbers of salmon are allowed to pass through the middle of the inlet and return to the rivers and lakes to spawn, ensuring healthy numbers of returning fish in future years.

There is contention between the ADFG, commercial fishermen, and sport fisherman over the management of the fisheries. Salmon management in Upper Cook Inlet (UCI) is one of the more complex fishery systems anywhere in the world. With mixed stocks of salmon (kings, reds, silvers, pinks, chums) returning to multiple watersheds throughout the Inlet, multiple user groups, including guided and unguided sport anglers, personal use, set net and dip netters, subsistence users, commercial drift gillnet and set gillnet fishermen, all contend for fish in a fully allocated system of interconnected fishery management plans.

Read an article about the projected salmon run for 2012.
Read ADFG 2012 Upper Cook Inlet Salmon Outlook and Management Plan.

Because of the number of boats fishing a smaller area, we were prepared to battle it out for each set. We were surrounded by other boats with similar intentions of setting nearest the line. We set the net in anticipation, hoping that the run had truly hit the upper Cook Inlet. It was evident, after we pulled the net in for two fish, that the run was not yet present in the corridor. Two additional sets netted us seven additional red salmon. At that point in the morning (8:30 AM), the flood was over. If the fish isn't there on the flood, they won't be there on the ebb in good numbers. Captain Wes decided to return to port instead of scratching away the day for low numbers of fish.
Drift net boats on the horizon in Cook Inlet, waiting to set in the "expanded corridor."
Reni relaxing on the reel. Despite the slow day, we were relaxed and enjoyed the beautiful, calm weather!
We remain optimistic for the season despite the slow day. There were several factors not in our favor for this opener: short period of flooding tide, restricting fishing area, and the run being late. We made a detour to the west of the inlet (Area 1) to look for signs of fish. To our delight, we spotted numerous "jumpers." This is the area we will fish on Thursday. Everyone is geared up for a full day of fishing.
Captain Wes, who has salmon blood in his veins, leads us on the hunt.
Common murres take flight as we motor to Area 1 to scout for fish.
How to spot a "rip": Look for changes in water color, activity. In this picture, you can see the choppier, darker water to the left. This is the "rip". We spotted jumper around this area.
Another image of the rip in Area 1 where we spotted jumpers.
View from the flying bridge. The Alaska state flag is on the left. "Eight stars of gold on a field of blue..."
Large bed of floating seaweed and kelp. These are a pain to get caught in the net and can wreak havoc if caught in a prop. They tend to get pushed into "rips" where the water is moving more quickly.
The F/V Night's Edge wheelhouse and gear on board. The level-wind, (the aluminum bar in front of the reel, has been fixed and returned to the boat. Hurray! We are all ready for the season to get into full swing!

by Tia (Deckhand) on July 6th, 2012

The plan: Get the boat in the harbor at 4:30 AM. Start her up, grab the ice, and GO FISHING!

What actually happened: The boat showed up at the harbor at 4:30 AM as planned. It would have been in the water on Wednesday but apparently, you can't haul oversized vehicles on July 4th (who knew?!?). The fabulous folks at the boat yard backed her down the boat launch at the Homer Harbor. Captain Wes jumped on boat to start her up and...

The boat wouldn't start! To add insult to injury, there were gallons of water pouring out the bilge immediately upon being put back in the water. We had no choice but to pull the boat back out of the water and return to the service yard.

There was nothing I could do to help at that point so I returned home and jumped back into bed. I didn't even change out of my clothes, which proved to be fortuitous when I woke up to a call from Captain Wes at 9 AM. "The boat's fixed and we're going to head out! Meet you at the boat launch!" I grabbed my gear, kissed my kids, and headed for the spit.

We met up at the boat launch and Captain Wes fired up the engines. No water leaking! That was really nice to see as I had no desire to wrestle with a survival suit any time soon. We motored over to the cranes and picked up two brailer bags full of shaved ice. Our next stop would be the fishing grounds! Unfortunately, our progress was halted when the left (old) engine stopped working about 15 yards out of the mouth of the harbor. I see this as a blessing; we could have been 45 miles from harbor! We turned around and headed to our harbor slip.

Captain Wes, despite being extremely frustrated with the turn of events, maintained his composure and called the boat mechanic, Lee, who made a trip down to our slip to see what could be done. After about 45 minutes of replacing some starting wires and a coil, Captain Wes was able to get the old engine going again. Apparently, all the moisture that had been in contact with the engine in the last couple days had taken its toll on certain parts. As we headed out of the harbor at 12:30, I made a mental note to deliver some homemade cinnamon rolls to Lee and the fabulous folks at Marine Services.

Glassy, calm water as we exit Kachemak Bay.
With lightened spirits, we enjoyed lunch on the ride out to the fishing grounds. Everyone was happy to be able to make it out to fish, even if it was just a part of the day. There were reports that the seas were picking up a bit and that the fishing was steady. Captain Wes headed to a spot that he says he never passes without making an experimental set. And that's why he's the captain! The fishing was steady and we never quite moved from that spot, except to drift with the tide.
In this picture, you can see the calm seas of Kachemak Bay meeting the rougher waters of Cook Inlet. See below for video footage of some sloppy Cook Inlet water.
"A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor." The weather proved a teacher on Thursday and I learned more about operating the hydraulic reel in rough water. There was a significant wind blowing and we had some green water over the bow. When fishing in this kind of weather, there are so many factors to take into account when operating the reel. How is the wind affecting the boat? What debris should we be aware of? How does pulling on the reel affect the fish in the net? These are all things that Captain Wes understands inately after so many years at sea. This is my second summer on the boat and I'm trying to take in all the nuances so as to be the best I can at my job. When the fish really start running, this knowledge will help keep things running smoothly and avoid situations that could potentially halt the fishing operation.

At one point, we had a tug-of-war match with a huge floating patch of seaweed. It had drifted in the hook in the net, a curve we had placed in the net by towing on it. We were pulling in the net and picking fish as they came over the bow. We were working our way around the floating pad by slowly "walking" up the net with the boat and then pulling up a little of the net. This would, ideally, allow us to "walk" around the seaweed bunch and keep it out of the net. However, every time we pulled the net in, we had six to eight fish to pick out! In the time it took to pick the fish, we had lost the progress we had made on getting around the seaweed. While it was frustrating to not make progress around the patch, we were elated to be picking fish like crazy! We made our last set in the midst of tons of seaweed (literally) and rough seas for 63 fish. Overall, we managed 250 fish in less than five hours of actually fishing time. Not too shabby!


by Tia (Deckhand) on July 3rd, 2012

...it was the catching that was bad. –A.K. Best

What a great start to the day! The weather had lightened up and the new engine purred as Captain Wes put it through it's paces, alternating RPMs to break it in. Everything was as it should be...Bonnie was back, the heater in the cabin was fixed, and the weather was pleasant. We had a feeling we'd be picking fish like crazy today! I managed to grab a couple nice shots of the morning as we cruised out of Kachemak Bay into the inlet.
 
Captain Wes guided the boat towards the Southern Boundary, a latitudinal designation of the most southernly point we are allowed to fish. The Alaska Department of Fish & Game monitors vessels via boat and plane and will fine vessels that do not follow the regulations. When fishing near the "line," boats must be aware of the tides and how that affects the speed at which they drift. On July 2nd, the tide was ebbing until around 10:30 am. That meant, if we set just above the line, we could very likely drift past the line in very little time.
Cook Inlet is bordered on the west side by the Aleutian Volcanic Arc. Visible from the inlet are four volcanoes, Douglas, Augustine, Illiamna, and Redoubt. In this picture you can see Illiamna in the distance.
Our first set was above the line; when we picked the net up we had one fish. Okay, not the best start. On the other hand, we still hadn't scored a water haul (zero fish)! I am eternally optimistic...I knew the next set would be better. Captain Wes knows what he's doing and would find the fish. We set again in some streaky water (tide rips and color changes in the water are areas that fish will travel) and netted eight fish. We picked up pretty quickly so as not to pass the "line." 

Captain Wes networks with a group of other drift net fisherman out of Homer. They communicate about where they are, what they see, and what they catch. The chatter on the radio was less than optimistic. Many in the group had successive water hauls and no one seemed to be "on" the fish. Uh oh!

Of course, the tide was ebbing. This is a strong factor in drift net fishing. As the tide ebbs and moves towards as low tide, the fish do not travel up the inlet like they do when the tide floods. It wouldn't be until after 11 am that the tide would slack and then begin to flood. Also the sun was pretty bright and the water very clear. This drives the fish deeper. Sometimes, we would run the net and see nothing but pull it up and pick a handful.

So, we continue to set. Six fish...ten fish...seven fish. (Sounds like Dr. Seuss!). We moved around, trying the usual sweet spots. Despite the low numbers, we still managed to avoid a water haul.
We bleed the fish so the fillets are clean when processed. After bleeding, the fish are deposited in a ice and salt water slurry that chills them until we return to the port of Homer where they are offloaded and processed.
We waited optimistically for the flood. We had a couple sets of 30-40 fish towards the later part of the day and moved much farther west than we had the previous two openers, setting the net across a tide rip. Salmon travel in tide rips...so does seaweed, kelp, driftwood, and other debris. Setting in a clean tide rip is great. Setting in a tide rip full of seaweed is a nightmare; the plants get entangled in the meshes in the net and you must pick it out by hand because a dirty net doesn't catch fish. Fortunately, the spot Captain Wes had picked had limited amounts of seaweed and a couple smooth logs that rolled over the net in spots but didn't get hung up. We heard on the radio that others were so desparate to find fish that they had set in rips full of seaweed and were now picking hundreds of pounds of it out of their nets.

In this picture, you can see the end of the net. It is attached to the boat and we are towing on it. This keeps the net from bunching up. Also, we can move the net, ever so slowly, to better position it in a tide rip.
The end of the period approached and we had about 120 fish on board. We were sitting on a set in the same tide rip as before and it was looking good. We noticed that the bilge pump lights were flashing. This is not necessarily a good or bad sign. Just means that there is water on the boat that needs to pumped out. The lights continued to flash, despite pumping the bilge a couple of times. About 30 minutes later, the old engine on the port side, stopped working. An assessment by Captain Wes (which include some choice verbage, let me assure you) discovered water in the engine hold, which caused that engine to die. We dried it up as best we could and Captain Wes got her running again. Why the fuss? Don't we have a two inboard engines? Let me explain why this was potentially devastating...
While the new engine had been installed in time for the opener today, there had not been time to also connect the hydraulics to the new engine. The only hydraulics we had available to us were integrated into the old engine. That meant that the net we had fully deployed could not be pulled up via hydraulics unless the old engine was running. AHHHH! Pulling up a net by hand is not something we hope to ever experience! Fortunately, Captain Wes was able to get the engine running. We pulled the net up as quickly as we could, picking about 38 fish for the best set of the afternoon.

The engine continued to run while we were motoring and we made our way back to the port of Homer. Whatever was wrong with the engine proved to make the boat difficult to steer and that began to frustrate Captain Wes as the seas in the inlet picked up.

After we offloaded and cleaned up, Captain Wes decided it was in the best interest of the boat to have it pulled out of the water for repair. Again, we are hoping to have everything up and running before the next opener on Thursday.
While the fishing was slow and we experienced more technically difficulties, we managed to return home safely and should be on the water Thursday. Here is a video from Monday's adventures.


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