A young Chicagoan's strange erotic journey around the globe
In late May 2015, I went up to Bristol Bay in Alaska seeking work on a fishing boat. After arriving at the remote King Salmon airport a few hundred miles southwest of Anchorage, I hitched a ride to Naknek where I pitched a tent just outside of town and began my search.
After a few days of posting my name and phone number in all the shops and bars in town frequented by fisherman, I got a call, met up with the captain, was hired to work and soon after went to obtain my fishing license. As seen from the top of The Blue Adriatic, this is one of many shipyards where everyone gets their boats ready for the upcoming season.
Legally, salmon may only be taken from the river between June 1 and September 30, and within that span, only during specified commercial fishing periods set by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game known as “openers”. Here’s another view from the top of The Blue Adriatic, this one facing the Naknek River.
The method of catching salmon in Bristol Bay is called gillnetting. A gillnet is a wall of netting suspended between two parallel lines – the corkline, which floats along the surface, and the lead line, which sinks down and forms the bottom of the wall. Your typical boat will be equipped with three lengths of net equaling 900 feet, but some captains have permits to drag a 4th length behind their boat. Additionally, the maximum depth of a gillnet (the netting between the cork and lead lines where all the fishies meet their end) must not exceed 29 meshes – a height which I’m not sure of, but based on the gear we used I’d estimate to be about five feet. Pictured here is a motorized gillnet drum that reels in your catch with the flip of a lever.
After dragging the fully extended net behind the boat and tangling up as many unsuspecting, seasonally migrating salmon as possible, at the captain’s command the net is reeled in by the hydraulic drum as it runs between the bars of the stern roller – the stern roller being the thing on the back of the boat behind my buddy Juan’s right shoulder there in the photo. During this time, before they reach the drum, the deckhands (2 or 3 guys) are to remove the bloodied suffocating salmon from the netting as fast as possible (an act known as “picking fish”) and store them in the holds below the deck so another set can be made. On this particular day, we’d filled the capacity of our fishholds early, leaving us with this “deckload” to work around.
Blumpkin – the act of getting oral sex while taking a shit. Not sure who wrote this in the dirt, but it’s definitely photoworthy
Here’s Glen. This Chuck Norris lookalike is a legendary alcoholic on the Bristol Bay scene. Booze is really expensive in Naknek and Glen is known to drink away his entire season’s pay before he gets it. In the weeks leading up to launch day, Glen went back to his boat in the shpyard after getting wasted in town and inadvertently urinated on his sleeping captain. In addition to climbing up a dangerously steep hill overlooking one of Naknek’s riverside beaches in search of firewood, losing his balance, falling over and tumbling all the way back down to the beach and landing atop a steadily burning campfire…
…legend has it that Glen fell from the top of one of these ladders at the docks while coming back from a notorious shithole bar known as The Pit on the south side of the Naknek River. The time during which he fell was when the tide was out, so there was no water in the area whatsoever. I don’t understand how his body didn’t hit the boat on the way down but, as the story goes, they say Glen landed feet first and sunk knee-high into the mud where he remained uninjured but immobilized and calling to his fellow crewmen for help.
Here’s a photo of the Trident docks on the south side of the Naknek at low tide so you can get some perspective as to how far Glen drunkenly fell. That’s a major league tumble.
My captain Alex, shooting the shit with Glen. Alex liked to say of his own penis that, “It ain’t long, but it sure is skinny.” He also regularly referred to poop as “stink pickles” which I really liked. It came as a surprise when Alex casually mentioned to me that when his mom was pregnant with him, his dad – who happens to be the captain that got pissed on by a blacked-out Glen – had held a shotgun to her stomach and proceeded to kick her down a flight of stairs while high on cocaine. The fishing world is a crazy place.
Bristol Bay captains get paid by the pound by the canneries to whom they sell salmon. My captain was affiliated with Trident who only forked over fifty cents a pound which kinda blows considering how much they charge for that shit in supermarkets. From here is where it’s shipped back to the mainland.
This backwoodsy-ass area of Alaska, which is not connected to the rest of the state by road is full of old outdated-ass vehicles. I saw plenty of old beaters with a ton of soul, but my favorite was definitely this station wagon with moose antlers
Look at that sexy beast
Grille made of corks from a gillnet cork line
The OH KAY has seen better days
An old truck abandoned in a field near Naknek
Down to ride?
Foggy day on Bristol Bay
This was one of my favorite days. It felt totally surreal. Like I was having a lucid dream or something
The dock at the Trident cannery north of the Naknek. Spray-painted on the wall, I still can’t tell if those are supposed to be dicks, pairs of glasses or bikini tops. Maybe one of each.
In the bathroom stall at Trident on the south side of the river. Apparently someone doesn’t think too highly of the women in Naknek
Guy can’t spell for shit, but I dig his message nonetheless
Your typical Bristol Bay boat is 32 feet in length which is a pretty small space for four dudes to be confined to for the duration of the fishing season. It should also be noted that a lot of the boats don’t come equipped with bathrooms. So what you do is go out on the deck and take a bucket with a rope attached to the handle, dip it down in the sea, get a couple inches of water in there and then bring it back up, squat over it on the deck, take a shit, wipe your ass and throw it all overboard. As you might imagine, this is not easily done on stormy days when the waves are tossing your boat around like a cork in a bathtub. It’s a struggle to keep your balance as the bucket you’re trying to shit into is sliding all over the place. Although it never happened, I feared getting knocked down by a wave just as I pinched one off and I’d just be laying there on my side as the piece of shit slid back and forth in front of my face with the rocking of the boat, leaving shitty skid marks in its wake. Not a blumpkin-friendly bathroom situation. Not in the slightest.
The cabin – home of Playboy magazines, cigarettes by the carton, an endless supply of spam and enough sriracha to swim in
The deck as seen from the cabin. Those hatches on the ground to the right of the drum lead to two of the four fish-holds, the other two being on the other side of the drum.
The boat pictured here amid one of the most fantastic sunsets I’ve ever seen is the type of crab boat they use on Deadliest Catch. However, since the summer months are not crabbing months, these big guys serve as “tenders” to the salmon fisherman. At the end of each opener, all the salmon fishermen unload the day’s haul onto the tender and the tender brings it all back to shore to be processed at the cannery and shipped to the mainland. Tenders also carry food and water for the fisherman to stock up on so there’s no need to go back to the docks. A few tenders even let the fishermen climb aboard to have a quick rinse off in their showers and the opportunity to squeeze out a stink pickle in a real-life blumpkin-friendly commode.
Bunch of salmon boats tied up to the tender awaiting their turn to offload at the end of an opener
While anchored and not working, it wasn’t uncommon to tie off to another boat and shoot the shit with other fisherman. Apparently, for the guy in the middle there on the other boat, Joe Workman, a fisherman’s wage in itself just don’t cut it. As such, during conversation, Joe never hesitated to offer to his interlocutors samples of homemade pornography starring him and his girlfriend which was being sold, he assured, at a very reasonable price.
Beautiful day on Bristol Bay
Since it was the middle of the summer and we were so far up there in the northern hemisphere, there’d only be like an hour or two of darkness every night
Sometimes you have a shit day and catch nothing more than toilet paper cast in the sea by other fishermen and some days you rake ’em in like the fuckin’ Bubba Gump Shrimping Company. This was one of those days. The salmon gods were smiling down on us. This is the day that the crew of The Blue Adriatic pulled 16,000 lbs. of salmon out the mouth of the Ugashik River – a feat which called for a celebratory SUCK IT photo from yours truly and my main man Juan