Just before mid season Chums, Reds, Silvers and Kings start to run simultaneously. The openers jump from 12 hours to 48 or 72 hours. The fishing grounds move in from an 8 hour ride from the dock to a two hour ride from the dock. We still pack the fish in totes at this point and they’re coming to the tune of 3-5000 lbs per boat, per delivery. The days change from reasonable and manageable to an all out war with yourself to keep moving. On a good day you get 3 ½ minutes to yourself for lunch, uninterrupted. On a bad day you woof your lunch between shovels full of ice and hope a flying bag of salmon doesn’t leak fish juice on your turkey sandwich.
You sleep an hour and a half each day if you’re lucky. You get 45 minutes on the ride to the fishing grounds and 45 minutes on the way back to the dock. That’s about it. During the first peak of the salmon run this schedule repeats itself 25 or 30 days on end. You’re always tired, always wet, always cold and you start to legitimately lose track of where one day ends and the other begins. The only relief is that it’s light 23 hours a day. The body and mind seem to take that into consideration when assessing its current energy levels. The light helps you keep going when you might otherwise give up. By the end of the first peak you’re as good as the walking dead. Everything comes out, your mind no longer has the wherewithal to seal it lips when it should. An average day looks something like this.
We’ll call the start of the day leaving the dock at around 5am. Keep in mind that this particular day started just after you spent three or four hours unloading the previous days catch between about 1am and 4am. So the day starts with your 45 minute nap. You actually have about an hour and a half to and hour and forty five minutes on the ride to the fishing grounds but most of it is eaten up getting out of your raingear, changing into dry clothes, shoving some food down your gullet, using the bathroom and just slowing down for a few minutes. The remainder is spent sleeping if you can. On more than one occasion I’ve seen one of the guys walk into the galley still in his raingear, stretch out in a downward dog like position on the floor and fall asleep. There’s only so far you can go sometimes.
From 7am to 7pm you buy fish, thousands upon thousands of pounds of fish. It’s nonstop action and remember, most of the time it’s pouring down rain. Everything on deck is slippery. There are thousand pound bags of fish flying in every which direction over your head. Every bag gets, weighed, reported, separated by species and dumped in a tote and iced. This goes on for 12 solid hours, non stop.
Once all of our totes are full we clean up the deck and rendezvous with all the other salmon tenders in the fleet. There are three of them not includingourselves. It’s now about 8pm. Our boat is the designated run boat so we tie up to our other tenders one at a time and unload their fish totes to our boat. Every tote has to be strapped, stacked, moved and unstrapped. Sometimes totes are stacked as many as five high on our deck. It’s about and hour per boat to unload and by 11pm we’re on our way back to the dock. We strip our raingear and take care of business, grab our 45 minute nap and we’re tying up at the dock to unload.
It takes on average 3-4 hours to unload up to 140,000 lbs of salmon. By the time we’re done it’s 5am and we can get ready to start our next day. There’s a faint glimmer of hope for sunshine tomorrow.