A friend of the campaign, Colles Stowell, visited Bristol Bay this summer and has shared his initial impressions of the place, people and widespread opposition to Pebble with us.
Colles is based in Maine and wears many many fish hats, including at One Fish Foundation, Slow Fish, and Local Catch. He is also an avid fly fisherman. Click to view the original post on One Fish Foundation here.
Thanks for sharing, Colles.
Plan for them all you want, but rich experiences often require overcoming some challenges, adapting to surprises and simply making do.
In the past two weeks in Bristol Bay, Alaska, I’ve watched massive brown bears stroll along the banks of the rivers I was fishing as they searched for their own meals, passively taking notice of us humans. Breathtaking.
I’ve picked fish out of set nets by hand, learning from a master how to extricate gill plates, untangle fins and bleed the fish quickly and efficiently as we practiced a centuries-old ritual. Working three sets in a 15-hour period gave me a glimpse at just how demanding a full four-week season must be.
I’ve toured one of the eight or so big processing facilities that represent half of the commercial fishing economic equation in Naknek. One million fish a day are vacuumed up a large pipe from the waterfront to a huge warehouse with hundreds of hairnetted seasonal workers that head, tail, gut and fillet the fresh fish. The salmon are then either frozen and packed, or smoked, frozen and packed, each fixed with the private label of one of the fishermen who contract with the plant. It is a very smooth operation.
I’ve hitchhiked (for the first time, feeling at once a tad uneasy and adventurous) along the Alaska Peninsula Highway between Naknek and King Salmon, shortening the 15-mile distance, saving the $40 cab fare (and the $255 per day to rent a Kia) and meeting some really interesting people along the way. Hippie Doug may be a transplant from the 80s, but he sure seems to have carved out a creative, if off-color niche for himself smoking salmon in Bristol Bay.
The flora and fauna
I’ve checked off a significant, life-long bucket list item: fly fishing Alaska’s wild rivers and streams, catching a variety of stunning salmonids with different flies and approaches. The red flame of the rainbow trout and the iridescent pink spots of the Dolly Varden or Arctic Char are seared in memory, recalled at will. Same with the small chrome blue thumbprint marks along the sides of the 30 or so 2-8 inch king salmon smolts I caught while fishing King Salmon Creek alone.