Know your Fisherman:
Jay, Roger and Tom Rogotzke
The Rogotzkes have spent 50 years combined fishing in Bristol Bay. With Roger starting out the tradition and his sons Jay and Tom following in his footsteps, you could say fishing runs in their blood!
“The waters in Bristol Bay can be your best friend, or they can be your worst enemy if you don’t respect them. The fishery is rich with camaraderie and competitiveness. This is not a fishery for the soft at heart.” -Jay Rogotzke
How Did you get into fishing?
Roger: I read about Bristol Bay, AK while I was in college at Gustavus and took the first opportunity to go up there and see what it was all about.
Jay: My family got me interested in fishing as well as the opportunity to be a part of taking a catch from the largest sockeye run in the world.
Tom: My dad, Roger. He had been a fisherman since before I was born and passed it on when I was old enough to come along.
What makes you return to Bristol Bay each fishing season?
Roger: I come back to Bristol Bay each year because I enjoy working with my sons and brother in one of the most challenging jobs in the world.
Jay: The biggest thing that brings me back is the dream of making another monster set and seeing that net light up. I also think the culture and fishing community helps keep me going as the people we see annually up there seem like another family now.
Tom: The challenge that fishing presents and being able to say “I fished Bristol Bay and survived!” The scenery is amazing, so many great sunsets and Bristol Bay is a second home to me. I love fishing even though it is a huge mental and physical test. Fishing the Bay and continuing to do so is like a badge of honor, even if nobody from Minnesota is familiar with it.
What characteristics of the salmon product make it distinctive?
Roger: The taste of the Bristol Bay salmon sells the salmon. The meat is very firm, has a nice red color to it, is high in Omega 3, and it melts in your mouth because it is so delicious. Knowing that it is all natural and comes from the pristine waters of Bristol Bay makes it that much better.
Jay: The fact that these fish our 100% wild. They follow their food source way out into the Pacific Ocean and come back every 4 years to the exact place they spawned. It also has a distinctive red color, that no farmed fish the world can copy, no matter how good the dye job is. The other part that makes the product distinctive for me is that I know how well the product was treated from the moment it came out of the pristine waters of Bristol Bay. I’ve seen the process from start to finish and I know the quality that customers receive when they choose wild salmon from Bristol Bay.
Tom: The deep rich red orange color of the meat. There is nothing like it. I’ve had farmed fish and it doesn’t even compare in taste.
What’s it like Commercial Fishing in Bristol Bay?
Roger: One must have a lot of respect for the sea. Never take anything for granted make sure that your boat works well to get you out of bad situations and stay away from sandbars in bad weather because if you happen to get grounded on a sandbar in bad weather your boat can roll over. It can also be one of the most beautiful sights in the world with unbelievable sunsets with flat water in the foreground and mountains in the background with many colors of the sun to blend everything together.
Jay: The waters in Bristol Bay can be your best friend, or they can be your worst enemy if you don’t respect them. The fishery is rich with camaraderie and competitiveness. This is not a fishery for the soft at heart.
When you close your eyes and think about being on the water in Bristol Bay, what do you see?
Roger: I see that I have my net in the water and that I have just made a good set. The fishing are piling into the net. After having a good day and having delivered my fish to the processing company, I tie up to my sons boats and we have a really good salmon dinner, and talk about each one of our sets and how we nailed the fish today. Each of us outdoing the other in the story of course.
Tom: I feel nervous excitement. Maybe even a little giddy if it’s the first day of the season. I see lots of Nushagak fishermen around me and my crew standing on the back deck waiting to throw the buoy for the first time. The whole season is a mystery, that’s why they call it fishing, not catching.
What Has fishing in Bristol Bay Taught you?
Jay: I like to think it taught me how to be a man when I first started out. It’s forced me to become different occupations in life that I never thought I could do. When you're out there on the water, I’ve learned that people are capable of doing anything when everything is on the line.
Tom: Bristol Bay has given me a healthy respect for the water and also to be humble in every situation. A fishing season can be ended in a hurry and you aren’t guaranteed anything. An injury or a boat breakdown could cost you a season. You don’t know if you will catch any fish and you don’t have any idea what you will be paid until the season is almost over. It has also taught me that family and friends are of the utmost importance. We all depend on each other for rescue and for guidance.