Know your Fisherman:
John has been fishing for 13 years aboard the F/V Shadow. His hard work in Bristol Bay has taught him some valuable life lessons.
"I’ve learned about the importance of protecting our waters, rivers, and ocean. The Bay has also taught me the reward of hard work. Leaving the season tired and sore presents a great sense of accomplishment."
Who got you interested in fishing?
My dear friend Ross Trainor whom I’ve known for 16 years. He introduced me to pitching bails of herring in Maine. From there I fell in love with fishing communities and working on the water.
"There is something very special about getting splashed with salt water and being tired. It’s a timeless job and often times feels holy."
Whom do you fish with?
I fish with my captain Don Martinson, 56 seasons fishing in Bristol Bay. The crew underneath me has changed through the years but the past few years we have had two 22-year-olds.
Do you have any unique fishing traditions that you do during the season?
The crew kisses the first fish catch of the season. I am an avid letter writer and have been since I started fishing. Sending and receiving mail aboard a boat is a timeless thing.
How do you describe a day in your life when the fish are running in Bristol Bay?
It’s magical. Masses of fish are returning to the home river they were born in. You can see schools of fish swarming and running together. Oftentimes they are jumping out of the water, which is something that allows us to identify schools, and productive places to fish. We work all the time we are given by the Department of Fish and Game. That can be all hours or 12 hours or 8. When the fish are running in Bristol Bay the Department of Fish and Game are making sure enough fish get up the river to their home lake to spawn and return fish years from then. When we are fishing it is very fast paced. The net gets set quickly and we pick the fish out of the net quickly. We want to get the net back in the water as quick as possible. From the nets fish are carefully put into fish holds and chilled.
What is your favorite way to prepare Bristol Bay sockeye salmon?
At home I love to skin a fillet and char in cast iron for 2 minutes each side and then place the cast iron in the oven for 5 minutes. A quick and flavorful way to prepare it. Also, cedar board grilled.
Fishing in Bristol Bay is tough work. What brings you back each fishing season?
The people. I love the the early part of the season. Boat yard time, getting the boat ready for the season, working on projects, sharing stories with the other folks in the yard, anticipating the fish arrival. And the work — there is something very special about getting splashed with salt water and being tired. It’s a timeless job and often times feels holy.
When you close your eyes and imagine yourself on the boat, what do you see?
I picture two drastically different things. One, waking up and it is 3 a.m. and dark out, the instruments are turned on, folding my sweatpants to smoothly fit into my xtra tuffs, putting on my cap, and picking the anchor. Second, sliding into my bunk after a few days of catnaps and knowing what tired is.
How do you describe the Bristol Bay waters & fishery to those who’ve never been?
It’s a unique landscape. The tundra, so flat for much of it, with gorgeous mountain ranges and volcanic peaks. The water, it is a very shallow part of the Bering Sea. So the sea, which has very strong winds, makes big water in Bristol Bay.
What has fishing in Bristol Bay taught you?
Bristol Bay has taught me a great deal. I’ve learned about the importance of protecting our waters, rivers, and ocean. With a well-maintained fishery we can sustain an incredible ecosystem that provides one of the most nutritious foods in the world. The Bay has also taught me the reward of hard work. Leaving the season tired and sore presents a great sense of accomplishment.
What characteristics of the salmon product make it distinctive?
Its color. Bristol Bay salmon are eating on a wild diet of plankton. Similar to the uniqueness of grass-fed beef. An animal on its traditional diet tastes much fuller and is much more nutrient-rich. Also the Bristol Bay fish is a wild-run fishery. They are not penned up or hatched in a hatchery and released into the ocean.