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f/v karen anne, BRISTOL BAY Fisherman for 36 years

tom rogotzke




What (or who) got you interested in 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.

What sets Bristol Bay Sockeye Salmon apart?

JAY: The fact that Bristol Bay Sockeye Salmon are 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.

How do you describe the Bristol Bay waters & fishery to those who’ve never been?

TOM: Bristol Bay is made up of 5 fishing districts that each contain several rivers and/or streams and other tributaries.  The fishing generally takes place in the bays of the rivers and in some places you can be 6 or 7 miles from land. The water is mostly shallow and some rivers have more silt in them and some are crystal clear.

Tell us about your crew. Who do you typically fish with?

ROGER: When I first started fishing my crew was my dad, Bob Rogotzke, and brother, Dave.  When Dave got his own boat and dad started to fish with him, I fished with high school and college friends.  When my son, Tom, was 12 years old, he started fishing with me and fished with me until he was 21.  He then got his own boat, F/V Katie Blue.  My other son, Jay then started fishing with me and fished with me for 3 years before buying my boat, F/V Ratso.  I upgraded to the F/V Karen Anne, named after my daughter.  

When you close your eyes and imagine yourself on the boat, describe what you see? How do you feel?

JAY: I can see the sun setting over a mountain range. I can also see my net getting hits and my crew on the back deck cheering as our catch adds up. I feel tense because my livelihood as well as my crew’s depends on me putting us on good fish. Yet, I feel a sense of a whole different understanding for mother nature as she gives a fisherman an entirely different perspective when he’s out on the ocean.

How do you describe a day in your life when the fish are running in Bristol Bay?

ROGER: At the beginning of the season when we know the fish have been building for a week or two in the fishing area we are planning to fish in and we have not been able to fish them yet because the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game wants to get some salmon to escape up into the spawning grounds before we get to harvest the excess, we constantly listen to the radio to see if Fish & Game are going to let us fish and when.  When we think that  fishing time is close we take our boats down to the area we plan to fish so we are ready to go when that announcement comes. When that announcement comes, we are all driving around in our boats looking for signs of fish.  We call them "Jumpers" as salmon will jump sometimes as they head upstream.  Spotting jumpers before an opening and staying on them until it opens can be very rewarding as there may be a lot of fish with that jumper or jumpers that are not jumping.  When making that first set one always hopes and prays that it is the right spot so I am catching fish right from the start and don't have to pick up and move to where someone else is catching them already.

Fishing in Bristol Bay is tough work. What brings you back each fishing season?  

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. 

What is your favorite way to prepare Bristol Bay sockeye salmon?

ROGER: I really like to prepare salmon by rolling it in yellow corn meal, putting it in a pan with a little olive oil in it and then putting a little bit of lemon pepper on it. It is ready to eat as soon as it flakes. I also like to bake it and baste it with a maple syrup, mustard and garlic glaze.

Do you have any unique fishing traditions that you do during the season?

TOM:  I always eat the first sockeye and the first king that come onboard. I also have my crewman kiss the first fish. I have even convinced a few unlucky people that it’s tradition to lick the first salmon against the grain of the scales.  

What has fishing in Bristol Bay taught you?

JAY: Fishing in Bristol Bay has taught me many things. 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.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience as a Bristol Bay fisherman? 

TOM: Fishing is hard work, no sleep, and a constant test in many ways. You have to be on your toes, but I love it and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I spend a lot of my year wishing I was back up there fishing and I can’t wait to pass that onto my daughter just like my dad did for me. Bristol Bay salmon is handled with care from the very beginning and you won’t go back to any other sort of salmon once you’ve had it.