Alright, so when I arrived here at the lodge, I found myself in an utterly confounding situation. All of a sudden I not only had to learn a totally new job, but also had to break into an already existing social circle as well as to learn how to function within the boundaries of the lodge. Any one of these things would be difficult to do at once, but to do all these things at the same time was completely overwhelming.
The first day I was here I wasn’t expected to do anything but relax and unpack. I was told when meals were served and was pretty much left to my own devices. I walked around the lodge grounds and saw where everything was located, and introduced myself to everyone I ran across. There were around 15 people already up here, most of which were lodge veterans who all knew each other from seasons past. (Our full crew topped out around 22 people). I quickly found out who I’d be working with the closest and hung around with them mostly. Everyone was really friendly but kind of distant, as was to be expected. I was the greenhorn and I’d just have to get to know folks before they would open up to me.
Starting with the second day, I got put to work. There was no orientation or anything like that, I was just thrown into the mix. I found out that I’d be working on projects with the maintenance guys mostly until the guests arrived. These guys were all in their 20’s so it was a bit awkward hanging out with the youngsters while all the people my age were guides and captains. Everyone was like, “Welcome to Yes Bay jail, what’s your sentence?” (meaning, what were you hired for?)
Now, I don’t want to be negative about this place, but it did indeed have a lot in common with jail. In fact, a lot of things I did to cope with the experience I learned from the reality show called ‘Sixty Days In’, a show about people going undercover in jails around America. So the main thing this place has in common with jail is that you can’t leave. You’re stuck here for the duration. I mean, obviously I could leave anytime I wanted, but I’d have to quit and I spent all of my money to get here so that’s not an option. I couldn’t even afford a plane ticket to leave.
The next is that you’re forced to have roommates. Now, I lucked out in this regard in that I found out that I won’t be having a roomie for the first month and the last month. The two months in between there’s a guide coming in that I have to share a space with, so it is what it is. I hear he’s an old fat dude who’s kind of a curmudgeon, whoopie. I’d be going insane right now if I had to deal with a roommate on top of everything else I have to deal with, so I’m enjoying the solitude while it lasts.
Another big thing that this place has in common with jail is that you have no control over your environment. This means constant noise all the time. In between chatter from my co-workers & guests, the lodge owner’s dogs, and engine noises of all types I’m damn glad I brought a couple hundred pairs of earplugs. I have to sleep wearing earplugs as I’m a light sleeper, they do wonders in keeping my sanity and helping me sleep soundly. I also have no choice in what I get to eat day to day, although our kitchen staff is very dedicated and talented. If I want to eat, I have to eat what is served to me…which admittedly is pretty good grub. Still, a lot of the food is pretty carb and meat heavy and I’d prefer to be eating a lot more fish, rice and veggies.
Ok, ok, I’ll admit I’m being a little harsh on the place. Obviously this place is a far cry from jail. Still there are parallels that I just had to mention. My first week here admittedly was pretty rough. It took a little while to get into the social scene around here as I mentioned before. This on top of learning a new job and learning how to live in this environment was one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do. It’s still ongoing actually, some days I’m flowing with things well, and others I feel like I’m on the verge of cracking up completely. The owner of the lodge is a real salty hardass and he can be difficult at times also. Now, here at the end of my second week everything is going somewhat smoothly for me. I’ve learned how to do my job, I’m friends with everyone, living the lodge life has become tolerable, and even the boss will crack a joke with me from time to time. He’s still a ball-buster though!
I figured ya’ll might be wondering what exactly it is I do here. Well, I’ll tell you. A typical day begins at 4:45. I’m responsible for lighting the fires upstairs in the fireplaces so the guests can enjoy a nice crackling fire while they drink coffee (or booze) to start their day. After this I have breakfast at six, then I go down to the dock to assist the guides in launching their boats. Until lunch at 11:30, I just hang around the dock, doing busy work like coiling ropes, practicing my knots and helping the floatplane load and unload if it comes. After lunch I may help out the maintenance boys do their tasks around the lodge, split firewood, make kindling or anything else the boss dreams up. I start hanging close by the dock around 2 in case boats start coming in. They are supposed to come in around 5 but can come in at any time. I need to be there to land them, get them tied up to the dock, and offload the catch.
The fun begins when the boats come back to base. I’ll take a big bucket and get the fish, then haul the them up on the hanging stand so they can be weighed out and people can take pictures if they want. I’ll then take the fish to the fillet table and the guides get to work on processing the catch. I don’t have to actually fillet the fish, but I’ll take the cut up fish, bag them, put them in the vacuum sealer, weigh & document the catch and then put the bags of fish in the walk in freezer on the dock. I also am responsible for boiling any crabs that are brought back.
This may not sound too exciting, but I absolutely love it. It doesn’t even seem like work to me, I’m in my element. There’s nothing better as a fisherman to be involved in doing something like this. It is fish heaven! After this, my day is done around 5 but has gone later on occasion. Dinner is at 5:30, and after that I have free time to do whatever until I go to bed at around 9 or so. That’s pretty much my day in a nutshell.
So there are a lot of awesome things Yes Bay lodge has going for it. The main thing is obviously the location. We’re 50 miles away from civilization in the middle of the Tongass National Forest. There is so much life all around in the air, sea and land. I see bald eagles all the time, and occasionally orcas and black & brown bears make their appearance. (Although I’ve yet to see these animals, other crew members have). This is probably the wildest and most remote place I’ve ever experienced.
The second thing I love about this place is all the cool people I work with. They come from all over America, and most are at the same place in life as I am. A lot of the folks here are nomadic and adventurous by nature, and were at a point in their lives where they were fed up with what was going on where they were at so they decided to say “To hell with it, I’m going to Alaska!”
The third thing, of course is the fishing! We have been bringing in massive halibut! A gal that works in the kitchen caught a massive 100 lber last week. It’s by far the biggest one I’ve ever seen. Pacific halibut dwarf their California cousins. This week we had our first guests and they have brought in a few in the 40-50 lb range. I get just as excited as they do when they bring in these big fish! Later on in the summer salmon will start to run and we’ll be catching a lot of those as well. From what I hear, we’ll be catching silvers, chum and pink salmon. Kings are illegal to keep in this area, but that’s fine by me. I can catch those a’plenty down south.
When it comes to fishing, we have a few options. One is to fish off the dock whenever we have free time. I haven’t been doing this as I came up here with only a rod and no tackle. I’m learning what people are using and will be placing a big order after I get my first paycheck in a week or so. The next option is to go up Wolverine Creek right next to the lodge and fish for trout and steelhead. Several crew members have been catching these but as I need to get a shorter pole and tackle I haven’t done this yet. Very soon I’ll be getting into those fish however! The creek flows out of a lake a couple miles upstream that features world-class steelhead fishing. The trail to get up there is really challenging to get up and super treacherous, but once you get up there the fishing can be rewarding!
The kind of fishing I’m most excited about is the ocean fishing. On our one day a week off we can put in a request to go out on one of the boats if there is an open slot. I actually did this for the first time today (Tuesday the 22nd). I had high hopes for going out for halibut, but they were dashed when the boss told my captain he wanted him to go out trolling to see if the pink salmon were running yet. It kind of pissed me off as I go salmon trolling all the time back in Santa Cruz, and the pink salmon is the smallest of the salmon species. I’m in world-class halibut territory, and that’s what I want to target. It’s like having a ticket for the Super Bowl but when you get to the stadium you find that the ticket is only good for Pee-Wee football! It’s still football and it’s entertaining, but it’s not what you want to see when the big game is happening!
Nevertheless, I still had fun today. I caught my first Alaskan fish, a shaker King Salmon (actually caught 3 in total) and a whole lot of rock cod (boring). The highlight of the day is when I caught some cod and threw them back, they didn’t swim down right away. On three separate occasions a bald eagle swooped down no more than 15-20 yards behind the boat and snatched them up! It was so majestic to watch, I tried to take pictures but it happened too fast for me to do so. Down south all we see going after our by-catch are seagulls, and I promise you bald eagles swooping down is much more thrilling!
Lastly, the thing I like about the place is the lodge itself. It’s such a cool building with a rich history. It was built around a hundred years ago and used to be a bordello/gambling hall. I think it’s been an actual fishing lodge since the 50’s. Kirk Douglas used to come here a lot, and I think Kevin Costner has been here a few times. It’s just got a cool vibe. It even has its own ghost! They call him Yes Bay Johnny. One of the housekeeping girls had an encounter with him the other night.
She was housed inside the lodge at the time in one of the guest bedrooms. It was before we had guests when the boss cut the generator at 9:30 to save on diesel. (Now we have power 24/7). She said around 11 o’clock when everyone should have long been in bed and the lodge was dark and quiet she heard voices coming from the main lobby. Suddenly, footsteps started pounding up and down the hallway outside her door. When she looked out to see who it was there was no one there! Also she told me a couple of nights before that the bathroom medicine cabinet mirror swung open all by itself when she was alone in her room. When she started asking around she was filled in on the story of Yes Bay Johnny. Who is this spirit? Maybe someone was shot in a poker game gone wrong and now his spirit roams the hallways forever. Who knows? You totally get that creepy feeling here, especially when it’s late and no one is around. There’s something mysterious about this place for sure.
So I’m going to end this before I write a novel. I have plenty more to talk about but I’ve got plenty of time in the months ahead to elaborate further. I just wanted to give my audience a good sketch of where I am at and what I am doing here. Things go on every day I could write about. Trouble is I only have an hour or so of writing time so it’s a lot of work cramming it into one post a week! Never fear Dear Reader, there are plenty of Dogfish Tales coming at you in the weeks to come. Signing off!