A Day in the Life of an Alaskan Commercial Fisherman

Posted · Add Comment
salmon seiner pulling aboard a bag of fish

So you’re interested in working on a commercial fishing boat? Read this section to see if you can handle a day in the life of a salmon fisherman.

3:30 a.m. The alarm rings and you roll out of your bunk still half asleep. All your muscles are aching. You slowly put on your sweats and boots as your skipper yells at you to hurry and pick the anchor. You rush outside on the bow, begin pulling up the anchor, then realize it’s pouring outside. After you take care of the anchor, you go back inside the galley and change into dry clothes, hanging up your wet clothes next to the stove to dry. You start a pot of coffee and yawn a lot.

4:02 a.m. Your boat makes its way from the sheltered bay to the open ocean. It’s still dark and you realize that you’ll be spending the day working in 10-foot seas and 30-knot winds. You wish you were home. You check the coffee and realize that the stove went out a half-hour ago. When you open the stove, there’s a half-inch of diesel fuel sloshing back and forth. You grab a roll of paper towels, clean it up, relight the stove and wish you were home again.

4:05 a.m. You arrive at the fishing grounds and your skipper tells you to let the net go. The net is pulled off the deck by the skiff and stretched out for about 1,200 feet in the shape of a hook. While the net is out, the skipper has you hit the water repeatedly with a large plunger pole to scare the fish into the net. You’re having a hard time standing while you’re plunging because the swells are so big. When the net has been stretched out for about 25 minutes, the boat and skiff meet, completely surrounding the salmon with the net. Once this happens, you help to connect the skiff end of the net to the boat. Then you
pile the net on the back deck while the power block pulls it in for you. This operation takes about 20 cold, wet minutes. Your rain gear keeps you dry, but it’s so windy your face gets drenched. Finally, you get to the end of the net and see you’ve caught about a hundred sockeye salmon. A hundred is a good haul when it comes to sockeyes!

5:00 a.m. The first little glow of sunlight is creeping over the mountains. While you’re pitching the fish into the hatch, you’re automatically calculating how much money you’ve just made. Let’s see––one hundred sockeye, at an average weight of five pounds, equals 500 pounds. At a about a $1.30 a pound*, the boat just made $650. Since you’re getting 10 percent of whatever the boat makes, you’ve just made $65! That’s not bad for an hour’s work! Your skipper tells you to let the net go again, so you do. You smell something burning and realize that the clothes you put next to the stove are now a little bit drier than you had previously intended.       *Fish prices vary from season to season.

5:15 a.m. You sit on the hatch cover in your rain gear and enjoy a nice, hot cup of coffee. Your fellow crew member volunteers to temporarily oversee the operation, allowing you to take a little break.

5:25 a.m. Your break is over and the skiff is making its way towards the boat, which means you’ll be piling the net in a matter of minutes.

6:00 a.m. The net is brought aboard and you didn’t catch one single fish. Therefore, you made nothing. Your boat travels to a different fishing area, so you go up to the tophouse to help the skipper steer the boat.

7:03 a.m. When the boat arrives at the new area, you climb down to the deck and let the net go. While it’s being released, the net gets caught on a nail, ripping a huge hole in it. Your skipper screams and yells, but all you can do is hope that you don’t lose any fish because of it.

8:00 a.m. The net is brought aboard and you were lucky! Even though there was a hole in the net, the fish didn’t escape. You caught 100 fish, so you made another 65 bucks! You quickly fix the hole and let the net into the water again to catch some more fish.

8:30 a.m. The sun is out and it’s getting a little brighter. You’re finally fully awake. Breakfast is ready, but you only have five minutes to eat because you’ve got to bring the net aboard soon. The eggs are only half-cooked because the stove isn’t working. You wish you were at Denny’s. Then you remember how tough you are, living life on the edge in Alaska, so you eat every raw morsel of your breakfast.

8:57 a.m. This time you bag only 10 fish, so your skipper decides to move to a different area to catch a special tide.

11:15 a.m. You arrive at the new area and let out the net.

12:13 p.m. You bring the fish aboard. This time you caught 200 sockeye. Very good! You just made $130 with that set. So far you’ve made $260 since you woke up and it’s only noon. You move to a new spot and let the net go.

Congratulations, you’ve already had an eight-hour workday, and it is barely noon. Having fun yet?! If so, you are officially a crazy-ass fisherman and have fishing in your blood! Interested in learning about the rest of the day and how much money can be made? Click here to sign up now and read the rest of “A Day in the Life of a Fisherman”!