Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Part #5: Personal Use Fishery - Copper River Sockeye Salmon

Dipnet fishing in the Copper River Canyon, Alaska.
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 16-35mm 2.8L, 1/400 sec @ f9.0, ISO 400

This is the fifth part of series I'm documenting on the Copper River red salmon, read the others here.

For many Alaskans, the personal use dipnet fishery of the Copper River is an important event. Each household is allowed to catch 30 salmon per season for their personal consumption. It begins in June and is usually wrapped up by August. For those not familiar with the procedure here is the scoop: A big net on the end of a 12 foot pole is lowered from the shore (some use boats) into the silty river water, preferably in an eddy which the fish favor for swimming up river (I might add that there is no lack of advice out there for proper technique and location. Many have their tried and true "spots" which faithfully deliver year after year). When the wiggle or bump is felt in the net, you haul it out. The fish is then bopped on the head, or live bled in the gills, and put on a stringer. This year my interests were two-fold: One, to catch my fish and two, to document the procedure. Its a challenge to do both and I was certainly focused on getting my fish as a first priority.

I chartered a boat ride that dropped me off down river in the canyon. The weather was fantastic (which is often not the case by the way). Perched on a small island rock adjacent to the canyon wall, I dropped in the net and bingo, had a beautiful shiny salmon in a few minutes. In just a few hours, I had my limit of fish but zero pictures. The disadvantage of my beautiful location was that no other fishermen were in sight to photograph. So, I did what photographers often do when faced with this dilemma: self portrait, self timer, and experiment. I forgot my intervolometer in the car (fancy programmable cable release) so I was left with pushing the shutter button and getting into position in a 10 second time period, and repeating this frequently. I put my camera on a tiny tripod, about 6 inches off the ground and did the best I could with composition. The results were acceptable, although I really wish I could have framed the scene from behind the camera! All in all, it was an exhilarating experience in outrageously beautiful country. I now have a freezer full of red salmon that will last until this time next year, and the process will happen again.

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