September 4: We’d be wanting to learn how to set a net from shore, so when a couple invited us to come fishing with them, we jumped at the opportunity. The way nets are set here is pretty ingenious.
The first order of business is to get a big enough weight out from shore to securely anchor the far end of the net. In Shishmaref and lots of other places, they use small dingies or other watercraft to accomplish this. But the current runs strong near Point Hope, and high winds can come up quickly. In the past, lone anglers launching small boats off the beach led to drownings. So a different method for getting the cloth sacks of rocks which serve as weights out into deeper water was developed. Here fishermen use long poles–sometimes lengths of two-by-fours nailed together. The fish often run quite close to shore, so even 25 feet or so can be far enough and a 30 foot net set is all you need. The pole is threaded through a loop on the top of the weight, enough floatation in the form of plastic buoys is attached to the end of the pole to keep everything floating as its pushed out, and then the pole is pulled back and the weight drops to the bottom.
Meanwhile, a long line has been run through one end of the net, top to bottom along a piece of wood attached to the net and is also run through the weight. With the ends of the line tied together to form one long loops, and controlled from the beach, this line is pulled until one end of the net is snugged up against the weight. The top and bottom lines are adjusted so that the net is positioned upright, and the lines are tied off to two stakes on the beach. At the other end of the net–the one closest to the beach–another line holds the net in place and is similarly tethered. Corks keep the top of the net up, and a lead line keeps the bottom of the net down. It sounds a bit complicated, but in practice the whole process is fairly simple and intuitive.
Once the net is set, the fishing is much like any kind of fishing anywhere. You wait, hoping to see the tell-tale dancing of corks, or maybe a splash as a large fish entrapped in the net swims to the surface. Up here the quarry are salmon (pinks, silvers and Chinook), and the highly prized “trout,” i.e. sea-run Dolly Varden. While you wait for the fish to come along, you might see grey whales or even Orcas, seals, or maybe a walrus. Hundreds of thousands of seabirds nest and roost on the cliffs of Cape Thomson to the south, so the sea is usually alive with murres, gulls, puffins and more.