Down in the lower 48, the Fourth of July is well known for getting together with family to barbeque, set off fireworks and celebrate our country’s independence. And up in Egegik, it isn’t much different. Our sockeye salmon season runs right through the Fourth of July, and for us, that typically means the “peak of the season” is right around the corner. Our crew is busy with fishing tides – often both AM and PM tides at this point, working around the camp, and finding time to rest when we can. But Fourth of July is a cause for celebration on our beach, and we spend the entire first half of our summers looking forward to it.
On the beach, we treat everyone like family. We lend a hand when someone needs help, share tools, check up on each other, and have each other’s backs. Every year, another fish camp down the beach begins building a huge pile of driftwood and construction scraps in front of their home over the tundra berm. From late May/early June, they collect, as do other fishers. We collect and we add to this pile throughout the season as we can. Because on July 4th, all of the families, crew, fishers, processors, and more will gather around the bonfire and celebrate together.
Usually, we will be fishing prior to the celebration. Thinking about the upcoming bonfire motivates the crew to get work done efficiently. After work, our family kicks off the fourth by having hamburgers and hotdogs out on the deck – every year, often followed with margaritas that make your cheeks rosy. After we eat together, celebrating the things we’re thankful for, we prepare for war. Our little brother, Owen, has been with us at fish camp since he was 2 years old. And every year, for a decade now, each crew member gets one can of silly string for the most intense game of silly string tag ever witnessed. What started as a fun way to bond with Owen, has become a crew tradition for our favorite summer holiday. Crew start at their own crew connex – where they sleep while at fish camp, and on Owen’s count, we all run toward the middle of camp and start blasting each other with silly string. There’s not actually any tag involved – we just try to spray others as much as possible and try to not get sprayed ourselves. Often, we pretend there are teams – “boys” vs “girls,” but in the end, we’re all laughing and spraying one another no matter the team. After the crew cleans up the colorful strands of silly string all over the yard, we stock up on yummy drinks and head over to the bonfire.
Upon arriving, you’ll see other fishers playing make shift corn hole, young members of fisher families on the beach playing football, and crew greeting one another to catch up after a hopeful and successful day of fishing. One family on the beach always sets up a “homemade cannon.” The cannon is made of PVC pipe and wood and somehow when lit, launches a can hundreds of feet away in which the dogs on the beach chase and fetch. The lighting of the cannon always kicks off the beach’s celebration. After the cannon goes off, we all gather around the bonfire and drink and dance to country music while catching up with fisher friends. Our family usually distributes red, white, and blue glow sticks and brings our large red, white, and blue beach ball to toss around. Sometimes if we’re lucky, we can see fireworks from the drifter boats, or someone will have brought fireworks to the party, or maybe their families sent sparklers in their care packages.
After a very fun night of celebrating, crews find their way home to prepare for fishing the next morning. If there’s one thing we’ve learned commercial fishing, it’s that the harder you work, the better it feels when you get to play. And on the beach at Fourth of July, we play hard! Our Fourth of July’s aren’t always filled with the biggest firework show on the river or bathing suits or warm weather. But they are always filled with family and friends and long standing traditions and good beer – the important things in life.
Written by: Gwen Mistretta