There is something special about the Bristol Bay beach that has lured me to return for 5 seasons of fishing for Sockeye Salmon… indoor plumbing is not one of them. Nestled against a scrubby berm in the actual middle of nowhere (Egegik Fishing District) is the Neal camp – or what family and crew refer to as “fish camp.” Despite being in the folds of the tundra, over the last 30 years the Neal’s have built an impressive compound that serves both practical function and comfort out of train connex containers. For goodness sakes, there’s a sauna with hot water, a generator, and limited-used washing machine. There is also a bathtub and a propane-heated shower - a luxury enjoyed by few, if any other, fishers on the beach. We make specific water trips for clean, spring-fed drinking water. And while we don’t have “indoor plumbing,” the outhouse is cleaner than literally any fraternity bathroom I’ve ever seen. We've made do without "indoor plumbing" by using multiple hand pumps and hoses. The food is delicious, the neighbors are friendly, and the plane ride to the beach is both fun and entertaining.
Throughout our fish camp, we have multiple connex containers with different, but specific purposes. We have a mechanic shed we use to work on, fix, and maintain our ATV bikes used during each tide. We have a tool connex, used to house any and all tools we need to fix and maintain our fish camp. We have a mudroom that leads into the main cabin; where we hang our fish gear to dry by a diesel drip heater. We have a food connex used to safely store our food for the entire season from critters and bears. We have a net room used to store ropes, anchors, and nets when not in use - we often med nets in this room towards the end of the season and to smoke salmon in. We also have a sauna used for showers and hot water; the perfect celebration after a long cold tide. We have a generator room; which houses our generator and solar panels and we often use to hang wet laundry in to dry.
Our main cabin has a large kitchen and a comfortable dining room table that overlooks windows facing our nets in the Bristol Bay. It also has a small and open living room area with a comfortable couch and a captains chair with large binoculars always close by to use looking out the bay windows when inspecting our nets.
Our crew has their own rooms - complete with comfortable mattresses, sleeping bags in duvet covers, and egg crates we use to organize our clothes and belongings. And while the rooms are built within connex containers; they're insulated and built with OSB painted walls. Over the years, crew has decorated the rooms in their own ways - Christmas lights, water color paintings, posters from the nearby processor, and pictures of family and friends back home to help with homesickness.
To be completely honest, fish camp is incredibly comfortable. It’s homey and cozy, and has all the necessities we need to function day to day. Making your own fun (reading, building games, playing cards, listening to music) and enjoying the company of the people around you is really what makes fish camp a home away from home.
Written by: Natalie Karcher