First, a quick look at next season. The 2023 forecast is for another big and healthy run of sockeye in Bristol Bay - not a record like last year, but high average. This past summer, we hired an extra hand for our crew based on the huge forecast, but this year, it looks like a normal crew will do. In case any reader is looking for a crew spot for 2023, we’ll have three jobs available . . . (This could be you in the picture!)
Sarah O'Neill, Tony Neal, Owen O'Neill fishing in our raft in Bristol Bay
Now I’ll just share a little year-end chatter with you.
After a summer of intense work, and after the crew leaves, Gwen and I stay at camp a few days longer. We winterize everything, inventory the remaining food and gear, visit other fishers, and enjoy just relaxing.
Soon after, we meet up with our family fishers again, but this time on the Sea of Cortez, in Mexico. The warm Pacific surf is much more inviting for play than the freezing waves of Bristol Bay, and it’s great to be with family without chores calling to us. Funny fact: all the long-legged, wading curlews that forage for food at our fish camp beach in July migrate south from their Arctic birthplace, so we see them once again in Mexico a few months later.
Too soon, we return to yards to mow, bills to pay and a tote-full of mail to read. But also to friends, picnics, long summer days and the comforts of home. We feel blessed to live in Homer.
The view of Kachemak Bay from Tony & Gwen Neal's house in Homer, Alaska
As the days get shorter, Gwen and I travel back to our fish camp. Some people have their lake cabins, with their jet skis and speed boats; we have silence and beauty. We charter an air taxi, get dropped off on the beach, and there we are, all alone in the wilderness of the Alaska Peninsula - not a person for miles. The fall tundra is so beautiful, all yellow and gold and reddish, with grasses waving in the wind - our own Alaskan prairie scene. Animals are busy gathering food for the winter. Foxes trotting about, sniffing every clump; otters on the pond, always playing - don’t they ever work?! Ravens calling and dipping up and down in the wind currents on the beach.
A brown bear lumbering in the field behind our cabin at fish camp in Egegik, Alaska
We’re scared of bears, of course, but they are usually too busy sniffing out their next meal, and we aren’t on the preferred menu. They rule the night, so we just don’t go out; best not to take any chances.
In January, it all starts over again. We buy our camp supplies for the year; we gather pallets of food, our newly re-webbed nets, building materials, tools, parts, and more, to load onto the northbound barge in Seattle at the end of March.
Things will be different next year. Starlink came to Alaska, so we signed up and have our equipment. We will have internet in the fall. Yahoo, we can stay longer and work from camp! Yes, that will change everything.
Right now, though, fish camp is frozen in place, unmoving; but in May, the snow will melt, and our little fish camp will wait for our arrival once again.
We wish you all health and happiness,
Tony and Gwen Neal