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Author Topic: Commercial Fishing  (Read 22545 times)

Offline Skillet

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Commercial Fishing
« on: January 19, 2017, 10:44:40 PM »
With the recent thread on the prioritization of sports fishing I have noticed a significant amount of misinformation and a trend towards negative attitudes towards the commercial fishing fleet as a whole.  I get it – in Washington’s bizzaro-world situation that resulted from the Boldt decision, what would normally be only a normal amount of animosity between user groups has been turned into a full-on cage match between the participants in the non-tribal half.  When I was a sport fisherman for the nearly 20 years I fished for salmon, I too lamented the commercial fleet as having too much of the take. 

Note I said “was" a sports fisherman. 

My name is Skillet, and I am now a Commercial Salmon Troller in SE Alaska.  I’m typing this while anchored up in Symonds Bay on Biorka Island, about 10 miles out of Sitka, AK, a place I amazingly get 4G service.  Winter kings are the quarry, and they are elusive…

I’m starting this thread for a few reasons.  First, I think the majority of people on this site would appreciate the pictures, stories and lifestyle that myself and other commercial fishing members of the HuntWa family have to offer.  I’ve only been doing this for three years now, after I made the decision to leave my full-time and rock-solid corporate career of 12 years to pursue this dream.  But I know there are others on this site that fish for a living, and the overall vibe of the site is turning a bit anti-commercial fishing.  Again, being a salmon sport fisherman for almost 20 years I get the underlying reasons, but I’m hoping that by reading about your fellow HuntWa members who have chosen this lifestyle as a way of earning a living it will help people understand the other side.  In particular, I hope to educate people about the troll fleet in general, the AK troll fleet specifically, and how we strive to have a sustainable fishery for generations to come.

It is important to me to keep this thread positive.  If you have questions, feel free to ask, I or hopefully other knowledgeable fellows will jump in to answer.  No BS zone here – if I don’t know the answer I’ll put it on my to-do list and get back to you asap.  I don’t currently fish salmon in WA, only AK – but might do WA if the correct opportunity presented itself.  Fish politics are very complicated, and I’m just getting involved in them.  But I will ask that if you’re going to try and troll me or other “commies,” or have a burning desire to just flame me or other fisherman for what we do, please start your own thread and use the @skillet tag to notify me of our profession’s crucifixion there.  I’ll be happy to be drug through the dirt on your turf – but please respect my hope this thread will be a great place to keep the stories and images that I feel my HuntWa family can appreciate.  I hope to keep adding to this thread as part of my career over the next X-number of years.  I’m not brand-new, but I think I can fish for a while longer yet and plan on keeping this thread upated as I get back to cell and wifi coverage over the seasons I fish.  This is my life now, and I am willing to share it with the HuntWa folks if they’ll have it.  If not… I’ll delete it and go back to my anonymous fish-killing ways.

I also invite other commercial fisherman to jump on and share their stories and images.  Any good/positive stories about commercial fishing by non-commercials are welcome too.  I am hoping this can be a clearing house for good fishing vibes.

One thing to note – there are a handful of folks on this site that know who I am, and what I do.  Of those, a very few I consider my “Team Washington” (along with my family) that have gone above and beyond to keep me on the drag and landing fish.  Woodchuck, Pianoman, Ridgeratt, H20hunter, Camo – you guys are the greatest and I appreciate everything you’ve done.  Other folks have chipped in where needed, too numerous to list - and know that I appreciate every one of you.  Any commercial fisherman will tell you that the home team is a huge part of our success while we’re out being waterborne vagabonds turning nature’s bounty into the best seafood available.



I’ll start by offering up a pic of my boat, my trusty steed, my home away from home, my world for 10 months a year -  the F/V Diamond Lil.  She is a 47’ steel freezer troller, of Ed Monk design, weighs 80K# dry, built in Moss Landing CA and originally meant for the albacore tuna/swordfish fisheries down there.  These boats make great salmon & albacore freezer boats though. I’m pretty sweet on her, and I think she’s a beaut.  I may be a little biased... but this girl can catch fish.


Here she is in Jan after lying up for the winter in Seattle.  Some rust to clean up, but it is a steel boat after all.




Here we are fishing the good wx in June in Sitka Sound, pic taken by a friend on the opposite tack.  This is "West Channel".





She can pack almost 15k# of coho in ice, or 12k# of FAS coho.  I fish her interchangeably as a freezer, and ice boat and a slush boat – just depends on the fishery and customer needs. She has a blast freezer on board that will bring a salmon carcass down to -38 deg F.  But it’s a dry cold... 

A quick list of the work I did with her in 2016 – the fisheries available to a guy like me on a boat like this are numerous, you just need to decide where to park your money in permits and get to work.  I hold several permits now, but only the Power Troll license is limited-entry.  That means there are no new licenses being issued and I need to buy one off of a fisherman who is quitting or retiring.  The prices for a power troll permit vary wildly, historically ranging from a few thousand bucks to over $65K.  I got mine somewhere in the middle… I could write a book about the permits and prices, might be a good topic for another post later. 


For the fishing, my 2016 looked like this-

Early May – Spring kings. Primarily hatchery fish, they keep us penned in tight to the shore and limited days in most areas to minimize impact on treaty fish.

Mid-May – Ling cod dinglebar fishery out on the Fairweather Grounds.  It opens elsewhere as well, but the Fairweather grounds are where you want to be if you have boat that can take it.   A dinglebar rig is like an 80# bottom bouncer for walleye – with a dozen 10/0 jigs trailing behind it called a train.  Pulling up a loaded train is a complete hoot and will challenge your biceps in big waves.  The Fairweather Grounds are an offshore plateau that comes up to 30 fa (that means it shallows up to 180 feet deep for you lubbers) out of really deep water and is a fish factory.  But May 40-70 miles offshore in the Gulf of Alaska is nothing to play with, so you need to pull up your big boy pants to commit to heading out there.  More on that later-

Late May-June 25th – repair whatever you broke on the Fairweather Grounds chasing lingcod and get back to shaking down the boat on spring kings.  The fishing gets really limited, but that’s ok.  You usually have boat work to do, get your crew squared away with your processes, and attend to the details a boat owner/captain has to.  Get your rest.  Time is limited, everything has got to be ready - the troller’s grind is about to start.

July 1 – 1St summer king opener.  This is the big show for the Alaskan Commercial Troller.  You have just a few days to make what will be a significant portion of your season’s earnings.  2016 first opener went 5 days.  With 20 hours of daylight and willing kings and coho, nobody sleeps much.  I started out on the Fairweather Grounds and moved in towards the Cape Cross area on day 4 to finish up.

July 6th (2016) – unload, refuel, reprovision, charge out for the coho.  This is the “other” salmon we catch as trollers, and while they aren’t worth what kings are they usually make up the bulk of our $$ every year.  I cannot begin to tell you how many coho I’ve killed over the last few years.  They are 99% AK fish, some Canadian bound. This is a grind fishery - ever watched Groundhog Day?  Some guys head for the chum grounds instead, but I like coho fishing.  Will go dog fishing in the future if I need to though.

Aug 5-ish – mid season break.  We’re usually ready for that, since there’s been no days off since July 1.  Get a group of friends, find a beach, light a fire, drink that beer and have a cookout.  Sitka as a town seems to help us all relax at this point, especially the “P Bar” – the local fisherman’s bar.  If you ever get to Sitka, this is a must-do. 

Aug 8-ish – Hope the hangover didn’t last too long and you got your king gear tied up, because this is the second king opener.  The first opener is designed to catch 65-ish percent of the AK quota, the second opener is the mop-up.  In 2015, we didn’t even get a second opener.  In 2016, it went three weeks.  Fishing is anything but consistent.  We usually get a bunch of coho during the second king opener, so it’s a blast.

Mid-Aug to Sept 30 - (or, end of second king opener until coho closes) – Back to the grind.  This is when you start questioning the wisdom of being a commercial troller.  Every day it is grinding gear, cleaning and icing (or freezing) fish, delivering at the end of every trip, etc.  You can go a full month and a half without seeing town by delivering to tenders, who will resupply you with what you need.  By now we’ve been working every day, sunup to sundown and running at night, since July 1.  Except that mid-season break of three days… Write that dedicated crewman his last summer salmon check, buy him a nice steak dinner and drive him to the airport.  He’ll feel rich - for a while!

*Sept 15-ish – this is when the major part of the Washington/Oregon fleet that has AK licenses break south.  The weather (wx) can turn fast mid-Sept, and if you are ready to go you go.  Playing around with staying for a few more days of coho fishing isn’t worth it when you see the big storms brewing out in the GOA (Gulf of Alaska).  Unless you plan on staying up for the winter fisheries, clear out.

Oct 1 to Oct 10 – If you have a pot shrimp permit, this is your season. For the rest of us, it is a time to tie up, sleep in for a few days and start the list of what needs fixing. It is ALWAYS a long list.  But get to it – winter kings open on Oct 11!

Oct 11 thru April 15 – Winter kings, unless quota is reached and they close early.  This is a rough-weather fishery.  They don’t let us out past the “surf line”, but that’s plenty for me.  Today I fished the line in Sitka Sound in 20 knots westerly and 10 ft swell – all while snowing.  Very typical for this year, and have heard this is a tame winter wx-wise.  We’ll see what the future holds.  I need to run the boat south very soon to haulout and do my annual repair/maintenance, hoping to be back up here by April to fish the late winter season.  And then it starts over again. 

As you can see, there has been a serious crimp put in my hunting.  I hope to get a bit of moose hunting in up in AK, blacktail on Baranof, and maybe even a late hunt when I fly home for the holidays in WA.  The fishing seasons will dictate my hunting future from now on.  And I'm ok with that as a cost of my decision to make this my life.

I hope this is well received by the majority of the HuntWa family in the spirit in which it is intended.  I think I could easily fill pages upon pages with pics, video and stories – as I’m sure some other old salts could.  Let’s see what you all think, and I’ll either keep adding on or just nuke it.

Signing off,

Skillet

Captain of F/V Diamond Lil
« Last Edit: January 19, 2017, 11:37:13 PM by Skillet »
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Offline Boss .300 winmag

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Re: Commercial Fishing
« Reply #1 on: January 19, 2017, 11:06:36 PM »
Great read Skilllet.  :tup:

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Offline Skillet

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Re: Commercial Fishing
« Reply #2 on: January 19, 2017, 11:15:15 PM »
Ha, going to have to think on that.  I thought I was going to make an unscheduled beaching once last year on my old boat due to a bubble in the diesel air line at a very inopportune time, but this year I had a close call of another sort.  Going to have to ask my insurance agent if he hunts before I can tell that story on here  :chuckle:
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Offline jmscon

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Re: Commercial Fishing
« Reply #3 on: January 19, 2017, 11:37:30 PM »
 :tup:
Awesome write up!

I have fished ten seasons in Bristol Bay for sockeye. 32' boat with 2-3 other guys on board. Half the boat is dedicated to fishing the other half to eating and getting sleep when a person can. It's a pretty slam bang terminal fishery with approx. 1200 boats catching an average 30 some million (sometimes upwards of 50 million) fish in about three weeks. The most recent year I fished we were working nine hours sleeping three on repeat.

I started when I was 13 with my dad and uncle. Since that first year it is in my blood, I yearn for it. The excitement of flying in to this remote place with the unknown of what the fish gods will let you have. Getting the crap beaten out of you when the winds hit 60, the seas are at 15' and only a coward stays in because today might be the day that you load up the boat.

I wouldn't trade my experiences in for anything!
« Last Edit: January 19, 2017, 11:53:08 PM by jmscon »
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Offline Sakko300wsm

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Re: Commercial Fishing
« Reply #4 on: January 20, 2017, 04:44:40 AM »
Great right up skillet! I build custom aluminum Bristol Bay boats and aluminum seiners here in Washington - so I can always appreciate a good commercial fishing write up!
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Offline Skyvalhunter

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Re: Commercial Fishing
« Reply #5 on: January 20, 2017, 05:23:53 AM »
Love the write up Skillet!! Love to see more pictures. Is it very profitable for you? Meaning for the amount of hours spent working/fishing is it justifiable? How many people are on your crew? Is that many boats fishing this time of the year? Do you sell to a broker or to restaurants that may come up and purchase like Ivars, or Anthony's?

Offline Fl0und3rz

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Re: Commercial Fishing
« Reply #6 on: January 20, 2017, 05:29:41 AM »
It's good to hear that you are doing it your way.  I hope the generator is serving you well.

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Re: Commercial Fishing
« Reply #7 on: January 20, 2017, 06:32:59 AM »
Thanks for sharing Skillet! I'm looking forward to following this thread.
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Offline Special T

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Re: Commercial Fishing
« Reply #8 on: January 20, 2017, 06:55:46 AM »
I think it's great that your going to take time to share your stories.  I think through them you will be able to shed some light on the challenges Washington faces.
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Offline Skillet

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Re: Commercial Fishing
« Reply #9 on: January 20, 2017, 07:55:21 AM »
Thanks for the comments fellas, I'm glad this is getting off on the right foot.

Boss300 - I figured out what counts as the scariest on the water for me, and I'll tell that story at some point soon.  Got some good pics and such to support it. Will tag you when I do so you know.

Flounderz - yessir, the genset is holding up like a champ. Thanks again for jumping thru all the hoops you did to get it up here for me.

I think on it while fishing today and get a list of stories to tell. Maybe have time to throw one or two up before I have to head south.
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Offline RB

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Re: Commercial Fishing
« Reply #10 on: January 20, 2017, 07:58:54 AM »
Right on! My grandfather started power trolling Sitka in the 1950's both of his boats are still in the area last I heard. He had a 50 foot steel hulled sailboat named the Blue Jacket which I believe is out of Port Alexander still today, the other is a 36 foot fiberglass Delta (part of the tupperware fleet he would say) named Adagio that my uncle ran until just a few years ago.

I spent the summer of 1985 in Sitka the year my grandpa sold the Blue Jacket and still to this day is the best fishing experience i have had. We left Sitka and worked our way outside and up the coast to Elfin Cove and back, all the while listening to stories about all the days he had fished in these areas. Best day I had was 110 Coho, and my grandpa then told me about the 1,000 fish days he had over his career and the long days.

My brother lived in Sitka from 1983 till about 2005 and I was able to make several trips to hunt and fish while he was there. Have been to the head end of Necker Bay, through Surgis Narrows to North Arm, both ends of Redoubt Lake and all around Biorka  and the hot springs area in a skiff.

Keep the stories and pictures coming this is awesome!
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Offline nwwanderer

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Re: Commercial Fishing
« Reply #11 on: January 20, 2017, 08:00:42 AM »
Thanks, will follow along.  We have family at Gustavus, have spent as few days and nights on Shelter Island, caught coho off the beach with fly gear, halibut for my son that matched his young 100# frame, pinks at Glacier Bay, kings at deep creek, learned to respect feeding moose and rode along with family doing what you do in the summer.  Keep that dry suit handy and I hope you never need it.  Fish on!!!

Offline Woodchuck

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Re: Commercial Fishing
« Reply #12 on: January 20, 2017, 08:10:56 AM »
I am really looking forward to watching this thread. Be safe my friend.
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Offline 7mmfan

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Re: Commercial Fishing
« Reply #13 on: January 20, 2017, 08:17:13 AM »
Oh good ol' Symonds Bay. I spent 5 years running a charter boat out of Sitka, and spent a lot of time around Biorka, fishing Grandpas, the Rock, Legma, The Beehive, etc... that group of islands is one of my most favorite places on earth. I saw first hand how hard you guys work, and I don't envy it for a minute. My days were a walk in the park comparatively. Most commercial guys I ran into up there were genuinely nice guys that didn't take much BS and worked hard. I did have a few run ins with autopilot trollers while anchored for halibut out off the edge, but those were minimal. Have fun working those Vitskari kings over shortly!
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Offline RB

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Re: Commercial Fishing
« Reply #14 on: January 20, 2017, 09:13:01 AM »
Oh good ol' Symonds Bay. I spent 5 years running a charter boat out of Sitka, and spent a lot of time around Biorka, fishing Grandpas, the Rock, Legma, The Beehive, etc... that group of islands is one of my most favorite places on earth. I saw first hand how hard you guys work, and I don't envy it for a minute. My days were a walk in the park comparatively. Most commercial guys I ran into up there were genuinely nice guys that didn't take much BS and worked hard. I did have a few run ins with autopilot trollers while anchored for halibut out off the edge, but those were minimal. Have fun working those Vitskari kings over shortly!

 :yeah:

Fished Vitskari with my brother and his buddies one day and it was so hot we were done in about 30 min with seven kings in the 20's and had shaken a couple smaller ones as well. We were only fishing two rods and both were cut plug herring.
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Re: Commercial Fishing
« Reply #15 on: January 20, 2017, 09:15:32 AM »
Great write up so far Skillet and I wish you the best in your commercial fishing endeavors. I additionally am tied into commercial fisheries through my work and support commercial and rec fisheries.

Aside from the tribes with salmon there is one huge difference between Alaska and Washington salmon management. The Alaska uses an abundance based management strategy for the fisheries, so like you showed in your write up Alaska schedules large derby style fisheries with short duration to catch its quota in a relatively quick manner. What this ends up doing is if a particular run from a particular stream is migrating or feeding through the area when the Alaska commercial fishery gets opened the run gets hammered. A good example of this is the Hoko River in WA, 98% of the chinook that are commercially harvested are harvested in AK even though it is Washington river.

In Washington the salmon are managed under weak stock management. In this scenario as opposed to abundance based management you are only allowed "X" impact on your weakest stock until the fishery gets shut down, this allows the weak stock to meet its escapement goals. The Washington fisheries are managed on a much longer time scale with smaller limits in order to spread the impact over many runs.

With weak stock management you tend to see lower quotas in mixed stock fisheries (e.g. ocean troll, ocean gillnet, setnet, and seining) But in the river systems where the runs are healthy, where you know where your impacts are occurring to specific runs, you can have increased sport fishing pressure and commercial fisheries.

With the upcoming signing of the Pacific Salmon treaty I would love to see AK move to weak stock management as it helps protect the salmon runs for the future. But politically the mixed stock AK fishermen may not like this approach because it could potentially cost them money since a longer season with lower trip limits increases the expense/profit margin of running a vessel.

Anyway, food for thought from the policy side.

Offline 7mmfan

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Re: Commercial Fishing
« Reply #16 on: January 20, 2017, 09:27:38 AM »


Aside from the tribes with salmon there is one huge difference between Alaska and Washington salmon management. The Alaska uses an abundance based management strategy for the fisheries, so like you showed in your write up Alaska schedules large derby style fisheries with short duration to catch its quota in a relatively quick manner. What this ends up doing is if a particular run from a particular stream is migrating or feeding through the area when the Alaska commercial fishery gets opened the run gets hammered. A good example of this is the Hoko River in WA, 98% of the chinook that are commercially harvested are harvested in AK even though it is Washington river.


While I'm sure this has and does happen, I think it is less prevalent than some people think. We caught a lot of hatchery fish up there. The fish checkers always took the heads from hatchery fish and sent us back the run info on those fish. Not once did I ever get information from the same river on the same day,(other than the Medvejie Hatchery right in Sitka) even though all those fish were caught out of the same school of salmon. One day that stands out to me involved 4 hatchery fish. 1 was from the Medvejie hatchery right in Sitka, 1 from Wenatchee River, 1 from the Humptulips River, and 1 from the Trask River in Oregon. It was an eye opener for me.

Now that is only 4 drops in a giant bucket compared to the number of fish taken during the summer king opener, but it goes to show how mixed those fish are in that area. It is where almost every single king salmon on the west coast goes to grow up, so the stocks are very mixed.

I will add, that certain runs of fish did appear to frequent certain areas, usually inshore areas close to the islands. Those fish were different than the open ocean fish, and I felt they were a specific run of fish. I also saw the same thing in small holes along the coast. Places where there might only be a few dozen fish at any one time, and they all shared similar characteristics. These spots were not spots frequented by trollers though, as they were to tight and confined to fish effectively that way.

In reality, I feel that as a whole, we know very little about fish migration, and the intricacies of it from stock to stock. There is a lot to learn.
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Offline Skillet

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Re: Commercial Fishing
« Reply #17 on: January 20, 2017, 09:31:40 AM »
Thanks for the thoughts wetwoodshunter and 7mmfan.
Hoping to keep this thread positive with a focus on the stories, the techniques and the lifestyle, and leaving the politics (and inevitable debate) to other threads since there are so many ways to present information to argue for one position or another.  Happy to engage in those debates elsewhere, to the depths I can intelligently.
Thanks!
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Re: Commercial Fishing
« Reply #18 on: January 20, 2017, 09:33:56 AM »
Thanks for the thoughts wetwoodshunter and 7mmfan.
Hoping to keep this thread positive with a focus on the stories, the techniques and the lifestyle, and leaving the politics (and inevitable debate) to other threads since there are so many ways to present information to argue for one position or another.  Happy to engage in those debates elsewhere, to the depths I can intelligently.
Thanks!

Sorry boss, I'll do better next time   :tup:
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Re: Commercial Fishing
« Reply #19 on: January 20, 2017, 09:35:55 AM »
Awesome Skillet!

I would love to see some video or pictures of you and your crew running the rail this year. So much fun!

Offline Skillet

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Re: Commercial Fishing
« Reply #20 on: January 20, 2017, 09:38:00 AM »
Ha, no worries.  It can get really contentious, people are passionate about it!
FYI, rubbing bioka reef right at the line now. Lots of humpbacks working it.
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Re: Commercial Fishing
« Reply #21 on: January 20, 2017, 09:44:50 AM »
Ha, no worries.  It can get really contentious, people are passionate about it!
FYI, rubbing bioka reef right at the line now. Lots of humpbacks working it.

Always got excited when the whales were there, usually game on!
I hunt, therefore I am.... I fish, therefore I lie.

Offline RB

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Re: Commercial Fishing
« Reply #22 on: January 20, 2017, 09:48:53 AM »
Ha, no worries.  It can get really contentious, people are passionate about it!
FYI, rubbing bioka reef right at the line now. Lots of humpbacks working it.

 :tup:
IAFF #3728

Bob Beam

Offline DOUBLELUNG

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Re: Commercial Fishing
« Reply #23 on: January 20, 2017, 11:37:00 AM »
I appreciate you and anyone else "living the dream" sharing your experiences.  I briefly considered becoming a professional hunter (not in the US) after my divorce in 1994, decided instead to marry a great American girl and raise a family with a traditional career.  I don't regret my decision, but I am glad I seriously considered other alternatives before settling on a "conventional" life.
As long as we have the habitat, we can argue forever about who gets to kill what and when.  No habitat = no game.

Offline WAcoueshunter

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Re: Commercial Fishing
« Reply #24 on: January 20, 2017, 11:53:58 AM »
Cool stuff Skillet, keep it coming!   :tup: