Oliver and Emma’s first fishing trip

Sonia - December 16, 2013

Shaun, Oliver and I journeyed up to the Johnston Strait at the end of October for the last commercial salmon opening of the season. It was Oliver’s first fishing trip ever! He was very excited to start his budding career as a fisherman.

We got up extra early to catch the ferry to Nanaimo, and then picked up ice and fish totes from a small processing plant on the island before driving up to Campbell River, where our boat, Omega V, was moored.

We set out on the boat early afternoon from Campbell River, and travelled about an hour North to the fishing grounds. Oliver helped out quite a bit with steering, while Shaun explained the areas where we could fish and how to pick a good spot.

We were fishing for Chum Salmon, which swim at very low depths during the day and come closer to the surface at evening. This means the prime hours to catch chum are between dusk and dawn, so chum fishing is largely night fishing. The ‘dawn set’, when the fish begin migrating from the lower depths up the surface, is usually the most successful set.

We were ready for our dusk set at around 5PM. Shaun took into account the direction the fish are moving, wind, changing tides, and placement of the other nets (it is a big no-no to block another net by setting to close to it) and then let out the net. Gillnets are about 2000 feet long and 60 feet deep. A gillnet sits as a horizontal sheet in the water, and when fish try to swim through they get stuck in the gills, hence the name gillnet.


Once the net is out, it is completely separate of the boat and has two large buoys with flags and their boats’ name on them so fishermen can find their nets should they get separated from them (which we did, later in the trip!).

The sets (time nets are let out) were about 1 – 2 hours. During that time, Shaun needed to make sure the nets didn’t drift off course and that nothing ran into them. There was quite a bit of traffic going through the inlet, such as tugs with barges on their way to Alaska, but they would let us know via the radio when they were coming.

We had dinner, put Oliver to bed, and were ready to start picking the net. When you pull the net back onto the boat, the fish are all tangled into it by the gills. It was a lot more difficult than Shaun made it look, and I fumbled around with many a 10 lb salmon trying to figure out how to untangle it. I don’t have any pictures of Shaun doing this because I was picking (poorly) alongside him, but here is a picture of Otto picking a net.



Our first set we got 55 salmon – a very successful set! But no rest for fishermen. While I was icing the fish and storing them in the hold below deck, Shaun was already planning where to lay the net for the next set.

We did about 5 sets that first night between five PM and noon the next day. Shaun didn’t sleep at all, but I slept for an hour or two at a time until Shaun woke me up to help him set the nets and pick if there were a lot of fish. In total we had 220 salmon – a very successful night!

One of the big benefits of gillnets is the low amount of by-catch. We caught a Coho salmon, but it survived after being put in the revival tank.

No fish were to be had in daylight hours, so we moored up and Oliver and I went on an adventure walk for a few hours so his dad could sleep. At 4 PM we were back to laying nets again. We got in two sets and had just laid the net for our third set around midnight when a tug boat came through the inlet without warning. Shaun air horned and shone our bright lights on the net, but the tugboat saw us and didn’t care. It powered through and split our net in two 🙁

We had to go collect the pieces of the now tattered net. It was gail force wind that night which made for an exhilarating evening. All in all, it took three and a half hours to locate and retrieve the net.  A large portion of that involved picking a kelp forest that had gotten tangled up in things.

The net will cost a few thousand to replace and there is no way for us to get compensation from the tug who destroyed it. Just one of the risks of being a fisherman. We were also out of luck for fishing for the rest of the weekend – luckily it was one of the last openings and we didn’t lose out on too much of the season.

The next day we had to hand bomb the fish out of the holds and over our heads and into totes, where they were lifted up onto the back of the truck. Anyone who has thrown 272  10 lb fish over their head know that this is hard work, made even more difficult by all the fish juice that squirts into your eyes.

I misjudged one of the fish, and it ended up sliding down by the wheel. Oliver offered to get it, and spent about 15 minutes pushing it back and forth across the deck singing “slippy fish, slippy fish, I’m not giving up on you”. Eventually, with some help from his dad, he managed to get that slippy fish into the bin. I loved his determination!

Some fishermen, who were waiting for the unloading site to become available so they could unload their boats, watched as Oliver and I did our best to empty the holds. They chuckled amongst themselves and called out to Shaun, “where did you get your deckhands?” I guess Oliver and I still have a ways to go before we can pass for fishermen 😉

After a long weekend, we were lucky to be the VERY LAST CAR ON THE 7PM FERRY! Not having to wait to the 9pm ferry with a tired five year old was a true blessing. Here is a picture of a very excited Shaun and Oliver celebrating our good fortune.


Sonia - December 16, 2013

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Oliver and Emma’s first fishing trip

Sonia - December 16, 2013

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