My family has been commercial salmon fishing in Alaska every summer since 1963. My grandfather started with a drift boat for the first few years and then purchased a set-net site on the Salamatof beach just outside of Kenai. Each summer the family gets together (those of us that still can) and we fish. In the old days we even used to live right on the beach.
We’ve got tons of great memories, close calls, and crazy adventures that happened at the fishsite. Every Friday I’ll post a new one and eventually I’m planning to compile them all into a book. Let’s start at the beginning.
How it all began
Excerpts from the life story of Donald Lucas
It’s early May (1963) and the big event we have been working so hard for is fast approaching, commercial fishing. We have finally completed the rebuild of the Marlin. This took many hours of work, I even took the engine out and rebuilt it. It is a Chrysler six cylinder “Ace”. A very dependable engine.
Rented a truck and trailer, hired a crane and moved the boat down to the mouth of Ship Creek. Lowered it into the water, fired up the engine and moved out into Knik Arm. Surprisingly this all took place without anything going wrong. Then things started going wrong.
Made arrangements with Kenai Packers to sell our fish to them and on opening day, 15 May 1963, started our fishing career. We were green as green can be, but were game for anything. First day out of Kenai we just stopped and put out the net. We kept getting nothing. Ruth said that Flerron, her sister who fishes the beach with her husband, had said that the drift boats caught a lot of fish out in front of the beach sites. We motored over there, put out the net and started drifting. A net is three shackles. Each shackle is 300 ft long. All three shackles tied together are 900 ft long.
As we drift down the inlet our last shackle hangs up on a submerged rock. Not knowing any better I tried to pull it loose with the boat. All this accomplished was to ruin the shackle that was hung up. I ripped it in two the whole length. If I would have just waited for the tide to change it most likely would have freed itself.
Our first fish period is over, no fish and a 300 dollar net ruined. Back at Kenai we learn that the fish are all south down by Homer this early in the season.
For the next fish period we cross Cook Inlet and anchor up in Snug Harbor and wait for the opening. Snug Harbor is one of the prettiest places I have ever seen. We spent several weeks fishing the open days out of there. One day we caught seven fish and were the high boat. Anyway we needed the experience so when the fish did come in we would be better prepared and know what to do.
One thing we did learn early was when the water got rough I got sick, Ruth got scared, and David just remained David, steady and willing to work.
The season ended with us learning a lot, having a great time and only making 2453 dollars.
Fast forward 3 years:
We sold the commercial fishing boat, glad to get rid of it. We had been looking to buy a commercial beach fishing site for sometime. Bought one on Salamatof beach, just north of Kenai in the fall. It is a small site just two nets on the beach and one outer net. We are looking forward to fishing it next season. (fall 1966)
It is our first year commercial fishing on the beach. It was a great year, had a lot of disappointments but also had a lot of fun. I like to say we might not have learned the correct way to fish a beach site, but we sure did learn all the ways not to fish a beach site. (summer 1967)
Our new beach cabin, rough high tide
Ruth Lucas Don Lucas
A lot has happened since then. It seems like the fishsite is the heart of my family, the thread that ties us together. Whenever I think extended Lucas family, the fishsite is the first thing that comes to mind. Here, every Friday, you will find memories, stories, and adventures from The Lucas Family Fishsite.
Next week’s topic: Visiting the fishsite as children