Lingcod On Deck!
Hi friends! Jess here, dispatching from rainy Yakutat, Alaska! Located about 212 miles northwest of Juneau, Yakutat is a small village with a stunning landscape, and a year round population of about 500. It's a bit north of the beaten Southeast Alaska path... but Caleb's family lives here, and it's beautiful place to fish for lingcod - so we love having an excuse to make the 24 hour run up the coast and fish these glacially fed waters. As our first fishery of the spring, lingcod fishing is also our chance to build our sea legs (and arms, and back...) before the insanity of summer salmon starts up, and make sure the back deck and blast freezer is running smoothly!
Our directed fishery for lingcod is called "dinglebaring". Yep, that's it's official name. Dinglebaring is a lot like trolling, except instead of fishing four lines, we only fish one. One line is outfitted with between 6 - 12 hooks on it at a time. The "bar" portion of "dinglebaring" refers to a large, 70lb steel rod that we use to weigh down our line. Our large hooks are individually weighted with lead heads, and large rubber grubs that serve as artificial bait.
Dinglebar opened up on May 16th, and will remain open until the entire quota is caught. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game manages the dinglebar fishery by dividing up Southeast Alaska into multiple management areas, and then allocating those management areas a specific number of pounds to be harvested. The management area we fish is called the "Icy Bay Subdisctrict", and it is allocated 44,000 lbs of lingcod this year, to be caught by the fleet on a first come, first serve basis.
We just returned to port from a great week on the water. The weather was reasonably cooperative, there were no breakdowns, and the fishing was consistent - a fishing trip trifecta of perfection! Since our lingcod are frozen at sea, they have to be thoroughly bled, gutted, and washed before they can entire the freezer... And after not wielding a knife for the last 7 months, our hands are feeling the burn. It's amazing how quickly the body adapts to repetitive movements though, and we're happy to get the painful break-in of fishing done before salmon opens on July 1st.
After the lings have been landed on deck, de-hooked, allowed to bleed, headed, gutted, and thoroughly washed, they're staged on our hatch for one final look-over before entering the blast freezer downstairs.
When placed in the blast freezer, fresh lingcod are laid out on sheets of aluminum, to retain their shape until frozen solid. They freeze solid in about an hour or two, at which point they can be popped off the plates, and stored in the bins of our fish hold. And that's just half the job.
Once we've filled a good portion of the fish hold, or weather forces us to port - whichever comes first - we pause fishing to "glaze" our fish. "Glazing" means that each individual fish is dipped in a bath of chilled seawater, leaving a thin layer of ice covering the entirety of the fish. This ensures that the fish retains its moisture, flavor, and freshness! After being dipped, the fish are propped up around the fish hold to ensure the glaze is fully set before the fish are re-stacked away. We completed our first round of glazing yesterday, and it took about three hours.
The ambient air temperature in our freezer is between - 35F and - 39F degrees - and that's behind the evaporator fan, out if the wind! Where we work, in full blast of the fan, the temperature is around -60F or colder. We wear freezer suits, snowmobile boots, balaclavas, and work as hard and fast as possible. We're definitely chilled after spending 3+ hours down there, but it's actually not as bad as it sounds. Plus, it makes the Alaskan climate feel positively BALMY.
Now that all the fish on board are glazed, we can enjoy the rest of our stormy time in port. The weather looks like it should break tomorrow, so we'll be able to head back out and do it all over again!