It’s not all whining all the time around here! I’m sure you’re relieved. With warmer temperatures comes the all too brief subsistence season. This is the gathering/fishing/eventual hunting season that I have always been told makes it worth living in Alaska. One of the first things you’ll see coming through Bethel are the smelt. Our involvement with Bethel Facebook groups allowed us to follow the progress of the smelt…school? So when they arrived in Bethel this morning it took no time for the news to spread.
We decided to walk over to the river and see what we could see. We did know that smelt fishing involves dip netting, but that is about all I knew to expect. As we got closer I realized that every car was headed to the river. Every single one. In a stroke of luck we walked up to a group and saw one of Rolo’s best friends from school. She immediately came and pulled Rosalind over to see her fish.
The group turned out to be full of people I know a little bit. Rosalind’s Vice Principal, a teacher type person from her school, other parents and kids I know, other people I see all the time but don’t know their names, etc. There were four or five dip nets going at once and everyone just filled any open bucket. We were invited to try right as we walked up. I declined at first but Rolo jumped in with her VP and pulled up a bunch.
Sergio came over and figured it out after a couple of dips. I finally tried, and with some help from a colleague, finally pulled up three smelt. Possibly the only three fish I have ever caught in my life. It’s sooooo easy! The hardest thing was leaning over the little barrier and not falling into the river. As far as I know the smelt will only last for today and then they will be onto the next village upriver. It seemed like all of Bethel was out dipping along the river edge or in a boat.
Bethel is really at its very best when you get to experience the community side. It really does make you feel all warm and fuzzy when they just teach everyone that shows up and ask where your bucket is to take some home. We had no idea when we went that we would be doing anything more than observing. After about five or six dips and maybe forty smelt I finally asked how to use them. Sergio dipped one more net and brought up fifteen smelt. We stuck them in a plastic bag and carried them home.
More pictures because I can. Video of Rolo’s first dip netting can be seen on Facebook.
Anecdote: After we put the fish in the bowl to await frying, Rosalind went back to look at them a little later. She was startled to find a “worm”. We went to check it out and found what we think was a tiny baby eel. Totally alive and frantic. I made Rosalind and Sergio take it back and release it. Because after really enjoying the process of killing hundreds upon hundreds of fish this morning, I couldn’t bear to watch that disgusting little guy die.