Sitka anthropologist Richard Nelson called them the “The World’s Most Perfect Animal,” and their homecoming every year to Alaska’s forest streams, mighty rivers, and quiet creeks as “one of the greatest events in the living world.”
Of course he spoke of salmon, our miracles of nature.
Not only do these fish feed us, but they also bring people together in ways that are fairly, well, miraculous.
Take Bridgette and Isaac Reynolds, two people from opposite ends of the country, who found love in pursuit of these special fish.
Today they're life partners and owners of the fishing vessel Alaska — a wood troller that calls Sitka’s Eliason Harbor home.
Isaac is a fourth-generation Alaskan and has been fishing since he was a child. He was born in Valdez, where his parents worked in fish canneries, but his roots actually date back much further, to the famous Klondike Gold Rush in the 1890s. It was then that his great-grandfather moved from Seattle to Juneau to work as one of Alaska’s first dentists. Rumors still swirl that his great-grandfather may have helped miners smuggle gold, tax-free, back to the contiguous United States by clandestinely filling their teeth with the precious metal.
Bridgette’s Alaskan story is much more contemporary. It began on the first day of her sophomore year at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, where she was a double major in geology and biology. Her roommate had just returned from a summer deckhanding on a hook-and-line salmon boat in Sitka.
“My roommate said ‘Bridgette, this is something that you have to do. It’s so you!’ And so the next summer I did it.”
After that first summer, Bridgette continued returning to Alaska every summer for the next few years to deckhand before moving to Sitka full-time to take a permanent job as a math and science teacher at Sitka’s middle school.
“I guess you can say it was the call of the wild,” Bridgette says.
“You could say that,” Isaac chuckles.
“I guess you can say it was the call of the wild.”
Isaac and Bridgette met through mutual friends. Soon they were dating, and when Isaac’s deckhand quit unexpectedly, Bridgette found herself gaffing salmon, icing holds, and baiting hooks on Isaac’s first boat, the F/V April L, a 32-foot Monterrey Clipper.
Like many fishermen in Alaska’s salmon fleet, it’s hard to make ends meet just fishing for salmon. That’s why Isaac crews on other boats longlining for halibut and sablefish in the offseason, while Bridgette continues to teach during the school year and fish for salmon with Isaac in the summer.
“I’m the first deckhand that ever lasted more than 6 weeks with Isaac."
“I’m the first deckhand that ever lasted more than 6 weeks with Isaac. I think he liked me because I didn’t get seasick,” she laughs.
“I also thought you were the best because you called me out when I was being an idiot. No one had ever done that before,” shrugs Isaac.
Not unlike our seafood customers, Isaac and Bridgette love cooking and eating salmon. At home and on the boat, they eat seafood nearly every day. Their favorite way to prepare salmon is ceviche.
“We eat the ceviche all the time,” Bridgette says.
“We even had a five-gallon bucket of it at our wedding!” Isaac laughs.
In fact, Bridgette generously shared her recipe for salmon ceviche so you can make it at home the same way they do on the boat.
A few years after getting married, Isaac and Bridget had their first son, Clayton, who stayed home with Bridgette while Isaac went out trolling for salmon on the April L during the summer season.
Clayton was followed by the birth of their second son, Oscar, and soon they were looking for a bigger boat.
“The April L was too small to bring the kiddos. We wanted to have a boat that could accommodate the whole family,” Bridgette says.
“We wanted our kids to grow up fishing for salmon and making memories together.”
That’s why Isaac bought a new boat last year, the aptly named F/V Alaska, which can fit all four Reynolds, including Oscar and Clayton.
Isaac and Bridgette love different aspects of the salmon harvest. For Isaac, it’s about reeling in big fish, the pursuit of the next strike, and the thrill of landing the majestic ocean creatures.
As Bridgette notes, it can be all-consuming. “Even when Isaac isn’t commercial fishing, he wants to fish for subsistence and recreation. When there’s a fish on the line, there’s not anything else in the world that is more important to him,” she smiles.
For Bridgette, the salmon harvest represents the opportunity to be out in the pristine Alaskan wild. “I love catching salmon because it lets me be on the water. It hits a certain time in the spring and I start smelling the ocean and I know that it’s time to go. It’s just something that’s magic to me,” she says.
“It’s just something that’s magic to me,”
When they aren’t eating ceviche, Bridgette and Isaac love spending time fishing with their sons and hunting for Sitka black-tail deer on the remote wilderness islands surrounding Sitka.