Andy Bassich is interviewed in September 2005 by Cindy Gowins as he collects fall chum salmon from his fish wheel on the Yukon River, cuts and splits the fish back on the beach in Eagle, Alaska, and hangs the fish on his drying rack. As Andy is harvesting and processing fish, he talks about the quality of the fish run and changes in the fish population, describes how he fishes and processes the fish, and discusses what is being learned from scientific research and the importance of fishing and his subsistence lifestyle.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve
Date of Interview: Sep 10, 2005
Narrator(s): Andy Bassich
Interviewer(s): Cindy Gowins
Videographer: Cindy Gowins
Transcriber: Karen Brewster
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Collecting fish from his fish wheel
Splitting fish versus hanging them whole to dry, and using a hook to pull the fish from the fish box
Telling the difference between male and female chum salmon, lack of disease, and good salmon run
Efficiency of using a fish wheel and how to set it up along the shoreline
Building and maintaining a fish wheel
Sharing the fish harvest
Cutting and splitting fish at his cutting table, and the method that works best for him
Removing the teeth, how he hangs fish, and scoring the tail to make for better hanging
Effect of outsiders coming in to hunt moose and caribou
Seasonality and independence of the subsistence lifestyle, and changes in crane and geese populations
Fish research and distribution studies
Quality of fish and importance of the subsistence lifestyle
Effect of wind and temperature on fish drying and presence of insects
Number of fish processed, and the hard physical work of fishing and having a dog team
Hanging fish on his drying rack
Feeding his dogs fish and fish eggs
Using a fish net over his drying rack to protect from ravens
Collecting poles for the fish rack, and importance of air flow for drying fish
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Andy Bassich driving his boat on the Yukon River and approaching his fish wheel to collect the salmon caught in the wheel.
Andy Bassich: We might have to empty a bunch of fish first. The water dropped on me. (inaudible) (as fish are flipping around in the fish wheel bucket)
Woah, that guy kicked out. Woah, that guy kicked out. Looks like we've got a hole to repair there.
Cindy Gowins: Oh, this is neat. Andy Bassich: Woo hoo! (Andy hooking fish and throwing them from the fish box into his boat)
Yeah, they don't get much fresher than that, right? Cindy Gowins: There you go. Beautiful. Beautiful.
Andy Bassich: This job must be a nice little female there. (fish flipping around in fish box in the boat) (Fish being scooped up in baskets of the fish wheel) Alright, two at a time! Three at a time! Woo hoo! One, two, three. Alright. (laughing)
Well, the fish are running really good right now. It’s probably the best run in recent history. Um, yesterday we turned the wheel for 24 hours, we couldn’t stay on top of it. We had about 550 fish in the morning, cleaned them out and then uh, by afternoon, the baskets were -- the boxes here were completely full, the fish were falling out of the -- the boxes back into the river.
Both of these boxes together hold about 550 to 600 fish. So we’re estimating yesterday in 24 hours we probably could've caught about twelve or thirteen hundred chum salmon, which is unbelievable.
In years past, 400 -- 400 fish would be a good day. But uh, we just got an incredible run going on this year.
Looks like I got some repairs to do here, too.
So, woo-hoo. I’ve never seen it like this so where we’re catching -- just about every 2 or 3 minutes, there’s at least another fish or two coming in. And, as you saw, we were even catching 2 and 3 at a time here.
It’s good to see the fish come back. It’s been a long time and people were getting pretty worried. But it’s good to see 'em coming back. I hope it continues for a few years like this anyway. We'll just have to wait and see.
I’m going to take these fish back, and I’m still splitting fish right now, storing and splitting them. And then uh, as of tomorrow, I’ll start hanging these fish whole for dog food. A lot easier, a lot less work. I can do a lot more.
I can probably do about 400-500 a day if I don’t have to uh, split 'em. But uh, we’ll show you that process in a little bit.
Cindy Gowins: Why do you hang -- why do you split 'em and why do you hang 'em whole? What’s the difference?
Andy Bassich: Well, it depends -- it’s temperature dependent. Right now, the temperatures have been too warm to hang fish whole. They’d rot. And so we uh, split 'em, score 'em, and that helps the drying process. Turn 'em inside out, gets 'em drying quicker.
Usually by about mid-September (fish in wheel flapping, Andy turns to it and says to it, “Hello, come on out”) -- Usually by about mid-September uh, it’s cool enough that we can uh, hang the fish whole. Although this year, we’re having a little bit warmer than normal September. But uh, I think it’s still going to be good enough to hang whole now.
(turns his attention to wheel and fish flopping in boxes).
Whoo, feisty little guy. (gaffs fish in box). This is why I have a string on my hook here, so I don’t lose my hook in the river.
I call this a whacker (referring to the thick stick of wood with a string at one end that goes around the wrist and a gaff hook at the other end that he's using to hook individual fish under the gills and transferring them from the box on the fish wheel to the box on the boat). I call this tool a whacker. It really saves a lot on your hands trying to grab these fish, especially when they’re alive. (hooking and transferring a fish) You can just take 'em, and grab 'em, and throw 'em in the boat.
(turns to fish in wheel) There goes another one. (laughs) It’s almost every turn on the basket, huh. Wooo!
(holding up a chum salmon) It is a nice looking fish. Look at that thing. Beautiful. Doesn’t like to be grabbed by the tail (grabs fish at tail and stretches fish out for the camera). That’s a nice chum. That’s a male chum salmon.
The males get uh, bigger. Usually the bigger teeth there. The noses change on them a lot more than the females. You can also tell -- tell down by the anus here, the uh, females, their sex organs will show a little bit there where the eggs come out.
See if I can find you a female here. (turns to boxes and wheel to look for female chum and hooks female, holds her up). Here’s a female, you can -- well, it's kinda hard to tell right now, but where the eggs come out right here (pointing to rounded protrusion at base of anal fin underneath the anus of the fish), it starts to develop more as they get up closer to the spawning grounds. That’s how you can tell it's a female.
Also you notice their mouths don’t get as much of a hook. Their teeth don’t get as uh, overgrown.
This is a really good run of salmon, too. Like, you know, chum salmon like this are (holds up a big chum for camera) -- that used to be fairly uncommon. I mean, we -- we'd catch 'em that big, but this is -- this run here we’re catching a lot of twelve, thirteen pound fish here.
Cindy Gowins: Are you seeing a disease in them? Andy Bassich: No. Cindy Gowins: Like that --
Andy Bassich: No, they're -- That Ichthiophonus doesn’t seem to be in the chum salmon the way it is in king salmon, so -- This is a really healthy run. Wooo! (laughs).
I think I got my work cut out for me again today.
Cindy Gowins: This is a good day.
Andy Bassich: Unbelievable! Look at this. (turns to wheel to show two fish caught together in the same basket of the fish wheel) Two at a time.
I’ll bet when I come back over to grab the -- another boatload of fish, these boxes will be full and that'll only take 45 minutes to an hour.
(walks around wheel looking for areas in need of repair). One thing I always do is I always keep bailing wire and nails handy. Never-ending process with a wooden wheel (hammers on sides of boxes to repair them). (fish wheel turning)
Cindy Gowins: You can feel the wheel grind under your feet. Andy Bassich: Yeah. When it’s uh -- (inaudible over the loud sound of the fish wheel grinding on the river bottom) Cindy Gowins: It’s like it’s talking to --
Andy Bassich: (hard to hear over the loud sound of the fish wheel grinding on the river bottom) When it’s digging a hole like that it becomes very efficient, because those fish are trying to run right on the bottom. It’s fun to watch. Especially when you’re catching them like this.
You know, most years you come out here and you might see one, two fish caught in an hour. You know, it catches more at night. Cindy Gowins: Uh-huh. Andy Bassich: Usually. This is the time when you catch a lot of fish at night.
And uh, but to see 'em catching like this, in the middle of the day like this, is pretty amazing.
Cindy Gowins: A lot of happy people in Eagle right now. Andy Bassich: Yeah. Lots of -- (inaudible over the loud sound of the fish wheel grinding on the river bottom) (fish being caught in the basket of the fish wheel and sliding from the shoot into the box, and flipping around in the fish box)
Andy Bassich: (referring to the fish being caught in the basket of the fish wheel and sliding into the fish box) Come on down! You’re the next one to come into my box.
Cindy Gowins: There you go. And he’s there.
Andy Bassich: Um, the fish wheel’s anchored to the shoreline about 100 yards upriver. And then there’s a large spar -- a long spar that goes to the shoreline, out to the uh, wheel here, and that’s what holds it out in the current. Now the current is what’s turning the wheel here, so it’s basically like a big water wheel.
And then uh, on the side, inside between the fish wheel and the shoreline, we have what’s called a lead. And it’s basically a fence that follows the contour of the bottom of the river. And it’s like a corral.
As the fish swim upstream, they hit that fence and they can’t get past it so they keep working themselves out past the end of that lead. And when they finally get to the end of the lead, that’s right where the basket’s dipping down, so they get scooped up.
So the most critical thing with the fish wheel is -- is to have it fishing near the bottom. And you can hear right now, it’s digging a little bit of gravel on the inside there.
And then you want that basket to come down very, very close to where that lead is. ‘Cuz the fish are only about this wide (gestures with both hands, placing fingers about 6 inches apart to indicate width of fish).
So you’re gonna to want that lead to almost be touching the basket there, so as the fish come by that lead they get scooped up.
And as they come out of the water, you can see they just slide down into these diverting shoots and fall right into the baskets. And there you go, right now (gestures to fish coming down shoot), this guy’s going to go to the inside.
Well, it’s pretty -- pretty mechanized, self-propelled unit. Um, doesn’t require any energy other than the energy it takes for a human to make it and uh, keep it running.
Takes about anywhere from five days to a week to build a wheel if you know what you’re doing. Uh, this wheel’s a little bit unique in that it’s made with metal and plastic. Most of the traditional wheels are made out of uh, spruce.
But um, after running wheels for about 8 or 9 years, I wanted to try and build one that required a lot less maintenance. Because normally the wood dries out every year and gets very loose. You have to re-tie everything all the time.
With the metal and the heavy fence in here, I’ve found that I have very little maintenance I have to do to this wheel over the years. So, we’ll see.
Time will tell whether it holds together longer than a regular basket, but right now it’s showing very little sign of wear.
There’s always a little repair work every year to do. There’s always some wires that rust out. Um, but, for the most part, if you’re going to catch more than five or six hundred fish, it’s -- it’s worth it to go ahead and run a wheel.
Looks like we’ve caught something here. There we go. Must've been a big rock underneath there. (looking at the basket as it scoops of fish) Two at a time!
Just in the time that we’ve been here, a half an hour, we probably caught about 60 fish, it looks like to me.
It might be that we’ll be just turning the wheels off uh, at night, and just fishing during the day. Right now, I have a couple different people that have dog teams around town taking fish out of this wheel, too. That way they don’t have to fish with the excess here.
That’s kind of the way that it works in the communities, you know. A lot of time people just kind of share when the -- when the resources are abundant. The pace. We just kind of share and work together.
When the resources are kind of limited, it’s kind of everybody for themselves, because you have to work a lot harder for the resource.
But uh, I think this will be a good year for everyone. Dogs are going to eat good this winter.
(driving boat away from fish wheel and traveling back to Eagle)
(stop to look at other fish wheel) Cindy Gowins: They’re catching, too. Their box is full. (continuing on the river in the boat and approach the beach in Eagle)
Andy Bassich: Alright. Well, we’re still cutting some fish. Splitting 'em right now, ‘cause the weather’s still a little bit on the warm side.
And I need some egg buckets here. I save all these eggs and dry 'em for uh, dog food. It’s really good stuff when it’s uh, minus forty or fifty out.
And then uh, I like scoring the fish like this. It helps get 'em to dry a little quicker. You have to be a little careful when you do it that you don’t cut through the skins on 'em. (grabs a fish from the box, pierces the tail of each fish onto a nail on the corner of the table, inserts the knife laterally into the fish below the nail, slides the knife down the center of the fish and through the head to split the fish into two, equal halves, then lays open each split side and whacks the knife at a diagonal along the length from tail to head of each to score the fish for drying).
But, everybody’s got their own little way of cutting fish. I’ve just found this works really well for me, taking the fish and sticking his tail on a big nail. That allows me to have both hands free to push the knife through the fish. (cutting fish) It goes pretty fast once you get into a rhythm.
One thing I do, too, is I never touch a fish with my knife hand here. I always keep my knife hand on the knife and that keeps the slime and everything off my hand And makes it easier to hold the knife, and it also makes it to where you’re not going to slip, cut yourself with it.
It’s just something I learned over the years. I’ve seen a lot of people cut themselves. 'Cause when you’re cutting fish, you want a really sharp knife. And the worst thing to do is to cut towards yourself. So I always try and cut away.
Basically, just take the knife and stick it in the tail and run it right along the backbone there. And uh, if you get it right dead center it goes right through the head cartilage pretty easily. If you get off a little bit, you have to work a little bit harder at getting it through the head.
And I’m also taking the teeth off when there’s some big teeth, ‘cause when you go to move the fish later, especially in the wintertime, those teeth have a tendency to snag on your clothing and tear on your clothing.
And uh, it’s also nice the dogs don’t have to each the teeth, although they do digest 'em just fine. They're -- I’ve never seen any dog have a problem with it, but I just want to make things better for transporting and moving the fish on myself, on my own gear.
Cindy Gowins: Now I was just fixin’ to ask you why you cut the snout off.
Andy Bassich: Yeah, it’s just to get rid of those teeth!
When I hang my fish, I hang 'em uh -- Right now, I’m hangin' seven on a pole. Poles are four-foot wide. That allows them to dry pretty good.
And when I go to hang 'em permanently on my rack in town -- right now I have a 18-dog kennel, so I’ll put nine on a pole and that way every day will be just one pole’s-worth of fish. Half a fish per dog. And uh, it makes it easy to computate how much fish you got.
And then when I hang whole fish, I usually put about ten fish on a pole. This year I might just put nine on again, though.
And uh, that gets to be a pretty heavy pole, though. These fish are probably averaging -- I imagine you could say they probably average eight pounds all total, but on a normal year.
But these fish are a lot bigger this year. And I’m guestimating we’re probably right up around ten pounds, average. ‘Cause there’s some definite 12 and 13 pounders in here. Lotta good looking fish.
And the reason you score a lot around the tail here, too, is to help 'em hang on the pole better. Right down here (holds knife near base of fish’s tail), the first couple of cuts here, I do pretty close together, and that allows the fish to hang on the pole more evenly. Doesn’t want to slide off. If you see that (holds up scored fish), and allows it to move around a little bit.
If you don’t score it a bunch of times there then the fish is always wanting to flop off the pole, especially when they’re slimy like this. And it gets to be a real nuisance.
And it’s definitely a practiced thing ‘cause if you cut too deep, and get a little bit too deep into that skin, or the meat, and the skin and the meat will tear off and the fish will drop in half. So you have to kinda gauge those first couple of cuts.
I think, uh, a lot of people just kinda hold their knife at an angle for those first kinda couple -- couple of cuts so that you don’t uh, cut too deep. Just trying to get through the backbone is the main thing.
And as you can see, it goes pretty quick once you get going. I usually figure on about -- I average about two fish a minute once I start cuttin'. It’s probably a little faster than that once you get all set up. But that’s a good average.
And I usually cut about, oh, anywhere from seventy to one hundred fish and then I’ll take a break for a few minutes and cut again. If I have my music going sometimes I don’t even take a break until I do about a 150, because you just kinda get into a rhythm. It’s almost mindless work after a while. You don’t even think about what you’re doing. Assembly line. This is about the closest thing to an assembly line I’ll ever do.
And that one, there’s a female that was pretty ripe. The eggs sacs had basically disintegrated.
(noise of boat traveling past on the river) The sound of fall! Jet boats with hunters in it (laughs).
Heard that sound a lot last year. It was pretty frustrating actually, trying to moose hunt. About every time you’d start calling, another boat would go by.
And so far, I haven’t seen as many people around this summer. But it’s been kinda warm. Maybe that’s keeping some of them away.
I think the other thing, too, the caribou season closed early this year. And uh, I think a lot of people are drawn to this area to hunt both moose and caribou, even though they can only do one or the other.
They hunt in groups of three or four, and different guys get different tags. It makes for a pretty attractive place to come hunt.
But when they closed the season down early this year, I think that uh, probably affected how many people were planning on coming out on huntin' in this area. Which makes it a little better for the locals.
Nobody has a right to all the moose, but the locals usually don’t hunt until pretty late in the season. ‘Cause they just hang it, so --
Also, a little bit concerned about what’s going to happen with the caribou this year. Walking around the summit up there, there's pretty much all their feed has been burnt off. So it’s going to be really interesting to see if that 40-Mile Herd comes into the American Summit area and spends any time at all around there.
I don’t know how fast that tundra regenerates, but I image it’s going to be a couple of years. And that’s a pretty critical food source for us around here, so -- But I think everybody'll be watching that pretty close.
But right now is fish time! (Andy splitting fish)
Cindy Gowins: So everything has its seasons here, and the local folks (inaudible)
Andy Bassich: No doubt about it. Blueberry season, moose season, fish season, caribou season, tourist season. (laughs) Cindy Gowins: That’s almost closed, isn’t it?
Andy Bassich: Yeah. That’s almost closed and that’ll be a good thing. Not that I dislike the tourists, I like them.
But it’s nice to get back to our winter season. I -- I like from November on. Wake up in the morning, grab a cup of coffee, sit by the woodstove for an hour, read a book, think about what you want to do for the day, no pressure, no time clocks. That’s when living’s really good up here.
I think that’s what draws a lot of people to this country is just that freedom and independence to do what you want to do.
It’s kind of interesting. The last couple of nights I’ve been hearing the sandhill cranes coming through. It’s always right bef -- right about dark. I’ve heard a few flocks of the sandhills coming through.
Although I remember when I first came here in 1983, sandhill cranes used to come by for a week or two, and the Canada Geese were really prolific then. I can remember seeing flocks of geese every night for a week or two, and --
I think they’re all living on the golf courses now down south ‘cause we just don’t seem to see them as much.
Maybe, uh, maybe they’ve changed their migration route, too, that’s a possibility, but just don’t see 'em in the numbers I used to see.
Every now and then you’ll catch a fish with a tag in it as well. I’ll show you one of these tags. Let’s see (reaches for a bucket with tags in it).
These were caught yesterday, one green and one yellow, and these are from uh, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and these tags were put in down at the rapids, ah, down at Rampart rapids. And uh, they’ve got a couple of fish wheels that they do test fishing and check the run.
And I believe the color significance is uh, left -- right bank or left bank on the river. And they’ll put a quite of few of those tags in the fish and then they ask us fishermen to return those tags to them the day they’re caught. Mark down the day they’re caught, so they can kinda get an idea of the speed of the run and the --
I think it kinda helps them get a little bit of an idea how many fish are coming up and where they’re going, distribution.
For a couple years they did a radio-telemetry program where they actually caught salmon and -- and uh, put radio-tracking tags in them. And uh, we would catch those. I think over the years I caught about 3 of those transmitters.
That was a really good project. They learned a lot about the salmon. Especially the king salmon.
They learned a lot about distribution and these -- some of these tags were what they called “archival tags,” which uh, not only recorded where the fish was when they went by a counting station, but it also recorded the depth that the fish was swimming at and the temperature of the water.
So they got a lot of really valuable information about these salmon. And I think a lot of myths were probably dispelled with some of that research.
And a lot of people think that these salmon just run on the bottom of the river all the time. And what the tags show is that these fish are constantly going from swimming on the bottom and then coming up near the surface and there’s seems to be just a random, randomness to that. No real correlation to time-of-day or anything that -- that I’ve heard of anyway.
So that was kind of an interesting thing to learn about them.
There’s been a lot of money spent on salmon research, ever since the ’99 crash. I mean, there’s continued be a quite a bit of money spent on it. And uh, it’s a good thing, you know.
It’s kinda sad that it takes a crisis to make things happen, but I guess that’s pretty much the way it always is in life. But it’s good.
Hopefully we’ll get enough good information about these chums and kings that we -- we’ll be able to stay ahead of the -- the curve on years when there're poor runs, protect the resource for the future.
I know I -- around Eagle here for the last six years, we haven’t been fishing the chums. We’ve been bringing fish in from Valdez ‘cause there was such a poor run, we didn’t want to influence or harvest any of this uh, fish so that we could get a greater escapement to help rebuild and uh --
We’re really happy to see this ‘cause the fish we were getting just wasn’t the same quality of these. It just wasn’t as good of food.
And uh, a big part of it is just the lifestyle, you know. It’s getting the resource and using the resource for your -- yourself. Not being dependent on a job to make your living or not depending on other people to take care of you.
That’s a big part of living up here, for -- for me anyway. I think for a lot of people.
So, although it was a good thing to do, I think we really lost a lot of -- a lot for the kids. The kids weren’t out fishing. A lot of these young kids never really had a chance to get out and fish, learn about it.
Although, as you can see, it’s a lot of hard work. And it takes a lot of dedication time-wise. Lotta people think it’s just to catch fish and hang them up, but they really don’t see how much physical work goes into it.
I don’t know too many people that like getting covered with fish slime like this either. It’s not too bad when you’re cutting, but when you’re hanging the fish it gets pretty messy. (cutting fish)
I'd kinda like to see some windy weather come this way again. It really helps with the drying if we can have some good, windy days.
Cindy Gowins: When do the gnats go away?
Andy Bassich: Man, I hope they go away soon. We need some cold days for that. We haven’t had a frost since July and uh --
Cindy Gowins: It'll kill the garden?
Andy Bassich: Yeah. Yeah, that kinda would zap the zucchinis and potatoes. Most of my other crops made it ok, but those guys got nipped.
Yeah, this has been a bad gnat year. This is probably one of the drier summers I’ve seen since I’ve been up here, and uh, you end up with lots of yellow jackets when you’re cutting king salmon and you end up with lots of gnats in the fall time when it’s dry like this.
Actually, I think I’d prefer mosquitoes to these gnats. I don’t really like these gnats much. I don’t --there’s nothing much you can do to repel them.
There’s a big boy (referring to large chum). These fish are a lot easier to cut when they’re nice, firm meat, too. You notice that one was a little harder to cut. It’s a real white flesh on this one. He’s pretty soft, we call it.
I’ve noticed getting through the head and getting through them is -- when it’s soft flesh like that it’s not firm and the knife just doesn’t seem to go through as well, for whatever reason. Some of these fish were in the wheel all night too and that might impact some of that.
Cindy Gowins: How many hours a day are you cutting fish? How long does it take you?
Andy Bassich: Oh, well, when I’m cutting I -- yesterday I did 320 fish cutting. And uh, there were other things I had to do, but it’s probably pretty easily eight or nine hours to do that.
(noise from large motor running) By the time you go over and check the wheel, and uh, make adjustments and cut the fish and then hang 'em. (motor running noise gets louder)
All that background noise is the Yukon Queen II coming into dock. I’m just downstream of her dock system here.
Couple more days of tourists and then that operation comes to an end (camera pans to view Yukon Queen II coming into dock and view of the Yukon River). (footage of Andy cutting fish with loud background noise of the Yukon Queen II’s engine running)
Cindy Gowins: (inaudible. Yukon Queen II’s engine making it too hard to hear Cindy’s question). Andy Bassich: What's that?
Cindy Gowins: Whose fish rack is that? Andy Bassich: That’s mine. Yeah.
Yeah, there’s uh, about a thousand fish on that rack right now. I’m going to try and finish filling it up today.
And uh, I took a 320 or so home yesterday. So I should have about 1500. I'm hoping to have about 1500 splits here by the end of the day and that should be good for me for the split fish.
A tapeworm that came out of one of the chum salmon. You don’t see very much of that, but every now and then you’ll see one that’s pretty loaded with the parasite.
But, glad you’re not eating 'em when you see one of those. (laughs) Although, I guess once they're cooked it doesn’t matter. (Andy cutting and splitting fish)
Cindy Gowins: You still have a lot of fish to go. (Andy scraping fish cutting table clean)
Andy Bassich: I’m not going to do them all. I wanted to hang about another 140, I think there’s about 160 or so in here (turning to fish box), 170. So I’ll get down a little farther here. (Andy cutting and splitting fish)
One thing I do like about fishing this time of year is it really gets you in great shape again. For one, in summertime, I'm not quite as active doing the really hard physical work. Well, there’s nothing like fishing to get your arms and back, and just your whole body really in good shape again.
That’s one of the reasons I love having the dogs. I think if I didn’t have dogs, I’d probably put on weight. Totally different living up here for me, without the dogs.
Give you a lot to do outside everyday and they -- just taking care of 'em requires a lot of physical work. Keeps you healthy. It's the outside air.
(scene has moved to fish rack, camera pans fish racks and hanging egg sacs and fish, and shows Andy unloading split fish from back of truck into wheelbarrow) (Andy hanging fish on rack)
Andy Bassich: Yeah, we need some good wind right now. That’s what does most of this drying. Have this damp weather like this and no wind, these fish will stay kinda -- kinda wet or moist, and that’s when it gets to be problem.
You get some warm weather and the flies come in and then they have something wet to lay their eggs in, too. Once it’s starts cooling off, it’s not a problem. The flies aren’t around.
Biggest thing you gotta do -- remember when you’re doing these fish is just to make sure that -- try and give 'em plenty of airspace in between, and uh, that they don’t touch each other.
So, I only put seven of 'em on. That seems to be about what they can fit fairly well right now, and then I’ll add more fish later.
Cindy Gowins: As they dry, you’ll tighten them in or something?
Andy Bassich: Yeah, when I take them back home, I’ll be able to stack 'em in a lot tighter and get more on my rack. Although my rack at home holds so many fish. It holds -- it’s three levels and it’s uh, 16 feet, so it’s -- it holds a lot of fish.
You can see here, where scoring 'em a bunch on the tail is making a difference. If you don’t do that, then these fish want to just slide off because the side that has the backbone is a lot heavier. And when they’re this slippery, it’ll just pull them right off.
(referring to large, split chum) Look at the size of that fish. That’s like a king salmon almost. Look at that thing. Cindy Gowins: Wow. Andy Bassich: That’s probably 14 pounds right there.
Cindy Gowins: The dog that gets half of that’ll be a happy camper.
Andy Bassich: Oh man! (background noise of motor boat passing on the river)
And every now and then, you'll -- like everyday, I’ll come in here and they’ll be a few fish that split and -- and fall off. You can come up here on this side here and you’ll see where one fell off (walks around to other side of rack).
And uh, it’s because I -- I must've scored it a little bit too -- too deep right there and it -- so it ends up breaking the skin.
So a lot of times what I’ll do is just take these and hang 'em up in between like this. They’ll finish drying like that.
I’ll turn that into dog food pretty quick. Right now, I’m cooking all my dog food, um, because the dogs, you can’t feed 'em raw fish, so --
Cindy Gowins: But you can feed 'em raw, dried fish, right?
Andy Bassich: Yeah, once it’s dried it’s ok, they’ll eat it. And once it’s -- it’s the slime that's -- that gets them sick. All the slime on the fish will make them really sick. Once that dries and freezes --
And usually, I don’t even feed them the dried fish until it’s been twenty below for a while. That kills all the parasites that are in the fish. So cooking it kills the parasites and then twenty below zero for, I think 2 weeks it is, will kill all the parasites.
So until it stays pretty cold in October, I’ll keep cooking fish. And then sometimes when it’s real cold, minus forty or so, I’ll -- I’ll cook fish anyway, just so they have a -- a warm meal for the day.
Seven fish isn’t too bad to pick up and put on the upper level here, too. You start getting eight or nine fish on there and it’s quite a chore just to lift it up over your head. (Andy pulling split fish from wheelbarrow and hanging on pole to put up on the drying rack)
See, they hang pretty nice like that. (camera pans hang fish rack, towards drying eggs)
Andy Bassich: And those are the eggs there, drying, on the side. Those have been there for three days now. Ah, it takes usually about a week, a week and a half for them to dry good enough for me to take them off. A week anyway. If it’s good, windy weather, maybe a little less.
I just store those in gunny sacks. Feed that out when it’s cold or I’ll feed it as snacks for the dogs. After a run, sometimes I’ll go through and give 'em that dried eggs.
They won’t eat the eggs if they’re raw and they won’t -- they don’t even like them if they’re cooked. But once they’re dried they’re almost like a hard candy and they really seem to like 'em.
(pulling more split fish from the back of the truck into the wheelbarrow) As you can see, it’s a messy, gushy job. But it’s nice when there’s a run like this. You fish hard for a week and then burn your clothes. (laughs) Cindy Gowins: Yep.
Andy Bassich: Some years, you end up -- I end up fishing for three weeks or better, and I get real tired of smelling like fish all the time. All your clothes. It’s just everything you got. It's in your truck, everything smells like fish.
Cindy Gowins: Well we, uh, well we have just a few minutes of time left, is there anything that you want to say?
Andy Bassich: No, I don’t think so, Cindy. Doing pretty good. Maybe talk a little bit about keeping it netted out to keep the ravens out.
As you can see, uh, there’s netting all around the entire fish rack here. Um, that’s really critical ‘cause the ravens discover this, they’re very smart. And they’ll come in and they’ll peck the tops of these fish right on the top of the pole. The fish falls on the ground and rather than eat -- rather than eating that one that fell on the ground, they just go to the next fish.
And they can decimate a fish rack really quick, make quite a mess. And consume a lot of it so, you have to -- you have to be pretty smart and you have to work pretty hard to keep those ravens out.
This fish net -- this seining net seems to be really good. It’s tough. Chicken wire doesn’t work. I’ve tried chicken wire. It only works for a very short period of time. They’ll uh -- they’ll actually stick their heads in-between and start widening out the chicken wire and then they’ll end up making a hole they can go through.
So, I’ve found that fish nets or even chain-link fencing is probably the best way to go, if you’re going to do it in a permanent place.
Going out and collecting these poles is a big job, too. You can reuse them year after year, which is good. But uh, it takes quite a bit of time just to go out and cut a couple of hundred poles.
This fish rack here is a temporary rack. I dry my fish here in the falltime and then once they’re dry, I’ll move them to my home in downtown Eagle. And I also uh, will take a bunch of fish downriver to my cabin downriver.
I'll only have to hang those once down there. That’s part of the problem with living in town here, is there’s not good air flow, in town.
Cindy Gowins: Oh, there’s a dry one.
Andy Bassich: Yeah. And uh, you don’t have a good place where the air flows, then the flies get into it and then you’ve got a real mess.