Friday, March 6, 2009

Copper River Fish Wheels and Sea Gulls

Four paintings so far this week.  Thesis deadlines are coming up, and I'm starting to feel it.

This is a painting, in gouache on brown paper (wow, something new), of exactly what the post title says it is.  In Alaska, if you apply for it, you can get a special permit to set up a fish wheel.  There are only two rivers that you're allowed to do this at (I think), and you have to be there at the river during the salmon season when it's turning.  Mostly all of the wheels are homemade, and you have to haul them out to the middle of nowhere to set them up, and then haul them back when the season is over (some people don't, they just take off their permits and leave the wheels there.  There's wreckage all up and down the river of old abandoned fish wheels that got broken up and carried away when the river floods.).  But the hassle seems worth it in some ways with how much salmon you can catch in a weekend.  

The wheel sits out in the river, close, but not too close to the shore.  The Copper River is very silty, very cold, and very fast, and because they have to push so hard, the salmon that you get out of this river are some of the best in the world, or so I'm told.  I'll eat almost any type of fish : ) Yum, and I'm no fish connoisseur, I'm not that picky (it's another story when it comes to coffee).  Anyway.   There are two baskets and two "paddles" I guess you could say, and when the wheel is "turned on" they spin.  Pretty simple.  The baskets are maneuvered so that as they spin, they create a depression in the bottom of the river.  When salmon swim upstream they look for places like big rocks in the water or depressions in the river bed, where the current is not as strong, to rest.  When they come to those depressions they're scooped up and dumped into a basket beside the wheel to wait until someone comes along to scoop them out and gut them, and eventually, eat them (Haha, "Eat them, eat them!" Sorry, LOTR flashback "Give it to us raw, and wwwrrrriiigglling!" Actually, raw salmon, fresh caught and cleaned is really good!).  You walk out on a little rickety pier to the wheel, your weight on the pier pushes the wheel into the river bottom to stop it turning while you're there, and you net the fish and carry them up to the shore to clean them.  There's no running water out there, so you have to store everything in coolers until you can get back to civilization.  It's nothing like dip netting, but pulling those fish out (they're HUGE, and HEAVY) of the waiting trough and up to the shore, cleaning them in the freezing cold wind, loading everything up on your four wheeler to take it back to camp, not a picnic. The flip side is that there are long hours of waiting in between for the wheel to scoop up fishy-fishy.  

Oh, and gulls are everywhere, just waiting for you to give up ground so that they can swoop in and clean up.  The bald eagles are more wary, but there were several out there scavenging, and they really were beautiful.  And huge.  People say everything's bigger in Texas - which is true - but everything is especially bigger in Alaska.  

1 comment:

Jenny said...

Sara, if you were nearby I would hire you to come demo gouache painting for my students... or just teach me for that matter!