Fishing is music: Gillnetting on the Skeena River
“It’s like playing a song well, you’ve got to get into the right rhythm to anticipate the moves” explains Bob Burkosky, Captain of the F/V BC Maid.
Bob Burkosky has been fishing the BC coast for 42 years in many of BC’s small boat fisheries including halibut, roe herring and live rock cod. He now focuses on gillnetting salmon and gangtrolling for live ling cod.
He was introduced to fishing while working at the South Side boat yard on the Fraser River in 1975. “I met some really sensible fisherman and it looked like a really interesting lifestyle” says Bob, “one day while sitting at the yard I was watching a gill net opening that was happening out front. I saw a fellow set his net and pull in three big, beautiful and shiny spring salmon. One of those fish would sell for what I would earn for my whole day at the yard, that’s when I started to think I’d like to go for it”.
Fast forward 40 years to a foggy morning on the Skeena River with Bob and his deckhand Ty McKinley. A perculator of coffee bubbling on the stove as they leave the Prince Rupert dock at 5:00am. The steam to the grounds gives time to take into consideration the size and timing of the tides for the day. Bob makes his plan hoping to intercept a good batch of fish as they head up the Skeena River to their breeding grounds.
On the first set of every opening, Bob says “you try to gun the net out as quick as you can, then there is that suspenseful few moments as you run up the net looking to see if there are fish. Once you see the corks on the net bouncing you can start to relax”.
When asked to describe his favourite part of the job, Bob replied, “I love the feeling of guessing right, knowing that I could accurately think like the fish and anticipate where they were going to move. A lot of intuition comes into play, you get these ideas and you’re not sure where they come from but it’s a feeling of knowing where they (the fish) are going to be”.
And every captain needs a good deckhand, someone to play the harmony. Ty smiled as he said that his favourite part of the job was simply getting to work with Bob, “I’ve never had so much fun in my life” he says.
When most people think about commercial fishing words like gritty, harsh and adventurous come to mind. The art or softer side is only seen when you are lucky enough to experience it first hand. Whether you find it in the dramatic colours of the sunset over an open ocean or the melody of the quiet hum of the engine with a backdrop of waves and seagulls. If you immerse yourself in this world for even a short period of time you can start to see the rhythm, feel the beat and get into the groove.
Bob Burkosky – Captain of the F/V BC Maid.
Interview and photos by Chelsey Ellis
Bob and his wife, Peggy Burkosky wrote and illustrated a book called – Cooking Fish & Brewing Tales
The fishing fleet from the coast of British Columbia Canada loves swapping favourite recipes to cook on the high seas. Many a tall tale gets told in the galley while savoring seafood fare. Enjoy a sample from their book here and contact them to order.
Gillnetting is a common fishing method used by commercial fishermen. Learn more about Gillnetting.