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Cloquet natives spend summer on commercial salmon fishing boat in Alaska

Robbie Sobczak and Spencer Mayasich spent the majority of their summer on a three-person commercial salmon fishing boat off the coast of Alaska, walking away with coolers full of fish.

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On board the fishing boat the Relentless, Captain Jeff Corrick, left, Robbie Sobczak, center, and Spencer Mayasich pose during some down time during the salmon fishing season in Alaska July 2021. Contributed / Robbie Sobczak

Cloquet native Spencer Mayasich remembers the phone call he received last fall from fellow Cloquet High School graduate Robbie Sobczak that immediately changed his summer plans.

Sobczak asked if Mayasich had any interest in heading up to Alaska to work on a commercial salmon fishing boat for a few weeks.

"It was a little before winter break," Mayasich said. "Robbie is probably one of my more adventurous friends. He's always gone out of his way to look for new things to experience. I'm pretty lucky to have a friend like that."

Sobczak had just started his first year of teaching at Caledonia High School. He'd heard about salmon fishing season from his cooperative teacher when he was student teaching.

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Spencer Mayasich and Captain Jeff Corrick stand aboard the commercial salmon fishing boat Relentless in July 2021. Contributed / Robbie Sobczak

"I have the summers off as a teacher, and I wanted to take advantage of that," Sobczak said. "I'd always been fascinated by this industry, fishing in Alaska, and I thought it was the chance to have an incredible experience in just a short amount of time in the summer."

Through Facebook groups, Sobczak was able to connect with Captain Jeff Corrick, a fifth grade teacher from Washington state who spent his summers fishing for salmon on his boat F/V Relentless. Sobczak and Mayasich finished out their school years and prepared to head north.

The pair caught a flight from Minneapolis to Anchorage, then from Anchorage to King Salmon, and finally took a "puddle jumper" as Mayasich put it, to Egegik, Alaska, to meet up with their boat.

"It was the tiniest plane I think either of us had ever been on," Mayasich said. "And once we got there, we met up with other people who were going to camp at Egegik. When we got there, we all threw our luggage and ourselves into the back of a pickup truck and talked as we rode out to the shore."

The people on the truck answered Mayasich's questions about what to expect from the experience.

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"But it's one thing to hear about it and another thing to actually do it," Mayasich said.

The fishing boat Relentless was, as all salmon fishing boats are required to be, 32 feet long and just big enough for the crew of Corrick, Mayasich and Sobczak. The trio spent the first few weeks readying the boat. Once they launched, they spent nearly all of their time out on the water fishing or preparing to fish.

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Spencer Mayasich stands beside the salmon fishing nets aboard the commercial fishing boat Relentless during the July 2021 fishing season in Alaska. Contributed / Robbie Sobczak

Sobczak described the salmon fishing industry as "highly regulated." Every day the Alaska Department of Fish and Game would let fishermen know the times when they could fish, aka openers, and the times they had to stop fishing based on how many salmon were getting up stream.

"Basically, they wanted to make sure that enough fish were escaping us fishermen to get up the river so that next year, this could all happen again," Sobczak said.

There would usually be two fishing openers a day, each about six hours long. The crew would get ready in the early hours of the day, head to an opener, fish continuously for six hours, deliver their pounds of salmon to a tender boat, set anchor, sleep, then wake up and start preparing for the next opener.

To catch the fish, the crew used 6-foot tall and 140-fathom-long steel nets dragged behind the boat.

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"It’s essentially a big wall of death," Sobczak said. "There are a bunch of tiny holes that the fish swim in and their heads can get through but the bigger parts of their bodies get stuck. We would put our net down in areas where the majority of the fish were known to be running. We would catch sometimes upwards of 5,000 pounds of fish in one set of net."

In between fishing openers, the crew would move from one spot to another, which Mayasich said could sometimes be a little tricky due to the extreme ebbs and flows of the tide near the river inlets.

"One time, we just got stuck on the rocks," Mayasich said. "We just had to wait for the tide to roll back in. But honestly, we decided to just enjoy ourselves that day. We made steaks and took pictures and just waited. It was interesting to be so dependent on the water like that."

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Members of the fishing boat Relentless wait for the tide to return to the shore to bring the boat out after it ran aground during the Alaska fishing season in July 2021. Contributed / Robbie Sobczak

Towards the end of July, the fish became more sparse and it was time for the Cloquet boys to head home. They packed 40 pounds of salmon in coolers to take home with them.

"I've just been working my way around to friends and family and handing out fish," Mayasich said. "It's really something to give out fish that you personally cleaned and processed and worked really hard to catch."

Now Sobczak is busily preparing for his second year of teaching in Caledonia. Mayasich, a recent University of Minnesota Twin Cities material science graduate, is fishing for his next job.

Related Topics: PEOPLEFISHINGCLOQUET
Teri Cadeau is a general assignment and neighborhood reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. Originally from the Iron Range, Cadeau has worked for several community newspapers in the Duluth area for eight years including: The Duluth Budgeteer News, Western Weekly, Weekly Observer, Lake County News-Chronicle and occasionally, the Cloquet Pine Journal. When not working, she's an avid reader and crafter.
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