Fishing with Willie

Every skier finds its way to sustain a lifestyle devoted to the pursuit of snow, and enjoying winter for as long as possible.

Sometimes it’s legal, sometimes not. Sometimes it takes a toll on ski season, sometimes it leaves us entirely free to roam as soon as the snow falls. For Willie, this way is commercial fishing in Alaska.

A tough but wonderful way to earn his skiing time. 

Fishing… where do I start.  To be honest I wanted to find a good paying, seasonal job where I could have the winter off to ski as much as possible. I tried wild-land firefighting for a year, it didn’t quite do it for me, so I decided to drive up to Alaska with a friend. We had just enough money to get there and seemingly no leads into our adventure.  

“A 60 hour car ride, and a 20 hour ferry brought us to Kodiak Island.”

Spending a month straight living in a truck traveling through state parks, maybe not paying all the camping fees, we ate canned chili while treating ourselves to a 40 from time to time.

Before walking to town and hitting the harbor for potential work, we would wake up at 5:30 every morning to make sure we were out of camp before any park ranger showed up. Trying to get my foot in the door, I painted a 110 foot Crab boat, helped someone fix their net for bologna sandwiches.

“Despite feeling helpless, I was determined and finally found a job as a greenhorn on a boat after a month.”

Fortunately for the planet, Alaska has the most monitored and sustainable fisheries in the world.

Commercial fishing isn’t for the faint of heart. It means 3 months on a 31-69 foot boat; working, living, and sleeping with the same 3 people every day. The way we resupply, fuel up and sell our fish is through the cannery who send out tenders. 

 We’re obligated to stay out there the whole time, with the exception of a couple trips a year. A load of jellyfish in the face are a frequent occurrence, my least favorite part of fishing.  Amongst that, the weather can be un-fishable at times, but when the money is right you have to determine whether the risk to the crew is worth making another set. Sometimes it is..   


“Mental and physical exhaustion are pretty standard, something I have gotten used to.”


When we’re not fishing there’s always something to do.

If you’ve spent any extended period of time on a boat you know stuff breaks all the time. Whether it‘s maintenance on the boat or personal chores, there are a lot of moving parts to fishing. Cumulatively my crew has almost 50 years’ experience and everyone brings something different to the table, even if we are not qualified. It’s pretty miraculous how we can jimmy rig something to work for the day or come together and fix major issues as they arise 

Salmon fishing in Prince William Sound isn’t the toughest fishery in Alaska. We get some time off for fun and to fill the freezer with Shrimp, Halibut, Rockfish, King Salmon and Sea Cucumbers.

 I’ve spent countless hours hiking around the Islands chasing Sitka Blacktail deer, picking berries, going on hikes, swimming with sea lions, cliff jumping, and surfing the longest wave in Alaska (our skiff). All around just have a good time with friends enjoying the seemingly endless array of natural resources that Alaska has to offer.  

It’s the little things that keep me motivated, a good set or a good day of fishing can keep the adrenaline flowing.  

“The interactions with wildlife are pretty hard to beat as well.” 

I’ve been 6-9 feet away from a curious humpback whale, diving with sea lions, porpoises regularly swim off the bow of our boat, and finding ourselves fishing near a salmon buffet for bears. It is some pretty raw unfiltered nature. I had a skipper say “people pay for this you know”; in the back of my head I was thinking people also get paid for this. 


There are persistent ups and downs in fishing.  One of the best reminders of why I’m out here in the first place, is daydreaming while looking into the heart of Alaskas Chugach Range knowing that there are skiable lines in August still.  

“Someday I’ll bring my skis up, in the meantime I can stare into the mountains or explore the glaciers on days off.”

Fishing is always a gamble, but it does give me the freedom to fulfill a wild hair in me and take the winter off. The amount of fish we catch just dictates the amount of trips I can go on, or how nice of a new snow machine I can put my hands on.   

I’m grateful for the fishing family I have up in AK, it’s very comparable to the tight knit ski community.  


By Mathieu Ros

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