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Marty, Corey and Sarah Palin's Alaska

Written by Corey Arnold & Marty Machado   
Tuesday, 04 January 2011 13:00
Corey Arnold and Martin Machado are both artists who met through Fecal Face and through their love of fishing in the wilds of Alaska. This joint blog illustrates last summer's salmon fishing trip to Bristol Bay, Alaska with hard labor working 18 hour days avoiding grizzly bears and total exhaustion.

Marty opens a show of his paintings w/ Todd Freeman and Aleksandra Zee this Saturday, January 8th at Gallery Hijinks

Words and Pictures: Corey Arnold Words and Paintings and pictures: Martin Machado

Corey: Back in 2007, shortly after posting "How to Be an Alaskan Fisherman" on the Fecal, I got an email from a certain container ship seaman/fisherman/painter named Marty Machado. You might know him from his epic blogs on Fecal Face: Live and Work on a Container Ship part I and part II. Little did I know, we would become friends and this one correspondence would change the course of my life forever, kick starting an epic, lifelong summertime commercial fishing adventure in the Alaskan Bush. This is what he wrote:

----- Hello Corey, I just wanted to say I love your work. I just got back from Naknek yesterday, yes I am a "salmon fag" [gotta read How To Be An Alaskan Fisherman to get that one]. It was a good season though. Keep up the good work. I'll say hello if I see you at the Fecal Face party on thursday. I also make work about going to sea, check it out if you get a chance. see ya- Martin -----

Marty Machado - oil on cardboard box I found at the abandoned Nakeen Cannery

Corey: As it turns out, Marty is a great painter, and worked as a fisherman in the same region of Bristol Bay, Alaska that I first got my start as a commercial fisherman back in 1995. But he had discovered a place that was far more spectacular and otherworldly then any of my prior ventures in Alaska. This place is called Graveyard Point.

Bristol Bay mud and abandoned cannery exploration -photo: Corey Arnold

Corey: Every Summer, nearly 150 commercial fishermen converge on an abandoned cannery complex at the mouth of the Kvichak River called Graveyard Point. The Kvichak River is historically one of the largest wild Sockeye salmon producing rivers in the world. In late June-July, like clock-work, millions of salmon return to the river in a chaotic tidal wave of fins and scales.

The fishermen camp out for 4-5 weeks in this mosquito ridden, brown bear (think Grizzly Man) infested network of collapsing buildings surrounded by swamplands and muddy tidal rivers that snake for miles in every direction.

Tim Sohn handling the situation in our little 20 footer. -photo: Corey Arnold

Exhibit A - Bristol Bay, the Armpit of the Bering Sea

Corey: Some of you might have watched the embarrassment that is Sarah Palin's Alaska, the T.V. show. Well, we basically do the same type of fishing that Todd Palin does for a living, but in the next river system over and in a more remote and barren location.

Exhibit B - Graveyard Point at the mouth of the Kvichak River, it's really a giant swamp.

crewman/writer Tim Sohn and Corey Arnold in front of our homested -photo: Corey Arnold

A large multi boat crew managed by the industrious Reid TenKley. There are tidal rivers everywhere. -photo: Corey Arnold

Naknek local, Kirsty, pulled out this .22 and started firing over all the boats one day. -photo: Corey Arnold

Corey: The point is named after the graveyard buried near the cliffs of an abandoned salmon cannery that was built around 1900 and shut down in 1952 I believe. For over 50 years, the graveyard and the cannery buildings have been washing away into the sea.

Wooden caskets filled with the human remains of fishermen and cannery workers are often exposed on the beach. But, the land is too remote for anyone other then the fisherman and a few natives to take notice.

Exposed casket in the cliffs at Graveyard Point, circa 2006 -Photo: Marty Machado

Artist/fisherman Brian Burnett with a human jawbone. -photo: Corey Arnold

Human remains -photo: Corey Arnold

Corey: We work out of small aluminum skiffs with crews of one to four persons per boat. Most of the salmon harvesting is done manually, pulling gill nets plugged with salmon over the rail by hand and filling the small boats to their limit of flotation.

On a bountiful year, and a perfect storm of tides, fish and weather, one skiff can harvest up to 20,000 pounds of salmon in a single day, worth about $20,000.

heading out of the muddy Graveyard Creek -photo: Corey Arnold

Nightly Grizzly bear walk on the beach - photo: Corey Arnold

Corey: But this is not easy money. If you're going for the gold, you have to induce insomnia, wreck your tendons and muscles, deprive yourself of a shower for weeks, and spend a lot of time in hip deep mud. All this, with the constant threat of giant Brown Bears (Grizzlys) stealing your fish, and a swarm of bird sized mosquitoes that will leave you pale and bumpy in seconds.

Bear Attack: There are so many fish, the bears just eat the best parts and leave the rest. - photo: Corey Arnold

Marty: Isn't it weird how the seals only eat the heads too? Makes you wonder what we're missing.

10pm and still fishin'. - photo: Corey Arnold

Ben Thomas with 30 pound King Salmon - photo: Corey Arnold

Marty Machado - "Stinkerhead"

Marty Machado - "Floater"

Corey: I first visited Graveyard Point while on assignment for shooting for Outside Magazine in 2008 and decided to buy into a boat and permit the following year. This year, Marty came back to work, and captained his own skiff as well. We worked in separate crews but found time to hang out and finally get to know each other. This blog is really about Marty, the reason I'm in there. His artwork inspired from life at Graveyard is inspiring. I'm going to turn this thing over to him now before I hog up the whole blog post:

Rian and crew on a big day. - photo: Corey Arnold

MARTY: Awww shux, that was one hell of an intro, thanks. You covered it pretty nicely. I would like to add that this is a very well managed fishery, and as of now IS a renewable resource. Some smart folks make sure enough salmon get upstream to spawn to ensure we get good numbers back in years to come, and it seems to just be getting better each year. As long as an outside factor, like the proposed Pebble Strip-Mine, doesn't screw things up, we should be able to catch fish for many years to come.

Anyways, yeah it was funny how things played out over the years, from me asking John Trippe to point you out at the Fecal Face anniversary party and then fanning out on you like an art nerd, to you buying into that fishery and being such a part of the scene by the time I got back up there. I knew Graveyard was an amazing place and that you had to see it, but since that’s really the only place I’ve been in Alaska, I figured you might have seen other places like it in all of your other gigs.

The Shrier Crew (Marty is the in the back middle) - photo: Corey Arnold

Marty: I was stoked to get the call last spring to work for an amazing crew from Montana/Oregon, a seasoned father son duo and a bunch of their buddies. Because of the containership stuff, I had missed a couple seasons so I was a bit rusty. It was also my first season getting to run my own boat. I definitely learned a ton this season, mostly by doing the wrong things, nearly swamping the skiff, and learning the hard way. But my boat-mate Cody and I finished the season, alive, and with all of our gear still pretty much in tact.

Conor Kelly and Pat Weber human powering the operation. - photo: Corey Arnold

Enthusiastic future fisherman - photo: Corey Arnold

Marty Machado - "bag o bones"

Marty: I don’t know about you Corey, but this season really kicked my ass, it was probably the hardest six weeks I’ve ever worked.
Between the really cold rainy weather, and the wide-open fishing periods with little to no sleep for about a month solid, I definitely was feeling it. One guy on our crew lost it completely and started to bring everyone down. But luckily the rest of the guys I fished for, were not only insanely hard workers, but all around rad guys who really made an effort to stay positive and have fun even when we were in a complete shit storm. But it was tough, I think half way through the season, like many guys up there, I lost most of the feeling in my hands and really didn’t get it back for about a month after getting home, which made painting a bit difficult.

Napping was precious - photo: Corey Arnold

enough fish in one shackle to swamp the skiff. - photo: Corey Arnold

Corey: Yeah, this season was an absurd amount of work and it was a particularly cold, wet summer. There were times when the net was so plugged with fish, my deckhand and I couldn't even pull a few feet over the side. We had to hang over and pick fish outside the boat. On this particular day (above), Our anchored net plugged with 1000 salmon was so heavy, the tide drug it into into the neighbors net, then we almost went dry at low tide with a full load of salmon. We got rescued by the Wilson girls (amazing two Minnesota ladies in a skiff) that helped handle the situation.

He has no idea how fashionable this is. - photo: Corey Arnold

Eli torturing my crewmate Cody with an evil floater salmon - photo: Marty Machado

Corey: Marty, tell us about floaters and your paintings.

Marty: Ok I will. These are a collection of salmon fishing inspired paintings from over the years. Most are recent ones done for a show opening on Jan 8th here in SF at Gallery Hijinks, plug plug. The ship paintings are made on stacked layers of fiberglass, with epoxy. There are a bunch of gouache on paper pieces that are of "Ghostfish" aka"Floaters" and other creative names, which are decaying dead salmon that get caught in our nets towards the end of each season, their stench is so bad it will make you gag instantly. There are also two oil paintings on cardboard that were old canned salmon boxes with logos printed on them circa 1950's, we found huge stacks of these while exploring an abandoned cannery across the bay (in the first photo).

Marty Machado - "Smokey Joe"

Captain Marty with a full skiff load waiting to offload fish - photo: Corey Arnold

Fiberglass painting of many Salmon "Tenders" overlapped, which are the large boats we deliver fish to - Marty Machado

Marty Machado - Fiberglass painting of Drift Boats, the other style of salmon fishing

The toughest woman in Graveyard: Krystal TenKley - photo: Corey Arnold -

Christians with guns - photo: Corey Arnold

Corey: One of the best things about Graveyard Point is the cast of characters that fish there. There are Native Alaskans from the nearby villages, Gun toting Portland Christians, Neo-Luddites, Dog Mushers, Bush Pilots, Arkansas boys, ex-hippies, Mormons, one Harvard graduate, Artists, East Bay Area suburbanites, school teachers, fisherwomen, Minnesota farm boys, a skateboarder or two, rednecks, and young adventurers from all over the U.S. Social life in the camp is lush with great stories over cowboy coffee, hand rolled cigarettes and Rum.

Lyle Smith, Graveyard fisherman since 1952 - photo: Corey Arnold

Conor Kelly kickflipping a Graveyard gap. - photo: Corey Arnold

East Bay Steve-O - photo: Corey Arnold

Minnesota meets Alaska - photo: Corey Arnold

Conor Kelly is not homeless - photo: Corey Arnold

Marty Machado - Fiberglass Tenders painting

Marty Machado - Another Fiberglass Tenders Painting

Mark Lehman paddling to retrieve a skiff. - photo: Corey Arnold

High tide storm in the night left these guys high and dry for a day. - photo: Corey Arnold

East bay boys and some big King Salmon. - photo: Corey Arnold

Bonfire, Booze, and giant hand guns. - photo: Corey Arnold

Corey: Towards the end of the season, the Minnesota boys threw a massive bonfire on the beach. East bay dudes showed up and gun fire ensued long into the morning.

Father/Daughter fishing team Harlan Bailey and Martina Bailey - Harlan is the wise man of the camp, and has spent 40 seasons in Graveyard. This man is gold. - photo: Corey Arnold

Marty: After the season ended we had some great days/nights back in town before flying out. This is when a lot of fishermen get into a little trouble, hitting the few bars that exist there. The last season I was up, my crewmate and I managed to “borrow” a school bus to get us back from the bars. This year we were pretty good, although I do remember being in the back of your truck with about twenty other people howling at the moon as we sped home from Fishermen’s Bar. Also it was pretty sweet jumping in Naknek lake and hanging at the dump watching bears with those Russian cannery girls. Ahhhh Alaska.

Corey Arnold with King Salmon - photo: Tim Sohn

Corey: Sorry to be repetitive with more of this How to be an Alaskan Fisherman stuff, but the following is some advice if you want to do this type of work. I'm writing this to prevent having to answer a million emails from kids asking how to find a job in Alaska. Sorry to say, I've got a waiting list of friends already lined up for my crew, but if you're wanting to give commercial salmon fishing in Bristol Bay a shot, here is a bit of advice:

1) There are thousands of fishing boats based out of Naknek or Dillingham, Alaska. There is always someone looking for crewmen at the last minute before the season, or sometimes in the middle of the season to replace someone that quits or gets hurt.

2) buy a one way ticket on Alaska Airlines to King Salmon, Alaska, or Dillingham, Alaska sometime between June 5, and June 12. The ticket will cost you around 700 bucks one-way from Seattle. The season will likely last until July 25thish.

3) There is no guarantee you will find a job, especially if you have no experience with physical labor.

4) Get in shape before you go. Grip is important. Do lots of hand squeezing exercises.

5) Bring a tent and a sleeping bag and some clothes. You can buy boots and raingear and all supplies when you get there. Food is not cheap. Bring your life savings along in case you don't find a job.

6) If you flew into King Salmon, hitchhike 13 miles to Naknek, and ask people where you can pitch a tent.

7) Buy a local cell phone at Bristol Bay Wireless so that you have a phone number people can reach you at or make a deal with someone you make friends with to field your calls for you. You home cell phone won't work up there, but there is a chance they've added service. Call Bristol Bay Wireless and ask.

8) Make an attractive flyer with reasons why you are willing to destroy your body and your soul in order to get a job on a Drifter, or Set Net operation. List your physical and practical assets, and leave your new Alaska phone number on it.

9) You have to be willing to get paid half share or even less if it's your first time. In six weeks you can make between $3,000 and $7,000 as a greenhorn depending on your share, the price of salmon, and how good a captain you have.

10) When you become a full share deckhand after a couple seasons under your belt, you can make between $5,000 and $20,000 or more in one season depending on the strength of the run, the price, and skill of your captain and crew..

11) You will be judged on your attitude and how you present yourself. Don't be cocky, or an asshole. Be courteous and NEVER complain.

12) Walk around to all the boat yards (there are dozens of them), and ask everyone you see if they know of someone looking for a deckhand. Help people out in the boatyards for free in exchange for knowledge and experience.

13) If you are working for someone that knows how to catch fish, you will not sleep much and you will at times want to quit. Don't do it. You are capable of much more then you think you are.

14) If you are a youngster (16-22), you might think you are smarter then everyone else. Don't be an entitled little brat. You know nothing and need to ask questions, listen, and learn.

15) You might get yelled at... A LOT! Swallow your pride, wipe away those tears, and keep working.

Marty: Yea and I'd add that the low 3 grand wage is considering current numbers/prices, I made way less my first season and I'm sure you did too. Be prepared to make nothing really and if it works out, it works out. Don't quit, don't complain. I had a fishing captain in central california that used to tell me "I pay you for your neck down." Which meant, don't think, work. I like that.

Corey: You're right, I went home with $1500 my first season! 1995 blues.

Marty absorbing Vitamin D on a rare sun day. - photo: Corey Arnold

Marty Machado: Thanks for blahging this up with me Corey, you really have some amazing shots, I can't wait for a full Graveyard show someday. If any folks are in San Francisco in January please stop by Gallery Hijinks, the opening is Jan 8th and there will be some great work by Todd Freeman and Aleksandra Zee. Corey: Yeah, thanks Marty! I'm looking forward to future seasons out there. Good Luck with the show!

Work by Marty Machado

Fecal Face Dot Gallery will also be showing photos by Corey Arnold in February.

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