June 23, 2022

10 Best Gear Items for Working in Bristol Bay, Alaska

Seasoned Bristol Bay workers share their gear recommendations for working in Alaska

Bristol Bay, Alaska, is known for its pristine freshwater spawning streams that attract the world’s largest source of sockeye salmon. This is part of the reason why the transportation hub of Bristol Bay, Dillingham, supports 230 commercial fishing licenses. There is more to Bristol Bay than just commercial fishing and salmon, though!

The Bay is home to 7,500 people, many of whom are Alaska Natives. Sport anglers also travel to the Bay from all around the world. There are local outfitters and wilderness lodges that take visitors on sport fishing, boating, flightseeing, and wildlife viewing trips. From commercial fishing, to seafood processing, to wildlife parks, the Bay supports an abundance of workers. 

While there are many activities to do in the Bristol Bay area, we’ve compiled these 10 items to help those planning to work within the sockeye salmon commercial fishing industry make their packing list for a trip to Alaska.  The list below contains answers from fishermen, marine store sales representatives and other Bristol Bay commercial salmon fishing workers alike!

Top 10 gear items for working in the commercial salmon fishing industry in Bristol Bay, Alaska

#1 - Xtratuf Boots

For those living in wetter climates or working in tougher environments, it's entirely possible Xtratufs are already a staple in your wardrobe. When you are deciding what to wear in Alaska, Xtratufs are a given. Being that they are one of the most trusted outdoor rain or work boots known to date, they are an essential for fishermen, brewers and construction workers alike. Made of neoprene for flexibility and complete water protection as well as having soles that make slipping on aluminum boat decks next to impossible, Xtratufs are something you don't want to arrive without in Bristol Bay! 

Where to Buy: Xtratuf boots, regular toe | Seattle Marine (seamar.com)

Elma and her friend wearing a headband and Xtratufs while sitting back to back on the back of a four-wheeler.

#2 - Quarter Zip Pullover Wet Gear Jacket

If you ever picture fishermen in Alaska, you picture them wearing this. One of the most important places to start when compiling your commercial fishing gear is this essential base layer, as it’s the main layer that sits between you and the millions of salmon scales and slime you will undoubtedly encounter throughout the season.

“I love the pull over because there’s less opportunity for anything to get caught on the web, and you can get it with cuffed sleeves which is awesome for picking.” - Elma, 10 seasons in the Bay

Where to Buy: Guy Cotten Chinook Pullover, Fishing Pullover , Regular Zip Up: Grundens Balder 320 Zip Jacket 

#3 - Sunscreen

Sunscreen is a necessity on almost any trip, but especially with those glistening waters in the Bay that allow for the sun to hit you from all angles. “Protecting yourself from skin damage is extremely important while fishing” - Ryan, 12 seasons in the Bay 

Along with sunscreen, Ryan also recommends Chapstick, because “between windburn and sunburn, it is a need.”

Our Recommendation: Aveeno Protect + Hydrate Sunscreen Lotion SPF 60

Bottle of Aveeno Protect and Hydrate sunscreen.

#4 - Waterproof Baseball Cap or Bucket Hat

After 8 years of fishing in the Bay, Christian’s opinion on sun protection remains the same: ‘no matter how much sunscreen you apply, your ears get terribly burnt.’ So, he recommends a bucket hat. As for the baseball cap, Christian suggests bringing one of those along too so “you can itch and wipe your face without using your slimy gloves.”

Whether it is a bucket hat, baseball cap, or both, make sure you bring a hat with you to the Bay!

Our Recommendations: Outdoor Research Seattle Rain Cap , Sunday Afternoons Ultra Storm Bucket Hat

Christian wearing his blue bucket hat and polarized sunglasses while he is holding a fish on the boat.

#5 - Polarized Sunglasses

For those days when the sun just keeps on shining, it is a good idea to have some sunglasses handy. You don’t necessarily have to break the bank for a good pair, either. Here’s a tip from setnetter Elma: “After losing two very expensive pairs in one season, I’ve committed to bringing two relatively cheap pairs of sunglasses. The polarization is good enough to spot fish - if you know where to look.” 

Our Recommendation: Sunski Kiva Polarized Sunglasses

#6 - Glove Liners

Looking for gear for salmon fishing? Glove liners are a must.  Glove liners are thin gloves that are usually worn inside other gloves. They add an extra layer of protection and help keep your hands warm.

“They help protect your hands from getting torn up” - Christian, 8 seasons in the Bay

Our Recommendation: Ansell Polypropylene Glove Liners | Gemplers

Christian wearing a day glow sweatshirt and blue glove liners while on the boat.

#7 - Hand Moisturizer

You can use the glove liners and other preventative methods, but when you inevitably do some damage to your hands, moisturizer can be a huge help. Along with moisturizer, Christian recommends topical analgesic to help soothe sore hands and wrists. 

Our Recommendations: Gorilla Glue Okeeffes Working Hands 3.4 Oz creme | Seattle Marine (seamar.com) , Deck Hands - Ultra Moisturizing Hand Cream - Nova Scotia Fisherman

Green tin of O'Keefe's Working Hands Cream in the packaging.

#8 - Headband, Gaiter, or Bandana

A headband and a bandana are especially helpful for those working with salmon all day long, whether it be on a boat or in a cannery.

"The headband keeps scales and slime out of my hair - very helpful when showers or saunas are rare, and the bandita keeps the wet and cold rain off my chin and neck.” - Elma, 10 seasons in the Bay

Our Recommendations: Nordic Headbands (skida.com) , Grundens Solstrale Neck Gaiter , Bandanas (skida.com)

Elma wearing coveralls, a green knit hat, and Skida brand bandana while riding on a four wheeler with her friend in Bristol Bay.

#9 - Fleece Hoodie & Sweats

You'll need comfortable pants that keep you warm and dry on your trip. Fleece sweats are the way to go! Fleece is especially helpful for maintaining warmth without trapping in moisture. This is why people in other industries, like hikers, opt for fleece sweats. They are helpful to those experiencing the wild weather of Bristol Bay for the same reason!

“They are wind proof and snow proof” - Renee, 3 seasons in the Bay

Where to Buy: Buy Cotton Takue Fleece Hoodie , Wind Pro Polar Fleece Pants by Guy Cotten

Renee wearing fleece sweats and a fleece hoodie on the deck of a fishing boat.

#10 - Fleece Vest

Staying warm is important in the Bay, but you also need to make sure you are able to move. Elma recommends a fleece vest. Elma sticks to one base layer since sleeves can get wet and get in the way while she’s working. “So long as my torso is warm, and I can swap to dry gloves for a night tide, I’m golden.”

Where to Buy: Guy Cotten Hardface fleece vest | Seattle Marine (seamar.com)

Need to complete your commercial fishing or cannery gear setup?

Grundens has you covered with their water resistant attire. Along with boots, a complete Grundens rain gear setup is a vital piece of equipment for those working in Bristol Bay.  You may have your rain jacket and footwear, but don’t forget your bibs for all the salmon slime!

Where to BuyGrundens Hauler Jacket Grundens Herkules 16 Commercial Fishing Bib Pants

Get Ready to Write your Packing List 

Though the daily life of a commercial fisherman may look very different from someone who works at one of the marine supply stores or at a seafood processor, it is clear there is a certain attire that will help one feel and look prepared for their first trip up to Bristol Bay. We hope these 10 items make your first Alaska fishing trip packing list!

Want to see commercial fishing gear fishermen in action? Stay tuned for updates from the Ava Jane this year as the crew takes on this year's record-breaking season in Bristol Bay, Alaska - subscribe to our YouTube channel, Kurian Fisheries!

Author Credit:  Autumn Chassie