Fishermen of Bristol Bay: Wil Claussen
Growing up landlocked in Colorado, I never spent much time near the ocean, let alone imagined I would end up as a commercial fisherman in Bristol Bay. I recently returned from my second season, and I can’t think of many things in my life I feel this connected to. Hard work and long days, beautiful scenery, catching people’s dinner, and being a part of a unique and competitive community, there are so many layers to being a fisherman and these are only a few.
I got into this industry after moving to Washington on a whim and becoming fascinated with the boats while visiting Fisherman’s Terminal in Seattle. The rigging, shiny hulls and intricate nets were captivating, I needed to find a way onto a boat and eventually I did. A close friend mentioned to her dad that I was interested in working in Bristol Bay which ultimately led to my start as a deckhand on the F/V Anny Joy. Cold-water surfing, heli-boarding, commercial fishing, they all require one thing in common – an ability to hone your focus under pressure, and perform. That fleeting moment is something that has become a slight addiction for me and I knew I could find it on a fishing boat.
I’ll never forget my first season in Bristol Bay. Our captain decided that we would be fishing the Nushagak river, and another seasoned crewmember turned to me and said “The Nush will turn you from a boy into a man, I hope you’re ready.” Really helping my already rattled and overwhelmed confidence, right? It was brutal to say the least. The rain never seemed to stop and I nearly lost it trying to hold on to the few hours of sleep I could get during peak season, while bouncing so hard in rough seas, I thought I was going to hit the bunk above me. This was the moment where I drew the internal question of, “what am I doing here?” A moment that, looking back now, was a turning point for me, but not in the way you would think.
It took a return trip to Seattle to realize why I was REALLY in Bristol Bay, one that I could have never known until now. Despite the intense working conditions and lack of sleep that pushed me so far out of my comfort zone, it was the bigger picture that I immediately missed within a week of being home. The hard work is just part of it, and is something each Bristol Bay fisherman must embrace, but there are so many other things that bring so many people together for the same reason. Comparing your catch over the radio with other boats, sharing meals and getting through hard times with your crew bring you close enough to feel like brothers. We take a stand against Pebble Mine and sustainably harvest this incredible resource that has nourished communities for many years. Becoming an Alaskan Fisherman quickly went from a paycheck to a form of merit. I couldn’t be more proud of what I do and that is why I continue to return each summer.
Throughout my time in Bristol Bay I have fished alongside Steve Kurian, Captain of the F/V Ava Jane and owner of Pride of Bristol Bay. At the conclusion of the season, we were on our way to the Naknek airport in an old Ford truck, sharing our passion for fishing and talking about our plans after we get home. He mentioned to me that he was seeking someone to fill a position at POBB, and after hearing what he had to say, I quickly jumped on the opportunity. Fast forward a few months, here I am sharing with you my journey of becoming a fisherman and business developer for Pride of Bristol Bay.
Commercial fishing has now come full circle, not only am I catching the fish, but helping to build a sustainable, community-driven operation that ships the highest quality sockeye directly to your door. It is an incredibly rewarding experience for me and I am thrilled to be able to share my story here as well as my passion and love of salmon and Bristol Bay.