Lying flat on the deck of the boat staring up at the clear night sky, I had my first chance in weeks to relax and take in the beautiful scenery around me. Floating just a few yards off the Alaskan coastline, I could hear the waves spilling over rocks and sliding along the hull of our boat. I was still in my rain gear, covered in scales and slime, but completely at peace.   

Working on a fishing boat up in Bristol Bay is one of those experiences that makes you think about your place in the world. Days mingle one into the next, blending challenges and celebrations as the outside world fades away. I started out as some guy just joining for a season, but I left as a part of a community and an ecosystem that remains at the heart of Alaskan life.   

Tough days, harsh weather, and lack of sleep turned strangers into brothers. In the process I learned that sometimes the worst days often make the best stories. I remember laughing as hard as I ever have after a big haul on our way back to offload our fish. My crewmate and I were trying to eat the PB&J sandwiches that we had made the night before – our only meal that day – while the waves crashed over the hull of our boat, completely soaking our food.   

Fishing isn’t all laughs, of course. During the peak season, fish flood into the Bay and captains fight for space on the line; the season’s economic outcome can change in a moment. The trust that the crew builds over a season is what holds us all together during the chaos of fishing the line. With boats colliding and the net flying past me at 30 miles per hour, it’s trusting that the guy running the break has my back that keeps me sane.   

I’ve been a part of many different types of teams before and consider all of them incredibly valuable to my development as a leader and a teammate. But the intensity and volatility of Bay fishing gave me a new understanding of what teamwork achieves. There’s something beautiful and haunting about an entire crew working flawlessly to offload thousands of pounds of fish while storm spray repeatedly blinds you and the deck beneath you threatens to knock you over at any minute. Fully trusting everyone around me to stay alert and protect each other in those moments has helped show me just how critical trust is to the success of a team.   

Turning tough times into good stories is what fishing in Bristol Bay is all about. It is crucial to keep a positive attitude on the boat, because at the end of the day you’re not the only one out there. Everyone around you feeds on the energy you bring to the table, and there is no difference between the newest member of the crew and the 10-year veteran when it comes to the impact that they can make by supporting their fellow crewmates.