Alaska life

Fish Camp Life – Koyukuk River

Cutting fish at fish camp along the Koyukuk River. L-R: Lydia, Gage, Eleanor, Chloe, Agnes, Vanessa and Jubilee. Photo by Tanya Yatlin
Cutting fish at fish camp along the Koyukuk River. L-R: Lydia, Gage, Eleanor, Chloe, Agnes, Vanessa and Jubilee. Photo by Tanya Yatlin

My parents, Al and Eleanor Yatlin, still go to fish camp each summer. They are getting older, but still make it work. I grew up in fish camp. I love hearing stories and pictures they share about camping and fishing and about life along the Koyukuk River. They spend time at camp along with their daughter, Tanya, and granddaughter, Lydia. Other relatives and friends camp out with them periodically.

Vanessa learned to cut fish. Her son, Brandon, worked hard when they cut fish in July. Now Brandon has fish for his dogs for the coming winter. Jubilee and Joseph learn little Denaakk’e (Koyukon Athabascan language).

Salmon by Eleanor Yatlin
Salmon by Eleanor Yatlin
Koyukuk River by Eleanor Yatlin
Koyukuk River by Eleanor Yatlin

My brother, Johnnie, describes them as: “This is what my parents do. Old school Indians living and surviving off the land.”

“It sure is big difference from town and camp. We use candles, cook a lot over camp fire. It’s quiet. We rest when we go back down to camp. There is too much rushing when we are in town. We hear cranes, geese, ducks and loons. We are always out on the river. It is exciting to see what we catch in our fishnet! Summer sure is going by fast!” – Eleanor Yatlin

Mom and dad live on an island that cut through in the 1990s. It gets a shallower each year and there is only one place to get through right now.  She says, “I close my eyes as we cruise through the narrow opening going to our camp! That is the only way to go through there. Otherwise, we’ll get stuck there. Too much excitement!!”

Highbush berries by Eleanor Yatlin
Highbush berries by Eleanor Yatlin

The camp has a high cut bank. My brother, Al Jr., measured it a few years ago. He estimated the bank to be about three stories high. My parents still climb it today. They have to carry fish, water and supplies up and down the bank. I hope to be as strong as them when I’m their age.

Mom makes jam and jelly out of berries she picks each year. She says, “I am glad we picked blue berries yesterday. It’s raining today. There are cranberries in the area too. You can see them all over. Anaa si baabaa’. We picked high-bush berries, made jam, picked some more and froze it.”

Mom picks blueberries near Huslia. Left-right: Eleanor Yatlin, Dorothy Yatlin, Vanessa Derendoff, Glady Derendoff and Josephine Derendoff. Photo by Al Yatlin, Sr.
Mom picks blueberries near Huslia. Left-right: Eleanor Yatlin, Dorothy Yatlin, Vanessa Derendoff, Glady Derendoff and Josephine Derendoff.
Photo by Al Yatlin, Sr.

We have fun, rain or shine. She counts the fish from a recent trip, two silvers and two sheefish.

Bear captured on my dad's trail cam. Photo by Al Yatlin, Sr.
Bear captured on my dad’s trail cam. Photo by Al Yatlin, Sr.

My dad has a trail cam, and sets it up at various places along the Koyukuk River. Here is a picture of a bear that he recently captured on the camera.

Eleanor Yatlin behind drift wood. Photo by Al Yatlin Sr.
Eleanor Yatlin behind drift wood. Photo by Al Yatlin Sr.

When they go to camp, they set the fish net. They look around along the drift wood for good poles to hang fish on. They also look for logs for their smokehouse. They work hard and enjoy camp life, whether it is warm or cooler. It is starting to get darker as the days get shorter. It is also getting a little cooler at night. My parents have a comfortable tent, and use a small stove to keep warm.

I’m proud of them for living maintaining a subsistence lifestyle and for raising their children camp. They are living ‘the life’! 

Al Yatlin Sr. driving his boat along the Koyukuk River. Photo by Tanya Yatlin
Al Yatlin Sr. driving his boat along the Koyukuk River. Photo by Tanya Yatlin

8 thoughts on “Fish Camp Life – Koyukuk River”

  1. I really like this too. I am still reading your archives. This is a wonderful way to record our History past and present.

  2. I love the photos and the way you lovingly describe your parents life. The peaceful way we live in the forest is perhaps the thing I long for with the most nostalgia, but find is the hardest to describe to people who have never experienced it. beautiful read Angie, as usual!

    1. Thank you Marjie! I think I’m learning how to tell the story as I go along. It can seem like a monumental task at times, but is not as difficult when you tell little parts of the story.

Leave a Reply to Pete Cancel reply