The Gift

Posted on March 13, 2012

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Paul Chukan photographed by Jordan Lewis

When I first started fishing at age 10 my great-grandpa, Paul Chukan, was still part of our family operation. It was not until my second or third season that I was given the opportunity to help pick fish. Up until that point I was only responsible for making sure that the fish made it up the beach where they would be picked up for delivery. We didn’t fish out of a skiff at the time because I was too small to be effective out on the water, my Grandpa’s eyes were too weak to be out in the boat safely, and my Mom knew she would not be able to keep him off of the water if we had a skiff ready for picking. During the peak we were not able to pick through the gear quickly enough before the water would recede, so we would untie the gear from the anchor line and float it up as high on the beach as we were able. One time my Grandpa and I were left to pick a piece of gear after it had been floated up the beach and the rest of our crew went on down to pick our other site.

We had a lot of fish to get out of the gear, but my young and awkward hands kept working through it as my Grandpa and I worked side by side. I was happy to be doing something other than hauling and happy to be with my Grandpa. Although he could not see the fish very well with his old eyes, his hands knew how to get through the gear. The longer we picked, the less clumsy my hands felt. As I felt my skill growing, next to me I could feel my Grandpa’s strength waning and I could not help but have mixed feelings. Those feelings quickly subsided when I sensed my Great Grandpa’s pride. It was as if I could feel him passing a torch of sorts. My Grandpa had a generosity of spirit that made him a truly Great Grandfather.

Visit this link to see a picture of Paul Chukan in his skiff with his nephew Alec Alvarez. They are holding up prized King Salmon outside the mouth of the Naknek River in Bristol Bay in front of Paul’s old site that is still fished by his grandchildren to this day.

Mel

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