Q / Cody Liska
A / Taiga Bell
P / Amy Nye
“He’s a 3rd generation fisherman. Super rad dude. And fuckin’ rips on a surfboard. Hollow barrels guy.” That’s what my brother Jake told me about his buddy, this dreadlocked fisherman in Juneau. Taiga, pronounced tahy-guh, like the forest. I heard he shaved his dreads once when he was like 14. They grew back and he’s had them ever since. Now he’s got a head of hair like a Komondor. When he’s out fishing, he usually just stuffs them into a hat or pulls his hood up to avoid getting nasty shit in his locks.
"I don't usually get much [fish blood] on my dreads," Taiga says. "When I'm halibut fishing, maybe. If a dread falls out and dips in some halibut slime it can get pretty fuckin' funky."
How does it feel to be a white guy with dreads?
It’s fine… They’re pretty long. Like 1/5 above my ass. My hair just grows this way and I like it. I kind of like standing out, being a little different and getting to see what people’s reactions are.
You were born and raised in Alaska?
I was, yea. Born in Fairbanks. We went from Fairbanks in the winter down to Elfin Cove, which is 80 miles west of Juneau out on the coast. My parents moved there when I was about a month old. I’ve spent all 30 of my 32 summers out there.
And your name, Taiga…
It’s a forest on the edge of the tundra. The Boreal Forest. Our house in Fairbanks was in the Taiga. I think my parents heard it in a mountaineering class or something and liked the name.
When did you start fishing?
When I was a little kid we didn’t have a house, we lived on our fishing boat. I grew up on that boat and by the time I was 5-years-old I was getting paid like a penny a fish to move them from one tote to the other. I learned how to clean fish around that same time. Just helping out because I was on the boat.
You have your own boat now?
This will be my 7th season with my own boat, the Lory. It’s 41-feet and draws about 6-feet under water.
Where do you fish?
I go out to a little fishing town that’s sort of on the outside coast, 80 miles west of Juneau. We’ll fuel up and get food there. Then I’ll be out [on the ocean], anchoring up in different bays for about 2 weeks at a time before I come back to town. We usually sell our fish every few days.
I Power Troll. So, picture this boat that’s going along, 4 or 5 lines going straight down into the water. As you put them down, you clip on as many hooks as you want to use on that line. We usually target the Kings for the first part of the season. When that closes, we go for the Silvers or the Cohos.
Have you noticed a decline in the amount of Kings you pull in?
When I was a little kid it wasn’t uncommon to catch a 50 lb. King and now it is. So, if anything, there used to be a greater amount of larger Kings. As far as a decline in the total number, not really. It fluctuates. Like, last year was one of the best years ever for Cohos. I’m not sure what to attribute that to. Good management, I think. Maybe because some of the hatcheries as well.
Who do you sell to?
There are a number of buyers. Some of them have these big tender boats that come out to where we’re anchored for the night. Every three days we’re selling them fresh fish that we have on ice. We sell them the fish, they give us a check, and they give us more ice so that we can pack more fish. Our fish go directly to a fresh market. They’re not going to be frozen.
What’s the gnarliest part about commercial fishing?
The weather can be pretty gnarly. The remoteness of the areas you fish in also. Sometimes the weather can come up overnight or the weatherman can be a little bit wrong and you’re stuck someplace where you’re going to have to buck into it or deal with some big seas and high winds hitting your boat from one angle or another before you can get out of the storm.
The hours can be pretty gnarly as well. We have these King Salmon openers, for example, and it’s only open for a certain number of days. All the boats are competing for the same quota. So, if I know there’s going to be a 10 day opener, then for those 10 days I’ll be fishing for 20 hours a day and sleeping 4 hours a day. When I wake up, I start the engine and then it’s all about getting and keeping the gear in the water. The sleep deprivation from that can be pretty gnarly.