Before walking the deck of the Bonzai, I had a very different idea of what commercial fishing was and was not. Yet at two hours past an Alaskan summer midnight, I found myself throwing down some nasty pole dancing moves around our net hook to the rasta beats of Buffalo Soldier while wild sockeye salmon wriggled and splashed into our gillnet. I was past the point of caring and had reached an exhaustion-induced, apathetic goofiness that only dance moves can cure. This was not what I expected.
I initially felt the pull up to Alaska because I had waaaay underestimated this business I had taken on: an outdoor startup, bootstrap style. I had chosen it for the high barriers of entry, low initial investment, and great margins. Yeah, no, definitely not. I chose it for the experience and the continual learning and self-growth it requires. But I figured I could design a line of packs, hire a team to help, and we’d be off to the races. Ain’t that just quaint. I pretty quickly realized I was going to need a lot more capital than the coins in my piggy bank to get this thing off the ground.
When I first talked to Justin Libby, a friend of my sisters and captain of the Bonzai, he planted the hook perfectly. “You’ll make a percentage of the total catch but don’t worry about that. If you want to come, come for the experience. The money is just a bonus.” I bit and I’ve made my annual trip up to Bristol Bay for four seasons now. The rest is history.
A part of me wishes I could say I had made this whole Free Range project possible with great communication skills, or some clever intellect, and had raised a bunch of money from a loaded Bay area investor. A part of me wishes that were so. Instead, I’ll have to attribute it to optimism, persistence and pole dancing. And the other part of me is pretty ok with that.