Can a Nebraskan-turned-Alaskan smokejumper and pipeline worker learn to be a commercial fisherman? Charlie Wilber, a Southeast fisherman of over 30 years, is proof that yes, it is possible.
Hailing from Omaha, Charlie moved to Alaska after college. In 1979, ready for something new, he decided to try his hand at fishing, and went to work with a friend in Haines who was running a small hand troll operation. Charlie liked the work and lifestyle so much that after one short season, he jumped all in, buying a boat and permit (and using all of his savings and then some). Charlie purchased a 44’ wooden troller, the F/V Dorothy H II, in Astoria, OR. After working on the boat and hearing some of its colorful history from locals (a hull builder named Milkshake and a 15-year period of neglect behind a shed), Charlie picked Sitka as an end point on a map.
The trip proved challenging (with a USCG tow and a separate incident involving a large rock), and Charlie says he learned a lot from the most unlikely sources along the way. Eventually arriving in Sitka in one piece, Charlie dedicated himself to learning how to fish through hard work and asking questions. He kept at it over the years, supplementing as needed with odd jobs, including many winters working for Samson Tug & Barge.
These days, Charlie is happy to work the March—September fishing seasons as a troller and longliner, with time off in the winter to spend with his wife, Mollie, and their daughters, Adrienne and Berett. He trolls his current boat, the F/V Alexa K, and works as the permit holder/deckhand with longline skipper Jason Gjertsen aboard the F/V Ocean Cape. He fishes a range of favorite spots from Cross Sound to Cape Omaney, and works hard to deliver top-condition fish, through quick cleaning and icing, and fast deliveries to the Seafood Producers Cooperative. Charlie has been a member of the co-op since he began fishing, and is a strong proponent of the co-op model.
Charlie is also a long time member of ALFA, believing that for fishermen, political involvement and support is as necessary as putting hooks in the water. He has seen many changes in the fisheries over the years, but knows that his personal dedication to fishing is paying off for both his family and consumers of his product. After 34 years, Charlie still enjoys fishing, the community, and the beauty of Southeast Alaska. It seems that Charlie’s initial intention to "try fishing and see how it went” turned out to be a good move. And how does working as a fisherman compare to smokejumping wildland fires? Charlie describes fishing as "chasing wild animals in the water”— just as exciting.