The Kenai Peninsula comes alive during summer. Tourists, fishermen, seasonal workers and year-round residents share highways and harbors from Homer to Seward. ADN's Tegan Hanlon and Marc Lester recently spent a week meeting some of the people who make the Peninsula unique. Here are some of their stories.
HOMER — Willie Nelson (yes, that's his real name) remembers how hard it was to find his first job on a commercial fishing boat in Alaska about six years ago.
He went to Kodiak on a whim to look for work. He walked the docks. Someone suggested he go to a bar at night, identify the deckhands who seemed like troublemakers and then find their skippers the next morning, presenting himself as a better hire.
He never took that advice, he said. He described the entire job hunt as "degrading."
"There's so many little strategies," he said.
Eventually, he landed work as a deckhand. It wasn't great, he said. The dynamics on a boat have to work. That means people get along and the skipper is fair. You're stuck together at sea for months.
"I knew the grass was greener and I knew it was greener than on that boat," Nelson said. "So I came back and found another job on a different boat."
The seasonality of the job fit well with his lifestyle. When Nelson isn't netting salmon, he's ripping down steep mountains and flipping off ledges as a sponsored big-mountain skier. He splits his time between Utah and Montana.
This is Nelson's seventh season as a deckhand in Alaska. He's 32. He now works on a 52-foot seiner.
"My skipper is awesome. He's super cool. He takes care of us. And that's why I keep coming back to fish with him," he said.
And the fishing money isn't too bad either. But it varies wildly. He said he's earned as much as $40,000 in one summer and as little as $10,000. This year, he hopes to earn somewhere in the middle of the two extremes, depending on how many salmon they catch.
Hours later, Nelson departed onto the calm waters of Kachemak Bay, headed for Prince William Sound.