Marcia Dale at Watzituya has been providing nets and moral support to Bristol Bay fishermen for over 30 years.
Watzituya net shop is many things… including a quiet respite for one weary fisherman, who was napping on bean bags owner Marcia Dale had brought out.
“I’ll tell ya, I drop ’em down and I try to take a nap sometimes. Even 20 minutes helps, after a million hours of hanging.”
Dale hung nets for about 100 fishermen this summer. And she rarely relents from her work.
“I can get in a really good rhythm… It’s almost meditating.”
Watzituya was started over 30 years ago in the back of a friend’s net locker. Dale carved out windows to let in the sun and a view of boats on the Naknek River. Eventually the Leader Creek cannery was built up around her.
Now, when fishermen go to Watzituya, they know to bring their own web… and their manners.
“Let’s see, I can’t use any bad words on here… If they need too much babysitting, if they whine, if they’re not grateful, if they’re disrespectful, or bring us crappy lines. Because I can’t hang a line that I think is gonna come apart in the water, and sometimes they don’t wanna spend money on a good line…. And they have to have a sense of humor, or they’re out.”
As for the good ones, Dale says they’ve become like her extended family.
“We just all help each other out, and when I hang a net for them, it’s like I’m fishing it myself… so I take pride in my work.”
Dale used to be a salmon fisherman in Seattle’s Puget Sound. When she got to Bristol Bay she switched to net-hanging full-time…
“Because I can’t ever sit still. And I get a lot of good ideas and I gotta jump up and do ’em and when you’re stuck on a 4-by-4 or 6-by-6 space, you don’t have a lot of room to play.”
And play she does. Dale’s snarky signs and sculptures adorn the ceiling and walls of Watzituya. Also taking up space are dozens of individualized mugs that customers grab when they sit down to talk, about —
“Everything! Every kinda woe or problem… the saddest one is of course boat breakdowns… or fish prices, when they just had a lot of boat repairs and they’re trying to balance it out and figure out if they can afford it. And just the fear of not being able to pay your bills.. and the fact that you just worked really really really hard, and you’re at the mercy of the salmon, you’re sleep deprived, and not making as much money as you hoped.”
For Dale, a little counseling is just part of her job as a net hanger. She doesn’t mind making time to listen to customers. They’re minutes well-spent in Bristol Bay.
“I love it here. It’s a whole ‘nother world, whole ‘nother set of friends and family… and you don’t have to comb your hair.”
Quaffed or unquaffed, Marcia Dale will be back next April to tie knots and keep fishermen afloat.