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Math teacher spends summers salmon fishing in Alaska's Bristol Bay
Schollenberg pic1
Ed Schollenberg prepares a math lesson in his Turlock High School classroom. - photo by KRISTINA HACKER / The Journal

Turlock's Ed Schollenberg has found the perfect balance between his two passions: teaching and fishing.

Nine months out of the year, Schollenberg can be found at Turlock High School teaching the finer points of algebra and geometry. He's been teaching math for 25 years and finds it very fulfilling.

"When students get it; when the light comes on and they get it — it makes it all worthwhile," Schollenberg said about teaching.

But after nine long months in the classroom trying to reach sometimes apathetic students, he is ready to go back his roots — commercial salmon fishing.

"I've been on a boat since I was nine, every single summer; it's kind of in my blood," Schollenberg said.

Fishing was a family business, but something that he continued even when he left Alaska to go to college in Portland, Ore.

"I bought my own fishing operation right out of high school, while I was going to college," he said.

Schollenberg continued to fish every summer in Prince William Sound after he left college and when he eventually found himself in Turlock.  Then, he got the chance to do something he's always wanted — buy a fishing license in Alaska's competitive Bristol Bay.

"Bristol Bay has the largest sockeye salmon run in the world," Schollenberg said.

When Schollenberg leaves the lectures and paperwork of teaching behind and flies up to Alaska for the six-week sockeye salmon run — mid-June to mid-July —he enters a completely different world.

The life of a commercial fisherman is all about hard, physical work and being in the right spot at the right time. Each day of the sockeye salmon season, 1,400 boats and their crews await the news from Alaska Fish and Game as to when fishing will be allowed for the next day. Biologists monitor the number of salmon in the run and open periods of fishing only when the numbers are high enough.

"When the season gets going you fish every single day; sometimes for three to four hours, sometimes for 24 hours at a time," Schollenberg said. "Basically, you eat, sleep and fish. The hardest are 10 hour periods (of fishing) and three hours off, and then eight hours of fishing and three hours off. You never really have enough time to recover."

This boom and bust schedule of work is set amidst a very competitive atmosphere.

"It's very crowded, very competitive," he said. "The first time you go and see how competitive it is, you don't believe it."

The reason for the competitive nature of commercial salmon fishing: big payoffs. A good run can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars for a day's work; or nothing at all.

"Like farming, it has its ups and downs; but unlike farming, you don't have a lot of control," Schollenberg said. "Sometimes it's a big run, sometimes a small one. You get what you get."

When things go right, however,  it makes all the hard work worth it.

"When you see the fish just hit it; it's invigorating," Schollenberg said.

Schollenberg is now passing on his Alaskan fishing tradition to his own son. For the past three years his son Jake, 16, has been one of the four-person crew aboard his gillnetting boat. He is also trying to expand his fishing company's reach. Schollenberg has been talking with local stores and restaurants about stocking his Alaskan salmon. For more information about Schollenberg's company, Wild Alaska Salmon, call 606-0057.