Fishtival 2017: ‘One for the books’

Jul 24, 2017

Annual post-fishing party in Naknek full of great music, parades, and history as community, fleet toast another successful Bristol Bay season.

The parade featured over a dozen entries. Pictured here is the restored sailboat that came back to Bristol Bay this summer.
Credit Jesse Rabinowitz

The 35th Fishtival in the Bristol Bay Borough brought arts and culture to the end of a strong salmon run this past weekend.

Festivities kicked off with an opening ceremony and live music at local Naknek bars. The music was part of the Bear Grass Festival, which is also a part of Fishtival.

Sets included the Eternal Cowboys, Emma Hill, Matt Hopper and the Roman Candles, the Goat Rodeo and White Trash Warrior Princess.

Friday night included a pool tournament at Fisherman’s Bar.
Credit Caitlin Tan

Melissa Mancuso, organizer of Bear Grass and bartender at Red Dog, said she has never seen such a wild Fishtival. She estimates 400 people came through the Red Dog this weekend.

“The walls were moving. People were stomping so loud. It was an awesome jamming dance party,” she said. “I think all these guys after a long fishing season got to jam out and have the best time.”

A group called Bonzai performed music and dance at the school Friday. The group said it is religious based, but more a celebration of one family. The set included biblical songs, but also country music, interpretive dance and Latin music.

On Saturday dozens of people lined the Naknek streets to watch the parade. Floats included a restored sailboat, fire truck and lots of candy.

“I got a couple fist-fulls. My name is Lewis Singley and I came out for the parade, bazaar and the candy,” he said.

He said his favorite candy loot was the Kit-Kats.

Later on there was a 5k color run. Five different powder colors were tossed on runners throughout the race. One color thrower said there is a specific technique.

“A lot. Get a lot in your cup and get down close and try to hit the biggest part of their body.” 

The weekend also included a bazaar with food, jewelry, clothing and info on local companies.

On Sunday there was one last music get-together featuring all the Bear Grass bands, as well as an art competition.

Several bands performed at the Naknek Native Village Council Sunday. Pictured here is Matt Hopper and the Roman Candles.
Credit Caitlin Tan

The weekend finished off with a presentation of historic Bristol Bay photos and a closing ceremony. Dozens of raffle prizes were given out, but the audience waited for the biggest prize of all, a brand new Nissan truck. It is a fundraiser for youth scholarships, so raising enough money is priority number one.

“I’m really sorry to say there were not enough tickets sold again,” Kitty Wilson, raffle prize announcer, said. “We just need to sell a couple hundred dollars more. But someone will win the truck it’s just not going to be tonight.”

It turns out it is $5,000 that still needs to be raised. The winner will be announced October 10.

So for now, Fishtival 2017 is over and so is the heat of the salmon run.

The Bristol Bay Borough will shrink from a summer population of 10,000 to about 1,000 in the next couple weeks, but the cycle will start over again next year in 2018.

“Happy Fishtival number 35,” Wilson said

Reach the author at, or calling the station at 907-842-5281.

The color run winner was Jason Olsen, a Katmai National Park employee.
Credit Jesse Rabinowitz

The Bonzai group played an eclectic set of music, as well as performing interpretive dance.
Credit Jesse Rabinowitz