A month into my first fishing season on my own boat, a soda can rolled under the driver’s seat of my trusty 1982 Subaru station wagon with zebra skin seat covers. As I reached down there to grab it, I discovered two things. First, there was a leak in my car and the carpet was all wet. Second, my lucky fishing hat! It had gotten only slightly moldy during its year-long hiatus hiding out in my car. I didn’t care. I threw it on my head and went fishing.
Later that week, when I was pulling into the harbor, Jay walked to the end of his dock and tossed me a can of beer saying “Nice job!” Steering from my outside helm made it easy to reached up and catch it with one hand as I headed for my slip to tie up. I had just returned from “the other side,” otherwise known as Main Bay in Prince William Sound where I was fishing for reds. It can get pretty crowded over there and this opener was no different. You have to duke it out, so to speak, to get a set. Typically, I shy away from that kind of fishing, but I was broke and just as hungry as the next guy. I had a boat payment to make.
The morning of the opener, I got up early, made myself a cup of coffee while I let my Volvo 200 HP diesel engine warm up. I got warmed up pulling my 35 pound Danforth anchor up by hand. Stowing it, I putted over to my spot. I liked to fish off to the left of the mouth of Main Bay just past the creek and between the rock. It was far enough away from the line and the ram-fest that happens on the line. Plus, its deep there, maybe 30 fathoms or so and I could bow up right to the beach, which was sheer rock. I drifted around on my spot, happy that there weren’t too many boats around. Until.
Ten minutes before opener, ADF&G (Alaska Department of Fish and Game) announced on the radio that contrary to popular belief, the AGZ, otherwise known as the Geek Zone, was actually closed and gave the coordinates for the actual fishing line, which indicates the legal fishing area. About 30 boats came shot out of there to line up and fish the new line. Turns out, I was on the new line! This isn’t where I wanted to be, but it was too late to go find another spot. Soon, I had boats all around me. Oh well, I thought, I’ll just have to fight for my slice of the pie. I set my net.
In these situations, the faster you can set your net out, the better off you are. Mine just would not get off the real. My net kept backlashing as I struggled to make a set. On top of that, my hydraulic switch out on deck was broken. So every time it backlashed, I’d have to stop, run inside the cabin, turn on my hydro’s, run back outside, reel in my net a little, clear the backlash, run back inside, shut off my hydro’s then back out and continue to set my net. It back lashed three times. By the time I had half my net out, everyone else around me had already set.
Weaving between the nets, I set real slow, putting my net where I could. I felt pretty stupid at this point as I laid out my net in a catawampus shape. Plus, I was mad at myself for not fixing that switch in the first place and for trying to set too fast. I was right in the middle of really of serious self loathing when I noise interrupted me. I looked up and saw that fish were hitting the net.
Looking around, I could see that no one else was getting hits like me. I ran my net. I could see about 50 fish in there, not too bad of a start. A few guys around me had picked up and left already. I ran my net again on the inside since the tide was ebbing when I noticed that the fish were actually coming from the other way. They were backing out. Just then, my buddy Ardie came over in his jet boat and said “I think they are coming the other way”. “Yeah, I know” I replied. “Hey, there’s a bunch” he said and revved up his jet boat scaring about 50 fish into my net. “Thanks!” I shouted as he ran back to his net.
I held my net for the rest of the ebb and into the flood. I ran it one more time, counting about 100 fish in there and decided it was time to pick up. When I started picking, I realized that I had way more fish than I initially thought. I picked some then pitched some into the fish hold. Pick and pitch, pick and pitch.
The flood tide picked up and was pushing me towards the line and I still had about half my net out. The bugs (fish cops) were running the line. I started to tow. But, I couldn’t really tow very well and pick at the same time because there were so many fish, the net was too tight to do both. So, I’d pick then tow, then pick, then tow. I picked even faster and stopped pitching them, just letting them fall on deck.
By now, I’m really sweating bullets. The fish cops just pinched the guy next to me for going over the line. Not only is that a $1200 dollar ticket but they take all your fish, too. So I’m towing and picking for all I’m worth. No way do I want to give these fish away, this is my biggest set yet!
I’m picking away and those cops are just running back and forth on the line making sure fishermen don’t go over. And I have fish all over my deck.
Finally, up comes the end of my net and my buoy. I must have been inches away from the line, but, I didn’t get pinched. I pitched the rest of my fish, what would fit anyhow, into the fish hold. The rest, I had to leave on deck.
Lucky for me there was a tender I could run to nearby and deliver my fish, all 850 of them, about 5000 lbs. Pretty good for one set and I owe it all to my lucky fishing hat.