I ran over my net the first time on a nice sunny blue bird day. There was not a puff of wind or a cloud in the sky. The visibility was perfect, the water crystal clear.
I was gillnetting for salmon on my 28’ bowpicker, the King-N-I, over in Main Bay in the Prince William Sound. Its truly beautiful there with blue water enveloped green old growth evergreen trees and glaciers. Marine mammals play in the water below while Bald eagles play in the sky above. Fisherman look down into the water at their nets and see the whole thing almost all 30 feet, all the way to the leadline at the bottom. Fisherman can also see each gorgeous shiny salmon that is caught in the net. It looks like a glowing flash of silver suspended in the water. Its one of the reasons I love fishing in the Sound. I love to run my net and look down at all the pretty salmon.
I like to count them as I go. Gillnetters always count salmon as they get caught in the net. Each set, one, two, three………..one hundred and forty five. One hundred and forty……..where was I? One hundred and sixty? That sounds good. One hundred and sixty one……See, we don’t mean to exaggerate every catch, it just happens.
Anyhow, I like to count the salmon I catch. Then I run inside and grab my calculator. I take the average weight of the species of salmon I’m catching (reds = 6lbs, chums = 8 lbs, silvers = 10-12 lbs, etc) Today, I’m catching reds. So I take the six pound average, multiply by how many I caught and multiply that number by the price I am getting. The price varies throughout the season and sometimes, isn’t even known. It can go up during a fishing period. Sometimes it isn’t even announced until well into the period. But, I make a guess. I like the instant gratification of knowing how much money I’m making.
I was running my net and looking at all the pretty fish in it. All the sudden, my boat stopped. Engine died. “What the hell!?” I wondered aloud. I ran inside and heaved up my engine hatch to look at my engine. I think funny that I do this because even if something is broken, everything usually looks fine in the engine room. But, it’s my reaction non the less. I try to start my boat, nothing. My gauges work, so I know it’s not the alternator, but, at this point, it's all I know. I’m dead in the water. And, of course, I start drifting over my gear.
I call Lenny on the radio. “My boat just stopped” I explain. “It won’t start”. He starts with a list of questions “Do you have fuel?” “I should, let me check”, I retort. At this time I have to open my drawer and scrounge around for my fuel key. I find it and flip up my rug. Dried fish scales scatter like confetti. I insert the brass key, greenish with age and give it a twist. I then grab my yard stick I use as a fuel gauge since mine doesn’t work. It has old magic marker marks marking various stages of fuel. Top on is full, but I never fill it up. Why push around all that diesel? Then there are two or three that measure empty. I pull out the homemade dipstick and the wet diesel line is about 5 inches above empty, which means I don’t know how much fuel I have but I know I have enough. So a task that should take .2 seconds takes me several minutes. And after all that, I still don’t know exactly how much fuel I have, I just know I have enough. Nevertheless, that’s not the issue. I have fuel.
Lenny calls me back on the radio to ask what I was doing when the engine stopped. I reply “I was running my net and it just stopped. There are a few fish in there, too.” He then asks the next reasonable question “Did you run your net over?” “NO! Of course not! I was a good five feet away from the cork line.” “Well………..your net bellows out under the water depending on current and if it’s touching bottom or not. It sounds like you ran over your net.” My buddy suggests. “Shit” I retort to myself, no need to push the mike and announce that on the radio, I’m content just swear to myself.
That’s all the time we have for today, folks. Tune in next week for the rest of the story.