Friday, November 25, 2011

My Pacific Fishing Article

Its Arrived!  My article in Pacific Fishing!  Admittedly, it was a bit weird  writing an article about an event that I was a part of, but hopefully, I pulled it off OK.  You be the judge!

This past summer saw fisher poets emerge in gatherings form Kenai to Olympia.  We've got photos from most of them, with this in-depth report from Kenai by Jen Pickett

A summer of fishy verse

Kenai residents schooled up to hear poetry about and by those who make a living on the sea.  Pat Dixon, Rich King, Meezie Hermansen, Steve Schoonmaker, and myself all trolled up rhymes and rhetoric.  Toby Sullivan was on the bill but was stuck in Kodiak due to bad weather.

Pat emceed the event and also had an exhibition of his fisherman photography on display.  He stared us off with a poem entitiled 1980 Marine Radio Opepator, taking us all back to those days of listening in to one-sided conversations with beeps.  He says Fisher Poets "is a taste of the tapestry that we weave."

Steve busted out his guitar and sang about his reverence for the fish that fills his holds, his pockets, and his belly: "S.A.L.M.O.N...thanks again."

He started writing about what bothered him regarding the interactions between humans and nature until it evolved into writing about fishing.  One year, a friend encouraged him to go to Fisher Poets in Astoria.  Steve thought "Astoria?  That's the big rodeo" -but then figured, "What the hey?  I'll give it my eight seconds."

Rich started writing songs and poems to entertain the kids while fishing. "We just happen to have all this fodder, and Lord know plenty of funny things happen on a boat."  He now hears stories and says,"When it comes from an old fisherman you love and admire, you're pert near under pressure to write about it."

Meezie, who hasn't missed a summer of fishing since she could walk, says the tradition of fisher poets is "authentic becuase it's our lifestyle."  She writes because "you get slapped with enough salt water, it has to drip out."

Here's a sample from Meezie:

Whether angry or nice,
like a horrible vice,
the sea calls to those who hear,
For the ocean's roll
is part of soul
of those with a nautical ear.

Me? I like it because of the comaraderie.  Fisher Poets is like coming home. Everyone is so encouraging and supportive, even when my voice cracks on stage while reciting a poem I wrote about that one time almost dying crossing the Kokenhenik Bar on the Copper River Flats.

And I thnk we all agree it's a lot like fishing, like I say in the Halibut Diaries: "I don't do it for the money, I do it, just for the halibut."

Thanks for tuning in!  If you enjoy my blog feel free to "follow" here, leave a comment "like" me on Facebook under Pick Fish or follow me on Twitter: @Pickfysh.

Until next time, eat fish!
I'm out.

Friday, November 18, 2011

PickFish Friday Poetry

This PickFish Friday I wanted to try something different.   A few readers have sent requests for poems that were read at Fisher Poets.  So, without further ado, here goes.  Enjoy!

Fishin’ Again

The seas were high

Yet there was I

Standing upon my boat

Whilst the waves were mean,

Gruff and green

I manage to stay afloat.

Though thoughts turn

Towards headin’ back to town

Where it is safe and warm.

But them salmon keep a runnin’!

And them bills keep a comin’!

So out my net does go.

These waves come a crashin’

O’er my bow

And slap me in my face

I taste the salt

Upon my lips

And ponder ‘bout my fate.

But “keep fishin!” says I!

It’s do or die

Its now, I must keep the faith

And low and behold

What the sea does unfold

A king as big as I!

So I set out again!

And fight with the wind

This struggle to keep alive.

The riggin’ is singin’

Yet in my head is a ringin’

“Something here just don’t jive.”

But if this day looks bleak

By the end of the week

This tide is sure to change.

I’ll stick n I’ll stay!

And I’ll make ‘er pay!

The hour be not too late.

So keep fishin’ I must!

Or this season, a bust!

Then I’d be the one

To pay.

Cuz’ the ocean, you see,

Is intertwined with me

As the same salt runs through our veins.

And I need her

As she needs me

And so I go out

Fishin’ again.

O’ Jelly

O’ Jelly O’ Jelly Oh Why?

Do you sting me in my eye?

O’ Jelly O’ Jelly Oh Why?

You make me want to cry

O’ Jelly O’ Jelly Oh Why?

Oh, the pain

O’ Jelly O’ Jelly Oh Why?

It comes again with the rain

O’ Jelly O’ Jelly Oh Why?

Are you in every mesh of my net?

O’ Jelly O’ Jelly Oh Why?

In every single set

O’ Jelly O’ Jelly Oh Why?

You come in by the tons

O’ Jelly O’ Jelly Oh Why?

You just ain’t no fun

O’ Jelly O’ Jelly Oh Why?

You are such a tease

O’ Jelly O’ Jelly Oh Why?

I can’t even sell you to the Japanese!

O’ Jelly O’ Jelly Oh Why?

You make me so blue!

O’ Jelly O’ Jelly Oh Why?

Oh what’s a gal to do?

O’ Jelly O’ Jelly Oh Why?

Do you torment me so?

O’ Jelly O’ Jelly Oh Why?

I guess I’ll

Never know

Halibut Diaries

March 16, 1995

Portage, Bay

Chatham Straights,

Southeast Alaska

Halibut trip #3

7000 lbs to catch

Aboard f/v Ptarmigan

Jack’s 42’ stern-picker

It’s the first year of IFQ’s

Individual Fishing Quota

The season opened yesterday

With gale force winds and snow.

Good luck to us.

Pinta Point

It’s evening and here we are anchored for the night

40 knot winds in Chatham Straights

We had to hang the bait over the side just so it would thaw

The box has been frozen since yesterday.

It’s hard choppin’ bait

But even harder choppin’ frozen bait

But, chopped is what the skipper wants

Me to hack up bait with this old rusty cleaver on that chunk of tree

We haul around for a choppin’ block

But that’s how Jack likes to do things

Old School

Probably because he’s old

He turns 80 this year

I hope he makes it

I don’t want to have to pack him in ice,

Like a halibut.

But that’s how he says he wants to go

Fighting a king salmon or big halibut

I don’t like this plan

Call me selfish, but I don’t want to

Have to fish with a dead guy

March 17

Saganoff Bay

St. Patricks Day.

Woke up to find a card on my bunk

Wishin’ me the luck of the Irish.

Wish I had a whiskey of the Irish!

Goldie, the cook left it for me.

She doesn’t go out on deck, but she’s sweet.

And makes Jack look like a spring chicken

She’s 89.

How’d I get on such a geriatric boat anyhow?

These people don’t look that old.

They should have to wear a sign or something.

We are waiting for the weather to break

Last night the wind sounded like a freight train

Comin’ through my bunk.

30 degrees and blowin’

And that wind just ain’t satisfied

Until it has cut me to the bone

It’s so damn cold.

We celebrate St Paddy’s day with our nightly

Slice of cheese and

Can of cold beer

‘Cept for Goldie

Her Happy Hour starts about 4

She likes her gin.

March 18

Hogette Bay

We took a pounding running, but we made it

Jack says he’s been fishin’ here since 1941

But he’s never fished halibut this early.

Now I know why.

Everything on deck was frozen this morning.

Oh, What a day, what a day.

What a miserable day.

Blowin’ n Snowin’ n fishin’

It just don’t mix

My fingers are numb

My hands are cold

My cheeks are cold

Gusts of wind

Up to 40 knots

It keeps blowing rain in my ear!

Man alive,

what a mess, what a mess

We try hauling the gear from this direction, then that.

It’s all no good

Fighting the gear,

Which is tight as a drum and

Threatening to snap in two

Before we can get it aboard

All that misery for 9 halibut and 3 lousy red snapper

The weather man says tomorrow will be better

I hope he’s right.

March 19

Day 4 and only 700 lbs of halibut aboard

Is this purgatory?

I’m sick of baiting hooks

March 20

Another 17 hour day

And I’m tired.

Worked from noon til 11pm

No break, no dinner

Too tired to by the time we quite eat anyhow

Caught some fish, though

March 21

Patterson Bay

The first day of spring!

Though not here

Everything on deck was frozen


Even my oil skins

I had to beat them

Just to climb into them

After that

We couldn’t even set the gear because of

The 1 inch prison all around us


We wait.

Finally! we catch 2000 lbs

It was a big day and

Brings our total to

3500 lbs of halibut on board

The weather came down today but is supposed to pick back up tomorrow.

Forecast is for 35 knot winds from the north

That’s too sloppy to run home so we might as well stay and fish.

Says the skipper

March 22

Day 7

I can’t wait to take a shower

It’s getting harder to keep the dread locks at bay

And I think even my breath smells like halibut now.

I thought today was Wednesday,

But the weather report says Thursday.

Down to tidbits for breakfast, now

Laughable, isn’t it?

That’s the new sayin’ on board

Found a Tums on the floor today

Went to pick it up but Jack said to leave it there.

He said “I like to keep some in reserve.

You never know, you might end up on the floor

Needing one.”

There’s 2 inches of new snow on deck

And they’re callin’ for Small Craft advisory in

Chatham Straight

6 foot seas and 25 knot winds.

Listening to country music hits from the ‘70’s

Is better than the Frank Sinatra we were listening to.

Our 1 hour run turned into 4

But we finally made it back to Gut Bay

And it was frozen.

Still trying to hide from the weather

But am told this is a good bay for northerly’s and westerly’s

But a south east will blow you right out of here.

Lucky for us its blowin’ from the north

March 23

Day 8

Finally, finally, finally

We’ve beat our way back across Chatham Straights

Then smacked ourselves through Frederic Sound,

But made it into


Sold our halibut for $2.40/ 2.25

With a 25% profit share.

We’ve lost money so far on this, but keep tryin’

Just for the halibut.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Watch that tow line!

“Watch that tow line!” shouted Bill, trying to stop me from running across the deck. But, it was too late, I was already in motion.
Bill used to crab and as a result, has perfect teeth. He got them by leaning over the rail at the wrong time, just as a crab pot appeared, smacking him in the face and shattering all his teeth. Now they are all flawless and false.

We were seining herring up in Togiak, Alaska back in the late ‘90’s. I had a few seasons fishing under my belt, but was still pretty green when it came to seining, unlike Bill who had been crewing for about 20 odd years. Bill was stacking corks and I was stacking leads, the top and the bottom of the seine net, as the net came in. When it went out, it was my job to make sure the net didn’t get hung up.

The opener was only 10 minutes long, which is an amazingly short time to set a seine net. Hell, even coffee breaks are longer than that. Anyway, we were setting the net at 16 knots, full fart. I could see that it was going to get hung up going over the stern so I darted across the deck to throw the end over. I took two steps when I heard Bill, who was standing right beside me, scream “NO!! Watch that tow line!” But it was too late.

So instead of watching the tow line, I watch my feet sail up above my eyes as I sailed across the deck, perfectly horizontal, six feet in the air. I thought for sure I was going over. All I could think is how cold that water is and how badly that will sting like pins and needles all over. Then I thought of how fast we are going and wondered if I would get run over by the boat. Or sucked under. Or caught up in the net. Or run over by someone else’s boat. Togiak herring is like a demolition derby on water, not a good place to take a swim.

Before I really knew what even happened, I landed flat on my back about eight feet from where I started and about a foot away from the rail. Turns out, on my dash to clear the net, I stepped on the tow line at the exact same moment it went taut, catapulting myself across the deck. Still stunned when Bill asked me if I was Okay, I nodded that I was. “What the hell were you thinking?” was his second question. “The net was going to get hung up” I said, as meek as a mouse and he grabbed my hand, bringing me to my feet. “Forget the net” he snorted. “But, skipper said….” “Forget the skipper, watch out for yourself first. You know how close you just came to getting slashed in two? Or launched overboard?”

I didn’t and there was no time to reflect. I was no more back on my feet when the skiff came ‘round with the other end of the net, it was time to stack leads.

Later, when we were with our partner boat, who saw the whole thing. We weren’t even tied up to them yet when I heard “Holy shit! I thought for sure you were going in the drink!” “Are you OK?” “What happened?” “Are you hurt?” They all asked at the same time. “I’m fine, I’m fine” I assured them. It took seeing all those guys concerned about me to realize that maybe I did get pretty close to getting hurt. But, I tell you what, that was good advice and from that day on, I always kept one eye on the tow line.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Lucky Fishing Hat, part II

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.