“I hate catching fish one at a time” says Fisher Poet Dave Densmore casually last winter at a dinner party following the Astoria’s Fisher Poets Gathering in Astoria, Oregon.
Dave (www.davedensmorefishermanpoet.com) is one of the highliners at the event and has been commercial fishing and performing at Fisher Poets for years. I was pretty intimidated by him, with his larger than life stories, poems, persona and eyebrows. Every time he would come up to me during the weekend to say “Nice poem” I would shoot off my quickest “Thanks” and scamper away. That is, until we bonded over our mutual hate of catching fish one at a time.
I had once, mistakenly, stated that I hated catching fish one at a time to a guy who evidently enjoyed sport fishing. He acted as if I had just defaced not only his very existence, but also everything he had ever held sacred, ever. I was vilified from that moment on. And, kind of started to feel bad about it. That is, until I heard Dave Densmore, commercial fisherman and fisher poet extraordinaire, make the same declaration. The moment I heard it, he was my new hero and best friend. I slapped him on the knee, much to both of our surprise and shouted “Thank you!” I gave him a quick rendition of my vilification which vanished at that very moment. I all but swooned and cooed as his words of detests for catching fish one at a time washed over me and I felt like I had been saved! Here, I thought it was just me.
I mean, I love being out on the water, be it a river, creek or the big open blue. I love being on a boat or skiff. The cold slimy bait isn’t my favorite, but I can handle that, (however wiggly worms are right out). Its just, I cast, I wait, then nothing. I reel it in. Cast, wait, nothing. Reel it in. I cast, wait, oh, this time I have a bobble, no, it was just the bottom. I reel it in. I cast, again. Wait, again. Nothing. I reel it in, again. Sigh. By now, I’m bored, cold, and half pissed off. I have plans for this fish I haven’t even caught yet. There is this scrumptious top secret recipe I’m privy to that I’m dying to try. I have all the ingredients, I have it all mapped out in my head, I can even taste it. I’ve told all my friends about this great dish I want to make, I’ve all but planned a party. But the main guest, the only guests that matters, is a no show.
So, I replenish my egg bait, cast again and wait. Oh, tug, tug. “Fish on!” I cry. That’s right bitches, stand aside.
I’ve been out here on the Eyak River casting away for about 15-20 minutes or so, wishing I had a gillnet. Granted, its fall time in Cordova and a nice fall day, overcast and in the low 50’s. We are in a nice 20-foot drift boat just outside of town. The scenery is quite pretty with the trees and mountains. The day is pleasant. There are tons of other drift boats around all full of sport-fishermen all drinking beer before noon. Folks are lined up on the beach in chest waders, standing in cold fast moving water for their chance at a fish. They look cold and miserable through my eyes. I feel sorry for them. Poor bastards. At least I’m in a boat. I shiver for them.
As I pull up on my rod with my left hand and start to reel it in with my right, I am reminded of all the aches and pains I’ve accrued this season commercial fishing. My left hand cramps up under with weight of the rod. My right elbow screams in protest as I reel in this fish. My left shoulder joins in on the protest, seemingly, just because it doesn’t want to be left out.
As the fish gets closer, our guide grabs the cutest little dip net that you ever did see. It's so small, it can be handled with one hand, unlike the 2 foot in diameter dip net we have on the gillnetter attached to a 10 foot pole.
With all his grace of a guide he swoops his cute net into the water and scoops up my catch. A Dolly. Varden. A little 2 pound Dolly, which, though I hear they are good eatin’, I’ve never actually met anyone who has sunk their teeth into this little trout type fish. I think great, now I have bigger bait to catch a coho with. But no, the guide says we don't do that and let it go. That doesn't even compute. All that waiting and pain just to let it go. Poor thing still had the hook in.
I go through these motions a good 20 or 30 more times. My wrists is killing me, my elbow is about to disown me. And in the matter of a few hours I manage to catch that exact same damn Dolly another seven times before it was finally time to go back to town and put me out of my misery.
For 3 hours on the water, I had nothing to show but my own pain, which wasn’t even visible. And the whole time I was thinking, ya know, if I had a gillnet, I’d be eating by now!