Friday, December 30, 2011

Reflection: 2011

10 things  from salmon season 2011 that I’m grateful for:

10.  Coming back alive with all my bits, digits and toes.
9.   All my friends coming back alive with all their bits, digits and toes. (Though Bill had a close call when his boat, Gulkana, sunk.  Good thing he made it!)
8.   Getting paid a decent price for salmon.
7.  Having the health and strength to be able to fish.
6.  All the wonderful folks who I’ve met fishing over the years.
5.  The fact that we had heat this year on the boat.
4. The marketability and sustainability of the Alaska wild salmon runs.
3. That folks are still fighting to put a stop to Pebble Mine.
2. That I caught a 50 pound king.
1. That it is over! (until next season, anyhow).

Happy New Year Everyone!

Friday, December 23, 2011

First time for everything, part II

Skirting the rail along my boat, I shuffle along the cabin to my stern.   I look down into the water and sure as shit I can see net piled all around my props.  Another stream of swear words comes out of my mouth, which seems like the next appropriate action.  I skirt the rail again and back inside.  I get back on the radio and report to Lenny that I just ran over my net and I need to know what to do now.

He tells me I need to raise the lower unit so I can reach the props with my net wrench and preform surgery.  A net wrench is a technical term for a knife used to cut net. 

So I turn the key and am jolted by the sound of my loathsome low oil pressure alarm.  I push the toggle switch and hit the button to raise my lower unit.  I hear the motor whine, but I don’t hear the higher pitch sound it makes when it’s raised all the way up.  I figure enough time has passed for my unit to have gone up, as this gauge doesn’t really work either.

I tell Lenny I’ll call him in a few and head for the stern with my knife in hand.  Easing my way down to my swim step, which is a fiberglass platform mounted on the stern just above the water line for times like these, I quickly realize just how small it actually is.  It’s about a foot and half wide and about two feet long but the angle of the stern makes balancing on impossible.  I need one hand to hold on or I’ll fall into the drink.  So, with my net wrench one hand and my rail in the other, I’m ready to operate and remove my net from my egg beaters.  Egg beaters is another name for duel props or duel propellers.  One prop is big and one is small and they spin in different directions.   It’s more efficient that having just one big prop, but the down side is when you run over your net, the net gets tangled in the action.  As a result, the engine cuts itself.  

But as I get down there I notice my unit did not go up.  It’s sticking straight down about 2 ½ feet and I can’t reach it.  The lower unit is on a hydraulic hinge so as it rises, it comes up at an angle.  This allows a guy (or in this case, a gal) to access the props, to change them or cut web away from them and what not.

I know there is a release lever down there somewhere as I used it when my boat was on land.  I launch my hand into the cold clear water.  It’s not long before it stings. I feel around for it and find it but I can’t release the lever and raise my unit manually while holding on with one hand.  Besides once I get it up, how will it stay up?  I need some line.  I head back to the deck and grab a piece of line.  I come back to the stern and tie one end to the railing mounted on the stern.  I then thread the line around the lower unit and reach my hand into the cold ocean again searching for the lever.  I realize this plan is only going to work in theory.  I need a third hand, which I don’t have since I fish along. Deflated, I go back inside and call Lenny again for an update and advice.  He says he just pick up his gear then will head over.

I take a moment to survey my surroundings.  I’m in a good spot, really.  No much current, no one around me.  I’m out far enough away from the beach and rocks.  No eminent danger.  The weather is even nice.  All in all, a good spot to be dead in the water.

Lenny pulls up next to me.  I tie up a few buoys up and throw him a line.  He secures his boat to mine, comes aboard, gives me a kiss, then heads for the cabin.  He tries to raise the lower unit.  Again, we hear the motor going, but nothing happens.  I tell him my plan to use the release lever, lift the unit manually and tie it up.  We both scamper to the stern, one on each swim step.  This time he offers to plunge his hand into the cold water to reach the lever.  I let him.  As he does, I lift the unit.  So far so good.  I grab the line but we are unable to tie it up.  We just can’t get the right angle on it.   It’s too heavy for just one person to hold it while the other cuts the net away.  Now what?
I tell him I’ll grab my snorkel and mask,  hop in my survival suit  dive down and cut it out that way.

The look he shot me was priceless,  as if to say “there is no way in hell I’m going to sit here and let you get in that icy cold water.   “You are not jumping into the water” he says with clear disapproval of my idea.   “Lenny, it will be fine. I’ll get in my survival suit and you will be right here if anything happens”.  “No” he sighed. “I’ll go.”  

He hops back to his boat and emerges a few moments later in his bright orange “Gumby” suit, otherwise known as a survival suit.  A survival suit is a type of waterproof dry suit that helps protects from hypothermia in cold water.  They typically have built in feet, a hood, and built in gloves.  These gloves normally have two fingers and a thumb making dexterity impossible, hence the name “Gumby suit”.

I try not to chuckle as Lenny comes aboard in this bright orange suit, as he is doing me a huge favor.  I offer him my mask and snorkel, but it’s too small, he has to do without.

He scurries to the stern and lowers himself down into the water.  “Is it cold” I ask, feeling a bit guilty that he is getting in the water instead of me.  “What do you think?” was his reply.  I hand him the knife.  He takes a breath and dives under.  His feet pop up and fill with the air in the suit.  He comes up with a gasp.   His face is already a reddish purple from the cold, and he was only under about 20 seconds.  He shoots me a look as he takes another deep breath and dives back down.  After a few dives he ends up with a handful of web.  I help him aboard and I try the engine.  It fires up.  I don’t know if he got all the web clear, but he got enough. 
I thank him profusely.  He stoically says “Ah-huh, you’ll get my bill”.  I smile and thank him again. “Thank you, Lenny” I draw out in my cutest sing song voice. 

He hops back aboard his boat, unties and pulls away.  I get back to business.  I suit up in my rain gear and carefully, giving it a wider berth than necessary, I run to the end of my net and pick up. 

I wish I could say I learned my lesson that day and never ran over again but I ran it over three more times that season.  Having used my one and only get out of jail free card, I had to jump in the water myself to cut it out. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

The first time I ran over my net, Part I.

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……… 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.

I’m out.  

Friday, December 9, 2011

How I got into commercial fishing

Craig, a teacher from England who I recently met sailing, asked me if I came from a fishing family.  When I replied no, his eyes lit up.  He said one of his most rewarding experiences of teaching was to encourage each gender into nontraditional jobs.  For example, he encouraged boys to go into dancing or nursing, if that’s what they were in to, and girls into trucking or engineering and the like.

His next question for me was how did I end up bucking the gender trend and get into commercial fishing.  I get this question a lot.  Sometimes folks beat around the bush and hint at it, other’s, like Craig, just come right out and ask. 

Truth is, I really don’t know.  I think maybe its not just one thing but a few different reasons.  I mean I’ve always liked the outdoors.  I prefer being outside in any weather to most things indoors.  That carried over to my work preferences.  Plus, I’m a wiggle worm.  I’ve always had a hard time just sitting still.  Still do.   I’m wiggling around right now while writing this.  Just those two factors alone eliminate a lot of job options. 

Working Monday through Friday, 9-5 has never appealed to me, though I couldn’t tell you why.  Just like I couldn’t tell you why I like the color blue, I just do. 

But, I would have to say the biggest reason is that I never really cared for “gender roles”.   I get where they came from.  The men would go out and hunt and the women would cook the meat.  But really, just because that’s the way it was done over 100 years ago doesn’t mean that is the way it still should be done.  As a result, I guess hearing that something in a “man’s job” kind of sets off something in me that wants to rebel against that.  (Did I mention that I’ve always been a bit rebellious, too?  And maybe a tad bit stubborn?  Just a tad.)

So I’ve worked on farms and in factories, and canneries, and hardware stores, and as a pizza delivery person, and on the oil fields on the North Slope of Alaska, and as a horse and carriage driver, a truck loader at UPS and, of course, on commercial fishing boats. 

I like fishing because I like being outside, I like seasonal work, working whatever hours.  I like the responsibility of making my own decisions and not having a boss looking over my shoulder all the time.  I like that everyday is different, despite the repetitive nature of the work.  I like getting out of town and being on the water for extended periods of time. And, I like the risk.

Not just the risk of loosing life or limb, but the gamble of it all.  Its what draws people to Vegas.  One roll of the dice and could make it big.  

But lets take a look at what I do when I’m not fishing.  I like to backpack and have done a 150 mile trip across the Talkeetna range twice.  I travel alone to third world countries like Viet Nam, Sumatra, and Laos, to name a few.  I was 24 when I got my pilot’s license.  I like to scuba dive and snowboard.   I’ve driven cross-country several times and a few of those times, alone.  I like to ice climb.   I’ve sailed through the Panama Cannel.  I once swam to a foreign country, illegally and naked.  But, that is a story for another time.   Are you starting to see a pattern here? 

So, when someone asks me how I got into fishing, I think I did it for the same reason a banker is a banker or a chef is a chef, or a pilot is a pilot, or a dancer is a dancer.  People just tend to gravitate to what they enjoy doing or what they are comfortable with doing.  It just so happens that my gravitational pull tends to take me to a little further parameters than others.  

Friday, December 2, 2011

PickFish holiday recipes

As the holidays are quickly approaching, and at least one has already passed, I figured it was time to share some of my favorite fish recipes. Some of these are great party treats and some are for when the party is over. None are super elaborate, I ain't no Martha Stewart of fish.

My all time favorite is fast, easy, and delicious.

Smoked salmon grilled cheese.
Grilled cheese sandwich made with cheddar add 1-2 table spoons of smoked salmon, preferably Copper River Smoked Salmon. :) Add Dijon mustard.
Add a small amount of habanero cheese or dip in habanero mustard. This will be a bit spicy.

Smoked salmon dip

1 jar of smoked salmon
1-2 packages of cream cheese (or Neufchâtel cheese which I prefer because it is softer and has less fat)
Mix together
Add either dill and lemon juice or, for a nice holiday flare, red onions and capers.
Serve with crackers
Note: If you put cream cheese in a double boiler until soft it is easier to mix. You can also add a bit of milk or 1/2 & 1/2 for a creamier consistency.

Smoked salmon and pesto pasta.
Make your favorite pesto pasta (either by scratch or package) mix with 1 jar smoked salmon, toasted pine nuts and parmesan cheese. (I told you these are not elaborate.)

Crab Eggs Benny
Again, your favorite eggs benedict recipe. Replace the Canadian bacon with Alaskan King crab (or I guess any crab would do in a pinch, even surimi, which is made with Alaskan pollock.)

Smoked salmon quiche
Yes, real men do eat quiche. Especially smoked salmon quiche.
Take your quiche recipe. Add red peppers, sliced how ever you want (this is not one of those blogs that tells you how to slice your peppers, I'm sure however you do it is just fine), cheddar cheese, green onion and smoked salmon, about half the jar. Bake. Enjoy. (Evidently though, I'm not beyond telling you to enjoy your dish.)

Blackened salmon
First, pour yourself your favorite adult beverage.

Crack a window! Seriously, I'm not kidding here.

Take any WILD Alaskan salmon, fresh or frozen. This is a great recipe for frozen salmon that has been in the freezer a little too long. It cover up that freezer taste. Now, I'm not talking about nasty white freezer burn, give that stuff to your dogs. But, if it's been in the freezer a while and has slight freezer taste, this will mask it.

Slice salmon filet across the grain into 1/2 inch pieces.

Turn oven fan on high. Again, I'm not kidding here.

Put a CAST IRON pan (seriously, it has to be cast iron. I ruined a stainless steel pan once with this recipe.) on High heat until white hot.

Take a plate and cover with Chef Paul Prudhommes Blackened Redfish Magic Seasoning. Dip the salmon slices in seasoning until covered on both sides.

Carefully, without burning your fingers (tongs may be the way to go here or a fork) cook salmon in white hot pan for about 20 or 30 seconds on each side. Salmon should be medium rare in center. It will keep cooking once you take it out of the pan. If you want your salmon overcooked, cook longer.

This dish is good with turmeric rice and some green veggies like asparagus or broccoli.

And finally, I saved the best for last. Now, this recipe I have to give credit to the Marsh sisters. It is taken out of their book "Fishes and Dishes" a cookbook story book about their crabbing and fishing in the Bering Sea. It is a great book and I recommend it.

Smoked salmon deviled eggs
Make your favorite deviled eggs recipe. While you are mixing the yokes up, add 1-2 teaspoons of Wasabi mayonnaise and 1 tablespoon smoked salmon. Finish as usual. Yum yum in the tum tums. The best part about this recipe is not only is it super tasty but you don't have to share too much of your smoked salmon! A little goes a long way.

And there you have it. If you have any recipes of your own to share feel free to add them in the comments.

Until next week, eat fish!

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. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Lucky Fishing Hat

I heard once that baseball players don’t change their socks during a series as its bad luck. Fishermen are the same way with their hats.  At first, like any greenhorn, I didn’t know this.  I would simply fish in any old hat until someone pointed out to me that I had a lot of audacity just changing hats like that and tempting fate.  Clearly, I needed a fishing hat.  You had to put some thought into the hat that would be the only hat on your head the next few months so obviously, not any old hat would do.
I racked my brain, almost to the point of losing sleep, in order of selecting the perfect hat.  Okay, actually it wasn’t that hard of a choice.  I only had one hat with me.  It was a blue ball cap that had “24/7/365” on the front.  Being that that is pretty much every fisherman’s work schedule, I thought it was fitting. Problem solved, I had the perfect fishing hat.  Until.

That next spring when I returned to Alaska at the start of the season, I searched high and low but to no avail.  I had lost my fishing hat.  Back to square one.  I think I had a few interim hats until I again, found the perfect fishing hat. 
Granted, finding the perfect hat is probably not such a feat for other fisherman as it is for me. But, I have a pin head and most hats are too big, thus narrowing the selection of cool hats down to only a few.  However, fishermen have perseverance and I continued my search as if my life depended on it.  And who knows, maybe it did. 
Alas, I knew it as soon as I laid my eyes on it.  Ah, yes, I still remember it today.  I walked into Lee’s Clothing store in Petersburg and it was love at first sight.  There was my fishing hat and it was just right.  It was a tannish beige color with three brown letters on the front.  Very elegant.  And like the other hat, it made you stop and think for a second.  Only one step better, with this hat you had to be in the know to know that those letters meant. The three letters were “PSG”, the indentifying city code for Petersburg, not only used at the airport but also used on the Alaska Marine Highway, the ferry system.  

I was in heaven, in love with my new hat for the reason that, one, it fit, and two, local pride.  Fishermen take pride in where they hail from.  It can almost be like a school rivalry, Petersburg, Wrangell, Sitka, Ketchikan.  And I was labeled PSG.
I wore my colors proudly for years.  I would tuck my pony tail though the back of my hat, anchoring it onto my head.  If the wind caught the bill and blew it off, as happened often enough, my hair would catch it long enough for me to put it back on my head. 
Later, when I expanded my fishing routine and started going up to Bristol Bay, Kodiak and Cordova, the hat became a bit of an icebreaker.  “What is PSG?” they would ask.  “Petersburg” I’d reply with pride.  It’s a status quo, really. Then the other fishermen would know that I have fished other fisheries and I was not a greenhorn, a status that I felt I had to constantly reestablish.  But, that’s a story in itself and one for another time. 
Anyway, I must have had that old hat for about 5 years or so, well until I had my own boat and it had served me well.  I was bummed when I lost it I never thought I would see it again.  Until one day, a year later, I was fishing around under the seat of my car when lo and behold.  There it was!  Tune in next week and I’ll tell you about the luck that hat brought me.
Until then, eat fish!