Friday, May 20, 2011

A real rip-snorter.........Revised Edition

Well, it's Friday and we have 2 openers under our belts for the week.  The first opener was on Monday, May 16th.  The weather was decent and sunny, though there was a bit of a lump out there from a westerly swell.  It was a low water opener, with a minus tide.  So, big tides and lots of water running through there.  Rumors were the river was low and colder than normal and the ocean was warmer than normal, but no one knows what that means.  Anyhow, we started inside and targeted kings.  We got a handful, including one 50 pounder!  My job was to scoop it up with the dip net and bring it aboard.  With the high price we get at the beginning of the season, that makes that king about a $300 fish!

Me & and $300 50 lb King Salmon

  After that, we jumped outside of the barrier islands and fished in the open ocean. 

The Copper River Delta
I "borrowed" this image online, but it shows the fishing grounds well.  The red word says "Cordova".  We commute out through the light blue water.  If you look close into the grey, kind of where the blue letters are, you can see barrier islands.  In between those islands are big swells and breakers caused by the shallowness of the water.  Fishing "inside" means inside those islands and fishing "outside" means out in the open ocean.

It has been along time since everyone had such a good first opener.  There were fish around, decent weather and good price.  I'm not exactly sure what the price ended up being, but I heard $6.50 for kings and $4.00 for reds.

It wasn't all roses, though.  One boat had a leaky through hull fitting and was taking on water in the bow.  Boats were standing by and the Coast Guard Helicopter came out and dropped him a high volume pump so he could keep up with the amount of water he was taking on.  We was able to limp back to town.  Out plight was much less severe.  Coming in, I got us stuck.  We were following boats and was off my track line on the GPS.  It was a new area for me and I didn't know it.  I looked away for one second to ask where to go and we ran out of water.  It's all sand bottom here, so it's not a huge deal, well, it can be if you get stuck in the wrong spot. But it was low water and the tide was coming in, so all was OK.  Still, Skipper got pissed and yelled.  I got pissed and yelled back, like we were this old married couple or something.  I think it has something to do with spending more hours together than the length of the boat.  48 hours on a 32 foot boat changes you. We could see two other boats high and dry.  That made me feel better.  And on the way in, I saw about another 10 boats dry. 

Then there was the second opener........There were still fish around but the price dropped in half, about $2.25 for reds.  It blew and there were big tides, making it pretty sloppy out there.   We anchored in Grass Island, about in the middle of the river.  That wind just came screaming down the river all night. We hopped out the bar around 5 AM and things didn't look too bad.  The forecast was calling for Gale Warnings, SE 40 and rain.  The forecasts almost always calls for rain.  Anyway, we made a set when it opened at 7 AM and it had gotten kinda lumpy out there.  As one guy said "A little bit more and it could really get ornery out here."   We ran west a bit and was nestled, more or less, in between the Grass bar and the Pete Dahl bar were its wasn't too bad.  But it was blowing about 35 knots and a 10 foot swell.  It wasn't nice. Guys were running east to set back out and you could see half their boats at a time.  One guy put it well, "You need some kind of bullet proof operation to get though this."  A lot of guys just staying inside or on anchor.  A valid choice!

Just as we were setting the net, I looked up and about 200 feet away was a hump back whale breaching all the way out of the water!  A little bit of beauty amongst all the snotty weather. Though not if it went through our net.  By the time we picked up our net, we were sailing 2 knots with the current and it was blowing about 40-45.  That's a real hair parter.  One guy was calling for help on the radio.  He had lost his hydraulics and couldn't pick up his gear. His boat had power, just no way to get the net in.  If it's nice out, you can pull it in by hand.  But it wasn't nice out.  I never did hear how it panned out for him, but I'm sure he's fine.

We picked up just before wrapping the Pete Dahl can, a metal marker buoy that likes to collect nets.   We went in as did the rest of the group.  Too bad, too there were fish out there.  But, when it's blowing like that, one little thing goes wrong, and things go down hill fast.  Plus the tide was about to change and then the current was going to be running against the wind, making it a real rip-snorter.  That's a technical term. 

Last night, there were several MAYDAY calls to the Coast Guard. One was from the Warhawk, but I heard he made it to Shag Rock later (which is almost to town) and was OK. I heard through the grape vine that he rolled it then it righted itself, still running.   Another boat, the Wanted (which is my old boat and the one you see in all my pictures) also made a MAYDAY call. Four souls on board, they had lost their anchor and were almost out of fuel.  Another boat, the Knee Deep sunk coming in the bar.  Sounds like the Coast Guard plucked them out of the water.  At 10:00 PM last night, the ambulance took three people to the hospital, where they prepped for hypothermia. Another guy, the Accelerator took a wave over the cabin and swamped the boat.  I guess the only thing that saved him was the fact that his fish hold was full of fish and it acted as a ballast. Otherwise, it could have launched him.  That happened to Skipper, ironically,  he used to own the Knee Deep.  He took a wave over the cabin and went ass over tea-kettle in Pete Dahl.  His anchor was tied on and when he flipped, his anchor set him in the breakers.  He was there several hours ducking under his swim step every time a wave came until the chopper came a scooped him out of the water.  That was in the late '70's. 

Those are all the details I know, but will update you if more trickle in.  But I got to hand it to the Coast Guard.  Those guys and gals sure earn their keep around here, risking their lives to save the lives of others.  I salute you! 


Unknown said...

This is wonderful!

Jen Pickett said...

Thanks Joy!

Roxanne Chan said...

Way to go, Jen! So amazing to hear about you!

Jen Pickett said...

Thanks Roxanne!