Friday, June 29, 2007
A Tale From the Great White North…
Skate videos always gave me songs to hear in my head as I attempted to put together my own runs. Certain songs still always appear in my mind visually along with the exact trick that was landed at that musical moment. Gangstarr and Mike Carroll are prime culprits.
Journey’s Greatest Hits is the hottest CD in my life right now. Driving back from a canoe trip in northern Wisconsin a few weeks ago found the CD played straight through from Tomahawk through Stevens Point. It’s perfect driving back to civilization music (We listened to Neil Young on the way up – perfect entering the woods music). That Sunday night “Don’t Stop Believing” became canonical again via The Sopranos. In Homer, Alaska a week later I found myself at 6:30 am waiting to get on my Halibut charter. Your limit is 2 per day and we went out for 2.5 hours into the ocean for this ugly as sin (yet delicious) fish – 6 of us in total. I guess we started fishing around 10 am and our captain told us we were on a shelf of kelp that had big fish on it, and that we wouldn’t get any hits for about 30 minutes, until our bait and chum bag fully announced our presence. About 20 minutes later one guy caught a 25 lb fish but threw it back. It was too early to limit out on small fish. Then right at that 30 minute mark another guy caught a 60 lber. Beautiful fish. The sun was shining and it was about 55 degrees out, but with the wind on the ocean sea it was a little chilly. I kept a jacket on during this and still had a shiver but the crew had simple sweatshirts on – locals. With the nice weather and our settling in on our fishing grounds, it was time for music, so decreed the captain. The Journey CD came on and the captain mumbled, “They always hit for Journey.” No shit. Soon I hooked my 73lb fish, fought it for almost 10 minutes to songs unknown in the middle of the CD. It wiggled and pulled on the drag, but ultimately the experience descended into pulling up a sewer cap from 45 feet. So much fun and truly an exhausting experience. As the day begun I fought the discomfort from a long ride in the ocean coupled with the smell and noise of a diesel engine. Along with the chill from the wind I was eager to see my mood change, and given that it took about an hour for me to catch a fish I was nervous about being skunked to say the least. After I saw that gaffed 73lb fish flopping around the rear of the boat I cannot explain how quickly my mood changed. The day then relaxed for me. If I caught another fish and capped my limit that would be great, but if not then 73lbs is a very nice fish, considering they bone out around 60%. After landing my halibut the captain told me personally that I had caught a nice fish. This was nice to hear since I, along with everyone on the boat, had very little sense of what a good day or fish would be. He probably tells that to all the shmucks that catch something. I was feeling pretty good about my catch (still am) but I was soon trumped. A guy from California caught a 100+ lb fish which he had the pleasure of fighting to “Don’t Stop Believing.” Lucky guy. Over the next few hours 2 more 100+ lb fish made it into the boat. When the fishing slowed down at that spot we headed over to deeper water where within 30 minutes we all limited out on 25lb fish. Much smaller that pulling up a 73lb sewer cap, but challenging in its own way due to that fact that those 25lbers live at 125 feet. So we headed back on our 3 hour ride with everyone in the boat catching their limit while also getting some much larger fish than usual. My fish was just a warm up for the boat in the end, but I sent 48 lbs of meat home so no complaints. Maybe next time I’ll get two 100 lbers.
It’s the easiest fishing I’ve ever done. You bait the circular hook, place a 2lb sinker a foot above it, and then lower the whole operation to the bottom of the sea, feel the plunk, and then reel in 2 feet of line. Place it in the rod holder and wait for the hit. Easy. Also, with circular hooks you don’t need to set the hooks. You just look around at the scenery, take some pictures, drink a coke, and then grab your pole when it bends in half. Easy. One of the first things we were told on the boat was that when the crew was dragging our fish into the boat we needed to grab the 2lb sinker and hold it for them. “That damn thing easily turns into a wrecking ball when we’re wrestling a fish.” He then pointed at his forehead, “It sucks. Trust me.”
Sadly, they did not shoot my fish. When the first 100lber got close enough to be seen the captain asked us to stand back while his crewman held the gaff nearby. “This could get active.” I saw the revolver in his hand and watched him silently load one bullet as his eyes stayed on the fish, still 10 feet out from the boat. As the fish was gaffed it was steadied next to the boat and then a single shot went right through its head. Even with that when it was hoisted into the boat it flopped around like a madman and the crewman that grew up in Montana straddled and kneeled over it like a bull and wrestled it to a momentary calm where he gave it a few wacks with a sizeable, rapidly produced varnished stick and settled it once and for all. My fish did not warrant the head shot and I do feel cheated by this. The other guys got to take home their shell casing.
I have no clue whether we had a typical day or a great day. It felt great to me, especially counting the weather (Sunny and over 50 in Homer is a gift). I heard the captain mention to another captain back at the dock when we returned to Homer that our day was epic. I’ll take that as fact rather than tourist cheerleading.
Epic indeed. Journey will always mean fishing in Alaska to me and the great strength it takes to pull up big fish from 45+ feet below.