Earlier this month, Brady Allred, 14, a grandson from Everett, Wash., came for a two-week stay with my wife and I in Sterling, his first trip to Alaska. Hoping to make his stay memorable, I booked a halibut trip for us out of Homer.
When I booked the charter, I didn’t know that Brady had been fishing only once, and that he’d never caught a fish. I’d booked the trip with Daniel Donich, one of the most experienced charter-boat captains in the Homer fleet, so I had no doubt he could put us on fish. But I wondered if Brady would stick with it long enough to catch a fish, and if he’d enjoy doing the trip.
In past years, I’ve taken some grandkids fishing, so I had reason to wonder.
Granddaughter Shana and I launched my 14-foot skiff from the beach at Deep Creek to fish for halibut a mile or so from shore. By the time the boat was anchored, she was seasick. All she could do was hang her head over the side of the boat and moan.
When I was young, I used to get seasick, so I knew what she was feeling. I also knew that seasickness isn’t fatal. We’d gone to a lot of trouble to get where we were, so I wasn’t eager to leave without fishing. Besides, I reasoned, it was important for her have something to remember. Something other than misery and vomiting. Determined, I baited our hooks with chunks of herring, stuck the rods into rod holders and waited for a bite.
Despite Shana’s helplessness — or maybe because of it — she ended up with a halibut jerking on her line. I handed her the rod, and told her to hang on and crank.
“I can’t pull it in, Grandpa,” she said.
“You can do it,” I said. “Just crank the reel.”
After more coercion from me and more whining from her, she finally winched in a halibut. It was small, maybe a 10-pounder, but it was a halibut. Mission accomplished, I hoisted anchor, and we headed for the beach.
Eric, a grandson who visited several years ago, was treated to a cruise on Prince William Sound. Like Shana, he became seasick, but he was able to rise to the occasion and catch several fish.
I played it safe with granddaughter, Katrina, by taking her sockeye fishing on the Kenai River. There were few fish in the river, so she didn’t catch one, but I finally hooked and beached one. That’s when the fun started.
I was Field Notes Editor for Alaska magazine at the time, and I always needed photos of people with fish. I thought this cute 14-year-old holding a sockeye and smiling for the camera would make a good one, and that she’d like having her photo in the magazine, but try as I might, I couldn’t get her to touch that fish. Finally, after much coaxing and wheedling, she reluctantly held up the fish with a string that I’d run through its gills. The photo did end up in the magazine. The image was small, but that was a good thing. Katrina’s pained expression barely showed.
As it turned out, my worries about Brady were for naught. The water was calm, and no one got sea sick. On the way out, we saw orcas and sea otters. Captain Donich put us on fish, and we caught our limits of halibut. Not once did Brady whine, nor did he waste good fishing time by sending Tweets to friends or playing games on his device. The day after our trip, we ate some of Brady’s first fish, the first halibut he’d ever eaten.
One thing I’ve noticed about taking grandkids fishing is that they’ll seldom come right out and say that they’re having a good time. You have to watch for clues. If they’re hanging over the side of the boat, “chumming,” that’s a clue that they’d rather be doing something else. On the other hand, if they focus on trying to catch a fish, they’re into it.
Regardless of whether they like or dislike a trip, they’ll remind you of it for years.
“Hey, Grandpa. Remember that time when we went on Prince William Sound in your little boat and you almost drowned us?”
Ah, sweet memories.
Les Palmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.