An Outdoor View: Harbor talk

Author’s note: This column first appeared in the Clarion in 1993. It’s as true today as ever. — LP

I don’t know how the guys who work on charter boats do it.

I don’t mean how they catch fish, or how they get by on so little sleep, or how they keep a wife or girlfriend. I mean how they answer all the questions, day after day after day, without getting surly.

I can’t do it even on my good days. When I’m in a boat harbor, I’m either getting ready to go fishing, or I’ve just returned. Either way, I have a lot to do, and I don’t have time to stand around answering questions. Why, then, are so many smiling tourist types drawn to me?

They get me coming.

“Been fishin’, huh?”

“Yup.”

“Do any good?”

“Pretty good.”

And they get me going.

“Goin’ fishin’, huh?”

“Yup.”

“What’cha goin’ out for?”

“Whatever’s bitin’.”

Why me? It’s not like I send out friendly signals. I have yet to receive a chamber of commerce award for being a tourist attraction.

“Hey, Martha! Come over here and look at these fish!”

“Oh, my goodness! Where’d you catch those?”

“In the ocean.”

In Seward, tourists are drawn to the fish-cleaning tables like halibut to herring. The gawkers stand so close, it’s a wonder one of them hasn’t been filleted.

“Gee, what’s that?”

“A lingcod.”

“Boy, they’re sure ugly.”

“Yup. Oops, sorry. Let that soak overnight, and it’ll probably wash out.”

Then there’s the ubiquitous video-taking pests. Not content with taking up space and asking questions, they want things properly composed.

“Could you open its mouth a little? Now smile.”

When you’re bone-tired and up to your gills in gurry, the last thing you need is “help.” Yet, there’s always someone at the cleaning tables who will voluntarily come up and show you a different way to fillet fish.

In Homer, a commercial fisherman on vacation from Massachusetts once showed me how to fillet fish fast. When he was finished, it took me longer to trim off the skin and bones he left than if I’d done the whole job myself.

That same day — there was a full moon — a guy asked if he could show me how to get the “ivory ear bones” out of one of my fish heads.

“Go ahead,” I said, not wanting to argue with anyone who has bloody hands and a wicked-looking hunting knife.

Kids are the worst. One time in Seward, we came in with salmon, rockfish and lingcod, and kids flocked to us like seagulls to a cannery. One 12-year-old with his baseball cap on backward was determined.

“Where’d you catch those?” he said, pointing at some lingcod. “What does that big one weigh? Can we have your salmon eggs?”

“The ocean. Quite a bit. Yes.”

“Yeah, right, heh, heh. The ocean. Where in the ocean?”

I just know this kid lives in Seward, his dad has a 36-footer that’s a fishing machine, and he’ll be at my secret fishing hole with six buddies before the sun sets.

“Outside Resurrection Bay.”

That seemed to do it. He wandered off, muttering to himself. Five minutes later, he was back.

“East or west from Resurrection Bay?”

“Don’t you have a home?”

“Sure. I live here.”

“You live at the fish-cleaning tables?”

“Where’d you catch those fish?”

Why me?

Les Palmer can be reached at les.palmer@rocketmail.com.

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