An Outdoor View: Wild and wooly fishing

Author’s note: This column first appeared in the Clarion Aug. 1, 2003. It has been edited for brevity. — LP

 

Most recreational boaters stay home and mow their lawns when the weather threatens, but for those willing to take come-what-may, the rewards are many.

On July 19, in a cove 19 miles out of Whittier in Prince William Sound, the weather was nasty. The mist was so thick, you felt as if you could drown in it.

Four of us were on the first night of a five-day cruise on Doug Green’s 34-foot cabin cruiser. Aboard were Doug’s son, Nate; my grandson from Washington, Doug Palmer; and myself. To avoid confusion, let’s call Doug Green “The Captain.” He and Nate are from Anchorage.

We had anchored for the night. Doug had been anticipating this trip for months, and he wasn’t about to let rain stop him from fishing. He put on his rain gear and started fishing from the back deck.

The Captain and I had fished in this cove before, and had caught mostly small fish. We once caught a halibut more than six feet long, but that had been years before. We expected Doug to catch a few small fish and come back inside.

Doug hadn’t fished 15 minutes, when he said, “I think I’ve got a big one.”

Oh, sure, I thought, looking out the window. His rod was barely bent. But then I did a double-take. Whatever he had hooked was running, taking line. Maybe he did have a big one. After several minutes of pumping, reeling and receiving expert advice, Doug boated the first halibut he had ever caught, an 81-pounder.

Our plan had been to cruise out to the Gulf of Alaska and fish for lingcod, rockfish, halibut and salmon, but an unscheduled wind blew up waves that made fishing not only uncomfortable, but unsafe. We dropped anchor in a protected bay and hoped the wind would slacken. While waiting, we fished, not expecting much action. We were wrong. Jigging and mooching from the anchored boat, we ended up catching several salmon and halibut.

Instead of dying, the wind increased, and the outlook for the weather to improve was dim. We headed back toward Whittier, fishing for silvers along the way. At the first two places we trolled, we struck out. By the time we started fishing at the third place, it was raining hard. Worse, the wind had blown up 4-foot seas, making it difficult to steer the boat at trolling speed. If this had been Day One, we never would’ve tried to fish. But it was the last chance Doug would have to fish before going home, and his eagerness to fish was infectious. We climbed into our clammy rain gear and went fishing.

While The Captain worked to keep the boat from being blown onto the nearby rocky shore, Doug, Nate and I manned the downriggers, three lines rigged with hootchies and flashers. For a few minutes, we did nothing but watch the rods and try to keep our balance on the heaving deck. Then the action started.

“Fish on!”

“Fish on this rod, too!”

It’s one thing to have multiple hookups of silvers when the sea is flat. It’s quite another to have acrobatic fish on more than one line when the deck is pitching and you’re barely able to stay on your feet. Fortunately, we had run the downriggers enough that we were fairly competent. We managed to boat about every other silver that struck.

The non-stop action was exhilarating.

“I need the net over here!”

“Be there in a second.”

“Crank up that downrigger ball, will you?”

“Got it!”

“Who’s got the pliers?”

“Right here!”

Amid the yelling and uproar, a hook tore one of my fingers. My blood spattered the deck, mixing with fish blood. The Captain asked if I wanted a bandage.

“Later,” I said. “We’re fishing.”

It lasted only a few minutes, but the excitement and camaraderie will last a lifetime. Despite the bad weather, we had fun and we caught fish. It brought to mind the old admonition, “You can’t catch fish unless your line is in the water.” And not once during that five days did we see anyone else fishing.

 

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

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