An Outdoor View: Wild Fishing

Author’s note: This column previously appeared in the Clarion on Aug. 1, 2003. I’ve edited it slightly for brevity. Merry Christmas! — LP

On July 19, in a cove 19 miles out of Whittier in Prince William Sound, the weather was nasty. Besides the wind, there was a San Francisco-like mist, so thick you felt as if you were drowning in it.

Four of us were on the first night of a five-day cruise on my friend Doug Green’s 34-foot cabin cruiser, the “Suq’a.” Besides Doug and myself, we were Doug’s son, Nate Green, and my 18-year-old grandson from Washington state, Doug Palmer. To avoid confusion, let’s call Doug Green “The Captain.” The Captain and Nate are from Anchorage.

We had anchored for the night. While The Captain marinated steaks for a late dinner, Nate and I fought a game of Cribbage. Doug, who had been anticipating this trip for months, wasn’t about to let a little rain quench his eagerness to fish this new, exotic water. He put on his rain gear, went out into the milkshake-thick mist and started fishing. The Captain and I had fished in this cove before, and had caught mostly small fish. We expected Doug to catch a few small ones and retreat back into the warm, dry cabin.

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

After several minutes of pumping and reeling, the first halibut he had ever caught was in the boat, an 81-pounder. Not bad for less than half an hour of fishing.

The next morning, the weather remained nasty. Our plan had been to cruise out to the Gulf of Alaska and fish for lingcod, rockfish, halibut and salmon, but high waves made fishing not only uncomfortable, but unsafe. We anchored up in a protected bay, and hoped the wind would slacken. Instead, it blew even harder, so we decided to head back to Whittier and fish for silvers along the way.

At the first two places we trolled, we didn’t even get a bite, so we continued on. The north end of Culross Island was our last chance. By the time we started fishing, it was raining hard. That was bad enough, but 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 one of the last chances my grandson would have to fish before going back to Washington, so we donned our rain gear and went fishing.

While The Captain worked to keep us off the nearby rocks, Doug, Nate and I manned the fishing gear. The lines were rigged with hootchies and flashers. For a few minutes, we just watched the rods while trying to keep our balance on the heaving deck. Then it 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 wildly acrobatic fish on more than one line when the deck is pitching and yawing, and when one hand is occupied with hanging on for dear life. We managed to boat about every other silver that struck.

The action was exhilarating and nonstop. Besides staying on our feet, we had to run the downrigger gear, reel in the fish, keep them away from the other lines, net them, club and bleed them, and unhook and stow them. The adverse conditions demanded cooperation.

When a hook tore one of my fingers, The Captain asked if I wanted a bandage.

“Later,” I said. “We’re fishing.”

That wild fishing lasted only a few minutes, but the excitement and camaraderie will last a long time. It brought to mind the old saying, “You can’t catch fish unless your line is in the water.”

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

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