Unhinged Alaska: The pitfalls of being a freelancer

To answer several emails that have rolled in lately, yes, the rumors are true, I also write a summer fishing column for the Homer News.

Several years ago its editor suggested that because of my love for the sport I should take a shot at reaching not only proficient piscatorians but the mildly disturbed thrashers who couldn’t net a comatose sculpin belly up in a gold fish bowl.

She figured that my questionable luck and skills with a rod wouldn’t threaten the egos of the competent and could notably boost the self esteem of the type of angler that ends up skunked at a hatchery’s holding pond.  

Sure enough, it wasn’t long before my inbox was cluttered with letters of dubious content such as, “Your angling incompetence displayed in your column is amazing yet deeply appreciated because it is the quintessential guide as what not to do. Try mooching in a cistern. At least you’d be out of sight and possibly more successful.”

That was a heck of thing for a loving sibling to write. But she’s been grumpy since our lines became snarled while she was battling a halibut the size of Bill O’Reilly’s ego off of Vancouver Island seven years ago.

Hey, at least I landed my flounder. Besides, no one on the boat was sure her fish would have fit on the deck.

The cyber mail ran a gamut of missives so colorful that the only printable components were the quotation marks to palpably ninety-proof charged rants and hysterical yarns so funny they should have carried a “Don Depends before reading” caveat.

Since its conception, one of the most valuable things I’ve learned from the series is not to over think a simple question.


J.T., from Oregon asked me what I thought about lingcod.

I replied that I knew from personal experience that they were Freddy Kruger gruesome, had a set of choppers that would give a salmon shark a coronary, and enjoyed making a brunch out of their own relatives.

Other than that, typical lings were rather laid back unless you dissed them by staring ‘em dead in the eye or got anywhere near what they considered their personal space with a hook and/or a gaff. Then it was attitude adjustment time and the beasts developed a propensity to try and rip the lungs out of their capturers once they were hauled aboard.  

I went on to caution that they didn’t do well as pets and ended by inquiring why he asked about them in the first place.

His response was somewhat terse. “I was wondering about their taste.”

Well why didn’t he just say so?

I answered that I considered them beyond succulent and would rather wolf down a batch of Panko crusted ling and chips than a platter of halibut from a 100-plus pound fish.

I explained that the smaller halibut, when prepared properly were ambrosia to the palate. But, once they morphed into slabs-with-abs they tended to lose their tenderness until their fillets started coming off the grill as something better suited for bizarre doormats.

I never heard from him again.

To this day, I still somehow manage to step in it.

Just a few of weeks ago when anglers started putting the hammer down on silvers cruising beneath our inlet waters and Kachemak Bay, I made a crack about acerebral pinks getting in the way.

I innocently noted that pinks were fierce and insolent battlers but it takes more skill to keep them off your line than getting them to hit.

The only thing stupider than a school of humpies is a canned one, but not by much.

I admitted that they could be tasty if lightly pan fried immediately after they stopped quivering. Otherwise, humpies transform into various stages of mush as the clock ticks. The first stage of malleable pottage is good for patties but a slight misstep in timing can result in salmon pucks reasonably adequate for skeet shooting if dried properly.

Well, you would have thought that I had spear gunned Nemo and taken out Sponge Bob Square Pants with a depth charge. The rabid responses rushing to defend the hapless humpy were amazing. I didn’t realize that processors could be so touchy.

I can’t wait until I hear back about my statement concerning the yum factor associated with the cuddly spiny dogfish and the idea of it being deep fried and served with a side of slaw.

What a great summer.

Nick can be reached at ncvarney@gmail.com if he isn’t bouncing around off the Elizabeth Islands struggling to nail a few more rockfish without obtaining the dubious status of a professional power hurler. 

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