Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Ship of Fools

  I went out fishing on Sunday. It's something that I seldom do. However, the season is about to end, and this time of year there are frequent storms that pass through, making fishing somewhat dangerous. Unfortunately, most of the fish being caught are over at Homeshore, an hour and a half run across Icy Strait. The winds have a tendency to blow west or east in the strait and it can be a pretty miserable ride at times. Anyway, there was supposed to be another storm coming on Monday, so I went fishing on the only day that I had when the weather was good, if you discount the fog which was thick and lasted until after three that afternoon. While I was trolling around in the fog, keeping an eye on the radar and GPS, I heard a voice on the VHF radio calling for a boat named The Ship of Fools. I'm not real sure why anyone would call their boat by such a name, but it takes all kinds to make up this world. As I mentioned before in a previous post, I thought  the name on one boat being paged on channel 16 was the Wafflehead.  It wasn't. It was the Bufflehead. I still contend that the Wafflehead would be a more memorable name, although not nearly so much as The Ship of Fools. For a few years during the summer, back before everyone had cell phones and just called each other  to let their buddies know where the fish were, the VHF would always ring with the sound of a captain calling a boat named The Pickle Jar. Again, it baffles me why anyone would call their boat The Pickle Jar. Maybe it was green and had knobby protrusions all over the bulwarks, I have no idea. I once ran past a dilapidated grey troller that was fishing down in Kakul Narrows, near Salisbury Sound, close to Sitka. The boat was in dire need of repair or replacement, and it was aptly  named The Pits. Getting back to The Ship of Fools though, I started wondering, what if that were a charter or outdoor adventure outfit? Perhaps Knucklehead Alaskan Adventures- would you dare to go on it? If Ship of Fools was the mother ship, would there be sister ships, like The Barge of Dummies or The Raft of Buffoons? Perhaps the outfit would have a reputation for running aground on well marked reefs or finding itself in the middle of a pod of Humpback whales as they attempted to bubble feed. It's hard to say what grand adventures a person might have on such a vessel. No doubt it would be memorable. You could buy a T-shirt or cup at the souvenir shop that reads I chartered with Knucklehead Adventures and lived to tell about it! It would be a real conversation piece. You could mention being too close to a glacier as it started to calve, or being stranded on a mud flats surrounded by hungry brown bears waiting for the tide to come back in. I've had my share of close calls, perhaps I should be the one to start Knucklehead Adventures. I guess I can't make Ship of Fools my mother ship, that name is already taken, however Skiff of Incompetents might work. I'll let you know if I decide to pursue this. Meanwhile, keep  your life jacket on and the bear spray close at hand.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Words of Wisdom

 For the past several months I've been watching In Touch ministries on TBN on Sunday mornings before church. Dr. Charles Stanley is the pastor who speaks,and what he says really hits home for me. When I decided to start supporting his ministry, he sent me a packet that included the above message, along with a book mark that had nine life principles to live by. One of the principles should have been, keep an orderly space so that you can find what you want when you want it, because I've misplaced the bookmark in all the rush of life and lack of discipline in my housekeeping chores.  I suppose I'll find it eventually, or I hope I do. Dr. Stanley speaks from years of experience walking with God, and I value his wisdom. Of course all the wisdom in the world doesn't do a person any good if he doesn't utilize it. King Solomon, the wisest man to ever live is a prime example of that. What the good king needed more than wisdom or riches, was a heart that would obey God. That's exactly what we as  a people need, and me in particular. We are all born with a desire to do whatever we want, when we want it, and how we want it, and we want it now. We all want that Burger King experience, when they promise that we can have it our way. Of course the problem with that is that there are, what, seven billion people on earth? Guess what, we all want it our way. What happens when what I want is in conflict with what you want?  Hmmm.... trouble in paradise. But, what if I decided to do what it suggests there in Life Principle #2? What if I decided to obey God in every situation that confronts me? What kind of impact would that have on those around me? And what if you did the same? As I watch the news, it's apparent that the world is in great turmoil. In our own country the two political parties are at each other like cats and dogs. What would America be like if the leaders of both parties were to live by Life Principle #2? I'm quite certain that the mud-slinging and hateful rhetoric that has become so common in recent years wouldn't be able to rear it's ugly head. Perhaps there wouldn't even be two political parties, because we would all be in agreement with God. I imagine that this side of heaven that's not even practical to expect, but nonetheless, it has to start somewhere, and that somewhere has to start with me. I can't control what you do, but I can control what I do, and with the Lord's help, it will be to obey God, and leave the consequences to him. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Halibut Fishing 2016

Steve and Adam baiting squid on 16/0 circle hooks
Adam unhooking a hook from the ground line. It's always fun to see what's coming up
 Un-hooking a big skate

 Measuring the fish. The tidebook gives estimated  weights according to length

  Years ago I prayed for patience, and God in all His wisdom gave me what I wanted, or at least orchestrated the circumstances so that my prayer could be answered. I had seven children, I became a commercial fisherman, and I subscribe to Hughes Net. Waiting for the pictures to download is an exercise that could try even the patience of Job. I swear, if there were a contest between a sloth and Hughes Net, the sloth would win. Actually I'm surprised that I can even get on the internet. For the better part of a week I've been unable to. Oh well, patience my son, patience.
 Last week I went out halibut fishing in an effort to catch my commercial quota. I needed 1564 lbs and I wanted to get it done before the salmon start to run good and before my crew had to go back to school to teach.  I took Adam Gretsinger who has helped me for a few years now, and Steve Barry, another teacher who wanted to try his hand at commercial fishing. It took us three days from start to finish, but we got our quota and even a little extra. The first day I made a small fifty hook set in a spot that I hadn't tried before, but I wanted to expand my horizons, and I also wanted Steve to see what we would be doing. We made two longer sets and came  back and pulled the small one after a three hour soak. It had several salable halibut plus one that weighed 129 lbs. Unfortunately that was the only really nice fish we caught on that trip. As it was, it tangled the line and we spent over an hour trying to straighten out the mess. Fortunately the wind wasn't blowing too bad, so we could work on it without too much problem. We were encouraged by the big fish so we set more hooks in the same area. When we pulled it the next day the sand fleas had taken most of the bait, leaving us with bare hooks. There were two snaps side by side that were bent all out of shape, and a short ways down the line a huge sculpin or bullhead or double ugly was on the line; or his head was anyway. Something big had come up and sucked the body right off the hook, leaving just the head and a few guts dangling. I like to think it was a huge halibut, but I'll never know.  We lost a lot of bait to sand fleas on one of the other sets as well and didn't catch many sculpins or greycod to replace the bait, so we had to go in and buy three boxes of squid so we could re-bait. For the most part the weather was good, at least where we were fishing, not too much wind, although we were fishing during big tides-18ft plus. When you get the big tides, as I've mentioned before, you get a lot of current moving, as the tides are going in and out the bay, like filling and draining a bathtub. We didn't get any eels this time, but we did catch a few skates. They look a lot like a sting ray, but without the poisonous barb. They have beautiful eyes, green or yellow, and square lips which are located right on the bottom of their heads. I guess it helps with scooping up stuff from the bottom. I suppose that between the skates, halibut, grey cod, rockfish and sandfleas, the bottom must stay pretty clean. I'd love to have a submarine and go down for a look around. On one set we snagged a huge coral tree and broke the ground line. That's always a hassle.  We were able to go to the other end of the set and grab the bouy and get the remainder of the line back. The commercial Dungeness crab fishery is still going on, so I couldn't really go to all the areas I wanted to because certain spots were littered with crab pots, but in the end it didn't matter. We caught 1660 lbs of halibut, 96 pounds more than I needed, but the International Pacific Halibut Commission will subtract that from my quota next year, so it all comes out in the wash. The price was good, everyone made money and I'm free to go about my salmon fishing without having to think about the halibut now. All in all, 2016 has treated me pretty good.  I hope that you can say the same at year's end.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Hog's Breath is Better Than No Breath at All

Over the last few months I've been experiencing chronic pain and a good deal of fatigue. I'm quite certain that it has primarily to do with the arthritis in my knees and back. I'm not sure what to make of the fatigue, except that I'm getting older and my body doesn't want to do what it used to. I do have hypothyroidism. For whatever reason my thyroid isn't producing enough juice or whatever it produces to keep things running in top shape. Frankly, I really hate the whole process of getting older. It just isn't fun. Whoever coined the term "golden years" probably wasn't there yet. In any event, I'm still alive and kicking, although the kicking is a little half- hearted anymore. Periodically I run across someone down at the dock or in the store who ask how I'm doing, and I usually reply something to the effect that I'm surviving another day. Not the most optimistic outlook, but I've never been an optimist in the best of times. A few weeks ago I was searching through the mess on my desk and I came across this little coaster from the Hog's Breath Saloon down in Key West. Jan and I used to live in Key West back when I was in the navy. There was no Hog's Breath Saloon when we were there, just some head shops and Earnest Hemingway hang outs. I guess he used to frequent Sloppy Joe's bar. I never made it in there, but I was never much of a drinker, so it didn't really appeal to me. Anyway, in an effort to keep things in perspective, I have to admit that even with all the ills and ailments that I'm dealing with, there is still an awful lot of good things in my life to be happy about. I have a great family and some wonderful friends. I live in an incredibly beautiful place and people pay me to go fishing- at least on the days when I catch fish. I can still get out and around, I'm not stuck in a bed or a wheel chair. I'm not dealing with a drought or wildfires or floods. No hurricanes, tornadoes, or mudslides. No snakes, fire ants, scorpions or centipedes. We do have tourists, but for the most part they're harmless. Irritating for sure, but harmless. So, all things considered, things are pretty good. Now, I've never been told as much, but there's always the possibility that I suffer with hog's breath. Or rather whoever I might be speaking to would be suffering, but as the saying goes, "Hog's breath is better than no breath at all." You can take that to the bank. Enjoy your life people.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

I've Had Nothing to Say

 I know that I've violated the first rule of blogging by not staying current on my blog posts. I suppose that at least once a week I should be posting something, hopefully entertaining or at least informative. However, I've found myself with nothing to say, or if I did have something to say, I don't have the time to say it; and if I did have the time to say it, the damn internet wasn't working anyway, so all that great commentary would be left to rot in my brain. I know that's not a very good excuse, but what the heck, it's not like I'm getting paid to do this thing. In fact it costs me money, which I don't mind so much. It provides me with an outlet to express myself, but like I mentioned, I really haven't had too much to say lately. I've been fishing more this year than I've done in ages. Unfortunately I don't get started too early anymore, so to escape feelings of extreme guilt, I stay out later, so that by the time I get home and have supper, it's pretty late and I don't really feel like doing anything. In any event, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. After fishing season it will be easier to start blogging on a more regular basis.... but what if I run out of things to write about? I've got very strong feelings about what is going on in the world right now, and I'm sure that I will be expressing those feelings somewhere down the pike, although I don't know what good it is to express my opinion. There's no shortage of people giving their opinions on the internet. Anyway, as I sit here, I'm getting tired. My gut is full of a cheeseburger that I had at Mary's Inn Chinese American restaurant. It's one of the few places that I know of where you can order a cheeseburger and fries and also a bento box at the same time. In any event, I wanted to touch base and let those of you who follow this blog know that I haven't dropped off the face of the earth. I'm going through a time of transition as I get older and have to face the fact that I don't have the energy I once did. I'll write more when I can. Meanwhile there are over 350 other posts that you are free to check out anytime the desire strikes. Enjoy.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Alaska's Bountiful Harvest

A Pacific Halibut about 71 pounds before gutting and removing the head

Three troll caught, ocean bright Alaskan King Salmon. The largest one was 22 pounds
Locally caught Dungeness crabs. My son's caught these in two pots set overnight
Fresh blueberries from the back yard. The kids picked about two gallons in a few hours
Samonberries from around the house

            One of the joys of living in Alaska is that there is so much to enjoy of nature's bounty. Many Alaskan's, especially those of us who are living outside of the larger towns, utilize the abundance of food sources that are prevalent here. Every season brings something that can be harvested. Right now salmon and halibut are abundant, and the wise person catches some for now and some for the long winter ahead. For many people, especially those out in the bush, smoking fish has been a way to preserve it for hundreds of years. Now we have freezers, but smoking is still a very popular way to preserve fish, and it's a very tasty way I might add. Dungeness crab is available year round, although it's much more pleasant to pick crab pots in the summer when the weather is more favorable. Although, here in Hoonah, it's only a five minute boat ride to the other side of Pit Island  to pull your pots. For some folks, who may not own a crab pot or two, on the extreme tides where the tide is very high, and then very low, in fact it's a minus tide, meaning that it is below the mean low water mark, large areas of the bottom are exposed, and those who want to can search the eel grass and find crabs hidden beneath. The minus tides are also the time to dig clams and cockles. They are fairly easy to find because they spit water out of their holes in the sand. Unfortunately, I don't care for either one, but I wish I did. I like to dig them, and I love harvesting what nature provides. The common rule for digging clams is that you only dig them in the "R" months, when the water is cooler and there is less chance of Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning. The Salmon berries are almost done growing, and with the rain that we're getting today, I suspect that they won't be worth picking. They have a relatively short growing time- a few weeks of being ripe I would say. They are so named because of their similarity in appearance to salmon eggs. They are kind of a watery berry, but they are good to eat raw, or in jam. I'm not sure, but you might be able to make a pie with them; I suspect you would need a lot of corn starch or flour to thicken up the mix. You have some competition for them, as the birds and the bears also like to eat them. Just last week I saw a  rather mangy looking brown bear eating berries up behind a house on the upper road. With all the heat that we've had this summer, I think he was shedding his coat. Of course in the fall and winter here in Southeast we have Sitka Blacktail deer to hunt. Over on the mainland there are moose and black bears. I've never eaten black bears that I can remember, although I did eat some brown bear once, which is a real no-no. Terrible stuff and subject to Tricinosis. Some of the natives hunt seals. I ate that once also when I was living at the farm. To me it tasted like a raw fish, not to my liking at all. There is some kind of animal that grows on the rocks  that the natives used to harvest called gumboots. I don't know if they taste like boots or are just as tough as a boot or a combination of the two. I've never had the nerve to try one. For those whose tastes lean toward the exotic, there are also octopus here. I understand that on low tide some folks used to search the holes  in the rocks that were exposed and search for a pile of clam shells  outside the hole. They would then pour a little bleach inside to drive the octopus out. I've eaten it before, but it's not to my liking. Really tough, and the flavor doesn't appeal to me. Last, and certainly not least, there are shrimp in these waters. I've only had success catching them once. One time there were two octopus in my shrimp pot, so I suppose they had a feast. The other time I had seventeen big ones, one bigger than a dollar bill. They were tasty. Often when I'm long lining for halibut, I will catch Pacific cod, and they will be filled with shrimp. Surprising that anything that swims so slow could catch a shrimp, but perhaps they experience a burst of speed when there is food present. Kind of like me.Of course this isn't all that is available to those who want to harvest the land and sea. There are other plants that are edible, and fish and eels and skates. I guess if push came to shove you could eat these little squirrels. Up north there are caribou and moose and I don't know what all. I know that certain groups of natives hunt for whales. I'm not sure if they eat walrus or not. Doesn't sound appealing to me, but I grew up on Campbells  soup and Wonder bread, so I guess it's a matter of what's available. Anyway, there you go. It's the busy time of year for me. I've been out fishing quite a bit and don't have a lot of time for doing blog posts. However, there are about 350 others that I've written, so if you need a Wilderness Blues fix, feel free to check the archives. Hope your summer is going well. I'll chat again soon.

Friday, June 3, 2016

And Yet Another Botts Family Outing

Like so many Americans this past Memorial Day weekend, my family, or at least my oldest daughter Jen, my wife Jan and myself took to the road. It was only a thirty mile trip out to False Bay, but nonetheless it took the better part of an hour and a half to cover the distance. To say that the road is rough would be the understatement of the year. Even the potholes had potholes. I was weaving around the road like a drunken sailor trying to find a spot that I could drive  without dislodging a kidney. In that short drive I think I had to stop at least twice, maybe three times to take a leak. All that bouncing kind of shakes down the juices. At least once I stopped because of Jen. Whenever we take her on a drive anywhere, we always make sure we have at least a half roll of toilet paper or some paper towels, because she will most certainly have to go before we get to the destination. The road to False Bay is littered with discarded TP from the various trips that she has made. The number of pot holes was rivaled only by the piles of bear crap. Frankly, if  a person could figure out a way to collect it and turn it into an asphalt type material, they would be rich. It would kill two birds with one stone too. Filling in all the potholes with bear poop would be a win-win situation. You know that age old question, does a bear crap in the woods? Well I believe the answer is no, not if there is a road available. I don't know  what there is about walking down a road to make them so free flowing, but obviously the need for a laxative doesn't exist. When we finally got to our destination, I was surprised that no one else was there. It was really kind of nice, not having to listen to anyone else's kids or any loud music or arguing. Jennifer decided she would make the fire so we could roast some weenies. Frankly, I had my doubts that she knew what she was doing. The first twigs she grabbed had leaves on them. Not exactly what most people use for fire starter.Nonetheless, she assured me that she loved to start fires and was quite good at it. Ok Pocahontas, go for it. I left her to her own devices and went on down the beach to pick up some pieces of driftwood for the fire. When I returned, to her credit she had quite a nice blaze going. Fortunately it hadn't rained for a week or more, and the remains of a previous fire were still in the fire pit, some charred wood and ashes. We added some of the driftwood and cut some sticks to skewer the hot dogs. In short order there was a good bed of coals so Jan decided to roast her dog. While I was sitting in the chair relaxing, I noticed that a steady stream of black smoke kept pouring from the fire. I asked Pocahontas Jen if she had put some plastic in the fire, but she said no. Meanwhile, for reasons unknown, Jan  had her hot dog placed squarely in the black smoke. I'm not sure, but maybe she thought the fire was hotter there. When she pulled it out, it wasn't the least bit cooked, but nonetheless was totally coated in black. It looked like one of the animals that was rescued from Prince William Sound after the Exxon Valdez disaster. She wiped it off and showed me all the oily residue. We searched the fire and discovered that one of the pieces of driftwood was bubbling with a tar like substance on the end of the stick and was producing all the smoke. Fortunately we were able to remove the offending stick. What are the odds though? Of all the driftwood that ends up on the beach, we manage to find one that was once part of an old creosote piling to burn? It's a typical Botts thing. In any event, Exxon Jan re-dogged her stick and was able to enjoy a well cooked weenie with only the normal offending wood smoke chasing her around the fire. She kept smelling her hair and sweatshirt and declaring that she smelled like wood smoke. I'll never understand why anyone would seek out an offending scent and keep sniffing it if it was offensive. However, for reasons unknown, that's what she does.After scarfing down a few weenies, Pocahontas Jen and I took off down the beach to do a little beach combing in the tide line. I took a pistol with me just in case one of the bears decided to make an appearance, which fortunately it didn't. Ever the teacher, Jen enlightened me about the various life forms that had succumbed to the elements and were deposited on the beach. She found a number of oyster shells as well as a moon snail and lots of sea urchins. She always makes the most of every situation and seems to thoroughly enjoy herself. We walked on the shifting rocks until I was quite certain my legs were about to detach from their sockets and then turned around. Meanwhile, Exxon Jan was putting away the picnic supplies and playing musical chairs with the fire, trying to find a spot where the smoke wouldn't blow in her face. I could have told her it's no use. No matter where you sit, that's where the smoke is going to gravitate to. All in all it was a pretty pleasant day. We made it home with our kidneys still intact, I could see through my smoke stained eyes well enough to avoid a number of the potholes, and by the time we had driven the last few miles to our home, most of the bear poop that had been embedded in the tread of our tires had worked it's way out and was laying along side the road for some unsuspecting jogger. Good times.