Friday, September 20, 2013

The Season's Over
















  It's hard to believe but for all intents and purposes the 2013 fishing season is over, at least for me.  In my last three trips out fishing I've only caught a total of ten cohos- hardly enough to make it worth the while. With fuel costing upwards of $5.00 a gallon and the boat burning about eight gallons a day on a short day, it doesn't make sense to go out. Last year, or maybe it was the year before, I started heading out on the last day of the season. I saw that even the hard-nosed trollers were tied up and even though I made it out of the harbor, I got discouraged and turned around and came back in without even dropping a line. On my way back in I saw one of the guys who fishes only sporadically anymore, and then usually doesn't do much, leaving the harbor. I wished him luck but frankly didn't believe he would catch anything. As it was,  he went just to Point Sophia and caught sixty cohos for the short time he was there- about six hundred bucks worth of fish. So, I'm not totally discounting getting out one more time, but if I go, I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for a big smash either. For the past few days it's been raining buckets, which is actually good. This summer was the nicest one that I can ever remember in terms of sunshine. However, as I've mentioned before, we live in a rain forest and in order for all the wildlife and plants to thrive, we need rain. As per usual for this time of year, we're finally getting copious amounts. That's good. It washes out some of the dead fish from the streams and makes room for the later runs, like cohos. I went on a drive with Jan and my mother-in-law last Sunday, which as you can see was a sunny fall day. The river in the middle picture is Game Creek. When I looked down I couldn't see any fish, although it was obvious by the smell that quite a few had been there recently and had done their duty and died, as salmon are prone to do. I guess some of the carcasses must break down and remain in the river somehow- under rocks or in the embankment or something, because the fry that hatch in the spring are nourished by their parents who have passed on. It's a very efficient system. Even so, I don't want the kids to be planting a garden on top of my grave- "Wow! Look at the size of those tomatoes! Dad must have composted really well!" Sorry guys, if I have my way I'll be cremated.  Anyway, back to the fishing season. The troll opening has been extended to the end of the month instead of ending on the 20th as per usual. I guess the powers that be decided that there were so many fish that it warranted an extension. This is only the second time that I can remember them extending the season. So, if perchance a few more fish do show up I can take advantage of them. Usually though, as they near their natal streams they start to turn dark and sometimes pinkish or red and are declared Blush by the cold storage and are worth less. It's almost worth it to let more of them spawn in hopes of a larger run in a few years. Plus, as they get closer to the streams I always feel guilty for depriving them of their one opportunity for sex. I'm not totally calloused you know. The real heartless guys are those jerks who yard them out of the streams. Let's just hope that none of them are your neighbors. Big meanies!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Brush With Fire


















   Hi- thanks for joining me here. Tonight I would like to share with you a tale. Unlike the tales of the Grimm brothers, this tale is true and involves yours truly. This tale is from a long time ago, relatively speaking, and while it could have been sad for me, fortunately it wasn't. So, sit back, grab a refreshing beverage, cold or hot and join me as I travel back in time with a story from my past. Years ago, in a simpler, happier time, there was no EPA or other government sanctioned terrorist groups. In those days, when Autumn came and the leaves began to fall, folks used to rake them up and pile them in huge stacks out on the curb. Kids used to ride their bikes through them and scatter leaves over the same areas they had just been raked away from.  Eventually, I guess in an effort to keep from having to rake the same leaves again, it was a common practice to set the leaves on fire right there on the street. Now, I have no idea how the asphalt kept from being melted into a tarry, soft mess, but perhaps the coals were unable to reach temps that would create a problem. The smell of burning leaves was just a part of the fall, at least until the late sixties or early seventies.At some point the Cuyahoga River up near Cleveland Ohio was so polluted that it actually caught fire. I think that was probably the point when the environmental movement started catching on with more than a few hippie types. That spelled the end of curbside fires, bonfires and other smoke producing pollutants.  I'm mentioning all this to say that at one point and time in America it was acceptable to have a bonfire on one's own property without even needing a permit.  Here is where the paintbrush comes in. My father was a contractor by trade. He built and remodeled houses back in Ohio. Periodically he would find himself without a job to do, so he would set his sights on something around the house. One fall day I was minding my own business, perhaps I was even taking the trash out to the burn barrel behind the garage. Had I known that dad was there, I might have waited for awhile. In any event, I drifted out back in time to see our old garage door lifted high and a hunk of building material flying out of said door and onto a pile of short lumber pieces, assorted shingles, broken, wooden ladders and assorted and sundry other flammable material. Dad spotted me and sent me inside to grab some kitchen matches. He was going to torch that pile. Being an average American boy, the thought of a fire got my blood flowing and I gladly did what I could to assist, not that I had any choice in the matter. Once the blaze was going Dad retreated to the garage and sorted through a massive pile of lumber, paint cans, hard cement bags and all manner of other tools of the  trade.At one point he exclaimed, "Hey, there that is! I wondering what happened to that!" He came out into the sunlight with a rather large paintbrush and a smile on  his face. He found a five gallon gas can and poured what was left  into a coffee can and started to swish the brush around. Apparently there wasn't enough gas to do what he wanted with the brush so he told me to watch the fire while he went up to get some more gasoline. What a mistake! He should have known that a pre-teen boy left with a can of gas and a fire would be a volatile situation to put it mildly. His truck had no sooner left the alley than I was poking around in the can with the brush. At first I was just trying to help loosen it up  a little, kind of working it like Dad did. Then somehow I got the brilliant idea of flicking it at the fire. Of course gasoline being what it is, and fire being what it is, every time I flicked it, the flames would shoot high and I would chuckle to myself. I got away with it about three or four times. The last time I sloshed the brush at the bonfire, it bit back and set the brush I was holding on fire. Holy Toledo, how did that happen? I threw it to the ground and stomped on it a number of times until the flames were extinguished and then put the brush back in the can.  Oh sure, Dad won't notice it. Dad came back a few minutes later whistling and pulled the gas can out of the bed of the truck. He pulled the can with the paint brush a fair distance from the fire and poured in some gas. He started sloshing the brush around in the gasoline and got a confused look on his face. When he pulled  the brush out the bristles were burnt and curly and there was still some gravel in the base of the brush. He let out his favorite expletive and turned to me. "What the hell happened Tom"? Of course I lied through my teeth, and gave my favorite explanation whenever I knew that trouble was brewing. " Gee, I don't know Dad. I guess it just happened." Yeah, right. He picked up the brush and proceeded to flick it at the fire. Of course the flames shot skyward just like when I did it. "Are you sure you weren't doing this?" he asked as he flicked it again. I'm sure my eyes were as big as saucers as I once again feigned having any knowledge of how such a terrible thing could have happened to his very expensive paint brush. I was fully expecting to get a well deserved spanking, but he just turned away and said, "Get the hell out of here!" I didn't need to be told twice. I fairly well ran to the house and thanked my lucky stars. As I was leaving I heard him muttering something about a twelve dollar paint brush being ruined. While I was exceeding grateful that I escaped any punishment that day, I can't help but wonder how dad was able to so quickly discern exactly what happened to the brush that day. Is it possible that at some time in his past he too might have had an encounter with a gasoline soaked paint brush and a bonfire? I'll never know.


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Shark Attack!


   When most folks think about Alaska, sharks never even come to mind. I'd never heard that there were sharks here until I started commercial fishing some years back. One year I leased the troller Acadia from one of my friend from the farm. It was June and I went up in Port Fredrick to a place just known as the waterfalls, oddly enough because there is a waterfall right there. Anyway, one of the local highliners, Joar Savland, was fishing his boat, the Standy up there. I was still learning the fishing business at the time, so I thought it would be wise to follow behind him a few boat lengths and spy on him with the binoculars, you know, see what he was using, how fast he was trolling and so on. Well, I got distracted somehow, maybe I even had a bite, I don't remember, but anyhow I lost track of him for a bit. When I located him again I noticed a fin circling a ways behind his boat. I thought he had knocked a big King Salmon off his line and it was stunned. I figured that it wasn't worth his while to circle back around and try to gaff it, seeing as how he catches so many fish that one king wouldn't make him or break him. I, on the other hand, needed every fish I could get just to pay for the fuel, much less the boat lease. Being the opportunist that I am, I thought I'd go over and scarf it up.  I approached the fish with gaff in hand, fully anticipating a freebee and chuckling to myself at my uncommon good fortune. My joy was quickly turned to terror when the fin that I thought belonged to a monster King Salmon turned out to be attached to a monster Salmon Shark. The Acadia was about thirty feet long, and I swear, when I looked down at that shark, it seemed to take up half the boat length. I don't know what I thought would happen, if it would attack the boat or what, but in a panic I grabbed a pistol and proceeded to pump six shots into the water directly at it. It didn't budge, so I reloaded and shot six more times. I don't think it ever got hit. It eventually just drifted out of sight and I didn't see it again. The next time I had anything to do with a Salmon Shark was years later when I was on the Bonnie J. The boys and I were out fishing for halibut down near Point Sophia. We were pulling in the line when it started coming in very easily. That's usually a sign that the line has parted. As I reeled it onto the drum I looked back and could see what looked like fins in the distance. I assumed that somehow some stupid sealion had gotten caught up in the gear while trying to steal some fish from my line. Part of me was delighted at the prospect and part of me was worried. If I brought it to the dock there would be all kinds of paper work and endless hours of answering questions. I think murder suspects get less scrutiny than people who have encounters with marine mammals. In any event, when we brought it close enough I could see that it was a large Salmon Shark. It was too big to get on the boat so we put some shark hooks in it and towed it to the cold storage dock. They lifted it with the hoist and weighed and measured it. It was seven feet long and weighed 441 pounds. The next day the elementary school came down to look at it, then the cold storage hauled it to the dump where no doubt the local bear population had a feast.Before they took it away, one of the boys cut the jaw out. It was pretty impressive, I have to admit. Rows of needle sharp teeth. The jaw ended up under my house where eventually the teeth came out and it ceased to be impressive at all and was discarded. My most recent shark encounter was yesterday at Homeshore. I was fishing along, happy as a clam at high tide, catching a few salmon when I had a tremendous hit on the line. I pulled up the gear, and there on the last leader was a huge Coho, or the front half of one at least. As you can see, a shark had a feast with the after portion. Why it took the largest fish that bit all day, I have no idea. I'd caught plenty of smaller Cohos, as well as three Chums, but nooooo... it wanted the big money fish. Go figure. So my friends, let that  be a reminder. Even when you can entice a fish to bite, there's no guarantee that you'll land it. We share this planet with all manner of denizens of the deep, and they're all hungry.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The End of Summer

















  Today is Labor Day- September 2. It's hard for me to believe that it's upon us already. Back in May, at the beginning of the fishing season, this day seemed so far away. The days of summer were almost twenty four hours long, with some semblance of darkness occurring in the wee hours of the morning. Now I have to rush home to beat the dark, lest I be caught in the middle of Icy Strait in the pitch blackness. I guess Labor Day is considered the official end of summer, although ours ended several weeks ago. That old familiar chill in the air followed by the first brown leaves falling from the alders were a sure sign; that and the white, shriveled tops of the Fireweed. Oh we still had some gorgeous days, warm, even hot, but they are coming to end. In the thirty six years that I've been here I can't remember a finer summer though. I hope we don't have to pay for our unexpected pleasure this winter. Well, I have a houseful of family visiting and I'm terribly tired right now, so I will put an end to this post with my apologies. Winter is most definitely coming and I'll have time to spend on these posts. Until then, I'll do my best to keep something coming forth.