Blog Archive

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Hoonah Cold Storage

The sorting table

Ron Juan at the scales

Heading blackcod

Putting the black cod on trays for freezing

Thorny head Rockfish

Small halibut

End of the line

I hope this blog post downloads. I thought of making two separate posts out of it, but I didn't want to break up the process- it might be hard to follow. The top picture shows Bill- I don't know his last name- weighing a load of round Chum salmon, also known as Dog salmon. The person who brought in this load is a hand troller and typically they catch fewer fish than power trollers because they have less gear in the water and they have to manually bring in the lines themselves instead of using hydraulic power. The second picture shows Ron D Williams standing by the two scales used. The hanging scale is used if there are fewer fish. The floor scale is used when there are enough fish to put in a tote and weighed. Ron is a unique character. There used to be several Rons in town, so in order to keep them from being confused he was often referred to as Bushy haired Ron.  He has been known to sport quite an Afro type of haircut. He always calls me Tommy and I call him Ron Juan. I tried to do the pictures in order- and actually they were, but something happened and I 'm not able to change it so the bottom picture should really be the third one. It shows Butch Voeller waiting to weigh some fish or perhaps set the tote on the table for the crew to work on. On this particualar day the F/V Vagabond Queen brought in a load of black cod. The fish aren't cleaned- they are chilled on the boat and brought in whole. The next picture is of the crew heading the black cod and passing them down the line where the guts are taken out and another crew is scraping the blood line and taking any parts left behind out, all the while the fish is being rinsed in fresh water. Next the fish are put in totes of cold water and transferred to trays where they will be taken to a blast freezer. After they've been frozen they are transferred to the glazing room where the trays of fish are knocked loose, dipped in ice water with a corn syrup glaze and packaged in twelve hundred pound cardboard totes, which are then loaded into a freezer van and shipped to Bellingham Washington I believe. And there you have it, from start to finish more or less. One of the totes has some small halibut in it and another one has some Thorny head rockfish or Idiot Rockfish as they are known. I don't know why they're called that- they don't appear to be any more stupid than other rockfish I've seen. There are like a dozen or more different types of rockfish, from the Yellow eye which many people mistakenly refer to as Red Snapper, to China, Rose, Dusky, which most call Black bass and my all time favorite the Quill back rockfish. They have a dorsal fin that is like knitting needles,only sharper. I've been poked more than once and the pain is severe and subject to infection. The rockfish and halibut are what would be considered by catch I suppose. While they weren't targeted, because the captain had some halibut quota, he was able to keep the halibut. These seem pretty small. I think most of the bigger ones are in shallower water now. Guess I'll find out soon. I spoke to one fisherman recently who was on the outside coast fishing for blackcod who said that a group of sperm whales was plaguing them.  They follow the boat and when the men are retrieving the lines from the bottom the whales will start picking the fish off the hooks. As you can imagine, just one whale can put away a lot of fish. Its similar to trolling for salmon and having those idiotic sealions follow your boat and steal salmon right off the line, often times taking expensive gear in the process. Anyway, for anyone interested, there it is in a nutshell- life at the Hoonah Cold Storage. Good times, good times.

Butch Voeller waiting to weigh a tote of fish

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Trollers, Sealions and Wildfires

With the help of my daughter Jen, I was able to finish up enough projects on the boat to take it out for a few hours of fishing the day before yesterday. By the time I got started, it was already after 2:00 PM, but I was just glad to go out. The cloudy, rainy weather that I was cursing when trying to paint finally dissipated and was replaced with brilliant, hot sunshine. The temp went from 55 or so to over 80 degrees overnight. Lovely. I felt like a Russet potato baking away in an oven. I looked at the thermometer on the wall and it was working it's way past 90. Thunderation it was hot! I spent a few hours dragging around the bay with only a couple of shaker kings and a grey cod for my efforts. Yesterday I went out again, but again it was afternoon before I could get away. The sun was just as hot as the day before, but at least there was a breeze to cool things down a little- it was only about 75 in the pilot  house. Of course I'm sitting there with a long sleeved flannel shirt on to keep from getting sunburned and sweat was pouring off of me like a fat man in a sauna- which in a way I guess I was. Anyway, after about three and half hours, just as I was reaching the height of disgust at the fishing, I caught a fairly decent king. Of course that energized me and I mistakenly thought I might catch one or two more so I made a few more passes to no avail. When I finally realized that I needed to go home I pulled the gear and found a dog salmon on one line. For the time I spent, this really wasn't a very good haul, but considering the poor fishing for everyone this year, I'll take it. It's pretty unusual to see so many trollers tied up at the dock this time of year. There was a large fleet that showed up from Sitka to take advantage of the dog run, but so far it hasn't materialized. I don't know if that's attributable to the cold water or the number of sealions that have multiplied many times over or if its from illegal fishing out on the high seas. The dog salmon I caught was net marked, meaning it passed through a net and escaped out on the ocean somewhere. I spoke to the local fish and game officer who went out fishing on the coast several days ago. He said a sealion as big as a skiff took three kings off his lines, plus two flashers and a downrigger cannonball. I was thinking that it would be nice to have one of these huge lures like the one hanging at Grandma Nina's coffee shop. I'd like to load the tail with some kind of explosive and then when a sealion tried to chomp it he'd be in for a pleasant surprize. There are several hatcheries up and down the coast of Southeast where they raise salmon to turn loose into the wild. The commercial fishermen help to support these hatcheries with a three percent fee for every salmon they catch, whether or not they are from the hatchery. I think it would be money well spent to raise killer whales and feed them sealion meat from the time they are small until they get released into the wild. It would bring a balance back to the ecosystem that is sorely lacking because of all the environmental and animal rights groups- most of whom don't live here and aren't impacted by their radical beliefs. I do so wish that we could return to a simpler time where there is a balance to things. Don't cut down all the trees or catch all the fish-save some for future generations, but don't restrict good harvesting practices. People need jobs and lumber and toilet paper and fish that isn't raised in a pen. I can't help but wonder if the wildfires down south wouldn't have been less severe if some of the trees in those national forests had been logged. I guess that's just a matter for discussion at another time.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


Do you remember when you were a kid, and just after Thanksgiving all the flyers would start coming out with pictures of toys and other delights? The anticipation of the upcoming Christmas holiday would build to such a crescendo that by the time Christmas Eve arrived, you were worked into such a frenzy that the chance that you would actually fall asleep before the wee hours of the morning were about as good as winning the lottery. It's been like that for me with this boat project. I'm not a patient man, so of course what profession do I choose but one that at times requires infinite amounts of patience. Add to that the fact that we had seven children, which Jan and I raised over a course of twenty seven years. Tell me God doesn't have a sense of humor! It took exactly four months from the time I hauled the boat out until today to repair the boat and return it to the water. I've been through every emotion known to man during this process. Prior to hauling it out in February I worried about something going wrong while being hauled out. Once I saw the extent of the rot in planks, I was embarrassed that it was is such poor shape. As work progressed I was amazed that it didn't sink underneath me. As John continued to work his magic, I became envious of his skill. After about the hundredth person asked me when I was going to launch her,I got angry. As one month stretched to two then three and finally four, impatience reared it's ugly head.  I had to wait day after day for the rain to subside so I could paint or John could caulk. It was incredibly frustrating. Finally,as I looked over the completed project, I experienced a feeling of pride... quickly followed by fear that I may have overlooked something. It didn't take long for me to start doubting myself, wondering if I forgot something, or thinking perhaps I should have gone the extra mile and re caulked the gar board seam or triple checked to make sure all the fastenings in the bottom were secure. Frankly there were days when my emotions were like an ad for the Olympics- from the thrill of victory to the agony of defeat, all in one short day. It's no wonder I'm as grey as a goose. For my next emotion, I guess I'll visit anxiety again, coupled with some fear and doubt. Somehow I've got to pay for all the time I spent in the harbor yard, to say nothing of paying John. Guess I better get out fishing.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Frequently I don't have the slightest idea of what I'm going to write about until I sit down and start to do it. For me, writing the blog post isn't like sitting down in the morning and knowing that I'm going to have a bowl of corn flakes, and that for the next five or six days I'm going to sit down and have a bowl of corn flakes- unless of course the breakfast fairy shows up and magically produces a plate of ham and eggs. I like to take pictures of various things from wherever I'm at to possibly use for a post in the future. For today's post I was able to draw on some photos  I took several weeks ago.  The top picture is of Alaska's state flower the Forget-me-not. I love them. They grow wild all over the place and add a bit of beauty to a hillside or garden in the spring. Chances are, if you gave someone a bouquet of Forget-me-nots, they'd never forget you - even if they wanted to. Wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, they're thinking of you. Studying for an important exam- they can't get you out of their mind. On a date with that special someone who you've been waiting to ask you out- guess who you're thinking of. The next photo is of Salmon Berries. I didn't look up the Latin name for them. It's probably something like Pinkius Berryious Tastyious or some such thing. The hummingbirds seem to like these pretty well. They seem to be attracted to red or bright pink flowers. I'm pretty fond of them myself. The berries get larger than raspberries and are either red or yellow. They have a sweet flavor, but are somewhat watery. Mixed with sugar and pectin, they make a delightful jam. When the berries are ripe there are usually paths through the bushes where the neighbor children are stocking up. I don't know if bears eat them or not, but since they're omnivores, I imagine they do. Speaking of bears, last week one came down between my house and my next door neighbors during broad daylight. That's kind of unusual. We've never had any problems with bears in this neighborhood before.He ran across the street and was scared by a lady who was yelling at it from inside the house. I guess she literally scared the crap out of him. When I came home she was outside hosing if off the street. Last night a bear got into a garbage can from the neighbor who lives behind us. Of course he dragged it into our backyard before he apparently pounced on it causing the trash bags to fly out of the can like a choking person launching a hunk of meat after receiving the Heimlich maneuver. I think if they're going to get into someones garbage, they ought to at least have the decency to consume it on the premises, instead of acting like they've ordered take out. Some people's cubs, I swear.
  The bottom picture is of Astilibe. This particular plant isn't really wild, it was planted in our backyard. I think it was a gift from our daughter. It does grow wild here though, all along the road down towards the cannery. When I hear the word Astilibe, I'm reminded that my dad wanted to name my sister Trillby. My mom absolutely wouldn't hear of it. Women have a lot of sway when it comes to naming the kids. I'm actually glad. Who knows what my name would be otherwise. I might have been Elmo or Horatio or Jeeves. Personally I'm kind of fond of Zeke- although Jeeves wouldn't be so bad. Probably not many fishermen by that name. With a name like Jeeves your fellow boat stall owners might expect you to bring them tea or tidy up their boat for them a bit. You would always wonder if they were inviting you over to talk fishing or serve them orduorves. Guess I'll stick with the name I've got.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Greybeards

It's been an incredibly busy year so far, with summer coming on and the start of the fishing season. As I have mentioned  numerous times on this blog, I've been working for months trying to get the boat wrapped up. It was hauled out for a major renovation and it has taken most of my time. While I was working on that, the second book I had been writing  had to be completed, so there was added stress. Once it's written, there's still all kinds of back and forth with the publisher and graphic artist. It's all quite exciting, but also time consuming and nerve wracking. Since I am self published, it's pretty much up to me to sell it, so that takes added time. I've been fortunate that my first book was so well received, so at least selling this one locally has been pretty easy so far. Several years ago I found myself down at the harbor checking on the boat in early spring. There were one or two other fishermen hanging around so I sauntered on over and joined them. The conversation turned to fishermen who used to live here and the characters that they were. One fisherman who has since passed on is old Charlie Tubbs. He was a foul mouthed fellow who smoked a pipe that was equally as foul. He told one of the men I was visiting, that during world war two he was in a submarine off the coast of Alaska, and the submarine dove so deep that when they came to the surface, their eyes popped out just like a rock fish. When he was asked how he dealt  with it he said-" Oh they just pop right back into the sockets." It was hilarious to hear. There was another fellow who used to come to town named Frank who lived by himself on his boat down at Spasski Harbor. He always had a black lab named Blackie. I think he went through about three Blackies in the time I knew him. About once a month he would come to town and buy a case of corn flakes, a case of canned milk and a forty pound bag of dog food. I think that's pretty much what he lived on. (not the dog food) Anyway, he had no laundry facilities and he wore the same wool clothes every day. I have to tell you, it was hard to have a conversation with him for more than a few seconds. I used to see him come into L. Kanes where I was working and I had to run upstairs and hide and pray he didn't come looking for me. The smell would take your breath away.  Anyway, while I was talking to these fishermen, I noticed that all of us were starting to show our age. There aren't many young people coming into the fishery any more, and those who have been fishing all their lives are starting to pass on. Because of this, I wanted to document a few of the lives of the Hoonah fishermen; get their stories down on paper before they're gone and are a topic of  conversation when their fellow fishermen gather at the dock. The Greybeards is a compilation of interviews that I did with ten local fishermen, told in their own words. I didn't try to correct anything that might be politically incorrect or offensive. If I had done that, the true character of the speakers would have been diminished. For those who might be interested in a look at the lives of these commercial fishermen and how things used to be, I hope you'll consider getting a copy of  The Greybeards. You can order from it's available in book form or kindle or you can contact me for a signed copy.  Just send me an email at or call me at 907-945-3585. Thanks- now it's time to get back to the boat.