Friday, November 4, 2016

Thirty Eight Years and Counting....

Commercial entry commission cards for the various salmon seasons. For awhile the Pacific Halibut Commission was issuing cards as well. There are also a few tide books from years gone by.  A necessary asset for any fisherman, commercial or sport.

 When I first came to Alaska I was astounded by the unparalleled beauty of the place. Here in Hoonah there were mountains that tumbled into a salt water bay,  rivers that abounded with trout and salmon, towering Spruce and Hemlock trees and wildlife in abundance. The town itself was a different matter all together. The world war two vintage houses were in various states of need. The homes that were built alongside the dirt road leading to the ferry terminal were caked with mud from the few vehicles that plied the street. The windows were so streaked that it seemed impossible that any light at all could penetrate. There were several houses on the main drag that had been burned to the point of making them unlivable, and yet they were still standing. A walk through town would reveal that I was in a very different place from what I was used to. The values that I had grown up with, as far as home ownership,for the most part weren't evident  here. Instead of manicured lawns and painted houses, I saw washing machines and refrigerators and even a bus  languishing in the weeds in front of homes where they had been discarded. Many of the homes looked like they hadn't seen a coat of paint in many years, if ever. It was a bit of a culture shock. However, I was most pleasantly surprised that many of the people here were commercial fishermen. The idea that someone would pay me to catch fish was foreign to me. I never really thought about the guy who caught the tuna I shook out of a can or the men on the trawlers who brought me the delightful Mrs. Paul's fish sticks I so enjoyed. Of course they had to be paid, but to be able to catch a salmon on a fishing rod and deliver it to the dock and receive money, what a concept! For the first few years after my arrival, I wasn't afforded the opportunity to make any money to even purchase a boat. However, once I took a job in town and a few disposable bucks came rolling in, I decided to invest in a fourteen foot Hi-Laker fiberglass skiff with a fifteen horse outboard engine on the back. Initially I bought it to give myself some freedom to come and go back and forth from town to the farm where my family and I were living. But since I loved fishing and even more loved the idea that I could make a days wage off of just one good salmon, I decided to invest in a hand troll permit. The year was 1978. It runs in my mind that  a few years later that all troll licenses went limited entry. Prior to that it seems like anyone could decide they wanted to be a troller and could get a license from the state for a reasonable amount of money. Like anything though, if everybody decides they want to be a fisherman, than the amount of money that each fisherman receives gets smaller and smaller with each new entrant. Hence, limited entry came about. I was fortunate enough to qualify for an interim hand troll permit and up until 1995  I was what was known as a hand cranker. I could use up to four rods at one time or two hand gurdies from my boat, whereas the power trollers  could use four gurdies that were connected to hydraulic lines that were used to raise and lower their gear. In terms of efficiency power trolling was the only way to go. A fellow could run much heavier leads and much more fishing gear on each line, thus covering a greater area and gaining access to many more fish than a guy trying to bring up just a few leaders. As long as the hydraulics keep working, you can yard in as many fish as you can catch. With hand trolling, it's a matter of stamina. If you're in good shape you can keep pulling for a long while, but eventually your strength gives out or your elbow starts aching or something.  In "95" I bit the bullet and bought a power troll permit. At the time it cost me $28,000 and was a substantial investment. I took out a state loan to pay for it, but I never looked back on the decision to buy it. I can't say that I've ever made the big bucks fishing. If I weren't so afraid of the the weather out on the ocean I could do considerably better, but at this stage of my life, if I can go out around the local area and catch a few and enjoy some good weather and still be home for supper, that seems to suit me. I'm not sure how much longer I'll keep fishing. My mind says go until the end, but my body has different ideas. We'll see who wins out. In the meantime, it won't be long until the State of Alaska sends me the paperwork for the 2017 fishing season.I expect I'll fill it out and send a check for my salmon and halibut licenses and look forward to year number thirty nine.

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