Tuesday, July 19, 2011
1st Memorial Fishing Trip Report or....The Mysterious Island
I stopped by my rig and shouldered my pack with all my gear and checked the note in my pocket with the slip number written on it- and headed for the correct boat where hopefully my companions would be joining me. A few minutes later I arrived on time and checked in with the skipper of the boat. Today's shark charter would have 6 of us on a 28' boat- 4 fisherman, a deckhand, and the skipper. Colloquially called a "Six Pack" in these waters it was a pretty standard configuration albeit older and showing considerable wear and tear; room for 4 to fish from the back, a small head and cuddy cabin below forward, elevated con in the middle under a canvas top. This boat was named the Swifty and the two massive 300 horsepower outboards hanging off the back should be an indication that the boat was aptly named. Since I was the last to arrive on board I presented my fishing license to the captain who recorded my information and we were off to the fuel dock to take on fuel and more coffee.
The captain was a friendly enough sort, apparently to hear him tell it one of the foremost shark men in the Sound (more on that later) and as we motored through the "No Wake" zone out of the harbor gave us the standard safety speech and let us know that we would be making the run out to Hinchinbrook Island in pursuit of salmon sharks. The weather was looking rougher by the moment and I was happy to have new rain gear and a total lack of predisposition to seasickness. My companions for the trip were a couple of coworkers and friends, Gary and Dan, as well as Dan's longtime girlfriend Jenny. We all made ourselves more or less comfortable on the aft deck and as we drifted past the buoy the captain fired the starboard engine and pushed the throttles forward. Swiftly was apparently correctly named and as the captain planed out the boat we were streaking across the water past the hulking trawlers working the run of pink salmon in the bay.
Two and a half hours later after crossing a large chunk of the Gulf of Alaska we drifted to a standstill over some unknown underwater structure where the captain told us was a good spot to fish for sharks. According to the radio chatter on the marine set the boat moored a half mile west was none other than Larry Csonka, who was busy trying to catch sharks for his North to Alaska television program. We rigged two marine "big game" rods with huge Penn deep sea reels with steel leaders and dual hooks. The bait was a whole pink salmon-one hook through the gut and one through the head. Anything the size of a shark that hit this bait would be very likely to be secured onto either or both of the large circle hooks.
With one exception. No one had informed the sharks that this was a participatory sport on their part.
After an hour of cruising- slowly pulling the bait- we stopped and readjusted, checked weights, and changed depths. The formerly enthusiastic and chatty captain was now somewhat crestfallen and oddly silent- driving the boat in a course and chain smoking cigarettes. The deckhand went below and fell asleep.
It started to rain.
"I know a spot, about 4 miles away where the tide line runs we can catch some huge halibut if you guys are willing to give up and sharks and go for flat fish" the captain proffered. I was not impressed but I decided that continuing to keep doing what we were was going to just be unproductive and I cast my vote- "I'm in." The rest of the folks quickly added their vote- anything was better than driving a boat in circles under a pouring raincloud with the only fish on the line a dead one used as bait. I was skeptical of the skipper's claim- it smelled of desperation but my own foul mood on this failing adventure occurring on the anniversary of my father's death may have colored my judgement. At least a little.
A few minutes under the Swifty's considerable power and we were there- anchored off the shore in deep water with a ripping current rushing under the boat. At precisely 2:05 the tide turned and the boat swung on its anchor and we dropped lines with generous chunks of salmon on circle hooks with three pound weights down to the bottom. Even the rain cloud that had drenched us for hours moved on to the west, leaving us a little sun. Within moments Dan had cried out, "Fish ON!" and just a few moments later had a thirty pound halibut next to the boat. It was hooked just barely and the skipper urged Dan to let it get off and escape- "That's a real little one for this spot," he said. "Ok", replied Dan (just a little defiantly I thought) and let his line go slack. The wriggling fish flipped his tail and disappeared in the black water. I was hoping that wasn't the only thing we caught.
We caught fish.
It was four o'clock and we had limited a boat of anglers with consistently large fish- simply unheard of these days. The skipper, smiling ear to ear- his bragging rights among the other skippers secured, helped the deckhand collect our gear and turned the boat toward home. Gary's monster would weigh in at the dock at 150.6 pounds and the aggregate weight of our seven fish would be just over 650lbs, an average of 92 pounds- each! Gary remained in Valdez overnight to pick up our fish from the processor- 303 lbs of processed filets. A winter's supply of fish for our families. It was incredibly gratifying to see the boys struggle up the ramps with two carts full of fish. I was thankful for the fish and a sea adventure story worthy of telling in remembrance of my Dad.