The Salmon Killers - Part 7
Bob Lawless, Port Ludlow, WA
Some of the worst times experienced were simply
the mornings, that time of day from awakening to
setting the gear in the ocean. Nothing was pleasant
about this. Awakening when you are deprived of sleep,
sometimes for days, is never easy. I always placed
the alarm far enough away so that I would have to
get out of bed to shut it off. The trailer was always
cold, the outside even colder and very dark. Dawn would
not come for an hour or so , but you had to hurry to
arrive on the fishing grounds before the light hit
At daybreak, there was always a magic time when the
bait, mostly herring, would be up near the surface,
and the salmon, mostly King Salmon, would be right
under them and very hungry. Almost always I would
get a fish or two during the magic time, and they
might be the only fish for the day--enough to pay
for the gas. These fish, as others would say, would
get the stink off your boat (when you took a fish,
you had to put it in the hold which was kind of stinky
due to blood that collected here and there even though
you tried to keep things as clean as possible. Thus,
opening the hold would air it out; you got the stink
off your boat).
I tried to deliver the best product I could. This
was human food: some would be eaten raw. You had
I hated getting out of the cozy, warm bed and into the
fray. But I had to do this; I was committed and driven
to do my best. Plus, if you stayed in bed, everyone
would ask where you where. My peers were tough and I
had to avoid shame. So get up dammit!
Always sort of nauseous, I didn't eat much, a doughnut
and V-8 would be it. I'd make coffee for the thermos
and choke down a cup or two for myself. The very first
thing on arising, even before the toilet, was to turn
on the Mickey (a CB radio) and the VHF( a powerful
marine radio) so that I could listen for the slightest
bit of news. I always hoped maybe Shorty would be already
out on the grounds and someone might call and say, "Hey
Short, what's it look like?," Though I never met him,
this would be Old Saw Horse, maybe a retired carpenter,
and, as stated, I never saw him, but I thought I knew
him well because of the radio. And I hoped that Short
would say, "Not for me today. I'm comin' back."
With these words, you could almost hear a huge collective
thud as hundreds of heads fell back upon their pillows and
immediately went back to sleep with the day off. I would
yelp for joy because now I might fry up a pound of bacon
and a dozen eggs and eat it all up, washing it down with
plenty of strong coffee, sometimes wine (I only did this
once). Maybe a round of golf now. Or just sleep all day.
What a treat! Get a paper and read everything in it. Wow!
But most days Short would say,"Get your ass out of bed.
It looks fishable but it's kinda' nasty and there's wind.
But I'm going out and see what happens."
Damn! Probably rough as hell, balls to the walls, and the
talk of wind already is not a good thing. With only a
slight increase in wind, what was a marginal sea state
would go over the top and become dangerous. How did we
know/not know that this early wind would not quickly
become a gale? Maybe it would blow for days as it often
did. How did we know? But if Shorty was going to fish,
then I had to fish. Shorty fished tough water though,
and I didn't trust his judgment as a result. But I had
to go out and look. There was no choice here.
With talk of wind, many fisherman would go to "Chicken Point."
Here, on this bluff where you could see the ocean, even in
the dark, men would gather to discuss the waves and the
swell. This was difficult in the dark of night, but if
any of the waves could be seen breaking, most would not
fish and they were the chickens. I always said, "Well,
I'm goin' out and see what happens." Sometimes this was
just a lie and I'd go back to the trailer and go back
However, most days, even when dangerous for a small boats,
we'd fish. We were driven by the money. I know of no job
where men risk their lives so that others could eat the
delicious salmon which the whole world doted on. I always
hoped that in a nice, warm restaurant somewhere as a patron
dug in to a beautiful salmon fillet, that they would say,
"Isn't this just wonderful? They have beautiful fish here.
I wonder who caught them?" No fishing-no salmon. For bucks,
you risked your life. No risks--no bucks or salmon. This
was all plain and simple capitalism in its rawest and
cruelest form. Few questioned this most basic truth.
I'd go back to camp worrying about the hard day ahead.
I knew that the boat would roll violently, and to keep
my feet all day, my legs would become completely worn
out. It would be a dog tired day and probably no fish.
Damn that Shorty!
Now I had to rush to make it out by first light. Get my
lunch out of the freezer, always the same thing, a baloney,
braunschweiger and cheese on French bread sandwich and a
beer. On the boat, there would be a case of canned herring
to munch on if you needed something to eat before lunch.
It was ironic that the fish and the fisherman ate the same
After stumbling down the stairs, I had to ready the boat,
and get the engine started and all gear had to be
carefully adjusted and checked as there would be no
time for such important tasks once the boat met the
sea. You just would be too busy with other things.
Now you cast her off, pulling in and stowing all the
mooring lines and backing out from the slip to enter
the river and begin the mile long downstream trek that
led to the ocean. But even here was danger. You might
crash into a neighboring boat and gouge the hull. Or
you might not turn correctly and go aground or you
might block the river and some jerk behind you would
run you down in his ignorance to stay a respectful
distance behind. Oh what a lovely time. But these
minor dangers would pale against the troubles which
were surely up ahead. So it was down to the sea in
little ships. ~ BOBLAWLESS
Lighter Side Archive