Lighter Side

What is life if there is not laughter? Welcome to the lighter side of flyfishing! We welcome your stories here!
April 14th, 2003

The Salmon Killers - Part 9
Bob Lawless, Port Ludlow, WA

Let the Good Times Roll

When all the gear was set, it was time now to begin catching anything that might have bitten while you were putting out all the hooks (36 or so). You always had to have a pattern for your eyes: first you looked at the port pole's springs to check for even the most remote of twitches. A tiny move that was not normal could signal that one of the hooks had struck something, maybe a weed or small fish, and was no longer fishing. So your number of chances had now dropped to 35 or so hooks. Pull it in and check everything.

Then your eyes went to the oil gauge. At all costs, the oil pressure had to be normal.

If not, the engine would be immediately shut down. It would be now a call for help to your friends. If none answered, then you sent out a "Mayday." The Coast Guard would now come. No oil pressure was a very serious event and failure to take immediate and appropriate action would result in the destruction of the engine.

Now your eyes moved to the starboard pole, again to check for anything abnormal.

Then you looked around a bit, noticing the tack of other boats. Was a collision eminent? If so, you had to knock the auto pilot off and resume control manually of the helm. Set a new tack; restart the pilot and return to fishing.

You now moved your eyes back to the port pole and repeated all of the moves previously described: port pole, oil gauge, starboard pole, look ahead, port pole and on and on all day until too dark to fish.

If this sounds a bit monotonous, let me avow that it is; it is monotony ad nauseum.

And when things would become no more eventful than your simple eye drill, and it would continue for hours on end, you became tired, bored, angry and confused all at the same time. Sleep, if only you could sleep! But no, you could cause a collision doing that, or, worse, you could allow the boat to go upon the rocks. Not only would your boat be lost but maybe your life as well.

I saw a boat do this once and it was smashed to small pieces. Fortunately, the three man crew was spared.

To cause or be involved in a collision was a most terrible thing. One time off Bodega Bay in California I had my marine radio on (it was actually required to be on at all times while fishing in case of an emergency) and I heard the dreaded call, "MAYDAY."

It was made by a crewman whose captain was upon the deck and had turned blue.

He didn't have a clue as to what to do. Apparently a collision with another troller had occurred and the captain had gone forward to attempt to work the boat free. This is often almost impossible to do because of all the cables and chains and booms. But you had to try. The captain had tried but fell back with a heart attack.

"This is the Lee Ann Rose and the captain ain't movin and he ain't breathin either," said the deckhand, "what can I do?"

I could always tell when there was fear in the radio because the voice would have that little quaver, even a stutter sometimes. There was fear big time in the voice I heard.

The Coast Guard has a practiced drill where they ask the name of the vessel, its position, color, number of people on board, the nature of the distress, and so on.

But I kept thinking, as these practiced questions were being asked, shut up with this nonsense. There is man on the deck who is not breathing. He has only four minutes to live. Give the crewman some instructions in CPR. Rescue this man!

But the guardsman who sounded like a kid kept on with his questions.

"What Should I do," repeated the crewman, "he don't look too good. He's blue and cold. What should I do for God's sakes."

The kid continued with asking about the color of the boat, number of people on board and so forth.

The four minutes came and went. And then the deckhand says, "I think he's dead. I don't hear no heart. I'm scared. I don't like being on a boat with no deadman."

Hours later another fishing boat hauled the dead man's boat ashore. There was an ambulance with lights flashing waiting at the boat ramp.

I was very upset at all this. Damn, that man had some loved ones somewhere and he had sacrificed his life trying to catch these stinking fish. I definitely thought I should quit. But how? You can't get out of the business easily. And I am going to talk it about somewhere down the road when it seems to fit better in this account of like as a salmon killer.

But it wasn't all fear and trembling; there were days so exciting that I couldn't sleep that night thinking about them. I would literally be shaking from all the stimulus. Mainly these were days when the money rolled in like mad. Days when a thousand dollar check might be your reward were very few and far between. But they did happen.

There is a sea buoy about a mile off the Bodega head at Bodega Bay, California.

For some reason unknown to me, a huge school of prime Coho salmon had gathered there, apparently attracted to the chain that held the buoy in place. Such objects in the water would sometimes become a seething froth of activity down below. You seldom had any idea what was going on in the wilderness beneath you. But bait might be attracted by all the worms that clung to the chain. And where there is bait there are salmon.

My partner and I passed this buoy very closely and we were rewarded with a nice Coho of about twelve pounds. That's a nice Coho because, unlike Kings, they seldom get much above 15 pounds. Our experience had taught us that where there was one, there might be more. So we came about, making a tight circle, and repassed the chain. Wham! Another nice fish, a Coho of about 10 pounds. We now settled in for the kill. Pass after pass, the salmon would strike. One of us would run the boat, taking turns, while the other worked aft, gaffing, resetting the hook and flasher, and then cleaning the fish. Now you could take your turn at the helm and get to sit down for a few minutes, but not for long as the cry of, "Fish on!" would quickly ring out. Time to swap duties.

Every pass of the buoy resulted in a fish worth anywhere from 20 to 30 dollars. And so it went until we were too tired to go on. Fish were everywhere, all over the deck, on the bunks in the cutty cabin, everywhere. In fact we had to walk carefully because you had to step between dead salmon, and you could easily fall overboard in your greed. Why we quit neither of us could later understand. Why didn't we go until we dropped from exhaustion? But I think there was a little voice inside of us that said, "Enough is enough!"

We unloaded our fish at the Bodega dock, the buyer, a big, fat man, paying us off in cash from a huge roll of bills. $500 bucks each. We could hardly believe it. Sadly, there was a fisheries biologist watching the whole show. He stepped over to me and politely asked where we had taken this big load of prime fish. I told him they were out by the sea buoy and we had laid into them. He turned slightly pale and said, "Those fish would be from the Papermill Creek run."

I read later that this run, heading toward a small river not more than a few miles away, was nearly extinct. To this day, I feel guilty about what happened. Even with a pocket full of money, you could not be happy. ~ BOBLAWLESS

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