I was fortunate to be on a boat where the captain likes to play as hard as he works. It was a long season of hard work but it finally came to an end. The captain had planned a ten day end of the year trip for the crew (those who decided to stay) and some of his friends. Five of his friends flew up to Alaska to join us on the boat plus one friend of two crew members. Then a couple days into the trip the captain’s father and his friend flew to the boat on a float plane. Two of our crew members left before the trip and I considered it. I really didn’t want to have to pay my way back to the lower 48. By the end of the season I was so sick of everybody that I never wanted to see any of them again. This feeling of course has faded by now and I would be happy to see them. I am so happy that I stayed the trip was a blast.
We of course welcomed the friends and enjoyed a night on the town bar hopping. Then we set sail on a ten day party cruise involving: great company, amazing food, free flowing drinks, loud music, sport fishing, hunting, beach fires, hot tub, and all around great times. It had everything but sleep. We had good company except for the crew members friend that I didn’t much care for. The captain’s friends consisted of a retired Columbia River Pilot, an avid hunter, an expert sport fisher, and two others. They all worked together in Portland except for the River Pilot. They supplied the booze and food for the trip.
I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them. The days would start off with your choice of morning cocktail (For me Coffee, Irish Coffee, Beer, then Bloody Mary) and fishing pole in hand. Once everyone
was awake and their headaches started to wear off the music would get turned up. At times the music would be loud enough to send ripples from the boat during slack tide. (When the tides switch and the water is flat). Many fish were killed in these ten day. And of course the one that got away.
It was a halibut literally the size of a barn door, it had to weigh 200+ pounds. The Columbia River Pilot barely did any fishing but when he did he always seemed to hook one on his first cast. He hooked this one, and he fought it for a long time. He was able to get it to the side of the boat before it took off with a couple hundred yards of line. He was exhausted from this battle, and offered the rod up. Everyone said no, that it was his fish and he had to catch it. He said he couldn’t. So of course I took the rod, after I gave everyone else a chance that spent all that money to come up for the trip. For me the trip was a bonus, I had to do some minor work such as driving, dropping the anchor, and keeping an eye on the engine room since our engineer flew home.
I had already seen the size of the beast and it would be a trophy, for me. I fight it for a while and finally manage to get it back to the side of the boat. Some one gaffs it and another shoots it with a .45 caliber pistol. I watch the bullet bounce off the thick head of the halibut. The fish manages to either flip off the gaff hook or tear it through its flesh. Again the reel screams as it takes the line back out. Another long fight and I have it back to the side of the boat. Again they gaffed it and this time shot it with a .45 Long Colt hunting rifle (fit to take down a grizzly bear). The reel screams again as the fish takes off for the third time. It takes out about 50-100 yards of line and then there is no tension. The halibut managed to spit out the hook and hopefully live to see another day. I couldn’t have reeled it in again my arms were on fire, I would have had to pass the rod to the next person. I assure you there is no exaggeration in the fishes size, it was big enough in real life. It doesn’t even come close to a record either, halibut grow to much larger sizes. As, it stands my largest fish ever is a 68lb halibut, which is a good size but far from a trophy fish.
I also joined the hunter on several expeditions. This allowed me and him to get off the boat more often than the other, who were only interested in eating the deer, or going to the beach for bonfires and beach combing. We would jump in the skiff, a 14 foot inflatable Zodiac with an outboard motor, and explore the beaches stalking/sitting and waiting for a deer. As it turned out we would only see deer from the main boat and they would be gone by the time we reached shore. It did allow for some great exploration of the various coves where we would anchor. I am notoriously bad at hunting. I still enjoy spending time with nature so it is never a loss. And it is always nice to get away from the boat. I saw two black bears on the hunting trips which was pretty cool, I didn’t want to kill a bear.
There is a Buoy Tree in SE Alaska, the origins of which are unknown to us. The tree is about a quarter mile inland up a steep unforgiving hill. We speculate of why it exists: an eagle collecting buoys and dropping them in the tree, a coast guard training exercise, (my hypothesis) a group of friends annual fishing trip and every year they trek up the hill to hang a buoy they collected from the beach. I feel like mine is the most likely. While having a bonfire on the beach my captain challenged me to go put a buoy in the tree. So naturally I accept the challenge and grab buoy from the beach. I told him I will do it bright and early in the morning. I skiff about 500 yards to the shore, tie the boat off and start making my way through the thick over growth. I quickly received a call on the radio giving me a time limit or I will be left there. I doubt I would have actually been left (I had the skiff our fun taxi), but I made haste. Zigzagging up the hill trying to find the easiest way, I scrambled up small climbs, fought my way through the growth, trying to make my way to the Buoy Tree which I couldn’t see through the forest. I finally make it to the tree, I see no evidence of the reason why the buoys are there other than they were put there by man (tied with knots). The tree is dead and I climb my way to the top to make sure my buoy is the highest one. I enjoy myself for a couple minutes catching my breath and reveling in the view and my accomplishment. I then receive a radio call to get back to the boat, so I fight my way back down the hill to the skiff and then the boat.
(Should Anyone Know the True Origins I Would Love To Know, or other speculations)
A couple Close Calls I remember from Bristol Bay.
There were two dangerous scenarios we found ourselves in. All the tenders are usually lined up in “Tender Row”, right outside the fishing boundaries, for the convenience of the fishermen. This however doesn’t make a difference, on the company radio channel fishermen are always asking “Who’s buying fish in [Naknek/Egegik/The River]?” They could have simply listen to it and find out instead of asking every 30 seconds. One day after the work was done we were having our normal get together with our friends. The tender that was anchored off our bow started dragging anchor, meaning the anchor lost its grip on the sea floor and starts dragging backwards. This is very dangerous, they got about 30 feet from us heading straight towards one of the fishing boats tied off our starboard side. Their crew jump in but as they manage to pull away. However, the floating tow lines off the stern of the dragging boat was sucked up into their jet engine. The dragging boat got close enough that our anchor cable started vibrating from their propellers bumping it. Our boats could have gotten tangle or “Locked Irons”, this could result in our anchor slipping and the two boats being jack-knifed together dragging down the line destroying everything in our path. Fortunately, the other tender was able to fire up their engines and just barely avoid this disaster.
Another close call I remember was when we were anchored in the Naknek River waiting to refuel at the fuel barge. We were enjoying the down time, I was asleep in my rack. The tide started flooding and as we swung around on our anchor the boat hit a sand bar. I fortunately had the state room with no windows. I wake up in the dark a little disoriented with my sense of balance feeling off. I awoke in a ball with my neck turned sideways at the head of my rack. I stand up and realize that something is wrong, we currently have a 30 degree port list (the boat is leaning 30 degrees). Our boat couldn’t make the full swing so the tide was broadsiding us. The water is rushing through the scuppers over that side of the deck (some water on the deck is not a big deal it runs off). At this point there was nothing to do but wait for the tide to float us and hope we straighten out. The biggest concern was our anchor dragging once we floated, and maybe a slight chance of capsizing. All turn out straight after about 30 minutes from being off-kilter.
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