Thursday, September 5, 2013

Alaska: Day 1.

I took notes every night in bed before I passed out while the sun was still shining. My next several posts will detail the days of my trip. We stayed at Doc Warner's, Excursion Inlet, AK. It was actually the second day in Alaska, but first day fishing.

Today I learned the method for fishing both halibut and salmon. First the halibut:

We set out close to camp and anchored around a spot called Waterfall. Halibut fishing was slow, deep (100-300ft) and extremely heavy. It was exhausting just to bounce a 1# weight on the bottom. My arms got really tired, and my Dad laughed at me when I asked if there was a "trick" to make it easier. I did manage to catch 1 small one though, and when you hook one you kind of forget how hard it is to lift the pole and reel it in.

It's a terribly awkward rig: ~2 inch twisted hook and a ball weight attached to a rope in an inverted V – one at each end. Then where the rope meets at the point is where it attaches to your line. You let out the line until you feel the ball hit the bottom. This takes several minutes, and you are supposed to keep your thumb on the reel as the line runs out.

Then you jig (lift the pole about a foot, which lifts the ball, and then let it drop back to the bottom – over and over). This is tiring enough on it's own. That is, until you feel dull taps of a fish at the bottom hitting your bait and you try to set the hook. Half the time or more, after several taps and a pull, I'd reel up that heavy load sure I had a fish only to find my bait gone and only the ball on the end. Speaking of bait, the typical bait for fishing halibut was a salmon head or steak, and a piece or two of herring. The salmon gives the halibut something to latch on to, the herring attracts them by the scent of their oils.

That reminds me, I also learned to catch herring, which is its own kind of fun. One pole on the boat had 6 little hooks with flies all attached to one line about a foot apart that you drop in the water down around 10 feet, and in about 1 minute you reel it back in and hope to have 6 herring and no pollock fish. That rarely happens though. So then you have to unhook all the fish as they flap all over the deck and hooks fly around. You end up keeping the herring/tossing back the pollock, all while trying to avoid stabbing yourself with one of the flailing hooks.

During the halibut lesson, Brad caught an "undesirable" fish. We thought. At orientation we heard about several species you are required to keep if you catch. This ugly bulging-eyed spiky huge orange thing was called a yellow-eyed rock fish. It was bloated and gross, a nuisance. We forgot about it even, when we took a break from the halibut fishing and went up to the lodge to eat lunch (the only day we took a mid-day break).

So we're finishing our pb&j's when some of the staff came up all giddy and excited and said they would not fillet our rock fish until we took a picture, "I've never seen one so big!"

So we walk down to the dock and all of them are down there posing with the fish, "This thing's 17 pounds!! Do you know how old it is??" Turns out about 105 years old. And basically a delicacy, similar to red snapper (see top pic).

The second half of the day we fished the salmon. Trolling along the shore with the line out until there's a strike. Like walleye fishing only with a different rig, and shallower than the halibut. While you have your line out, the countless salmon taunt you, jumping all around your boat. Then suddenly someone gets a "Fish On!" the boat stops and everyone else brings their line in to get them out of the way, while they try and land it. This is because you need a net to get it in the boat and it twists and turns and flops around like mad. So one person drives, one person reels it in, one person mans the net and one person (usually me) tries to stay out of the way and keep the boat balanced. This collective effort becomes that much more extreme when 2-3 people end up hooking a fish at the same time. We had relocated to find the salmon (Home Shore) and once we got started this fishing was exciting – we brought in some large silvers which was exhilarating and fun.

By the end of the day, wet and freezing, before going anywhere else, the first stop is The Drying Room. The Drying Room is a magical place heated by the exhaust from generators that power the whole camp. It's walls and beams are lined with a couple hundred hooks. Here, you strip off your wet, scale-y, slimy, bloody, smelly top layer and hang it to dry as you walk up from the water. Or maybe you just sit down in there for a while to thaw out. Several times a day on the boat, usually when I was at my coldest and wettest, I day-dreamed about the magical hour when I would step into this room at the end of the day. Here even the wettest of clothing was piping hot and dry within about 45 minutes.

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