National Fisherman

At Sea Diary

Matt MarinkovichMatt Marinkovich’s weekly At Sea Diary entry is a popular feature of the National Fisherman Web site, and now you can post your own reflections on Matt’s experiences fishing in the Pacific Northwest and North Pacific.

Late August 2007 — A humpy, in all its abundance, is damned near impossible for me to catch with a gillnet. Maybe I have this perspective because whenever I am allowed to chase the things in the San Juan Islands it is flat calm, which doesn't lend to good humpy fishing because they just lie there with nothing better to do. When I'm pulling back sets for five or 10 fish, the purse seiner inside of me is brailing aboard 5,000 of the things.

So when we were allowed to fish for pinks, I wasn't too enthused. Making it even less exciting was the mandate of releasing any sockeye back into the sea — fish politics at its finest! But since this was our only chance of the summer to catch any fish, I was ready and willing to go.

To make the task more enjoyable, I brought along my next-door neighbor, Farmer Jim, and Bruce, my late-season crew guy in Bristol Bay. It was an all-day opener, from 8 a.m. to midnight. There was plenty of room on the fishing grounds, since not too many guys want to bother fishing for $0.25 a pound humpies. But I knew I could sell as many as I could catch to my loyal fish customers for only $6 a piece, so I was geared up and ready to go.

It was a long, uneventful day of fishing, and we wound up with a total of 65 nice, big humpies. The purse seiners we fished around averaged around 20,000 pounds each. To celebrate the day, we cooked up a humpy, because we had to throw all the sockeye back. But the meat on that humpy was so red we swore we must have grabbed a sockeye by mistake; but sure enough when I double-checked, it was a humpy... it was the damnedest thing I ever saw.

Maureen sent out an e-mail to our fish-list of customers, and at 9 the next morning people were lined up waiting for my arrival — probably because I was 10 minutes late, but nonetheless it is always nice to see a crowd waiting to buy my fish.

It was the fastest I had ever sold a load of fish on San Juan Island. Those things were gone in a half an hour, and there were still people coming for more. I was going to be done with this humpy nonsense, but I felt so bad seeing my fish customers walk away empty-handed, I just had to go after a few more for my people.

The next opening came the following day. This time, I took my neighbor's father, Davis, and the brother of the guy who is doing work on our house, Mike. Mike is an avid sports fisherman, and Davis has sailed to Hawaii and back a half a dozen times. So I figured I was pretty well equipped with boat smarts for this trip.

Fishing was slower than the previous opening; maybe it had something to do with the monstrous pod of killer whales that moved through the area. I had just a handful of fish on my first set, and the tide zipped me all the way down to Pile Point. Since I was armed with my team of boaties, I had them sit up on top and drive back up to Eagle Point while I stood in the stern and cleaned our meager catch.

I kept an eye on their course from the stern. Occasionally I saw a killer whale spout nearby. All was well in the world, until for some reason, Mike pulled the boat out of gear — while we were at running speed! I knew what was next: He would realize he did something wrong, and try to fix it by reversing the wrong he had just done by putting the boat back into gear at FULL THROTTLE! Instead of saying anything that could be misinterpreted, I beat feet toward the stern controls so I could pull back the throttle myself. I had to step over the checker boards on deck, and around the back of the level wind, and skitter across the end of the net laying on deck, and I was lunging to pull back the throttle when >CLUNK!!!< I was too late. Mike had beat me to it.

I stood frozen, listening to the engine, waiting to hear a dismantling fragmentation of the transmission spinning gears and chunks of metal all over the bilge. Miraculously, I heard nothing out of the ordinary — just the same old drone of my iron Cummins Triple-Nickle.

After that near-death (for my boat, anyway) incident, we survived the day. Mike said the reason he took the boat out of gear was because he didn't want to run over the killer whale.

Our catch was a meager 30 fish, definitely enough to call it quits on the summer season, no matter how badly my customers wanted their humpies. It was a go-backwards season in the San Juan Islands, but I didn't get too worked up about it because after all, this is my "vacation" fishery.

TO BE CONTINUED...

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