Written by Jen Finn
Early September 2007 — All the while as I was messing with pink salmon and gillnet rigging, Wayde was fishing for kings in Bellingham Bay. His biggest day was 20 kings on the opening day, at which time Schillie-Sauce had 60 kings, Phillip had 50, and Art had 40 king salmon. Those are some pretty good numbers, especially considering they weigh around 20 pounds each, and the price at the dock was $3.50 per pound! And to top it off, Wayde, Art, and Schillie were selling to their own market for $6 per pound. Yowsa!
The second week of kings went by as I was wrapping up the humpy season and rigging the boom on the Satisfaction. After that I had nothing to do but hear about king fishing reports. I let these reports zip right by me because I don't have a king net, nor do I really want a king net. I've never been too interested in puttering over to Bellingham for three hours, then filling up my net with eelgrass and Dungeness crab that pinch your fingers while you try to pull them from the net.
After the first good king opening this year, I saw Mike, who owns the Wanda Lee, and Chuck pulling a king net onto the net float. It is 150 meshes deep, and has 10 fathoms of net stripped from the corkline from a sport boat that ran them over last year. Even as they were pulling the net onto the dock they didn't seem too excited about going fishing. Maybe they were dreading the hole repair, as mending net is not in everybody's bag of tricks.
Well, mending net IS in my bag of tricks, and after the second opening went by and that net still sat piled on the dock, I couldn't stop my wheels from turning. I called up Mike, and he told me they decided to not go king fishing after all. I pitched him the idea that if I fixed his net then I could use it for one opening. He was cool with that, so I went to work.
For an assistant I grabbed Wayde, who was basically idling around the dock waiting for the next opening. The hole was easy enough to repair, but the hard part was figuring out how to untwist the net from the jumbled pile. We couldn't stretch it out because the old wooden float was full of nails and splinters. So after a half hour of screwing with the twist, we loaded it onto the Satisfaction's net reel in a haphazard manner.
For crew on this voyage I took none other than Davis, the oceangoing old-timer who likes to rig rigging. I figured if he could sail for two weeks to Hawaii, he could handle a three-hour run to Bellingham.
I had no idea where to go, or how to fish Samish Bay for kings or anything else, so I called up a few friends who knew what they were doing, and tried to squeeze some information out of them. I figured out that the best sets were close to or outside of the channel that runs through the flats. With a shallow net you can go right over the channel, but with a deep one like mine it is best to stay in at least 7 fathoms of water where the shelf drops off to deeper water.
I found a set outside and east of the pack of boats, and before long there were a few more guys outside of me — it was clear that there were many more guys than usual fishing these kings. When we set out at 7 p.m., nobody set the direction I thought they would, so I set in some funky manner that I didn't anticipate.
As we sat on the net, I saw millions of strands of eelgrass drifting silently out of the bay. They floated independent and randomly, instead of in a big mob or island, although they do come in those varieties as well. By the time we picked up at 9 p.m. the net was a curtain of eelgrass. Our first set produced only one fish for our efforts.
It was clear that I wasn't going to set back in that dismal spot, so I moved right into the hot spot (the channel), and started searching for a spot. After a half hour of searching I found an opening to the east of the mob, but right on the edge of the flats in the deeper water. It was a good spot so I slapped it out. But halfway through the net I realized it shallowed up to only 5 fathoms, so I turned it out a bit, and followed the 5-fathom line until I reached the end of the net.
When I considered picking up a couple hours later, a thick fog rolled in so I decided to let it soak rather than search around in the fog for my next set. I was on this set for four hours before I picked. The first half of the net — the half in deeper water — was fine. We had one fish, a shitload of eelgrass, and just a couple of crab. But the second half — in the shallow water — was loaded with crab.
Nothing is more frustrating than picking creatures from a gillnet that spend their time trying to pinch your fingers off! I picked crab, and crab, and more crab. Then I came to the mark indicating there was a full 100 fathoms left to go. Only another 100 fathoms of crab! I picked crab for hours and hours and hours. Probably five hours total. I stopped keeping track. Davis couldn't believe it. He couldn't believe I did this for a living. I couldn't either. If this had been my first night ever fishing, it would have been my last. It was that bad.
But on the bright side, we had two more fish in that pile of crab. That gave us four fish total for the night! At least we had something to show for our efforts besides two handfuls of sore, pinched fingers.
TO BE CONTINUED...
NMFS has awarded 16 grants totaling more than $2.5 million as part of its Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program.
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