Of all the writing that Charlie Ess, our North Pacific bureau chief, does for NF, I love his at-sea stories the most. Charlie really knows how to make a fishing trip come alive. And happily, we get to share another one of them with you in our May issue.
Back in the day, Charlie and his wife, Cheryl, had a salmon fishing operation at Ikatan, near False Pass. However, it’s been many years since he’s picked fish from a gillnet.
But when his cousin, Cate Bursch, offered him the opportunity to go setnetting in Bristol Bay’s Ugashik district with her crew last summer, Charlie jumped at the chance. Even better, Charlie got to take his son, Clarence, fresh from graduating from high school, with him. They’d be able to spend quality time together in the demanding sockeye salmon fishery, building a great memory before Clarence would head off to become a Navy SEAL. Reading about how Clarence and Charlie, pictured here, each handle the challenges they face is a real treat.
However, in true Paul Harvey fashion, there’s more to the story. Charlie sent me a note the other day that serves as a postscript to the Ess men’s salmon adventure. Here’s Charlie’s update:
“So the months roll on since Clarence and I came home from fish camp. We clean out his room, empty out his truck, wash it up and get it ready to put on blocks for three or four years. We stay overnight in an Anchorage hotel so that we can watch him leave in a bus for the airport the next day after a swearing in ceremony.
“I cannot describe the range of feelings that flood through me that final morning: Here he is, this strong and willing young man, yet it was just years ago when he was the little guy that we took out on Rich Corazza’s salmon seiner. And while I would assume it is every father’s fear that his kid might not make it back from a tour of duty alive, Clarence’s imminent departure sets up familiar pangs of when I left home to begin what would become 35 years of adventure in Alaska. I would not have wanted to be denied that opportunity.
“So, we’re in a waiting area while he undergoes one last physical exam before shipping off, and they find a 3-inch vein bulging in his leg. They are calling it varicose, but they think it’s just fine. We know so as he had veins bulging out of his legs and his arms like anybody who’s trained as hard as he has for the past five years. But process is process and typical of the government, his superiors need to file for a waiver.
“Flash forward seven hours, and they rule that the vein condition is not only significant enough to bar him from joining the SEALs (he has already had a SEALs contract in hand since May) but any branch of the U.S. military. Fast-forward several months, and Clarence continues to work out six to seven hours a day but has enrolled with a full load of credits in college. With summer upon us my cousin Catie offers him a job out at the fish camp again.
“In the weeks that follow, I decide that I need to join him for another year on the water. We have begun talking about the gear we will pack for this summer’s fishing season at Ugashik. For Clarence it is a consolation. For me, well, I’m just stoked and already having dreams of nets so full that they’re busting.”
Charlie tells me Clarence isn’t the only one working out. Dad, mindful of the physical demands of the fishery (and the accompanying aches and pains) is determined to be ready for this year’s father-son adventure. No doubt it will prove equally memorable.