Just when you think you know someone, a situation three decades later defines deeper connections to those who share a like-minded affinity for fishing and the sea. Friendship, hardship and that old demon time aligned this past summer to put my wife, Cheryl, and I on deck for a month of bliss with Joe Weber.
Weber, 59, and his brother Eric “Ric” had become a fixture in our lives at False Pass when we owned a salmon set gillnet operation in the 1980s and through the mid-1990s. Though we sold our permit and skiffs 22 years ago, the Weber brothers continued their fishing seasons without missing a beat.
That all changed a year ago, when Ric, fell victim to dementia. It was with a palpable mixture of sadness and honor that we attempted to fill his boots and went sockeye fishing with Joe in June.
Though our catch for the season was the weakest that any of us could remember, we found medicinal value in our time aboard Weber’s boat, the Kelly Rae. As the days ticked by, Cheryl and I fell into the rhythm of pulling through the nets and helping Joe tend to an old boat’s mechanical needs.
By night, we relived stories of record catches, huge waves and days we thought would never end. Best of all, the unique reunion erased any proprietorial secrets of our past, and we were able to divulge our knowledge of currents, tides and fish.
“Of all time, my most fabulous day of fishing was after wrapping up an outstanding week fishing on the north side [the Bering Sea side of False Pass],” says Weber. “We came back into the pass, switched to deeper gear and caught the last tide on the south side for 4,000 pounds more.”
In his offseason, Weber owns and runs Enumclaw Ski and Mountain Sports, in Enumclaw, Wash. As we put up the boat and stowed the nets away, we had already begun planning for next season and another helping of the lifestyle that only fishing can provide.
“It’s all about freedom,” says Weber of the choices of where and how to set his two nets. “Out here, you can pretty much do what you want.”