Crewing in the Gulf of Alaska
May 25, 2015. Another king salmon opening, another slow day fishing. I was so confident that there would be good fishing in May this year and it hasn't panned out. The westerlies and an unusual amount of sun seems to have put the fish off of the bite. My new crewmember, Cathryn Klusmeier, remains enthusiastic and learns more every day. She is like a sponge, inquiring about everything, unabashed by her lack of experience trolling salmon.
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Last week, we had our best day with 14 king salmon averaging over 14 lbs, gilled and gutted. I was so confident today would be our first good day with 15 to 30 kings. After noon, we only have four and the westerly wind is humming at 25 knots. I make a move with the boat so I can troll with the wind and sea toward town with the lures fishing. Cathryn, who has been napping after getting up at 2:30 am for a 3:00 am departure, emerges from the bow bunk and announces:
"I sleep better on this boat than anywhere."
"Well......at least something is going well," I grumble.
She looks out the back door.
"You caught a king while I was sleeping!”
"Yeah, but it is the only one since you went down 3 hours ago and I just got it."
"I will clean it as soon as I can get my gear on," Cathryn informs me.
She appears to be thrilled to have a king to clean on the back deck in 25 knots of wind and spray.
I contemplate what I did right in my life that this young deckhand has chosen to go fishing with me.
I steer the I Gotta with the wind and rollers down the 20-fathom deep underwater bottom edge on the troll drag, where I have scratched up a few kings this time of year. As Cathryn is cleaning up the deck, the starboard bow pole gets a bite. The first pull is just a slight bounce. The tip of the 30-foot aluminum pole bends and wiggles. The stay-down rope vibrates, the whole pole comes to life and trembles for a nanosecond before the metal memory springs it back up toward rigid straight. My eyes are locked on the pole; I am focused on the bite, reading the pole as it tells me all kinds of details about the fish I just hooked and whether it will stick or be a “misbite.” It sticks, the pole rocks and rolls as the king salmon, a good but not huge one, lunges against the inexorable force of the hook and leader that has taken control of it.
“Good king on the starboard bow," I shout to Cathryn. "Let it ride for a minute so it tires out before winding it in."
She finishes rinsing off the deck and engages the gurdy spool for the starboard bow. She has become steadily smoother at running the gear after a couple of weeks of work. Knowing I don't have to watch her work to prevent injuries or correct errors, I turn my focus to keeping the gear on the edge.
I hear the gurdy stop and glance back to see the troll snap, which connects the leader to the wire bow line, placed on the playing snubber. I resist the urge to go out and watch her gently coax the king in. I am maneuvering my gear around the edge of an underwater hump and through a nice school of herring when I hear the conk of the gaff meeting the head of the king — one of the sweetest sounds in the universe to this aged salmon predator.
About the same time as I hear a grunt from Cathryn and the fish hits the back deck, the port bow gets a bite. Instant replay of the starboard bow, except that after a few seconds there is an additional jerking. The port bow is rocking and rolling as two kings fight the gear. The I Gotta surfs on with the westerly lump and wind. I go to the back door and shout into the wind,
"Cathryn, doubleheader on port bow.”
"I got it," she shouts over the wind.
"You will have to handle the gear and fish by yourself if you are up to it. I need to stay on the wheel and controls to dig a few more off this edge in this slop."
"Got it, Skipper," Cathryn shouts back with a smile.
After she lands the two kings off the port bow and starts cleaning them, I am compelled to dig out the camera to capture the joy she is radiating. She is in charge of the deck, the fish are coming, the westerly is humming, and so is Cathryn.