The Ones That Got Away
A First Time Fish Story
Copyright©2013 All Rights Reserved
Like many fishing stories, the following may contain some exaggerations, truth stretching and other sea addled memories. But it is based on the true recollection of my first time salt water fishing expedition. In no way does this reflect on or disparage any brave men and women who might venture forth on the open waters for fame, fortune or necessity.
….and with apologies to my fishing guide and new found friend, Gordon.
PLEASE RATE STORY USING POLL AT END
It is not that the fish were being uncooperative. In fact they turned out to be as helpful as possible. But I get ahead of myself.
Thanks to a clandestine plan hatched by my lovely spouse, and accomplished home chef, an arrangement had been made with our recently met local hike and outdoors specialist. She wanted to get her a new culinary skill – smoking fresh, recently swimming local aquatic vertebrates – i.e fish. Of course this required apprehending said fish. And that was something that she was not keen on doing. Given her general dislike of being in or on the water, it fell to me to be ready at the 4 AM start on Saturday morning. Sounds like fun!
In my first outing as a ocean fisherman, 4AM came early – early no matter what your morning habits. Also, after almost 45 days of continuous sunshine and 20 degree plus weather, it was of course rainy and overcast. But whats to worry. In my semi awake state, I thought that if you are going to be surrounded by water, you may as well have water coming from above to make it complete. Anyway, the weather forecast for up island indicated another day of sunshine was forth coming. The early morning clouds were supposed to be burned away by warming sunlight predicted to arrive some 2 hours after dawn. Seemed far away.
At the appointed time our new friend and guide, Gord cheerfully showed up and dragged me from my comfortable weekend retreat to drive through back roads and dark forests leading to our destination. I had packed some extra clothing but based on the forecast, was wearing shorts and a sweater. What little conversation I could absorb in the 30 minute plus drive indicated that our foray could be cold and wet. Wetter even still given the clouds I could see gathering darkly overhead. Despite the cheerful forecast, my more expert fisher colleague indicated a full orange survival suit in the back of the boat might be a more desirable attire.
Still steeped in nights shadows, the first nations launch site near Beecher Bay on the west coast of Vancouver Island could be vaguely seen by its small local porch light. Here you paid for the privilege of launching your fishing yacht, or in our case large row boat, into the early morning choppy waters of the Pacific Ocean. Though chilly I took heart from other brave souls , who presumably knew better than I, were wearing short sleeves and light pants. No doubt I would be fine and would not have to squeeze into the, obviously well used and odorous florescent orange survival suit being pushed on me.
Gord was well organized and soon backed his truck and trailer down the launch site. Manually offloaded the boat, he then left me to shiver in the cold to ensure the boat did not float away while he parked his truck. While I waited, I could see other crafts electronically launching all around. Most were no less than twice as big as the small boat that I looked down on. Fine sleek craft with full cabins to keep you warm. No doubt they had servants serve them coffee and warm biscuits as their twin engines purred gently pushing them out to the open water. All I could think was that even the waves from these other vessels might easily capsize my friends scow, let alone what the open ocean waves might upset.
But such cheery thoughts had to be put aside as the captain of our craft soon returned. Asking me once more whether the orange suit might be an option. Seeing my less than positive reply, shrugging he climbed on board. I quickly followed and he pull-started the outboard engine.
With some hesitance the engine caught after 2-4 tries. We slowly headed away from the relative safety of the harbour. All around others were similarly heading out to claim their preferred fishing spots. The sun was unsuccessfully trying to break through the clouds as it crested the horizon. I slumped into my seat.
Everything was gun metal grey. From cloudy skies barely showing any of the grey skies above, to deep cold water just inches below where I sat. The wind picked up as more power was given to the engine as I pulled my less than adequate wind breaker a little tighter. Not for the first time I sleepily grumbled to myself about having agreed to this less than comfortable adventure.
That lack of comfort soon turned to chill not caused by the cold. The engine suddenly sputtered to a halt allowing the current’s hand to grab the boat and pushed out towards the larger white caps further from shore. The skipper pushed a leaver, primed the pump and checked the gas lines as he unsuccessfully tried to start the engine.
With no propulsion, we continued to be coerced further out into the Pacific Ocean. My imagination pictured us drifting out to sea to be lost and eaten by some great white or frozen dead from hypothermia. Meanwhile my colleague happily disconnected hoses , banged this and that…and pulled that cord. All to no avail. He then opened the engine and started fiddling with parts totally foreign to me.
Then reconnecting everything he tried again with no success. Stepping over me, while the boat swayed, he proceeded to the front of the boat. There, unnoticed before, sat a big red gas container tied with velcro. Somehow this fed fuel through a hidden hose running from bow to stern.
Now I was more worried about the whole thing blowing up and meeting a fiery death 2 miles from shore. And not even one fish to thank for my early demise.
Returning to the engine, Gord again disconnected and reconnected the dripping gas line; hit it a few more times and started pulling on that cord with renewed vigour. Increasing my trepidation with each pull it took at least 4-5 tries before the engine coughed back to life. We had to relive this less than happy experience at least 3 more times as the engine continued to protest. Finally it grudgingly accepted its task of keeping us within sight of dry land – just.
Fishing for salt water salmon is not like any fishing that I am familiar. Not that experience can be a term generally associated with me and fishing of any kind. None-the-less, there is a lot to do before you sit down and do nothing but wait.
First you ensure the poles are untangled from their mess of fishing lines, connecting multiple pieces into a longer pole. Very similar to putting together a high end pool cue (something that I am eminently more familiar). Then the assembled poles are balanced in containers similar to a candle holder on each side of the boat.
Of course the lines must be adorned with a flasher – purple, red, or green metal measuring 6 inches or so by 2 inches wide. All the better to attract your unsuspecting target fish who might otherwise continue to seek other delicacies. The exact colour of your “fishing bling” is a serious decision and much discussed among those who know these things. For your colour choice may be the main reason that fish come to your side rather than your neighbour 14 waves over.
Of course the metal make up is just the attraction – like a red dress or flashy car. One also needs the potential reward – the bait. In our case frozen bait. Fully packaged anchovies from your favorite grocery sore. To resuscitate same, one must partially defrost by dunking each in the somewhat warmer – just above freezing – water surrounding the boat.
Once an anchovy has defrosted enough to have a semblance of “natural” bending, it is ready to be hooked. But not just a simple hook, but a special cover is added to ensure that the frozen bait, already dead, looks alive but wounded.
So how do you get a dead fish, recently defrosted, to look almost, but not quite dead. You add a head piece called a “bloody nose”. Pinned to your masquerading life anchovy via a toothpick.
And if this all seems too surreal to be true…an excerpt from a local outfitter reads as follows…
“Bloody Nose and Purple Haze teaser heads are popular when fishing bait for springs. Flashers to use include the Super Betsy, Purple Onion, Sooke Specials, and the new Green Onion. “
Once this is all set up for the two lines, you hope we are ready to cast them into the water and pull in some fish that recent reports indicated are just dying to jump into your boat. But alas if you thought this, you, like me, would be wrong!
You are fishing in deep waters, my friend. Even the most cooperative fish tend to lurk 40-50 feet down…while the really good catches are 75 to over 100 feet below. So casting a skinny line into the water, even with a flashy aluminum reflector, will get nothing more than a tiny splash. You have to get that baby to sink!
That is another complex process outlined below. One that , on a small boat, requires sliding carefully from side to side, as the boat rocks and sway in the chop. This seated dance is required to prevent everyone from being on the same side of a thee foot wide both. If this were to occur, the boat tips over giving you your first cold water survival lesson. (well for some, not there first, but that is a separate story).
For those who want to get more details of of the “getting that baby to sink” process , just read the next paragraph. For those who may be less inclined , look at the picture that follows and move on.
“Both manual and electric downriggers are available. In recent years more salmon fishermen have moved to electric downriggers because they can be easily and quickly brought to the surface and out of the way when a salmon is hooked.In concept a downrigger is not a complicated device. A spool of wire is mounted on a boat gunnel. A heavy weight (typically ten pounds for salmon) is connected to the end of the wire. A salmon lure is rigged on your rod and reel and ten to twenty feet of line is pulled out from the reel as the boat is trolling. This places the lure ten to twenty feet behind the downrigger wire. The fishing line is then connected to the downrigger wire with a downrigger release. This release is going to pop open when a fish hits and the fish is then landed on the rod and reel. After the release is hooked to the line, the downrigger is lowered to the desired depth. As it is lowered the fishing line is pulled out from the rod and reel. For a complete discussion of different downriggers and how to use them go to the new Pro-Troll book Downrigger Fishing Techniques. This will explain how to select downriggers, rigging techniques, weight sizes needed and much more.”
Picture is worth 1000 words
Once all this is done and the lines are in the water you slowly chug along out to the designated area. You keep the speed slow so as to “trick” the fish into thinking that our bloody nose dead anchovy is alive but an easy catch. Then you prepare to wait….and wait …and wait.
Or you can be lucky – like me. The first catch was so easy that I thought I was a natural. Throw your line in the water, let it sink about 50 feet or so …sit back and..
THE ROD JUMPS. And someone is screaming GET THE ROD! So you jump, not thinking that just two minutes ago your prime concern was not flipping yourself in the water just by sliding along the seat from left to right.
Now you are on your feet grabbing the rod while you watch as it bows impossibly into a semicircle. You on one end with the opposite tip almost touching the water. You try and remember everything that your expert guide has told you.
Let the line run as the fish tries to escape with his catch, wondering what the heck is holding him back. You want to apply resistance to the spinning reel so you tire the fish – and this you do by applying pressure with one hand to slow the spinning wheel. Of course you re hanging in for dear life with the other hand. Then you try turning the reel in by winding backwards. Then again slowly let the line out while using friction to tire the diving fish. For the first time in your life you feel a pull that will take the rod out of your hands if you loose concentration and your grip.
I must admit that it was an amazing feeling as you literally “fight” the fish as it dove and tried to pull away. The back and forth dance lasted only 4-5 minutes. As I turned the reel while pulling the rod upwards, the fish was soon visible just below the surface behind the boat.
Whether this was perfect or not, I am not sure. To me it seemed impossible that all my gyrations did not have the opposite effect. Both of us all swimming with the fishes rather than having the fish join us. But soon the fish was close enough that my guide easily netted him into the bottom of the boat.
Even this short period was enough to get my adrenaline going and my temperature rising. It is a unique feeling and one that was more exhilarating because we were just two people in a small boat, all manual equipment and me not really knowing what to do.
I had caught my first salt water salmon.
Now I have to admit he may not look like much as this was not a 40 pounder lying at the bottom of the boat. Despite what it had felt to my untrained senses, As a first catch, like many caught at shallow depths of 50 feet or so, this was known as a“pink”. To me the effort to bring in my less than 10 pound opponent indicated that this pink salmon had fought well.
LETS GO FISHING AGAIN!!!
Within minutes of my first landing, I had another tug on rod to my left. As before, throwing caution aside, up I get and try and repeat the same process as before. Let it run, slow the reel …wow the fish has ducked behind and under the boat..now what!!
As you may surmise, my next attempts were not so successful, though equally, if not more, exciting. Perhaps it was my lack of experience. Or just “fisherman” luck …as they do seem to be a superstitious bunch.
I tried to get the line over the back of the boat while trying not to fall in the water while avoiding wrapping the fishing line around my friends neck!
Almost made it, but not quite.
The line probably got nicked by the propeller blade and one fish gone. Line snapped and away went what felt like at least a 20 pounder…but that could have been the flasher and everything else the the escaper took with it.
In quick succession two more fish were hooked but lines broke just as I got them to the side of the boat. I could actually see them and imagined them waving good bye as they escaped with their bait. As Doug Adams, of Hitchhiker Galaxy fame, famously intoned: “So Long and thanks for the fish”.
I was getting disappointed and my friend was wondering what type of fishing karma I embodied. Although he was probably correct I also wondered about his netting skills? Whats a guy have to do to get a fish on board. Hook it, catch it and flip it on board all by myself???
My friend quickly put blame onto the proper party. While replacing the broken lines and putting them back out he described how he had, just the week before, all by his lonesome, gone fishing in these same water. Catching and then netting each fish while the the engine had to be left to its own accord to push the boat in circles. Net result: 4 salmon all brought on board; including pinks, spring and more.
So to make it even harder for me not to bring in more fish he decided to set up a third line off the back of the boat.
Then things got complicated.
Except for a small cod that was returned to the deep, nothing happened for about 30 to 40 minutes. I put on my gloves and extra layers to ward off the cold that creeps into your bones after 2 hours on the open water.
Then a bite!
Again I took hold of the rod, determined to not to go home with one lonely fish, Doing my best to do all the right things, just as we got the fish along side, the fishing deities delivered another blow. The line broke once more. This time my friend was prepared and actually leaned over board and grabbed for thenow tired fish with his bare hand. Maybe he could save the day…
Just as he grabbed for the fish, we heard a splash. I looked behind him as a huge spring salmon soared two feet out of the water. What a sight to see and one I will remember for a long time. But at that time there was no time to take in the moment. My friend shouted that we had a second catch on the other reel and lost grip of the squirming, “slimy” fish beside the boat.
As the almost caught 3rd salmon swam away, I grabbed at the second rod with even more determination. The jumping fish was not only taking our bait but was also baiting us. He seemed to say…”What does a fish have to do for you guys to take notice”?
As I tired to properly hook the salmon, in my excitement things started to go really wrong.
Wanting to fatigue the fish by letting him pull away, I applied resistance with my other hand against the reel. But as I was later informed, the gloves, recently put on to keep my dainty fingers warm and dry, were not proper attire for fishing. They had a nice rubber texture (the better to ward off the wet you know).
Such texture does not lend itself to gracefully applied friction to slow the line. What rubber gloves do is stop the line dead. And in stopping, the line got stuck and then started coiling backwards. It was soon a tangled mess around reel and pole. As I tried to pull the fish in, it decided to dive. With no give available the rod bent precariously. To the point where it snapped just above the unmoving mess of fishing line.
Gord made a move to grab the line. Good thing he stopped as that might have proven detrimental to some of his fingers. Dejectedly we both sat back down.
If you thought I was disappointed, you should have heard the reaction of my friend, espousing the fact that he had never seen that happen with a fibre glass pole before. In words somewhat less polite.
As we watched the fish, flasher, 3/4 of fishing rod, as well as the down-rigger weight, all disappear beneath the water, we both accepted that things were probably not going to improve. Disappointed, but still recovering from the adrenaline, my friend surmised that said fish was going to be the envy of his buddies given all the bling he had just scooped from us.
As predicted, despite trolling for another 30-45 minutes or so, no other nibbles were to be delivered. So, now as I was really beginning to feel the cold, we headed back to shore. Stopping to pick up the crab trap that had been placed on leaving shore, that too was a disappointment. Despite what looked like a valiant effort, given the chomping pieces missing from the enticing bait, no crabs were waited inside.
A quick trip back to the launch site, boat once again loaded, we were ready for the trek home. Just to let me know that not everyone was so “lucky” as me, Gord encouraged me to go look at the cleaning station where others were cheerfully cleaning fish that were are least twice the size of my lowly pink.
Leaving those behind, Gord brought me and my now freshly cleaned salmon safe and sound back to home. As we approached the sun came out in time to properly deliver my success. Small though it was, my spouse was waiting with anticipation.
Though insufficient to use for her foray into home smoking, it was large enough for Sunday evening’s enjoyment. And enjoy we did, eating a simply prepared salmon that you KNEW was less than a day old. Made the cold, rain and effort well worth while.
So fishing virginity has been lost, But like most fishing stories, the true tales of loss were of those that got away.