A Fishing Love Story: Tribute to Cap’n J

11 08 2011

Fair warning, readers – this is an unapologetic love story. Today is a special day that requires some sappy reflection. Those of you stopping by for a hot fish report or our latest wildlife encounter, please come back later and Hooked will be back to the more usual fare.

I was crewing for my friend Martin in 2004. A clipping from The Stranger, Seattle’s weekly paper, rode in my wallet: I will take a reprieve from dating drunks, junkies, and emotional cripples. When Martin saw me eyeing boys on the dock, he was quick to chide, “Remember what’s in your wallet!”

The Charity came back to Sitka when the July king season closed. Responding to the same autopilot driving other deckhands’ feet, my route from the harbor paused at the public showers, then set a course for the Pioneer Bar. The P Bar’s attendance reflected that of the full harbor, with fishermen wedged five deep like boats rafted together.

When the young man on the neighboring stool smiled at me, I did a double-take. I recognized him as a fellow boat kid, five years my junior and just legal to be there. When I was nosing into an adolescence of blacked-out stumbles through Sitka, he was a life-jacketed sentinel on the docks, blissed out with a fishin’ pole glued to his hand. My memories of other kids from that time are silent, matte stills, but the glossy image of young Joel is accompanied by a soundtrack, his excitement bellowing across the water. “Poppa, Poppa! Come see what I caught!”

The origins of Cap'n J. (With big thanks to Mama MJ for the photo!)

But this wasn’t a little kid sitting next to me. I studied his clear green eyes and guileless smile, and thought of the clipping in my pocket. I was prowling for a summer fling and he appeared to have grown up well, surely didn’t fall under my restricted categories… No.  Hoping this fishing vacation would fend off my increasing tremors of social service burn-out, I was back in Alaska to work. Cute as this boy was, after my previous dating mishaps I didn’t need any further complications.

Of course, sweet reader, you know how those kinds of self-assured proclamations go. The next night we walked through Totem Park, submitting ourselves to a voracious darkness, and spent hours talking on the shore. Discovering a kindred spirit in the Southeast Alaskan rainforest, gently holding each other’s shared history under the chaperoning eye of moonlight as the surf’s faint chuckling approval echoed our words…My guarded heart didn’t have a chance.

The universe was working overtime on Joel that summer, ladling up a full plate of transition. As our relationship developed, he wrangled a winter job in the California crab fishery, crewing for a legendary captain who would become a life-changing mentor. And midway through the season, his dad announced, “I don’t think I want to do this anymore… How about you take over the boat next year?”

And so, at the age of 22, Joel became Cap’n J. The transition was less-than-seamless. The old man had a nose for when to get out, and handed the helm over just as every essential system on board gave up the fight. Joel would have to author his own blog to share the stories from that first season; I still get the willies remembering the mountainous series of mishaps.

Had I staggered free of a season like Joel’s first, that might’ve been it for my fishing career. But to his immense credit, his love for fishing was stronger than the suffering he’d endured. Blessed with a herculean selective memory, fueling his commitment with the recollections of good days, Cap’n J set about reviving the Nerka.  Six years and an exhaustive, expensive undertaking later, he’s resurrected her to a seaworthy vessel, a fishy boat that responds eagerly to our requests.

And now, today is Cap’n J’s birthday. He’s turning 29, on the cusp of finally exiting his twenties.   His birthday falls in the midst of our season’s annual closure, and in his early years as skipper, this break meant massive boat projects, trying to fend off disaster enough to make it through the season’s remaining 6 weeks. There were several consecutive birthdays that he spent upside down in the bilge, saturated in engine unmentionables and despair. Not this year. Our projects minimal and mostly done, we’re going to celebrate with the luxury of sleeping in – not as in, “I’ll set the clock for 4:45 instead of 4:30,” but “What clock?” – and mosey through the day from there. The harbor’s full of friends to visit, and there’s some snuggling to do while we’re town-clean and still smelling fish-free.  About as relaxed as you can hope for mid-season, 4 days before a 72-hour king salmon opening.

I couldn’t ask for a better life than this, working for my best friend in the wild temple where we both worship. Please join me in sending your good thoughts to Cap’n J for a wonderful day – or, as he’s hoping, for a delayed birthday present of giant king salmon and plenty of them, with clear skies and fair seas to boot.

Still as fish-crazed as he was 25 years ago.

(Happy birthday, Buddy.  I’m thankful to have had this decade with you, and am looking forward to many more. Love you.)



18 responses

11 08 2011
Village Farmer


11 08 2011

Cap’n J ~ Wishing you a happy birthday haul of salmon from Sunset Beach NC.

11 08 2011

A beautiful story of a beautiful couple in a beautiful temple harvesting beautiful, healthy food for us. Thanks for sharing your love story. Have a wonderful day celebrating Joel and your love for each other and the life you’ve created together. Blessed be!

11 08 2011

Happy birthday to a fellow Leo, J! May you always be as sweet (and cute) as the toddler in the picture. You guys are lucky to have each other! 🙂

11 08 2011

Very nice blog, I’ve enjoyed reading it 🙂

11 08 2011

Gotta love dem Leo boys.=) Enjoy a restive/restorative/blissful day or two before you go chasin’ after those big, fat, lustery king salmons, Joel. Blessings in your 29th year and beyond…

11 08 2011

Took the liberty of posting on that other place, Tele. Another beautiful piece of writing. Happy birthday, Joel! And congratulations to both of you, on everything.

11 08 2011
Steven Breckon


I was fortunate enough to catch Joel on the phone for a few minutes the other day, and couldn’t help but wish I could say hello to you as well!!! I miss visiting with you both in between trips, and wish I could be around to buy the birthday boy a Delirium Tremens!

Good luck with the king derby…..not that you will need it 🙂

11 08 2011
Angela Amos

I love it! I love it! pulled some tears out of me too! Happy birthday Cap’ J, my dear friend. Oh Tele my dear you never cease to warm my heart with your writing and stories. loves and hugs

11 08 2011

very sweet! And as usual, beautifully written. I love ya both.

11 08 2011

Jose Fuerte!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

11 08 2011
Annie Boreson

Wonderful post. It reminds me of my first love who spent every summer for 30 years fishing in Alaska. The stories he could tell! That love of the water and the lifestyle he still misses today. A very happy birthday to Cap’n J! You certainly have had to navigate some challenging years but it seems like you’ve faired well!

13 08 2011

Great post! Thanks for sharing your love story – I’m always fascinated by how we find each other in the world… And a very happy birthday to Cap’n J!

16 08 2011
(FL) Girl with a New Life

Awwwww. I’m feeling all warm and fuzzy.

Happy Bday to Cap’ n Jay. Here is hoping the giant king salmon complies.

19 08 2011

Hooked has such sweet readers! Thanks, all, for sending such good juju out into the world for Cap’n J. You must have some pretty powerful thoughts, because the birthday wish for giant king salmon was indeed granted. Clear skies and fair seas… Well, no, but the beautiful monster kings made the ass-kicking worthwhile. Again, many thanks for the sweetness, friends!

20 08 2011

Thank you everyone for the birthday wishes and kind words. I am a very lucky man to get to share what I love with the woman I love and I wouldn’t trade this life for anything. I still feel like I am living a surreal dream, following in the footsteps of my father and realizing the dreams of my youth. Tele there is no one else I would rather share this dream with and I am honored and humbled to work by your side everyday.

15 09 2011
Karolee Joel

Well, since Joel is going to pick me up at the airport, and maybe we get a beer tonight, it isn’t too late to say happy b’day one more time.

But I also remembered this video that might say a little about Tele…

Oh the 20th is near!

18 03 2012
Happy Birthday, Hooked! « Hooked

[…] some expletives fell from your lips, too, in chorus with those falling from mine.) You celebrated Cap’n J’s birthday, and you imagined the taste of traditional Tlingit foods. When I shared my writer’s panic last […]

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