“Wait… Wait… Done!” On Going Fishing after 18 Days at the Dock

30 05 2012

Marlin, Joel and I spent the first half of May waiting to go halibut fishing.

Just getting to our destination, a shallow plateau over 40 miles offshore, required more than a day’s run. We’d been watching for a four to five day weather window that never appeared, a steady barrage of gales keeping us pinned to the dock for a record 18 days. I started to feel a little embarrassed by my near-residence in the Backdoor Cafe.

Finally, we couldn’t stand it anymore. Our captain studied the online weather chart. It showed two days of “fish-able,” immediately followed by more angry red churning across the Gulf, a windbag’s hasty breath between pontificating.

Marlin sighed. “Well, the weather looks fucking horrendous. Usually we’d sit at the dock through that, but we’re not gonna do that anymore. We’re gonna go for a very expensive cruise, and maybe we’ll end up catching some fish.”

Not much of an endorsement of our departure plans, but after investing in fuel, bait, and groceries, it was time to go. The sea that greeted us wasn’t welcoming. We crashed through steel gray walls, white spray pummeling our windows. Blue tin plates frisbee’d across the cabin and clattered to the floor. The cat began licking her lips, then threw up.

Unhappy boat cat…

After five hours of this, we ducked into a protected anchorage. And when our captain nosed out in 3 AM’s dawning light, we found a new day, a new ocean. We heaved collective sighs of relief, tensed muscles slowly relaxing with the hull’s gentle bounce.

The thing about having low expectations is that it’s easy to be happily surprised. Unsure that we’d get any fishing time, Joel and I hadn’t dreamed we’d be shin-deep in halibut the next day. We cleaned madly, guts and gonads flying into the fierce beaks of black-footed albatross. When we finally hosed off our gory raingear and stumbled into the cabin for dinner, Joel gaped at the clock. “Is it really 1:30 in the morning?”

Swimming in halibut, I stuff each fish’s belly with ice before stowing them safely in bins.

Building on that day’s momentum, the trip just kept getting better. We spent two days anchored in Lituya Bay, a dream-like oasis on a brutal coastline, stuffing ourselves with shrimp as our bodies recovered and the weather passed. We left the Bay in a haze of déjà vu: countertops cleared and apologies whispered to Bear, we braced for stormy impact, only to find a glassy calm on the other side of the bar.

The boys at the hauler, waiting to see what comes up from the depths below.

Two days later, we slogged back towards Sitka in a collective glow of disbelief, gratitude, and sleep deprivation. The boat sat comfortably low in the water, the fish hold full of generously iced halibut, black cod, ling cod, and yelloweye. Trading wheel watches and weary grins, we dared to speculate that we’d caught all of our quota – that if all our poundage estimates were on target, our longline season was complete.

“This is what’s so amazing about longlining,” our captain reflected. “We just sat around for almost 3 weeks, and then we’re done in four days of actual work. With our quota down so much, the actual fishing doesn’t take any time at all if everything goes right and we get lucky.”

Marlin raised a jelly jar glass. “To a perfect trip, with just the right crew. It couldn’t have been better.”

Indeed. It’s not very often that I get to go to sea with two of my best friends. Thank you, boys, for a safe, productive, fun longline season – it was a pleasure!

Do you have favorite recipes for halibut or halibut cheeks? I’d love to hear how you most enjoy these amazing fish.



10 responses

30 05 2012

I just love going out fishing with you! Especially when I can experience it from the comfort of my office. Halibut sounds good!

30 05 2012

My god, woman – how’d you get over here so fast? 🙂 Glad you enjoyed it, hope you’re having a good day!

30 05 2012

Happy for all concerned, Tele. Poor Bear needs some tums…It means that much more when fortune blindsides you with a smile 🙂

12 06 2012

Thanks, Kathryn! I swear there’s no more pathetic sight than a seasick cat…. She never cuddles with us like that, except when she’s so miserable. Fortunately she acquires her sea legs about as quickly as we do, within the first day, or we’d feel like REALLY terrible parents.

30 05 2012
Karolee Joel

We are off Washington; on and off again fishing. Keep thinking bout you all up in sunny Sitka. The halibut seem to be poking their nose up over the shelf – finally showing a few on the troll incidental license. The interesting story is the chinook – the flavor of these fish this year is beyond amazing. The top 20 fathoms shows krill every where we’ve been, on the prairie and the compass rose and all along the beach as far as LaPush. Weather has been cooperating the last few weeks, mostly “fishable” westerlies. Right ow a stronger SE blow pushing through. Geoff thinks maybe Saturday we’ll get out. Or maybe we will be repeating your experience of hurry and wait. But we get to go home and see happy cats who are puking grass, not fear; we get to hang with non-fishing friends and watch the fire pit glow through glasses of ale – or neo-chic ciders. And push lawn mowers.

Good luck on the rest of the season!

12 06 2012

You leave the BEST fishin’ updates, Joel – I love the stories within your comments. I’m so late in replying to this, wonder where you’re at now in your season and home-visits? “Neo-chic ciders”… You’re a funny fellow, my friend, and I’ll miss running into you here in New Thomsen this summer, but am glad that you’ll be that much closer to your four-leggeds.

30 05 2012

I totally had a longlining dream last week, it was nice to pitch in while sleeping…

12 06 2012

I meant to tell you, you did a great job, Ross. 🙂

31 05 2012
Linda Lambert

It would be easy to find out what halibut cheeks are, what longlining is, but I just like to ride along on the crest of your sentences and watch for the next wave of wonderful words.

12 06 2012

Ooh – that’s quite a comment, Linda! “On the crest of sentences,” “the next wave of wonderful words.” Leave it to the librarian to take it to the next level!

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