From Greenhorn to Graduate: Celebrating Amanda’s First Fishing Season

1 10 2012

Exciting news, friends – Hooked’s guest writer Amanda has completed her first season in the commercial fishing industry! New readers, I urge you to take the time to catch up on Amanda’s journey. From an April morning when I overheard a young woman  say she wanted to go fishing, her pre-season anticipation, the first challenges and triumphs, a mid-season struggle, to these concluding reflections, she’s got a wonderful story and it’s been an honor to have her with us. A green deckhand’s experience is never easy; many newcomers don’t stick it out. Please join me in congratulating Amanda on a successful first season!


Dear Hooked,

My contract is officially over. The weather has turned and the salmon in Chatham Strait are few and far between. I am back to life as a land dweller, grateful for regular access to news and local produce. Tender life feels very distant, especially being down in the Lower 48. By the time I stepped off the Nichawak, I couldn’t wait to talk about something other fishing. Anything other than fishing. Out on the water and tied up at the harbor, it seemed that all talk was of fishing hot spots and the latest boat project.  Now, down South, I find myself looking for opportunities to talk about fishing and feel giddy when given the opportunity to explain the difference between seining and gillnetting, or how to operate the Nichawak’s hydraulic booms.

Some mornings I wake up with phantom pains in my thumbs, as if I’ve just spent a long day “slingin’ cohos.”  My hands are a bit more scarred and my calluses are rougher, as I had hoped they would be.  My upbringing in the suburbs is something that I think is reflected in the look and feel of my hands.  They are mostly smooth and clean, a dead giveaway.

When I was a kid, my dad would assign me yard work chores. I spent more time complaining about them than actually doing them. This truth, embarrassing as it may be, brings me to one of the biggest challenges that I faced this summer: my attitude.

A week into the troll opener in August, we were on our third straight day of work without sleep. In these three days we bought over 90,000 pounds of fish, Skipper Sal, Gerald the deckhand, and me.  I think it’s fair to say that these are difficult working conditions.  That third morning, I remember the sun rising, the sky must have been bright and beautiful.  But I don’t really remember that beauty.  Mostly, I remember being vaguely aware of the colors around me and being pissed off.  I felt the scowl on my face and I heard myself snap at Gerald, “I’ve got this, back off!”

I was tired and sore, I was hungry and overworked, and I had yet to realize that this did not entitle me to be grouchy, nor did it entitle me to snap at my crew. Times like these (yes, this happened more than once) I had to tell myself, sometimes even out loud, to change my attitude, relax the muscles in my brow, get rid of that snarl on my face and get over myself.

Suffice to say, in the beginning I had idealized this experience.  Parts of the dream were realized.  I watched whales breech 30 feet from the boat. I learned everything I could, from telling apart a coho and a sockeye to operating hydraulic cranes. I conquered ratchet straps, I tied clove hitches, I navigated an 80-foot boat around Chatham Strait. I experienced glory and pride and accomplishment.

But there is no getting around it; parts of this experience were just shitty. They weren’t fun, they were hard. I learned a lot about myself this summer and some of these things were difficult to face, severe realities.  I let “grouchy” get the best of me. I have opinions and nothing to back them up. I have too much pride.

Pride.  Such a stimulant, such a barrier.  How did I get to be a person with so much pride? Why is it that I hated asking for help? Why did I balk so much at the idea of someone correcting or compensating for my mistakes? Why could I push myself to work harder and be better only to prove that I could? As busy as the tender life is, there was plenty of idle time to consider these questions.  Yet I never seemed to figure it out: where does pride come from?

This winter I will work in the high desert of Washington State, tending to horses and learning about life as a ranch hand. As of now, I will return to the Nichawak, possibly working for Sitka herring (the fishery where I first discovered fishing!) and probably for another season as a Southeast seine, gillnet, and troll tenderwoman.

I think about why I want to return. I try to remind myself that it is because of certain privileges in my life that I even have an option. I have the privilege of being able to choose what I will do next and make a choice based on a desire for personal growth.  For me, a bit of guilt is inherent in this fact, but I won’t be constrained by this.

So, I think I will choose to go fishing again.  There is still self-reflection to be done, there are skills left to learn, and then there’s good old fashioned pride, a nagging reminder that next year I can be better.

– Amanda




8 responses

2 10 2012

Amanda, well done! As hard as commercial fishermen work, they would not be able to do their jobs without all the people like you that help support them. You guys work your butts off too! It is truly a team effort and I hope you are able to picture the end consumer, the diner who is enjoying a piece of beautifully prepared meal of Alaskan fish. Most of them will never know the effort that goes into producing that tasty dish. As it should be! It is their privilege to enjoy our efforts. By the way, don’t get too hung up on the pride thing. What you are working on there is suspending your ego. Getting that down just takes a lot of practise. Live in the moment! You have earned my respect and that of many others in the fleet. Best of luck in your future endevours. Keep writing!
Karla Richardson – F/V Saint Jude

2 10 2012
Patrick Dixon

Tele – I was wondering how it ended up for Amanda. Thanks for posting this, and hosting her. Amanda, be sure to come the the Fisher Poets Gathering in Astoria this next February (the last weekend that month). You’d be a great storyteller up there! Well done. You captured the experience well!

2 10 2012

Amanda, you are awesome! I wish I had half of the bravery you do. You’ve got guts girl! Good luck in whatever comes next.

2 10 2012

Kudos to you, Amanda. Wonderful and honest. You may not know it now, but all that you learned on the boat is applicable to everything that will come in life. What a great experience you’ve had…and now off to tend horses! Seems there’s a book somewhere in there–if not there should be 🙂

2 10 2012

Amanda, this is fantastic! I am so proud of all the hard work you did, and for putting yourself out there. What is this I hear about going to tend horses? I think you should begin a badass female blog all of your own. I love you lady, and hope to see you soon. –Lana

3 10 2012

Wow – huge accomplishment. Brava Amanda! Good question too…pride’s roots. I think it’s safe to say if it ain’t love, it’s fear. We’ve all got it but sure don’t like to admit it or face it – that takes guts – and you got that. Good luck in the high desert whispering. Those horses will love you.

4 10 2012

Well done, Amanda! We were rooting for you!

4 10 2012

I second what everyone else has said, Amanda sweetie, and want to give you a HUGE thank you for sharing your experience with us. Between the emotional vulnerability of putting yourself and your innermosts out there, to the simple fact that fishing is exhausting and the physical act of writing feels overwhelming in the midst of it all, I know this wasn’t an easy exercise. But you did it – just as you successfully completed your first season – and I’m SO very proud of you. As delighted as I am at having your journey chronicled here on Hooked, I’m even happier to have made a new friend.

Pat’s right: definitely join us down at Fisher Poets this February. And I agree with Lana – you should start your own badass woman blog! Meanwhile, know that your words are ALWAYS welcome on Hooked.

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