Solstice: Not a Fisherman’s Longest Day

26 06 2012

Funny how the recent weeks shrank as the days lengthened. After a spring of Sitka decadence, June dashed by. Seemingly overnight, Cap’n J and I are on the cusp of our 2012 salmon season. I wanted to tell you what we’ve been up to as we prepare to leave the dock, but in truth, I could just repost last June’s “Chasing Kings” and none of us – me included – would know the difference. Contrary to the nonstop drama of commercial fishing reality shows, a “same shit, different season” monotony is more often our industry’s true foundation.

Every year, the summer troll season opens on July 1. As the harbor buzz gets louder – sanders, grinders, and butt-rock whining over the water – our fleet’s peculiar homogeneity is evident. We’re all following the same preparatory checklists, while knotted in the same tangle of emotions. “23 seasons and every year I wonder what the next season will bring,” another troller texted me yesterday. “Nervous, excited, dread, exhausted, boredom, thankful, conflated. That about sums it up.”

Our season begins with a carefully monitored king salmon opening. We’ll leave Sitka on the 27th to get into position – a destination yet to be decided. Where will this year’s big smash be? With only an expected 8 to 10 days for this high stakes opening, there’s no room for error. Cap’n J would be the first to tell you that he’s starting to freak out.

“I had my first king salmon dream last night,” he told me over coffee the other day, a feverish glint in his eyes. “We had over 200 kings the first day. We always have over 200 kings the first day in my dreams.”

He’s got big dreams, my king salmon-crazed sweetheart. For non-fishing friends, 200 kings in a day is a very, very good day. Dream-worthy, in fact. We trollers handle each fish one at a time. Hook and line caught, they’re individually landed, bled, cleaned, and handed down to our -38 degree fish hold to blast-freeze. Two hundred black-gummed beauties? We’d never stop moving, never leave the deck, and hopefully scarf a granola bar breakfast sometime before noon. We’d fall into our bunk as adrenaline-overdosed zombies, and wake up four hours later hoping to do it all again.

Like all fishermen, we labor to prepare for what’s in our control, while bracing for inevitable surprises. (Last year it was weather. We made the best of it, turning Easterly 25 into an epic Lituya Bay beach party, as “From Fish-able to Festivity” shared.) Joel’s been tying gear until his fingers swell. I scrubbed the fish hold to a sterile shine, all set to receive opening day’s first load, and made a new door latch to keep the dorm-sized fridge from flying open on a wave. We’ve double-checked our survival gear and run both the engines, assuring ourselves that everything’s purring as it should be. I’ll fill the Nerka’s 250 gallon water tank right before we go, and we took fuel the other day. (Next time you’re feeling pained at the gas station, imagine 846 gallons of diesel.)

I only touched up our copper bottom paint this year, resulting in a two-toned patchwork that visibly pained the neighboring skippers. Sorry, guys – $162/gallon!

I knew things were getting serious when we sat down to make our grocery list. After fishing together for seven years, we’ve got a set meal rotation. Tofu pad thai on the first night out, before the bean sprouts go bad. Fake meat tacos. Lots of fish and rice. A couple frozen lasagnas for the nights we’re too busy to cook. Tuna casserole on day 12, when we’re down to just canned stuff.

Dinners were easy enough, but lunch had us stumped. We stared at each other across the table. “What the hell do we eat for lunch?” Joel asked. “Why can’t we remember?”

I reached for the computer. “I’ll ask the Facebooks… See what other folks do.”

A thread of good suggestions ensued – stew, loaded baked potatoes, and the ever-popular Stuff in Tortillas. Then a fisherman friend identified the root of our amnesia. “Lunch? You don’t remember because you don’t eat lunch when the kings are biting.”

Oh yeah…

A glorious sunset washed over the harbor at 10:30 on summer solstice, but our friend’s comment reminded me that our longest days of the year are still ahead, looming on the calendar’s next page. When the Nerka exits the breakwater, life will change. For the next three months, Cap’n J and I will embrace our most driven, compulsive selves. Up with the 3:00 dawn, to bed with the 11:00 twilight. Staying out until the hold is full, running to town to deliver those fish, practicing our best “turn and burns” – pushing ourselves to get back out as quickly as possible.

Not a schedule that facilitates very frequent – or eloquent – posts. We’ve had some powerful conversations here recently (like this one, and this), but Hooked’s updates will likely be more postcard than lengthy letter for the coming months. I’ll stockpile the stories, keep you in my good thoughts, and look forward to being back in touch.

Be safe and be well, friends – thanks for being here.








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