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Fishing for halibut

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Posted on August 13, 2009 |
By Matt Dickerson



I’m going to visit my brother Ted in Alaska. We’re planning to go fishing. I expect we’ll have an “adventure.” My trips with Ted seem to produce more adventure than we want.

There was the time he got me lost “guiding” me on a trip to a remote trout stream on a huge Maine lake that stretches for miles and has no houses. And the time he got me onto a glacier in the Rockies above the timberline and conjured up a hailstorm. These adventures with Ted sometimes leave me questioning his sanity. That I continue to go with him also leaves me questioning my own.

As evidence of what I should look forward to in Alaska, here is an edited version of an account he just e-mailed me of a recent chartered deep-sea fishing trip he took seeking halibut.

“Ken and I met Bob at 6:30 a.m. It took 3 minutes to load our gear into Ken’s truck (and) kiss our wives (leaving) plenty of time to make the Whittier tunnel for the 7:30 opening. There is only one way to drive to Whittier: the railroad tunnel. They allow automobile traffic through the tunnel once per hour. We arrived on time only to find there was a signal malfunction and we would have to wait for an electrician to fix the problem.

“As it turned out, the 1-hour delay didn’t matter. When we arrived, Capt. John didn’t have his boat in the water. Later on I began to suspect that Capt. John was incapable of getting his boat into the water. Following brief instructions on water safety, he asked Bob to back the trailer down the boat ramp so that he could unhitch the boat from the trailer. Bob ended up backing the trailer AND unhitching the boat. Capt. John stood on the dock and gave instructions.

“After we transferred gear from truck to boat, Capt. John handed me a screwdriver and asked me to pry the rubber trim back into the metal trim clip where it had popped out, while he went to park the truck. I had to lie down on my side to see what I was doing. When Capt. John returned, he advised me it was not a good idea to start off the trip with a damp shirt from lying on a wet dock. He then proceeded to give each of us a task. Mine would be to crawl through the v-berth and out the bow hatch, drop the anchor each time we arrived at a halibut hole, and haul it back in each time we moved.

“At last the four of us were on board and ready to leave. The last task was to check the radio. It didn’t work. Capt. John asked Bob to drive the boat to the fueling dock while he scoured the town for a working radio. After we filled the 65-gallon tank, he showed up with a working radio and we were finally on our way to the halibut holes around Montague Island. It was a 3-hour trip at 20 knots. The ride was a little bumpy after we left the harbor, but the view of glaciers and fjords was spectacular.

“We arrived at Capt. John’s first top secret, ‘can’t miss’ halibut hole. We missed. We didn’t do much better at the second hole. I am not convinced the fish finder was working properly. After repeating our assigned duties at several holes my arms were beginning to cramp, not from reeling in 100 lb. halibut, but from repeatedly hauling 100’ of anchor chain.

“We did manage to catch a few small ones before anchoring for the night in a protected cove ... We went to bed early on Capt. John’s orders, so we arise for breakfast at 4:30. Bob and I shared the v-berth, which was a little cramped. I hadn’t been asleep long when I heard bells, and then the sound of someone getting stabbed in the back with an ice pick. Capt. John had tied bear bells to the end of a baited rod in case a halibut took the bait while we were sleeping. One did. He threw Ken out of the cabin in his underwear to reel in the fish. It turned out to be the biggest halibut of the weekend at about 75 lbs.

“After our adrenaline settled, we went back to our bunks. It was then I discovered that the air mattress Capt. John provided didn’t hold air. It actually was a relief to get up for breakfast at 4:30 ... The fishing was better on the second day. We caught plenty of halibut, although none over 45 lbs.

“At one point Bob hooked into a nice lingcod that wrapped itself around a couple of lines before he could haul it in. When we got the lines untangled and back in the water, one of the lines got caught on something under the boat. As he looked over the stern to see what it was, Capt. John noticed something stuck to the bottom of the boat. Bob said it looked like the hydraulic trim plate. Capt. John disagreed and attempted to knock it loose with the butt end of a boat hook. Fortunately, he did not succeed.

“Capt. John then decided we should move someplace where we might find larger fish. He fired up the engine and throttled her forward. He couldn’t figure out why the old boat was having difficulty getting up steam. Then it hit him; he was dragging the anchor. By the time he shut her down, the anchor rope was coiled around the prop shaft. He asked Bob to step out onto the platform to disengage the rope. After several futile attempts, it was agreed the only way to free the prop was cut the rope.

“At this point Capt. John suggested that Bob and I fillet the fish while he spliced the anchor rope back together. We were now bobbing like a cork in the middle of Prince William Sound on the increasing swells. Wielding a razor-sharp fillet knife under such conditions is not the best idea. We aborted that attempt quickly and decided to head for a protected cove where we could deal with the fish. Capt. John promptly forgot all about this discussion; passing by all the coves, he headed straight back to the harbor.”

That was Ted’s story. For the record, I didn’t cancel my trip to Alaska after reading it. I am writing this on layover in an airport en route. By the time you read it, my adventures will be mid-stream (so to speak.) The one nice thing I can say about adventures with Ted: they make any other fishing trip seem peaceful and relaxing by comparison.

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