The boat is anchored several miles from the nearest land in the middle of Sumner Strait. Here a series of reefs and shoals provide habitat for many creatures, including our target… Halibut.
Conditions are perfect, rather odd on this large body of water. The sea is a sheet of rippled glass reflecting a few clouds. Bright sunlight warms the day. This is not exactly the bitter wind, waves, and rain that comes to mind when Alaskan fishing is mentioned.
A few hundred yards north a pair of sea otters keep a wary eye on us, noisily eating something lacy and bright orange. Along the shoreline south a humpback is breaching, the white splashes visible miles away.
This is halibut fishing. Pick a likely spot, anchor the boat, drop lines to the bottom, and wait. In the meantime you can simply enjoy the day, listening to the spouts of whales passing by.
As for the halibut? One modest fish is in the cooler, the others remain elusive. Not that anyone is too worried. The day is nice enough to enjoy any excuse to be out on the water.
There are fish, there are other fish… then there are halibut. Tales are told about halibut, tales of injured fishermen… tales of sunken boats… tales that could be true. These are big fish, powerful fish, and like any other respectable sea monster they come from the deep.
Just getting the line down to them in their dark depths is a chore. Hauling them up from three hundred feet down is a bigger chore. But this is the challenge of the fisherman.
These are fish you don’t bring on deck until they are well and truly dead. Some will shoot them, but we just use a harpoon. Even then the fight is not over, but for some strange reason of halibut neurology a solid whack at the base of the tail will end it.
No good fish tale is without peril, and this is a good tale. We were retrieving our crab pots across the channel from Ketchikan. There was a gale bearing down with those terrible words coming from the Coast Guard on marine radio “Small Craft Advisory, repeat Small Craft Advisory”.
No problem. Just get our pots and scoot back to harbor. A couple of hours tops! It is a beautiful Ketchikan day in advance of the storm. Beautiful for Ketchikan, which as any local knows means pouring rain. It had been pouring all week, more rain than I had seen in a long time. The rain had not stopped the fishing and we had done quite well. It had been a trouble free fishing trip, ’til now.
This is when our alternator belt broke.
We were in trouble.
Well, maybe not that much trouble. We were in a nice safe anchorage and the worst probable fate was that we would be anchored ten miles from civilization eating crab for two days… In the rain.
Dan, as always was prepared for anything and had spare belts on board. With a little digging under the seats and other odd compartments we locate the tools and spares needed. An hour of breaking knuckles on pulleys should have us heading home. Of course the Amber Dawn’s engine is just under a cover in the middle of the open rear deck. We just have to do this job… In the rain.
Not quite so easy… Of course the belt that broke is the rear-most of the three, so two others must come off, to get at those the heat exchanger must be lifted out of the way. We get the new belt in place and tighten it up… and find it is the wrong size belt, too long by a couple inches. Again we are left floating… In the rain.
A little yankee ingenuity was needed, this consists of about twenty minutes of four men chewing ideas and telling each other what won’t work. Eventually I have an idea that does not get an immediate negative from the assembled wisdom. We look at each other… “That might work”.
The parts to make it work are found; a bolt, a nut, and a three-eights open end wrench. A bracket is fashioned, using the wrench as a spacer to hold the alternator away from its mount. Start the engine… The belt holds, the alternator turns and we are under way home… In the rain.
I had the binoculars and just happened to glance at the object in the water, just as Dan had changed course to avoid it. Logs are a regular navigation hazard in these waters, everyone keeps a sharp lookout ahead.
It can’t be… it is… it’s a bear.
But this channel has got to be a mile wide!
It was, we used the GPS and navigation computer to check, 1.1 miles across, assuming a straight course. We watched that bear swim the last 50 yards and climb out of the water. That was one exhausted black bear.
The pole twitches, then jumps… Fish On! This was the first time this season we had rigged for salmon and dropped the outriggers and lines, setup for trolling along the south coast of Admiralty Island. We did not have to wait long for results.
It was clear this was a large fish, the pull on the line was substantial. Deb strained with the reel, cranking it as hard as she dared. But unlike the usual coho salmon it did not fight and jump. We were worried it was a pink salmon, not as desirable a catch, these fish usually come in docilely to be netted. The far more desirable silver or coho salmon rarely give up without a fight and require real work to reel in. But when we got the first clear look at the fish it was indeed a silver.
When we pulled the salmon from the net the reason odd behavior became clear… The hook was in the tail.
Somehow Deb had snagged the fish just a few inches from the base of the tail. There is a reason for this, Coho salmon often hit their prey to stun it before turning to consume it. This tactic works well for herring, not so well for a double hooked leader.
This salmon was the first we have caught this season, another fact that made my wife a very happy fisherwoman. I am afraid she had become infected with that dread disease, an addiction to lures and poles and the thrill of catching those wily fish. Not that I can complain too much about the results. However the fish was caught, this was a very nice salmon, making an excellent dinner that evening.
The jokes began almost instantly, comments about her unusual techniques to catch a fish. All in good sport, the pursuit is full of fish tales and jokes. Deb caught more than a few beautiful coho over the next few days, but we have not let her forget the Tailhook Incident.