The sea was angry that day, my friends. Well, perhaps “angry” is too strong a word. Maybe she was only testy, or mildly disgruntled.
Whatever mood she was in, the sea I’m talking about is the Pacific Ocean off the northwesterly coast of Vancouver Island. Last week I was part of an intrepid group of local fishermen braving the wilds of the cold Canadian waters of the Nootka Sound in an effort to bring home the bacon in the form of some freshly caught Chinook salmon.
Our Nootka Marine Adventure started around 4 a.m. last Wednesday when we departed from the Poulsbo home of Capt. Gerry in his 15-foot pickup and 24-foot aluminum Duckworth fishing boat named Sophia I. If you saw us heading across the Hood Canal Bridge on our way to Port Angeles, you would have sworn it was the boat pushing the truck down the highway rather than the other way around.
At Port Angeles we boarded an early morning Black Ball ferry for the ride to Victoria, B.C., passing the time with a lively game of Hearts while practicing lying about the size of the fish we were going to catch. After extracting the truck and boat from the bowels of the Black Ball in Victoria, we drove some four hours north to the thriving town of Gold River, and by thriving I mean it had both a motel and a diner. We spent the night in Gold River and launched the Sophia at first light for the two-hour run up to our lodgings at the Newton Cove Resort.
After some minor mechanical attention to Sophia and some necessary hydration adjustments on the part of Sophia’s crew, off we went to battle the wily salmon. It was about this point that I inquired of Capt. Gerry about the location of the restroom on the boat, and he handed me an oversized plastic peanut container. When I questioned whether the container was adequate for a crew of four for four days, he handed me a second peanut container. At that point, I stopped asking Capt. Gerry questions.
We motored westerly toward the open ocean where we suspected the larger, tastier and less hook-aversive salmon would be waiting for us. The further west we traveled out of the snug harbors and picturesque bays of the Nootka Sound, the windier it got and the choppier the sea became until our idyll fishing trip began to feel like a harrowing ocean voyage complete with typhoons, whirlpools and kraken. Eventually, we settled on a lively spot and rigged up the boat for fishing.
Much to my surprise, getting ready to fish involved slightly more than just slipping a worm onto a hook and tossing the line overboard and reeling in your catch. A couple of things that looked a little like medieval torture devices called Downriggers mounted on both sides of the aft fishing platform of the boat turned out to play an important role in the whole salmon fishing experience.
Not only did these devices carry our fishing lines down to the depth where the better class of salmon lived, but the constant adjustment and repair of the Downriggers managed to eat up the pesky leisure time of Capt. Gerry and first mate Clif. Once the fishing lines were rigged and the poles locked in place we commenced a slow and steady trolling for salmon.
The boat piloting duties were handled skillfully by second mate Michael. His responsibilities also included monitoring and announcing the water depth and location of any fish seen on the boat’s fish-finding radar.
My duties were a little harder to define. I was responsible for stowing the coffee thermos safely in the cabin, asking dumb questions, taking my turn reeling in fish that had struck one of our lines, and spelling Michael at the helm when he needed to make a peanut jar run.
Eventually, we settled into a steady and productive nautical rhythm. Capt. Gerry quickly cleaned the fish and packed them in the ice chest while first mate Clif reloaded the fishing roads and lowered the Downriggers and second mate Michael piloted us into position to make another run at the salmon, and I mainly stared at the horizon of the pitching and rolling boat doing my best to pretend like a guy who wasn’t about to be violently seasick.
By late afternoon the boat looked like an End of the World Garage Sale, with every flat surface covered with lures, frozen sardines, hooks, sinkers, empty potato chip bags (including an ill-advised bag of Jalapeno Pepper Flavored Cheetos, as if regular flavored Cheetos weren’t already hard enough on the human digestive system), crumpled Molson cans, half-smoked cigars, discarded foul weather gear and, rather inexplicably, an old pair of athletic socks.
At the end of each nine- or 10-hour day of fishing we’d return to the lodge in Newton Cove for a hot shower, a lovely dinner, a brisk game of Hearts, and a solid four hours of sleep before we awoke and headed back out to go mano-a-fin-o with our scaly saltwater friends.
Our little fishing crew brought back plenty of fresh fish, which is nice. I loved every minute of it, and would have considered it an overwhelming success even if the other three guys hadn’t caught a single fish.
Tom Tyner writes a weekly humor column for this newspaper called, “The Latte Guy.”