This Seems a Bit Fishy to Me...
Preseason in Alaska is crazy — everything from painting to pouring cement, to rigging the boat, happens in a few short weeks, all while training the new crew. When they arrive, they learn everything they will need to know for the summer in only a few short weeks. All this learning can be a lot of brainpower and physically demanding so we like to break it up by teaching the new crew how to fish, many have never deep sea fished before. We go through orientation just like the guests do and then we go out and show them how to fish for halibut and salmon. By the end of the summer, they are trained professionals in catching fish…. Usually.
One day in May we had reached a good point in our preparations for the season… we had most of the boats ready to go and the beds in the lodge were made. We divided into boats and set out. Nikoli, Jeremy, my brother Nik, and I each took a boat of crew. My boat was exclusively girls; Oliva, Abby, Callie, and Me. --Now. Before you get all “girls can’t catch fish” just tell that to all the men (especially Jerry and Theresa) that bring their wives fishing and get out fished by them… just saying, ask Jerry.-- We headed out to Olivia, Abby, and Callie’s first ocean fishing journey and boy was it going to be an adventure.
Nikoli went to his favorite spot… Cape Spencer. I went with him because it’s nice to have two boats in case something happens that far from the lodge. We made it across the sound in good time and the water was relatively flat. I trolled around until I could find a hump on the ocean floor of about 200 feet to anchor on and I tried to teach the girls the two most important steps of how to anchor.
(1) Do not put your hands or hair in the windless
(2) Seriously, that is the most important step, please follow it
After following the two most important steps, we had officially anchored. Now, these girls were troopers they baited their own hooks and after explaining how to work the drag they were professional fisherwomen. We were jamming out to music and eating trail mix when - suddenly - the tide switched and there began to be more swells. The water started at 1 foot and increased slowly to about a nice 3-foot-high and 20-foot-long swell, the perfect one for making someone prone to seasickness… very seasick.
I am prone to getting seasick, very prone.
So, there I was…. Puking the remnants of my breakfast over the side of the boat. While also trying to teach people how to fish. I was a lost cause… through my hurling, I could hear other people emptying their own stomachs in an unsightly fashion. There we were, 4 girls, sitting in the middle of the ocean, hopelessly seasick while trying to fish. Finally, we had enough, and I decided it was time to teach them how to escape being seasick and pulled the anchor. Again, the girls learned the most important step of anchor retrieving:
**You cannot pull the bottom of the ocean up with your windless… I get that you are strong enough to pull halibut into the boat, but the windless won’t pull up the bottom of the ocean, unfortunately.**
Keeping that in mind, we pulled anchor and the girls, and I were on our way from the horrid seasickness-inducing area. Once we were moving the magical part of being seasick happened… we were fine, something about moving makes it all okay and I am a firm believer in moving to escape being seasick. Now not seasick -- but also not going to return to Cape Spencer because it wasn’t worth throwing up anymore – I activated tour guide Claire and we set off to enjoy the beauty of Southeast Alaska. We drove the coastline and saw the Brady Glacier, highly recommend, and I pointed out all the sights the girls loved to see. Whales – Seagulls – Puffins – Seaweed – Cool Rocks – Sea otters – Sea Lions – Trees. The girls never stopped smiling at all the new things they were seeing and the new appreciation they had for Alaska’s beauty.
We were nearing the end of our impromptu tour and then I had an idea… why not teach the girls how to fish by catching the most fun and easiest fish to catch ever… black rockfish. We took a collective vote and headed out to bird rock to catch some rockfish. Now, I had never actually caught a limit of rockfish in this area, but it had all the right geography for rockfish, namely: rocky contour lines, pinnacles, seaweed, open water, and most importantly I could see them on the fish finder.
The sonar and GPS are the most important thing to know about locating and catching black bass. Black Sea Bass live and feed in schools and if you can’t see them on the sonar the odds of them being in the water beneath you are very low – not impossible, but if you are trying to catch 3 girls some rockfish then don’t take your chances without the fish finder. We trolled in circles trying to locate the rockfish and then, as if I had called the rockfish like a Disney princess, they appeared on the fish finder. My entire screen was lit up from top to bottom with red, purple, and yellow masses – a rockfish school!
“Any depth below thirty!” I yelled above the sound of the motor purring and lines on free spool.
Olivia, Callie, and Abby put their lines down and like a prerecorded show, the rockfish took the bait.
We were in business. Rockfish business that is. The girls reeled them up and I grabbed them out of the water and removed the hook as quickly as I could so their lines could go back into the water. I couldn’t keep up with the number of rockfish they were catching and started to lag behind their shouts to help them get the rockfish into the cooler and gills cut. Rockfish came flying into the boat as if they were jumping in and the girls were becoming better and better at hooking, catching, and landing rockfish.
Amongst the incoming tsunami of rockfish, Callie hooked into something that was very unfamiliar to the black rockfish the girls were accustomed to catching. She pulled it in and put it on the bottom of the boat before she noticed it was trying to bite her… she had caught a small Ling Cod.
If you have ever caught a Ling Cod, then you know what I am talking about… the mean little buggers! They just want to bite you and hurt you and make your life miserable; then to make it worse you can only keep one between 30 – 35 inches and one over 55 inches! YOU HAVE TO MEASURE that dinosaur from Jurassic Park creature that wants to eat you for lunch! Good grief. Catching a Ling Cod is fun and all until you must measure them… then not so much. But make sure you measure it, I am super excited to see someone with a 34-inch Ling Cod… 36 inches… not so much, and neither is the Fish and Game. It's like my mom always tells me about food in the fridge that I can’t remember how long I have been saving to eat, “when in doubt throw it out” the same goes for fish… if you can’t measure it or aren’t sure what it is, repeat after me, “when in doubt, throw it out.” With this in mind, we measured the fish to a whopping 20 inches and put it back into the water to terrorize more fishermen.
After the Ling Cod scare, it took us a mere thirty minutes to catch everyone’s limits of seabass and before we knew it, we were at the dock again. We had caught more fish and had more fun than any of the other boats… mostly because we were able to overcome our bout of seasickness.
All in all, we had had a successful fishing trip. Abby, Callie, and Oliva had learned how to
- Drive a boat
- Watch for logs
- Rig a halibut setup
- Get seasick
- Get unanchored
- Escape being seasick
- Set the hook on a rockfish
- Identify Ling Cod
- Back the hook out of a fish’s mouth
- Take pictures with rockfish
- Vacuum seal and freeze fish
- Clean a boat
But I may have learned the most valuable lesson. Do not take people new to Alaskan fishing to Cape Spencer for their first fishing trip because I will get seasick. Go for rockfish. It’ll work out better.