Willfully Living | Fishing Tale: Deckload By Morning
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10 Oct Fishing Tale: Deckload By Morning

The sun had not yet broken the mountains to the east when the fishermen were woken by the rumble of the twin John Deere diesel engines firing up for the long fishing day. They had all been stirring in their bunks for half an hour, although the captain always got up the earliest to inspect the engines, brew the first pot of coffee, and pull the anchor. However, it was the roar of the engines that startled the crew awake. They had mostly learned to tune out the whistle of the kettle and the captain’s quite footsteps around the 100-square-foot cabin space, remaining in their bunks for those last few minutes when chain could be heard being pulled back across the bow directly above them, for this was their daily alarm clock. Promptly, the three man crew jumped from their bunks and hurriedly pulled on the same raggedy, stinky, and perpetually damp clothes from the days (or weeks) prior, and slipped their wool-socked feet into brown rubber XtraTuff boots as they stumbled out on deck for another day of fishing. The mornings were always a whirl. Once awake, the crew found a small french-press style coffee pot on the table and clamored for a splash of the dark black stuff into their mugs before manning “battle stations” (as the captain would often cry out) to begin the first set.

The skiff man leaped over the awkward piles of corks, web, and lead lines to the jet skiff on the stern of the boat, stumbling and quietly swearing to himself as his coffee sloshed over the rim of his mug and onto his hand. Inside, the cork stacker and cook prepared the first breakfast consisting of oatmeal and fresh fruit, while the lead stacker and deck boss found himself atop the cork pile ready to release the skiff, struggling to pull his still-moist rain bibs over his clunky rubber boots. Looking upward at the overcast skies and the misty fog rolling down the evergreen-covered mountains, the skiff man remarked to the lead stacker, “Looks like the forecast is rainy with a chance of showers.” “Another day in paradise!” came the quick reply of the lead stacker. The skiff man chuckled to himself causing the ashes to fall from the end of his morning cigarette into his lap. Another round of profanity sounded out, coupled with laughter from the lead stacker. “Let him go!” came the order from the captain, who looked down on the crew from high in the crows nest, already fully engaged in the day’s task of finding and catching salmon. With a quick flick of a rope, a clinking of metal, and roar of the two boat’s engines, the net flew off the stern of the boat as they towed in opposite directions.

The skiff man followed the orders bellowed into the radio by the captain and towed hard to the beach, nestling the bow of the skiff into a rock half-submerged in the rising tide. The net was stretched into a large J-shaped hook hanging in the cold blue water 10 fathoms deep and 225 fathoms long with only a row of yellow corks visible along the water’s surface. The captain strained his eyes through the gleam of the rippling water to the schools of fish swimming along the beach into the seine. From his perch up high, he would occasionally turn to the deck boss down below who was preoccupied with tidying up the deck and shout, “Big school… 700 fish or so!” Every few seconds, the still surface of the water was disrupted by a pink salmon leaping sideways and splashing down with a satisfying slap. “Jumper at 3 o’clock!” would ring through the air, indicating the direction of the school heading into the net. The crew had been trained well and instinctively whirled heads anytime this familiar sound occurred, as if they were blood hounds getting a fresh whiff of the trail. Fifteen minutes into the half-hour set, the jumpers became more frequent, with two or three fish hurling through the air at any given moment. The surface was beginning to boil with fish in the hook of the net as school after school poured in, piling upon each other. The cook popped out of the galley and climbed into his rain gear, handed a hot bowl of oats to the deck boss, and ate his quickly while watching the show unfolding before them. “How’s this one looking?” inquired the cork stacker. “Fishy. It will be an early day!” the lead stacker replied. Gratified, the cork stacker smiled, as his tired body had worked seven consecutive 18-hour days and badly needed the rest.

The two boats circled back towards each other and exchanged ropes for various purposes of retrieving the net. The hydraulics whirled as lines were pulled tight and a large pulley hauled the net from the water dropping it to the deck where the crew began to stack the heavy lines into figure-eights several feet high. This was a routine that had become automatic to these men — a rehearsed dance, with little need for words or direction, culminating with the bottom of the cylindered net being synched up into a purse as the fish thrashed upon the surface. Excitement filled each crewman as the “protein wave” (as they called it) rushed towards the boat, caused by the 20,000-fish-school swimming synchronistically in vain for escape, thrashing against the boundaries of the net closing around them. “We got ’em,” the captain proudly exclaimed. The crew continued to haul gear for fifteen minutes until finally a large bag was alongside the boat and the salmon were pressed against one another, tails flopping, bodies wriggling, and slime flying. In 4,000 pound increments, the crew leaned the boat far to starboard as they rolled the fish onto the deck and into the fish hold of the boat until both tanks were full. They proceeded to roll the final two bags aboard until fish slid off the top of each other over the side rails. Once the 50,000 pound deck-load was complete, the crew pulled off their wet rain gear, hung it against the warm exhaust pipes to dry for the next day, and crowded back in to the galley for second breakfast and a relaxing afternoon, waiting for the large tender boat that would take their fish back to town in the evening. “That’s a good day,” sighed the deck boss, who removed his boots and pulled on his slippers. Satisfied, he leaned back in his chair and drifted into a satisfied slumber, dreaming of the foreign destinations he would visit in just a few short months.

Will Morgan
willfullyliving@gmail.com
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