Tales of a Catcherman

Did I mention how much I hate standing in the rain in a seaway…fishing?

Messing around in boats has been our passion for almost 30 years. Corinne and I currently spend our summers cruising the Pacific Northwest in our American Tug 41, Ocean Mistress. We have a passion for finding new and remote anchorages. We love to explore.   

About 10 years ago we began adding other activities to our cruising agenda. We do a lot of hiking into the remote areas of British Columbia’s rainforest, and we add to our cruising larder with a little fishing.

We don’t fish for crab or prawns. We don’t collect oysters or dig for clams. Corinne and I are both scientists and spent many years investigating what these critters eat and filter out of the water around them. It’s a case of too much information on the impact of diffuse pollution on our environment!

We do like to catch and eat salmon and halibut. But the idea of standing outside in the rain in a rough seaway for hours holds no appeal for us. Endlessly adjusting tackle and searching for an elusive fish is boring in the extreme. I am not a fisherman!

We’ve been fortunate to receive two pieces of very good advice about salmon fishing – one about how to find the fish, the other about how to catch them. A fisheries manager explained how to find the fish: “Find out where everyone else is and fish there!” And a Haida chief told us that the best way to catch salmon was to “fish shallow and drink beer.” If you are in the right place this is excellent advice. Except for the part about drinking beer, these tips guide our catching practices.

My idea of salmon fishing is to find the spot where they are swimming through in large numbers and catch what I want in 30 minutes or less. Catching halibut is about finding the hole they are hiding in, then dragging a few up off the bottom.

This makes me a “catcherman.”

Good Days, Bad Days

A few summers ago we departed from our normal cruising plan in Alaska to collect some friends to go fishing. Our friends didn’t really want to go fishing – they wanted to go catching. Unfortunately, except for about 15 minutes on one day the salmon refused to cooperate. The result was a lot of fishing and very little catching. We were so disappointed that when we returned to Hoonah we hired a guide to go halibut catching.  

Our best day of salmon catching took place off Shark Rock in Salisbury Sound, north of Sitka. It happened just as it often does: once we found the spot where the King salmon were hanging out, we got our limit in about 10 minutes with two double hook-ups. We returned the next day but spent our time fishing in the rain in a rough seaway.

Did I mention how much I enjoy standing outside in the rain in a rough seaway?

My favourite times are when everyone else is fishing – and you are catching. This happened to us last year north of Desolation Sound. We had just left Pierre’s Resort and were heading out for a day of cruising. The weather was absolutely beautiful, the sun was making its first appearance after several days of absence, and the day was warming up. We noticed a group of small boats fishing outside Deep Cove, off Wells Passage, cruising back and forth in the typical trolling pattern. Once we got close to the bay, Corinne suggested we try to catch a salmon. We did not want to enter the scrum of small boats and elected to stay outside the bay.

About the time I got the second line in the water, I heard the starboard rod start shaking in its holder and the shriek of line running out. “Fish on,” I called and Corinne took the boat out of gear. For the next five minutes I worked to land the fish. As it got close to the back of the boat, Corinne netted it, while it rolled up into the net tangling the line, leader and flasher. Then the port rod started shaking.

Meanwhile, the boat drifted slowly into the bay and we were starting to get an audience. The other boats approached to see what was happening. Corinne started bringing in the second fish but I still couldn’t free the first one from the net. With no net, it was going to be very difficult to land the second fish. I donned a pair of big yellow rubber gloves and knelt on the swim step while Corinne brought the fish toward me. It was a one in a million catch – as the fish jumped to throw the hook I caught it in midair and managed to knock it and me through the transom door into the boat. Our audience was suitably impressed by our amateurish and very lucky landing method.

It took us a while to get things sorted out on the back of the boat, with two live and very large salmon now thrashing about in the cockpit. When we finally got ourselves sorted, we noticed that not only did we have an audience, but they were all working hard to be the next catcherman!

By Shawn Severn

Photo Captions:

1. Our good friend Robert Fenwick taught us how to be catchermen

2. In Robert’s world, “Some days are salmon and some days are mackerel!”

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