Throwback Thursday: Silver and Halibut Fishing

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s Thursday and you know what that means. It’s time for another blast from the past. And this week, I bring you more fishing.

We arrived in Alaska right in the middle of peak fishing season. With an toddler in tow, a house full of boxes to unpack, and a new town to get to know, getting out on the water simply wasn’t in the cards. A few weeks later, we struck the Sun Country Wing It jackpot and Mama B’s mother came up to visit on a sub-$300 round trip fare. Nonstop to boot! With a babysitter in the house for a week, surely we’d be able to find a chance to get some fish in the freezer.

Saturday came and we headed out on the water with a halibut/silver salmon combo charter out of Homer, booked through Ninilchik Charters. Our only previous ocean fishing was on a 6-person boat (commonly called a “6-pack”), and this was a bit larger. I believe we had 16 people aboard that morning. It was certainly a larger boat, but between the captain, the deckhand, and anyone nearby willing to grab a net we had no trouble landing fish and getting them in the boat. Mama B even caught the first fish of the day on our boat!

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All in all, we had a blast. We both caught our halibut limit (2 fish each) and were 1 shy of our total silver salmon limit (3 fish each). Mama B had it right up next to the boat, too, but it got away as the net was making its way over. Bugger! The silver fishing was super fun. The strategy was as follows: we put the broadside of the boat straight into the current. The captain would give us an idea of how deep the fish were and how much line to let out. Down the lures/bait would go, and we’d try to plant them right in the middle of a ball of fish. The trick was to remember that the boat was being pushed by the current and if you let out 70′ of line in the beginning, it most certainly wasn’t 70′ straight beneath the boat. It was probably 60′ out and only 35′ down. By letting line out faster than the current pushed the boat, you could get down to the depth of the fish, where they’d hit the hook and start fighting. Several times someone would have a fish on, and see one jump what seemed like 100 yards away. Inevitably, the person reeling would think “hey, there’s a jumper!” or “look, someone on that boat way over there has a fish on!” After a few times we started realizing those were our fish, and we had a lot of line to reel back in!

When we switched to halibut, it was back to the big lures, heavy weights, and backbreaking effort to haul those sheets of plywood off the ocean floor. One poor guy on the boat pulled up a skate (think rays, like the stingrays or manta rays) thinking/hoping it was a monster Halibut. All that effort to get it to the boat, for nothing. A few minutes later, he brought it (or another) up again! I felt so bad for the guy that by the time he finally had another fish on, I offered to reel it up partway for him. When he finally got a halibut up to the boat, the captain accidentally smacked it with the net and knocked it of the lure. Poor guy just couldn’t catch a break, but he was a trooper and he just kept going back for more. Eventually he did get his limit of 2. And all this after he’d puked a time or two from being sea sick.

Speaking of which, it seemed a good half the boat was out of commission at one point or another. The seas were quite choppy that day. (Hence the limited number of photos; we spent most of the day just trying to keep ourselves upright.) One guy was out the entire time. I’m not sure he put a line in the water once. Ugh. It’s a crappy situation all around. The seasick person paid good money to get on the boat, but they’re miserable. They’re miserable so they don’t catch fish (making the trip even less enjoyable), and they don’t tip the crew whose wages are very much dependent on tips. Lose, lose. I don’t normally get queasy on boats, but for some reason this time was different. I had a short, quick bout of dry heaving off the back (always puke off the back of a moving boat, or at least over the side) on our trip back to port and then felt 100x better about 10 minutes later. Mama B, despite being in the tail end of the first trimester of her pregnancy, had no issues. We might have to send her off with the Time Bandit crew for next year’s crabbing season. 😉 Ha!

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On the way back to port, we all watched our deckhand fillet the piles of fish in the holds. One after another they’d clean up a group’s fish and put the fillets into a fresh garbage bag. At the dock, you could either give your bag to the local fish processor to vacuum pack and freeze, or you could take it home to do yourself. As newly minted Alaskans, we, of course, brought them home to process ourselves. If we’re lucky, we’ll have many, many more days of fish processing in our future, but that sure is a time consuming task. Particularly when you’re got up at 5am to catch your boat & spent the day fishing on rough water. You want to get them as “ready to cook” as you can. The filleting job that happens on the boat is very rough. Before you put it into a plastic vacuum bag, you want to be sure there aren’t bones that will puncture the plastic, that the bags have equal portions, and that they’re relatively clean going in. Being rookies, it took us longer than I’m sure it will next time around.

At the end of the day, the hard work (and the fun before it) paid off. We had fresh fish to eat that night, and plenty packed into the freezer for the winter. And man, it doesn’t get much better than Alaskan salmon and halibut.

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