Bara from Mali came to Juneau on Wednesday. He was attending a meeting in DC, and several of his volunteers made arrangements for him to travel to see us in Arkansas, Alaska and New Jersey.
A Peace Corps friend was to meet Bara in Seattle for his scheduled 7 hour layover to show him the town. Bara missed his connecting flight in Denver, however, when he showed up after the flight left. He did not realize that the time zones had changed.
On our first day, we did a half hour radio show at the public station here talking about Winrock International and the situation on the ground in Mali with the recent coup.
The sun was out and I wanted to get out while we could, since it looked like a lot of rain in the forecast. We purchased a one day fishing license and king salmon stamp for him, and headed out to where a friend informed me there was humpback whale activity. It took awhile, but we finally found several whales in a relatively small area. They were staying down for long periods feeding, and feeding alone, so you had to be looking in the right direction at the right time when we were at a distance, or you’d miss the spout.
As low tide approached, we headed towards our cabin, where we planned to spend the night, and near Colt Island, we dropped the salmon gear to try for a king salmon. The weather was still nice, with light winds. Big, puffy clouds dotted the sky. When the sun was out, it was warm, and when the sun went behind the clouds, it cooled off quickly. We trolled along the Admiralty Island shore across from Colt and then Horse Island to the cove at Grouse Pt, then started back again. When we were near the Horse Island spit, Bara noticed one rod bouncing on the downrigger, and said something. I pulled the rod off, and immediately drag started peeling off, but not at a scream like a king salmon. I fought the fish for a minute or two, sometimes thinking I had some sort of snag. I finally realized we probably had a halibut. We weren’t fishing for halibut in the traditional way of bouncing bait off the bottom, and we were only in about 25 feet of water,
with our gear at about 15 feet, when the fish took the herring.
It took quite awhile to get the fish to tire somewhat, since we had the limber salmon rods and 25 lb test line. The fish didn’t run far, but didn’t come in easy either. I finally saw the swivel that joins the leader to the line on the rod, but didn’t see the fish. Down it went again. The next time we got it near the surface we both saw it – a big halibut. Really big.
I was unprepared for a big halibut. No halibut gaff. No harpoon. No shark hook. Just a salmon gaff. I had Bara do some fighting, and when we finally got the halibut near the boat, I clobbered it on the head with the back of the salmon gaff. Which only made the fish mad, and down it went. We were very lucky to be in such shallow water, as the fish didn’t have far to go to reach bottom.
I started contriving ways to somehow get a line around the fishes tail our through the gills to land it. When the only other boat fishing the drag got in earshot, I told them we had a big halibut and didn’t know if could land it. They asked if we needed a harpoon, and I said we sure did.
They dropped it off, and I had to call back a few times for instructions since I’d not used one before. The harpoon has a sharp tip that slips over the end of the handle. The tip is tied to a line. The idea is to thrust the tip through the fish, and when it reaches the other side, the tip will turn sideways and release from the handle. You then tie off the line still connected to the tip to the boat, and you have yourself a fish.
They instructed me to be sure I went through the gills, and to not be a Sally about it. Thrust the harpoon hard they said.
Bara worked the fish up again, and I thrust the harpoon through the head. Next thing I knew I had the handle in my hand, and the harpoon end was through the fish. We tied it off to the boat, and relief started to set in. We still weren’t sure how to get the fish landed, since I was not going to bring a fish that big aboard when it was still alive.
We decided to beach the boat at the spit, and pulled the exhausted halibut up on the beach. I pulled out a gill, and it took probably 30 minutes for the fish to fully bleed out. Bara took several pictures as the tide continued to flood. I then hog tied it – tying a line from the tail to the head. Bara suggested putting the fish in the boat rather than towing it, and I thought that would be alright with it hog tied. He set his camera down on the beach and helped me get the fish onboard.
We get ready to leave, and Bara started feeling his pockets for his camera. Then he remembered putting it down on the beach. He went back, searching the rocks. I realized the tide was flooding, and found the camera already covered by 4 inches of water. Bummer. We joked we needed to work on two things for the next trip: Time changes and Tide changes.
He took a bag of halibut with him to his destination after Alaska to New Jersey, and his host there raved about the fish. We also had a reception here at the house for Bara, serving deep fried halibut and providing an opportunity for our friends to meet Bara.
Bara’s trip was a full one. We did a radio segment for our local NPR station, where Bara related his work at Winrock and the uprising situation in Mali. We visited the fish hatchery and my fish processor for Bara to get some understanding of where fisheries might go on the Niger River. I think my processors small plant could be an ideal size for a similar project in Mopti, and at a reasonable start up cost. I also was sure to show Bara insulated fish totes, which were another recommendation I made while in Mali for their fishermen. Of course, a trip would not be complete to our household without a day of garage saleing, where Bara picked up a cell phone to take back, and a kimono for his wife.
Bara called us yesterday after arriving back in Bamako. He was still glowing from his trip to the states. And it’s got me thinking it might be as important for my friends in Africa to come here as it is for me to go back to Sierra Leone. Maybe coming here would mean more to them. We’ll have to see.
Alaska Wild Salmon Company
4455 N. Douglas Hwy
Juneau, AK 99801