February Trap Line

A mutual friend of my nieces’ cousin called on the cousin’s suggestion. I know the mutual friend just casually through trapping correspondence, and remember he told me his sister lived in Madagascar when I was planning my work trip there.

His two boats were dead for now, and he needed to go out and check his trapline. I’d told him years ago if he ever needed someone to go along, I wanted to go to see what dryland trapping for big furbearers was all about. Did I want to take him in my boat tomorrow?  You bet, I said.

The hour was late – approaching 10 pm – as he’d already tried asking a dozen other friends, and only came to me when the cousin suggested it. Normally, I’d like to leave early on such a trip, but the boat hadn’t been out of it’s stall in over a month, and I didn’t recall just how much fuel I had. So, I told him to meet me at 8 am, in case we needed to stop at the fuel dock.

We left at 8 am, as tanks were nearly full. It’s a 3 hour ride over to the mainland where his traps are in my 6 knot boat. It was a fine winter day, with some blue patches of sky and almost calm seas.

I put him off into the punt to row ashore at his first beach trapline. I was having issues again with my charging system on the boat, so ran offshore a bit, killed the engine, and changed the V Belt. That seemed to help, and I could tell now that the other belt was stretched out, so maybe not working just right. I wasn’t sure how long he’d be, and so I dallied around the boat putting things away and such. With nothing else to do, I put out my fishing gear to see if there were any king salmon around. I fished up and down the shoreline. No action, and nothing showed for feed on the sounder.

About 2 hours after I dropped him off, I saw him come down to the beach for a spell, and eventually to the punt. He radioed that he’d row down the beach to the point, check his traps there, and be done in about 20 minutes.

The 20 minutes turned into an hour. Eventually, I saw him coming through thigh deep snow through the trees behind the beach. He would pull something out of my view towards him, trudge a few steps more in the deep snow, and pull it towards him again. When he got almost to the waterline of the snow I could see it: he’d caught a wolf. A big wolf.

He pulled the punt down to the waterline, loaded his trapping gear, then dragged the wolf to the boat and rolled it in. Out he rowed. The wolf was massive. The largest I’d seen in person. The only other wolves I’d seen were on Prince of Wales Island, and they are smaller and leaner. This wolf looked all of 75 lbs, with huge feet. I can only imagine how impressive the 100+ lbs wolves are up in Alaska’s Interior. My friend also caught 3 marten – two of which were almost jet black in color. Much darker fur than those I’d caught on Admiralty Island or down by Craig.

We motored to the second beach, and repeated the process. My friend rowed to shore, and I fished. Nothing showing for feed on the sounder along this beach either, nor any birds working. This check was shorter, and produced one marten.

I dropped him at a third beach. I almost wasn’t going to fish here since I’d seen nothing at the other two spots, but there were a few gulls on the water. They weren’t diving on feed or anything, but looked like they were there for a reason. I put the gear out – I put 50 feet of wire out and fished in about 60 feet of water. I fished out of the little cove past the point where the beach turned north, then turned back into the cove. There seemed to be some feed on the sounder here and there. And then it happened. I looked back like I had all day, and this time the rod was bouncing up and down. I immediately thought I was in too shallow of water, but the sounder showed I was not. I put the boat in neutral, and ran back and grabbed the rod. The fish was taking drag. A few more runs, and I thought it was a keeper for sure.

When I got the line tight, I cranked up the down rigger wire the line had been attached to. Then stepped over the wolf on the deck to the other rod and down rigger. I managed to get both of them up and out of the way, playing the fish as necessary in between.

I got the landing net under the fish, and the king salmon was on board. I stunned the fish, removed the hook, broke a gill, and slid the fish carefully into a bucket of seawater to bleed.

It was almost dark now, but I put the gear back out and made a pass where I caught the fish. When I didn’t hook another, I cranked all the gear up, as it was now dark. My friend was soon rowing out, the twinkle of his head lamp moving to the rhythm of the oars. We got him on board and the punt secured for the run home. He caught nothing in his traps on this beach.

Two hours later, we neared the harbor, and  stopped at his last beach. He had a couple otter sets here, but neither connected.

We got back to the harbor, long after dark, about 9 pm.

As I tied up, I thought: I’m never leaving this place.

fish in a large white bucket on a boat deck

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