New tricks

Although I’ve been out shrimping once with Mike in Craig, I really wasn’t sure how to deploy and retrieve a trawl on my own.  I bought a trawl from my old trolling buddy Matt last year, but hadn’t fished it yet.  Nick had offered to go out with me to teach me when I took him and Jesse trapping this winter, and yesterday we went.  His friend Amanda (who I knew) went along to look for black bears while we were shrimping.
We were to meet Nick at the launch ramp at 730 am.  We all showed up early.  It was a bluebird day and calm seas.  All of us were itching to get out on the water.
We ran in Nick’s sweet 20′ (?) long landing craft  down the channel to the shrimping spot about 40 minutes away.  If I understood him right, he got the boat because the owner only listed it by it’s brand name, and people didn’t realize it was a landing craft, and Nick was able to get it – motors and all- for only $20,000 about 8 years ago- from the seller in Pelican who just had it to transport supplies to build his cabin.  I love stories like that.  It’s a great platform for doing about everything on the water except staying dry, since it has no cabin.
The shrimp trawl consists of a net, otter boards, lead lines, and tow line.  The otter trawl net has two boards on each side of the net that keep the net mouth open. The net opening is about 12 feet wide.  The top of the net has floats and the bottom has a light link chain to tickle the bottom and make the shrimp jump up off the bottom and then into the net.  To each board is tied a 100 foot lead line, with a caribiner on the other end.  The net end of the towline has a swivel with a 10 lb cannon ball on one side of the swivel, and a caribiner tied to the end of tow line that is snapped onto the other side of the swivel.
The caribiners from the door lead lines are clipped to the top of the swivel alongside the tow line caribiner, and not the bottom where the cannon ball is.  Nick said if you clip them to the cannon ball side, the net leads will twist.  Good to know.
Our tow speed was 1.3 knots.  We were fishing over a flat mud bottom, which is what a shrimper is looking for.
I helped Nick deploy the net while Amanda drove the boat.  We stood along the side of the boat in the rear, with each of us holding a door and the net between us.  Amanda put the boat in gear and we each let our our boards over the side, then slowly let out our lead lines until the net was behind the boat about 20 feet.  Then we rotated back around the stern. Nick had us pull our lead lines up near the outboard so he could visually see the net was open and working properly.  Another important step, he said many times.  Then I handed him my lead lead and he, alone, let the net descend slowly, under tension, behind the boat.
While he was letting the lead lines out, I found the caribiners on each end of the lead lines, and snapped them to the top of the swivel at the end of the tow line.  When the net was out to the end of the lead lines, I handed the tow
line up to Nick and fed the tow line out of the barrel to him, trying to unravel any kinks before they got to him.  There was about 1200 feet of tow line, and we used most of it each tow.
We fished the net in water ranging from about 250 feet of water up to about 150 feet of water.  My friend Matt, who fished the same location with the net I bought from him, said he fished in 40 to 60 feet, which was surprisingly shallow to me for some reason.   At 250 feet, we used about 1000 feet of the tow line; a little less tow line if dragging shallower.  We’d gauge that the tow line length was sufficient by watching to see that the tow line twitched now and then, indicating the boards were bouncing on the bottom.
We towed for between 30 minutes and an hour.  So lots of time to drink coffee and yak and take in the spectacular snow covered mountains around us and look for a black bear for Amanda on the beaches.
Hauling the net was simple.  The boat was shifted to neutral, the tow line walked from the tow bar in the rear to the bow of the boat, then the person hauling the tow line stacked it back into the garbage can while the driver tried to just keep up with the line hauler so the hauler wasn’t having to pull the boat to the net.  When most of the line was in the boat and the net directly under the boat, Nick started his Honda pot puller, and he hauled up the rest of the line with it – except for the one time I did the hauling, and hauled the line by hand all the way to the boat, which wasn’t too difficult.
Once the net was alongside the boat, we’d swish it up and down in the water several times to rinse off as much mud as possible.  Then, depending on the haul, one or two of us would grab the net and bring it over the side and into the cooler, untie the cod end, then dump the catch into the cooler.
Of course, we caught more than shrimp in the net.  The other sealife caught included eel pouts (the most numerous bycatch item), sculpin, moonfish, lumpsucker, starry flounder, other unidentified juvenile flatfish, crab, hooligan, pollock, rock shrimp, and small sea stars the size of Christmas cookies.  Basically, a marine biologist’s or 9 year old’s dream.
After returning the bycatch to the ocean, we got in a rhythm where Amanda would take over repeatedly rinsing the shrimp (side stripe, coon stripe, and pink shrimp), and Nick and I would get the net ready to fish again.
We made three or four tows for the day, and got plenty of shrimp.  Especially seeing as Nick didn’t want any because he still had shrimp from last year to eat.  We didn’t see any bears, so Amanda’s rifle stayed cased.  She and I headed shrimp while Nick drove the 40 minutes back to the dock in 60 degree weather and calm seas.
We barely made a dent processing all the shrimp by the time we pulled in to the ramp.  Once up the ramp, Amanda handed the cooler of shrimp down to me, and we each took a bucket of shrimp, then said our goodbyes after a wonderful day.  Nick told me he wanted to give me some surplus smoked black cod he’d just finished, and I said I’d be right over.  I ran home first to grab some gallon ziplocs.  I then went directly to the Salvation Army store to give Mike a gallon bag of shrimp before the store closed.  At Nick’s, I grabbed the smoked black cod and thanked him again, then ran just up the block to Kurt’s to give him the other gallon bag of shrimp and tell him all about the day over a beer.
Once I got home, Sara helped me head the shrimp, which was very welcome.  We saved the heads for Amanda, who was going to make stock with it.  I normally might do the same, but like Nick’s shrimp, my freezer has a ton of both venison and shrimp stock already so glad she will use them.  We put the tails into the fridge overnight, as Nick was told by a shrimp peeler machine manufacturer that leaving the tails overnight will allow something to happen that will make them easier to peel the next day.
I was sore when I got home.  Knees were stiff.  Hip a little sore.  And another day of feeling so lucky I live here and never wanting to leave.


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