The blind hog finds an acorn

I headed out fishing at first light. As usual, everyone was busy so I went alone. It was a dreary day with wind near town and a cold, cold rain. Luckily the wind was light further south of town where I fished.

Winter king fishing around here is more fishing than catching. I don’t know many who catch fish every time, or even most times. Mostly, it’s something to do after deer hunting closes until spring hooter and black bear hunting, and in the past, spring king salmon, which has been closed for years now due to low returns.

I put out a flasher only on each cannonball of the downriggers, then a king kandy lure. This is the way my friend in Wrangell showed me how to do it, except he uses herring instead of a lure.  I had trolled most of the way down the channel when I looked back to see I had something on. What a surprise, but it didn’t look like much. When I get back to the rods. I thought it was a little juvenile trout-sized salmon or a cod or something.

When I grabbed the rod and started to reel, I could see the line near the surface slicing the water. Then the fish started talking some line, so I figured I had a king salmon, but maybe it would be too small to keep.

As I got it near the boat, I saw it was a good fish. I’m not sure how many minutes the fish was on the rod before I saw it, so it was probably already a bit tired from being towed behind the boat. Now I had to get ready. I held the rod in one hand and pulled down the net from under the punt on the roof of the galley behind me. Then I cranked up the downrigger, put the cannonball on deck, and rotated the downrigger out of the way for netting the fish.

I got the big fish up to the boat and saw it had only the little trailer hook of the lure hooked in the corner of its mouth. Now I was really nervous. I would reel the line up as far as I could – to the swivel connecting the rod line to the leader of the lure, which was about 6 feet. Then I’d try to lift the rod and put the net under the fish at the same time, but of course as I leaned down to put the net under the fish, the rod would also go down, and I would miss. I tried some 4 times, and I just could not get the fish up far enough to get the net under the fish, and all the time thinking I’m gonna lose it, as it sure didn’t seem very well hooked.

FINALLY, I got the net under the fish…and dropped the net!

The boat is still in gear and moving away from the net, but I managed to keep my head as I quickly let out line little by little by hand, and managed to maneuver the fish to keep it partially in the net, all of which stayed at the surface!
I let the line out with fish and net back about 20 yards, then put the rod in the rod holder, ran forward, and took the boat out of gear.

I returned to the rod, and opened the door to the swim step with just my crocs on (and my lift jacket) and gently reeled in the fish and net very gently, just enough to keep up with the boat drifting back to the fish.

When I got the fish and net up to the boat, with full focused concentration, I conked the fish right on the nose, and lit laid right over as kings do with a perfect blow. I went to gaff it and whiffed. I thought – you’ll lose this fish yet. Concentrate. I successfully gaffed it on the second try, and carried it up through the swim step door with the net still attached.

I got the rod, fish and net all on deck and shut the door before I did anything. Nearing 60, I have learned to secure the fish first, and not to trust that it wouldn’t start flopping and go right back out the door and into the water.

Then, lots of screaming ensued. Later, it got even better. When I dressed the fish, it was a white king. It weighed 16 lbs dressed weight.  What a day.

The only other winter king I’ve ever caught in the channel was a similar sized fish.  I was with Doug on his boat, and as he’s reeling in the fish, he looks at me sideways and says “did you bring a net?”. “No!. I said. “You don’t have a net on the boat?. “Nah”, he said. “I never catch nothing.. I rooted around the boat and found a pair of pliers, which I swung open in the shape sort of a boomerang. I had been trolling for several years by then, so knew how to land a fish by hand. I figured we had one chance. Doug brought it alongside the boat after tiring it out well, I lightly grabbed the line and guided it on its side over to me, and made a perfect conk on the nose. It laid right over, and I grabbed it through the gill and hauled it onboard. I might have even put a hook in my hand grabbing it, but didn’t feel it with all the adrenaline.

Crab Pickin’

Picking crab by the woodstove. For the first time in 25 years, it’s the woodstove in the house, and not at the cabin, which we sold. Doesn’t make me too sad. I’m glad to know the young couple will have lots of fun there like I did. And, instead of me baiting, setting, retrieving, cooking and picking crab myself, I had Bob and Jeff with me to share the fun. Bob took some of the crab. Jeff didn’t want any.

We had a king pot and 3 dungy pots set in the channel. There’s a 4 day king crab opening. One king pot per vessel. And one king crab per household. The king crab pot now lives on the tug, so all we had to do was bring it down from the roof, check the bio twine, bait it, sort out the corkline, and toss it in.  We set the pot mid-channel near the end of the channel. We took the dungy pots to set for dungies near shore so we’d have more than one pot to check.

Although we can see town from the king pot, it takes an hour to get there in the tug, which goes about 6 knots. All of us are retired now, so we sort of enjoy taking up the day with the boat ride, instead of trying to get this done as quickly as possible to get around to other tasks or get back to our jobs.

My colleague at the job I retired from can see us idling down the channel from her window, the same window I used to look out from my desk. Yesterday, she texted asking what we were doing, then asked for a report today, which I gave her. I don’t miss my job, but do miss my coworkers and fishing industry people I worked with. Retirement can be isolating if you let it, and I have let it.

The harbor is finally ice free after holding the tug in the ice for 2 months. I’m gonna move the boat out to Auke Bay if cold weather is forecast again so I don’t get iced in again.

Really appreciated having Bob and Jeff with me today. Two good friends who, like me, are retired here and didn’t move away for warmer, drier climes. We all like it here. All of us still involved in the town in our own way.  Jeff and Terri are busy keeping the Salvation Army store running, where they sort donations and get them priced and out to the store. Terri helps at the food bank, too. Bob is always busy on some project or another. Right now, he’s trying to get a performing arts center funded. I’m hoping Chris can join us tomorrow. He’s found his niche after retiring as a board member of the local trail maintenance organization, and also caring for his daughter with a physical/mental condition.

So, thinking about all this as I picked the tanner crab shells clean tonight, and adjusted the damper on the woodstove as needed for the right amount of heat. Sara and I first had crab with our salad for dinner. Then I picked the rest.  I vac packed the meat – which Sara says is “so convenient!” when she pulls it from the freezer for some dish – then put the shells in a pot with water to simmer to make stock.

Glad to have this winter activity, especially with the lack of snow and skiing right now.

59 club

Spent the day on the tug. Crawling around in the bowels of the Dutch Master was never my favorite thing. But after owning an old troller, I know now that repairing things on the boat will teach me how the system on the boat I’m repairing works. And with nothing but time on my hands, I looked forward to tackling this today. Although it still seems like it takes an act of Congress to get me in motion for the day.

I determined yesterday that the bilge pump was shot – it was a $600 model 36600 Jabsco diaphragm pump that sat up in the cabinet. It was wired to a float switch, and drew the water from the bilge area under the stuffing box up through the pump, then out the pump and over the side. The pump spec sheet lists the year as 1979, so it may be an original pump with the boat. So it’s a solid unit. When I started looking around for something obvious other than the electric pump that could be wrong, the pump itself looked like new inside. I figured out the electric pump had seized or burned out, and likely because water froze in the pump.  Of course, I broke off the inlet and outlet nipples when I removed the pump as well.

So, I thought about the system for a good long while. Did I want to replace this pump or repair it, or go with a pump that would be submerged in the bilge – which has excellent access, unlike the Dutch Master, which had a bilge that was nasty both in content and in smell.

I took a tour of Western Auto’s assortment of bilge pumps. They had no direct replacements for my diaphragm pump, and lots of submersed models, with various outlet sizes and pumping volumes. Surprisingly, the diaphragm pump volume was 480 gallons per hour – which is not very much compared to even the smallest of the bilge pumps. I didn’t buy anything yesterday, figuring I’d do a full recon at the boat first and make a list.

I decided to go with a submersible pump. The water in the bilge is below the water line and so shouldn’t freeze, whereas a diaphragm pump in the cabinet above water might.  If I got a pump with a 3/4 outlet, I could use the hose from the Jabsco, and just put a union between the pieces of the hose that went into and out of the pump in the cabinet where the pump had been. I asked Larry what size pumps he’d put in the Ruth Evelyn, and he went with 1100 gph Rule pumps.

I went to Harri’s first to see what they had for bilge pumps. Not as many selections as Western Auto. They did have the hose connectors I needed, so I got one, plus a couple extras for the toolkit, then off to Western Auto.

At first I thought I’d go with the 1100 gph Rule Pump, but luckily caught myself before checkout – the pump outlet was 1 inch, and I had  a 3/4 inch hose already in place from bilge to the over the side through hull fitting. The lower volume models up to 800 gph had 3/4 inch outlets, and while I knew I could use adapters to go from 1 inch to 3/4 inch, I went the easy route and bought the 800 gph. I figured it was almost double the size of the pump I just took out, so should work fine. I picked a roll of black and a roll of red number 14 wire to do the wiring.

When I got back to the boat, I took the volt meter to figure out the wiring where the other pump had been. I figured out the positive was from the float switch in the bilge, the negative was from the battery, and figured out after awhile that another set of positive and negative wires in a sheath were wires that went to the bilge counter on the dash.

I was ready now. As a new member to the 59 club, I’m a little wiser. In my younger years, I’d have bought a pump, then figured out I needed to get an adapter or new hose, etc. etc. It’s sort of fun to realize you’ve learned something since you had last had a big boat 20+ years ago. I threaded the new black and  red wires from the float switch wiring that went to the old pump in the cabinet back down to the bilge. I could have tried to splice into the wiring down in the bilge, but this was alot easier. Once I got the wires down to the bilge, I used a shrink wrap solder butt connector for each connection, and then put a second shrink wrap over that. I’ve got a heat gun on the boat now, and that makes shrinking the connectors a lot easier and precise than using a lighter, for me anyway.  I hooked up the hose to the pump and the pump sat nicely on the bottom of the bilge channel, right in front of the float switch.

I went back to the other ends of the wires in the cabinet. I first bundled and twisted the ends of the positives and negatives, and then flipped the breaker on to see that the pump was working. It was. It pumped the bilge nearly dry before the float switch turned it off.  I turned the breaker off again, and got to putting on some male and female connectors with shrink wrap, tied the wiring with zip ties to other plumbing and wiring along it’s route to keep it from getting torn out, then made labels for the wiring at the connectors so I’ll know what they’re for later on. Finishing up, I was satisfied with the job, with water proof connections and a set up that should work a good long while. And, it’ll be easy to change out the bilge pump if necessary. I sure like the easy access to the bilge pump. Like someone designed it that way!

Next job was to tackle the freshwater system. The filter housing under the sink froze and cracked. Like the bilge pump, I decided to go with a different set up to try and avoid a repeat of freezing.  I found I could simply bypass the filter set up and connect the inlet hose to the sink to a connection in the water line. Then I could use a filter right on the spigot. Luckily, the fittings under the sink fit each other after bypassing the filter, although the connection point was a bitch to reach in the cabinet. I had no teflon tape for the connection, so made another long walk up to the car and a short drive to Harri’s for the tape. The walk felt good.

Back to the boat, more awkward reaching in to thread the connection onto the fitting with the new teflon tape, a test of the system, and it all worked. No leaks.

As usual, the work area is a disaster with tools and debris everywhere. That will be tomorrow’s job.

A Christmas Miracle. Really

I called Paul in Petersburg tonight. I hadn’t checked in in a couple days.

He said did you hear about my fall?  I said you mean the fall in hospital where you broke your fall with your head and needed stitches last week?

No, he said. This one occurred the other night. He keeps a cooler up by the road so the meals on wheels people can put his meal in there and not have to walk down to the house, but as the snow storm was coming, he now thought it best that they walked the meals down to his door (and I’m guessing THEY always thought this was best, but that Paul was making it easier for them by putting a cooler up by the road for them, as this would give him something to do to go get it, too).

So, he uses the lighted handrail that leads from his house up to the road, and built specifically for this purpose, to get the cooler. With his cane in one hand and the cooler dragging in the other, he heads back down his driveway to the house. With his hands full, he can’t hold onto the rail. And then he falls.

It’s about 4 degrees outside. And he’s on his back. He can’t roll over to get up. As he’s telling me this, I lightheartedly tell him this is called being “turtled”, and has happened to me packing a deer out on my back, falling on my back, and having to squirm out of the pack before I can roll over to get up.

He agrees. He was turtled. He said I was there a good long while. I hit the back of my head when I fell. I  thought: well, this might be it. It’s 4 degrees out. I can’t get up. I don’t have my first alert button around my neck. Or my phone.

As he starts to shiver, someone calls out “Paul”. It’s his neighbors from up the street. Just stopping by to drop off a Christmas cake to Paul. The husband graduated with one of Paul’s daughters and may have been his student. They find Paul on the ground, call the ambulance, and go inside and grab some blankets off a bed and put them around Paul til the ambulance arrives.

The head of the fire department is also one of Paul’s former students. The EMT’s put Paul on a stretcher. I thought they were just going to take me into the house, he said. But no. Off to the hospital.

They checked Paul out and he was all okay, but they wanted to keep him overnight for observation. Paul said well, it was warm, and dinner was good. And their TV’s are nice and easy to use (unlike the streaming service he got involuntarily switched to at home and which drives him nuts). And the breakfast was so good in the morning. This ain’t so bad!

He said this is sort of how things go when your 90. I have to depend on others, but they don’t seem to mind. And I’m guessing they don’t. Paul said he’s not big on religion, but feels like he was definitely visited by two angels who found him on this cold winter night and saved him.

Fiddleheads and salmon soup

When we have the wood stove going full blast during cold snaps, it’s nice to put the soup pot on the stove. I’d made soup with carrots and celery left in the fridge when I got home from Madagascar, and ate through that. When I wanted to make another one, I was looking through the freezer and saw some salmon that the seal had broken on the vac pack but looked in great condition. So I grabbed those, and more, a pack of beach asparagus and a pack of fiddleheads. I’d never tried fiddleheads in soup.  I grabbed two 8 cup bags of deer bone stock, too.

I put the pot on the stove on a trivet, and put in the frozen stock to thaw. Next, I boiled the fiddleheads, discarded the water, then salted them to try to firm them up a bit, and sauteed them in butter. I roughly chopped up the beach asparagus. I was curious if the beach asparagus would make the soup too salty, but it did not. I removed the skin and rib bones from the salmon fillet portions, cubed the meat, and sort of browned it in butter. Not sure if I needed to do that or not. I thought maybe it would hold together better in the soup, and it did hold together, but not sure if the browning helped or not. I chopped two big yellow onions. The frozen stock had mostly thawed, and put the rest of the ingredients into the pot. I put the pot directly on the stove now, and it took a good long while for the soup to come to a boil, so I moved it to the stove to get it boiling. I added some salt, pepper and garlic powder, and a few handfuls of left over rice and half a bag of frozen corn.

The first bowl was good, but left kind of an after taste, which I realized was the onions as they weren’t really cooked too hard when I ate the soup. I put the soup on the stove to let it heat all day, and later on had more soup. The soup color had turned to a nice brown color, which reminded me of my dad’s french onion soup, so I’m guessing the onions made the color. The onions, now properly cooked, made the soup taste even better, with no after taste now. And the fiddle heads and salmon were so good.

One thing I will do next time is chop up the fiddleheads a bit after boiling them, as they can be awkward to get on the spoon when they elongate from their curl in the soup.   This is a good find for using fiddleheads, and the fiddleheads frozen raw, without blanching, were in great condition. I think they must be at least a year and a half old as I didn’t go get them this past summer.

More Serendipity.

I went down to the Salvation Army church tonight to help take money out of the kettles and into bags for bank deposit, as I’ve done for years. I can’t even remember now when I started. I like doing these jobs. Out of public sight, and fun to do.

Loretta has been helping for years, too. She grew up in Angoon, and lived in Juneau for most of her life I think. Tonight we got talking about fishing and boats and history, and she said her dad built a double ender, and showed me a photo. The Loretta Ann. I know that boat, I said. Harry Samato runs it. That’s my brother, she said. Oh, how small the world is here in Southeast Alaska.

Harry was one of the first trollers I knew. He took me under his wing, and shared fishing information with me about his corner of Chatham Strait. Where to fish. Where to anchor. What gear he was using. One of my favorite people I’ve met over the years, along with the late Walter Baldwin and Eric McDowell.

Loretta, now in her early 70’s, went on talking about her family. Her grandfather was from Japan. I sort of knew this, but had always wondered how a Japanese man found his way to Angoon. He came over from Japan with his uncle to San Francisco, then found his way up to the whaling station at Killisnoo. He met Loretta’s grandmother from Angoon, and they got married. Loretta said he learned English and Tlinghit, which of course makes sense. But wow, all the way from Japan.

When WWII came, they took some of Loretta’s aunts and uncles to internment camps in Idaho. Even though they were born in the US.  People today think of Juneau as a liberal, progressive onclave, but I can tell you it’s not always been that way. Japanese decent residents taken to internment camps. A whole settlement of Aleut people from the Pribilofs, settled in their own internment camp in Funter Bay, in squalid conditions, rather than them being brought just a little further and settled in nearby Juneau.  Or the racism towards the local people who were here before “settlement” of the town.

Another milestone on my birthday. We sold our cabin. We bought it 25 years ago, and the couple buying it from us is about the age we were when we bought it, and are really excited. With the proceeds, we’re paying off both the boat we bought this summer and our house. We’re debt free.

Paying off our debts prompted me to get moving on my health and mobility. I went in today to do my annual physical to check my cholesterol and PSA and annual colon cancer test. I finally called to make an appointment for my ailing hip, too.  What use is a comfortable retirement if I can’t enjoy it.   I think the last thing in the near term is to check my computer use and my alcohol intake and get more exercise and actually clean out the garage and not just move stuff from one side of the garage to the other.

Dry firewood is such a joy. After years of keeping it under a tarp, we’re on our second year of it coming out of the woodshed. We’re burning wood that’s already been drying a year, and so easy to start and so much heat. It’s gonna get down near zero here in a few days, and that’s gonna put the heat pump down near its limit for keeping up with heating the house, so the dry firewood will be even more appreciated.