My nephew Eaton arrived the day after we got the boat to Juneau. He’s my youngest nephew, and was here a few years ago. He was here for 2 weeks, and he was ready to fish.
We got the boat provisioned, picked up Dorothy, and took the boat around Douglas Island from the downtown harbor to Auke Bay harbor, where we took on fuel and water.. With nothing else left to do, Sara met us out there, where she picked up Dorothy to take her home, and Eaton and I headed west. I thought about going to Funter Bay for the evening, but it was pretty late in the day, and so we anchored in Barlow Cove near the lighthouse. Bad choice. Although Eaton slept like a baby, I was awaken hourly by cruise ships coming and going around Pt. Retreat.
The next morning, I was up early and we rounded Pt. Retreat and headed for East Point, where I fished for king salmon July 1-2, as well as in my past years power trolling in the spring. North Chatham was the usual. Forecast for light winds and seas, and kicking up 3 foot seas, just because. As we headed towards Funter Bay, I could see my deck hand was getting a little green. We arrived at Funter Bay about noon, and I pulled into the dock to wait out the wind and waves. Also at the dock was the main clerk from Harri’s, where I get my trolling, boating, and plumbing supplies, and Mac, who ran for Mayor when I ran for assembly and his deckhand Bobby, who I know from fish politics. All at the dock to wait out the wind.
We tied up for a couple hours. Eventually, everyone else left, so we figured the wind had laid down. We left and when we got to Chatham Strait, it was a duck pond. We cruised south to Freshwater Bay on flat seas.
We arrived at Pavlov Harbor, where we joined a sailboat, a small yacht, and a couple small cruise ships. I could see a bear fishing just up from the creek mouth.. As we settled in for the night, my nephew watched movies on the DVD player. I sat on the back deck and watched humpback whales bubblenet feeding right at the entrance to Pavlov Harbor.
We fished the next day at East Point. Normally, I try to avoid pink salmon. But there were pinks. Lots of pinks. Really bright pinks. And not much else. And my nephew loved catching them. So pinks it was. Turns out my nephew also loved eating them, as he had a half a side of pink salmon from one we caught the first day for dinner and would have ate more.
I figure out a little more about the boat everyday. I learned how to access the transmission oil check. As long as I have my skinny nephew, that is. How to position rods in the back so I can see them through the windows at the helm. That the freezer I bought for the deck works great and does not unduly tax the batteries. That the windlass is slowwwwwww pulling up the anchor, but if you put water on for coffee before pulling the anchor, it will be right at boiling by the time the anchor is up. That you can kick and move the battery selector switch without knowing it when exiting the port side door. That although the stern is in need of scuppers to allow water to exit more easily, if I clean the fish in a cleaner tied over the side, I can keep most of the fish innards out of the boat.
On Day 2, I was up and had the boat out to East Point to fish.. Eaton got up about 9, and just as he got to the back deck to pee, a pink is on the line, and he lands it in his pajamas. We watched whales lunge feeding close to us and the wind was just right that we could smell their breath. I’m always nervous fishing around whales. I stay away from them, but once they dive, you never know where they’ll resurface.. The fishing action was good with the pinks. And the fish so bright and decent size this year that they weren’t all that hard to clean.
We anchor in Wachusetts Cove and set the dungy pots near others in the bay.. One of them came with the boat, and was a folding type with no escape rings. So, I scrounged a couple large hose clamps left in the boat. I showed Eaton how to adjust the clamp to size according to the regulation book onboard for dungeness crab pots, and then tie them into the mesh, and finally cut the mesh inside the clamp. I then taught Eaton how to cook a pink salmon fillet in butter with some seasoning, which is about as hard as boiling water. He cooked a whole fillet of pink salmon and wolfed it down watching another DVD. The Big Lebowski. For the second night in a row. I sit up in helm writing and looking over manuals, and enjoy just listening to a funny movie like TBL. Like Pavlof Harbor, pink salmon are jumping everywhere.. I also look out at the cool geology in Wachusetts. Rock formations that stick up out of the beach like a chef’s high hat, with caves eroded out underneath that would make for a perfect camping shelter.
Day 3, I wait for Eaton to get up so we can check the crab pots. Although sunrise – 4 am ish- is my favorite time to fish, I contemplate that helping out with Scouts over the past several years, as well as having Eaton’s older cousin John here several time, has trained me well for traveling with a teenager. I make a pot of coffee and write and look around me and look at more manuals. Then I make another pot of coffee and continue the routine until I hear him rustling down below. I pull the anchor as Eaton tends the wheel, which is our routine now. He sets the anchor in the evenings, and as many times as I tell him, he’s not careful with the chain going out after the anchor and it jumps out of the bow roller and then tries to chew up the nice gunnel rail on our nice boat. I think to myself : maybe I just can’t have nice things….. We idle over to the crab pots, As we coast by the crab pot buoy, Eaton whiffs with the gaff. Like I knew he would. He grimaces while I shout encouraging words of “if I was going any slower, we’d have going backwards”, and we go round again. He gets it this time. And every time he needs to in subsequent days after that.
The pots are full of crab. But they are small. And female. I show him the tell tale female tails and explain we can’t keep them. He accepts that with no argument, and I’m happy he doesn’t rationalize that we could keep them and cook them and nobody would know, as he’s practically drooling since crab are his favorite seafood. Good boy.
We put down the fishing gear and are fishing soon out of the harbor. The seas are choppy, and it’s pretty sloppy as we round East Point. This isn’t going to be a day of fishing in these conditions. Eaton hurls over the side. We catch a couple shaker kings and a pink, but it’s not something I want to fish in. So I tell Eaton we’ll pull up the gear when we get a ways into Tenakee Inlet, and go see town. Then it happens. One of the rods has a fish. We’re just about in the lee of the point across the bay, and the seas are lessening. Eaton yards the fish in, and when I see it, I see a nice big king salmon. Now I whiff with the net the first pass, then on the second the hooks catch in the net, but I manage to roll it into the net and get it on board. That made the day. Not many fish, but this one was worth the try and he forgot about being sea sick.
As we’re pulling the gear to go to town, a seiner is steaming full ahead towards us. I yell “sorry!” as he passes, but he wasn’t upset and greeted me happily. He was just going to make another set. The inlet was full of seiners after the pink salmon jumping everywhere, and I explain how a seiner fishes as we head towards Tenakee. We pass boats in all stages of seining, and it’s good to see boats catching fish and knowing the miracle of the annual salmon migration looks fruitful for yet another year and know there’s not many place left in the world where this is so.
We make it to Tenakee and tie up to the little dock below the store. It was about 130 pm, and the website for the store says they are open from 2 to 430 pm, so we relax for half an hour. At 159 pm, we head up the dock and arrive just as the store is closing.. The volunteer from the little museum across the boardwalk sees us and says – “Oh that- yeah, the webmaster is pretty busy. They changed the hours. They change the hours all the time.”. We didn’t need anything in particular from the store. It was just something to do. She sees the store clerk walking back into the store and asks if they’ll be open again at 3 when a little cruise ship will be in. He says yes, and we’re welcome to come in now as he’s not going anywhere.. So, in we go. We look over all their goods. Eaton grabs a couple candy items, and I tell him to get a coconut ice bar for each of us.
We exit the store and head down the trail towards the head of the bay. The museum volunteer tells us about the brown bear situation. They had to kill a bear the evening before, and this seemed to make the other 2 bears around town take off for awhile.. The houses and cabins on either side of the trail are well kept. Many Juneauites have second homes in Tenakee. I point out the various berries along the trail. Some trails bushwacked through the thick berry bushes look like they were made by bears. We walk maybe a quarter mile and turn back. My back is stiff and my leg joints sore from just being on the boat. By the time we head back, things have stretched out a bit and I feel better.
I look on the chart and see a Crab Bay across the inlet. Gotta be crab there! So we untie and head in that direction. As we entered the bay, seiners were still fishing. We head up the bay, and I immediately see it’s a blow hole. The wind is blowing directly to the back of the long narrow bay, which has spectacular cliffs and steep mountains rising straight up from the bay. When we get to the back of the bay, we haven’t seen a crab pot to think there were actually any crab here now. And it wasn’t going to be a good place to anchor. So we turn around and head back to Tenakee Inlet.
I think maybe there will be crabbing at the mouth of the Kadasan River, and we can anchor or tie up in Corner Bay, where I know the Chew logging and construction family from hauling their lumber from there to Juneau with Larry. As we pass the Kadashan Delta, I see crab pots. So we toss our pots out near them. I see a nice little island towards Corner Bay with a nice spot in the lee of the wind to anchor. Soon, we are anchored in a little 60 foot deep hole behind the island. I shut down the engine – the best silence of the day – and start getting the back deck ready to butcher fish.
I fillet our catch to date, except for the king salmon, which I steak. I set Eaton up at the kitchen table with plastic wrap, and show him how to put some fish pieces in a colander in a bowl to let them drain, then transfer those fish to another container, and put more pieces in the colander. While those are draining, he then wraps each piece of fish in plastic wrap and stacks them in a pile. I continue butchering and feeding him fish to wrap. When I’m done butchering, I come in and start wrapping fish in butcher paper. A vac packer for the boat is on the list of things to get. As I wrap, Eaton tears off pieces of masking tape to seal the paper wrap. We are a good team. Then he starts to write the fish species and year on each package. When we’re all done, I tell him about freezing salmon.. That you want to spread the fish out so they are not in a bunch and so each piece will freeze as quickly as possible. I put as many fish is I can spread out in the freezer to freeze, then put the rest in the cooler on top of the ice. The fish in the freezer were frozen the next day, and I then put in the fish in the cooler on top of them to freeze. The freezer was working out great, and it was such a pleasure to tie up at the end of the trip with just the day’s catch to butcher, and not a week’s worth.
Now that I have plenty of bait from fish heads and frames, I bait up a halibut rod and put it over the side in our 60 foot anchorage. I set the drag so it’s easy for a fish to pull it out, and put the clicker on so we can hear the line paying out if a fish bites. We were about half way through wrapping fish when we hear the line going out. I get to the rod, and let the fish take it out further, then set the hook. Oh yeah. It’s a halibut. I hand the rod to Eaton. He’s been used to yarding in pink salmon that he can just skip over the top of the water once they are to the surface. So he tries to yard in this halibut. Then the halibut yards back. And yards back. Eaton is not used to this. And he likes it. He plays the fish skillfully to the boat. It’s a nice halibut about 30 to 40 lbs. I conk it on the head, then gaff it aboard. What a day. What started out as a day of sloppy water and few fish turns out to be a king salmon and halibut day. Mom and Dad are gonna be happy with Eaton.
After the brief excitement, Eaton exits stage right to his bunk and more DVDs. I put out two halibut rods with our new found luck. He passes the pile of dishes I’ll be doing after I clean the halibut and finish wrapping the salmon. The Scout master training kicks in. I’m just gonna let him go and know I don’t have anything else to do anyway the rest of the night. And, I like taking care of salmon and doing dishes while listening to KCAW on the radio from Sitka, and he likes watching TV, so everyone wins. It’s been a particularly rainy day. The kind of Southeast Alaska day that can soak you to the bone, and I’m happy to get into some dry clothes.
On Day 4, I’m up early and Eaton late again. Now I’m used to the routine. We had no more action on our gear over the side. However, I did have some excitement. A bear swam across from Chichagof Island to the little island we were anchored behind. An island you could walk around in 5 minutes that had a little copse of evergreen trees in the middle. We were so near the island I could clearly see it without binoculars. It was not exciting enough for Eaton to leave his bunk and look, however.. Eventually, the bear walked over the spit out of sight and I expect swam back to Chichagof.
When Eaton finally got up, I pull the anchor and we check the crab pots. No luck.. We head out Tenakee Inlet back to Chatham Strait. We travel straight down the middle to stay out of the seiners’ way fishing on either side of the Inlet. We fish from one side of East Point to the other, and not even a pink salmon. Yikes! So, we decide to go to explore the head of Freshwater Bay. My former workmate and her family have a cabin there, built with their friends and featured on a reality tv show. They are bringing us out some salmon rods and a chartbook, so I look at her directions to their cabin so I’ll know where it is when they arrive. We find it perched on a short cliff, and it looks beautiful.
We anchor at the head of the bay at the mouth of a creek – I think it’s a creek. I looked for a little whole like we anchored in behind the island in Tenakee Inlet to see if there’d be halibut there, too.. After we set our crab pots, get the anchor set, we see our friends neighbors come out to check whatever it was they had under some big buoys. Turns out it was a halibut line, and we see them haul a nice 40 pounder of the side of their skiff.
I realize after we set the anchor we put all the bait in the crab pot! I figure we’ll let them soak a couple hours before we pull them to get some bait out for halibut. During that time, our friends arrived with the gear, and we talked for about 15 minutes about what we’d been doing and what gear they had set on the way in.
After they leave for their cabin, we pull the anchor and go pull the pot to get some bait. We check the pots and ooh! We have some crab. And then we see a big crab that was hanging onto the outside fall off! When we look at the crab on the inside, they are males but too small. We toss them back and hope for some bigger ones in the morning. At least we see some male crab in the area.We re-anchor and I put our lines over the side, but we have no interest for the rest of the day.
On Day 5, at about 5am the next morning, though, I hear line screaming out.. I get up from my bunk, out to the rod, and pick it up. Nothing there. As soon as I jig it once, back the fish comes. I set the hook, and after one or two lunges by the fish, the line goes limp. I reel up, and the line had parted. Not sure if it was rotted there or could have rubbed against something on the boat or what.
Well, I was up now.. And it would be hours before Eaton would be up. Our bait was gone. So, I find a mooching jig in the box left by the former boar owner, tie it to my salmon rod using leader line from the same rod, and try jigging. It didn’t take long and i had a fish on. It swam straight to the surface.. So not a halibut, I think. I get it to the boat and see it’s a shaker! I release it, and try again. I get another fish on, and it feels bigger. It too swims to the surface, but throws the hook before I saw it. Another nicer king, I think.
I’d tied the treble hook directly to the line threaded through the jig, and though maybe I needed to put a ring and swivel on the hook so it hung down a little further. When I cut the line to the hook to retie everything, I realized I’d put the jig on upside down! Well, we’ll see how it works when tied on properly.
I fish for another hour or two. I caught a bullhead and some very small pollock or cod. Then a big one. I knew I had a good halibut on. I roust Eaton, and ask him to put together the harpoon to tie to the small buoy over the side.. We fumble with lines as I get the fish to the surface. It’s a nice one. A little bigger than the one we got earlier. I can gaff it. I ask for the gaff, and when he hands me the short one, I ask for the long one. Now the fish is just laying at the surface, not doing much. Eaton has to get the gaff out of the cleaning table, and struggles to pull it out of the tight space. Then the fish shakes it’s head. Just a little. And the line parts. Right at the jig. I should have used a heavier leader, as the halibut’s teeth must have nicked the 30 lbs test line on the reel. Eaton then got an education in four letter words as Uncle Mark swore up and down at himself for not using heavier line. Again the scout training kicked in. I was careful not to blame anything on my nephew, as of course he was not to blame. I told him: you don’t remember all the fish you catch, but you remember all the fish you lose. I tried another jig with heavier leader and caught some more tiny cod, but did not get another halibut on.
We decided to try the raft on the back of the boat to check the crab pots for a little adventure. I lowered the raft, and mounted the little 2.5 kicker. I then had Eaton get in the boat and instructed him on how the outboard worked. How to start it and how to stop it. When he got it fired up, I flopped into the front of the raft, and off we went to check the crab pot about 100 yards behind us. Eaton figured out how to steer the motor, and how to control the speed with the throttle. He was clearly pleased with himself. I pulled the pot up and when Eaton could see it, I stopped pulling so as to not possibly puncture the raft, and we motored back to the boat. Eaton said he saw crab in the pot.
When we got to the boat, we indeed had 2 crab in the pot. Both keepers, and one hog that was as big as dungeness get. Finally, we got some of his favorite. I’d planned to motor up to our friends cabin to visit, but had seen them leave to check their gear, and I couldn’t raise them on the radio, so we decided to head to Funter Bay. I did reach them on the radio on the way out, and told them my sad fishing story.
On Day 6, we steamed towards Funter Bay in a following sea, which was pleasant. When we got near Lizard Head about 4 hours later, I put the fishing gear out at the two cabins south of LH.. I soon had a nice coho on, and Eaton brought it in. It was big. September sized. Not long after, we got another one on. This one was even bigger – 12 or more lbs I’d guess. I wanted to turn back to fish the drag line again, but it was too sloppy to want to buck the waves, so we kept going towards Funter. After no more fish past Lizard Head, I pulled up the gear and found I did have another small coho on that had not tripped the release. I dressed the fish, and then we steamed in to tie up at the Funter Bay dock.. I dropped the crab pot over the dock, as I’d seen people catch crab here and there were other pots nearby. Later in the evening, a small brown bear walked right along the shore about 20 or 30 yards from the dock as if it was on a Sunday stroll with not a care in the world. When he got further up the beach to some old cannery (I think) ruins, he stopped and sniffed the air. Then he took off at a job across an open patch of beach that led to the woods. I’m guessing he smelled a bigger bear.
I awoke early on Day 7, and left a little after 5 am with no need to wake Eaton. But he yelled up from his bunk not to forget to check the pot, which I had but no crab.. We steamed up to a spot south of Cordwood, and I put out the fishing gear. We had a couple hours to fish, then would steam to Auke Bay, where Kurt would be getting in from a boat trip and give us a ride home.. I caught a couple smaller coho as Eaton slept. Then I got a double on. And lost them both. When we reached Point Retreat, I pulled the gear and we headed for Auke Bay.. A great week with my nephew.