By Erik Dolson
The early morning was cold and gray and I worried Irish would become chilled and uncomfortable out in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Chris, our friend from Trotac, a chandlery and our favorite store in Victoria, had not yet pulled up to the dock. I worried there might have been a miscommunication.
But we’d been told Chris was the expert. He soon appeared and we headed out in his small boat past fishermen who were competing in a halibut tournament. We kept going past an anchored freighter waiting to go in and unload, to a place Chris thought the confluence of currents would hold fish.
It wasn’t smooth and I was concerned that Irish would get sea sick.
But that’s where we caught the first salmon.
“Oh! Chris!” Irish cried out when the tip of the pole on “her” side of the boat suddenly dipped. Chris quickly snatched the pole from the holder where it was rigged with a weighted ball, and set the hook. He handed the pole to Irish who reeled in a nice 5 pound Chinook.
She was thrilled, and immune to the cold. I was content driving the boat and wheeled it around as Chris reset the fishing gear. I motored over the same ground while watching the depth finder, and right about the same place, we had another strike.
“Chris!” Irish called. In one fluid movement, he released the ball and set the hook. Irish landed the second fish.
She was gleeful. The day was already a success.
“Do you want to fish for a halibut? The contest is about over,” asked Chris.
“Um, YEAH!” Irish said.
He motored further out into the straight where we set a small anchor more than 400 feet down, and there we dangled some bait on the bottom. The sea was rougher out here, and it was hard to stand, at times. Irish then told me she had taken a pill to combat seasickness and she wasn’t affected by the motion.
“Chris!” she said. I could not see what she saw at the rod tip, but she was right and Chris again set the hook. This time handed the rod to me.
The halibut didn’t struggle like a salmon. It felt sullen, heavy, and stubborn. But 400 feet is a lot of line. I leaned back to pull it toward the surface, then reeled while bending forward again.
“Oh, look!” Irish cheered when we could see the fish just below the waves. But just after Chris leaned over and tried to gaff it aboard, it spit the hook and slipped back beneath the water.
“Oh, man, I can’t believe that just happened!” Chris said. He seemed devastated.
I wasn’t as disappointed as he was.
“Hey, it’s okay,” I said. “We’re having a good day.”
“Yeah, but I damaged the fish. I feel bad about that,” he replied. Fisherman conservationist.
I was just happy we were out in this strait on a windy day, waves a couple of feet high. Chris rode his boat like it was part of him, but I had to hold on or sit down. The important thing was that Irish was having a blast and had no fear as the small boat tipped first one way and then the other.
Another halibut hit the bait. After Chris set the hook, I reeled it in and we landed a nice fish, a little less than 50 pounds. I’d never boated a 50-pound fish before, though I’d weighed a 70-pound Chinook once when I worked in an Alaska salmon cannery several lifetimes ago.
We headed back to shore. Chris showed us how to fillet the halibut.
“We’re going to throw that part away?” I asked him.
“That’s the area around the stomach. It can be pretty wormy,” he said.
“What about the cheeks?”
“Halibut cheeks are not that good. That was a marketing scam,” he said as he tossed the carcass to the seals.
That night onboard Foxy, Irish and I bagged the fish with our new vacuum sealer and nearly filled our freezer. After a day fishing, we had enough meat for a month, especially with the bags of chicken thighs we’d caught at Costco.
“We’re going to need more recipes,” I said. “I wonder if we can make a halibut dip? Halibut dessert? Halibut ice cream?”
“That’s just gross,” said Irish with a laugh.
Her fall, her unemployment, her fears about heavy weather, seemed all but forgotten.
The trip to Alaska this summer was coming into focus.