In last week’s Newspaper Days blog, titled Jaws, I mentioned that Westport, Washington, located on the southern opening of Grays Harbor, billed itself as the Salmon Capital of the World in the late 1970s and early 1980s, due to the many charter boats that operated from there, as well as commercial fishing boats. People came from all over the world to fish from the charter fleet, bringing back catches of trophy salmon.
Quite a few of the charter boats advertised in my weekly newspaper, and I got to know many of their captains. Several of them kept offering to take me out on a free fishing trip. At the time, it sounded like a good idea. I’d get to go fishing and have a story for my newspaper, and the charter boat would get some free publicity. Everybody would win. So I went. Once. That was more than enough for me.
The day I went out, I was with my friend, the taxidermist I mentioned in the Jaws post, and his son, who was somewhere around 19 years old at the time. Everybody told me that when we crossed the bar from the harbor into the open ocean, it would be a rough ride, and I might get a little queasy. Queasy? Me? No way! I used to jump out of airplanes for a living. But my friend still urged me to take a Dramamine that morning, just in case. Sure, whatever. Let me swallow the damn thing so we can get on with it.
Once we arrived at the docks and got on our boat, the captain, who was a friend of mine, told us that his daughter, who was home from college, was going along for the day. She was a very pretty young lady, just a few years younger than me, and very friendly. She said something like, “Don’t worry, guys, I’ve been fishing with my dad since I was a little girl. I won’t slow you down.”
We set out to sea, along with a dozen other boats or more at the same time. I felt just the slightest bit of trepidation as we approached the bar, but as it turned out, I needn’t have worried about that. Standing there on the open deck, with the spray hitting us as we bounced up and down, it was one of the greatest rides I’ve ever had. This was what people were warning me about? Easy peasy!
Yeah, Nick, keep telling yourself that. Once we got out into the ocean and the boats started separating to give everybody plenty of room for fishing, the captain shut down the engine. That’s when I realized I was in trouble. They told me that the waves were running 10 to 15 feet that day, and I believe it. Drifting along, the boat would rise up on a high wave, then drop down the other side. It made any roller coaster I’ve ever seen in my life seem like child’s play. And then the damn boat did it again. And again. And again, and again.
It was a midweek day, and there were not a lot of other fishermen on the boat, just the three of us, another man and his son, the captain, his daughter, and a deckhand. I kept looking for someplace to focus my eyes on, and that was a mistake. It only increased the discomfort in my stomach. I asked how far we were from shore, and the captain said maybe three or four miles. Now, I can’t swim a lick, but I was giving some serious thought to strapping on a life jacket and jumping overboard. What’s the worst that could happen? At that moment, a quick death by drowning or hypothermia didn’t sound as bad as the way I was feeling.
No, I’m not going to do something silly like throw up. Especially not in front of this girl, who seemed to be doing just fine, smiling and laughing and joking around with everybody. We put our lines out and quickly somebody got a nice sized salmon, and then another. And then, suddenly, they stopped biting. I reeled in a small lingcod, and somebody got a small shark, and that was it.
By then, I felt like I was sweating, even though it was a cool day, and everywhere I looked was water. Lots and lots of water. Water that we were climbing up the side of on a wave, and water that we were coming down the other side of. So much water!
No, I will not do it. I’ll be okay. That’s when I noticed that the young lady was no longer laughing and joking around. In fact, she was not saying a word. Her lips were clamped shut, and she was looking a little green around the gills. I don’t know which one of us went first, but within seconds it seemed like we were projectile vomiting in sync. I won’t go into details, because some of you might want to eat sometime today. Let me just say that it was bad. Real bad. As I recall, the boat was somewhere around 50 feet, give or take, and they gave us one whole side of it. And we used every inch!
The young lady turned to me and said, “I had forgotten what this is like. I’m going to go lay down. Do you want to come with me?” That’s a hell of a position to put a guy in when he’s already in a situation like that! I started to tell her I was a married man, but then I realized that she was just looking for a way to ease my discomfort as much as her own. We went below deck, where there were two bunks across from each other, and crawled in on our respective sides. I’m sure she knew she did not need to worry about me being lecherous. I couldn’t breathe, let alone do anything else.
Amazingly, within just a few minutes, we both fell sound asleep. Don’t ask me how, because I can’t explain it to you. It was an hour or two later when her dad came down and told us that they had gotten into a big school of salmon, and if we wanted to catch one, we needed to come up and get our lines back in the water. I came on deck, and surprisingly, I wasn’t feeling too bad. Well, I wasn’t, until I noticed my friend’s son was eating a sandwich and had mayonnaise dripping down his chin. I was about ready to start chumming the water again when the deckhand yelled that I had a bite.
I was younger and a bit skinnier then and thought I could hold my own against just about anybody I needed to. I was wrong. It felt like it took me three days to reel that salmon up to the boat. My friend, the taxidermist, told me later that he estimated it probably was somewhere in the 45 to 50 pound range. I’ll never know because just as the deckhand slipped his net under it, the fish jumped sideways and pulled the net out of his hand. Fish and net disappeared below the surface, snapping my line.
By then everybody but the young woman and I had caught their limits. The captain offered to stay out a while longer if the two of us wanted to keep fishing. We both said “no” so quickly and so loudly that everyone on the boat laughed.
Back on shore, I took maybe half a dozen steps, and suddenly I wasn’t sick anymore. In fact, I was starving! Once the boat was tied up and secured, we all went to a little dockside restaurant to eat. While we were waiting for our orders to come, I told the captain that he and the rest of the people running the fishing fleet were doing it all wrong. At that time, they took you out for a half-day fishing trip for $50, as I recall. I suggested they start taking folks out for free, but then charge them $10,000 to go back to shore. Because believe me, friends, I would have gladly paid it, even if I had to mortgage my house and sell a kidney to raise the money!
That was my first and only deep-sea fishing trip. I decided that if God wanted me to kill a salmon, it would break into my house some night I would shoot it with my Colt .45 automatic.
Today is your last chance to enter our Free Drawing. This week’s prize is a four-book set of audiobooks from my pal Carol Ann Newsome’s popular Dog Park mystery series. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn this evening.
Thought For The Day – Words are nice. Actions are better.