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Friday, March 18, 2011

Holy Halibut!

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
~ Mark Twain
Several years ago, while living in Southeast Alaska, I was invited by a couple of grizzled old fishermen to join their ranks for subsistence halibut fishing for the season. These guys owned a nice little fishing boat, and just a year or so earlier locals were permitted to obtain a subsistence permit allowing us to longline for halibut like the commercial fishermen. This is different than just dropping a pole because there are 20 or 30 hooks on each line, and the potential for a lot of fish is greater.

I love halibut. I love salmon too ... but halibut! oh- so-yummy!! My husband is the one with sea legs, but his job made him unavailable for this, so I sucked up my courage, obtained my license and "jumped in with both feet". My presence (and my license) gave these guys an extra line - so in a way I was helping them - but, really, this was a gift for me. That summer we filled our freezer with halibut steaks and our pantry with canned halibut, thanks to this adventure. Food was not the only gift I got that summer. I learned that the price we pay for fish is fair - this kind of fishing is hard work! I learned that skills really can be developed without possessing any natural talent in the area. I learned more clearly than I knew before, that a rough exterior is often covering up a very soft, sweet inside. I learned how to fillet a halibut; and that although dead, the nervous system still works and to try to not jab the spinal cord because while stradling the huge monster, bending over with a knife in it's back, it's tail will flip up and slap me in the rear. I learned that although we can do some things alone, real success in any venture comes from teaming up. A big thank you to Glenn, Jim and Glen for my summer of halibut fishing.

So, for those of you interested, here's what the fishing was like:
* Wake up and don my xtra-tuff rubber boots and my float coat (I know - as if I didn't feel BIG enough already - this thing comes padded with floatationg devices!)
* Head to the harbor and climb on board
* Start to separate the hooks hanging on the barrel while the men ready the boat
* Hang on, and face forward for a few minutes as we get underway
* Grab the salmon heads and salmon tails and have them ready to bait the hooks
* Be grateful I didn't throw up as we make it to our fishing destination
* Speed baiting: bait the hook and hand it to the guy who hooks it to the line as it drops
* Take off, chew ginger mints and try to develop those sea legs as we head to the next destination
* Take up the line dropped a few days ago: My job was either to unbait the hooks that weren't touched or to coil the rope as it came up on the hydrolic lift. Unbaiting was gross - you just pull off the half eaten head or tail and throw it into the ocean, then hang the hook. But you have to be fast, because the line really zips. That is, until a fish comes up on one of the hooks. This is the exciting part. Most of the time we'd pull up a 10-80 lb halibut. Glenn would gaff it as it neared the side of the boat, pull it inside and toss it into the fish tub (I say it like it was easy - like tossing a ball. But sheesh! these guys are STRONG!) Another guy would then quickly bleed the fish and then go back to his other job. Several times, it would get really exciting as a big fish would come up. That picture is the biggest we caught: about 300 lbs! When a huge one like that would come up, it wouldn't fit in the holding tub, so the guys would have to shoot it (that's right - with a gun!) then it would take all 3 of them to lift it in to the boat where they would tie the mouth to the tail so it wouldn't flop around. After the big catch was over, we'd head back towards shore, the whole while feverishly working to filet and clean up. After a few times out with these guys they thought it was time for me to learn this skill. A fun time for them, as the fish really did flip up and slap me in the rear ... I was so shocked that the gigantic filet knife went flying and I screamed like a little girl. But I learned the skill. Anyway, then we'd get back to the harbor, divide up the fish, clean the boat (killer with all that fish yuck) and part ways until our next outing.

After this summer, "grizzled old fisherman" became the best compliment I could pay a person!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. You could eat that thing for a year! That's awesome.

  2. denalee that is by far the biggest fish I have ever seen!!!

  3. wow, now that's some fishing trip. I can't imagine how exciting that would be.

  4. wow - that is amazing! that sounds very exciting, tiring, and exhillarating at the same time.

  5. Living in Alaska must have been incredible!

  6. DeNae, you have done so much in your life and it is alway so interesting. That halibut is HUGE! Somehow, I just can't see you working on a fishing boat, but I guess you did. So cool.

  7. Wow, what a story! Had no clue that halibut could be so big!

  8. That is an amazingly large fish!!! What an adventure!

  9. i love that quote, so inspiring!
    looks like you had quite an adventure!

  10. OMG that is so incredible!!! Wow..Happy Spring Monday, darling

  11. What amazing adventures you have had. I love that you do the daring thing.