God created the waters, then fish, then mankind. Then mankind attached an outboard motor to a piece of sheet metal and headed to sea to catch the fish.Irish-American Proverb
Indiana, Late 80’s. When I was a boy, my grandfather would take my brothers and me fishing in the small ponds that dotted the southern Indiana landscape where we grew up. These ponds were in the literal middle of literally nowhere, and I still have no idea how he knew how to find them, or if he had permission to use them. I do remember some of the long meandering routes, because as he drove, my papaw would point out the homes and farmsteads of various people he knew, or had once, almost always punctuating their name with “old man” or “old woman”.
“That’s where Old Man Johnson used to live . . .that barn there is Old Man Stevenson’s, his house is on up a ways. . . I helped build that one. Old lady Smithson. Old Man Smithson gone since ’82”.
Perhaps this is why he wasn’t worried about trespassing – apparently everyone he knew was old, and would likely not have the physical or mental fortitude to toss us out on our collective ear were we to be discovered on their property?
Regardless of how he knew the directions, at some point, he would turn down some gravel driveway or other, usually one so hidden by weeds and scrub brush, it was a marvel that he knew where to turn. We’d slowly drive, tall grass on each side, until we found a clearing, where there would inevitably be a pond or small lake that seemed to be untouched by time, save for a small wooden dock or a faint sign of “recent” mowing. He’d park the car snuggly amongst the cricket-infested weeds, and we’d pack our poles and tackle down to the water’s edge to claim our spot.
Thus would begin an afternoon of impatiently waiting for my hook to be re-baited (I wasn’t much on skewering wriggling worm sections onto needle-sharp hooks, thanks very much) so that I could get my line back into the water, so that I could ultimately wait and watch that bobber for the tell-tale ploink that indicated something – SOMETHING! – was beneath the surface and was interested in MY bait on MY hook! And even though any one of the fish I had pulled out of that pond on that day could fit easily into my front pockets, there was a chance – just a CHANCE – that the thing currently disturbing my bobber was some sort of prehistoric mud-dweller, one who had lain at the bottom on Old Man So-and-So’s pond since the dark ages, and was just now summoned from the murky depths to investigate the curiosity that was my small nightcrawler, still struggling upon my tiny hook.
Now, to be certain, had such a beast latched onto my hook and made itself known by rising slowly through the cloudy water, I would have screamed like a hot tea kettle at just the outline of its shadow, launched my 3-foot Zebco pole into the pond and darted back to the car as fast as my pre-pubescent legs could carry me.
Still, the adrenaline of the unknown and the possibility was there, and, outside of fishing solely for sustenance, isn’t that the point?
Kodiak, 2021. The boat docked in the marina is one I am now familiar with, or at least the bottom of it, as some in our party had the privilege to scrape barnacles off the hull in the previous days. If you’re unfamiliar with what a barnacle is, all you need to know is that it resembles a small dried up wasp nest, turns to fine dust when scraped with a putty knife, and smells like the decrepit dehydrated souls of all the fish that have ever existed. Or somewhere in that neighborhood.
We begin to board the now barnacle-free boat around 4 pm, and it is a lengthy process as there are several of us, all with personal items and a cadre of poles and other tackle apparently necessary to the business of catching fish. This tackle includes large hooks which somewhat resemble those used to pull bluegill from the ponds and creeks in Indiana, but which are approximately fifty times larger and themselves outweigh any fish I’ve ever caught before. This should be an indication of what lies ahead (beneath?).
There is a small bench in the front of the boat, directly in front of the cabin, and another in the cabin, which means that most of us will need to hunker down on the deck somewhere. Dressed in my raingear – an absolute necessity when fishing in Alaska, I am to discover – I am happy to ride up front, in the so-called Bow (ever the Deckhand, I know the lingo and don’t have to Google it later for a blog post, no sir). This series of islands has views I can’t get enough of, and I’m willing take the cold ocean spray in order to take them in for a while longer. As we glide through the bay, observing the various small crafts and rusty commercial fishing schooners (the salty sea water, it turns out, does a number on metal) that bob gently in the quiet bay, their names nearly as fascinating as their physical variety (Hello, Golden Fleece, what’s your story?) the land opens to reveal the sea beyond; the water is covered with a fine fog-like mist, but it will clear.
Soon, although we don’t yet know it, we will all be jostling for a spot on the deck as some of the most incredible creatures on planet earth decide to breach the water and allow us a few moments in their very close presence.
And we will discover why the hooks we bought earlier in the day are so large.
Up next: “They’ve never let me get this close!”