Fish Stories

 

Alaska seems to breed talkers and story tellers and Wrangell certainly has its share.  
At the Harbor Master’s Office at the head of the docks I meet LaDonna.  She’s is a timber man’s daughter who graduated from Wrangell High School and can tell you anything you need to know about the town.  In fact, she’s turned the Harbor Master’s office into a small museum.  While she takes a phone call, I look around.  
What stops me in my tracks is an aerial photo of a fishing boat atop a gigantic round pillow of fish – a purse seiner has “pursed” the net around a huge catch.    “That was quite a day,” explains La Donna.  “Those are herring.  When the guys circled their nets they found they had more than they could handle.  So they sent a call and that barge you see came out to help them.  See the hose that is sucking the herring out of the net?  Luckily the seiner was able to move to shallow water before help came.  Can you imagine what would’ve happened if those million of herring had suddenly decided to dive?   They would’ve taken the boat and crew with them.”
That evening, we find a table a bar near the docks opposite the fish packing plant.   Soon we are joined by Arnie.  He’s obviously been drinking there a while and has probably worn out the other bar patrons.  He’s a fisherman. skipper of Lady Savoy, a 32 foot gill netter.  He’s waiting for the next gill net opening of the salmon season.  Starts Sunday at noon.  He leans closer.  “Going to try Luck Island,” he whispers, “but please don’t tell anybody.” 
Arnie’s been fishing nearly thirty five years.   He learned everything from his father, who still has a gill net boat and takes to the seas.   Arnie started fishing full time when he was fourteen and that’s all he’s ever done.    
So Jack asks him about his own kids.   Does he take them fishing? Arnie reflects a moment, gets a glint in his eye, knows we’ve got some time to listen and winds up for a hell of a story.  He gets into it, smiles and enjoys himself, and draws it out, adding the adjective f*#king before every single noun.   No joke: here’s a man able to speak with really remarkable linguistic consistency.  
Openings for gill netting are usually two and sometimes three days and Arnie always works straight through.  While seiners are limited to fishing during daylight hours, the smaller gill netter outfits can keep their nets out all night.  So of course it makes sense to take the family along.  
So envision this big burly fisherman with his wife and daughter, finally pulling away from the dock, gear checked, tank full of diesel, galley provisioned.    At the fishing grounds while his wife prepares supper, Arnie furls the net – a drift net topped by floats that catches the fish by their gills.   After a good meal in setting sun, Arnie can smoke a joint and stretch out for some much needed rest while his wife keeps watch on deck.  
His wife’s call cuts short his drug-enhanced reveries.  The net  – has disappeared under the water!   Weather had returned, bringing fish!   The boat starts to roll, lurch, water splashing over.   Daughter had been eating bananas and is now throwing up sliding around on the vinyl upholstery.  Arnie is really into the story now, documenting the trials of life at sea in graphic detail.  But in the end, the fish don’t get away. No indeed.  Shaking his head in disbelieving wonder, eyes heavenward, Arnie concludes  “Can you believe it?   Nineteen thousand  f*#king dollars for eight hours f*#king work!” 

Alaska seems to breed talkers and story tellers and the little town of Wrangell has a couple of the best.  

At the Harbor Master’s Office at the head of the docks I meet LaDonna.  She’s is a timber man’s daughter who graduated from Wrangell High School and can tell you anything you need to know about the town.  In fact, she’s turned the Harbor Master’s office into a small museum.  While she takes a phone call, I look around.  

What stops me in my tracks is an aerial photo of a fishing boat atop a gigantic round pillow of fish – a purse seiner has “pursed” the net around a huge catch.    “That was quite a day,” explains La Donna.  “Those are herring.  When the guys circled their nets they found they had more than they could handle.  So they sent a call and that barge you see came out to help them.  See the hose that is sucking the herring out of the net? Luckily the seiner was able to move to shallow water before help came.  Can you imagine what would’ve happened if those million of herring had suddenly decided to dive?   They would’ve taken the boat and crew with them.”

That evening, we find a table a bar near the docks opposite the fish packing plant.   Soon we are joined by Arnie.  He’s obviously been drinking there a while and has probably worn out the other bar patrons.  He’s a fisherman. skipper of Lady Savoy, a 32 foot gill netter.  He’s waiting for the next gill net opening of the salmon season.  Starts Sunday at noon.  He leans closer.  “Going to try Luck Island,” he whispers, “but please don’t tell anybody.” 

Arnie’s been fishing nearly thirty five years.   He learned everything from his father, who still has a gill net boat and takes to the seas.   Arnie started fishing full time when he was fourteen and that’s all he’s ever done. 

So Jack asks him about his own kids.   Does he take them fishing? Arnie reflects a moment, gets a glint in his eye, knows we’ve got some time to listen and winds up for a hell of a story.  He gets into it, smiles and enjoys himself, and draws it out, adding the adjective f*#king before every single noun.   No joke: here’s a man able to speak with really remarkable linguistic consistency.  

Openings for gill netting are usually two and sometimes three days and Arnie always works straight through.  While seiners are limited to fishing during daylight hours, the smaller gill netter outfits can keep their nets out all night.  So of course it makes sense to take the family along.  

So envision this big burly fisherman with his wife and daughter, finally pulling away from the dock, gear checked, tank full of diesel, galley provisioned.    At the fishing grounds while his wife prepares supper, Arnie furls the net – a drift net topped by floats that catches the fish by their gills.   After a good meal in setting sun, Arnie can smoke a joint and stretch out for some much needed rest while his wife keeps watch on deck.  

His wife’s call cuts short his drug-enhanced reveries.  The net  – has disappeared under the water!   Weather had returned, bringing fish!   The boat starts to roll, lurch, water splashing over.   Daughter had been eating bananas and is now throwing up sliding around on the vinyl upholstery.  Arnie is really into the story now, documenting the trials of life at sea in graphic detail.  But in the end, the fish don’t get away. No indeed.  Shaking his head in disbelieving wonder, eyes heavenward, Arnie concludes  “Can you believe it?   Nineteen thousand  f*#king dollars for eight hours f*#king work!”

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