It wasn’t all about the fishing, either. In fact, as fantastic as the fishing was, it was really just a small part of the whole experience. There were trips ashore to explore pristine beaches and pick berries in places without any visible evidence of human beings. A visit to the whale research station, where we listened to humpback whales talking through hydrophones. Huge, memorable meals made from the day’s harvest and the long stretches of time when we could just sit and read and talk as the scenery unspooled around us.
One afternoon, as we cruised along at our usual seven knot speed, a small pod of Dall’s porpoises spotted (or heard) us and came all the way across the channel to investigate. As the kids leaned over the bow to watch them leap and spin and weave back and forth, the porpoises would slow to match our speed, then swim on their sides to peer up and make eye contact. I’m not kidding. As strange as it sounds, there were moments of, maybe not exactly communication, but clearly some kind of real contact taking place.
Skyla and I spent a great afternoon snorkeling an inlet where a small river met the sea, and pink and sockeye salmon were stacking up before moving upstream. The fresh and salt water, both crystal clear, somehow stayed separate, swirling around like oil and water, creating an ethereal, dreamy view of the underwater world.
But most important, I think, is that the kids and I had time to simply hang out and share the experience. We made memories–images, stories and feelings that will last a lifetime. And it was important to me, also, for Skyla and Weston to soak up the wisdom of my good friends and mentors–Bruce, Gerald and Steve–who’ve had such an impact on my life. I doubt any of us will forget sitting on the back of the boat in pitch black night, with a spooky fog rising from the water, as Gerald told bigfoot stories that had the kids (and me) literally on the edge of our seats. That’s something we’ll remember for a long, long time.
Okay, my fellow fish-heads, here’s the report: Mind blowing. No other way to describe it, especially for the kids and me, with our concept of “normal” calibrated to 21st Century Puget Sound. Our British Columbian friends didn’t bat an eye when had back-to-back-to-back doubles on coho salmon in the mid- to high teens. The kids fought fish until I heard Skyla say something I never imagined coming from our resident superpredator’s mouth: “Dad, I can’t fight anymore fish…I’m just going to help bleed and clean the ones we have.”
The Chinook run was pretty much over for the season, but we still managed to find a few nice kings. Skyla was distracted from fighting this king by the sight of humpback whales feeding just off the stern. Thankfully, she still boated her fish, as it provided several mouth-watering, fat-dripping dinners.
We eventually ended up landing all five species of Pacific salmon: Chinook, coho, sockeye, chum and pink. That’s Skyla and Gerald with the brightest chum I’ve ever seen.
Here’s Weston taking a break from the action for a boat-driving lesson from Gerald.
One evening, while the adults were bustling around the boat making dinner, Weston asked if he could fish off the back. We were anchored in a shallow, mud-bottomed bay, so I told him he could, but that he probably wouldn’t catch anything. Maybe a bullhead or a small flounder. He said that was fine. So he spooled a little jig to the bottom 30-feet below the boat, and I went back to dinner. Suddenly, he said “Dad, I have something on…” I told him he probably snagged the bottom and that I’d help as soon as I finished what I was doing. Then I heard line peeling off his reel. “Bottom” turned out to be a 25-pound halibut. Weston, hero for the day. Not surprisingly, we all decided to get serious about halibut fishing–that’s Weston with a couple from the next morning. Awesome.
Setting out: That’s Skyla enjoying a quiet moment on terra firma before boarding the boat. It’s deceptively calm in the Kitamaat Village harbor–once we got outside and turned the corner it was blowing 30 kts with galloping “white horses” as far as we could see. Too rough for pix, and Skyla spent an hour or so holding a broken galley cabinet shut while stuff was falling and rolling around the decks.
That’s Weston enjoying the last calm water we’d see for the better part of the day.
With all the weather, we had to change plans and shorten our planned progress for the day before the skiff we were towing completely beat the big boat to pieces. Plus, those of us with fillings in our teeth wanted to keep them there. The silver lining, though, is that we pulled into a bay protected from the southeast gale and found a creek mouth stacked with bright chrome pink salmon (which we had a ton of fun catching for crab bait), and just offshore, some of the biggest Dungeness crabs the kids and I have ever seen. Honest nine inchers, in 25-feet of water, filling the rings after a 15-minute soak. More than we could eat, so the kids opted to release an entire ring’s worth–probably more than a dozen.
This is our first boat dinner…and exactly the way I like to eat crab: where you can crunch the shells and toss ’em overboard as you eat.
The other silver lining was a beautiful anchorage out of the wind. That’s “our” vessel, the Suncrest, a 42-foot retired halibut boat that was home for the week. I should note here that this wasn’t purely a vacation, as I’m working on a story about traveling north to experience what our home waters of Puget Sound were like a hundred years ago, and the insane threats to this pristine area from resource-extraction corporations. So we had a photographer along (his images will be vastly superior to my snapshots) and the kids and I tried to keep good notes in our journals. Not sure where the piece will be published yet, but will let you know when I do. In the mean time, stay tuned for our travels farther west into the waters of even more overwhelming plenty.
Gearing up: After all the lists and weeks of preparation, not to mention a huge box of waders, boots and kid life jackets shipped ahead, this is what it came down to hauling as checked baggage. Apologies for lagging on blog posts, but the kids and I have been (luxuriously) out of cell phone and internet range, exploring the outer islands of northern British Columbia by boat. It was a truly epic adventure for us, with incredible fishing, foraging, friends and food, and an opportunity to experience what our home waters of Puget Sound were once like.
But before we headed out in the boat, we spent a few days in Terrace with our great friends (and legendary conservationists) Bruce and Anne Hill. Their daughter, Julia, a dedicated conservationist in her own right, took the day off from work and joined us for a day of fishing on the Skeena River, while Bruce took care of last-minute boat details.
The kids were stoked to be in the water in their waders, and Weston made fast friends with Vader the black lab. In spite of the hot, sunny conditions, we also managed to catch a few chrome-bright sockeye salmon, which, along with potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce and zucchini from the Hill’s garden, made a mouth-watering summer dinner.
Up next: Venturing into the salt. Stay tuned!