You know that feeling when you see a picture of yourself and you look really awesome and cool? Neither do I. Man, what a cheeseball. Anyway…
This coming Thursday, June 27th, I will be reading from and talking about Closer to the Ground aboard the Seattle-Bainbridge ferry. More specifically, the 3:50pm Bainbridge-to-Seattle and the 4:40pm Seattle-to-Bainbridge boats. The event is part of Kitsap Regional Library’s “Ferry Tales” program, and I can’t think of a better venue for a book about foraging, fishing, cooking and eating from Puget Sound than literally on…Puget Sound.
So, if you happen to be in the area and feel up for a little boat ride, jump on the ferry and check it out. Or, if you’re commuting anyway, well, I guess I got you where I want you. Sweet. Either way, I look forward to meeting and talking with you in person. Hope you can make it.
It happened so fast. We were fishing off the south end of the Island in a brisk-but-not-worrisome breeze. I started to make a turn to port and the wind pushed us over the starboard fishing line, which immediately wrapped around the prop. My bad, but not too big of a deal. I cut the motor and tipped it up to unwrap the line. My fishing buddy came to the back of the boat to help and hang onto me as I leaned over the stern. At this point, the breeze blew the bow downwind, and we were suddenly stern into the wind, with two big guys in the back of the boat, taking chop over the transom. Thankfully, we got it unwrapped and under power again before anything could happen, but it definitely scared the hell out of me.
Then, of course, we kept fishing, and as the years went by, the whole thing faded from my mind. Until I recently heard of a similar event, with a different result: The boat sank. And my memory of the day above came rushing back.
So, as we start prepping for another year on the water, this is what I made. It’s a sea anchor, or drift sock, which is mostly used around here off the stern of boats to either slow trolling speed or, when fishing big rivers, to keep the boat from swinging back and forth on anchor. But I think it can work to prevent the scenarios above. I’m going to keep it handy, and should we lose power, the idea is to clip the carabiner to the bow and throw the sea anchor overboard. When it comes tight, it will keep the bow into the wind while I deal with the motor or until help arrives. Hopefully, we’ll never have to use it, but I feel better knowing it’s there.
The Pacific oyster, which covers the beaches in Hood Canal and any of the smaller bays where the water warms enough for spawning (they need 68-70 degrees), was imported from Japan almost 100 years ago. They must have liked it here. Today, Pacifics dominate the Sound and the tiny, native Olympia oyster that fed NW indigenous tribes for thousands of years, barely exist in the wild.
Conservation groups are working to revive the remnant Olympia populations up and down the coast, and commercial growers are finding success raising them, despite their slow-growing nature and small size.
But for those of us who like to walk the beaches and pick wild oysters, the Pacific is it. And they grow in staggering abundance. In the foreground of the picture I posted yesterday, those are all oysters. In fact, the whole beach is more oyster than sand or mud. And fortunately for us, they’re delicious. The only tough part is finding the prime, smaller size we prefer, and hunching over a big rock while shucking. In Puget Sound, you have to leave the shells on the beach (the next generation grows from seeds adhered to existing shells) so we do our processing on the spot. Next up: Home for the oyster fry! Stay tuned.
The new calendar year started more than a month ago, but for me, the real beginning is our first oyster gathering of the season. And this year, we got off to an early and good start. There was a marginal +1.6 low tide Saturday afternoon, and not knowing if we’d find any oysters at that level, we decided keep the party small and just make a 4-person scout trip of it. As soon as Weston’s basketball game ended, we rushed home, ate a quick lunch and headed for the beach.
Weston fell asleep in the car (big surprise), so Stacy waited with him while Skyla and I scrambled down the bluff and around the corner to check the oyster beds. Jackpot! Oysters on top of oysters, as usual. But the real test was looking to see if we could find any of the primo smaller oysters at this water level. A quick walk through the beds and we knew we were in good shape. But there wasn’t much time before this little low tide was going to come back in and submerge it all.
So we ran back, got Stacy and Weston, and commenced with the gathering. As soon as we had four limits in our bags, the kids started hunting for sea life they could put in their plastic “aquariums” to watch, while Stacy and I started shucking. It’s a satisfying process. And soon enough, we were headed back home, already thinking about the meal to come.
After all the rain we’ve had–it’s been wet even by our soggy standards–and more in the forecast, I figured I better take advantage of the beautiful weather on Tuesday. So I made kindling and hauled wood to the house, then put the boat in and spent the afternoon chasing resident king salmon, or blackmouth, as they’re called around here. It felt great to be on the water.
Of course, fishing could have been better, but mostly I was just happy to be outside, dry and with a familiar goal to pursue. I’m not sure if it was the bright sun on shallow water, the falling barometer or the full moon, but I couldn’t find a fish to put in the box. Or it could have been that I had shakers (small kings under the size limit) on the line constantly and the bigger fish didn’t have a chance.
The kids were bummed they had to go to school instead of fishing with me, and I have to admit I missed having them in the boat. But I made it home in time to take them to swimming lessons, feeling somehow refreshed from a few hours of winter fishing.