Monday, December 28, 2009
This would be my first time skiing in about five years. I'd like to blame it on the kids or Maya with whom my experiment to turn into a ski-bunny failed miserably, but the truth is, I didn't want to come to terms with the fact that I too had become a pitiful lowlander. No longer could I hitchhike to work with my snowboard, lead a charge of screaming youngsters down the mountain and find hidden honey holes of powder at lunch. Gone were the days of hiding from the last ski patrol so we could drop off the backside of diamond peak and snowboard home. Now I was looking to rent ski's at sport chalet and searching the internet for deals of lift tickets.
My wife and I pride ourselves in planning ahead-having "our stuff together" if you will. A friend of ours had been offering his cabin in tahoe-donner for the last few years and so I decided to take him up on it. Better to stay for a few nights than to try and drive the marathon-like 6hr round-trip drive in one day with a full day of skiing sandwiched in between. Next, we rented skis in advance and found that we could pick them up early, use them a day and return them late the following day for a one day rental. Then it was off to the supermarket. We loaded up on snacks, drinks and planned out our meals for the next three days. If all went according to plan, (since we could use our friend's guest pass for a discount, Tanner could ski free and all we (make that I) needed to do was shovel the driveway for a free two night stay at the cabin), we could pull this trip off for less than $200 dollars including gas for my hogging F150.
We ventured forth on the Sunday after school let out. We arrived at the cabin early enough but the driveway was covered in packed "sierra cement" at least waist high at it's lowest point. I parked the truck on the side of the road and mountain manned it to the porch where I uncovered the snowblower and let it rip. A half-hour later, with a sweaty jacket and fleece hat abandoned on the pack ice, I had plowed a path to the street and ushered the family into the cabin. Two hours later I backed the truck up to the porch with inches to spare on each side. I might be complaining about all this if it weren't for the fact that I was lovin every minute of it. Free cabin, fresh air, a great excuse to get two hours kid free doing man chores. Priceless.
We settled into the cabin and made ourselves cozy. The plan was to play in the snow that afternoon but the wind picked up and I forgot how much quicker darkness comes to the mountains. Snow started to fall and it wasn't until after dinner that Tanner and I suited up (or at least I did as Tanner had been wearing his new snow bibs for the last week straight) and headed out to make a sled ramp in the driveway. Of course the practicality of a sled was lost on him and so we had to put on the ski boots and skis and learn how to make a pizza slice shape with his skis. Another advantage to renting in advance was that Tanner could practice and get familiar with the equipment before the moment of truth on the mountain. He seemed to like making "french fry" shapes with his skiis better. When he positioned his skis spread eagle and asked, "what's this called Daddy" I couldn't help but reply.
"That's called CRASHING Tanner."
The next day, even the best laid plans couldn't help us. We couldn't find the resort. The GPS took us to the cross country area. We did find great parking but I remembered why I snowboard, ski boots make my feet and calves ACHE painfully. To top it off, the snow began to fall in flurries and yesterday evening's wind had only come up stronger today. Still, Tanner was game and we went through the drill: get on the shuttle, go potty, get lift tickets, zip up jackets and go. I took my first trip on the "magic carpet" and the slow standing intensified the painful aching in my boots ten-fold. I skied backwards and Tanner hung onto my ski poles for dear life as we slowly waltzed back and forth down the hill. Maya had Sage in "the backpack" weathering the blizzard like a trooper. I didn't think my feet could take another ride on the magic carpet so I took Tanner's inquiry about the lifts as an opportunity. Maya looked at me incredulouosly-"He can't go on that!"
"Sure he can, I've taken hundreds of kids on those things. He'll love it".
And he did. We whooped and hollered for about a minute at the exhiliration of being lifted up a mountain on a flying bench. Our enthusiasm was short lived as the stinging snow assaulted our exposed, pinky cheekbones. I tried to cover Tanner's face but it probably just scraped the protective layer of ice off his face. We made it about half-way down the run before I had to scoop him up and ski. We headed to the lodge for snacks and a break from the hail's stinging onslaught. I didn't feel guilty at all taking up a spot in the cafeteria with our brown bag lunch and mountain of snow soaked ski gear. Feeling defrosted and re-energized, we rounded up the circus and headed out for one more hurrah. This time I put Tanner in front and wrapped my ski pole under his armpits. As long as he kept his hands on his knees, he had the right balance point and I could still steer. I think he felt more comfortable being able to see where he was going. We made two more runs, no carrying this time and we were fit to be tied. I don't think he really "got the hang of it" but he had a blast and thinks he's "the greatest skiier in the world" urging me to announce it to everyone at the bottom of each run.
The next day we headed to the sled hill. The sun came out in glorious fashion, reflecting brilliantly off the six inches of powder yesterday's storm had dumped. For $14 dollars we got to sled all morning on a perfect groomed run complete with banks and an area to walk up. We had a blast. Tanner even took out a few sleds and Maya bruised her right-rear cheek in a terrific crash. We headed home that evening tired and content. Sometimes as a parent I realize that the greatest achievements sometimes are in not trying to make them grow up too fast. I hear they will be before you know it anyways.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
When I arrive at the club, the flags are barely flapping and I'm worried the weatherman has got it wrong again. Just like baseball, the weatherman only has to be right 3 out of 10 times and he's in the hall of fame. We piled coyote brush into the boat to cover our blinds and dogs and set out to cut a wake down the moon tinted canal. Just before shooting hours, a flight of three sprig swung past the outskirts of our spread and came low past heyman. He balked and I made a comment about "triggeritis" even though I was fresh off a frisking with Fish and Game regarding the legal size of crabs. They let me go but I didn't want to tempt fate and commit anything that might even be considered a violation. It's tempting in the dark, in the middle of a thousand acre pond but you never know and it ain't worth it.
The weather man was apparently being conservative today because the "breeze" turned into a steady north wind-perfect for our pond and set up. Teal buzzed my side and I shot instinctively, picking the closest bird and sending it somersaulting across the ponds surface. The rest of the flock did what teal do when they're fired on and went airborne, straight up in an evasive maneuver that had me aiming over my head, past vertical. I missed the next two shots.
Soon our "winduks" were absolutely zinging with the wind and the poles tilted back at an angle, threatening to eject the spinning wing decoys, drowning them forever in the white-capped pond.
Normally, on a more placid day, the ducks will stay at altitude, occasionally flirting with a landing but for the most part these are the ducks who have gained wisdom from the shotgun's boom and the loss of a fallen partner. These same ducks, now grounded to the deck with winds gusting to 50, picked their route through the pond wisely. They skirmished the perimeter and gained altitude over suspicious looking "islands". Ironically most of the guys who normally hunted the less productive outskirts were invited to hunt the middle today, only to watch squadrons of sprig, widgeon and even a few greenheads dive-bomb their normally unproductive spreads.
I got up from the pits and pulled the spinning wing decoys in, they just didn't look right spinning so hyper actively. It paid off as a large flight of sprig and then another worked their way east, side winding in the wind, tilting, dipping and working hard but making excruciatingly slow actual progress so that when they finally came within range, it seemed as though we'd spent the morning with them. Guns blazed and labs lunged, leaped, plunged and stroked to their marks, soaking us with a vigorous shake as they handed off their prized retrieves.
We ended the day with nine birds (no spoonies thank you) and spent another 20 minutes looking for three that had sailed out of retriever range. We only found one. You've got to drop them cold in wind like that or they lock their wings and suck themselves into the ozone-shrinking into a speck on the horizon. It was the most productive day for me at the Tule Belle thus far. Normally the ducks are predictable and follow an established routine. Most of the time that routine keeps them safely out of shotgun range. That's what makes a windy day hunting so exciting though, all bets are off. The wind changes everything.
When I got home that afternoon, a mysterious thump seemed to be coming from the attic and our hefty, cast iron trellis had fallen over. Luckily no one was standing underneath the trellis and the thumping turned out to be Tanner's plywood basketball backboard. Nothing like a little storm to make things interesting.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
I had come up about a month ago and scouted the area so I shared the little I knew. The best info I got was from a local named Samuel Cousins. He overheard my conversation at the forest service office with one of the ladies in there. "Deer Huntin eh? I guess I could tell you all the places I DONT HUNT!", he joked with a California country drawl. I let him keep talking. The more he talked, the layers of misinformation began to peel away. He told me of just about every spot he'd bagged a buck, or seen one for that matter in the last 30 years, save for his favorite "honey hole". I thanked him and returned to the log book with all of the filled tags signed off in that office for the last five years. Swanson's ridge kept coming up and I asked the lady about it.
Old Samuel perked up immediately, "You can't hunt there, that's my honey hole!" Bingo.
"Hey, I'm just exercising my right to access public information" I replied defensively.
"Alright" he capitulated. "The thing about Swanson Ridge is that you've gotta go there on a weekday. Weekends it's a madhouse." I marked it with a slightly bigger x than all the others I was amassing on my forest service map.
Because of this chance encounter and about 55miles logged driving-hypnotically-slowly down endless back roads near the vicinity of Heyman's cabin, along which I spotted a pathetic 4 does and one decent buck, (all but one of which were running full speed to another county); I was elected to play deer guide on opening morning.
Terry and Gary are friends of Heyman's from way back, twin brothers who finish each other's sentences and compete over who gets to tell the next story about "scoring" a crucial piece of sporting equipment from a grieving widow at a yard sale or a clueless clerk at a tackle shop clearance. Occasionally they will unleash their power and pester large corporations into sending them new and more expensive gear, wielding emails and handwritten letters complaining of the inferior product they were sold. "Cheap" stuff they probably should've known better than to buy in the first place. When they started to tell me about the shotguns they stole off of unsuspecting ebay vendors, I started to question the prices they paid. A benelli M2 for $1100 bucks! I saw one advertised at the guns n more for $1300. Benelli Nova for $400 dollars? I thought that's what they went for? Anyways, at least there was no paperwork and now the government won't be knocking at the door, repossessing in the middle of the night.
The truck's headlights illuminated the tracks of all the other trucks that came before us. An endless curving maze of dirt road bordered in buck brush snaked before us. Heyman questioned every turn but I found the spot where I had seen fresh sign on my previous scouting escapade.
The twins insisted on walkie-talkies and so we check the channels. Loud beeps permeate the predawn silence, sending any buck within a half mile into opening day hibernation. Despite this, they insist on whispering and moving everywhere in absolute silence.
We went our separate ways. Heyman took a stand over a small opening. I elected to move farther around the mountain, every step sending a loud "crunch alarm" through the forest, the floor littered with dry debris. We saw little sign and no deer. My spot was a bust. We decided to head back to the truck when what would be a familiar pattern first reared it's ugly head. We started playing "where are you" over the walkie talkies and spent more time trying to determine the whereabouts of our partners than to just use common sense and back track to the truck.
"Brian come in"
"Yeah I read ya"
"Have you patched that boulder patch?"
"The second one to your east."
"No, I'm by that big thick clump of trees to the north"
"Should I keep heading south?"
"Head west first and then south"
And on and on. I just turned off my walkie talkie and looked around, waiting to respond until I got to the truck. I waited there for about twenty minutes until Gary and Heyman came down the road. Terry likes to take his time and we noticed that he was always the last to gear up and leave and the last one to make it back to the truck. It seemed he enjoyed immersing himself in nature's awesome house and I envied this connection he conjured up, watching him slowly return to the artificial environ of the truck cab, refusing to lift his eyes from the dusty track he followed. He wanted to stay "in the zone" as long as possible.
We headed back for lunch and decided we would hit Swanson's Ridge that afternoon. Mad house be damned-we would probably find hunters everywhere but there might be deer as well.
As the truck crawled up the forest service road into the Swanson's Ridge area, we knew there were deer in the area-lots of deer. The dusty road was littered with tracks. Many covered the tracks of the last truck that came before us. We split up at the top and began to hunt. Heyman is an amazing specimen. I wore sturdy hiking boots and still had trouble "off road". He was equipped in pull-on, ankle-high, morell-style slippers and still crunched through the brush like a native lumberjack. I called them his moccasins. He was off in the brush and I walked the road, hoping he would jump something my way, when it happened.
I caught movement not 50 feet ahead. In an instant I spotted two deer ahead, frozen and giving me the stare down. It was the moment of truth. They saw me and I saw them and my blood pumped. They must've been thinking: "Oh shit there's a hunter with a rifle."
I know I was thinking, "Oh shit there's two deer and One's a Buck!" I quickly shouldered my rifle and slid off the safety. I picked up the antler's, a nice tall forked horn, and tried to follow the deer's dance of panic. The doe bolted right at me and in that instant I moved with her slightly. The buck turned back the way it came, made a crouching spin and then shot off like a rocket. Airborne, I picked up mostly it's antlers in the scope; a rookie mistake as I should've been focused on a patch of skin next to the vitals. I elected not to shoot at a flying target, waiting instead to let it to land but alas, the cover on the far side of the road was head high and I could only see the tips of antlers bobbing off as the buck darted to and fro to it's escape. Mind you this entire scene took place in under three seconds. I put the safety back on, followed quickly and climbed a stump for a better vantage point but they were gone. A sick feeling came over me as I knew this might be the only buck we would see all weekend.
I took a moment to reflect and couldn't help but be amazed and awed by the buck's astounding agility. I walked to the scuff mark in the road, the buck's launching pad if you will and then tried to gauge the distance and height to the landing zone. A conservative estimate: 8 feet into the air and twice that in distance. Truly a rocket.
Although I will probably always wonder what if I had squeezed off a shot, would I have hit him, I'm consoled by the facts of what I know. I know I didn't take a careless shot and risk wounding and losing such a wonderful animal. The memory of that airborne rocket will have to suffice until the next season, keeping me company with the promise it holds: they're out there and they can pop out and disappear at any time making a fool of you. But if you're present and aware enough, and in the right place at the right time, you just might be rewarded.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Sunlight slices a shadow over the Hoopa Valley, peaking over treetops and peering into the windows of the village. A hungry dog trots down the road searching out a scrappy meal near overflowing dumpsters. Only the old and very young are awake at this hour. The hour when nights mystery and spirits begrudgingly cede their territory to the warm golden aura of day, when the valley is exposed in all of it's ugly truth. Two old tribesmen greet the morning sun from squeeky rocking chairs on the porch of the dilapidated General Store near the turn off to highway 299. They are two of only a few from the Hoopa tribe who possess knowledge of the "old ways" and still persist in teaching them to the younger members of the tribe.
A late model maroon Subaru pulls slowly down the dusty road. A white man is behind the wheel and the elders feel the primordial twinge, a tense nervousness. Belaganas on the reservation usually mean trouble in one of two ways: either they want to exploit the culture or arrest someone. Obviously this white man wasn't the sheriff and his beat up Subaru represented more like a ski bum than a preacher.
Chris knew he would be greeted with much cynicism and wariness. Though inexperienced and unschooled in the ways of the Hoopa, Chris did posses the prerequisite patience and had done his homework. He knew enough from talking with some of his fellow HSU Hoopa students that when approaching the elders, one must be patient and let them talk first. Easier said than done in the white man's culture, where silence is seen as awkward and people talk just to fill up the space. Jim Lanshey, from the Lakota tribe, had explained to Chris over coffee that the Indians believed that the true way to wealth was from trading and that cash, although an obvious necessity, was still seen as a tool for the white man's methods of oppression. Jim had explained that although the Hoopa would gladly snatch up any cash presented them, it was unlikely that they would feel any real obligation to reciprocate the exchange. Since information was seen as a valuable commodity, Jimmy had told Chris that he must bring something to offer in exchange for his request. He remembered joking with Jimmy that a gift certificate to Starbuck's was probably out of the question. Jimmy's smile lit up and without speaking, his casual shrug told Chris that, although hilariously wrong, he was somehow on the right track. "Something from your world that they can appreciate."
Chris pulled into the far parking spot and cut his engine. He felt that pulling up directly in front of the aging Native Americans would be too obtrusive, that, even though in broad daylight his headlights would somehow cast an obscene beam into the Hoopa morning and spoil his quest for a bit of their wisdom. He grabbed the bag of ground Starbucks "morning blend" from the front seat of the Soobie like a kid at the prom might grab roses for his date. He thought better of concealing it behind his back and instead let it rest cradled against his forearm and hip reminiscent of a gun slinger gripping his pistol and swaggering through the saloon doors. He checked his cowboy's impulse to stomp right up on the porch and instead he sat patiently on the front of his hood, nodding awkwardly but settling in under their reproachful glare. The stately tribesmen, respected as elders by those in their tribe who still had respect for the old ways, avoided and ignored by the young braves who are brazened and shamed with the stain of alcohol and who hide their humiliation at having wandered away from their culture, stared knowingly at the white intruder. If they were the least bit inquisitive, their faces did not betray it. Chris' face flashed hot under their gaze as he steeled himself to find the courage to sit quietly as he awaited a greeting from complete strangers from another tribe. He felt as though he might have been in Africa with the Zulus.
Moses skips rocks surprised Chris when he broke the silence after only a few moments. "What's up?" he grunted and thrust his chin at Chris.
"Oh, I uh, well, I came her today because, I" with each mumble Chris felt like a heavy truck, spinning it's wheels foolishly as it sank deeper and deeper into soft mud. "I brought you some Starbucks! And I was wondering if you could tell me, er, if you could share with me a few things about the Sasquatch?"
The old Indians looked at each other and broke out into laughter. It was a laughter so full and uninhibited it seemed to the elders to break all of the transgressions ever imposed on them by the white man. It cleansed the pain they felt in blood spilled by generations and they laughed even more. The laughter never stopped but came in waves, waning like a thin moon and then regenerated like a tree-whipping storm when the two old Indians looked at each other again.
"White man brought us Injuns some Starbucks." and it began again. Chris realized that he would've preferred an awkward silence to a full-on laugh attack but he hoped he had broken the ice properly and now he might learn from these Hoopa what they knew of the creature they called "Omah" or "the boss of the mountains".
Charlie Horse Feathers managed to speak through his laughter pained grin, "I seen Sasquatch" he managed, "Sonny One Shoe brought one home from the pow wow last night!" and the onslaught continued.
"I think we saw one cross the highway last week" added Moses Skips Rocks, "he was driving my truck that drunk bastard!" Ha Ha Ha, the laughter resonated through the still morning air and Chris felt eyes peering at him from the nearby residences.
Chris wanted to laugh too but he couldn't tell if this wasn't somehow a test. He knew that the Hoopa loved to have whatever fun they could muster at the white mans' expense. After all, life on the reservation wasn't exactly filled with excitement and whenever they looked around they were reminded who was responsible for bringing their people to this isolated place.
After what seemed like moons, the old Indians composed themselves and assembled their faces back to their original solemn mugs. "Try the creek above Tish Tang rocks, I saw one skinny dipping there when I was just a kid." As quickly and unexpectedly as the laughter had begun, it ceased and the aging Hoopa composed themselves with dignity once again, jutting out their chins and letting their shoulders settle, arms laying on the rests of the armchairs, gazing out into the mountains. They looked at Chris as if to say, "Ok kid, we've had our fun and we've already said too much so beat it." Chris doubtfully thanked them and left the bag of coffee on the porch. He retreated back to his Soobie and was thankful when he'd put enough road between himself and the reservation to crank up Hendrix's "driving south" and groove unconsciously while shaking his head.
Chris double-checked his equipment list at the trail head and stuffed a few more Clif Bars and apples into his pack. Despite his decision to take the trail free of any substances, he grabbed the flask of whiskey and stuffed it into the top pouch. Maybe it could come in handy in an emergency and what difference would a few ounces make anyways? Shouldering his pack and stuffing his keys under the bumper with a patch of duct tape, the trail revealed itself before him and the familiar weight and balance of the hike exhilarated the young explorer. He likened his journey to a vision quest of sorts. Native American adolescents had for eons undergone them in order to find direction in their lives and Chris felt that his time for direction was long overdue.
He reflected on the spirits that haunted him ever since his spring break backpacking trip three years ago, just before he graduated from Humboldt State. Although he found a job teaching Biology that fall and he had felt comfortable, even confident that this was what he wanted for his life, the encounter with the Sasquatch had shaken his faith in science and humanity. It was as though he had been witness to an ancient secret and through that experience had been entrusted with a great duty and burden. Part of him yearned to shove a Sasquatch skull into the face of all those who had heckled, patronized or flat out laughed at him because he had had the courage to share his experience. That part of him however, was just a tiny, candle-flicker of the ego. Somewhere deep inside him was the self-assurance of what he had seen. The knowledge that he had come face to face with something otherworldly. Of this planet yes, but of a culture that no man could ever fully understand. A clan of man-like apes that have survived, even thrived, free from any outside influences since early man crossed the land bridge from Siberia. A creature that could crush even the most astounding human warrior with a single blow, able to scale mountains with ease. Adapted to move through the most unforgiving terrain like waterfowl migrating across the continent. With this brief glimpse into the world of the Sasquatch, a yearning grew in him like a seed planted in fertile soil. He had to learn more; Had to experience their world, whether he was welcome or not; Had to go into their territory and discover for himself whatever secrets had survived and evolved along with the legendary creatures.
The trail meandered gently through aspen meadows, flirting and kissing the waterway frequently, sometimes towering tall over the deep pools, sometimes crossing angry but impotent feeder creeks. The path crossed the creek and the canyon narrowed, it's steep sides pinching the sky above, tickling it with the tips of giant sequoias. Suddenly the trail opened into a meadow of alpine granite, dotted with pools and trickling, leaking seeps. His boots squished over soaking moss sponges and scraped pebbles across the gritty granite. The fresh air felt exhilarating as the trail ducked into a dark stand of redwoods and blueberries. Suddenly a sonic boom seemed to split the mountains in half and shook the sky like a tsunami. He had heard of these "mountain booms" but never experienced one. Realizing for the first time that he was completely alone, he wondered what this sign might mean. A brief, refreshing rain poured briefly and disappeared before it really began. The sky was cloudless and Chris found himself exactly where he wanted to be: surrounded by everything unfamiliar and unexplained.
Camp that evening was a scenic flat overlooking a breathtaking alpine lake. He wondered if there was a master plan for such a beautiful mosaic: calming surface stretched between craggy peaks surrounded by alder thickets brushed on canvas. Or was this just a result of anarchy, only beautiful because humans evolved to actually appreciate beauty and then to see it. Either way, the fishing rod came out of its own accord and a small shiny spinner broke the tranquil surface. A flash was the first signal to Chris' brain that his lure was under attack and then he could feel the strike, first in his hand and then throughout his being. The brook trout struggled valiantly, thrashing to and for under the surface and then accelerating straight away, it's run ending in a breath-taking leap. Time froze as the trout went airborne and flipped a cartwheel before belly-flopping. It paused for a split second and then raced off again, pulling line off the tiny backpacking reel. Eventually the alpine fish began to tire and Chris patiently steered it towards the bank and paused to appreciate it's brilliant markings and stunningly rich colorations. The white highlighting along the tips of the orange fins was Chris' favorite part as it reminded him of the Dolly Varden he had caught with his father in the Brooks Range when he was a youngster. The exotic markings also reminded Chris that the brook trout was not a member of the trout genus at all but rather a member of the Char family. He hated to kill such a thing of beauty but frying in his backpacking skillet with a little oil and salt and pepper, he thanked the circle of life and death for providing him with this meal. A meal he knew would be far more appreciated-and tasty-than anything he could buy at the drive-in or a supermarket: slaughtered, packed and processed in secrecy.
Just before he would slip into his bag, he took a swig of the whiskey, telling himself it would help him drift into a fitful sleep, knowing the opposite would probably be more likely; That his senses numbed would make him more likely to overreact to the slightest movements, keeping him awake too long and then dropping him into a comatose state that wouldn't allow him to hear a thousand pound beast stomping past his tent.
Monday, August 3, 2009
Heyman's getting married soon and we had to throw him a bachelor party. Hooters? Nope. Poker and Cigars? Nope. Strip Club and Tequila Shots? You guessed it, not a chance. To throw a bachelor party in true Heyman style, we had to go fishing-all weekend. The plan was to leave early Saturday morning, fish all day, camp and then do it again Sunday. But if you know Heyman, you know the plan can change. He's been dreaming of taking his 22 foot Trophy out to the open ocean for Albacore and the conditions couldn't have been more perfect for a run out to the blue water. So, instead of spending the entire weekend at Ocean Cove fishing for rockfish, we headed home Saturday night after a full day of fishing and prepared for the big trip.
Albacore are the ultimate sport fisherman's quarry. Fast and strong, they take tackle to the limit, defying everything you learned about fishing as a kid. Pops used to tell me, keep the drag loose, don't horse em', let em' run, back when we used to fish for trout and salmon. Not with Albies. For these hard-fighting Tuna, you'd better use heavy line, a stiff rod, and a heavy duty reel with the drag cranked down tight. If you let em run too far, you run the risk of getting spooled and oddly enough, the school will follow the hooked fish away from the boat, spoiling your shipmates chances of hooking up again. It's not uncommon for every rod to go off and have everyone working a rod or two
After an hour and a half drive, we met Heyman's buddy from work, Gary at the Marina in Half Moon Bay at 6am. Pattyo and I have fished for Albies aboard The Flying Fish, I think Heyman went as a kid and Gary is an avid saltwater fisherman and I assumed he had fished for Albacore before. He had some "hot numbers" where some of his buddies from the coastside fishing club had caught fish yesterday and three bags filled with tackle. He was wearing sweats so I assumed he'd put on some waterproof pants on the way out.
Running a private boat out to the tuna grounds is always a risky proposition. Heyman has "vessel assist" insurance but it will only cover out to twenty miles and we were probably twice that far when we heard the "crack". Pattyo yelled "hey" and I glanced back to see the 15hp kicker motor bouncing awkwardly off the stern, bucking at sickly angles like a pissed off bronco. Before we could slow down, the poor engine dropped off, ripping out the fuel line as it bobbed and then sank peacefully down to Davy Jones' Locker. We had a moment of eerie silence as we assessed the damage. With no land or other boats in sight, I thought of Gilligan and the skipper but then snapped out of it. The nearest islands are the farallones and they are most definitely not a tropical paradise nor do I suspect that the dfg biologists who live on it look anything like Mary Anne or Ginger. By a stroke of pure luck, the main motor survived the ejection of it's little brother unscathed and we proceeded as planned only without the kicker as a last resort backup engine.
We trolled for hours without seeing a thing save for a few lonely seagulls. Finally we spotted a school of "breezers" or surface feeding albacore but our hopes were dashed when another fishing boat ran past (the closest we came to any boat all day) and drove the tuna back down. Just when impatience began to rear its ugly head, we spotted another group of Albies on the hunt, busting up baitfish on the surface, breeching like mini-whales and doing like albacore do all day: eat and swim, swim and eat. As they are known to cover distances of sixty miles or more in a day and migrated to this exact location from Japan, it's not always a guarantee that you'll hook up when you see them. Sometimes you simply don't cross paths in the vast oceanic playing field. Often the course can be too aggressive, running right through the middle of a feeding school and spooking them back down to the depths. Regardless, anticipation mounted as we closed in on the frenzied school. Suddenly Pattyo yells out, "on the hook" and a reel starts to zing and the rod pumps. Albies are notoriously hard-hitting and there's nothing like the excitement of that first run. We troll for a few more seconds and two more rods go off in unison, we've got ourselves a triple hook-up. Game ON!
I grab my rod and crank down the drag. The fish slows but keeps pulling off the 60lb. test, intent on a course in opposition to my own. I raise the rod trip and slowly the submerged force begins to see things my way. With quick pumps I recover as much line as I can. As the fish nears the boat I switch the two-speed Penn reel to low and start cranking it up. Finally I yell out "color" and Pattyo flips it onto the deck with the gaff and we start doing our fish dance. This fish is about 28 lbs, on the bigger end of the scale for the fish we encounter here in the Pacific so we know we'll be into some quality fish if we can catch some more. That's when I realize that I'm pumped full of adrenaline. My hearts racing. I'm stuttering and mumbling as I talk and I feel like I can tackle a mountain.
Heyman and Gary each bring their fish up and the deck is a blood-bath of pulsating tuna. The rythmns of tails beating the deck mixed with the thumping of a stick to the head of each tuna is a primordial dance repeated by seafaring humans since the dawn of time. Even if we don't catch another fish the rest of the trip, we have done what we set out to do six hours earlier. We are victorious. We have succeeded.
The congratulations are brief however as lines are checked and tossed back in, the engine kicks into gear and we're fishing again before all the blood is hosed off the decks. The albacore are stashed in the livewell to bleed out before we toss them into an ice-filled cooler mixed with saltwater to keep the flesh firm.
There are days spent fishing when everything seems to fall into place perfectly. The weather cooperates, the fish cooperate and the gear and tackle stand up to the abuse. Today was that day and we enjoyed every minute, repeating the fish dance precisely, rotating only the dancers.
Before we knew it time was running out and there was no more room in any of the four fish lockers. Our 14 football fat albacore would probably yield over 140 lbs of meat and so we went to work with our fillet knives and hose and bags of ice until all of the meat was cleaned and packed and the remaining carcasses set out for the ocean's perfect disposal system.
After two days of fishing, eight hours in the truck and twenty on the water, the bachelor party came to a glorious and productive end.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
It's barely 6am and I'm watching reruns of Deadliest Catch thanks to my antennaed friend, Tivo. Another one of my many obsessions, this one happens to be "the roughest and toughest" highlight episode; all the horror stories of a life at sea. Some have happy endings, like the guy who got pulled overboard by a swinging, 600lb. crab pot and then was miraculously retrieved by his quick thinking crew mates. Or the guy who fell off a neighboring boat and was plucked from the hypothermia pool known as the Bering Sea by a boat running alongside. Occasionally they'll actually find a living, breathing fisherman inside those space age-looking survival suits. Other times the ship will go down with all hands lost. Maybe they find some floating debris: all that's left of a once vibrant family of fisherman. They don't call it deadliest catch for nothing.
It's hard to say exactly what draws me to this show. Probably my Norwegian heritage-viking blood mind you. One things for sure though, i'm not alone. Amongst man shows of it's genre, "deadliest catch" is the most popular-hands down. Maybe it's the lure of high-seas, man's man adventure and the ability to watch it all from the safety of my warm home, sipping coffee in my boxers, petting my cat.
As one watches the show the inevitable question infiltrates their consciousness. Could I survive a season on a crab boat in the Bering Sea? Certainly I'm tougher than that last greenhorn they sent packing for home. What a momma's boy that guy was! Most of the guys seem to be happy in their orange suits: whooping and hollering over the latest prank they've pulled or a full pot of crab with dollar signs written all over it. No wives around to tell them to take showers because they reek like week old cod guts. No kids pestering them incessantly with, "Hey dad, look at me". Heck, I don't get sea sick very often and I love being out in a boat all day fishing. Easy money. One month at sea for what some people make in an entire year. Yeah, I think I'll pack my bags and head for the docks.
Reality sinks in when the show reveals what's really going on. Wait a minute, did he just say a twenty-eight-hour shift? Did that guy really just get swept across a fifty foot deck with that wave? That guys missing two fingers and three of his buddies are dead. Come to think of it. I really like sleeping at least six hours every night in a bed that I can sit up in, one that is planted safely on solid ground. Those mountainous waves don't look too inviting, especially in the dead of night, black as obsidian with sinister white snakes crawling all over it, whipped into a frenzy by an eighty-knot hurricane. The captain ain't turning around when you get a toothache or bruise a few ribs. The Bering Sea doesn't offer time outs or second chances when you do something dumb. I can't stand the smell of rotting fish or the feeling of being drenched to my socks in bone-chilling winds.
On second thought, I'll leave the crab catching to the salty dogs and watch all the danger and drama from the safety of my living room. I don't really mind showering frequently and my kids need me. So does my cat and I don't think he'd make a very good stowaway aboard The Northwestern.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Anticipation painted the muted blue sky as we disembarked from the Taxi Van. I was so excited I "tipped" the driver three bucks. He came running after me. "ees eight dollors senor"! Oops, I'd been spoiled on this all-expenses paid trip to paradise. We were met at the docks by a portly, muy amable caballero who called himself "el jefe". Papa Paul paid him up front and I had an uneasy feeling we might never see him again. He pointed us to the table to purchase our licenses and after completing the inevitable mexican documentation and the ever-present tarif. We found ourselves boarding the "Yesenia II" with Mario (El Capitan) and Carlos (El Mano).
We cruised through a sea of pelicans, seagulls and sealions to the federales to show our licenses. I discovered with some trepidation that along with half of our groceries, we had brought bananas; Old school sailor bad mojo to be sure so we offloaded them to the federales and were on our way with no obvious mal influencias.
As we rounded the head, Carlos dropped back some Tuna Jigs and we proceeded to troll immediately.This told me that either we were saving gas or the crew was not seriously committed to finding the schools of Sailfish, Marlin and Dorado that Cabo is famous for. Before all the lines were even in the water though one of the rods started bending and shaking. I grunted a reflexive "heh" as Maya looked at me like, "when did you become an epileptic spazz?" I was validated when Carlos grabbed the pole and handed it over to Paul who took the first turn and landed a feisty bonito or skipjack. "Bait" exclaimed Carlos as he unhooked it and dropped it in the box with a flick of his wrist. I began to day dream about the monster who could make this three pound fish his breakfast.
Everyone got a turn with the diminutive tuna. We snapped pictures and whooped and hollered. Maya was particularly fired-up after her battle with the scrappy tuna. Secretly I hoped that she would catch "the fishing bug" this trip and she might share some of my passion for the sport. I caught her epic battle with the "flip mino" so that the world could watch her deep-sea battle on YouTube. As she scrolled through the pictures on the camera of course she was disappointed.
Hey, everyone got a close up with their fish except for me!
Yeah babe, but I got you on video!
As Cape San Lucas began to slowly shrink my perception of the crew changed. The boat reflected the makings of a successful operation: clean save for the bare necessities. Everything had a place and the crew seemed to utilize everything that they brought forth from their hidden stowage. Although I still regarded the one fillet knife they brought as wholly inadequate to fillet dinner, I later learned that the enterprise of cleaning fish in Cabo is an entirely different business unto itself. Muchachos armed with garbage cans loaded on hand trucks roam the docks and will clean and bag your catch for a nominal fee under the scrutinous eyes of the federales. Apparently the big one can still get away even after you reach the docks!
As the arch shrank from view, Mario throttled back and Carlos tossed in the live bait which included our first bonito, half-filleted and bleeding profusely. Eshark, Sailfish, tambien Dorado o talvez Marlin, recited Carlos the deck hand to the seagulls and his stowaway party, now slightly greening from the heavy rollers and thick diesel exhaust fumes. As fishing goes thoughts and conversation turned to more land based topics when, as if in response to our lack of focus, the action began. Carlos descended the ladder and grabbed up a rod with catlike quickness. A dorsal fin cutting a zig zag pattern through the surf of our wake grabbed everyone's attention. My first instinct was that it looked like a shark but then I had never seen a large dorado in action either and I wasn't sure if I could trust my eyes. Maya was up and I thought this might be the moment she succumbed to the fishing fever; a chance to dance with a truly worthy combatant-the hammerhead shark. Carlos turned to Maya, Hell No!, she said, I'm not touching that thing. It's bigger than I am! It's gonna pull me in!
Uncle Darin stepped up and it was game on. The hammerhead engaging in a bulldog battle of tug o war. Darin fighting back punch for punch and it went on like that for twenty five minutes. The discussion among the spectators delved into what we should do with the shark should we land it. Carlos said it would be 600 dollars to mount. A pretty fair price but still a chunk of change and so we decided in the end to let it go.
I beat you! exclaimed Darin in his best prizefighter voice and with a quick snap, the shark was back to his own business, nothing hurt save his pride.
The boat trolled on with a more expectant air. Heck, if Darin could catch a hammerhead, anything was possible. I was up next and doing my best to stay focused on the fishing, working my mind-control mojo on the lines and the boat, doing the fish dance, feeling the flow. Suddenly the left outrigger popped. Carlos was there and handed it over but I reeled and reeled and ....nothing! He grabbed it back and dropped the line back. The Big Dorado cooperated, Mario gunned the engine as Carlos gave it three hard jabs to set the hook and it was game on.
The Do Do peeled off line like a banana and went airborn twice, fighting with a dogged determination right up into the fishbox. Maya filmed like a pro, using two hands, one with the camera and the other running the video. That night we ate it: grilled, breaded, blackened and in ceviche. All in all a thrilling exclamation point to an unforgettable vacation. Maybe heyman is right, I am a lucky bastard sometimes!
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Preoccupied with the thought of Wal Mart employees (or patrons for that matter) going on a spending spree with my cash, I hit the gas with boat in tow. As I pulled into the fast lane, the car I had just passed began shrinking and then turned to flashing red and blue lights. I thought my anxiety over a miss-placed wallet was causing me to hallucinate until reality caught up. Those really are red and blue flashing lights in my rear view. I glanced at the speedometer. The needle was flirting with 80. My heart sank as I quickly decelerated and tried to find a place to pull over, suddenly realizing that there were orange cones every fifty feet. Further enlightened, I finally realized that I was in a construction zone. My heart rate doubled and I thought I could feel it palpitating. When I finally pulled to a stop, the lack of inertia created a silent vaccum in which my brain fast forwarded to showing the cop my wallet. In this tranquil zen-like state of consciousness a realization set in: My wallet's at Wal Mart! F(^*^%^^(&***!!!
I don't think i've ever said "Sir" more in a twenty second conversation than I did that day on the side of highway 5. I did remember that I had my fishing license. Another example of grace and clear thinking under pressure? I'll leave you, the reader to decide on that. All I can say is that I was cursing myself out like I was playing on a team that I coach and just did something stupid. The officer seemed to believe me as he took my license back to his squad car. My thoughts vacillated drastically. One moment I had visions of having my car impounded and having to call my wife to come get me because I knew the guys were already annoyed with my forgetfulness and Pattyo wouldn't mind not having his dog with him so long as he had a cold one and a fishing pole. The next second I would entertain delusions of being let off with a warning. "Sorry you're having such a bad day. Didn't want to further complicate things for you sir. Just watch your speed next time alright, especially in a construction zone and with towing a boat and all. Have a good day."
Boots crunching gravel snapped me back to reality and my popped the bubble that was my fantasmal daydream. Apparently I had to use up all of my fishing luck before I even got my line wet. The Highway Patrolman only wrote me up for doing 60 when, as all the signs say, I should've been doing 55. If it said anything about a construction zone, I haven't seen it. The ticket ended up costing about $250 with traffic school which definitely hurts but probably could've cost me a lot more.
I had to build up some speed on the shoulder before quickly merging between the orange cones and I was back on my way backwards to Wal Mart with new thoughts doing battle. Would my wallet be there? Would I have to bribe the employees to give me back my credit cards and such sans cash? I decided to give the store a call, checking every mirror twice before dialing information and trying not to swerve as I wrote the number on the back of my traffic ticket.
It's no wonder I only caught a few fish that trip. A trustworthy Wal Mart employee had given my wallet to his manager. When I got in touch with the guy, he handed me back my wallet and, lo and behold, everything was in it-even the cash! I have a new found respect for the integrity of Wally World employees. Either that or the pervasiveness of their surveillance cameras and the mind control of their Big Brother management. In any case, the gods shined on me that day. While I'm always quick to remind myself that material possesions come and go, losing my wallet that weekend would have definitely put a damper on things-Big Time. I probably had as much cash in my wallet as the ticket would end up costing me but I'm scared straght when it comes to speeding. I'm slowing down:)
Thursday, April 9, 2009
I'm not sure if it's the tenth year anniversary yet, but Jake and I first headed up to Eagle Lake when we were a few years out of high school to meet his uncle Steve. Steve couldn't tell us enough about the size and fighting ability of these acrobatic rainbows. Some of the hardiest fish in the world due to the high alkalinity of the water, an Eagle Lake trout can survive in nearly any other suitable body of water, while other trout transplanted here inevitably perish. If you've caught a hatchery fish anywhere in California, chances are pretty good it came from this natural place.
Steve showed us the slip-bobber and worm threader and we were on our way to big, muscular trout. We caught four the first morning. Jake caught a nice one with a $10 dollar tag on it. When we took off, I noticed them bouncing behind the boat. I yelled to Steve but it was too late, and wouldn't you know it, the money fish was gone from the stringer. We ran into one guy who saw the grins on our faces and called us over to him. He whispered in our ears like a junkie introducing us to heroine, "you know fellas, these trout have shoulders", that was it.
In the last decade, the goal has never changed, to catch heavy limits, but our methods of camping have definitely become more modern. The group has grown and morphed into different tribes many times over the years. Steve and his gang still monopolize a large circular camp area; the wagons that might have surrounded it in the old days have given way to fourwheel drive trucks hauling fishing boats with rods and nets standing at attention like a fisherman's flag. Pattyo and his wife Suzanne "Red" inhabited a large travel trailer and his brother, always the entrepreneur, rents a house with his family and his parents. Last year we all stayed together. Around midnight, just as everyone was settling down to get a few hours of shut eye before the early morning wake-up, we heard a fumbling on the porch. Everyone went into intruder mode. Archie the body-builder launched himself onto the porch to confront the intruder. We all followed diligently toting mag-lights and fire-pokers to open a good can of "whoop ass" on the uninvited guest.
"What the *^&% are you doing here?"
"I'm just looking for my friends. I'm lost." replied the young and obviously inebriated wayfarer.
Disappointedly, everyone let their guard down slightly. It appeared that no one was going to be needing their weapons. The night was black as charcoal and the young man appeared more pathetic than threatening.
"Where am I?" asked the drunkard.
"You're at Eagle Lake, Spaulding Tract"
"You mean this isn't Blue Lake?"
It's amazing how alcohol can transform a perfectly normal college student into a suspected alien, beamed down to earth just to confuse everyone and ruin the few hours of sleep that Eagle Lake fisherman all outwardly dismiss and secretly covet.
"No, you're a long way from Blue Lake mister. How the hell did you wind up here?"
"My buddies and I were heading to blue lake."
We went round and round like this for what turned into hours. It started seeming more and more plausible that this guy was dropped off by an alien spacecraft. He couldn't remember for sure his friends names, where they were staying or how he got here.
"All I know is that we lined up shots and then my buddies disappeared".
I noticed he was shivering and brought him a blanket. Brian slipped away and called the Sheriff. Archie scrolled through the aliens cell phone and had long conversations with members of the Aliens family, none of whom seemed too surprised that he might find himself on a random porch on a random lake, drunk as a skunk with a group of complete strangers.
Finally the sheriffs deputy arrived after an hour-long drive from Susanville. The long conversations with his relatives (some of them long lost I'm sure) must've sobered him up or triggered something in his brain. He remembered that the cabin he was staying in had a cone shaped roof and a flag. The sheriff knew the place, it's located about a half-block away from the Eagle Lake Bar and Grill. Our cabin was at least a mile away in near complete darkness. Next time we're going to shut off the porch light a little earlier.
Friday, March 13, 2009
The next day we floated and fished at our whimsy, stopping along gravel bars to eat and sleep and fishing until late into the morning. In the northern latitudes, during mid-summer the sun barely sets, dipping below the horizon for a few hours. It plays tricks with your biological clock and you find yourself engrossed in letting your spoon drift through the currents ripples, hooking fish and fighting with them until your arms tire. Often we wouldn't retire until well after midnight with no signs of fatigue or even a hint of darkness.
It was probably two days in before we saw our first bear. It was a long ways off across a swampy bog. It stood up and sniffed us and disappeared. We made our way down the river quickly.
I hooked a nice king salmon on our third day. We were standing on a beaver pond and I could see it struggling deep down under the cool clear water. I remember trying not to give it too much pressure and instead gave it too much slack. I watched in agony as it opened its massive jaws, shook its head and spit out the spoon. My Dad, for the first time in my life, didn't say a word when I yelled out "F(*&!".
The next bear we saw before it saw us. We were drifting around a bend and the bear was working it's way across the bank. It reminded me of a shaggy puppy, only slightly smaller than a VW beetle. "We can drift right up to it", whispered my father.
"Won't it get us?", I asked.
"Not if we're in the water", he replied, feigning confidence. I wasn't so sure but I remember distinctly that when it stood on it's hind legs, caught our scent and went "whooooof", our paddles both hit the water simultaneously, like those synchronized swimmers in the Olympics. The massive bundle of fur, muscle, claws and teeth wheeled and ran into a thick stand of Alders. What impressed me the most though, wasn't it's size, but it's quickness and grace. Retreating into the bush, it didn't make a sound. Maybe I just couldn't hear it over the pounding heartbeats in my ears!
We met the first of three other groups only minutes later. A make-shift fishing camp greeted us along the same bank as we had seen the bear. We told them about it and they replied that he was their pet. Only in Alaska. The second visitor was a game warden/biologist. She didn't check our licenses but preferred to talk about the weather. "You guys are pretty luck" she said. "Before this week there's maybe been a day and a half of sun. The rest has been nothin but rain. Last summer we might have had five days of sun all summer." Considering that we had been there five days and had only seen a light shower once, we did indeed consider ourselves very lucky.
My Dad hooked a lively Chinook later that day. He fought it for maybe fifteen minutes until finally he brought it up alongside me. I had the net ready and scooped it up, knocking the lure out as I jammed it into the small net. The tip of the salmon's nose hit the rim of the net and it's body circled in the mesh so that it's tale hit the other side of the round rim-it barely fit! We were both ecstatic.
The last day of the trip the river slowed into a slough's pace. I had all but given up on my chances of catching a mighty king, though we had landed many sockeye and arctic char. I sat back in the rear of the canoe and casted to the bank from an inclined position, lazy like the river. My line stopped and I thought I'd snagged a submerged tree trunk when I saw a huge tail flap into the air-fish on! I scrambled up and began the fight in earnest, trying to gain line on the beast as the canoe picked up speed. The clever behemoth was using the current to his hook-nosed advantage and it became apparent to my Dad and I that we'd have to pull over or we'd be pulled downstream forever. My Dad paddled for the nearest gravel bar and I hopped out, hoping we hadn't stopped too soon and I could find a way to slow the big fish down. I remember the line started to make this humming twangy sound as the big Chinook stretched it near the breaking point, my Dad standing helplessly next to the big fish in knee deep water with our pathetically small landing net. Finally I backed up the gravel bar until the fish ran out of water to swim in and my Dad pounced on it, wrestling the flopping behemoth up onto the pebbly shore.
We took pictures and measurements. 36lbs and 42 inches long if I remember correctly. I wanted to keep it but my Dad reasoned that we would be boarding the plane later that day and we were far from any freezer or cooler. I didn't realize then that trophies don't always have to be killed and mounted. The satisfaction I have now, knowing that big fish reproduced, outweighs any meal it would have provided us.
We arrived at a windswept tract of tin roof shacks named "Togiak". A "dry" (apparently you don't mix Eskimos and alcohol) village with a population of less than 100. The most distinct memory I have of that remote village was of two Eskimo children playing catch with a grapefruit sized boulder, occasionally clunking it off each others' heads and having the time of their lives. Maybe not much to do in that village for children too small to fish? Probably one of only a half-dozen sunny days they would enjoy that season; and to think that my Dad and I picked this exact week for our vacation over two years in advance. Sometimes you just get lucky.
Monday, March 2, 2009
Before we got here, Pacific Salmon were a way of life for the Native Americans. Their lives were intertwined with the salmon runs since the ancient times.
I haven't eaten Salmon in almost two years. That's because I refuse to eat "farmed fresh" yuck fish and because the DFG has closed the season off the coast of California indefinitely. I'm sure that someday I'll be telling my kids about "the good old days" when you could actually catch your own salmon off the coast, but for now I'll just have to settle for reminiscing on this here blog.
My first experience with Salmon fishing was with Old Man Phil and "Flipper" his 19ft bathtub. Phil is older than the ocean and he can still outhunt or fish anyone, just ask around. Long after everyone's on Gary's porch sipping on "duck tales", Phil is still out trying to get one more. On the ocean, he's known for saying, usually around 1 or 2 when the twilight wakeup call and midday sun starts to turn the most avid angler into a sleeping baby, "Just say the word and we'll head in." It's a kind of salty dawg game of chicken-I'm not going in until you say "Uncle". I can't ever remember hearing Phil call it quits, he's the epitome of a diehard.
Duxbury Reef off Stinson Beach is one of his favorite spots and "mooching" his favorite style of fishing. Although trolling is definitely the most popular method and possibly more effective-mooching is a lost artform. There's no drone of the outboard, no 2lb. ball of lead to man handle. Adrift on the sea like a hunting pelican, the mooch is a dance with the ocean. If you read the clues and drift through the right spot, with the patience to let the salmon nibble, nibble, nibble and then take your bait, you will be rewarded. One thing that makes Phil's blood boil, however, is the circle hook. The result of overzealous fish and game bureaucrats who make a name for themselves creating new and more stringent rules and regulations, the circle hook is now the law. We usually lose a fish or two each time because of them. Tough for a guy who has fished with a J hook for 50 years to swallow-no pun intended. Nobody ever said Phil wasn't stubborn.
Probably the one characteristic of Phil's that sets him apart from all the youngsters is his respect for a dollar. A young man during the great depression, Phil can squeeze a quarter between his butt cheeks and fart out 25 pennies. When we head out, he calculates the bait, gas, launch fee and ice costs and gives you a price for his charter. "Alright, it's gonna cost you $33 dollars". Now that's a steal when you consider the charter boats will charge you $80 plus a tip for the deck hand. If you give him $40, he insists on giving change.
It was no suprise then, when we pulled into the Richmond boat launch and the arm that's supposed to lower after each fee stayed up, that Phil hit the gas. Not to mention the fact that the car in front of us had a Gore sticker. "Come on Phil!" I said as the Gore car pulled through under the arm, "don't let those damn democrats get one over on you!" Phil sang some crazy song for the next half hour, "I didn't wanna do it, but I did it anyway... You made me love you!!!" at the top of his lungs. He was so happy we got a free launch that day that he forgot to undo the transom straps, or at least to check to see if we had. Little did we know we would pay for that $6 dollars saved in bad juju for the rest of the trip.
When Pattyo backed in the flipper, of course it refused to leave the trailer, so Phil leans out and undoes one of the straps, thinking that of course we hadn't forgotten to remove both of them. He finally wrestled it loose as the 6am traffic at the launch ramp increased to a bona fide "jam". Pattyo, always loathe to suffer even the slightest embarrassment, especially in front of fellow fisherman, was growing impatient. "What the hell's going on back there" he yelled as we asked him to pull forward and then back up twice. He couldn't hear us over the sound of honking horns so he stopped the truck and came around to find out for himself. When he went to start it back up, all we heard was, "clickclickclickclick". Oooops!! What do you do when you're stalled on the ramp with a boat half-assed off the trailer? You ask someone to jump you of course, after all there's a line a mile long waiting for you to get the hell out of the way. This of course is Pattyo's worst nightmare so I do the talking. We finally get the truck started and undo the other transom strap and we're motoring out.
Everything's going smooth, except Phil isn't singing his usual "I Love Fishin!" song at the top of his lungs like usual when we leave the no wake zone at full throttle. The motor had suddenly started acting up. Turns out Phil bought the new fuel filter but, ever the conservative (liberal is a four letter word to Phil) he just cleaned out the old one and put it back in. So now he's changing the fuel filter as our competitors leave us in their wake and the sun starts to brighten the day. We finally get to Duxbury and it's a parking lot: party boats, private boats, six packers and one Boston Whaler with a family of eight that's got about two inches of free board (distance between the waters surface and the edge of the boat). Luckily they're all wearing life jackets! We can't get a hit to save our lives and end the day with one barely legal twenty and one-half incher.
Pattyo and I take the boat battery with us to start up the truck and head up the ramp while Phil tends the flipper at the dock. Uh-oh looks like the boat battery has drained now too! "Hey, you guys got any jumper cables?" We're both thinking maybe Phil should charge us a higher charter rate and invest in a new battery.
Don't get the wrong idea though, Phil knows how to catch salmon and I'll forever be grateful that he introduced me to some of the finest fishing right outside the Golden Gate. I just hope the season opens up again someday and I get another chance to go out with the old man, for everyone's sake.
Sunday, March 1, 2009
Scary Larry was a caretaker at the Tule Belle for about a decade. When I first met him, we pulled our buddies blind out with his truck and proceeded to kill about eight black widows with brake cleaner. He called it "Panther Piss". It worked well. The poor widders would curl up and drop from their nests. Kinda freaky on a dark night with just a pen light.
Larry was known as a poacher, "Some guys wait for the ducks to come to them. I go after em'. I hunt em down and I kill em!" Larry upheld the season and bag limits, he just liked to remain blissfully unawares of certain boundaries. Usually he'd get into the landowners good graces, hunting a neighboring club on their non-shoot days or visiting a farmers marsh when their truck just didn't happened to be parked there. He used to say, "You've heard of A-zone and B-zone? Well, this is R-zone!"
Somehow he got the keys to some P,G & E land and we hunted all late summer for a blacktail. Finally Larry came running down the mountain like a hillbilly running moonshine. "Get the truck, there's a buck up there" he hollered. I grabbed my buddies truck because he was off somewhere on Larry's dirtbike. "Drop me off here! When you hear a shot, come over the hill and pick me up!" I did as I was told. My heart started thumping in my chest when I heard the rifle crack and took off like a Duke Boy up that dirt hill. When I got to the top I noticed a fence and cattle grate but there weren't any "No Trespassing" signs so I slid around the hill and backed up to the bottom just as Larry dropped the tail gate and slid the small buck into the bed. "Get goin!" he half-yelled, half-whispered. I was concerned with his sense of urgency but I just figured this was Larry being Larry. Gettin excited about being excited and so we rolled out with a growing plume of dusk following us through the gate and back down the hill. We stopped and rendezvouzed with Kenny. He heard the shot and motored up to meet us. As we sat there contemplating the bucks inexplicably small antlers, I noticed a truck on the top of the hill facing us. "Uhhh, Larry, did you see that truck before?"
"Uh oh, we'd better high tale it boys".
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
This was one of the greatest adventures of my life. My Dad and I spent a year planning our Alaskan Odyssey. The plan was to spend two weeks in the bush, fishing, floating and camping. We took Alaskan Airlines to Anchorage Alaska when I was 13 years old. From there we flew in a commuter jet to Dillingham and then chartered a bush plane from Manakotak (Man uh coh tuck)Air(Dad could never pronounce it and the locals got a kick out of him) to the Atnarko River for a three day "warm-up" before hitting the mighty Togiak for a week. We had a Dan Wesson .44 Magnum (think Dirty Harry) for bear protection and a canoe that folded into a large duffel bag.
I'll never forget that first Bush plane ride. The pilot had a cigar clenched between his teeth and a gritty sourdough Alaskan accent. I got to ride shotgun and when I jumped in the plane, to my suprise and chagrin, I found a steering wheel in front of my seat.
"If I keel over and kick the bucket, you're takin us down young man", exclaimed our colorful captain. I gripped the steering wheel with sweaty palms as we flew headlong into a puffly marshmallow cloud. The plane shook as if possessed by a mighty monster. "Ya gotta watch out for them big white fluffy ones", he said. My stomach settled back down where it belonged and we landed without incident.
At the head of the Atnarko there is a secluded fish and game cabin. When we first landed, I remember swarms of mosquitoes. They were so thick you had to breath carefully lest you suck one up. I snagged a large silvery sockeye salmon that afternoon and the Rangers invited us over for dinner. It was delicious with wild rice and some other native herbs and spices mixed in. The Atnarko is a world renowned rainbow trout fishery, but when we visited, rains had swollen the river, spoiling it's potential. OH well, I wasn't looking for a trophy. I was looking for a bent rod and stiff forearms. The Grayling, Arctic Char and Sockeyes did the trick.
Pops and I paddled down the next day, drifting slowly and enjoying the unspoiled wilderness. Drifting in silence, we finally got our taste of seclusion. Floating for hours without seeing any signs of another human being. No trash, no jetsam, no artificial sound, just the pitter patter of dripping rains on luscious green leaves and the gentle background rush of moving water. When we stopped to camp, I recall the dampness. Starting a fire was an exercise in futility and so we quickly cooked our freeze dried meal and crawled into our tent.
The Tikchic Lakes are a series of seven natural bodies of water, interconnected by small streams like the Atnarko. The next day found us at the lower lake where we would camp and await the floatplanes arrival the following morning. Where the Atnarko dumped into the lake, we found our honey hole. All we needed to do was drop a Pixie Spoon over the side and we'd be hooked up with a fiesty Arctic Char, ready for battle. My Dad stopped long before I did I think and he sat back and just watched me enjoy the bounty of the deep blue Alaskan waters. At some point we called it quits and headed for the camp. It turned out to be the creepiest site I've ever stayed in.
We spotted a cabin on the near shore and decided to investigate. It turned out to be abandoned and moderately dilapitated. The roof sagged but offered a welcome respite from the rain. Inside it looked like some sort of varmints had claimed this as their home long before we got there. My Dad had the welcomed idea of pitching our tent inside, to protect us from any curious critters.
I wish I could say there was something concrete that spooked me; Bones, a grave marker, a humongous grizzly bear track, but the cabin betrayed nothing of its sinister scariness. All I can tell you is that there was a vibe. Like someone watching us from just the other side of the rainforest cover. What it was, I can only speculate, but the feeling was undeniable and omnipresent. Did some old trapper die a miserable death there? Was there a Sasquatch lurking in the shadows watching us? I'll never know but I can tell you that I was very uneasy and I remember it to this day. Dad shared my sentiments and we packed quickly and headed for a gravel bar to await the buzz of the air taxi. In the warm sunshine of midday, on the bank of the lake on the other side of the river, I finally shook off the creepiness and felt at ease again for the first time since we'd arrived at the ghost cabin.
Monday, February 2, 2009
Yeah, is there a deer over there?
I don't know do you see one?
Yeah, I do! I see some! I'm gonna boom em Daddy!
Moms was out of the house and I figured, what's the harm in a little innocent hunting safari.
I showed Tanner how to sneak up on his quarry.
Tanner, we have to be quiet.
Shhhhhhh! Daddy we're hunting, he whispers. His shoulders hunch up and he crouches down, moving like a cat. We use the sides of walls and doors for a rest, so he could get a steady "boom", just like I learned from Miami Vice years ago. We probably got us a good half-dozen deer that day. Give or take one or two. And they were all humongous bucks. I asked Tanner and he confirmed it.
OK Tanner, now you can only go hunting with Daddy OK? Never boom anything without Daddy there. Never boom anything or anyone OK?
And, ummm, no booming in front of Mommy OK?
I boomed um! Like this!
Tanner, listen to me carefully. No booming when Mommy is watching OK!
OK Daddy. Boom. Boom.
I could see our little harmless prank spiraling out of control. I never wanted to be that parent that let's their kids run around pointing fake guns at people (or shooting them with those nerf guns) and going pow. But hey, Tanner started it. I never told him to start booming. He's just a natural. It's in his blood. Or maybe it could be all those hunting shows we watch together.
Anyways, Mommy comes home and gets boomed and she's mortified. I realize now the full depth of my incompetent, irresponsible mistake but it's too late. I cling to my guns like Charlton Heston at an NRA rally.
Babe, he already knows what he's doing, we just need to teach him responsibly.
No! He's two years old. He's been saying that at Day Care! We have to teach him that's not right! Tanner, we don't boom anything OK! That's not nice. We don't say that OK?
I try to save some grace. Babe, you're right, he's not ready yet. I won't let him say that anymore.
Tanner and I are having a guy day. We're heading out to the duck club to pick up decoys in Heymans skiff. I've got his Lightning McQueen lifejacket and the dog so we roll.
Are we going fishing Daddy?
No, Tanner we're just going to pick up some decoys.
Yeah they're like, fake ducks. They bring in the real ones.
We're gonna get some ducks?
Tanner seems a little unsure as we step into the boat, but it's a flat bottom skiff and stable.
Hold me Dadda.
Ok, you ready?
I idle through the no wake zone and the boat jumps onto plane. We're zooming along, skimming the surface like a harley on asphalt and Tanner lets out his monster cry, "yeahhhhhhhhhhahhhh". It's a mixture of pure unadulterated joy mixed with a little terror. He hangs in there like a champ though he gets a little nervous when I wade away from the boat but he's stoked at all the ducks we're getting. He keeps saying, we've got lots of ducks ha daddy! And I keep piling them in the skiff.
Look at all the ducks we got!
Yeah Tanner we've got lots of ducks. He doesn't even talk about booming them or anything and I'm pretty sure the phase has passed.
We get home and Momma wants to know how much fun he had. Did you have fun at the Duck Club Tanner?
Yeah, we got lots of ducks. We BOOMED em!
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Heyman's got a quad, two trucks, three boats, and gadgets, lots of duck hunting gadgets. One of them looks like a big Y that spins around with a duck on each arm, whirring their wings and seeming to hang on for dear life like a kid on a merry-go-round gone haywire. Pattyo asked him how you get it started without getting your head knocked off and he wasn't quite sure. He's got mojo mallards, wonderducks and even a half dozen "winduks".
The thing about our flapping circus is that he's always dissing old man Phil's spread. It's true that Phil's stubborn and set in his ways. He has been hunting this pond since before our Daddy's even knew our Mommy's. And it is true that we'd probably kill a few more ducks every year if he'd just make everyone's life easier and just move it up his path twenty yards. But if he wants to have two thousand decoys out on his pond and plastic ducks with fountains that shoot water out their butts, I say more power to him. But lately Heyman has taken the attitude that if you can't beat him, join him. The last month of the season our pond looked more like Barnum & Bailey than something out of a Duck Commander video. But I give him his props. He works hard to get his ducks. He takes it seriously.
When the birds don't come right over, he wants to move the decoys. When they flare, he's already making plans to take a back hoe out here over the summer and sink em another six inches. When they cut us short, he wants to sink the blinds and move them 30 yards to the southeast. Or he just disses my white dog. His is black and she's named "Red". See! Complicated. It's like, if he can totally confuse the hell out of you, he's won.
"They're flaring on the widgeon call dude" he says.
When they circle back he goes, "Dude, here they come."
"Alright I see them", I whisper.
"Dude, get ready!"
"I'm ready dude." I say a little louder.
"Dude do you see em?" he shouts.
"Yeah, I do!" I shout back, irritated he didn't hear me the first few times.
Heyman goes, "SHHHHHHH".
We shoot at the same duck and it falls but his mate gets away.
"Dude, you had to shoot at the duck on my side didn't you?"
"It was on your side until they flew straight over. I took the one in front because the one in back was closer to you."
"Dude, this side is my side and that side is yours."
I can't see which way he's pointing and I don't pay attention because it will probably change the next time. I'm watching the dogs retrieve when a pair of teal buzz us from the North.
"AWW Duude! You're supposed to be looking that way dude!"
I had been looking that way but I got distracted. In all the excited electricity caused by the complicated man, I forgot what distracted me. Humm, could've been my coffee. Or maybe I was making sure I had shells in my gun. On second thought, there are a bunch of ladybugs in the blind this year.
"I was watching that way!" I defend myself, knowing that getting buzzed is just part of the game. That's where we differ in philosophy and attitude. I can let it go and vow to be ready the next time. Heyman holds onto it like a canker sore. For the next half-hour he'll be bitching, recounting our birds and adding or subtracting "those three we shoulda had", until he wears it out. One time I even caught him telling himself to shut up. That made me feel better. I'm not the only one.
The problem with the complicated man is that he's always keeping score. It's like he thinks when we get back to the clubhouse, someone is going to take a picture of us and pin a blue ribbon on it somewhere on the shack's "wall of fame". There are a few photo galleries but no official record books. All of the pictures are of guys out hunting or fishing and enjoying themselves while doing it. What Heyman fails to realize is that there is no official record book besides the one that he keeps in his head.
Sometimes he can't even count. Like the time we spent an extra two hours in a ferocious December storm to fill out our limits. Until he found two teal "Oh Dude, chuckle, chuckle," he had stuffed up under the cover and we could finally head home.
A big flock of sprig start working the blind. I let the complicated man do the calling. I don't want his criticism of my calling to scare them off. They circle overhead and he's like, "should we take these?" I pull up on them and decide that they're a little far out. Even though everyone on the club does it, no one wants to be the "skyscraper". Heyman yells at me.
"Why didn't you take those? DUUUUUUUUDe those were right there. You aimed at em, what are you waiting for?"
I'm watching the north intently and a smaller flight starts to work our way. There's a single bull that's just in range. "Heyman, check these out!"
I pull up slowly and he's like, "Nelson NO!" But I'm determined and I've been hunting with him long enough to know when to tune him out. "Boom" goes the shotgun and the pintail folds up and begins the long fall into the pond. "Splash" and the dogs are on it.
"huhuhuhuh" he chuckles, "I guess it wasn't too high."
Like I told you, he's a complicated man. But one things for sure, there's never a dull moment.
Friday, January 16, 2009
Pat "Pattyo" Ring is a simple man. Give him a job, a Lay Z boy with a big screen TV in front and a team to root for and he's happy. Take today for instance. He's working that rocking chair like a granny knitting a scarf. He's cradling his favorite ice-cold, ribbon-award winning, traditional American beverage and the Sharks are taking on the Calgary Flames. We're over for dinner and his wife has prepared a wing-dinger: Grilled chicken and Wild duck (tule belle teal to be exact), asparagus and mashed potatoes. The dogs are out back romping contentedly and my children are suprisingly placid.
The thing about a simple man though, is that they like things straight. Predictable. Throw one curveball, change the plan or "jam-up" a guy like Pattyo? The whole works go flying like pee wee herman with a stick in his spokes.
Pattyo just got Hi Definition TV and CABLE. He's graduated to the big time. He can see the cuts and scars crystal clear on his favorite players faces. Witness the blood and snot flying off their noses like a Roman in the Colloseum. Ultra-mega-pixelated-clarity. Only tonight, for reasons unfathomable and unforgiveable to a simple kinda man, Pattyo can't get the sharks game in HD. He can get it on regular cable but that's not what he's paying extra for. That's not why he went through all the hassle. To his credit, he edits out everything for the benefit of the chilluns.
"These A-holes won't give me my HD! Somebodies gonna be sending me a refund check. Wellll, I'm glad we're paying extra for this POS HD cuz I'm refunding the entire MFer tomorrow." When he gets on a role, his voice starts to escalate until it echoes and you can feel the windows shaking. He mashes on the controller with his meaty thumb, hoping the extra exertion will return his world back into the comfort of simplicity. A world where you get what you pay for and things work out like they should. He's now pointing the remote at odd angles, hoping to change the channel back to MTPattyo.
I give him credit though. I've known him since I could suck on my thumb and his temper has steadily improved. He used to get so mad, his face would thicken with blood, the veins would pop out on his forehead and he'd pound his thighs with his fist like someone just stole his car. Once he smashed the windshield of his VW bug when it wouldn't start for him.
Sarcasm is his saving grace. "Welp, I'm glad we pay extra for all this magic BS because I'd just as soon watch the D thing from a TV with a dang antennae like we did back when I was a kid." One of the hallmarks of a thoroughbred simple kinda man is to have a strong sense of nostalgia.
The sharks score a goal in the first minute and all is forgiven. He stands up, pointer finger wagging a little rain dance, spinning as he taps his feet and calls his happy chimp call, "whooo whooo whooo". He pops the collar on his sharks jersey and lets everyone know that he's got the name of the guy that just scored that goal on his back!
He doesn't mind that Tanner is now flying around the room like an airplane, stepping on his baby brother. He doesn't even notice when the dogs scratch the slider with their paws. His LazBoy has hit a new steady, rocking rythmn. He's content, the king of his castle. Life is good. Things are simple and that's how he likes it.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Wake up to the alarm at 6:15 (Caveman probably didn't wake up until well after sun-up). My dog is licking my face, she needs to go out but she wants me to go with her. Stumble to the coffeemaker (yes it's got a timer but who remembers to make their coffee the night before?) while my Cat tries to herd me over to the tuna cans he knows are in the cupboard. Get out the can opener and tuna can. Rinse utensils and empty can because they've got to be clean before you recycle them in this new-age green world. Is it just me or does being "green" mean spending more money and adding more hassle to your life? Must be worth it since the caveman was a gross polluter.
Now it's time to move on to the children. Don't get me wrong here, my wife does most of this but for all practical purposes, we're both competing with the caveman. For Tanner we need to get him dressed and pull his security blanket from his "Kung Fu" grip. Yes, it's better to get down on his level and have a mature talk with him but the clock is ticking and I still need to take care of the 3 S's: S&%$, Shower and Shave. Cavemen only had one S.
The baby is a little more complicated. Breast milk must be preserved and stored along with bottles, liners and the proper nipple. Extra clothes are a given along with bibs and his chewy Giraffe Sophie. Next is the car seat that meets federal regulations and of course must be fitted each day to fit the baby. We can't use the baby seat because it has a base-life is complicated. He also needs the bumbo, a big blue foam seat the shape of his butt that suctions to the ground. He's also got a cushiony crib, like a cross between a basket and a purse that we've got to lug over to daycare. We're among the lucky few who can walk across the street to our daycare provider. Since it's so close, it saves us from having to buckle the kids into the car along with all of their "gear". We just have to make two trips with our hands and arms full. Oh yeah, I can't forget the diaper bag with all necessities: diapers, wipies, "boogie" wipies (these have a saline solution which softens those crusty and hard to remove boogers), snacks, cereal mix, formula (even though he doesn't drink it, just in case), teething rings, homeopathic teething tablets, gum gel, medicine, diaper rash cream and of course the pacifier. Mind you if ANYTHING is ommitted here, all hell could break loose at any minute.
Next, because we have a mortgage, car payments, credit cards, utilities, cell phones, cable and wireless internet, (not to mention that we have to pay taxes) we go to work. We pack lunches that we can microwave because we don't have time to rub sticks together and blow on the tinder. We bring our gradebooks with us, serving the illusion that there will be time at night to grade papers. Once we get to class we put the lesson on the board, give instructions to our students along with praise and reprimands, we wait for our computers to boot up (leaving it on all night is definitely not green) and take role and enter assignments into the electronic gradebook, along with comments, seating chart changes and tardies, etc. I won't even get into all the acronyms that Maya is involved with: BTA, VAPA, and Site Council (I know it's not an acronym but it fits the bill). Later we'll attend an IEP or 504 conference.
I once read a study on stress in the workplace and it determined that the most stressful jobs involved the number of decisions that needed to be made throughout the day. Teaching and Policing were tops. Don't get me wrong, I love working with kids, molding the minds of tomorrow's workforce. It's just that they drain you slow and steady such that you don't realize it until you have a moment's peace. And they love to ask questions. "When's this due?" "Can I go to the bathroom?" "Mr. Nelson, were you a hippy?"
When we get home, we lug everything back to the Casa. Tanner needs snax and constant attention. I'm guilty of setting him in front of a good ole' Little Einsteins DVD, but I also feel guilty. You know you're not supposed to show your kid TV until they're three? I'll bet the cave children just lay on the cave floor and stared at the fire all day, chewing on a mammoth bone. They didn't have to worry about ADHD and autism back then. So I say, "Tanner, don't you want to go outside and play soccer?" And he says, "No, I wanna watch this." He doesn't even glance his glazed-over-eyeballs at me. I've fed the cats, taken out the garbage, put everything away and now I want him to go outside and play dammit. So we go outside and hit his soccer ball off the Tee. The dog needs to play fetch so I get Tanner engrossed in his sandbox and after playing catch with the dog and scooping up the poop and any children's toys that he's chewed to death, I notice that Tanner is soaked with water because he's learned how to use the faucet. So I scoop up some chow for Montana and drag Tanner inside to change his shirt so I don't have to answer anymore questions.
For our convenience, Maya makes prepackaged dinners at a restaurant without an oven called Dream Dinners. We store them in the freezer and then thaw them out a day in advance so as to be ready for the next day. They're great only you still need to be inconvenienced by that little task called cooking. And that leads to cleaning, wiping the counter, stacking and running the dishwasher, taking out the recycling, all the while paying complete and full attention to the children.
Now it's time for baths. Run the tub, find the proper soaps (lets see, baby tear free, lightning McQueen bubbles or Barney Shampoo?) Then we get a frog towel and play ribbit for awhile. Next it's time to change into jammy's and read some stories. Tanner loves stories. Just when I've finished the third or fourth and I think I'm done he says, "I wanna hear that one again daddy". One thing I wouldn't change with Caveman is the CD player in Tanner's room.
Do you want the pirate story, Simba, Frog and Toad or some classical?
Ummmmmmmm, frog and toad. Wait, baby needs to go potty!
Ok Tanner hurry up.
Daddy? Read me another story.
No Tanner, it's time for night night. He blows me a kiss and I spin around, "ouch! you got my chin!"
Do it again daddy!!
Oh, my elbow! My ear!!! You missed! OOOO my belly button! Good niiiiight.
I win so therefore I lose. All of the wonderful creations and devices that we've created for our own luxury have only served to separate us, like a polar bear adrift on the last iceberg, farther from the serenity of a warm fire, a cave, a nice mammoth chop to munch on and a wooly rug to go to sleep in.