Monday, March 2, 2009

Better than a good day at work.

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.

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