Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

California Waypoints

Loose Cannon


May 1, 2018

It’s that time of year when many of you transition from one fishery to the next. For many it will be salmon, for others, tuna, rockfish, etc. My nephew, Dan Platt passed on crab this season opting to devote time to his latest venture, Noyo Harbor Tours. In addition to developing this new business, Dan continues the black cod and the nearshore fishing for his live markets.

A boat purchase is always an exciting moment. For those just starting out with little to no experience, it’s not only exciting but downright dangerous. Ask any commercial fisherman. This is not a venture to take lightly, and yet, it is nearly irresistible.

There’s something about that first boat. Perhaps a little leaky; when dropping the poles you could’ve used four or five hands instead of two, or maybe you had to remember to tighten the whadayacallit before you switched on the thingy. Despite the shortcomings this was your first boat, and you loved her. Those memories never fade.

When Irene and I started fishing commercially we had a pretty little clipper stem Monterey. She had a pill box sized wheelhouse, which was an afterthought, and two bunks up forward under the anchor. Irene was the captain and I was the nitwit in the pit.

Upon buying the boat and before Irene joined me, I practiced dropping the poles, tying them off, putting in the floppers, etc. When I thought I was ready to join the fleet, I called Irene to go with me on our maiden voyage. She came with food and basic necessities. The next morning we followed the Fort Bragg commercial fleet in the predawn solitude with only the soft puttering engines guiding us out the harbor entrance and into the bay.

It was then I realized that I hadn’t done any practice drills in a choppy bay outside the harbor, not in the dark, and not with a lot of other boats floating around me. What came next was me sliding from side to side, swinging on the pole lines, swearing, and bruising every part of my body, legs, and arms. No deck lights back then. Little running lights bobbing nearby and then leaving us behind as boats headed out to sea. All the while, Irene was standing on the back deck watching me flail around in the darkness. It’s no surprise that at that moment she was aghast as she watched her seafaring husband struggling to stay upright.

Irene had never been on the ocean before. Until that morning, ever the cheerleader, she had never thought through what it was we were doing. She was dressed in several layers of clothing, two pairs of thick long underwear, two heavy sweaters, parka, jeans, socks, beanie, and boots. She looked like a round puffy Michelin Man, and she was shaking. It is no exaggeration to state that she believed that our chances of making it back alive on this little boat were about 15 percent. A confirmed land-lubber, she had never considered the vastness of the water under this very small, very old wood boat. She wasn’t convinced we would even see dawn. I was too busy to notice.

We did see the dawn and as time progressed we saw many more. We ventured a little farther north and south as we gained more knowledge and confidence. We fished and learned the skills needed to become successful fishermen. And we loved it.

In the ‘70’s we fished Silvers and Kings. The morning bite usually started with a Coho biting on top as we began setting our gear. So on one such typical day the Silvers were grabbing the spoons as they hit the water. It was pretty exciting fishing and as usual things got messed up around the pit. Finally I got the gear past the Silvers and made the set at eight stops fishing 24 fathoms of gear. After I put on the ring stop I leaned back and surveyed the scene. It was sort of misty on the sea surface this morning and it was cold. It was definitely colder than usual.

I started running the gear. We had three spool Hasbra gurdies port and starboard. I set two lines per side while we scouted to see if there were fish in the area. By fish I mean Kings. Silvers bite on the surface early, but it was really the Kings we were after. They were the money fish. Back then we were paid about $3.00 to $3.25 for splitters depending on the split, generally around eleven to twelve pounds. Silvers were about three to five pounds and paid maybe .58 a pound.

Fishing was slow with flashes of wild-eyed excitement. We were working the 35-fathom line off Cuffey Cove when I saw the bowline pumping. It was a nice King, fifteen pounds or so. I hauled him in and quickly reset the line. As soon as Irene saw the line set she started the turn to retrace our tack back down the 35-fathom line to scare up another splitter or two.

I used the break to get myself a sandwich and to check the fathometer. It looked promising. Back to the pit, I cleaned the fish and started running the gear. A couple of lines were dragging grass so I leaned out to shake it off with my gaff hook. Not paying attention, I knocked the handle of the heavy spool into neutral. Next thing I know my fifty-pound lead was running full bore, to the bottom. In a race to stop the runaway lead I grabbed the handle to stop it from freewheeling.

The next thing I know, I’m screaming and jumping around in the pit. I have my right hand wrapped in a bloody towel and Irene is running out of the wheelhouse to a disaster she’s not prepared for. Together we slowly unwrapped the towel covering my injured hand. It was bloody but still there.

It was then that we reckoned with what happened. When I pulled that lever to stop, the speeding lead stopped dead in its tracks, and the davit, the blocks, the springs all at once came down on my hand. The davit was bent in half. From then on every deckhand on my boat heard this story. Twice if I caught the handle sitting in neutral.

commercial fishing is not a business to take lightly.


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