by Christian Johansen
Prince William Sound, Alaska. We’d left weeks ago, skirting close to the inlets and bays as we searched for jumpers, the sign of active schools below. It is summer. We are at work. It is salmon season. Korry and I compete with the other fishermen for the spot, for the catch, for the paycheck, for the pride. No boat can rival ours. We are the best fishermen in the Sound.
We set anchor the night before, a little cove deep in the Eshamy District. The evening carries on as usual. Rice, corn, a little teriyaki, a few big slabs of sockeye caught earlier that afternoon, and of course, at least two or three Rain-dogs to cleanse the pallet in between bites to wash it all down. The XM Radio rings clear in the background, pulsating a loop of the same top twenty songs that have been playing for the past week. Korry and I rarely grow tired of these soon to be timeless jams, and both quietly revel in the fact that we know the lyrics to each and every song, down to the last “Hey ho”. We don’t change the station. We make our way through our evening morsel, and on into bedtime. That morning had marked the end of a 60-hour opener over at Coghill. The afternoon anchor after a long crossing to Eshamy, and the prospect of an early bunk is a welcome notion.
After scrubbing the totes, the fish holds, and taking a little swim in the not so tepid waters, we make a final gear check: ensuring the bibs are hung, gloves are turned inside out and warming by the small propane stove, and an acceptably slight amount of fish scales are clinging to our Xtra-Tuf boots. A bit of extra love is added to the fire to get us through the night, and Korry and I crawl into our bunks.
We are not the only one’s in the bay, however. The rumors of the vast number of Cohos allegedly swarming in the waters beneath due to the two week closure in the district have brought the fleets Copper River, Trident, and even Peter Pan to the small bay in full compliment. Bow pickers line the coast, marking their territory for the seven Anti Meridiem opening the next morning. The Russians are in attendance as well for just to our East, ready to cut us off if our locale proves a healthier option, is Rasputin, the aluminum jetter with whom we’d had a confrontation with the day before.
A feeling of excitement hangs in the air, accompanied with the fishy smell of anticipation for a fat cash out from several thousand pounds of even fatter gills. This excitement is certainly shared on the Easy Goin’, as she and her two sons drift off into a well-needed stupor.
The next day will bring far more than salmon to the surface.
6:15. The alarm chimes. 6:19, and our morning cup of Raven’s Brew Three Peckered Billy Goat is French pressed to perfection. 6:25 and our breakfast of Nature Valley’s finest assortment of Oats, Honey, Sweet, and Salty prepares us for the day ahead. Bibs on at 6:30, and on deck to prep. 6:58, buoys in place, and at 6:59 I stand poised at the bow, ready to throw.
The clock strikes 7am, and the roar of the surrounding engines is tumultuous, as smoke billows into the crisp morning sky and each salt both young and old tries to set his net faster than the other. The small cove is a tangle of gillnets and purses, gear is strewn about the depths like a patchwork of hanging curtains woven in and amongst each other, stretching 50 fathoms to the depths.
Yet while the fishermen have shown up in droves, it seems the salmon didn’t get the memo. The rumors, that had been so promising a few short hours before have proven to be no more than lore, as bow pickers haul in measly thirty fish sets and seiners purse only a couple hundred pounds.
Korry and I keep our noses to the grind stone, pounding out set after set as we try to make the best of what is turning out to be one of the poorest days to date.
Suddenly though, a commotion to our stern causes us to pause. We shift our attention to discover the source of the racket and see nothing. Until…
FWOOM! From the depths, a great mass breaches the surface, it’s blowhole spouting a geyser of water into the air before the creature slides back beneath the surface. Trapped amongst the nets of a hundred frustrated vessels, a grey whale has made its way into the cove. Frightened, it turns and wheels, trying to find it’s way out of the entanglement of gear and line. It tears through one net, and then another and another as it breaches and submerges. By now, all fishing has come to a standstill for every man’s eyes and attentions are now turned to the leviathan in the depths that seeks so desperately to find freedom…
 To the novice, a.k.a. Rainier beer, the finest of Ales in the Pacific Northwest.