By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter
My favorite ocean captains resemble football coaches. They are full of the inspiring mangled quotes and near heart-attack enthusiasm that make fishing about catching. They can get away with saying things that can’t be said in the office because, “80 percent of the people that die in the water don’t make it back.”
It’s the authority of skill that makes everything these captains do and say a part of the salt. It’s never been reassuring to me that a charter boat captain has a degree in seafaring or psychology. What reassures me in any leader, and a captain is surely a leader, is that when they say, “Get ready,” I get ready. I don’t always know exactly what they mean, but I’m sure instructions will follow.
We were fishing for halibut and noticed a ball of bait fish attracting gulls a hundred yards off. “Better get down a salmon rod,” the captain said. There were three captains on this boat — the technical captain and boat’s owner, a river guide, which is a kind of captain depending on his grit, and the captain of a charter boat who was fishing his day off. It was the charter boat captain who suggested we get the salmon rod. Because it was a good idea and because he couldn’t stop captaining a boat despite whose boat it was, he seemed to be the captain of the captains. In my mind he was the captain.
I didn’t pay much attention as the downrigger was set up toward the back of the deck and line let down. We had been catching halibut, but it had been a slow morning. When the salmon rod went down, I went for it. I don’t remember the sequence of where my halibut rod ended up or if I handed it off. All that happened next was a fight with a fish that was nothing like yarding one up from the bottom on 80-pound test. It wasn’t a king salmon, either. Nobody had to guess and everyone knew. It was a halibut.
“He’s over here.” The river guide pointed to where the fish broke the surface 20 yards behind the boat. The halibut had run on me three times. I held the rod, just waiting for room to reel. “He’s 40 or 50,” the river guide had said when it started. “What’s your guesstimate?” At the surface, the guess changed to 50 to 60 pounds. I held the rod upright as the halibut swayed on the surface. It had been 20 minutes and my arm shook against the rod. “Don’t run,” I thought. When he let up I reeled. “Just don’t run.”