Lighter Side

What is life if there is not laughter? Welcome to the lighter side of flyfishing! We welcome your stories here!
February 17th, 2003

The Salmon Killers - Part 2
Bob Lawless, Port Ludlow, WA

So who are these people? What follows now is just an overview of the Salmon Killers, some generalizations about their ethnicity, their culture, education, ambition, experience, and so forth. You just can't roll everybody into one ball but you can try.

And so here it goes. I've heard them called Oakies, poor white trash, Grapes of Wrath stuff. Scum. But this is not entirely true. Not everyone had a cracker accent. In fact they were so diverse that it is difficult to say much here, but, of course, it would be nice to know about whom we are talking. Rather than attach some labels, we should try to find some common qualities.

They were all brave (you just can't face the ocean if you are a coward). They were all tough (the job is often brutal, calling for strength and endurance). They were mostly quite tuned in to the whole scene: they could navigate, run all sorts of electrical gear, repair most anything and do it at sea, smell salmon a mile a way, stay awake from dark of dawn to dark of night, fight well, talk big, and be contemptuous of anybody who was not on the "inside." They were afraid of the ocean; always thinking that this trip might be their last. They loved their boats; many times this affection would exceed the love they had for their wives.

They hated a lot of people and things: environmentalists or biologists or game wardens or government officials or anyone who had any education or held any position of authority. Few of them ever made it through high school, let alone college. I can say I met dozens of the killers and yet I never met an educated man. They despised people of learning. They had "experience" and that was all that mattered. "Book learnin ain't for nothin," they would often say.

They were mostly loners who didn't say much-kept to themselves. Even at sea, they would seldom talk to the crew, but would choose instead to go study the charts or check the equipment. There is a famed loneliness about the sea and they would take their cues from this: lonely men in lonely places, quietly dying from being so alone.

They were never wealthy. While their boats may have cost hundreds of thousands, it was the bank who owned the boats, not them. They owned next to nothing. They would fish when they could and then live on welfare or unemployment for the rest of the year. Maybe they might cut some firewood for a few unreported bucks. But they worked on their boats nearly every day. Always this or that, a little improvement here or there until the winter passed. Some had herring permits and due to the design of their vessel, they could get in close on the rocks and scoop up the herring which would be stripped of their roe and then sent to Japan for the New Year. They made so much money at this that they never liked to talk about it for fear it would end. But only a few had these permits.

Most of them were young. You have to be young to put up with this life. Anyone old would have figured out a way to get anyplace else but here. Yet, there was sort of a rank and file. Newbies never owned anything, just worked as crew or did clean up and other nasty jobs. Then they would get a boat, any boat. You have to start somewhere. You moved up. A bigger boat was always a time of celebration. Unless you had a boat of at least 36 feet, you were not taken seriously; you were not a part of the fleet. Those who had less length than that were known as the mosquito fleet. That was my fleet.

Mosquitoes are annoying little insects that are always trying to bite you, preferably on the fingers where the itching will be horrible. "Damn nuisance," they would say of us. "Us," I use here because I was a mosquito man. And it is about mosquito men that I know the most.

NEXT: the mosquitoes. Comments or criticisms are always welcome, whether positive or negative. ~ BOBLAWLESS

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