The Salmon Killers - Part 6
Bob Lawless, Port Ludlow, WA
Shorty was sort of the captain of the mosquito
fleet. He was well into his eighties, but because
he had worked so hard and was so self-disciplined
that he appeared to be much younger than his age.
He was the first up every morning and would hustle
down the river and out sea before most were even
awake. He would bring his boat, a 20 footer with a
Mercury I/O, out about to the end of the jaws where
he would shut his motor off and sit and listen but
mostly sit and feel the ocean, its power, strength
If he refused to fish then no one would fish because
Shorty was never a coward. In fact, most boats were
even wary when he did fish because he often fished
quite dangerous water. But he was used for years by
others who would listen from the beds of their campers
and if he called the fishing off due to rough water,
then all the listeners would roll over in their sacks
and call it a day.
Hoarse calls (too much booze the night before) would
come over the radio. "Hey Shorty," they would say,
"What's it like out there?" Shorty would make his
report--wind, sea state, weather, visibility, current,
boats and once in a while he would even report the bite.
"Got two already," says Shorty," one's over twenty pounds
Then you could hear engines coughing everywhere and
a line of boats would file down the river and out to
sea. The day would begin even though it was still
dark. I was one of these boats and I was always
filled with apprehension because you never knew
what danger might lie ahead. It could be that there
was not enough water in the river because of a low
tide. Then you might hit bottom and break a propeller
or you could become grounded and have to wait for high
tide to get you off. Or the sea state might be much
worse than Shorty had reported. You might lose power
in the jetty or the jaws and things could get real
hairy, real quick.
Once at sea, you might break a pole (these booms of
a sort were twenty-five feet in length and were
usually cut from straight slender trees). My own
poles were made from pole vault poles and were about
24 ft. in length. They were made of fiber glass and
quite strong and impervious to the salt water. These
booms or poles when properly rigged to set out the
wires from the boat, allowed you to fish a swath of
60 feet or more. You might hook your wires (600 pound
test stainless steel) on the bottom and tear everything
up. You might collide with another boat if it was foggy
which it often was. You could fall in the water and your
boat (always on automatic pilot) would fish away from
you, leaving you alone, beginning the process of
hypothermia, resulting in death by exhaustion, your
body trembling too long in the cold water.
Shorty was much admired by everyone and often he
would be highliner (caught the most fish) and he
would have bragging rights as a result. When I was
fishing well, he was always around me, darting here
and there. When I couldn't get a bite, Shorty was
no where to be found. Sometimes I would just go
looking for him and then fish. You never asked over
the radio for someone to tell his location. It just
wasn't done. If you did, there would be no answer.
Finding Shorty could often be difficult because he
ranged far and wide, sometimes thirty or more miles
from the port.
He fished alone and called for a tow only once in my
twelve years of fishing. I pulled him in and I thought
it was an honor of sorts. I had rescued the captain.
Myself, I was towed more times than I care to admit.
It was somewhat of a disgrace to be towed because it
spoke of poor seamanship. Why did you break down? How
come you were not prepared for whatever it was that
had broken? Shame on you!
The little German, Shorty, was often seen swinging
wrenches on his motor or tending to this and that. He
never relaxed, always fighting the ravages of the sea,
the salt, the power of the waves. He was an excellent
example to us all. ~ BOBLAWLESS
Lighter Side Archive