Lighter Side

What is life if there is not laughter? Welcome to the lighter side of flyfishing! We welcome your stories here!
March 24th, 2003

The Salmon Killers - Part 6
Bob Lawless, Port Ludlow, WA

The Captain

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 and anger.

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 I guess."

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

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