SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

But at least the weather was nice



May 28, 2015
Thursday PM

Ketchikan, Alaska -
This past week, about 1,276 people asked me if I was going fishing in “the Derby.”

jpg  Dave Kiffer

Now being a world wise sort, my first thought was “they allow fishing during the Kentucky Derby? “

Don’t all those lines get in the way of the horses?????

I don’t want some little short guy in colored silks whipping me because I ain’t reeling the line in fast enough and we’re already at the three-quarter pole!!!!

But seriously fisher folks, I understand that for many Wetnecks, Memorial Day weekend has nothing to do with memorials, or even that extra day off from work, school or sobriety.

It means getting the skiff (and by skiff, I mean any watercraft smaller than the Malaspina) hull wet, the lines in the water and the cooler packed with more potent potables than bait herring.

The answer, of course, was no. I was not planning to fish in the Derby.

The snarky side of me naturally wanted to remind everyone that my father – to whom fishing was indeed life or death – always thought of Derby Days the same way he thought of New Year’s Eve: Amateur Hour. Serious fishermen, like serious drinkers, were out doing it 24/7, seven days a week, not just on special socially appropriate holidays.

Of course, that’s not fair to the recreational fisherman (someone my father had little sympathy for). Recreational fishermen have just as much a right, constitutionally,to the resources in our great state of British Petroleum/Conoco Phillips, ooops, I mean Our Great State of Alaska.

It’s just that in Dad’s commercial fisherman mindset, the weekend warriors were an annoyance, at best, and someone who took food off our table, at worst.

So a fishing derby, any fishing derby was something to be avoided at all costs and that’s how I was raised.

Except when the old man thought he could “mess” with the Derby hopefuls. I have already described the year he double-kinged the Derby hopefuls on the last day, but it is worth a brief recap.

One lovely June day in the early 1970s, we were trolling on the back side of Gravina, surrounded by dozens of those cute little sport fishers, jigging in and out of our path. Every so often we would have to break from our “drag” to avoid some small “puker” skiff wallowing in our way. As usual, Dad was pissed.

Then we trolled into a bit of luck, first we hooked and landed a Derby sized king, in the 60 plus pound range. Then about an hour later we landed its partner, one in the upper 50s. Usually, Dad would have had me clean and ice them in the hatch immediately, he hated anyone else seeing we had good luck.

But this time, he had me hang them from the boom, so all the sport fishers could see as we continued to troll slowly around.

Of course, the joke was on us.

Either of the salmon would have won the Derby that year and we were looking forward to getting around $150 for each fish as red mild cure king was then going for around $2.20 a pound.

But both kings were “white” instead. Which was around 70 cents a pound at that point. So the fish were worth about a third of what they could have been.

Still, Dad had the satisfaction of thumbing his nose at the folks from amateur hour.

Now, not every member of our family had an issue with the Derby. My grandma, Gladys, loved to take her little skiff and compete every year. She never won the Special Derby Days, but she did win the seasonal derby they had on those years (back when you could actually fish for king salmon for longer than eight hours each summer) twice.

And I have to admit that, I, son of a troller, actually did take part in two salmon derbies in my life.

The first was with Gram when I was in Junior High. Gram, as usual, caught around a 30 pounder.

But I also hooked a king that was considerably larger than 30 pounds, Might even had won the derby. If we had landed more than its head.

Just about an hour or so before the closing cannon shot, I hooked what we first thought was either a halibut or the earth. The pole did a distinct dip toward the center of the earth like it was snagged on a major obstruction.

But then it began moving slowly, dragging the skiff with us. Gram felt the line and just said “big one.”

Then I commenced the reeling. And the reeling. And the reeling.

Accustomed as I was to gurdies and hydraulics, this “reeling in” thing was “reely” a pain.

But, after was seemed like a couple of weeks, whatever it was got to near the surface. It finally broke the water about 15 fathoms behind the boat. Gram squinted and proclaimed it “upper 60s.”

I was really excited and then I heard a whoosh of air and saw two killer whales converging on my catch. Violating all Fish and Game rules, Gram grabbed the rifle she always kept on the skiff and fired several shots at them, but missing.

Anyway, by the time they were through dining, we were left with a remarkably large salmon head on the end of the line. I bet the head itself weighed 20 pounds.

The only other time I joined the Derby was back in the early 1980s when I left an old high school friend talk me into going out in his “skiff” for one of the days.

I was working for the local newspaper at the time and I thought it would make a fun story, even though I would rather have watched paint dry than bob around in an open skiff all day.

Anyway, my friend, Vinny Flatulino (so NOT his real name) was another one of my hard drinking acquaintances. Actually, the more I think about it “hard drinking acquaintances” is redundant. This was Ketchikan. All my acquaintances were hard drinking. But I digress.

At any rate, Vinnie was the perfect companion except for one thing. Beer made him gassy. And the quantities of beer that he drank made him really, really, really gassy.

That was probably why he asked me to go along with him. His closer acquaintances had clearly decided close skiff quarters with Vinnie was not a good thing.

I, on the hand, thought differently. Since it was outdoors, how bad could it be??

Pretty bad, it so turned out.

I have never seen Clover Pass day that was ever that calm, before or since. It was sooo calm that the only ripple on the waves was a ripple being caused by a butterfly on a mountaintop in Africa, 10,000 miles away.

I swear that if someone in Japan had dropped a chopstick that day, we would have seen the ripple in Clover Pass.

But they apparently didn’t and we didn’t.

It was calm. Dead Calm. Double Dog Dead Calm.

And Vinnie, after protesting loudly that he was “off the sauce” and never boated inebriated anymore, had cleared “topped off his tank” before arriving at Knudsen Cove.

After we got to his “secret spot” and dropped our lines in the water, he curled up in the bow of the boat and dozed off.

Just to say, anyone who says that people don’t pass gas in their sleep, (and I once saw a scientific study that “proved” this) has never spent several hours with Vinnie in a boat.

Even when I “gassed” the engine a bit to try to create a breeze it didn’t do much to dissipate the aroma which permeated the skiff. You would have thought we had an overripe dead fish on board.

Which we didn’t because, we never got a bite, not even a nibble.

In fact, I doubt that a king salmon passed within a hundred yards of our lures. Thank God, we didn’t have a graph meter on board. We would have wasted a huge roll of paper recording absolutely nothing.

Of course it wasn’t just us.

That particular day nearly the entire Clover Pass Derby fleet was skunked. But we were treated the presence of one of the biggest Orca pods we had ever seen. Cruising back and forth across Behm Canal like it was the revenge of my then departed father still “messing” with the amateurs.

And no doubt still looking for that other king Gram had on the line.

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