#43 Fishing with Todd
September 28th, 2015
There are some days which nestle comfortably within memory, days which are gems, touched with magic and filled with quiet contentment.
Yesterday was such a day.
I wasn’t sure we were going to get away from the boat launch. Todd said I was to handle the truck, back it until he yelled “stop.” Then wait for him to yell “go” and drive back out of the chuck, to wait in the parking lot for him. I had visions of me continuing in reverse until the bed of the pickup was awash. But it went slick as spit, the boat was launched, the pickup parked, and we were off down the inlet.
The sea was flat calm, the sky blue, the sun warm, and we were hardly on our way and we saw two enormous California sea lions. Their fur was a golden-tinged brown, and I am convinced both of them were bigger than our boat. They are not a handsome creature, there is something implacable and unrelenting in their gaze and their faces are the stuff from which nightmares are constructed. And yet there is no other word to describe them but beautiful. They move gracefully and easily, and can cut through the water with surprising speed. Given even half a chance, they would quite gladly eat us.
Not five minutes later, Todd slowed the boat to a mere crawl and we gaped in wonder as a humpback whale approached, and passed so close to us I could see barnacles on her tail. Todd grabbed his camera, all I could do was watch and think, “Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.” She was blowing often, sending a fine spray high in the air, making a “whoof” sound which carried across the water and was what first alerted us to her presence. I think she was just having fun, just enjoying the sunshine and having her version of a Sunday drive. She swam past us, her eye I’m sure was bigger than my head, and I know she saw us. She was neighbourly enough to give us a good view of the iconic tail, and I could hear Todd’s camera clicking away. I was feasting my eyes. People have committed such atrocities against whales and yet they haven’t responded with vengeful attacks, they don’t charge as soon as they see us, they aren’t smashing boats and busting up docks.
We watched until she was out of sight, then moved on to drop prawn traps. The damned line got fouled and there we were with one hundred feet of blue nylon rope twisted into an absolute witches’ tangle. Todd has far more patience than I have. I’d have hauled out a knife. But no—so what if it took more than an hour? We managed to unsnarl the mess, get the traps placed, and not gnaw each others’ throats to shreds.
I don’t have a fishing license, I don’t get out in a boat often enough to justify getting one. Fishing, to me, is a good way to wreck a lovely boat ride. I’m not keen on car rides, I don’t like plane rides, but I doubt I will ever tire of a boat ride.
Todd trolled for salmon for a while but most of them have headed either up-river to spawn or further out than Todd’s small Boston whaler can safely go. No luck at all trying for salmon so we went to a cod hole and he jigged for bottomfish. First one he got was a shades-of-brown young cod, probably bigger than the legal size limit but he turned it loose with a promise to see it again in a year or two. The next one was the most startling red-orange (or orange-red), so brilliantly hued it looked neon, and easily take-home sized, but Todd said it was too beautiful to be turned into fish ‘n’ chips, so he let it go, as well.
There are trees along the shoreline which carry the history of this coast in their gnarled shapes. One of them caught my attention. I looked at her and thought of the Roman army setting out to defeat Gaul, thought of her surviving hurricane-force storms when the Inquisition was terrorizing the poor. She is still standing because of what she has survived. She is so gnarled, so twisted, so sculpted by battering waves and ripping winds that she is “worth” bugger-nothing to the logging industry. You wouldn’t get a straight grained board out of her but oh-my-gawd she is beautiful. The moss growing on her boughs has to be nearly a foot thick, and ferns grow out of it.
A kingfisher perched on a branch and smashed the quiet with her opinion of people, especially those bobbing in small craft and jigging in her bay.
And then Todd caught something. A couple of times I half-expected the rod would snap. Todd fought the thing and I peered into the water, trying to see if he’d hooked a fish or a sunken ship. And then there it was. There isn’t much in the world more beautifully ugly than a ling cod. Head on it like a basketball. It was furious, tail writhing, fins moving and I was reaching for the landing net when, instead of thrashing it’s tail, it did this thing with its head and… shook the hook.
Silence in the Boston whaler. No need for the landing net. Todd reeled in his lure, examined his hook, and, finally, spoke, very quietly. “Well,” he said, “that’s one that got away.” Then he grinned, as excited as if he had actually landed it. “Did you see it! Did you see the size of that thing!” He hollered at it to go have a million babies.
We had a Ginger Ale then, and watched a young black bear picking his careful way over the bare rocks, moving very slowly, just doing his bear thing. Todd grabbed his camera and it click-click-clicked. The kingfisher was still holding forth and I decided it was the bird version of Conrad Black, who will never be pontiff but certainly pontificates.
The waves lapped against the side of the boat and the bit of technological wonderfulness that is the fish finder and depth meter—and who knows what-all else—made its annoying pinging sounds. Each ping is supposed to signify a decent-sized fish which meant that somewhere in the 180 feet of water beneath us, there were scads of fish. None in the boat, though.
On the way home we stopped to watch the California sea lions. They had found fish. They don’t actually bite or eat what they catch, they shake-and-break it, throw it, slam it onto the water then gobble at the hunks, chunks, bits and pieces. Gulls swarm around them, jousting for scraps and if they get too close, too cheeky, the sea lion lunges at them, and the whole mad pack rises, as if lifted by the very noise they are making.
The water was still flat calm, the sun had gone behind the peaks, twilight was rising from the chuck as we made our way back. The blood moon had pulled the tide so low there was no hope of getting the boat onto the trailer so we tied up at the Maquinna dock and unloaded the gear and stuff into one of the little wagons. Of course the bugger had a flat tire, but that’s okay, it had three others which worked fine.