Chapter Five: The Schematics of Fishing

A fishing boat is a beautiful thing. They are hardy, compact, and built for one thing, catching fish. I was lucky enough that I got the opportunity to fish on an older boat, a 1936 “trawler”. But despite the age or size of the boat, they have a lot of common denominators.

On the front of the boat, or bow, there is the anchor, and not much else. Then there is the wheelhouse in the front quarter of the boat, and as the name implies, it is where the wheel is. Also there are your radar, sonogram, CB radio, a small galley to cook, and the steps down into the fo’csle or “fore castle”, the “cabin” beneath the bow where the bunks are. Your bunk is tiny, and if you are lucky, you may have a few tiny “cubbyholes” for your clothing and personal items.

Back up on top, right behind the wheelhouse, there is the deck in the center of the boat, and it has a hatch. Down below decks, down the hatch, is your “hold”, it is where there are large “bins” full of chopped ice, and that is where you pack the fish once they are cleaned. It sucks in the hold. It is very cold down there.

Behind the deck, in the stern, is a cleaning table; it is two 2x4s set at an angle, so one can put a fish in there and clean it easier. And at the very end of the boat is the “troll pit”. And this is where you may spend a large amount of your day. It IS a “pit”, a box- like container that you climb down into, and in it are all sorts of gear. On either side of the troll pit are lines strung across the end of the box, and on these are strung many hooks and lines, all set very specifically. Also in the pit, are your gaff and other assorted items, such as small hand nets and things you may need.

On either side of the wheelhouse, there are long, upright poles and they are called “jigs”. The purpose of the jigs, is to set your lines into the water. When they are needed, they are lowered down like wings off the side of the boat. Once lowered, they resemble a wide “V” shape. At the top of the jigs are springs, not unlike the springs on an old bed. They are very tightly coiled, and they are attached to lines that lead down to the gurneys, at the rear of the boat, next to the troll pit. The gurneys are “cups” for the weights run by hydraulics. In each cup there is a weight, one is 2.5 lbs, one is 5 lbs, and one is 7 lbs. Some boats running larger sets will have larger weights. But as it was, the boat I am referring to was only 36’ in length, and not real deep.

Picture a pound of butter, now double and a half of that, now you know the weight of the smallest lead weight in the cup.

Generally, when running out to fish, the Captain is in the wheelhouse, warm and drinking his coffee, while the deckhand is in the troll pit, freezing their ass off, and getting the gear ready to drop. Under the troll pit is a bucket of herring in a very salty brine. This is to keep them as fresh as possible. Herring are about four to six inches in length, but we pick through them to find the longest. These are then strung onto hooks that are about six inches in length, and the flat end of the hook is fed through the herring, then put onto a “snap”, a figure eight snap.

At this point I should tell you what kind of hell we are talking about. Figure eight snaps are very difficult to un-snap and snap. They are made of steel, and are designed to NOT come apart easily. And they have a tendency to cut into your skin until you develop a nice callous on your index finger. But while you are learning to unsnap them, you have to stick your hands into that very salty, icy, cold brine, about a million times in a day. The burning sensation in your open cuts is indescribable. If you have ever cut your finger while slicing a tomato, then gotten some of the tomato juice into the cut, you have a slight inkling of what it feels like. Now add some salt into that wound. You are almost there!

So, we are now slowly leaving the harbor, and once we hit the harbor mouth, the Captain revs up the engine, and away we go. I am in the troll pit setting the hooks, and placing the lines in careful rows. The Captain lets me know when he wants me to lower the jigs. As we are running, we always run a “tag line” and a “whiskey line”. The tag line is generally on the port bow, and the whiskey line comes off the back of the hatch box, in the middle of the boat. This is just to “draw” the fish, but I never really got the point of that while Salmon fishing; it wasn’t until I was Albacore fishing that it made sense.

At any rate, once we get close to the spot where we will fish most of the day, we drop the jigs. Then comes the “fun” part. The hooks need to go into the water, and I am ready. I push up on the first handle of the hydraulic lift, and it is the 7 lb weight that I swing out a bit once it is lifted from the cup. The heaviest must go down first, as it goes the deepest. As I lower it into the ocean, I grab the first line and clip, ready to snap it to the leader. A leader is a spot on the line that “stops” the hook from going past that spot. It is clipped into place, and they are all spaced apart in equal lengths. They take some time to place, but you really have to pay attention while you get them all on the main line.

This is why it is so important how they are wound onto the line when they are put away, so that they unwind smoothly as they go onto the main line. If one of your lines gets tangled while you are feeding them onto the main line, then you have to stop the whole process to untangle it. That is time consuming, and just not how it is done! There is a methodology to all this, and it has worked for many long, "fishy" years.

Ok, once your lines are on, you continue with each weight until all your gear is in the water. By then, the sun should be coming up. Oh, did I forget to mention that you are doing all this in the dark??? Of course you have a lantern, but it is dark all around you. The fish come up to feed first thing in the morning, and if you are lucky, during the day, then again at dusk. Once all the gear is on, the Captain fires up the boat again, and we begin to troll (or “trawl”, but we who fish call it “trolling” as you are moving pretty slow, like a troll. Lol) up and down a long path.

While I jump out to start breakfast, the Captain gets in the pit and watches the jigs for any signs of “hits” on the jigs. I make breakfast, and he sits on his ass and drinks coffee. Well, actually, you aren’t “sitting”, you are standing, but you can sit up on the edge of the pit if you can find a way to do that without hurting your butt! The rail around the pit is only about three inches wide, and that doesn’t make for a very good seat.

Next time, Chapter Six: Cooking on the boat, and other nonsense

© Copyright 2006 Jennifer George All rights reserved.
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