It’s 3:00 a.m. and I know we have to be up in two hours to start getting ready to fish.
The familiar sounds of the ocean and seagulls are drowned out by the incessant partying of some overzealous newcomers to Alaska. I slowly unzip my sleeping bag just enough to decipher that the guy in the pop-up trailer next door wants to know if the women camping further down the beach would like to join him and his new best friends from Maine for another night-cap “since it’s still light out, man!” I nudge my dog lying next to me and whisper that it is “time to go out.” I reckon that a quick trip to the restroom (and a deliberate glare) will quiet them down and let us fishermen get our beauty rest.
Lago (my Labrador retriever) and I make it there and back in under 3 minutes, eager to enjoy the warmth in the tent a little longer. No surprise that my husband is standing outside waiting for us on our return. His presence does more to quiet our neighbors than our quick trip to the loo, so I am grateful our little excursion woke him up too. We nestle, admiring the beauty of the Homer spit, leave our Extra-Tuff boots outside, and crawl back into our tent to catch another hour or so before dawn. I easily nod off to the rhythmic breathing of our son and daughter, longing for the days when I, too, could sleep through anything.
The second awakening is ironically more difficult. After several minutes of contemplating a “respite-day” in my sleeping bag, I get up, get dressed, and enjoy some girl-talk with a group of women from Sweden in the ladies’ room. Through our Crest smiles, we exchange stories of spectacular sunsets around the world. Needless to say, Alaska has now made the top of their list. We promise to meet up again at the end of the day to tell halibut stories around the campfire.
By now, my husband and son have already taken our 29’ landing craft down to the harbor and loaded it into the water.
My daughter and I await a text saying that it is time to meet them at the dock and load up. We head down with our backpacks, two dogs, and food and water for the day. The boat is already stocked with life vests, safety gear, fishing equipment, and more. As I approach the boat, I smile as people passing by try to figure out the name of our boat: “Yaaruin,” meaning “story knife” in Yugtun (Yup’ik Eskimo). I privately thank God for the opportunity to carve out another Alaskan memory for the family. We load up and glide our way out of the no-wake zone to open waters. It is time to catch some fish!
One of my favorite times on our boat, regardless of whether we’re going moose hunting down the Yukon River, or halibut fishing in Kachemak Bay, is the actual trip time. With the cabin door open to welcome the ocean spray, my daughter and I cozy up on one of the bench seats to discuss sea-hair and wishes for an epic halibut catch one day. What a selfie that would be to post on Instagram! I also smile as I watch my son pull a chair to the bow of the boat to watch for photo-ops as he gets the tackle ready. Time slows down as we take turns captaining the boat to our favorite fishing spot. With each of us knowing our roles and responsibilities for each stage of the trip, the actual travel time is an opportunity to relax a little. We stop to take pictures of pods of otters and to marvel at the beauty of the area.
Once at our fishing spot, there is more work to do. We throw the anchor and let down our lines, making sure the poles are weighted and baited with herring or hooligans. The beauty of halibut fishing is that when you’re in the right spot, there isn’t much waiting around. More oft than not one of the kids yells, “I have something!” before all of the poles are in the water.
With a daily limit of two per person, we’re generally blessed with pulling our limit every time we go out – sometimes within the first 1-2 hours of fishing. With the waters calm and the weather cooperating, I let my line bounce on the ocean floor while listening to the kids jokingly complain about their reeling arms as they catch and release Irish Lords, and small codfish in hopes of landing a good-sized halibut. Once time becomes an issue, we fill the cooler with the blessings of the ocean and head back in.
Back in the harbor and at the dock, the next stage of labor (albeit a labor of love) begins.
It is time to haul up the gear and fish to the cleaning station and pull the boat out of the water. Once parked and ready to clean our catch, we set up our own version of a “slime-line”. One person cleans and guts the fish, another person de-heads and cuts out the halibut cheeks, another filets, and another packages the filetsto put on ice in the coolers.
While the town of Homer does a wonderful job of providing fishermen with the resources to clean their catch, I still chuckle at the tourists who stand around taking pictures of our processing system, asking questions like:
“Who caught that one?”
“What will you do with it?”
“Do you eat that part?”
If it is our last fishing trip of the season and I am feeling a little “salty”, I might address one of the kids in Yugtun and let them interpret. “Assillruuq.” (It’s good.)
The last night in camp is always bittersweet. By now we’re ready for our own beds back home and for a decent shower; however, those luxuries are easily forgotten or put on hold as our new beach-neighbors invite us over to their campfire to hang out. We grab some dried salmon strips we brought from home, a six-pack, and head on over. It is going to be a long night of halibut stories.