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Friday, May 20, 2011

Fishing just for the halibut

It was daylight on the water.  
A dark headland loomed above the port bow. 
Ahead there was a narrow inlet squeezed in by a low sand spit to the starboard. 
We were at the mouth of Sequim Bay. Formerly the site of a Clallam village first described by Vancouver in 1792. The Clallam caught whales stranded inside Washington Harbor until whaling stations in Victoria and Aberdeen put an end to the practice. 
Later, an actor the Indians called “The Duke” anchored up in Sequim Bay. That was John Wayne. 
He had a yacht named the Wild Goose that he used to fish the Strait with from Sequim to Neah Bay. He donated the ground for a marina on Sequim Bay, which is about the fanciest fishing facility I have ever saw. 
The restrooms at the John Wayne Marina are like a trip to the day spa where you can turn on the hot water and let the cares of the world wash away no matter how hard they beat on the door. 
Be aware, the restroom is only open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. so you might have to make other plans. 
You can't expect to sleep in till six in the morning and expect to catch a fish, especially not a halibut in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. 
The place was packed with more than $1 million worth of fancy boats trying to back down a two lane ramp that was paved all the way down in to the water. 
Compared to the way I launch my boat, lowering the poor thing off a cliff with a chunk of crab line, this was the Indy 500 of fishing. 
I had to catch a halibut. And not just any halibut.  I needed one big enough to win the fishing grudge match of the century. I'm not one of those psychos that has to catch a bigger fish to secure my own feelings of self-worth, no.
 My old editor, Jeff Chew, was on another charter boat fishing for halibut. The honor of the fleet demanded I catch a bigger fish. 
Deep sea fishing for halibut is not for everyone. You have to enjoy the rhythm of the pounding waves with the icy spray of salt water in your face and the smells of the sea and diesel and oil exhaust churning the greasy breakfast burrito and  battery acid coffee in your gut while you try to convince yourself and others in the same boat that you've never been seasick. 
After a pounding ride that took about a century we stopped at the secret halibut hole. The secret must have been out because there were plenty of other boats there. 
I let out line, a fish prayer, gave my fish call, chummed, meanwhile I was still letting out line. As luck would have it I got a bite just as soon as my gear hit the bottom. It took a while to reel that big halibut in. 
We had the harpoon and a riot gun loaded with buckshot ready to subdue the beast but I had to  get it to the surface first. 
Once I saw the fish however, I knew I could never harm such a beautiful creature.  
Then after a quick picture and congratulations we released the trophy for some other lucky angler to catch another day. 
That's what fishing means to me — giving back to others while humiliating your fancy friends in their big fancy charter boats. 
The air was sweet with revenge on the way back to John Wayne Marina. 
It was good to be alive.

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