Fishing Green: Last Season Aboard the Nerka

Posted by on April 21, 2013 in Commercial Fishing, F/V Nerka, Hooked Favorites, Salmon Trolling, Women in Fishing | 10 comments

There’s something about last summer that I never told you.

Remember this August post, when I shared little glimpses into the first few days of our king salmon opening? And one of those glimpses was that Joel’s hands were giving him terrible, knuckles-of-ground-up-glass grief? And that you never heard what happened next, despite a cliffhanger ending and an assurance that I’d pick up the story on a later date?

Sorry about that, friends.

We did indeed claw our way through that nine day king opening. Back in Sitka, Joel went to the doctor, got some meds that didn’t sit too well with either of us. Over the following 15 day coho trip, every day – every hour – involved a reassessment of his well-being and what we should do, waffling between the confident “I feel good today, I think I’m fine,” to the cautionary “What if we really land on ‘em in the next king opening?”

You know that Joel and I are pretty attached to having the Nerka to ourselves. (And Bear, of course.) Optimistically “cozy” for the two of us, I can’t imagine life in the tiny cabin’s earlier incarnation: husband, wife, two energetic little kids, deckhand. When we finally admitted that we might have to hire a third person, we talked not about which dream troll deckhands we knew – they were all taken, anyway – but who we’d be willing to live with.

“What about Betsy?” one of us said.

“Yes!” the other enthused. That our friend Betsy had never been trolling seemed completely irrelevant. We knew her as an uber-competent, hard-working, conscientious, full-hearted and utterly delightful human – who also happened to be a professionally trained, fantastic cook.

We were both convinced. But Betsy and her partner Devon run a fuel tank cleaning business. How could she go fishing?

Trolling into a pocket of cell service, we called to ask, just in case.

Joel’s hurt? Sure, we’ll make it work.

Receiving such selfless love can be blinding. How did we get so lucky to have friends like these?

I didn’t tell you any of this at the time because I’m bad about continuing a storyline I wanted you to hear it from a different perspective. As a fisherman and a writer who writes about being a fisherman, I think a lot about how to translate experiences that are second nature to me, in ways that invite Hooked’s many landlocked readers into a foreign world. In some instances, like this unfinished business from last summer, I’m not the best person for the task.

Betsy, Scrubbing

But this woman is.

Luckily, Betsy is a great storyteller, and just posted a reflection on her time aboard the Nerka. I’m grateful for her time aboard and her willingness to relive it all on the page, and am delighted to share it with you now. Enjoy this snippet, with link to the full read below:

A fine spray of salt sea and fresh rain misted my face as I retched carrot cake-flavored Clif bar over the rail. Remorse washed through me. Not shame, though the shame of being so seasick as to necessitate puking over the rail was there, too; but guilt. I had managed to eat two things that day: an English muffin with honey and butter, and that Clif bar. It wasn’t the waste of food that made me feel guilty, either, but rather the simple fact that I had mentioned that carrot cake was my favorite flavor of Clif bar while Tele and I were shopping to stock the boat for a week or two, and Tele had generously bought an entire case of them for all of us to share. And I was pretty certain I was the only one on board who felt that way toward that particular flavor. Now, given my fairly limited adult history of puking, I was pretty certain that I would not be capable of stomaching carrot cake Clif Bars for a while. Maybe years…

Continue reading “An Adventure of Salmon and Self-Awareness (and a Healthy Dose of Self Deprecation)”


I wonder, friends… What helps you connect with someone/something that’s foreign to you? Are there particular examples (relationships, books, movies, conversations) that have helped you understand or identify with something otherwise outside your own life experience?


  1. Like

    • Good to see you, Tanner! Does this mean that you’re safely in Seward? Hope the trip across wasn’t too bumpy…

  2. Vivid in every way. Friendship at its best!

    • Nice to see you, Patricia! What’s the latest news on Promise of Provence?

  3. Great storytelling to wake me up on a (finally) sunny day. Reading Betsy’s description of how the coho are handled reminds us of how much care and work went into the Nerka fish we served at our wedding. Folks still talk about it six years later. Our cook, who now runs his own place called The Train Wreck in Burlington, did them native style around a campfire while the ceremony was going on, and our carver friend Kevin sang the wedding song with his drum. I could envision a native village going about their daily activities of fishing and paddling at that magical moment on the north shore of Guemes Island. You guys probably caught those coho. Thanks for the fish and the stories.
    …Tom and Mary

    • What a beautiful story, Tom & Mary – thanks so much for chiming in here! As you may have gathered, I don’t like killing for a living, but I do love the life we have – being on the water, amidst mountains and whales, working for ourselves – and one of the things that makes me feel best about our work is connecting with the people receiving our fish – especially when they clearly hold these salmon in the same spirit of respect and appreciation that we catch them with. It’s our honor to have been part of your ceremony.

      I’ve heard lots of great things from Joel’s folks about the Train Wreck; will put it on our list of places to try to get to before we head north!

  4. She’s a better man than I for lasting as long as she did. And once again I have an even greater appreciation for the fish my husband buys and cooks. Hope Joel’s hands are feeling somewhat better.

    • She was heroic, Julie! Seasickness is such a particular misery, not something you can will yourself out of, no matter how much grit you’ve got. Thanks for checking on Joel’s hands. They’ve been fine over the winter, but they also haven’t been under any real strain, like 18 hours of sudden, constant motion. If you or anyone else have suggestions of preliminary exercises or precautions, he’s got about 9 weeks to prepare…

      Also, I love hearing that your husband is cooking fish for you. Good for you both! Don’t know what you’ve got access to where you are (or what you like), but my friend Robin has posted some great seafood recipes:

  5. Tele! So many thanks for your generous words of my “heroics”–you know I love you two to pieces. So many thanks, again, for the simple act of choosing me to help you.
    Tanner, Patricia, Tom and Mary, Julie: thank YOU all so very much, too.

  6. ….I forgot to say, too: that is a FANTASTIC title, Tele.