Everybody Has a Story: Grabbing life by the gills despite weather

“Fish on!” is what we really wanted to hear because it would mean we were in for excitement! This is what “grabbing life by the gills” is really all about. That’s what happened to me eventually, but it didn’t start out that way.

My son Stewart and son-in-law Oliver and I decided to go on a charter fishing trip out of the Port of Ilwaco, considered by many to be the prime spot for ocean fishing in the Northwest.

The long-hoped-for day arrived but not the weather we wanted. It was a long, hot dry spell in the Northwest. When we reached Ilwaco after a two-hour drive, conditions were not to our liking, with a thick, blinding haze upon the ocean, mainly caused by smoke filtering down from forest fires in British Columbia.

As we headed out into the open sea, choppy water with swells rising 6 to 10 feet rocked the boat mercilessly. Dim indeed were the prospects of a good catching day as we crawled along in the charter boat Seabreeze through perfectly awful conditions.

My thoughts turned somewhat negative as I considered how this day of fishing long hoped for, planned for and, yes, prayed for, was fast drawing to a dismal failure. As we continued out to sea, conditions didn’t get better. The fog didn’t lift, nor did we get even a glimpse of sun. The turbulent water continued to bounce the boat relentlessly. We hung onto the rails to keep from being tossed overboard by a turbulent sea.

We had decided that we wanted to set up a prize system during the day for the three of us. There would be prizes for the first fish, the biggest fish and the most fish.

After a couple of hours out to sea, Oliver yelled out, “Fish on!” He had the first fish prize, with an acceptable chinook to his credit. Oliver, a veteran of the United States Navy in a nuclear submarine, seemed to take everything in stride.

After that, our luck began to change dramatically, as Oliver hooked another salmon and others on the boat began registering, “Fish on!”

The catch we had hoped and prayed for miraculously arrived as we all reeled in one fighting salmon after another. In a way it was a blessing when we also brought in native fish we had to toss back. At least we had the thrill of bending a rod and fighting a reluctant salmon up to the boat and then releasing it back into the water.

The lady to the left of me on the boat and I both felt the bite of a fish simultaneously. After a short fight I concluded it was her bait in the fish’s mouth, and therefore I should just let my tangled line hang loose and not interfere. She fought the salmon vigorously for several minutes before the deckhand netted it aboard. Her delight turned to disappointment when it turned out to be my bait, not hers, in the mouth of a huge chinook — and therefore my catch!

This fish turned out to capture our largest fish prize. With Oliver snagging the first fish prize and now me with the largest fish prize, who among the three of us would garner the third prize — the most fish?

Stewart began to see a lot of action. Once when I retired to the cabin for a bit of rest, I could see through the window Stewart vigorously fighting a salmon — with my unattended rod. He brought it in, so it was his fish.

Stew had several more hookups, including one that bit after our boat captain called for all lines to come in as the day of fishing concluded.

With that one, Stew captured the remaining prize of most fish. Five, to be exact, and more than any other person aboard the boat.

What began as a bummer ended up the best fishing experience in memory. These three happy fishermen headed home with dreams of a freezer filled with fish and hearts filled with treasured memories of a “grabbing life by the gills” story. Doesn’t get any better than that!

Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Send to: [email protected] or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA, 98666. Call “Everybody Has an Editor” Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.

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