Salmon On My Mind Chapter Eleven - www.ifish.net

Meet Francis Caldwell!

Francis Caldwell has published hundreds of magazine articles and 10 books. Awards include the prestigious Enos Bradner Award, the Northwest Outdoor Writers Associationís highest award for outstanding journalism, Several 1st place awards for Excellence in Craft from the Outdoor Writers Association of America and the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association.

After serving in the Navy during WW II he resolved to never go to sea again, then spent forty years on boats in Alaska. Francis moved to Ketchikan in 1950, when Alaska was still a Territory, and lived in Ketchikan and Sitka a total of seventeen years.

Mr. Caldwell has traveled almost everywhere in the state, from Point Barrow to the Alaska Peninsula. Now that he's "swallowed the anchor", he hangs out in Port Angeles. That's about as close to Alaska as he can get without actually being there.

Frank Caldwell
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By Francis Caldwell


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Old 07-13-2009, 08:26 AM   #1
Jennie@ifish
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Default Salmon On My Mind Chapter Eleven

Chapter Eleven

Point Baker
Since I had my trusty Coleman stove on board the Chinook, there was no need for me
to eat breakfast before leaving for the fishing grounds off Point Baker. At 0400 hours I
picked a dozen herring and several smelt out of my net and ran out to Swiftwater Point.

The weather was drippy and dismal, a typical Southeastern day, promising low cloud
and fog that blended the sea and land into a gray panorama of nothingness. Thankfully,
there was no wind. I groped my way along the shore and turned towards the north end of
Prince of Wales island.

No boats from Point Baker were out fishing yet. The tide was flooding up Sumner
Straits, running like a mill race. I plunked three baits in the water west of the point, and
before I knew it was swept past the point and off the entrance to Point Baker. Trolling west
proved the strength of the current was more than equal to my fishing speed. I wanted to
return to the interesting tide rip that formed off the point. I pulled the gear and ran until I
reached the eddy east of the point. This was like fishing a river.

A light breeze from the west whisked away some of the fog. Farther out in the straits
Helm Rock lighted whistle bouy leaned drunkenly to the east in the current. Standing
waves and whitecaps showed around the two-fathom shallow spot. Obviously, I had a lot to
learn about this place, having no experience with fishing fast water. I was fishing so close
to shore I could have cast a herring onto the rocks. By staying in the backwater, I could stay
put. If I ventured a few yards offshore, I was whisked away by the current. Occasionally a
chunk of driftwood, or a raft of kelp, cruised past. Exciting!

Two mature bald eagles perched in a spruce snag on top of the cliffs watching me with
detached interest. Six o’clock came without a fish. Usually the first hour after daylight is
the best for king salmon fishing. I pulled my gear and ran into a small, protected bight west
of the point and tied to long streamers of bull kelp. Soon the smell of fresh coffee filled the
little cabin while I cooked oatmeal.

I noticed enough current where I was tied to work a bait. I put one cut plug out and
lowered it about 10 feet deep. Before the oatmeal and toast were consumed, the reel
hummed. I grabbed the rod and the battle was on. The salmon headed into the underwater
kelp forest. I untied the bow line and began following, cutting kelp when necessary.

While I was untangling line from kelp, the salmon deserted the kelp and took off for open
water, jumped twice, then began distancing itself from my boat. The drag on the reel was
backed off and the spool was showing by the time I got clear of the kelp, started the outboard
and followed. The fish took me out into the straits. A chop was running. I heard my
pan of oatmeal crash to the deck just as I landed a scrappy, 30-pound king.

I returned to the kelp bed, tied up again, cleaned up the mess, then made more oatmeal.

By the time breakfast was over, the current had slowed down. Back at the point I put
the gear out again. A dramatic transformation had occurred during the short time I had
been engaged in breakfast. Several pigeon guillemots squatted on the nearly vertical rock
cliffs expectantly waiting for breakfast. Their red legs, black plumage and white wing
patch gave them a dressed-up appearance. A school of rainbow-hewed herring flipped in
the tide rip. Sea gulls and black-legged kittiwake flitted and dived screaming into the
school.

Slack water was approaching and all hungry animals sensed it, including me. Of course
I had a tide table.

A round-bottomed 18-foot skiff with high, flared bows and beautiful lines, a true
“Point Baker” boat, came around the point from Baker. The man sitting in the stern began
snapping on leaders and lowering his commercial gear, using a hand gurdie built on the
stern of his boat. Suddenly one reel began to sing, then the opposite one. A double header.
I brought in one king, a 20-pounder, and netted it. The other suddenly decided life
would be more pleasant somewhere out in Sumner Strait, and took off lickety split towards
the bouy at Helm Rock. I followed, running across the bow of the hand troller. He gave
me a dirty look as I passed.

Only a few wraps of line remained on the Penn 49 reel when I caught up with fish
number two. Several times I had this fish almost up to the boat, then it would brace its tail
in the current and make long, shallow rushes, always farther out into the straits. Finally I
worked it close enough to see that both hooks were embedded in the fish’s cheek, providing
it with an advantage. It too was a 20-pounder, a size that frequently provides more of a
struggle than fish twice its weight. With 70 pounds in the box my spirits lifted. The sun
came out. I sped back to the point.

The hand troller was far to the west. I plunked in one fresh bait and began counting
the number of turns on the handle so I knew how deep it was going. The herring had barely
disappeared beneath the boat, about 10 turns of the handle, when a big king struck savagely,
ripping off line with a “whir-whir” of the reel. This fish also made a long, shallow
rush, this time towards East Rock. I could barely keep up. As I went past the entrance to
Baker a second boat, a black skiff, was coming out. The man looked surprised, waved, lifted
his arms and pointing with a “go and get ‘em gesture” and shouted something I couldn’t
hear because of my noisy exhaust. I wanted to get acquainted with this guy because he acted
friendly.

By the time I netted the fish and returned to the point, the black boat had disappeared
down the straits towards Port Protection. The tide was beginning to ebb west. During the
ebb there was no appreciable lee, or calm place behind the point, like there had been during
the flood. One cannot move very fast with cut plug baits. In the full force of the tide
my baits spun crazily if I pointed into the current. If I tried going down current I was soon
swept a long way from where I wanted to be. Obviously I was going to have to develop a
technique to outwit the currents.

The Baker boat had turned and was trolling east. The man was old , bearded and kept
his back to me as he passed, refusing to acknowledge my presence. When he reached a
location off the harbor he pulled his gear and went in. I kept fishing but only caught one
more king by noon. The bird life and herring school vanished. High tide had came at 0800
so low water wouldn’t be until 1400. I was tired and sleepy but stayed for high water slack
but caught nothing. I’d left my sleeping bag at the cabin. A mistake. I decided to buy a
blanket from Irene to keep in the boat so I could tie up and take a nap. By 1600 hours I’d
had it and headed for Port Protection.

From the logbook:

May 18. Port Protection. Irene and the girls noticed me coming into the cove and came
down to the fish house to see what I’d caught. I later learned that Buckshot had told them that
I was a hot shot fisherman. How he got that idea I didn’t know. She smiled as I unloaded my
beautiful, shiny mild cure. Weighed in 92 pounds of large red. Since I was the only fisherman
she had delivering salmon at the time, Irene was happy to have me. She paid me $32.20. Price
here is .35, five cents under Ketchikan, for large red. Bought a heavy wool blanket for $5.

Irene said Herb Zieski from Point Baker had came to the store and remarked about the
sport fishermen he’d seen off Point Baker on his way over. Wanted to know who it was.

Tired. Had pork chops and gravy with boiled potatoes for dinner, walked with Clarie and
Lauren over to the sand beach where the grid iron had been built for beaching boats. Went to
bed happy at 1800 hours.


Soft, gentle rain sifted down through patches of morning sunlight streaming through
the spruce on shore as I ran out to check my herring net at 0400. It was empty, but I’d salted
several from the day before. I took the net along in case I found herring elsewhere. A
fresh breeze of southeast sprang up as I entered the straits.

Several boats were already fishing off Swiftwater Point. I plunked out my baits at the
head of the tide rip and watched the other boats. No one was catching. After about half
an hour I hooked into a really big fish. It took off with several leaps towards Helm Rock,
staying shallow.

One of the hand trollers, the old man who had ignored me the previous day, had just
trolled past. When he noticed that I had a fish on he reversed course and came trolling
back. Before I could motor offshore and catch up with the fish he cruised between my boat
and the fish. His wire line severed my nylon!

I don’t remember what I yelled or the names I called him, but this was obviously a
deliberate attempt to cut off my fish. Nothing like this had happened to me before and I
was really angry. I rigged up again and soon had another fish on. Since there was no way
of hiding the fact, I thought another troller would cut me off. I managed to land this
second fish. Then, on the third salmon it happened again, except this time a different fisherman
did the deed. Using the same techniques Lloyd had taught me of how to avoid sea
lions, I started fishing only one rod and when I had a fish on, stayed right on top of it. But
this wasn’t always possible.

By now nine boats were fishing. One was the black skiff that had came by the previous
day. This fellow came by and started a friendly conversation, announcing his name was
Herb Zieski, and that he lived in Point Baker.

Despite the threat posed by the others, I had a really good day, catching nine big kings.
Three were cut off. When I unloaded I told Irene what happened. She wasn’t surprised.
saying the old-timers at Baker thought they owned the country and were capable of discouraging
new comers.

Day three also produced its share of being cut off. Obviously there was a deliberate
attempt to run me off. By noon I only had landed one out of six salmon and was ready to
give up and try somewhere else. I quit early and went back to Port Protection. After a nap
I headed west and tried fishing off the limestone cliffs south of Port Protection. I caught
several rock cod but no salmon.

The next day I returned to Baker and fished the rip again. About 0700, Herb came
out of the harbor and trolled past, using conventional troll gear and one hand gurdie. “Say,”
he called, “when the tide is over, why don’t you come in and have coffee? We need to have
a talk.”

“Okay.”

By 1100 I had four fish. The other boats had already left. Herb signaled he was going
in, so I followed. We tied up at Herb’s private float near the head of the cove. A small power
troller, the Curse, was moored there, and belonged to Herb. He led me up to his log cabin
and introduced me to his wife Ruth, a very pleasant woman, who still lives in Point Baker
(2002) They had two children, Charlie and Darlene. The girl was six, the same age as my
oldest son, Robert. Charlie was two years older. The Zieski children were being home-
schooled by Ruth.


Darlene Zieski Larsen, now Postmistress, Point Baker, Alaska.

We sat around the table drinking coffee and eating berry pie fresh out of the oven. I
listened amazed, and envious, while the Zieski’s related their lifestyle. The small boat Herb
had been fishing belonged to Ruth. They both trolled. When they went away from home
they lived on their power troller and Ruth fished the small boat while Herb fished the power
troller.

After hunting season, and canning venison and salmon, they moved to their cabin in
Louise Cove, on the Sumner Strait side of Kuiu Island, where they each, including the children,
had trap lines. I turned green with envy. This is the way I wanted to live—-but I knew
my wife would never agree to such a life.

Finally the conversation got around to Herb’s real purpose of asking me in for coffee.
“You may not realize it, Frank, but you’ve caused quite a ruckus around here. Most of the
locals had about given up of fishing spring kings and were taking it easy waiting for time to
go down to Cape Pole to fish silvers. Oh, sure, they might go out and fish slack water for a


Charlie Zieski resembles his father Herb and resides at Point Baker.
His dock, gillnetter and house are behind.


couple of hours just to check and see if any kings were around. Seldom anyone catches
many kings this late though. Everyone is amazed to see you come and start catching kings
like crazy.”


Ruth Zieski, a resident of Point Baker for about 65 years, lives with son Charlie.

I was reminded of my own feelings at Mountain Point after Lloyd and Tom showed up.
“Well, obviously kings prefer light sports gear instead of heavy commercial spoons.”
“Obviously.”

“Problem is, my 15-pound nylon doesn’t have a chance against steel trolling wire. I’ve
lost quite a few fish when they deliberately cut me off.”

“Yeah, I know. Some of the old-timers around here got together and decided they
would put the run on you.”

“I haven’t decided what to do about that yet.”

“I have an idea. I have some sport gear, rod, reel and stuff. But I’ve never been able to
catch much with it. Maybe if you’d show me how, and I begin sport fishing, since I’m local,
between the two of us we could discourage the few guys bent on cutting you off.”
“You really think that would work? Well, I’ll show you and even give you some hook
set-ups. But you have to use light line and leader. What if they cut you off too?”

“Since they’re my neighbors, I don’t think they will. We’ll worry about that later.”

“Suppose they cut me off but not you?”

“We’ll just have to wait and see. Another thing you might not be aware of is that Irene
Woolery pays a few cents a pound more than Mark Lewis here in Baker, and has lower prices
for groceries at their store. There’s a war going on between them The locals depend upon
credit, so they don’t dare sell their fish to Irene. If they do, and Mark finds out about it,
he’ll cut them off.”

“You went over to Buckshot’s.”

“Yeah. But I pay strictly cash here.”

“I see. Why don’t you fish the Curse?”

“Oh, I will later on for silvers.”

“Curious name for a boat.”

“Not if you hear how I happened to get it. I was out fishing in my previous power
troller off Baker last fall when out of the fog comes this boat and hits me broadside. Sank
my boat immediately. The guy took me on board. I lost everything. He said he’d been
running in fog for hours and when it lifted momentarily he dived into the fo’c’sle for something
to eat. That’s when he hit my boat. He felt so bad he handed over his boat and all
its gear right here in Baker. All I had to do was change the registration. That’s why I
renamed it the Curse.”


Herb’s old troller, the Curse, lying in front of Darlene Ziskie Larsen’s work shed.

I showed Herb my set-up and explained how to cut herring. Then I headed for Port
Protection to sell. I didn’t say anything to Irene about visiting Herb.
The following morning Herb came out with sport gear and joined me at the head of
the rip. Right away he began catching kings. He was delighted. When the two local trouble
makers that had cut off my salmon noticed the two of us catching fish on sport gear they
headed home.

“They couldn’t stand seeing us catch fish,” Herb shouted. “I don’t think they’ll bother


Swiftwater Point.



you again.”
Several days later Herb asked me to come to his place again. He introduced me to his
neighbor, Emil Peterson, who lived across the Chuck. Emil was an old man, probably over
65, but he was interested in learning how to sport fish. He wanted me to help him order a
rod, reel and everything he’s need to get started. I wrote down a list, and he mailed it to
Herb Hetherington.”

After the next mailboat came Emil joined Herb and I sport fishing. Like me, he made
many mistakes, but soon began boating fish and enjoyed it very much.

Several days after I began fishing out of Port Protection I was scrubbing my boat when
I heard the familiar galloping sound of a three-cylinder Atlas engine coming. Marian
Wollery Glenz, in her book, describes the sound of the Atlas engine as, “Two bits and a hair-


Ed and Marian (Woolery) Glenz, Meyers Chuck. They have now moved to Wrangell.


cut, two bits and a hair cut. The Atlas is no doubt the only boat in the fleet with the same
name as her main engine. Having belonged to John Munson, a top-producing halibut fisherman
from Ketchikan, the schooner was well known around Southeast Alaska.

Buckshot’s familiar head protruded from one window of the tiny pilothouse as he
sidled up to the dock with a great thrashing of propeller and grinding of clutch and reduction
gear. Marian tossed Irene and I bow and stern lines. This young lady was an experienced
deck hand. They had picked up fish at Cape Pole and Port Malmesbury.

“How you doing, Caldwell,” Buckshot wanted to know.

“Can’t complain,” I answered. They began loading several boxes of iced fish, mostly
halibut, from their own fish house, swinging them on board and down into the hold with
the cargo boom.

“Most of these salmon were caught by Caldwell,” Irene said. “He’d have caught more
if a couple of the Baker guys hadn’t cut off his lines with their trolling wires.”
“On purpose? Well, that’s too bad,” Buckshot said.

“I’ve encouraged Herb Zieski and Emil Petersen to start sport fishing. Since then the
guys who cut me off are leaving us alone.”

“Well, let’s hope there’s no more trouble.”

I expected Buckshot to stay overnight, but after dinner they took off on the long run
to Ketchikan.

A couple of weeks went by. Now that I knew what Port Protection offered, I asked
Buckshot if he’d mind hauling my wife and sons out for a week’s visit. He’d already agreed
to do so before I came out.

One day I was fishing off Point Baker. Sunshine warmed my back. Fishing was slow,
and I had a hard time staying awake. Suddenly I heard the familiar swoosh of a whale expelling air.

I turned around and gasped. A plume of vapor shot 20 feet into the air. In
the vapor was a perfect rainbow. A large humpback had just surfaced only 50 feet from my
boat. The gigantic black head protruded from the water and the whale’s eye stared at me.

Hundreds of wriggling herring cascaded from one corner of its mouth like a silvery water


Whale’s tail as it dives. Note barnacles.

fall. Of course I’d seen whales before, but never this close. The whale cruised back and forth
for several hours. Almost every day the whale cruised through. Sometimes there were several.
Herb said the whale was known locally as “Ma Baker” and returned every year to the
area. She became a familiar sight.

Salmon fishing was hot and cold. Several of the local fishermen began fishing halibut.
They set one 1,800-foot-long skate of baited gear, left it to soak for several hours, usually
from slack tide to slack tide, then hauled it by hand. Hand-hauling halibut gear was impossible
while the current was strong, and hard work even when it wasn’t. Halibut, some
weighing 100 pounds, were boated, then dressed at the scow. One had to have a sturdy
boat with lots of room to handle halibut gear and the fish.

One day I was visiting Herb. He told me a gigantic halibut had previously lived for a
long time one summer in three fathoms of water under his float. He dressed salmon there
and tossed the entrails overboard. Evidently this food was enough to keep the halibut happy.
He had tried to catch the giant with a baited halibut hook on a handline, and had him up
where he could see it a couple of times. Before he could capture it, the fish would dive and
either break the line or straighten the hook.

Determined to catch this prize, he obtained a shark hook, baited it with a pink salmon
and fastened it to the end of the trolling wire from one of the Curse’s gurdies. Trolling wire
has a breaking strength of 600 pounds. The halibut took the bait, Herb engaged the gurdy,
the fish was hoisted up, then all hell broke loose. The fish charged under the float with a
shower of spray, then zipped out and tried to escape into the harbor. It was an exciting battle.
Herb was ready, and when it finally tired and came to the surface again, one shot
through the head with a 30-30 ended the struggle. Unable to lift the fish onto the float to
dress it, he towed it to the beach, dressed it, then towed it to Mark Lewis’ scales. The halibut
weighed 440 pounds.

Leta, Bobby and Dale arrived one afternoon on the Atlas. The boys were excited after
their first ride on a big boat. I borrowed a mattress from Irene and placed it in the cabin
loft. The boys explored the area around the store with Lauren acting as chief guide. She


Dressed king salmon. The important Lateral Line is visible.


showed them the rabbits, chickens and finally, her “secret” trail to a “hideaway” on the only
decent stretch of beach several hundred yards away. Lauren was a real tomboy.

On nice days I took the boys fishing one at a time. Dale was a little young to appreciate
sitting still in a boat for long and usually went to sleep. Bobby loved it. I let him hold
the rod, crank the reel and haul in a small king.

I watched Leta’s reaction to living in a remote place. It wasn’t encouraging. She thought
Ketchikan was the “end of the earth,” so to speak, and seemed glad when the Atlas returned
and my family went back to town.

By late June the king salmon fishing was ruined by pinks and silvers showing up. They
would grab the bait before a king had a chance. Since the price of pinks and silvers was so
low a sport/commercial fisherman couldn’t make any money, I decided to return to
Ketchikan.

One of the first people I ran into at Thomas Basin was Larry Pawsey.
“Remember losing the huge king at Blank Island? Well, Frank, I’ve got a better story.

I caught a 73 pounder —and didn’t have a derby ticket!”

“Really? Really! How could you? Why on earth didn’t you buy one before you went
fishing?”

Larry laughed. “The same reason you didn’t have one when you hooked a lost a fish that probably would have won the seasonal derby. I didn’t think I’d catch anything large
enough, I suppose.”

“Are you running the Harvey O again?”

“Nope. I’m running the Marcris. I’ve saved you a spot if you want to go.”

“Who owns the Marcris?”

“Mark Busanich. It’s a new boat.”

“I have little faith in seining after last year’s poor showing.”

“Supposed to be a whopper of a pink run.”

Much to my surprise, I went seining again.

To make this story short, 1953 was almost a repeat of the previous year. A hot summer, the high cycle of pinks forecast didn’t showed up, and it was almost a broker season.
Alaska’s salmon pack was a disaster, with only three million cases. After the main season was
over, I swore I’d never seine again.

The years were slipping by and I was no closer to my objective, owning a boat large
enough to live aboard and ice fish in. With my limited experience, no one was going to lease
me a boat.

The broker season had left me with a bitter attitude about fishing on someone else’s
boat. I needed to have my own, so I could control what happened.

Lady fortune smiled, and I was hired on one of the largest construction jobs ever done
in Southeast Alaska.

__________________
‚ÄúLife should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Whoo hooo! What a Ride!‚ÄĚ

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