Salmon on My Mind Chapter Nine - 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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Old 05-14-2009, 10:41 AM   #1
Jennie@ifish
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Default Salmon on My Mind Chapter Nine

Chapter Nine
Seining
I soon discovered that hanging seine was a big job. In those days the entire seine, lead
line, cork line and web were hemp or cotton. Today nylon is used and it lasts a long time.
After about two or three years, depending upon how well it was cared for, a cotton seine
had to be replaced. Usually it had suffered considerable damage by then from rocks, logs


Hanging or working on a salmon seine can be a big job.

and normal wear. In the fall the entire seine was dipped in a large vat filled with bluestone,
which killed the bacteria that caused cotton to rot during winter storage.

I learned a lot of knots and how to mend web during that week. The web was tarred
and hard on the hands. With the seine stacked neatly on the turntable, a table that could
be revolved either to port, starboard or straight aft for hauling the seine, we returned to
town and Independent Cannery to finish getting ready. The cannery supplied us with a
seine skiff powered by an inboard engine, fuel, groceries and everything except our personal
gear, clothing, oilskins, gloves, etc.

Seining opened on Monday morning in those days and closed on Saturday. Late
Sunday afternoon before the opening we headed south out of town and turned up Carol
Inlet. The Harvey O was equipped with a radio telephone with both the emergency frequency,
2182, and the cannery frequency, 2566. We had no fathometer, autopilot or any
other electronics on board. Radars for fishing vessels were unheard of.

Darkness overtook us before we reached the end of the inlet. Since we couldn’t see
shore or find a place to anchor, Larry ordered the anchor and about 50 fathoms of line
dropped overboard. Larry claimed that the anchor would hang up on bottom before the
boat drifted ashore. Most everyone was hung over and already in their bunks. The skipper
and cook slept in the back of the wheelhouse. Four crewmen slept in the fo’c’sle. We had
a good crew. Bill Bailey, married to Alice, one of the Johnson daughters, Gene Maneman,
the cook, Howard Bunker and one man whose name I’ve forgotten.

Always an early riser, I got up at daylight and headed outside to relieve myself. The starboard
side door of the wheelhouse swung out, but refused to open. I walked aft through
the galley and stepped on deck. To my amazement the vessel was laying within a few feet
of the face of a rock cliff. The reason the wheelhouse door refused to open was because a
hemlock limb was jammed against it and actually holding the boat off the cliff. I woke
Larry, then went to the bow expecting the anchor gear had parted. The line was tight and
hanging almost straight down. Very deep water can frequently be found close to shore in
many places in Alaska. Captain Pausey never lived that one down.

Shortly after breakfast we arrived at the end of Carol Inlet where a nice stream came
out across tide flats. We were the only boat there. Chum salmon were jumping everywhere,
probably confused because the stream was too low for them to start upriver. Larry told the
skiff man and his helper to get in the skiff and get ready. Then he shouted, “Let her go.”
A special release on the skiff’s painter allowed it to be disconnected while underway. Larry
opened the throttle of the diesel engine and the net began spilling over the stern. As web
man, my job while setting was to stay on deck. The weight and pull of the skiff helped
remove the seine from the Harvey 0 when towing under full power. The object was to get
the seine to encircle the school of salmon as fast as possible, before the salmon became
frightened. From his position on the bridge Larry could watch the school. He steered completely
around it until he met the seine skiff, still towing the other end, came alongside.
Both ends of the cork line were now brought together, closing the top of the seine, but not
the lead line, or bottom. A purse seine is like a sack with a draw string that closes both top
and bottom.

Now came the hard work. Power blocks hadn’t been invented yet. Today the pure
drudgery of hauling in a purse seine is accomplished by using huge, hydraulic-powered
power blocks through which the entire seine passes. The block is suspended high above
deck on the end of a boom. The seine is lifted, then all the crew has to do is stack the web
so it will pay out correctly the next time it’s set.

The roller across the Harvey O’s stern was belt driven, but that didn’t help much; we
had to manually haul the heavy seine and stack it on the turn table. After about an hour we
had all but the ‘bunt” or “money bag” of the seine on board. The bunt contained a huge
school of thrashing, excited salmon. Once the lead line was closed up and lying on deck
the fish were trapped. We whooped excitedly.

Naturally the fish were frantically trying to escape. We rigged the brailer, a large dip
net with a long handle, and began dipping salmon, using the boom and winch for power
to lift the brailer, then dumping them into the hold. We filled the hold and the deck right
up to the cap rails, then released several hundred remaining fish.

Larry was mighty proud because he’d chosen this location to start the season. Since
there was no cannery tender nearby to unload onto, we took off running full speed for town.
I decided this was the way to catch salmon. I visualized earning enough to put a down
payment on a house, and maybe buy a used car.

Ours was the first salmon unloaded at any cannery in Ketchikan. Our load received a
lot of attention. A reporter from the Ketchikan Daily News showed up. Some thought this
indicated it was going to be a good season.

After unloading, our house of cards started crumbling. Howard, our cook, was a handsome
guy with dark, curly hair. He cooked in fancy hotels in Seattle during the winter, then
on seine boats during the summer. The summers were a vacation for him, or so he claimed.
He could make anything, and baked fancy cakes and pies.

While unloading, Larry sent him to town for some ice for the icebox. That was the last
we ever saw of him. We spread out and toured the bars. They were practically empty
because most everyone was out fishing. One bar tender claimed Howard had stopped by,
bought a round of drinks to celebrate catching the first full boatload of fish landed in
Ketchikan that season, had a second drink with an attractive woman, then they left together.
The bartender wisely insisted he didn’t recognize the woman.

Next we checked the hotels without success. Out beloved cook, we later discovered, was
an alcoholic. One drink, to celebrate our big haul, was all it took. We spent the night, hoping
he’d show up. Finding a replacement was out of the question. There was an acute manpower
shortage. We shoved off short handed early the following morning. After that we
took turns cooking. Some gruesome meals resulted and the crew convinced me to be the
cook. I reluctantly agreed, provided they would do the dishes. Cooking on a seine boat is
a lot of work whether you’ re catching fish or not. Of course the cook is expected to work
on deck when setting and hauling.

The early 1950’s were some of the driest and hottest on record. Ketchikan experienced
a heat wave in July. On July 22, 1952, the temperature was 81 degrees, and that’s hot for
Ketchikan.

Townspeople enjoyed this unusual weather. Every time we cruised past Buggy Beach
it was loaded with bathers in swimming suits. The odor of campfires and hot dogs reached
us on the seiner. The results of such weather were poor runs of chums, pinks and sockeye.
Salmon streams were so low what few fish did show up couldn’t get upstream to spawn.
We ran and ran and looked for fish all over the Ketchikan area. I was able to see many interesting
places, on Prince of Wales, around Behm Canal, in the mainland bays and elsewhere,
but seldom had a chance to go ashore.

Larry was an expert salmon seiner and did his best. No one else was doing any better
and after a few weeks some of the crewmen began quitting because they were not making
any money.

Our engineer quit. Larry knew I’d ran General Motors 6-71 Series diesels on small
boats in the Navy, so I became the chief engineer as well as having cook’s duties.
Fortunately the “Jimmy” diesel almost ran itself. All I had to do was check the oil and
water, grease a few pieces of machinery and change oil and filter once in a while at the cannery.

We made many sets that produced little more than a few hundred fish. The load we


A salmon seiner with the net out. Seine skiff holds onto the other end of the net
while its in the open position.


caught the first morning was more total fish that we produced during the remainder of the
season. The traps were having little success either and the canneries were prepared to chalk
up a “broker” season.

I learned another valuable lesson. Never count your salmon until you have caught and
sold them!

The sinking of the Diamond T and the poor seine season were good training but only
the first of many, many disappointments I was to suffer through years of commercial fishing.
Eventually one becomes immune to the pain of being disappointed. Without the ability
to keep alive the flames of eternal hope, no one could possibly be a fisherman.

By the time the season ended I was ready to go back to work at the plumbing shop. I
made several deer hunting trips and caught a few fall kings with the Chinook, using the same
cut-plug herring technique I learned from Lloyd. The poor salmon season resulted in a
minor recession in town, but we managed to keep busy all winter.

A contract had been signed to build a pulp mill at Ward Cove. A large work force
would be required, and I looked forward to a job building the mill, since it would pay more
than I was making. But hiring wasn’t expected until the following fall.

__________________
‚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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