Friday, July 25, 2008

Git yer 'but in the boat

I went down to Ninilchik with some friends to fish for halibut last Friday. The best fishing on Cook Inlet is tide dependent, so we drew a 3 p.m. departure. The boys picked me up in Cooper Landing. We stopped in Soldotna for some supplies(beer) on the way to Ninilchik.

Captain Dave Gillickan has been chasing 'buts for awhile. I met him my first winter in G-wood. I asked him how he was able to snowboard through the bumps so well. "You bend your knees and grit your teeth."

Dave's 32 foot custom aluminum boat, Big Iron, cruises at 30 knots and comfortably holds six clients and the crew. Dave's crew consists of a 68 year-old Vietnam vet that flew a bomber in the war that he named Big Iron. They met in Ninilchik. The universe is a funny place. Dave gave him the afternoon off because we told him we'd do those duties.

Our drive down through rain gave way to sunshine. The weather on the water couldn't have been better. Dave set up the rods after a hour or so motor to a "hotspot." Every cast yielded a hit. We landed lots of fish and limited out in short order.

Everybody threw five bucks in for biggest fish and that went to Josh for a 24 and a half pounder. The last time I went 'but fishing(a decade ago) the biggest fish was 94 pounds. Dave talked about how the fish have been getting smaller and harder to find over the years.

The discussion turned to where the fault may lie. Is it the commercial long liners and their fathoms of hooks bringing in piles of fish, many of which are tossed back because they are unwanted or non-targeted "by-catch?" Or maybe it's the sport fishermen, cuz they try to get the big ones which are breeding females.

The answer: all of us. The fish and catches have become smaller, harder to find, and further from the ports. Both sides agree on this. Failing fisheries are well-documented the world over since way back when the secret got out about the Moors going to the Grand Banks for cod.

Halibut fisheries will likely follow some of the tuna species by becoming "commercially extinct" within our lifetimes. It's human nature to harvest all the easy things till they're gone and then lament the loss. Shoot the passenger pigeons, there are lots of them.

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