The Little Box (Part 1) by Woody Kaawan Sangaa - P.O.W. Report

Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Little Box (Part 1) by Woody Kaawan Sangaa

From Tlingit and Haida People of Alaska


Woody Ḵáawan Sángaa

I started fishing with my father when I was 7 years old. Toward Spring, now, with one year's experience I was an "Old Salt" and, I could hardly sleep as the Salmon Trolling season drew near. My dads’ family had been fishermen for generations; fishing the southern edge of the eastern coast of the Gulf of Alaska for halibut, cod, shrimp, crab and salmon. My dad called me, simply, "Son" - others picked it up and it became my nickname.

Dad owned a 48 foot commercial fish boat; there was one bunk in the pilot house for when he fished alone. Otherwise, both our bunks were below decks in the combined engine room, galley and foc’sle - crew quarters.

Dad’s commercial fishing season began in March and continued through September. Mine however, began in mid-May when school let out and ended at the end of July. Dad fished crab and halibut until just before I was let out of school, then working with dad, we rigged the boat to troll for King and Coho Salmon.

In late June we left home port at Noon and it was a three hour run to the anchorage near the fishing grounds. Once at anchor we spent the balance of the day polishing lures, sharpening hooks. Dad put the finishing touches to a trough I would use for dressing their catch.

Anxious for our first day of fishing to begin; I laid in my bunk, tossing and turning, trying to sleep. Suddenly I felt a hand shaking me, “Son it’s time to get up.”

I sat bolt-upright; the single light bulb over the galley stove was on, Dad had put slices of bread on top of the hot stove to make toast. The clock near my bunk read 2 am. I was too excited to have bothered to undress so I hopped out of bed and pulled on my boots.

Dad took a piece of toast off the stove, buttered it and handed it to me. He then poured hot water into a cup, added canned milk and made hot cocoa for me before pouring himself a cup of coffee. "Bring your toast and Cocoa with you.", Dad said as he turned out the light over the stove and headed up the stairs to the deck: I followed.

I entered the Pilothouse and watched out the window while Dad pulled anchor by hand. The anchor up, Dad took the wheel and piloted the boat out of the still dark small bay then turned the wheel over to me, “Here, hold her while I go out on deck and lower the trolling poles.”

I was bursting with pride; Dad had left ME with the responsibility of piloting the boat. The run out to the grounds took less than an hour; the wheelhouse clock read 3:00 am. Dad came back to the wheelhouse and slowed the boat.

The sky was just getting light. I went out on the back deck with Dad to the cockpit where he steered the boat with a small steering wheel mounted there. I watched while Dad individually lowered the four trolling weights – one per fishing line - into the ocean depths and, every 12 feet he attached a leader with lures attached to each of the 4 lines. Then he clipped on the tag lines which were attached to long out-rigger poles. When all four lines had been put into the ocean, I was sent back to bed.
Still excited, I finally dozed off. Then, the sound of the winch kicking into gear woke me, "Dad has a fish on the line!", I whispered to himself. I lay there listening, then I heard it: a distinct "thump", the sound of a large King Salmon hitting the deck. The first one; or as Dad liked to say, “The Skunk is off the Deck.” I dropped off into a deep sleep.

At 8:00 am Dad woke me to come out on deck and tend the lines while he cooked breakfast. I accompanied him out to the cockpit, the swells were much larger than when I had gone back to bed. Inside the fish bins there were 8 Kings (mostly 30 pounders, one that looked like it might go to 60 or more pounds). Once inside the cockpit with Dad, he fastened a lifeline around my waist then, he left to go below decks to cook breakfast.

Dad had no more left the deck than there was heavy tugging on one of the trolling poles: “Another King!”.

“Dad”, I shouted, “something on the Port side Main Pole!” Dad hurried back on deck, engaged the winch then the Trolling Gurdy to haul up the trolling wire.

Toward Noon the tide changed, Dad said, “Son, let’s pull the gear and run in behind the Cape for a nap. We’ll catch the late afternoon bite.”

I woke the minute the engine started and raced out onto the deck. Dad was looking at the sky; the boat was rolling a bit more than when they anchored for their naps. “Son, we’ll go out but we’ll have to watch the weather; I don’t like the feel of these swells.” I asked Dad what he meant and he told me to stand on the deck with my eyes close then tell him what I felt. I knew that Dad’s family had been fishermen for a very, very long time so Dad always knew what to do.

I did what he told me... I stood there with eyes close for a few moments then opened them and told him, “The boat is moving different. How come?” He told me that there was a storm off shore and we were feeling the underwater surge of the waves in front of the storm.

We went back out onto the grounds, the schools of Salmon had moved a couple of miles off-shore so we were now fishing about 10 miles from the Cape. Suddenly the wind began to gust from the southwest and the swells grew bigger; the small boat was beginning to roll more than usual.
“Dad”, I asked, “It’s getting rough, what we going to do?”

“We’re OK. We’ll just leave the lines down and troll in toward the Cape; our fishing gear will stabilize the boat.” Dad turned the boat so the waves were directly behind the boat. The Salmon kept biting, I dressed the ones that weren’t too big for me to handle but, I was having difficulty keeping my footing. “OK, Son, put the gutting knife away and come back here to the Cockpit with me.”
Once in the Cockpit with dad, I looked up at the waves coming behind the boat; some were higher than the stern, not yet breaking. They would lift the stern and cause the boat to slide forward like a surfboard. Then the stern would fall sickeningly back down into the trough between the waves as the boat rolled.

Dad refastened the lifeline around my waist. “Son, hold the wheel. I’m going to pull up the gear then go forward and lash the trolling poles down so they don’t jump loose.” I was getting scared but Dad was taking care of things; he could fix anything. It seemed to take forever for him to haul up the fishing lines.

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