By John Platt and Irene Marie Hurwitz
Well, I must say it’s nice to be back at the keyboard. I really didn’t think I’d miss it, but I was mistaken. The sea, the boats, the fishermen are my soul. It’s something I need to feel whole and I really miss it. It’s the little things, the weather reports, the jokes, the old-timers, the youngsters, the jargon, the slang, (the “mother tongue” so to speak). Comments you make like, “I threw the pick.” “I set the heavy first and then the dogs! Got my first bite three stops down. They’re coming right on top today! I love this hoochie!” Anyway, you get the point!
As for fishing, the latest reports I hear are not promising. As most of you know, crab season has been dismal, with reported numbers being ones and twos and zeros per pot. If anyone is doing better than that, they’re not talking. There are always those guys who work harder and make it happen even with zero, ones and twos in their pots. They work day and night to make it happen and if you’re one of them, good luck to you.
The upcoming salmon numbers don’t appear to be too exciting either. The published alternatives should be coming out soon. I don’t look for much for our commercial men and women.
I think it was back in ‘77 when we hit just such a salmon season, and it pretty much changed our lives and fishing careers. We’d been looking everywhere for salmon. We fished out of Ft. Bragg, and there wasn’t much around. We decided to try a week’s trip to Pt. Arena and see what we could find. We were two boats, my brother, Buzz Platt and his wife Prin on a pretty little double ender called the f/v Chumketa. Irene and I had the f/v Zachary M, a fine 36-foot Kettenburg that would slice so smoothly through the water. We had fished the Zachary a while by then and were very confident of our capabilities. She was a good salmon boat and we had already pushed her through some tough weather fishing salmon and albacore.
We ran down and anchored at Fish Rocks, devising our plan for the week. The next morning, with bait punched, we hauled anchor in the dark and headed north towards the Point. Together we set our gear, determined to score big that day. By day’s end, the continuous tacks up and down, checking for scratched bait, running the lines yielded us nothing. Not even a shaker.
The conditions looked okay, some bait on the meter, and slightly dirty green water with a hint of brown. Nothing but some slimy remnants of jellyfish on the lines. No bites, no fish. By the end of the week, Buzz had two rag Kings; we had one. It was downright discouraging to say the least. Here we were, the first week of July but where were the fish?
We headed back up to Ft. Bragg and decided to give it a week before going for some radio fish down around Bodega Bay, the Islands and Cordell Banks. Buzz and I made plans to meet at the Dock Cafe near Cummin’s Dock for breakfast the next morning. When we arrived, we noticed an albacore boat tied at Cummin’s fuel dock. It had a “For Sale” sign in the window.
We had breakfast and afterward Buzz and Prin, Irene and I walked over to this boat and checked it out. It really wasn’t much to look at, but on further inspection it had what you needed to go offshore. I wondered why they were selling it, and why now, right at the start of albacore season?
I thought back to what my best friend used to tell me about albacore boats. Keith had grown up fishing albacore on his father’s boat off Washington and Oregon. He would always preach: tuna boats need plenty of fuel to stick and stay, and refrigeration to keep the fish fresh/frozen. The boat had to have the necessary electronics and be tough enough to handle 24-hour days of nasty weather. And oh yes, decent enough crew quarters and hot food to eat.
This boat had all that and more. The owners said they just were not ready to put in another albacore season. We made a deal to buy the boat through PCA (Production Credit Association) and within a couple of weeks, it was a done deal. We had our first real tuna boat.
We went for it! We put on an additional thousand gallons of fuel, topped off the fresh water, fired up the blast freezer and set it low to get going. With groceries onboard along with Laddie, our Irish Setter, we cast off the lines, slipped out the Noyo River, and set course for the Gorda Sea Valley off Ft. Bragg, California.
For the next 30 days, we fished off Monterey to the south, and all the way up north to the Columbia River at Astoria Oregon. It was great! We didn’t hammer them, but we caught our share and the boat had no problems, which you might expect from a newly purchased vessel. Our worst calamity was a broken pole drifting off the Columbia River waiting for the tide. When we unloaded at Astoria, the buyer was kind enough to replace our pole. Before we had even pulled up to the dock, he had a few men carrying a new pole to load onto our boat at no charge. Are you kidding me? Back in the day, buyers would treat you well, give you tickets for dinners, free showers, loan you a truck to get groceries. Tell me that wouldn’t win your loyalty. They treated us so well, we felt a little guilty knowing this first trip hardly made us members of the great tuna fleet.
After Astoria, we traveled south ducking into harbors along the way. A stiff storm chased us into Newport, farther south we enjoyed some sunny days in Eureka waiting for a fierce Nor’wester to blow out. Sliding down to Fort Bragg, then on to Moss Landing, past the Channel Islands, and finally, San Diego. By then it was October and despite the occasional catch, the albacore season in California was over. As we tied up our boat we had to confess as semi greenhorns, we were happy with our first real offshore vessel. In looking back, I find it even harder to believe we took the boat out without knowing anything about her. Oh well, that’s blind luck and youthful confidence.
As I reflect on that summer, I can’t help but credit that sparse blank salmon trip off Fish Rocks as the catalyst for my becoming a fulltime albacore fisherman. By the way, if you do Facebook, and enjoy an old fishing story now and then, take a look at a group called “Salty History.”
Oh, by the way, did I say Old Bold Fisherman? I meant Old Bald Fisherman.