This blog documents the ongoing adventures of my wooden boat and salmon trolling diseases. Originally set up to share a restoration project with family and friends, the tides and currents of life pull us in many directions. I was fishing once for salmon when we shut down with a fleet of about a dozen boats to drift for the night. We were in about 80 fathoms, directly off Tillamook Head. The winds were calm with only a gentle swell to remind us we weren’t tied to a dock somewhere. In the morning I made coffee on the camp stove and when I had soaked up enough coffee for my eyes to work, I looked at the GPS to see where we were. I was in a habit of logging our shutdown and startup lat & long, to calculate how far and which direction we had drifted overnight. Most of the fleet of salmon trollers are manned by 1 or 2 people who work 18-20 hour days. The Coast Guard rules say you must have someone awake on watch all night, but that is impossible. On a day with big current and 25 knots of northwest winds, it’s not unusual to drift 12-16 miles overnight, especially at each end of the season when the nights are longer and the daylight fishing hours shorter. Waking up 16 miles from where the fish are in a boat that can only make 4 miles an hour against the wind and current is no fun, trust me…
But this morning was flat, calm, and magical. The faint glow of the coming day was out my left window to the east. The radio was on but no one had offered the first ‘good morning’ on our fleet VHF channel. I wrote down the numbers and compared them to last night. For a moment I thought the GPS had quit working. The numbers I wrote in the log book this morning were almost identical to those I wrote when we shut down last night. I switched to the plotter, and saw a jagged run – we had moved up, down, in, out, but it was all in a half -mile wide circle. We had drifted for six hours in a big current eddy, and woken up exactly where we had shut down.
That turned out to be a good omen, and we caught a lot of fish there before an equipment breakdown forced us back into Astoria. That afternoon we unloaded over $1,200.00 worth of shiny silver king salmon, caught in a busy two hours on a flat morning off Tillamook Head. It was by far the best day I had ever had on the small, leaky, 34 foot boat. This, then, was living the dream.
That was back in 2003 or 2004. Half of the boats in our local fleet in Newport that season are no longer with us. Some have sunk at sea or at the dock, some have been abandoned and broken up by the port, and some have moved on to other ports. In 2002 when I first sailed into Newport as a deckhand on a boat out of Ilwaco, there was a waiting list for moorage at the salmon dock in Newport. Boats were tied 2 and 3 deep when the fish were within a day’s steaming. Old timers considered this slow, they remember when hundreds of boats from all over the west coast would pile into Newport when the fish were running.
When I bought my first salmon troller, there were about 1300 salmon permits in Oregon, with a little over 400 boats actively fishing. Thirty years before there had been over 3000 permits. Washington at that time had gone from over 4000 permits in the 1970’s to 41 active boats delivering fish. Today I believe there are less than 150 boats actively fishing in Oregon, and that number will reduce further.
I believe that there will always be a market for quality troll caught king salmon. This blog now will document the conversion of a 42 foot boat into a fair weather salmon troller, a ‘geezer troller’, that I can fish part time until I retire, and full time thereafter. Nothing in my work life has come close to enrichment of fishing for salmon with a small fleet of independent, knowledgeable, and colorful salmon fishermen. The personal challenge of operating a small boat on the open ocean is more rewarding than I can describe, and I miss eating fresh fish regularly that we can’t afford to buy ashore. So like that flat morning off Tillamook Head, the current eddy of life is bringing me back to salmon trolling.
For friends and family and the occasional reader who needs something to bore them to sleep, this blog will keep you updated.
Below is the original “About”
This blog is to document for family and friends the restoration process of the Carlyle III. Originally built in Vancouver, Canada in 1930, she was christened as a beam trawler for shrimp and a salmon seiner. In 1945 she was lengthened and turned into a workboat and company yacht for the successful businessman Earl Finning and used to deliver parts and close sales deals all over the logging camps of coastal British Columbia. She has been a Revenue Cutter, Gold Prospecting camp, Fisheries vessel, and is now undergoing a complete restoration to enjoy a quiet retirement as a family cruiser in the Pacific Northwest.