Sockeye fishing

~ Geoff Austin, one of the owners of the Fisherman’s Market

Before I became a full-time fisherman, I worked as a deckhand on a salmon troller during summer breaks and for a few fall openings when I managed to ditch out on school. I would spend the warm summer months chasing all 5 salmon species up and down the south coast.

Those were good days, though I remember days when my skipper (a haywire, pot smoking, hard drinking and all around great guy) and I barely made enough money to buy cigarettes and a couple of steaks after the day’s work.

I was 17, I was exhausted, I was thrilled and I was hooked.

We fished from Victoria up to Port Hardy. I experienced the narrows for the first time on that little troller, I remember a chum salmon opening up around Kelsey Bay one year and the tide was running so strong all our gear was dragging on the surface, 50lb cannon balls and all. 

Years later, that same stretch of water rolled the 54’ Fritzi Ann on our way back from prawn fishing. There are moments from those days that I still think about often. 
 – Seeing my first 40+ lb Spring salmon come up from the depths into view on my line. 
 – Laying on the back deck in the thickest fog I have ever seen, barely able to see the bells on the ends of the poles. Like being in a dream, the pop of the diesel and the odd windswept tree coming in and out of view as we crept along the coast in search of Cohos. 
 – A fall pink opening with 600 plus fish days, cleaned and belly iced every one of them for $.15 a pound. No one realized what a great fish they are.
Those were great days. 

We broke down often, spent nights tied up in a flotilla of fellow trollers awaiting the next opening. The sound of laughter and the smell of the diesel stoves carrying across the bay.

When I think back over that time there is one opening that tops them all. A Fraser River Sockeye opening in ’94 or ’95. Glorious weather, the whole fleet weaving a course that zig-zagged back and forth in front of the river. As the morning gave way to the afternoon we left the pack and headed across the straight toward Galiano island. The fish seemed to follow us. I worked both sets of lines, the water was clear and I could see 4 fish at a time coming up. Thick beautiful Sockeye, their turquoise backs glistening in the sun. I’d haul a line, clean the fish, ice them and repeat. The bells continued to ring into the evening. When it was all said and done we caught 368 Sockeye that day.

We anchored in a little bay and under the light of a single bulb silently cleaned and iced the last of our catch. We sat that night smoking cigarettes until late into the night. Someone on the radio said one of the cash buyers was paying $3.25/lb. It was the most money I had ever made. I was 17, I was exhausted, I was thrilled and I was hooked.

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