COVID-19 STRESS BUSTERS: Story Time from Reel Time Fishing Charters & Marine Tours
Story #2: My Life’s Coming To An End!
Shortly before starting my second year as a fishing guide in Ucluelet, I received a phone call from someone wanting to take their family fishing. This particular call came from a woman in Nanaimo whose daughter and son-in-law were coming for a visit in July. A heavy duty machine operator in Fort McMurray, her son-in-law loved fishing so the idea of a West Coast fishing trip seemed like great fun. I enthusiastically concurred and sent her my usual information and preparation list I sent to all my new guests.
Now, about this list! It covers all the normal details like when to meet, where to meet, what to bring and how to prepare etc. However, the detail I stress the most is the element of sea sickness. Taken directly from an info and prep list I sent not so long ago, it reads: “Sea Sickness: If there is any doubt about motion sickness, stop off at a local pharmacy and ask what they have. Many people go with gravol or something called the patch. Please take this detail seriously.”
The day of the charter was warm and sunny. But the wind was up. In fact, it had been blowing over the past few days. Knowing we would be dealing with some fairly large waves, I contacted my group the day before reminding them about the conditions and my advice on sea sickness. “Yes, yes, we have it covered Turk” was the reply. So when they arrived at my boat and the introductions and safety talk was finished, I asked, “did you all take something for the elements out there?” And then the classic response, “Yep, we brought the gravol just in case.” Too late, I thought to myself.
We left the docks and entered the Ucluelet Channel. I told my group that we would be heading to a place called the Big Bank 50 kilometers off shore. “It’s all good Turk,” they said eagerly “just take us to the fish.” At one point, I even remember someone saying “Turk, what are you so concerned about, look how calm the water is here.” Well, that all changed once we left the channel and hit open water. Suddenly, it got awfully quiet in the boat.
Reaching our destination, I jumped to the back of the boat and began lowering lines. Eager to hook into his first fish, the son-in-law joined me. It didn’t take long. Within a few minutes, we had several hookups! But they were all small fish. Knowing there were larger fish to be caught, I turned to the group and suggested we move. That’s when I noticed the mom and her daughter holding white buckets in front of their faces suggesting all was not well. On the other hand, the guys were all over this idea so we picked up lines and made our move.
Heading to our new spot, we were in what mariners call a “falling sea.” This means climbing up the back side of a wave and surfing down the front of it. My trusty Hourston Glascraft loves these conditions throwing water all around and over the top of the boat. That day, as we plowed into the bottom of up-coming waves, there were moments when it felt like we were actually under water. Cool, I thought. But that’s when I heard something I will never forget. Holding on to the dash of the boat, the daughter cried “my life is coming to an end!”
Oh no, I’m in deep trouble now I thought as we arrived at our destination. No tip for me today! However, seeing all the other boats with several people fighting fish, I called out in my most encouraging voice, “the bite’s on, let’s get-em.” Secretly though, I was also thinking, good, now I don’t look like the only idiot out here. I moved to the back of the boat and quickly dropped lines. I was immediately accompanied by the son-in-law who was eager to get into them once again. And we did. This time they were big fish and lots of them. One in the cooler! Two in the cooler! Three in the cooler! But just as I was about to hand the rod off the fourth time, I noticed that tell-tale look in the son-in-law’s face as he turned, moved to the opposite side of the boat and lost his breakfast. “Breakthrough to Yellow Bird, Breakthrough to Yellow Bird, we have a third Blackhawk down, I repeat, a third Blackhawk down.” With only the dad left, I handed the rod over to the last remaining sailor. Number four in the cooler!
The next fish was epic. Less than sixty seconds after sinking the line back down, the rod went off with the reel screaming that magical sound of a large fish. After grabbing the rod out of the rod holder and feeling the weight, I knew we had a big one. Excited, I turned to hand the rod off to the Dad. But all he could do was look at me and shake his head. “I can’t,” he said and then turned and got sick over the other side of the boat. A fourth and final Blackhawk down!
My attempts to steer through the crowd of boats, fight and land the fish were unsuccessful. But knowing there were some monsters down there, I quickly hooked the line to the clip on the downrigger ready to sink it when I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the dad. He said, “Turk, I think we’ve all had enough fun for one day, please take us home.”
As we neared Ucluelet, I decided to take my group to one of my favorite places in the channel, a large vertical rock that is split in two. It is also a place where the water is usually very calm. Feeling bad that we had been on the water for less than four hours when they had paid for eight, my thinking was; stop here, clean some fish, let them enjoy the fresh air, the warmth of the sun, the beauty of the surroundings and the soothing sound of the water flowing through the rocks and they’ll feel better. It worked. Slowly their normal skin color returned. Before I even had the third fish cleaned, sandwiches were being passed out and cans of beer were being opened. Talking, laughing and joking about the day I finally asked “so what were you thinking after I contacted you and told you to take something for sea sickness?” “Oh,” the mom replied, “we thought the waters would be as calm as they are right here.” We all had a good laugh at that.
Sometime later, the mother wrote a Google Review about their trip. To my surprise, it was one of the best reviews I had ever received. Ironically, she was able to see through the rough seas and sea sickness of the day to something much greater, the extraordinary experience of a wild West Coast fishing trip they had endured together and lived to tell the tale. I suspect that as we ride the waves of this extraordinary pandemic, we too will be able to look back later and tell others how we endured, together. Until the next story, be safe and keep well.