COVID-19 STRESS BUSTERS: Story time with Reel Time Fishing Charters & Marine Tours.
Story #4: The Salmon or the Barbeque?
Four years ago, I received a phone call from a young lady inquiring about a Nanaimo fishing charter for her husband’s twenty-fifth birthday. “Excellent idea!” I said. “How much?” she inquired. “Three hundred and seventy-five dollars for four hours,” I replied. “Three hundred and seventy five dollars!” she exclaimed astounded, “I could buy him a barbeque for that kind of money.” “Maybe,” I said, “but the novelty of that barbeque will wear off pretty quick. On the other hand” I continued, “if I can get him into a nice fish, he’ll remember it for the rest of his life.” She told me she’d think about it and then hung up.
I guess I wasn’t the greatest sales person back then. But to this day, I still believe that happiness comes more from experiences than it does from purchasing physical objects. True, most of the things we buy like clothes, phones, bikes or cars may last longer. But sooner or later we adapt to those new things. They simply become a part of the new normal. Experiences on the other hand are stories that can live on forever. Even ones that are scary or stressful can become funny, even legendary when told at a family gatherings or parties. Finally, shared experiences are better at connecting us with others. For example, you are much more likely to feel connected to someone with whom you have shared a wild West Coast fishing trip than someone who just bought the latest flat screen TV no matter how many times you and your friends watch the Vancouver Canucks win or lose.
Anyways, two weeks later, my phone rang again. It was the same young lady who had called earlier about the fishing charter for her husband’s birthday. “It seems a little over the top,” she said, “but he’s never done anything like this before so we’ll go for it.” Sensing it was going to be a bit of a stretch financially, I even discounted the trip to help out. “You won’t be sorry,” I promised.
On the day of the charter, it was a beautiful sunny morning with a slight wind blowing from the Northwest. My party of three arrived right on time. I walked up to parking lot to meet them and introduced myself. Once the introductions were over, we walked down to the boat. I jumped in and asked them to hand me their coolers. With everyone in and the safety talk over, I untied the boat. Taxiing out of the Newcastle Channel, I decided to have a little fun. Picking up my VHF microphone, I announced in my radio voice: “Control tower, control tower, this is Flight 171 requesting permission for take-off, over.” “Roger Flight 171, you are cleared for take-off, over.” I turned to my guests who were standing at the back of the boat and announced, “Cabin crew, please take your seats in preparation for take-off.” With everyone seated, I hit the throttle. The boat jumped into life and onto plane. Seconds later, we were rounding the Northwest corner of Newcastle Island where we were greeted by the rising sun. Ah yes, another beautiful day on the water.
Our destination that morning was the Whisky Gulf, one of the deepest stretches of water in the Georgia Straight. Once we arrived, I told my group how the area is periodically used by the US military to test torpedoes. “And when the submarines aren’t around,” I joked, “it can also be a quite productive fishing spot.” I quickly dropped lines and began to study the sonar. I explained to them that I was looking for pockets of bait that show up on my screen as blue, red or yellow balls depending upon their density. I also kept an eye on other boats in the area to see if anyone was fighting or landing fish. Though most of us guides are great friends off the water, on the water, we are a pretty competitive bunch.
Taking my usual spot at the back of the boat where I steer, watch the screen and rod tips and chat with my guests, the hunt began. It was a playful group who were totally at home with each other. Listening to their lively chatter, I discovered they had been friends since high school. I also discovered that Steve, whose birthday they were celebrating, had recently become a dad. Being slightly ahead of the other two in terms of age and family life, he was certainly fielding his fair share of teasing that morning. But it also meant that he was going to be the first one on the rod when a fish hit.
After about an hour or so, I started to get a little antsy. I’d seen a number of nets come out from a group of boats fishing by the Five Fingers Island. Recognizing one of my friend’s among them, I made the call. “Getting anything?” I asked. “Yep,” came the reply, “we got one nice one in the box and have lost a few others.” Well, that’s all I need to hear. I asked him the typical questions like how deep he was fishing and what he was using and then announced to my team, “we’re moving!” We picked up lines and make a short run for the Five Fingers.
I’ll never forget the first fish we hooked into that morning. Moving in behind my friend’s boat, we dropped lines. Moments after the second line was down, the opposite rod bent right over, straightened back up again and then went into a series of violent tugs! Only one thing does that out here I thought to myself as I grabbed the rod out of the rod holder. “Fish on!” I cried as I handed the rod to the birthday boy.
If you have never experienced the fight of a good Chinook, I can tell you they are tricky, even scary fish to fight. I’ve seen people shaking like a leaf after landing one. They’ll run, dig, stop and shake their head, come straight at you as the guide yells “reel” and then run out again. They’ll even come completely out of the water as they try to shake the hook. The big ones will often circle to one side of the boat or the other. And that’s exactly what Steve’s fish was doing. I knew we had a fairly large one on by the way it hit and the way it was fighting. But as I saw the massive tail as the fish surfaced about 30 feet from the starboard side of the boat, my heart began pounding. Coaching Steve to get ready for a big run beside the boat, he brought the fish in close, closer, closer and then quickly, it was in the net. Wow, what a fish! The size, the bright chrome sides, the purplish-blue top and those fearsome black jaws, all heart-stopping stuff! The reverent silence was finally broken by hooting, hollering and high-fiving. Steve held his fish as the others began snapping pictures. Seeing his ear to ear smile I couldn’t help but take a picture myself. The jubilant smile on people as they stand there on top of the world is worth everything.
We managed to pick up two more that morning meaning everyone went home with a fish. But the best part of the trip was still to come. A few weeks later, I received a phone call from Steve’s wife. “Thanks for taking my husband and his two friends out fishing,” she said. “It was my privilege,” I replied, “your husband and his friends were an awesome group.” “Also,” she continued, “you were right when suggested the fishing charter over the barbeque.” “How so?” I asked. “Well, she said, “he can’t stop talking about that stupid fish. In fact, every time he tells that story, the fish gets bigger.” I laughed. “I told you,” I said. “He’ll remember and tell that story forever, even to your newborn son as he grows up.”
Years from now if I am lucky, I might receive another phone call from the same woman, this time requesting a fishing trip for her husband and their son. It wouldn’t surprise me. Over the years, I have discovered that shared experiences like these have a way of binding us together like nothing else. Sometimes, the salmon is better than the barbeque.