COVID-19 STRESS BUSTERS: Story time with Reel Time Fishing Charters & Marine Tours.
Story #3: Love the Ones You’re With!
Shortly before I started my own fishing charter business, a friend and fishing guide gave me some good advice. He said, “Turk, be careful you don’t turn something you love into something you hate.” Knowing he had been in the business for many years, I took his advice seriously. So before investing tens of thousands of dollars into my own boat and gear, I worked for a number of charter companies on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. It turned out to be a wise decision. Not only did I learn a lot from some very experienced fishing guides, I also discovered that guiding is a lot of hard work. It’s not always that dream job so many think it is. But sometimes it is.
Today’s story is one of those dream job days. It didn’t start off that way. Walking to my car ready to drive home after being on the water for two weeks, another guide bumped into me and asked, “Hey Turk, are you working tomorrow?” “No,” I said, “I going home, why”? “Well,” he said, “a friend of mine who runs a lodge in Bamfield is short a guide and boat tomorrow and was wondering if I knew of anyone who could help out.”
Over the years, I’ve received a number of these last minute requests. A late night phone call, somebody knocking on my door early in the morning, even people waiting for me at my boat slip after I had returned from a morning trip. In this seasonal business where you take what you can get, guides don’t usually turn these requests down. So I called my wife informing her I wouldn’t be coming home that night. And then I went into high gear. Getting to the lodge at this hour of the day was going to be touch and go. With the gas dock closed and less than 2 hours of daylight, I had to locate and fill a few jerry cans of gas, fuel the boat, return the jerry cans and make the 30 minute boat ride into Bamfield before dark. Exhausted, I made it to the lodge just as the last traces of light faded into a starry night.
Tying up my trusted steed, I met the owner of the lodge. He went over my sleeping arrangements, the particulars of my trip the next day and then showed me around. Wow, what a place I thought. Perched on the side of a large cliff, this rustic, immaculate and professionally run lodge had a view like none other I had ever seen. Even in the quiet darkness, it was breathtaking. For several minutes I stood there taking in the beauty, the vastness of the ocean dotted with numerous islands all under a glowing moon and shimmering stars. Mesmerized by the moment, I thought to myself, yep, sometimes there are definitely some great perks about working as a fishing guide.
Early the next morning, myself and four other guides made our way to the docks to ready our boats. With clear skies and no wind, it looked to be one of those early September blue bird days. My guest, a slightly stooped elderly gentleman arrived right on time. “Where’s your wife?” I asked. “Ah, she’s decided to sleep in and do a little shopping later on,” he replied. Struggling to get his foot over and into my boat, I tried assisting him. That didn’t work as we both tumbled into the boat, he on top of me. Staring at me, he said, “Hi, my name is Bob.” Squirming, I got up reaching out my hand to help him. “Hi, I’m Turk” I said. Our composure regained, he explained to me that his knees had been giving him trouble lately and that this was most likely his last ever fishing trip due to waning health. That said, I was determined to make it his best.
We all left the docks together in single file that morning, me trailing the other boats. Since I had not fished the area much in the past, I decided to follow the other guides to a place where some decent fish had been caught the day before. But half way there, something inside of me whispered Swale Rock! Swale Rock! I banked right breaking free of the formation slicing through water smooth as glass. Ten minutes later, we arrived at our destination. Floating motionless on the outer edge of Swale Rock, I was once again stunned by the beauty of the day and our surroundings. With not a boat in sight, I stood there in the silence as the rising sun began to burn off the morning mist. I turned to Bob and said “Man, life doesn’t get much better than this.”
I reached over to lower my trolling motor when I noticed the water boiling with bait fish. That got my heart pounding. With all this bait, there had to be salmon. Quickly I started my trolling motor and got my lines rigged up. Before the motor even had a chance to warm up, I put it in gear, lowered the first line to 40 feet and the second line to 60 feet. Any time now, I thought as we began to move ahead slowly. And then smash, off went the first rod. The fish hit the bait hard enough to pop the line off the clip. I quickly grabbed the rod and handed it over to Bob saying “rod tip up and keep the tension on.” Just then, the second rod went off. Oh ya, they were here!
When fishing and weather is this good, a guide can focus on the most important part of charter fishing, their guests. That morning, with the bite on and the sun shining, I took my time enjoying every second I had with Bob. I asked him about his parents, where he was born, where he went to school, how he and his wife had met, about their children and about the businesses he had started. He loved his family and he loved his work. Unfortunately, he was beginning to realize that the days of doing what he loved were slowly coming to an end due to ailing health. What a gem I thought to myself.
Just then, my phone went off. It was the owner of the lodge wondering where we were and how we were doing. “We’re having a blast,” I said “and we can’t keep them off the line.” “Where are you fishing?” he inquired. “Swale Rock,” I replied. Fifteen minutes later, I spotted four boats blasting our way. “I guess the fishing wasn’t too good out there,” I said to Bob. Come to think of it, fishing had actually died off for us too. How was I going to explain this to the guides who had just joined us? Oh well, with three Chinook and four Coho in the cooler, we were simply looking for one more fish. So I reached into my tackle and pulled out my favorite lure at times like this, “double trouble.” I showed it to Bob and said “when the bite’s off and you’ve tried everything else in the box, it’s time for double trouble.” With a playful glance, I retrieved one of our lines and then dropped double trouble.
Our first pass through an area we had been catching fish that morning yielded nothing. About two thirds of the way through our second pass though, Bob pointed to the rod and cried “fish.” I spun around but saw nothing. After turning back to my chart plotter to keep us on course, Bob yelled again “something’s on that line.” Again I studied the rod tip but saw nothing. But a few seconds later, I saw what he was talking about. Ever so gingerly, a bounce! And then another! I grabbed the rod and snapped the line out of the clip when suddenly, the reel exploded into music. “Fish on!” I cried as I handed him the rod. It was man against monster, the Chinook putting up a legendary fight; run, stop, head shake, run. This continued for some time. But in the end, it was Bob who won. Lying on the deck of the boat was a beautiful Chinook salmon close to twenty pounds. We yelled out, high-fived, picked up the other line and called it a day. A dee-dah day!
After a short celebration cruise through the surrounding islands, we made our way back to the lodge. Once we were tied up, I helped Bob out of the boat and grabbed a trolley to wheel our catch up to the cleaning station. Bob’s wife heard about our arrival and came down to greet us. Camera in hand, she had us stand together, our arms around each other’s shoulders. She snapped a picture of us, two boys with ear to ear grins suspended in time. I will never forget that day with Bob.
Like many of you, I hope I have my dream job to go back to after the chaos of COVID-19 is over. In the meantime though, I am remembering and writing about those moments with people that have made me smile. As one of my best mentors in the business once said, “it’s about people before it’s about fish.” How right he is! So in these uncertain times, times where people have not been able to be present as their loved ones suffer or even die, let’s love the people we’re with. Call them! Message them! Skype with them! Tell them you love them and why. Celebrate life, tell stories and make some new memories.