Many of the seasonal workers reading this article are dirtbags. You've abandoned someone else's expectation of success, committed yourself to living cheap, shacked up with some friends, and followed your passion for adventure to the outdoor Mecca that is Alaska. Congratulations! This lifestyle, like fishing, is an art form that commands a dubious respect and requires a certain finesse. The following tale hopes to improve your skill at both.
Luke (Florida) knocks on my door at 8 AM and I force myself upright at the sound. I'm hung over but in less than 3 minutes I've hurriedly dressed, eaten half a banana, and remembered to grab the three essentials of bridge fishing: a rod, a bucket, and a pocket knife (I later learn a net is also essential). My reel holds less 12 lb plastic test than I'm comfortable with, but it's the length I found in the crawl space of my rented apartment. Sportsman like, but not ideal for shooting fish in a barrel, or in this case, under the Steadman Street Bridge.
The tide is at max ebb and the pink salmon are thick in the shallow water. I cast my bright pink lure ten feet out and one foot deep. Shadows of the anadromous herd can be seen in stark relief against the rocky creek bottom. An intrepid explorer approaches the jig and I let it fall.
"Excuse me," I repeat again and again as I walk my catch to the right, spreading the crowd of poncho wearing onlookers. Luke leaps over the rail and scurries down the wet rocks like a pescatarian mountain goat. I drag the writhing salmon too shallow too soon and snap. Some lucky fish is going to make it to the spawning grounds with a pink lip piercing and get all the tail.
Luke climbs back to the sidewalk and I take troll duty. He hooks one quickly but just as he reels it to my feet our dinner gives a furious head thrash and swims away. A collective sigh comes up from the cruise ship cohort. Moments later redemption is within my grasp, a wee tourist with a rented pole has a fish on.
"Bring it over," I holler up. His mother doesn't look attired for a rock scrabble.
Under Luke's direction, the boy reels in his braided line while walking his pole my way. I pull the salmon onto the barnacle encrusted rocks and just as I free the jig from his mouth he jumps like a salmon in the water to the rocks below. I dive, my arms full extended and manage to get my hands around his middle. I toss him up, back, and over my shoulder. In the seconds it takes me to come to my feet the persevering Onocrhynchus gorbuscha has found his way back to the water’s edge. I throw my knees down on either side of his slopping nose, kneel over his body, and thrust my fingers behind his gills while I giggle with pure fish joy.
I hold our catch up and the crowd cheers, it seems I've become an accidental street performer. Only as I hand the fish to the smiling child on the other side of the rail do I realize I'm bleeding. Not badly, but just enough to make the story better. I pose with the kid and become immortalized in a family album, famous in a mom's Facebook circle of friends. She hands me a $20 and tells me to keep the fish. A business is born.
Continuing the Creek Street legacy of women in service, I swiftly snare additional customers. After fetching a few fish for a couple from Hawaii, they offer me $20 to fillet one of their catch. I commit a sin of omission and neglect to tell them I have never actually filleted a fish before. I mutilate the salmon to the best of my ability and the couple is ecstatic. Hell, I'm ecstatic. They both shake my fish gut covered hand and invite me to Maui to visit their restaurant for dinner. I accept their payment (plus tip), business card, and dinner invitation. After all, Hawaii is a great place to find seasonal work and a dirtbag never turns down a free meal.
Written by Mary Maley (aka Wild Mary, West Virginia)
Photo by Tom Raguar