Undercover Deckhand by Terry J. Weist
Growing up as a kid I was fortunate enough to have many trips aboard “charters” out of Westport, Washington. It was a yearly event Dad and I would share when he thought I was old enough to hold my own and cross the bar without puking my guts up.
I was 12 on that first trip and immediately hit it off with the deckhand. I admired him. Perfectly baiting our hooks, netting our fish, and at the end watching his amazing knife work. When I was old enough I knew I was going to be a deckhand someday.
I guess what I didn’t realize is that someday was May 9, 2015, 40 years after that initial voyage across the bar. Not only old enough, but many would think too old. But hell, I love to fish and I’m going to do it!
The opportunity came when talking to a good buddy of mine and also one of the best fishermen I know, Captain Todd Girtz. Todd had just recently decided to pursue becoming a charter boat captain and I wanted to do everything I could to help ensure his business got off on the right foot. While Todd worked on all the details of the business, I designed and launched his new website. The name in itself speaks volumes of his ability; he’s definitely on the extreme end and the ultimate hard core angler.
Now I’ve fished with Todd many times over the past dozen or so years since I’ve met him, and we fish well together. But now, owning a charter business, things were going to be different. Now, we weren’t going to “buddy fish” anymore, it would be strictly business. My mind began to race as I tried to figure out how to fish with my buddy, while not taking a seat from a paying customer. Terrific idea… I’ll deckhand!
So as the season started on the salt we began to look for a date. May 9th out of Ilwaco Washington was it. Todd fishes out of a 26-foot North River Seahawk with dual 150hp Honda’s. The one thing that sets aside his business from others is he fishes a whole day, limits or not (usually limits).
If you’re looking for a quick limit and then run back to shore, Todd’s Extreme Fishing is not an option. Fish are generally released until the better sized ones are retained. Why do I bring this up?
As a deckhand I know I’m in for a long day, a very long day and then some.
My deckhand adventure began at 12:30 a.m. at my home in Covington, WA. I hadn’t slept but an hour as the anticipation always gets to me on my first ocean voyage of each year. Driving I could see a mass of flashing lights and knew this couldn’t be good. A State Patrol Officer quickly began approaching me coming directly at me, going the wrong way on my side of the highway. He had me pull a u-turn and bypass the accident by following a road which ran parallel to my original path. Gotta love the GPS in our smartphones don’t we!
I managed to see a few deer on the side of the road, then a nice herd of elk. Their white butts sticking out from the light of the moon in the sky. A quick 3 ½ hours and I arrived in beautiful Ilwaco.
Shortly after arriving, the rest of the day’s crew would arrive. Having fished the day before Todd was there ready for us to start getting the boat ready. Normally we only fish 4 anglers, but today we had an oddity and were fishing 5. This would only add to the fun!
Captain Todd, Bill, Walter, Pete, Keanu, Tony and I would make up the days extreme team. After checking all the licenses and listening to the Captains safety talk, it was 5:00 a.m. and we were headed out. Bumpers and ropes in, it was now my job to clear the deck and get all the rods/reels/bait and gear ready for the first drop, which was about 1 ½ hours out (approximately 26 miles). Each reel was plugged in (Daiwa Tamacombull 750 Electric Reels). This is a huge difference between Extreme Fishing and the rest of the fleet. They were rigged with a hootchie skirt or B2 Squid over an off white Berkley Power Grub with a 12/0 Big River Game Hook on the top setup, a 3-pound pipe jig on the bottom. 265-pound tuna cord for leader and 80-pound Power Pro mainline helped assure us a big one would not get away—at least not break the line.
The weather was smiling on us. Crossing the bar was like cruising on a lake. A rarity for sure. Not only did this make for an easy cruise out, it also made it easier to get my sea legs and get everything ready for the frenzy about to commence.
As we approached our destination we could see numerous boats.
Not what we expected as the day before there were only two boats, Todd’s and another Charter who was extremely upset that someone was fishing “his” hole. Turns out on this day someone forgot to turn their AIS unit off which led everyone to the “secret” hole—and NO it was not Todd that had the AIS on. Karma?
Taking the word of the Captain—“drop ‘em down.” Keanu and Peter were to the back of the boat. Pete was a veteran with the electric reel and was down on the command. Keanu just needed a simple 10-second lesson and he too was on his way. After a 30 second pause Walter and Tony dropped as well. The staggering of times helps with less tangles. Helps, but doesn’t eliminate.
800 feet of water—yes 800. Those electric reels are a godsend right now. Having reeled up from that distance with a standard reel, I was all for having each customer at least reel up once, even without a fish to appreciate the electrics, but no takers. It didn’t take long and Pete had a fish on, he engaged his reel and the assent was on.
Shortly after Tony hooks up, then Walter—yes we have a triple to begin the morning.
I was given the instructions to release anything 20 pounds or less, 25 or over the Captain wanted to make the decision. Pete’s was easy, a quick release, re-bait and down he goes. Oh, now Keanu is hooked up as the other two are almost to the surface.
Starting to get really good! Walter gets his fish up… it’s a keeper!
Todd takes the gaff and lifts the fish onboard. I whack it, take the hooks out, get him baited back up and back down. While I was doing this Walter marked his tag. Tony’s fish… another keeper. This fish is brought in. Again, I thump it, take the hooks out… bait is good and sent it back down after tag marked. While Keanu is still bringing his fish up, I quickly bleed both halibut and inserted numbered pins into the mouths of each which correlate to the number they were given to begin the day. Keanu’s fish is a bit small, so I reach over and release it. New bait, send it back down. Pete’s hooked up again. “Hatch Open” I yell and slide both fish that are on the deck into the holding box. Pete’s fish is again small so I release it, but now we’re going to move. “Lines up”.
After all the lines are in they are all re-baited with fresh bait (salmon bellies), hooks checked for sharpness and touched up, rods stabilized while moving, clean the deck and set up all the gear (gaff, dehooker, pliers, knives, scissors) for the next drift. And it begins again.
After 4 drifts we had our 7 keepers ranging from 25 to 35 pounds. Most the time the Captain would take control of the gaff, but I got my couple stabs in there as well. As lines tangled, well, they got untangled or cut and re-tied. Bait needed to be brought out and cut to size. Hooks needed to be sharpened. Luckily, at 800ft down, there was time to regroup between most fish. Even with electric reels the trip up was somewhere in the 7 minute range. Of course that’s better than to 20 to 30 minutes it would take with a manual reel.
After hali number 7 was marked, it was time for something different… Blackcod, or sable fish. In area 1 lingcod are not able to be retained with halibut in the boat, nor are rock fish. We changed out the pipe jigs to Norwegian jigs and put bait on both top rig and the jigs. Black cod love bait. All rods were set as we made a move to a little different area. I kept looking at the monitor and noticed the depth—1200 feet. Yowie that’s deep. The boat stopped in a trough, yes 1200 feet to the bottom and we gave the nod to drop em down. 2 ½ minutes to touch bottom and that’s in free spool mode. Almost instantly Pete hooks up. That seemed to be Pete’s thing this day and he was on fire. The others quickly hooked up as well and it was a quad. Well, actually it was a sixer? Two of the rods had doubles on them.
OK, now this is when my sweatshirt flew off. As fast as I could I’d get the fish in, take the hooks out, re-bait, drop down, get the fish bled and insert the correct numbered pins and slide them in the fish hold. Seems simple enough. But how about 54 black cod in two drifts!!! Yep, I worked up a bit of a sweat.
Three of the crew members tapped out—this is a good sign as they got their extreme fishing fill. The others were fine going in as it was a long day.
OH crap… it just hit me. Who do you think gets to fillet all these fish!!!!
After everyone settled in the cabin, now it was time to straighten the rods, unplug and wrap the reel cords. Jigs, skirts and hooks all cut off and put away (new stuff for each day). Scrub and clean the deck. Basically pick up all the garbage and make the deck presentable again. Lots of blood hit the deck today.
Finally, a chance to rest on the way in. Not long on this day as it was extremely flat. No bar whatsoever.
Back at the dock we were greeted by one of Washington’s finest, along with a fish checker. Paperwork was checked as were all the fish. Now, the work begins. This is where a super sharp knife is your best friend. Did I mention there were 54 black cod! Plus the 7 halibut… now that’s a few fillets! All the fish were bagged by pin number with the Captain and Deckhand also catching their fish. Yes, the crew is happy.
It’s approaching 9:00 p.m. by now. The boat is readied for another day… but at Westport. Nite nite around midnite—up at 3:30 to do it again.
- written by Terry J Weist