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Column: Finding Your Way

July 1st, 2011 Posted in Opinion

By Ted Pease

TRINIDAD, Calif.—You can’t really see Strawberry Rock until you’re far enough away from it. From land, it’s hidden in the redwoods unless you go find it—a massive lump of rocks northeast of Trinidad. Kind of ugly, really, and the lumber company that owns the land really don’t want anyone out there, so there’s a lot of slash and crap to walk through. And then you can see it, and it’s pretty much a disappointment. We hiked out to it once, and what was the point? Waste of time. It’s a rock. Big deal.

But Jim Gullet, a Trinidad commercial fisherman and captain of the Wind Rose, told me once that Strawberry Rock is a navigation aid for fishermen. Well, you don’t understand that until you’re out to sea.

Today, I took my boat, Toad, straight out from Trinidad about 4 or 5 miles. My salmon gear was screwed up, and Ron aboard the Betty Ellen got a nice 47-pound halibut out there yesterday. Haven’t had a halibut yet this year, and I want one. So we went out to 300 feet or so in the drizzle and put the halibut gear down.

For halibut, you have to go to the bottom and bounce around until you annoy a fish enough to bite. You put this metal hanger thing on the line—it sticks out a foot or so with the bait and then has a lead weight hanging below it, a pound or two, depending on the current. Anyway, you put this contraption on your rod and let it down, plummeting hundreds of feet to smack into the mud at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, maybe 3, 4, 5 miles from dry land where the sane people are. And then you let the weight bounce up and down on the bottom until, as I say, a halibut is bonked in the head or annoyed enough to bite the lure. And then if you get a fish on, you have to drag this flat closet door up through 300 feet of water to the boat. And he pretty much doesn’t want to come. And the closet door has muscles when he wants to use them. And he gets pissed off when he sees the boat and he wants to leave. Which is the fun part. And if this is a good-sized closet door—the biggest in Eureka this year, I hear, is 86 pounds, which is pretty damn big closet door—and even if it’s a little, 47-pound closet door, for example, when they get to the boat they get kind of excited, so inviting them aboard can be a challenge sometimes.

Anyway, I went for halibut this morning in the drizzle after I found my downrigger for salmon trolling was all screwed up. I went straight out from Trinidad Head to 316 feet, where I found a couple other dreamers, and put my gear down to the bottom in the ancient ocean mud. Halibut fishing is kind of sweet, for a while, anyway. All you do is put the line down so the lead weight bounces on the bottom, and wait to bonk a fish in the head or annoy her enough to bite you. You can drink coffee and listen to the radio, or do a crossword or take a nap. I was rigging some stuff that I should have done last week, and got two phone calls from people who thought I should been at work. And I scrubbed some bird crap off the deck, and generally was farting around in what my wife calls my “man cave.” And then the rod bent over and did that thing that fishermen wait and dream for.

Well, that should have been the start to a great tale of fishy triumph, but whatever it was that bit me—maybe a nuclear submarine—broke the line and we’ll never know the end of that story.

About then, I hear that the salmon are biting down in Eureka, which is 18-20 miles from where my halibut gear lies on the bottom. But my downrigger is busted. What the hell? I say. I have a great new boat and a full gas tank. It’s lovely, flat day and who wants to clean a halibut anyway? So I dig out my old Deep6 and try to remember which end to attach to what. And I point Toad south. It’s a great drive past Clam Beach and McKinleyville, Mad River and the Stacks to the buoy outside the Jetty.

What’s more fun than driving a good boat over the ocean in the sun?

And this is the point of this story. That and Strawberry Rock. And my grandfather, a sweet Swede named Carroll Zachrisson, who taught me to fish when I was but a newt.

Zach was a lovely and loving man, and my parents just sent me a photo he shot in the 1950s. So I was thinking about him today as I lost the whopper halibut, and then as I landed the nice King salmon off Eureka, and as I gassed the boat at Englund’s and then headed home. I would have loved to have Grampa on my boat, and it makes me tear up, even though he’s been gone since 1979, to think about taking him fishing. I’m not sad, just miss him, now, more than 30 years later. He taught me photography, and fishing, and a lot of other stuff that I rediscover here and there by accident.

Anyway, most of the land-bound don’t ever see Strawberry Rock, but Jim Gullet is right—it’s pretty prominent when you’re on a boat coming up from the south. I have GPS on the boat, and it’ll take me where I need to go. But I grew up navigating with my eyes and my brain and the angle of the waves and the wind, so when I came out of the harbor in Eureka and past the North Jetty, I could see Strawberry Rock, and just drove that way.

That’s how Zach navigated. It was pretty much common sense and experience. When he fished, he said he could smell ’em. No fish-finders or fancy gadgets for him. His life was pretty much the same—dead-reckoning, he’d call it, based on what he knew and what he thought.

He would have liked Strawberry Rock just fine. Go that way, he’d say. Smell the fish.

Ted Pease is an aspiring fisherman in Trinidad, California. And then he’s interim head of the JCOM Department at Utah State, although he’s trying not to think about that at the moment.


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  1. One Response to “Column: Finding Your Way”

  2. By Eric Stockwell on Jul 1, 2011

    Very nice piece, Ted. Loved it.

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