A Stormy End to the Summer Fishing Season

Sonia - September 2, 2015

Oliver’s big wish this summer was to go on a long fishing trip with his dad, Shaun. On Monday, August 24th, just weeks before starting grade two, he got his wish as Shaun and Oliver left Vancouver to travel up to Nootka Sound. They planned to fish the final Chinook salmon opening for the area and then to bring the boat home down the west coast of Vancouver Island, around the southern tip, and across the Georgia Strait home to Vancouver.


Oliver was over the moon. It was, of course, all he could talk about for days before they left as he packed and unpacked his little blue backpack with all he could think he might need.


“I should take this flashlight,” he said just before bed one night, brandishing a blue plastic kids’ flashlight with flashing red and blue lights inside it, “so I can help daddy look for fish in the net at night.”


“Sure, buddy,” I’d said with a smile. “That’s a helpful idea.”


By the time he left for the trip on Monday afternoon, his backpack was bulging with favourite stuffed animals, books, his Leap Pad, clothes, toothbrush, and helpful items like the flashlight.


Since the boat had been left near Nootka Sound and since they didn’t want to have a truck stranded on the island when they brought the boat home, Shaun and Stewart negotiated to go together in Stewart’s truck and have a friend bring the truck back. So I dropped Oliver and Shaun off at the wharf at the appointed time. They loaded their bags into the truck, and headed for the Horseshoe Bay ferry, and the long drive up Vancouver Island.

Oliver goes fishing

The next day, Shaun and Oliver headed out to the fishing grounds to prepare for a night of fishing. Oliver couldn’t wait for the dark set to start catching fish and had his little fishing rod out and ready to go as soon as he stepped on board the boat. He chose his lure and dropped the hook off the back of the boat. Shaun reminded Oliver he would need to be patient. That sometimes you can sit for hours with your hook in the water and not catch anything. And that they would be on the boat for about 5 days, so there would be lots of time to catch fish. But, about 3 minutes later, Oliver shouted “I’ve got one!” Sure enough, the tip of his rod was bowed over and jumping around. He reeled and pulled and giggled and squealed as he struggled with the fish on the end of his line. And, as it came up to the surface, Oliver was ecstatic! He had caught a spiny rock fish, big enough for their dinner!

oliver's fish

Oliver watched eagerly, memorizing the knife strokes as Shaun filleted the fish. They fried it up with a little salt, pepper, and butter, and feasted on the best fish dinner they’d had in a long time, so delicious not just for its freshness, but for the experience of catching it together.


That night, Shaun let Oliver stay up late to help with the dark set. They caught just a handful of big Chinooks but it didn’t matter that fishing was slow. Every heavy, shiny, flopping fish that came over those rollers was an unexpected delight for Oliver who did, indeed, use his little blue plastic flashlight to “help” see those fish in the net.


Having fished all night and having caught very few fish, it was clear that it wasn’t worth sticking around for another night of Chinook fishing. Shaun caught a couple of hours of sleep in the early morning hours and then they began the long journey home from Nootka Sound around to Vancouver. They left that morning at about 6:30 am in a rolling sea and, within an hour, Oliver was pretty green. The vomiting started and continued for the next 12 hours. As Oliver tells it, he sat out on the deck to get some fresh air, in his life jacket and wrapped in a wool blanket, and periodically leaned over the side of the boat to throw up. But Shaun says he was in amazingly good spirits and didn’t complain once. That night, they pulled into Ucluelet, and walked straight up the dock and into the Co-op Store to buy some chewable children’s Gravol.


“You know, mom, there’s a shower on the fuel barge in Ucluelet JUST for commercial fishermen.” Oliver told me proudly after his return when I commented on the fact that he smelled like a commercial fisherman.


“Did you shower at all on your trip?” I had asked.


“Yup, there’s a sign on it ‘Commercial Fishermen Only.’ And so, in walked two brown-haired fishermen.” He said with a smile. At first I was waiting for clarification on who the two fishermen were… and then I realized he meant himself and his dad.


“Ah, that must’ve felt good,” I said as I plopped him into the shower at home.


The next day would be another long run. Shaun woke Oliver at 4:15am to give him his Gravol well in advance of their departure. And that day was much better. Oliver didn’t throw up again, and he fished and looked at books and watched movies and played “Launch Pad to Space” on his Lead Pad, periodically interrupting Shaun’s navigation to tell him fascinating facts about space. That afternoon they caught and released a jack salmon, much to Oliver’s fascination.


“It’s not a salmon, dad. It’s too small!”


“It is. It’s a pink salmon, Oliver. It’s just a baby one. It’s probably just a year old and shouldn’t have come back to spawn yet. It’s not ready.” Apparently every year a small number of salmon return too early or wait an extra year to return. No one knows exactly why. They gently released the small, vigorous swimmer. “Hopefully this one will figure out where she’s going and find her way back to spawn when she’s supposed to.”


And so the days went on, I’m sure one blurring in to the next. A sea otter swam unusually close to the boat and Oliver got a close look at how they lay on their backs and crack open urchins to eat. Sure, he’s seen that at the Vancouver Aquarium, but to have it reinforced in the wild was an incredible experience for Oliver. He jumped up and down as the otter came closer and allowed them to watch it peel its dinner. Another day, they saw a sea lion climb up onto a navigation buoy to get out of the rough sea for a rest and Oliver got a sense of just how magnificent these animals really are.

sea ottersea lion
Oliver watching the sea otter and the sea lion.

After three days at sea, Shaun knew Oliver would need some time off , so they planned to spend Friday in Victoria. They arrived late on Thursday at the Victoria Fishermen’s Wharf and ran up the ramp, hoping to catch some of the fish and chips and ice cream shops still open. One shop saw what were clearly a fisherman and his young son coming off a gillnetter and held the shop open for them, happy to have them as his last customers of the day. Nearby diners smiled and asked how the fishing season was. Oliver was proud to tell fishing stories as he wolfed down a plate of fish and chips. I think it made the whole experience of dining on the wharf better for all parties involved – tourists hungry for an authentic fisherman connection at the Victoria fishermen’s wharf and a little boy lapping up the attention for his knowledge of commercial fishing.


The next day, the two fishermen spent the day being tourists in Victoria. They went to the Legislature Buildings, the Royal BC Museum, they rode a double decker bus, and wandered through the Empress Hotel lobby. It was another long and exhausting day of an entirely different kind!


After an early dinner Shaun and Oliver left Victoria and headed to the Gulf Island so they could get an early start crossing the Strait. Shaun could see that weather forecast for Saturday was for a gale. That meant it would likely be rough crossing back to Vancouver, if not an impossible one. After a 3 hour evening run the dropped the anchor for the night.


He got up early to start the run and navigated through the narrow passages between the islands. When he passed between Galiano and Mayne Islands to nose out and see what it looked like in the Georgia Strait, it was clear a crossing would not be possible. 8-9 foot waves and full gale force winds tossed the boat around like a toy. Wisely, he headed back into Whaler Cove on Galiano Island to wait out the worst of the wind.


Meanwhile, in Vancouver, knowing that my husband and son were out on the boat, I watched nervously as the wind snapped trees like match sticks and massive branches and debris blew down our street like tumble weeds. Our garden was flattened in one particularly big gust, corn stalks and bean poles that had struggled against the hot, dry summer had little left in them to resist the 90km/ hour gusts.


The phone rang and it was Shaun letting me know they were safe, just as the power went out and another tree branch came crashing down. Our members who were planning to pick up at Urban Digs Farm in Burnaby were sent away when the farm gate blew right off its hinges! If you were in metro-Vancouver that day, you know this was one incredible wind storm!


But Shaun and Oliver were safe in Whaler Cove.


“What are you going to do?!” I asked.


“We’ll hang here on the creaking ropes until they snap, and then we’ll go find somewhere to anchor,” Shaun replied in that characteristic calm, half-joking tone he uses when he knows I’m nervous.


But the ropes didn’t snap. The boat bobbed as they watched Netflix shows and napped and read books, and remarked on how crazy the wind was. Late that afternoon, they nosed out into the Strait again and found the waves had calmed, and decided to make a break for it. With the tide in their favour, they made it across the Strait in record time and were home by bedtime. Oliver talked non-stop about his fishing trip while he ate a bedtime snack and took that much needed shower. At one point, I caught both Shaun and Oliver rocking as though they were standing on a boat and remarked that they both still had their sea legs on. Oliver was quite amused by the experience and proud of himself for being such a hardened fishermen as to have sea legs.


As the two boys lay in their beds that night, Oliver told harrowing tales of the storm at sea and of his expertise in catching fish. Lyndon oooh’ed and aahh’ed admiringly and asked earnest, curious, four-year-old questions. Just before they fell asleep, I heard Oliver tell Lyndon he and daddy got a present for him in Victoria. That it was on the boat for next time Lyndon went out fishing with them – it was his own fishing rod so they could fish together! Oliver also decided that he was giving Lyndon the lure he’d used to catch the rock fish: “since it’s my lucky lure, you should have it,” he said. “Oliver, you’re the best,” Lyndon said sleepily and the boys drifted off to sleep listening to the wind and dreaming about fishing.



Sonia - September 2, 2015

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A Stormy End to the Summer Fishing Season

Sonia - September 2, 2015

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