(Photo courtesy of Shaun Strobel. Shaun and Lyndon Strobel on the Eldorado boat)

This summer marked a big moment in the Strobel family — both our sons, Oliver and Lyndon, now have their faces on the salmon labels of fish they caught while fishing with their dad, Shaun! The idea for Skipper Otto was born with our first son because we were worried that a fishing way of life would disappear from our family. So it feels like a special milestone to see that, 15 years later, we have two sons working as young fishermen in BC. Although our second son, Lyndon, has been going out on the boat since he was a newborn, this year, at age 12, was the first time he asked to go out fishing on his own with Shaun. And I couldn’t wait to hear stories from his first real fishing trip and to share them with you!

Lyndon gets a lot of traits from me, his mom, not the least of which is his small stature. And the fact is, they just don’t make fishing gear that small, a problem I still struggle with as a petite woman. But fishermen are a resilient, creative bunch, and so Shaun and Lyndon made do with what they had, just as Otto did with Shaun when Shaun started fishing as a 7-year-old: rubber boots, a rubber apron, and plastic sleeve guards work just as well today as they did in the 1970’s!

(Archival photo of Shaun with arm protectors and apron next to photo of Lyndon in the same)

One of Lyndon’s first observations was that fishing takes a lot of patience! Their first task was to sack the old sockeye net (take it off the drum and put it in a sack for storage) and to wind the larger chinook salmon net onto the drum. Lyndon was shocked how long this took and how much untangling and fiddling around was needed. 

Hours later, after the nets were sorted and the boat ready to fish, they headed out to the fishing grounds to find a spot to fish. And then they waited. More patience required! Lyndon couldn’t believe that they were on the fishing grounds six hours early and that this was normal! In fact there were times when fishermen sat on their spot for days before fishing opened! Getting a good spot is important and if you show up just before fishing opens, you’ll be out of luck. And so they waited, bobbing around on the end of an anchor in the inlet with no wifi, and nowhere to go. Lyndon thought he had downloaded some movies to watch, but it turned out the downloads hadn’t worked properly. And so Shaun suggested they listen to some CBC podcasts. Lyndon was skeptical at first, but he’s always had a sophisticated sense of humour for his age, so I knew he’d get a kick out of the satirical program “This is That.” And sure enough, after the first episode, he was hooked! He and Shaun listened and talked and laughed for hours. When they got back from fishing, it was hilarious to watch the two of them reciting favourite lines from episodes, doubled over and wiping tears of laughter from the corners of their eyes. I loved witnessing their bonding over their shared sense of humour!

When 9pm finally rolled around, they rolled out the net for their first set. Lyndon says they unhooked and ran along the length of the net and it was his job to shine the flashlight into the water to see if any fish were hitting. And they were! Much to his delight, the whole length of the net was bobbing and dancing as huge chinook salmon connected with it. Shaun straightened the net a few times and ran along it the other direction before Lyndon pulled in the end of the line with the gaff hook, connected it to the drum, and they began pulling it in. The excitement with which he described those first fish coming in over the rollers was delightful to watch. “Three fish all at once!” he described bouncing on his seat at the dinner table that night. And I smiled as nautical terms like “fathoms of net” tripped naturally off his tongue. Over 50 fish in the first set and they were off to the races! 

I expected that Lyndon would stay awake for the first set and then bunk down for the night (as I would!) but he stayed up, helping as Shaun picked the fish out of the net, moving them into the slush-ice- filled hold. No small feat considering some of the fish were more than half the size of Lyndon! By 12:30am, Shaun urged a tired-looking Lyndon to at least lie down on the dinette seat bunk for a few minutes while he got ready for the next set. Reluctantly, Lyndon agreed. “But just for a minute,” he insisted. He fell asleep at once under the worn out, thin red boat blanket.

At about 3am, Lyndon stirred, and Shaun suggested he move down to the lower bunks where it was nice and warm and he wouldn’t have Shaun bustling past him as he fished. Half asleep, Lyndon insisted he’d be up in a minute to help with the next set. 

“And the next thing I knew,” he laughed as he recounted the story, “we were tied up at the dock! It was morning, I hadn’t heard a thing!”

Shaun and Lyndon laughed about the magical power of the boat to put just about anyone into a deep sleep, even on the exposed upper bunk. I’d done the same thing many times. Something about the pitch and vibrations of the engine and the rolling of the seas was a magic recipe for sleep. If I could bottle and sell that antidote to insomnia, I’d be a rich woman! Shaun recounted the story of one day back in 2010 when he was fishing with Otto, he fell asleep sitting upright in the upper bunk with a cup of coffee in his hand. It was the year of the massive sockeye returns and Shaun had been fishing, offloading, and driving back and forth from Port MacNeill to Vancouver for weeks, and was clearly exhausted! He woke up some time later with coffee poured down the front of his shirt and an empty mug still dangling from his fingertips, Otto chuckling and picking the net in the stern. And we all laughed remembering [see photo below] that Shaun took of Otto one night when he went to “sit for a moment” on the upper bunk and fell asleep sitting upright with his hands placed solidly on the table in front of him. He slept soundly like that for a long time, as only a fisherman could!

(Photo courtesy of Shaun Strobel: Otto Strobel on Eldorado boat)

Given how tired Shaun and Lyndon were on the evening of their return, I marvelled at how they stayed up after dinner recounting fishing stories, re-enacting their favourite moments from their humorous podcasts, and showing with their arms how big the fish were that they caught. They had brought us home a fish and I watched as Shaun showed Lyndon how to clean the fish out in our backyard where the laughing and goofing off continued [see photos below].

(Photos courtesy of Sonia Strobel: Shaun and Lyndon, and Lyndon gutting chinook)

It was incredibly satisfying for me to watch the bond between father and second son evolve so much after just one fishing trip. When we talk about protecting a fishing way of life, it’s the value of these family bonds that cannot be understated. Small-scale, community-based fishing is not resource extraction for profit. It is about multi-generational love and deep connection to place. And I’m honoured that Skipper Otto members have allowed this fishing way of life to go on for another generation, not only in my family, but for 40 other fishing families throughout BC and Nunavut.

(Photos courtesy of Shaun Strobel. Lyndon and Shaun Strobel gillnet fishing)

Sonia - August 29, 2023

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Chinook Fishing with Shaun and Lyndon Strobel

Sonia - August 29, 2023

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