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

My oldest son, Oliver, has been going out fishing with his dad, Shaun, and his grandpa, Otto, since he was 5 years old. It seems like just a couple of years ago that little boy was begging to go out fishing for the first time with daddy and opa but as Shaun’s been texting me photos of Oliver from the fishing grounds this summer, seeing this 5’8”, blue-haired 15-year old deck hand makes me realize just how much time has passed. I dreamed up the idea for Skipper Otto just months after Oliver was born so looking at this young man out fishing with his dad all these years later kind of blows my mind! Whether you’re new to Skipper Otto or you’ve been following our story since those early years, I thought you’d enjoy hearing some stories from the summer fishing adventures of Shaun and Oliver aboard our family gillnetter, Eldorado.

This summer, Oliver and Shaun fished together for 3 weeks in Barkley Sound and Alberni Inlet starting in late June when school let out, just as Shaun and Otto did when Shaun was a kid. Fishing is incredibly hard work and most 15 year olds aren’t used to working this hard, but Oliver loves the experience of being out on the water with his dad. He’s learning and growing up a lot this summer and it’s incredible to watch. Let me share a few stories from this last opening to give you a sense of what it’s like!

This last opening was 24 hours long from 6am to 6am. So, the night before fishing started, Oliver helped ice up the centre hatch of the boat in Port Alberni using the ice chute (see photo). Then they ran the boat out to the fishing grounds to find a spot to spend the night to be ready for the 6am start. They dropped the anchor in a great spot, but it was windy and rough and Oliver felt pretty seasick so they had to pull up the anchor and find a better spot that had a more sheltered anchorage and where they could get a few hours of sleep. At 4:30 the next morning, they pulled the anchor and got ready to make their first set. Dawn and dusk are often the best times of the day to catch fish, so it’s critical they get the net into a good spot before the sun comes up. 

Then, for the next 24 hours, Shaun and Oliver are in constant motion. In gillnetting, the net is wound onto a drum with marker buoys at each end of the net. Oliver tosses the first marker buoy into the water and Shaun runs the boat slowly forward so that the entire net rolls off the drum and into the water, the cork line at the top keeping it afloat and the lead line at the bottom keeping it straight-vertical in the water like a fence. Once the whole net is in the water, they run the boat alongside it to make sure it stays straight and doesn’t get tangled up. This is also a great chance to see if the fish are hitting. In a salmon gillnet, the mesh size is based on the size of the target fish around its gills. Target fish will become ensnared by their gills while smaller fish will pass straight through the net and bigger fish will bump off the net and swim around. After 20 minutes or so, Oliver grabs the end of the net with a gaff, hooks it back up to the drum, and they begin rolling the net back on using the foot-pedal-controlled hydraulics. As they roll it in, they stop each time a fish comes over the rollers and pick it out of the net. Oliver loves picking fish out of the net, but he still needs practice! It takes him a couple of minutes to untangle each fish while it takes Shaun just a couple of seconds! [ *see videos links below] And time is of the essence when you’re fishing a 24 hour opening, so Shaun mostly picks while Oliver gets the fish into the holds. His job is to put the fish into the side hatches and then shovel ice from the center hatch to cover the fish. Then he pumps in some sea water to create a super-cold salt-water-and-ice slurry where the fish will stay until they are offloaded at the end of the opening. As soon as they finish picking the net, it’s time to set it again. And this procedure is repeated over and over again for 24 straight hours! 

Like most teenage deckhands, Oliver gets lots of experience making boat food – simple meals that he and his dad can eat quickly in between sets. And like most teenagers, he also needs his sleep! So when it gets late, Shaun fishes on his own and Oliver hits the bunks below. But come morning when it’s time to run the boat into port, Oliver takes the helm and Shaun gets an hour of light sleep before it’s time to offload the fish at the dock. At this point, it’s Oliver’s job to hand-bomb the fish from the hatches into the tote which is lifted off the boat with a winch. Shaun forklifts the tote into the truck and the two of them drive the fish back to Vancouver to be cut and flash frozen for our members.

Fishing is a dangerous business and Oliver is generally really good at following the safety rules. But he’s also a typical teenager who sometimes has to learn things the hard way. On this last trip, Oliver learned why his dad always tells him to wear safety glasses or sunglasses while fishing . . .! Oliver was hard at work clipping net marker buoys to the fishing line. As the net came in over the rollers, jellyfish caught in the net sprayed Oliver in the face! [photo]  I don’t know if you’ve ever had a jellyfish sting in the eye, but Shaun has. He tells me it’s like getting a bee sting in the eye! He remembers the first time he got a jellyfish up his nose as a little boy and the next half hour of eye-watering pain. Not something you easily forget and I think Oliver will remember this one for the rest of his life, too!

Sockeye fishing is finished in Alberni Inlet for the summer and we have a couple of weeks off before chinook fishing opens. So we’re taking this opportunity to visit Oma and Opa up in the Okanagan. Oliver is so proud to tell Otto his fishing stories and I can see from the gleam in his eye and his hearty laugh that Otto takes huge pride in watching the third generation of Strobels carrying on the family fishery.

*Videos of Shaun versus Oliver picking the net:

Shaun picking the net
Oliver picking the net

(Photos and videos courtesy of Shaun Strobel. Oliver and Shaun Strobel gillnet fishing)

Sonia - July 31, 2023

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Fishing Adventures with Shaun and Oliver Strobel

Sonia - July 31, 2023

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