Mick and Mentoring

Another chapter from my ill fated book for outdoorsmen.

My troller, "Debit," near Haktaheen, Cross Sound, Alaska

My troller, "Debit," near Haktaheen, Cross Sound, Alaska

For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake.  And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe.  For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.  For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,” 1 Thess 1:5-9 (NKJV)

Among handtrollers Mick was a highliner. I fished the same drags for a season and knew about him before I met him. Southeastern Alaska commercial salmon fishing had several major categories: gill netters, purse seiners, and trollers. Gill netters typically used a thirty foot bow picker. Working the inside canals and fjords they would drop their nets in the path of migrating fish and then pull the loaded net over the bow of the boat onto a huge reel. The fisherman would stand in the bow and pick out the salmon as they came aboard with their heads stuck in the gill net. The nets had depth and length restrictions designed to allow spawning escapement. Purse seiners were fifty plus foot vessels. When the skipper located a school of fish he would have the skiff pull out the net into a large circle around the school. Both ends of the net would be run through a hydraulic puller on the top of a boom while the bottom of the net was drawn tight forming a large pouch, or purse. As the purse was pulled alongside the seiner the crew would often have to hand dip enough fish out before the net could be lifted aboard. I have seen seiners covered with fish until they were spilling over the gunwales. There are stories about greedy skippers trying to make it to the processor with their decks awash and finally sinking. Net fisherman had certain days of the week and areas of the region they could fish. It was all designed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to ensure a certain number of spawners returning to the streams. Net fishermen targeted silver, sockeye, and pink salmon and were paid for fish in the round, or uncleaned. Their catch ended up in the can.

Trollers targeted silver and king salmon and sold gutted and gilled fish to be sold whole in the fish markets. Originally anyone could commercial fish. As the state grew and more fishermen joined the industry the state enacted the Limited Entry system for power trollers, and for a few years anyone could still enter the handtroll fleet. Power trollers use hydraulics to run four “gurdies,” or reels, mounted on each gunwale. Each gurdy held several hundred feet of stainless steel cable attached to a forty to sixty pound lead ball. As the “cannon” ball lowered the fisherman would clip on “spreads,” 120 pound leaders of varying length, with an assortment of terminal tackle and baits. Traditionally trollers would run twenty fathom spreads. Fishing the 120 feet depth contour line along prominent migratory points a troller would be running six spreads per down line using trolling poles to spread the gear. Trollers used plugs, spoons, herring, and hoochies (rubber skirt squids). Hand trollers used the same gear as the power trollers except we were limited to four lines total and since we used muscle instead of hydraulics our cannon balls weighted no more than forty pounds. Hand cranking a thirty pounder all day long developed the arms.

Over the years traditions developed among trollers. To the casual eye the shoreline on the back side of Admiralty Island all looked the same. Yet, trollers would fish False Point Retreat and south of Funter’s Bay bypassing miles of other shoreline. The traditional drag was fished starboard to the shore and entered on the outside of the daisy chain of boats if there were several boats in the drag. If the number of boats required you would troll the outside of the circuit catching nothing instead of doing a tight circle staying on the fish. The old timers had a way of enforcing troller etiquette; they would shot a few rounds into the violator’s hull!

Mick should have qualified for a power troll permit when the state passed limited entry. Technicalities, as often happen with bureaucracies and regulations, placed him in the handtroll group. Mick knew how to fish. A top money maker each year many trollers would watch him with binoculars or follow him from drag to drag. I knew little about trolling. I had a 23 foot Oregon dory with a small cabin, no heater, no head, and no comfort. The openings were usually a week long and I would fish for three or four days at a time. I tried to make up for my lack of skill by putting in more time than the other fishermen. Funter’s Bay had a floating dock where handtrollers often would tie up at night and socialize. Most mornings around 4:00 I would untie and troll out the bay and fish south. Summer time darkness came around 11:00 at night and I would get back to the dock shortly after. Each morning Mick was pulling out at the same time and we returned within minutes of each other. I think that is why on one cool night Mick invited me to “mug up.” After a day of working alone, or with just a crewmember, fishermen enjoyed getting together. You would see several boats rafting up in a cove for the night and everyone would be on one of the boats drinking coffee or hot chocolate while listening to the marine operator channel or playing cards.

Over the next few years we became friends. Mick taught me how to fish and what it means to be Alaskan. Mick had a 42 footer with a twelve foot beam. We would sit in his galley as he showed me the correct way to rig the different baits, talked about the timeline and locations for intercepting the salmon, and anything else related to commercial fishing.

Alaskans are special people and Mick is an Alaskan. Mick taught me what it means to be Alaskan. My sons are Alaskan by birth; I am by the grace of God and the teaching of Mick. He and his brother, Swede, used airboats to prospect and hunt the Berners Bay area and were the first people I contacted after sinking my airboat. Swede walked with a funny gait. He had played Goldilocks with three brown bears and won. He and Mick with two friends had killed two moose about a hundred yards apart up the Lace River. The day of the kills they had packed out all the meat while leaving the racks and gut piles. Alaska has strict game laws concerning wanton waste so meat must be salvage before trophies. Neither moose had very large racks but the next day the friends insisted on recovering the antlers. Against their better judgment Mick and Swede agreed. They reached the first kill site without any problems. However, while walking the narrow trial through the alder thicket to the second kill a large sow ambushed Swede. Mick rushed to the yells and growls to find Swede on his back trying to keep the sow from ripping open his abdomen. She managed to chew Swedes knees and thighs so he looked like chopped liver before Mick was able to kill her. As the sow fell off of Swede he was able to grab his rifle and stop the two charging 300 pound cubs. Mick carried Swede down river to the bay but had to evacuate him by plane due to the rough seas. Swede rode in the back of a pickup to the hospital and refused to sit in a wheel chair while being admitted. The next day Mick arrived at Swede’s hospital room in time to see a Fish and Wildlife Protection Officer scurrying out. Mick entered to find Swede out of the bed trying to rip out the IVs so he could attack the “Fish Cop.” When a hunter claims self defense for killing a bear, especially a sow with cubs, the Fish Cops complete the equivalent of a murder investigation. It seems that Swede did not appreciate the officer’s contention that he unnecessarily killed the cubs.

My last experience with Mick came during the fall brown bear season. I agreed to take a visiting speaker on a hunt in late October. I had a licensed hunting guide in the church so we were all set. The services had been a real blessing and after a busy season I was looking forward to four or five days out of town. The first night we set up camp in a prime area up the Berners. Huge tracks covered the sandbars due to the large late silver salmon run as the bears packed on the last fat before winter. The next day a winter front moved in with plummeting temperatures. The river began to ice while the snow fell. Going home was not an option until the gale force winds abated. To make matters worse it appeared the brownies had headed to the dens with the arrival of the weather. When it seemed that things were going sour rather quickly Mick showed up and invited us to his cabin. We followed him down river sliding over the ice into clear water. For the next three days we sat in Mick’s cabin enjoying the warmth of his oil stove and his endless accounts of Alaskan life.

At that point of my life I was not aware of the term “mentoring.” I just knew that Mick took a life time of outdoor skills and experiences and shared them with me. His wisdom and practical skills saved me from serious harm in a country that is as deadly as it is beautiful. Mick not only told me what to do, he showed me. Jesus told the disciples that he would make them fishers of men. He then spent the next three years showing them how to do it. He discipled them. Christianity is a life changing faith and that change comes through not only the acquisition of knowledge but the impartation of skills. It is caught more than taught. Remember the Great Commission tells us to make disciples.

Paul reminded the Thessalonians not only of his teaching, but how he had lived with them. Paul did not tell them to “do what I say, not what I do.” Paul poured his life into them and every other Christian God allowed him to meet. Paul knew the power of example. It will make a difference in someone’s life and your own.

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