The following appears in the September issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:
BY JEFF LUND
I am not sure there is anything in the outdoor recreational world in which the work is more dreaded than fishing in 400 feet of water.
The best-case scenario is that you hook into a big halibut or lingcod and suffer for the foreseeable future. You try to find a spot to anchor the butt of the rod where it will do the least bruising or internal damage. Or you just keep moving it around – lower abdominal, armpit, hip bone, inner upper thigh (be careful) – so that you can widen the range of trauma in an effort to reduce it.
This, of course, is if your buddy or guide doesn’t have something that cheats you out of a truly miserable experience.
But there are many other miseries in the life of an outdoorsman and outdoorswoman.
Hiking down from the alpine with a pack full of meat is grueling, but at least you can sit and rest. You can eat a Starburst. If you were smart, you prepared for the heavy pack with squats and lunges, hikes and runs, and exercises to strengthen your shoulders, core and hip flexors.
You aren’t going to find a reeling machine at the gym or on Amazon for training.
REELING IN A LINGCOD or halibut from the deep, deep is not fun. At all. Not even in one of those weird, backward ways that hunters and anglers use to describe fun pain. I will gladly subject myself to reeling in a big bottomfish, but I’d never say, “I could do this all day.”
I went to social media and did an unscientific poll on Facebook, knowing full well that anytime you ask a hunter or angler about anything, it’s likely that the response will be greatly exaggerated or so unclear that you’re not really sure what the answer was.
By the time I’d be finishing my answer to a question such as, “What is your favorite fish to catch?” I would have likely responded in such a way that would make the inquisitor think that I just provided reasons I didn’t like pursuing a certain fish.
I would say steelhead, no question, but I’d rant about how miserable it is to take a 20-minute skiff ride on a 30-degree day, dock, then hike an hour and a half to stand in the cold water, only to catch a fish I have no intention of eating.
So how does that make steelhead my favorite fish? Because all the misery was worth it? I’ve caught beautiful brown trout in beautiful places and there was no misery. It’s not the brown trout’s fault.
Anyway, the social media question was telling.
“Which is more miserable?
A. 100-pound halibut from 400 feet?
B. 100-pound pack off the alpine?
Consider duration of blissful misery, meat yield, excitement, postability, whatever you’d like.
Remember, everyone is entitled to their wrong opinions, so respond
The last part of the post is important, of course, because there is always someone who will post the “if it hurts you so bad, then don’t do it” line rather than have fun and answer the question.
Anyway, the responses were cloudy, as expected, but also had some important semantic differences. One guy thought that “A” was more miserable, but that the pack off the alpine hurts more. That is a very important distinction. Misery implies very little, if any, fun. Hurting doesn’t necessarily imply misery.
A repeated motion slowly works toward discomfort and eventually pain but you can establish a pace while heading down the mountain and chip away at the distance. The same can’t really be said for reeling. You also won’t get most of the way back to the truck and get sent back to the starting point because the truck ran off.
Either way, most of the posts ended with a derivative of “it’s worth it,” and most sided with the pack being prolonged discomfort, while misery was reserved for the deep sea adventure.
This is about attitude, though, and less about a correct response.
EVERYONE WANTS EVERYTHING to be easy. Some people know there is no joy if there is no work so they will take a bargain buck or a ‘but that doesn’t put up much of a fight, but they are willing to do what it takes to reap a better reward. Some people attempt to eliminate work with a disqualifying attitude or simple laziness.
For those who have adopted the work mindset, tackling these comparisons can be fun, and telling. I’ve talked to people who take pride in saying the pack down a mountain was exhausting. “Oh man, it was rough,” they start, but the smile of a provider shines through.
Oftentimes when asking about the experience of reeling in a halibut over 100 pounds, the face goes serious.
I nod my head. I know.
I know more than one charter captain who much prefers watching a client suffer from the spot at the back of the deck than doing it himself.
Another consideration is the repetitive and uncertain nature of bottomfishing in deep water. When you finally reach the bottom, set on the first hit, feel a fish but soon realize it’s not of keepable size or species, you’ve still got to bring it up. Four. Hundred. Feet. Release it, and drop back down.
This does not happen in hunting. You don’t shoot a deer and discover it was really a squirrel. There is obviously no catch and release with .270 rounds either. You make the shot, do the work, pack up, then go home.
As previously mentioned, the larger question is the joy hunters and anglers take in engaging in this type of discussion after partaking in these type of experiences. Not in the knuckle-dragging, misogynistic, toxic masculinity, traditional gender role – the “my dad telling me to ‘be a man’ ruined my life” sort of way – but in the way fishing and hunting buddies discuss the lives they enjoy around a campfire. The way athletes discuss grueling workouts. The way writers discuss hunting words that hide. The way artists discuss sleepless nights and insecurities.
It’s the way people who do tough things discuss the joy of doing tough things, and the people who sit and watch other people do tough things, don’t.
So, while I have spent the last 1,000 or so words whining about how reeling in big halibut hurts my arms, I’d gladly do it tomorrow if my buddy Dan had a spot on his boat. ASJ
Editor’s note: Jeff Lund is a freelance writer from Ketchikan. His podcast The Mediocre Alaskan chronicles his struggle to be a better Alaskan. It is available on iTunes and Soundcloud.