Fishing up north — along with lumber, trade and the gold rush — gave the young Seattle its early legs. Two new books provide a firsthand view of what fishing Alaskan waters is really like.
Capt. Jonathan Allen’s self-published “The Big Bucks Guide to Commercial Fishing in Alaska: How to Run Away to Alaska, Work Harder than You Ever Thought Possible, and Perhaps Even Get Paid,” is crazily good.
Allen, a resident of Idaho, has the academic chops — he’s a 1980 graduate of the California Maritime Academy, with an Unlimited Third Mates License — and the experience to know what he’s talking about. His worldview includes “a deep distrust of anyone wearing khaki.”
After nine years working cargo ships, tankers and research ships, Allen turned to fishing: trawling, crabbing and longlining.
He writes with a light-hearted, gallows humor about a heavy subject that has, no doubt, served him well at sea.
“I’m not an advocate of walking the docks to find a fishing job — unless it’s in Seattle,” Allen observes. “That may be because I’ve hired dozens of deckhands and processors off the docks, or on the side of the road, in Dutch Harbor, and it never quite worked out. I think that’s because everyone I hired in Dutch Harbor had just been fired in Dutch Harbor.”
The pressures on a fisher’s body and mind can be superhuman. “Crabbing in the Bering Sea is by far the most dangerous fishing in Alaska,” he writes. “All fishing is a gamble, but crabbing is the wildest gamble of them all.”
We’re given an insider’s lowdown on all phases of the occupation — from working the processors, payment issues, a survey of salmon fishing areas to survival suits and survival steps at sea.
Along the way, Allen supplies sidebars with colorful anecdotes, plus a list of how not to get yelled at, fired or beat up on a fishing boat. No. 1? “Don’t claim to know how to cook if you can’t.”
This is an entertaining and informative glimpse from the trenches of our ongoing history.
“The Big Bucks Guide to Commercial Fishing in Alaska,” by Capt. Jonathan Allen. Prodigious Press, 240 pages. Softcover, $19.95.
A real-life coming-of-age
“Four Thousand Hooks: A True Story of Fishing and Coming of Age on the High Seas of Alaska,” by Dean Adams, is a gripping memoir that reads like a novel.
The book opens in summer 1972 with an Alaskan fishing schooner, the Grant, going down; the book rewinds from there to relate the 16-year-old narrator’s adventures on his uncle’s doomed boat.
Adams, who went on to captain his own vessel, earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the School of Aquatic and Fishery Science at the University of Washington. He’s a writer who can put you there.
Here he is on the dangers of longlining: “My mind flashed from one horror to the next. If the hook snagged Freddy’s arm, would the hook tear out of his flesh? Or, would he be pulled overboard and sink to the bottom with the gear? If Freddy screamed, could Jack hear him over the deafening roar of the engine? If Jack did hear him, how quickly would the boat come to a halt? I knew how long it took the boat to speed up. How long would it take for the boat to come to a standstill?”
Sig Hansen of “Deadliest Catch” wrote the book “brought back memories I didn’t know I had.”
“Four Thousand Hooks: A True Story of Fishing and Coming of Age on the High Seas of Alaska,” by Dean J. Adams, 2012. University of Washington Press, 280 pages. Hardcover, $26.95.