Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Bud Light Blob

“There are no salmon. This is the worst fishing we have had in twenty-eight years.”

When you travel thousands of miles via plane, rental car, bus, train, smaller plane, Uber, foot, cab, ferry, and finally, tiny float plane, to get to a remote five-star floating Alaskan fishing lodge, there are a lot of things you want to hear when you step out of the float plane onto the dock. That is not one of them.

We were fortunate enough to have been guests at this same great place, the Sea Otter Sound Lodge, four years ago, and apparently, we became spoiled then, fishing-wise. Four years ago, we almost couldn’t keep the salmon out of the boat. And since they are the premier Alaskan fish, we spent almost all our time targeting the salmon, never fishing very seriously for any other species.

That being said, let’s not forget my masterful helmsmanship on the last trip, the day I guided my wife to her monster seventeen-pound halibut. Halibut boat captaining requires that you are able to keep your boat positioned over the same spot on the ocean floor, some two to four hundred feet below.

I was so skillful at this maneuver, my wife could be heard for miles singing my praises with encouraging phrases like, “What the hell are you doing?” and, “Why are we spinning like a drunken ballerina?” She could be heard for miles across the ocean not because sound carries well across water, but because we traveled for miles across the ocean as I fearlessly attempted to keep us in one place.

I tried to explain to her about tidal friction, wave current, ballast displacement, navigational knots, etc. – all the nautical factors that I had to take into account as captain – but I don’t think she understood it all. At one point, she even grabbed the VHS radio mic off my bulkhead helm near the port aft, and called the lodge, saying something I didn’t quite catch about “another boat driver.” I assume she was letting them know that the other guests couldn’t compare to me. I heard Tim, the owner of the lodge, say something about sympathizing with her concerns, but the conversation was interrupted when the fishing line started zinging off her reel.

I had maneuvered the boat directly over the top of the waiting beast, and my wife was in for the fight of her life. Two and a half minutes later, we hauled our catch over the side of the boat (known as the stern whale), after I had harpooned and gaffed it extensively, because that’s what you do with the big game.

Fortunately, I had not forgotten any of those halibut boat captaining skills, because we needed them this past week.

As Tim explained to us upon our arrival, the entire state of Alaska is currently being visited by the least amount of salmon they have seen since the Paleozoic era. Apparently, in 2014, there was a situation in the Pacific Ocean that somehow caused this issue.

This all had something to do with El Nino, which is Alaskan Inuit for “no salmon.” El Nino is an ocean current, or a storm, or a small baby whale. Details are sketchy. What they do know for sure is that a series of “perfect storm” events lined up to create what scientists have very scientifically named, “The Blob.”   

The Blob is a vast pocket of warm water, floating in the cold water. It formed in 2014 as a small blob, and then El Nino combined forces with other unnamed forces and transformed the baby blob into a massive blob, about one thousand square miles in size on the surface, and a significant number of fathoms deep. (Unfortunately, no one knows how much a fathom is, so we’ll never really know how deep it goes.)

The Blob prevented the salmon that would normally be in the waters of Alaska now from getting there on time. Think of The Blob as a giant oceanic TSA security station, or the DMV of the deep.

As he explained this to the group, I shrunk silently to the back of the room, hoping not to draw attention to myself. I crossed my fingers and prayed Tim and his wife Murtie would not make the connection, but it was obvious to me. We were there, fishing in the Alaskan Pacific in 2014.

Between the eight of us, we consumed an inordinate amount of beer over the five-day fishing trip. Since we were on the boats all day, the vast majority of that beer was recycled directly into the ocean.

Could we have been responsible for the blob? Well, I think it’s a real possibility. I’m no oceanographer, but I can tell you I’m probably responsible for at least two to three hundred square miles of ocean being converted to 98.6 degrees..

Further fueling my suspicions of culpability is the fact that the blob is gone now. It slowly dissipated over the last four years. And where were we the last four years? Not peeing in the Alaskan ocean, that’s where. Coincidence? You be the judge.

Sorry about that, Alaska. We toned it down on the beer this time, so fingers crossed for four years from now. I’m looking forward to getting home and grilling up our halibut from this trip. I think I have enough for a pretty decent appetizer.

See you soon,


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