Archive for Commercial Fishing Girls

Jen’s Friday Favorites

Too many favorites to count this week!! But here goes…

1. Family (and extended family) trip to Vegas!

2. George, the crew, and the boat wrapping up the Dungeness crab season and coming home this weekend.

3.  Eva and Vincent’s spring gymnastics show.

4. Only three more months until I find out if my submission for the 2011 Pacific Northwest Writers Association’s literary contest is a finalist.

5. Registering for the Bloggy Boot Camp! (And thanks to Mom and Dad for babysitting so Mommy can attend!)

6. My upcoming feature story for National Fisherman magazine! Stay tuned for details.

7.  The most hilarious lunch with my parents, sister, and precious baby niece today. Lots of laughs and the best way to spend an afternoon!

8. Everywhere I went in Vegas, I heard Jazzercise music. It made me feel so at home, at ease, pumped up, and ready to roll.

Have a wonderful weekend!!


Thankful and Thirsty Thursday

I’ve been thinking about what to write for Thankful Thursday. I’ve also been thinking a bit about my older sister, Cassandra, who turns 40 on Sunday. So, I decided to dedicate Thankful Thursday to her three days before the big day.

The number “40” is rather frightening to think about, but Cass actually personifies the popular expression “Forty is the new thirty.”

Truly. She is a tiny little thing with a nice complexion and cute, bouncy, spiraling curly hair. She is fit, toned, and exercises regularly. If you saw her in person I don’t think you’d put her much past her early 30s.

It was not easy growing up in a family of three girls all three years apart. We all have such different personalities, talents, interests that it’s remarkable we come from the same parents. However, along with the insecurities, competition, and fighting growing up, there were also plenty of laughs, dancing, listening to music, playing sports and piano, and general play in the house and outside.

It must be difficult being the oldest of three girls. Cassandra set the bar and worked the hardest of us at school and activities. She was the first to march on up to college and receive her Bachelor’s degree. And way back in 1984, she received first place in the running long jump at the Arco Jesse Owens track meet and flew to Los Angeles to compete in the national meet. I think she even got to watch some of the Olympics. In ballet, Cass made it to pointe shoes and danced some of the advanced roles in the Nutcracker.

When all three of us fished on Dad’s boat during the Alaska salmon seasons, Cass was the deck boss and helped Steph and I not make mistakes on deck or get in too much trouble.

“Here!” she’d whisper, crouching next to us. “Coil this line! Dad’s watching!”

Cass is rather reserved and private (so she’ll probably love this birthday blog post) but she has a wicked wit, an observant eye, and a knack for calling things out in a humorous and unique way.

One of the things about Cass that always makes me laugh (even as I type this) is the look on her face whenever I show up somewhere she is. Parties, family gatherings, bars, wherever. Her expression becomes a priceless mix of weariness, annoyance, and hope rolled into one.  Ha ha!

My sister has not had the easiest life. I was with her at our family seafood store fourteen years ago this month when the call came in that something horrific had occurred on our family fishing boat in Alaska. I drove her to the family home and watched as she learned that her husband of four months, Danny, had been lost at sea.

Cassandra has gone to work most every single day the past fourteen years at the store she and Danny opened with our dad. She helps retail and wholesale customers, deals with inspectors, smokes and cans seafood, vacuum-packs product and fillets fish.

She bought her own house, her own car, and pays for most of her own vacations. She puts her own money into her own retirement fund. She is one of the strongest people I know and hasn’t depended upon anything–a trust fund, men, family–outside of herself to make her way in the world.

Cassandra and I are very…uh…different from each other in many ways and that is challenging at times. But in the end, she’s always been one of my most loyal supporters and wanted to see me succeed in my life, family, and goals.

When I began training to become a Jazzercise instructor, both Cass and Steph were my two faithful pretend students in the living room of my house. We had a lot of fun as I learned how to cue the moves and routines and they tried to follow.

When I called the family store ten years ago from where I was living 500 miles away and excitedly blurted out my plans to become a writer and abandon the destructive path I’d been traveling, it was Cassandra who answered the phone and first shared my happiness.

And two years later, when I read from an essay in my first anthology publication, she was in the bookstore audience.

So, Happy Early 40th Birthday, Cass! Thanks for being the focus of Thankful Thursday. And a Happy Thirsty Thursday, too!

Cheers from your “favorite” (lol) sister.

Another Cool Commercial Fishing Blog

I am really excited today. I have no idea why, as nothing amazing has occurred, but I’m pumped.

One thing I love is that the large non-fiction writing project I’ve been working on for years has finally come together and feels perfect. Don’t get me wrong; it’s far from finished. I finally sat down last week and reviewed a ton of feedback on the work I’ve gathered so far from editors and agents all around the country, along with feedback from a few fellow writers.

Most of the feedback was legitimate and caused me to sit back and reflect upon the suggestions and insight. Other feedback was so off-base it was clear the reader did not have a handle on the material at all. That feedback I simply rolled my eyes at before depositing in both my mental and real shredders.

I decided that I will, in fact, enter the 2011 Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association Literary Contest (deadline February 28) along with hundreds of other writers. I may not win a ribbon, but at the very least, I’ll come away with even more feedback to mull over.

The other thing I’m excited about today is that I’ve finally entered the “burn phase” of the 24-day AdvoCare Challenge I’m doing with a few other people. I did just fine on the first ten days and am looking forward to the final fourteen. This challenge, combined with all the Jazzercise, should help get me back on track and well on my way to feeling like myself again (as well as ready for our first real vacation in four years this spring!).

Last but not least, I discovered yet another awesome commercial fishing blog. I enjoyed the content, subject matter, and writing style so well that I’ve included a direct RSS feed to it in the sidebar to the right.

Fish Tales is written by Jen Pickett, who posts once a week on (the creatively and aptly-named) Pickfish Fridays. Here’s a bit about Jen, taken directly from her blog:

“Jen Pickett is a freelance writer, a poet, and commercial fisherman. She has spent nearly two decades in Alaska’s commercial fishing industry. Starting as crewman, she’s worked tenders, seiners, trollers, gill netters and long liners fishing Alaska’s waters for herring, salmon, and halibut from Southeast Alaska to the Copper River Flats, Prince William Sound, Kodiak and Bristol Bay.  At the ripe age of 28 she became one of the few women to own and skipper her boat on one of Alaska’s most dangerous waters, the Copper River Flats, where she fished alone for the famous Copper River Kings and Reds. Encountering storms, breakers, broken-down equipment, ripped up nets, exhaustion, whales, sharks, and close calls with giant cruise ships and many other near misses, all became the norm aboard her 28′ boat…”

Pretty cool, right?

And before I go….Happy Birthday to my one time fishing crew mate and forever little sis, Steph!!

Ten Years Later and Going Strong.

Ten years ago, I sat on the floor of my bedroom on a dark and wintry December evening, poring over several back issues of National Fisherman magazine that focused on boat building. I was preparing for the latest assignment I’d taken as a freelance writer for National Fisherman. It was an assignment for which I did not feel qualified; the building of the 2.5 million dollar fishing vessel, Shemya, at Fred Wahl Marine Construction.

I’d written a few short articles and one large feature for National Fisherman in the seven months since I’d started writing for the magazine, but I knew next to nothing about building boats. For my first feature, I’d convinced a longtime fishing family friend, Ryan, to take me out to sea on his vessel for a story on the sardine fishery out of Astoria, Oregon.

While very familiar with fishing, having grown up in a fishing family and fishing myself in Southeast Alaska for several summers, I was not schooled in the art of boat building. And this time,  I’d be interviewing strangers, not friends. I decided I’d better refresh myself on basic terms before I could even hope to conduct a coherent interview.

I called Dad.

Dad had commissioned the building of his own boat a decade earlier, and I figured he could give me a crash course on the subject.

“Hull plating?” I asked.

“The steel on the outside of the boat,” Dad answered.


“The vertical piece of steel at the bottom of the boat, the center of the boat. The backbone of the boat.”


“The bow of the boat at center line.”

I had no idea what that last one meant, but I kept going.


“The partition between two different areas of the boat. A wall. It separates the boat into compartments.”

“Power train?”

“The engine, reduction gear, shaft. And the prop.”

“Prop…?” I asked.

Propeller,” Dad answered.

I’m not sure, but I think I began to detect the faintest note of weariness in Dad’s voice. I knew Dad was proud of my work for National Fisherman; after all, it was he who’d first suggested I try my hand at writing for the magazine and encouraged me to contact the editor, Jerry Fraser.

I worried, though, if I’d be able to pull this one off. Had Michael Crowley, the Boats and Gear editor, made a mistake? What would Fred Wahl think of a young lady coming down to Reedsport to interview him on the state-of-the art Shemya? Would I end up inadvertently insulting everyone and making a fool out of myself?

Of course, we all know how the story ended.

I wound up marrying the partner/captain that I interviewed that afternoon at the boatyard, and the rest is history. And ten years since we met (and added two kids, two dogs, one fishing vessel, one blog and a truck or two), I love that all the original players are still in the game.

The following are pictures of all the fellows (taken at this year’s Pacific Marine Expo) who had confidence that I could pull off a story out of my comfort zone, had patience with me as I did my work, and who mean so much to us a decade later.

At least, they mean a lot to me.

As George went around Fish Expo shaking hands with these guys–all of whom played a part in our meeting and eventual marriage–his greeting was accompanied by these words:

“I don’t know whether to shake your hand or give you a right hook.”

My dad, who said "You can do it."

The subject of my first feature for NF, Ryan. Also his sweet wife, Jenny, who was a player in my most recent feature for NF. And of course, G and me...holding a wine glass at a recent party.

Jerry, the Editor in Chief who gave me a chance at writing, Michael Crowley, who sent me on my first boat building story, and Jes, the new Editor in Chief of National Fisherman.

Mike Lee of Fred Wahl Marine Construction, who ten years ago answered my questions, gave me a spec sheet and a tour of the Shemya...all without letting on whether he wondered if this girl had any idea what she was doing.

The man himself, Fred Wahl, who made the official introduction between my future husband and me.

Ten years later...

The Star-Crossed Lovers (Plinky Prompt)

Prompt: Build romantic tension with a scene between two star-crossed lovers. Write a passage in the style of a romance novel.

After nearly four months without her husband, the thirty-something mother of two starts making plans for the reunion that is soon to come.

“I’ll be home in two weeks,” her husband said the last time they spoke.

Two weeks? So much to do! She looks forward to all of the preparations.

First, she needs to get her hair styled. There won’t be enough time to get it colored, but she can have the layers sharpened and reshaped.

Next, she’ll redo all the bedding. It’s time for a new bedding set, anyway, and she has a gift card she can use toward the purchase.

She’ll make sure all the floors are vacuumed and scrubbed, and the bathrooms sanitized and spotless. The windows will be smudge-free, and the television and shelves will be dusted.

On the morning her man is due to arrive, the wife and mother will get up and teach Jazzercise. Endorphins ignited and running, she’ll race home following class to hop in the shower.

Now clean and smelling of Moonlight Path, she’ll apply glitter shadow to her eyes, glitter gloss to her lips, and spray a couple shots of Beautiful perfume by Estee Lauder on her neck.

“Come on, Ducklings!” she’ll call to her children.

They’ll get into the car and drive to the harbor, turning into the cold storage facility where the family fishing vessel will be unloading the halibut and blackcod catch.

First, she’ll spot the cold storage workers.

Then, she’ll see her husband. He’ll be wearing a black baseball cap, carrying a backpack, and sporting Carhaart cargo work pants.

She can never resist Carhaart work pants. A hug, a kiss, and easy chit chat among all will ensue before the halibut and blackcod unload continues and she leaves to let the men finish their work.

She’ll return home and mix a cocktail, eagerly awaiting the return of her husband and the night to come.

Powered by Plinky

It is a Shock!

All of my regular readers know that although Highliners and Homecomings is a blog about commercial fishing and commercial fishing families, it isn’t a blog about politics, debate, controversy, or insult. Highliners and Homecomings doesn’t exist to debate this or that, call names, or otherwise make anyone (especially me!) feel bad.

I’ve thought for quite a while on whether to even introduce the issue of Alaska’s Republican governor and current United States Vice Presidential nod Sarah Palin to my blog. Did I want to risk “starting something,” stir debate, or offend anyone with the mere mention?

An e-mail I received the other day from a woman I know who lives across the country (and has nothing to do with commercial fishing) helped confirm my decision to bring up Alaska’s governor. My friend wrote,

“Yes—I thought of you, too, Jen, when I listened to Sarah Palin.  What a fascinating time for politics (no matter what your beliefs)!”

I’ve been all over the political chart in the last few days. 

I had a friend over last Thursday, the night before McCain’s VP pick was announced. When I asked for whom my friend was voting, she looked straight at me with a look of concern and confusion before stating matter-of-factly, “Obama.”

I started to wonder if there was something wrong with me.  When I inquired as to the reason behind her look, my good friend laughed and assured me that my question wasn’t the cause–she’d simply been distracted by something else when she answered it! Hmm. 

When I awoke the next morning and turned on the TV, I was shocked to see that Alaska’s governor Sarah Palin had been chosen as John McCain’s running mate.

I knew exactly who Palin was, although I didn’t know much about her.

My dad, a fourth-generation commercial fisherman, has been pointing out Sarah Palin’s picture from her color ad in National Fisherman magazine to my husband and me for at least the last couple of years.

I knew Sarah Palin as the attractive, middle-aged lady who beamed at me from the pages of National Fisherman .  You know the one: It’s the ad in which she–smiling–holds a salmon up for the camera from the deck of an Alaska fishing boat. She appears to be dressed in authentic commercial fishing woman gear: torn gray sweatshirt, bibs, glasses, hair in ponytail.

Upon closer inspection, however, one sees that the stratigically torn sweatshirt is perfectly clean. The hands holding the salmon are not only without orange rubber gloves, they are perfectly manicured. The smiling face doesn’t have one bit of jellyfish or fish slime attached to it.

No matter. I know a photo-op when I see one, and the staged photo never bothered me.

When I saw on the news that she’d been picked for the VP nod, I was surprised and excited. Many of my friends and family couldn’t stop talking about the selection. We went about the day as if in a daze.

As to the debate over which team running for the office of President and Vice President will or should win, well, that isn’t a debate for this particular blog. Even my own family is divided down the line as for whom they will vote.

But—are we excited that a woman from Alaska, a commercial fisherwoman, the wife of a commercial fisherman, and the mother of five children, has been chosen as the running mate for a Presidential candidate for the United States of America?


Astoria’s Commercial Fisherman Expo and Highliner Competition

Earlier this week, my friend Liz brought Astoria’s Commercial Fisherman Expo and Hotdog Highliners Competition to my attention. Then, while making my rounds of blog-snooping, I went over to NW Limited and found even more information on the event.

The festival will be hosted by the Astoria Sunday Market on September 7, and it’s obvious that plenty of fun is in store for both participants and observers.

Besides the Hotdog Highliners Competition, here are a few additional events that caught my eye: the Dover Sole Relay Race (in which I think my sister, Cassandra, should participate), and the Fork Lift Coin Flip (a good opportunity for my my dad, Jack, or my husband, George, to show off their stuff). 

There are also a series of challenges such as Stacking Crab Pots (again, a good event for George or Dad, not to mention Brett, Bryan, or Kelly), Getting Into a Survival Suit (my sister, Steph, or I could try this one) and Tying a Bowline (a chance for everyone to win!)

In addition to the awesome competitions, the Commercial Fisherman Expo will include demonstrations of crab pot and net mending, maritime entertainment (including a sampling of the Fisher Poets), and various guest vendors offering seafood-related products.

Sponsors of the Commercial Fisherman Expo include, among several others, Bornstein Seafood (go Kyle!), Englund Marine, and the Port of Astoria.

If your schedule permits, make the trip over to commercial-fishing friendly Astoria and support the industry!

Good Times

This week, my dad sent around a couple of links to You Tube videos that featured salmon seining in Southeast Alaska. I enjoyed them so much that I am providing the links so that you can watch them also. Here they are:

F/V Quandary

F/V Pillar Bay

Admittedly, my family and I felt a range of emotions as we watched the videos. We felt a surge of excitement as we watched the huge bags of salmon spill over the sides of these boats, and a familiar pride as we watched the crew celebrate the reward of hard work. I’ll even admit to a little jealousy that it wasn’t us up there filling the hatches, or our own SE Alaska seine videos so beautifully assembled for viewing on You Tube.

My, how quickly time does pass.

When my sisters and I were working for my dad on the back deck of the F/V Vis during the SE Alaska salmon season, there was no You Tube. There weren’t even cell phones. Or i Pods.

We had walkmans and discmans, and one calling card to use at the pay phone at the top of the dock at Bar Harbor, primarily for trying to reach Mom.

But, as I told Dad last night, watching these videos transported me right back to my days as a 20-year-old leads-and-web gal. I was transformed from an anxious mother of two tiny children back to another time. I felt the old thrill of a fantastic set, and enjoyed a knowing chuckle as I watched the guy in the video stab at the ocean with the plunger pole from the bow of the skiff, determined to keep those salmon inside the net. 

Part of my family’s 4th of July celebration was spent talking about these videos and sharing our own memories of Southeast Alaska salmon seining. The other part was spent cheering Eva on as she danced in the living room, observing Vincent as he tried to stand on his own, and assembling on the deck for fireworks-viewing.

Good times, all.

Waiting for Word

Fishing families are known for having strong family ties that help them manage the daily strains of fishing.”

(Fishing Families Project/Oregon State University 1997)


One of those daily strains: Worry.

Now, I seldom worry about George’s safety and well-being when he is at sea. The boat is well-built, seaworthy, and solid. Its engines and equipment are current and top notch. The crew is smart, experienced and responsible.

George is an intelligent and talented Captain who operated boats in the Bering Sea when I met him. He has fished all over Alaska and has both the natural know-how and certification to run a safe and successful fishing vessel.

Because I grew up in this lifestyle and fished alongside my sisters in Alaska for my dad during college summers, I know enough about life at sea to understand how a guy might lose track of the days, come upon unexpected weather, or simply be too exhausted to make a call.

I bring up the subject of “worry” simply because my phone call from George, who is fishing his way home from the Alaska halibut and black cod season, is a few days over due. I’ve tried his cell phone, which (as I expected) goes straight to voice mail. I tried the satellite phone (for the first time this year), but there is no answer.

When I was growing up, we didn’t have the luxury of calling my dad on non-existent cell phones and satellite phones–we waited (and possibly, worried) for days or weeks until he got to port and called us.

Through the years, I’ve learned that there isn’t any reason to work one’s self into a panic, because a late phone call always turns out to be nothing, and all one does by worrying is waste precious energy.

I also rely on the old saying, “Bad news travels the fastest.” In other words, if I haven’t heard anything, everything must be okay.

I bring this all up for the sole reason that anxiety felt by waiting family onshore is as much a part of the commercial fishing lifestyle as anything else, and worthy of mention. This is a blog, after all, that celebrates the commercial fishing life–the good and the troublesome.

I know that everything is fine and that the lack of communication boils down to one of two things, as my dad (fourth-generation fisherman and original owner/operator of the family fishing vessel) so eloquently pointed out,

“He’s either working or sleeping.”

There’s also the very real possibility that George didn’t even hear the satellite phone ringing, as the ring is rather soft and nearly impossible to hear over engines, hydraulics, or a movie being watched in the tophouse.

In addition, you can hardly–bless his heart–get that guy to give you a call when he is at home with his phone in his pocket! He honestly operates on “George Time” and usually has so much going on that some things, like checking in, escape notice.

So, I’m just awaiting word. Wondering how it is going, how the weather is, how much quota (if any) is left to be caught, where they are, and when he expects to be home.

I got a reassuring e-mail from my dad today:

“I checked the weather for where G is probably fishing, and it’s ‘good’ and the outlook is ‘good’ and the extended outlook is ‘good’-so it looks good.”

Eva is in bed, Vincent is in bed, dogs have been fed. Now I just stay busy and calm as I wait for my phone to ring. 

Fishin’ His Way Home

“Fishing families experience many benefits from the lifestyle that commercial fishing brings, but they also experience challenges in adapting to husbands’ trips to and from the sea.”

(The Ebb and Flow of Fishing Family Life—Oregon Sea Grant)


I got a call from George while he was in Seward last week getting ready to deliver his latest load of longline-caught halibut. Although there haven’t been many outstanding loads to deliver so far this season, George and the crew have been, as we say, diligently scratching away at it.

Bit by bit, little by little. Or, as my dad used to say during Alaska salmon seine openings when we committed to scratching away in one area of fishing rather than running around and burning fuel to chase fish, “Stick and stay, make it pay.”

George has a certain amount of halibut and blackcod quota that he must catch. If fishing is good, he can catch the quota quickly and come right back home. If fishing is scratchy, he simply stays in Alaska until it is caught.

The good news is that he has started fishing his way home–the bulk of the quota has been caught and he feels confident he can grab the rest of it on the trip South.

George is an optimistic guy, though, and operates on something my family calls “George Time.”

For example, George has estimated he’ll be home in about 10-14 days. We automatically adjust this estimate and figure to see him at the dock in about 14-21 days, barring any mechanical problems.

Regardless, whenever he shows up, it is an understatement to say how happy and excited I will be to see him, and I’m just glad the countdown has begun.

After a fun and sunny Memorial Day weekend, last week went all downhill. It was just awful–but because Nobody Likes a Whiner, I won’t bother you with the details of losing the hearing in my right ear (now restored), or how Vincent cried for four days straight, or how I had to take Toby to an emergency vet appointment for another cancer treatment, or how Eva locked me out of my bathroom.

Things are turning around now, though, and balance is being restored: As I told the neighbor who came over to yell at me through my porch window one evening during dinner about one of the construction trailers parked in front of his house,

“Hey, I know we’ve all got a lot going on. We’re all doing the best we can!”

Toby is eating again and is actually gaining weight.  My sister and brother-in-law have helped me out a ton. My friend, Tish, came to visit. The construction is moving forward on our basement. I finally decided to accept an offer to teach two Jazzercise classes per week. My parents will be home from their (ahem, too long!) vacation to Hawaii on Tuesday. And within the month….George will be home.

Whenever I get into my car after a trying morning as the only parent currently available to meet the demands of a young and needy household, I play Trace Adkin’s new song “You’re Gonna Miss This,” at least a couple of times. Next on my (custom mix) c.d.–and I’m not kidding–is Ronnie Milsap’s “She Keeps the Homefires Burning.”

“She keeps the homefires burning
While I’m out earning a living in a world
That’s known for its pouring rain
She keeps the homefires burning…”

If I can just keep these homefires burning for a couple more weeks, we’ll be good to go.