I tell my students two main lies.
1. I don’t know how to have a bad time.
2. Even my bad ideas start out good.
The second one isn’t really a lie, and I justify both because obviously I have bad times, but the point is to be able to capture all moments with an element of perspective and optimism. The world is negative and cynical enough. Yeah George shoots Lennie and Jack goes crazy and Johnny dies (none of my students probably read my column) but real life isn’t all that bad with a positive attitude.
These things didn’t occur to me when I pointed my 15-foot Boston Whaler toward the salt chuck that was running at a docile pace with the incoming tide. My girlfriend Abby and I had captured exactly zero crab on a 12-hour soak in an area that is notoriously filthy with crab. We’d set the pots, camp, pull them, then go home ready to feast.
I was panicked, desperate, not thinking, something, so we reset one pot in front of the chuck, then I nosed down and glided through the swirling waters to the other side.
We dropped the second pot and cruised to the back past seals, ducks, tidal flats that looked like perfect bear habitat and under the watch of alpine peaks that had to be loaded with bucks. Upon returning to the salt chuck, I got a lesson in tidal hydrology. We were stuck. This was a bad idea. Not a good one that ended up bad, one that was bad from the start, I just neglected to think it through. I knew it was a 17-foot tide, but since I glided through two hours after the tide change, I thought that I’d be able to do the same though the ocean was going to be dumping more water as the tide continued?
I then reasoned that maybe there would be a small halibut that decided to race in with the tide to see what this side of the chuck was all about. I instructed Abby to bait up and send the halibut jig down. Naturally we caught nothing. Only desperate idiots who didn’t catch anything in their crab pots venture to the other side of the chuck looking for fish. What halibut probably do is wait on the ocean side of the chuck for food to rush out. That way they don’t have to feel like they are swimming off the end of the earth or think they are salmon.
At one point, the nice people who anchored their large boat near where we tied up, and with whom we chatted as they walked back from the nearby bear observation area cruised back and forth at the mouth of the other side of the chuck. I wanted to be them. On the other side. Liberated from the hold of the chuck. We pulled the pot I figured would be choked with crab even on a short soak. Justification. Redemption. It had zero.
Though the time of the tide change came and went, water still flooded in like tardy students after the bell. When I figured it was safe, probably well after it was safe, (I’m a pretty conservative boater) we shot up the whirls and current and to the other side.
We had dinner plans in town, an hour and a half trip away. We had just enough time to check the other pot the shrimp pot and maybe fish one halibut spot on the way home.
The crab pot had one keeper, the shrimp pot a gallon of tails. Things were looking up. Then Abby landed a meal-for-four yellow-eye.
If things went perfectly every time, I guess life would be too boring. In order to embody the attributes you want, you need opportunities to learn them. All you can hope is that you learn to shake your head, smile, and make plans to do it again.
Maybe with a better plan.
• Jeff Lund is a writer and teacher based in Ketchikan. “I Went To The Woods,” a reference to Henry David Thoreau, appears in Outdoors twice a month.