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Chapter 24

Tight Lines, Sharp Hooks

Never a dull moment in Hawaii. From January 19, 1977, until the middle of February, I was pretty busy with the three sites I had set up to monitor emissions from the power plant on Maui. With my boss's permission, I started going to work at five in the morning. I could accomplish every task and be free by nine or nine thirty every day except Friday. That was the day I had to dump all the data from the stations and mail it to Las Vegas in a lead lined box. Even with the additional tasks, I could be free by noon at the latest.

I started hanging out at Ma'alaea Marina watching the charter and commercial boats unload their catch. One afternoon a man was having a problem loading his inboard on the trailer. I jumped in the water and gave him a hand. With the boat secured, he reached in the fish box and came out with several pink snapper. Excellent table fare. I thanked him and asked him about the chances of going out with him someday. He told me anytime I could get free. A few days later I was returning from the airport and saw my new friend on the side of the road repairing a flat on his boat trailer. I stopped and offered my help and asked if he was going out. He replied that he was and invited me along. He told me to pick up some lunch and soft drinks, no beer. He was a Christian and didn't believe in beer drinking. I rushed to the store, picked up lunch, sodas and water and met him at the dock. We launched and headed across the channel in the direction of Kaho'olawe, the target island.

For years the Navy and Air Force had used this island as a place to practice bombing and was off limits. This was a thorn in Hawaiian sides. Several protesters landed on the island and caused the Navy some grief before the problem was resolved. I sided with the Hawaiians in the protest. The island had religious and historical value and it just wasn't right. At one time, people lived on the island and raised goats. No water or natural food and the protesters were supplied by people sneaking over at night, evading the Coast Guard. But back to the story.

Boats were required to stay a mile from the high water mark on the island. We proceeded to the boundary where my host took out a piece of plywood. It had some strange markings on it and he didn't say anything. He just looked at the board and our surroundings. He made a change in our position and announced we were ready to fish. The piece of plywood was his map.

I looked around and didn't see any poles but did see several five gallon buckets. He had been cutting squid for bait on our way to the fishing grounds. Now he took a line from one of the buckets with five hooks and a two pound lead weight. He baited the hooks, handed the rig to me and told me to lower it to the bottom and then pick it up about thirty feet. We were fishing in 50 fathoms, 300 feet! When I had done this he told me to wait until I felt five distinct taps on the line. No use to bring it up from that depth with only one fish. It only took a few minutes. I counted five tap tap and started hauling the line in hand over hand. Soon I had five pink snapper in the boat that weighed from three to five pounds. Bait up and back down. Ten times and I knew I was not cut out for commercial hand line fishing especially when I brought up a small shark, about a hundred pounds. I was all for killing the shark and bringing it aboard but that was not to be. The man took a rusty knife which he stuck in the gills. After that he cut the leader and allowed the shark to swim away. When I quizzed him, he told me that the sharks would not be a problem as the shark we had caught would lead them away with the blood trail. He was right, no more sharks and we continued to catch fish.

I had been watching a group of humpback whales that were swimming back and forth in the channel. They kept getting closer and I expressed some concern. My host told me not to worry, if they got too close he would start the engine and they would leave. So far he had been right about everything but I figured a sixty foot whale wouldn't be afraid of a little old 22 foot boat. Sure enough, when they came close enough to start rocking the boat when they breached, he started the engine and the whales swam away.

None too soon, the fisherman announced we had enough opakapaka and headed for the dock. We made one more stop near Maui to pick up some beautiful little squirrel fish.

Back at the dock, and none too soon for me. My hands were raw from pulling the line up, I had more than a tan and I was so tired I could barely walk. My friend offered me a couple of nice fish and I told him if I never saw another snapper, it would be too soon. The next Monday, a knock on the trailer door. There stood my friend. I was about to tell him I could not go fishing again when he pulled out some bills and offered them to me. I asked why and he said it was my share of the fish sales. I refused the money and even had to put it back in his hand when he placed it on the desk. I told him the trip and the experience was more than enough pay. I never purchased another fish while I was on Maui. I either caught them or my friend would drop by with a few nice snapper or squirrel fish. More fish tales coming up in Chapter 25.

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