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46 pounds faces off against 7 months of pregnant

Abby Lowell hauls in a halibut while fishing with family and friends. Being an Alaskan outdoors woman isn't always easy, but it's even harder at seven months pregnant.  Photo courtesy of Sarah Lowell
Photo courtesy of Sarah Lowell
Abby Lowell hauls in a halibut while fishing with family and friends. Being an Alaskan outdoors woman isn't always easy, but it's even harder at seven months pregnant.

The news wasn’t good. I’d failed the hour glucose test by two points —the upper limit was 139, and my level registered 141.

I took it hard. This meant I was one step closer to 332 finger pricks, 83 days of a restricted diet and a mandatory hospital birth.

It’s times like these that make me want to go for a run.

A trail run is where I do my best thinking. I’m able to clear my head, process thoughts that need processing, sort through feelings that need feeling. I’m always surprised that I think about nearly everything but the actual run.

But the outing would have to wait. Instead I turned my thoughts to memories of a recent trip to our family cabin, where worries were few and Alaskana in abundance. We flew out for an extended weekend to an isolated outpost amid the Southeast archipelago. For four days we fished, cooked, ate and shared laughs around a campfire.

With any remote dwelling, there are always things to be done: water lines to check, electricity to hook up, a skiff to tend, food to cook, and dishes to be done. I’d been out before and relished in partaking in everything and getting my hands dirty with the work.

This trip would be different.

Never had I taken on so much with so much belly in the way.

Simple things like hauling coolers packed with ice and dry bags from the floatplane were an absolute “no-no.” But things like fishing were still just as easy. The real challenge came one day into the trip, when I hooked into something big. Really big.

That day the group decided to divide and conquer. Half would take the skiff in search of shrimp and salmon, the other half would take the Yomi II, a 24-foot SeaSport Explorer, in search of halibut — at least that was the plan.

So we camped on a locale I’ve unoriginally dubbed “Spot X.” Here the ocean floor rose quickly from 100 to around 50 feet and the area, based on family lore, was known for being not only reliable, but also quite fishy.

We baited lines, dropped them and waited. Reeled up, checked lines, then dropped again. Reeled. Dropped. Reeled and dropped again.

I began to get antsy. There seemed to be no comfortable spot on the boat — nowhere that didn’t hurt my feet and hips or squish my belly. So I took a break, grabbed a Luna Bar and hunkered back down on the gunnel. I nestled the rod butt in my hip, flipped the drag and watched my red neon weight disappear to the ocean floor with my herring in tow. I took a bite of my bar, flipped the drag back and then stopped. I had hit bottom, but only moments ago. That tug I’d felt wasn’t a rock. I waited.

Suddenly, my rod tip bent hard and deep toward the reel seat.

“Fish!” I yelled.

I swallowed the chunk of bar still in my mouth and braced myself against the boat.

The rod bent deeper and the tip nearly touched the water as I struggled to find a comfortable spot to seat the end of the rod.

This soon became a big fish fight. I’d inch in line, only to have it stripped out for seconds on end. Ever so slowly I began to make headway, and before long the ghostlike underbelly of the halibut rose from the inky depths.

A scratchy voice came over the radio.

“Yomi II this is Hanz Off.” It was the party on the skiff.

“Uh, can’t talk. Kinda busy right now,” was the only response we could muster. Moments later my husband David muttered something about wishing he had a gun — for the halibut, of course.

A gaff would have to do.

Without incident he gaffed the fish, slipped a line under its jaw and slit the tail. We both rested for a moment. Neither of us was in a hurry to heave the halibut — which was not yet dead — into the boat. So, we tied it off on a cleat and sent our lines down again.

The day continued without much more excitement. Except, of course, when we saw the faces of those in the skiff who ended the day fishless.

My catch that day weighed in at an estimated 46 pounds, based on a tide book acquired from Western Auto and Marine. It measured a generous foot taller than my 3-year-old.

I soon learned, however, that catching the fish was the easy part.

That lesson came a day later, after my husband had graciously filleted and packed my fish.

The young ladies of the party decided it was time for a women’s fishing outing, and I was to man and navigate the skiff. After a quick course in skiff operation from my father-in-law, we were off.

Running a skiff is harder than it looks. They’re a bit squirrely without much weight, the motor can be a little testy — especially one as old as ours — and with a 7-month belly constantly getting in the way, it’s not as easy to operate the controls while twisting forward to navigate. But I enjoyed every second and before long we were loaded up and running back toward Spot X.

The wind kicked up this day and we found ourselves drifting at a clip that seemed more like trolling than true halibut fishing. But, like the tenacious ladies we are, we repeatedly set our lines at the 100-foot mark, drifted over the nob, and motored back. We dropped lines, reeled up, dropped again.

Soon, the smiles outweighed any annoyances the wind my have conjured. In four hours we reeled up six halibut (one got away).

I gaffed, tied lines and slit tails. But it was a team effort, and we all took turns getting thoroughly dirty. The inside of the skiff looked like a small-scale blood bath. Five halibut hung heavy off the stern cleat.

At the end of the day, it took two 20-something women to haul the catch into the skiff and we sat back to admire our work.

By the time the guys arrived from their outing to Elfin Cove, it was late in the day. Our catch outnumbered theirs, which consisted of a few chum salmon, and our smiles stretched from cheek to sunburned cheek.

Despite the late hour, the ladies decided to finish the job they had started. We took turns filleting, skinning, rinsing and packaging the halibut. I filleted two, which was plenty. My back ached as I bent down over the fish and the wide stance we were forced to take over the plywood platform made my thighs burn.

We finished by 9 p.m.

That weekend I learned being an Alaskan woman isn’t easy. It’s even harder to do while very pregnant. But I managed to do all the things I would have otherwise done — pull shrimp pots, catch and fillet fish, run a skiff, shoot a rifle, cook, clean and laugh.

Sometimes it’s the little things that add up in a big way to make you feel alive.

Back to reality: It was these memories that got me through a day of worry. They made me realize that whether or not I have to manage two months of pregnancy-induced diabetes is irrelevant. What really matters is whether or not I let it slow me down. If I can help it, my life — as an athlete, a wife and mother and as an Alaskan woman — won’t skip a beat.

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