Note: This is a true fishing story. The names have been changed to protect the foolish, but everything else is told exactly as it happened.
Bill and Jake left the North Douglas boat ramp on the last day of the 2001 Golden North Salmon Derby. The weather was fine, the water was calm, derby tickets were validated and both fishermen were feeling like luck was going to be on their side that day.
They were in Bill's boat - a solid 18-foot skiff with a canopy, propelled by a good-sized outboard motor with a kicker beside it. All the gear two people would need for a day of fishing was in place and nothing could go wrong. Or could it?
A mere 10 minutes had passed since they left the ramp and the boat was at top speed, racing past the north end of Portland Island when a "clunk" was heard from the big outboard, followed by some noises that sounded far from healthy.
Bill quickly let off the throttle and the motor killed.
"This can't be happening," Bill said as he tried in vain to get the motor started again. Finally, after a few tries, the outboard fired up, but the metal-on-metal sounds persisted. Something was seriously wrong and the main engine was out of commission.
It was then when Jake offered Bill a banana.
"You brought bananas on my boat?" Bill asked rhetorically. "Get those damn things out of here. Don't you know that bananas are bad luck? No wonder the engine quit."
Jake scoffed at Bill, calling him superstitious as he finished the tasty, tropical fruit and discarded the peel over the side. "There, it's gone," he said. However, the banana would come back to haunt them.
But this was the Golden North Salmon Derby. Nothing could deter two fishermen on their quest to catch a salmon that would put them "in the money" and propel them to legendary status in area fishing circles. There was a fish worth $100,000 out there and both were determined to catch it. So Bill put the 9-horse kicker down, started it up and said, "I guess we're fishing around here today."
Soon Bill and Jake's lines were in the water and the two trolled along the west side of Portland Island and sat back to enjoy a day of derby fishing. However, the curse of the banana struck again.
In order to make a little more room in the boat and provide easy access, the net was stored loose atop the canopy and forgotten about. As the two trolled along, there was a small gust of wind, followed by a sound of a splash. Jake looked behind the boat just in time to see the handle of the net sinking below the surface of the water.
Although the loss of a net paled in comparison to the loss of a 115-horsepower motor, it was significant. There was no gaff hook on the boat, which meant that any hooked fish would be a challenge to get on board.
Again, the fishermen were not dissuaded and pushed on. Soon Bill's pole twitched and bent hard toward the water. He reeled it in and with more than a little luck, Jake helped lead the fish through a small opening between the dead outboard and the low-cut transom.
It was a respectable coho, weighing in a touch over 16 pounds on Jake's portable scale.
Suddenly, the mood of the both fishermen improved. They stopped feeling sorry for themselves after the realization that they could very well have a salmon worth some money. The fish would have been in the top 100 if it had been submitted the day before and could be a good candidate for 100th place overall and a hefty $1,000 prize.
One fish isn't enough for any fisherman, so instead of going straight to the weigh-in station, they stayed on the water and kept fishing. They ended up landing another smaller silver and a small king at the south end of Portland Island before Bill hooked into another large silver.
This time the lack of a net came back to sting them. Jake tried to lead the silver, which could have been bigger than the first coho, through the transom again, but he pulled a little too hard and the line snapped. They both watch in disbelief as the fish splashed and swam into the depths.
Disappointed, Bill and Jake decided to troll towards Coghlan Island to get a little closer to Auke Bay where they would have to weigh their catch. The tide was ripping pretty strong between the islands when the curse of the banana struck for the third time.
The boat was driving straight, but the tide was pushing the downrigger cable perilously close to the propeller of the kicker, unknowingly to Bill and Jake.
Suddenly, there was large "clunk" and within a blink of an eye, the carbon-fiber arm of the downrigger snapped off and the kicker killed. Both fishermen looked at each other in astonishment.
"What just happened?" Bill yelled.
"This is a disaster," Jake said. "We better call it a day."
Bill agreed as he pulled up the kicker to see the downrigger cable wrapped around the prop. After a while he managed to untangle the cable and the two quietly headed towards Auke Bay and the weight station.
At least they had a salmon that would be "in the money," or so they thought. On the official derby scale, Bill's coho weighed in at 14 pounds 9 ounces, well out of the top 100. He donated the fish for the scholarship program, a generous gift considering all he had lost that day. They limped back to the North Douglas boat ramp, laughing the whole way at what could have been.
With this true story in mind, be prepared for anything in this year's derby and for heaven's sake, keep the bananas off the boat.
Jeff Kasper is a free-lance writer and former Empire sports writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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