The Flounder on Border Bank

by Capt. Lou Boudreau

It was the first of March and Captain DF Bert Boddin was at the Oak Bay Marina getting the Flounder ready for her first halibut trip of the season. He’d spent the winter fixing her up and had replaced the aging six cylinder Ford with a big new Chevy V8 engine. The old wooden Chris-Craft shone under a new coat of white paint and her varnish glistened in the early morning sunlight.

DF and his buddy Floyd had fished together for years. They’d spent a lot of time out on Constance and Border Bank but more recently it was Border Bank that had produced the halibut. It was tricky fishing. Divided by an imaginary line running generally east to west, the big shoal was owned by both the US and Canada and both countries were pretty touchy about who was fishing on which side of the line. The authorities claimed that fish caught on the south side of the line were US fish while those caught to the north were Canadian but DF didn’t buy that. He reckoned that because the big flatfish could swim freely back and forth whenever they wanted that they were free agents and catching them came under the same rule.

DF had acquired the prefix to his name on account of his troubles with the Canadian Department of Fisheries. He was right fond of fresh fried lingcod and if he caught one while they were out of season, well he would just clean it before coming back to the marina and hide it in the bottom of the beer cooler. He reckoned that the fisheries boys were too stupid to tell the difference between an illegal lingcod filet and a greenling or dogfish. This kind of thinking had resulted in a number of arguments at the marina’s cleaning station.

“Them's dogfish fillet I tell you,” He would ague.

“No they’re not, they’re lingcod,” the fisheries officer would reply.

DF had been fined twice over the years but that hadn’t changed his way of thinking.

As he waited for Floyd he checked the oil in the new engine once more. Satisfied, he slid the dipstick back into the tube and wiped his hands on a rag. Five minutes later he caught sight of his fishing partner coming down the ramp with fishing rod in hand and after few moments he walked down the finger pier to the Flounder.

“Hey DF, the old Flounder’s looking pretty good aye? He said laying his gear on the dock.

“ Yup Floyd, Got her all checked out and ready to fish fer the season,” DF said moving to one side so that his friend could see into the hatch.

Floyd, who had been up-Island for the winter and hadn’t seen the Flounder since the prior season, spotted the shining engine and whistled.

“Well cod tongues and pigs’ feet, DF what you trying to do anyway, go in fer the offshore powerboat races?” he exclaimed.

“Well that old Ford was actin up if you remember an I just figured to have a better turn o speed this year,” DF answered.

Floyd knew all about the old Ford. Last year they’d spent a cold miserable night adrift to the west of Race Rocks in the rain with no coffee on account of that cranky old Ford. Climbing over the rail he went down on his knees to look at the engine. The chrome and black parts shone and it smelled new.

“She’s got 300 horses in her Floyd, lots a power over on Border Bank if we need it.”

His partner looked up suddenly startled.

“You ain’t gonna chance it again again after last year are you? Them US Coast Guard fellers told us that they was gonna persecute us to the full extension of the law if they seen us over their way again”

“Aww Floyd, them young fellers was just out having a good time that’s all,” DF chided his friend.

“Seems to me they caught us fishing over the line if I remember rightly. Had one of them new fangled GSP things like a radio, remember? Said it was good fer tellin exactly where you was or wasn’t and they said we was over the line for sure” Floyd reminded his skipper.

“Well we might’a drifted over a wee tad but you know what? Our halibut bin swimmin over to their side fer years. You know how them Americans claim that all the coho we get over here is really theirs that just got lost and swum over the line? Well this is the same thing.”

Floyd looked doubtful; it was a pretty confusing argument.

“Listen, we’ll just keep an eye open to the south and if them Coast Guard fellers come along we’ll just fire up the Chevy and hightail it back over to the our side,” DF said reassuringly.

At least it was a plan Floyd thought to himself as he reached over onto the dock to pick up his new fishing rod, and the Flounder did have that big new engine.

“I got something new too DF, have a gander at this,” he said passing a heavy halibut rod to his friend, “Got 300 yards of that new tough line on her too.”

It was a new Penn rod and reel and sure enough it was spooled with that new extra strong green line. DF hefted the rod and nodded approvingly.

“Some nice rig Floyd, Reckon you could handle a pretty big hali with that weapon,”

Floyd stowed the rod and walking forward he cast off the lines as DF fired up the engine.

“All clear,” he called and DF backed the Chris-Craft out of the slip.

With her new engine rumbling powerfully the old boat pulled swiftly away from the dock and as her skipper edged the throttle forward she sped towards the breakwater.

Passing through the channel a couple of startled seals submerged to escape the fast moving craft but soon they were out and the Strait of Juan de Fuca opened up clear to Washington State where the snow capped Olympic Mountains rose steeply from the sea. It was a calm clear morning with no wind; a good day to go halibut fishing.

The run south to Border Bank took about half an hour but the two men enjoyed being out on the water after the winter months and time passed quickly. As the Chris-Craft neared the middle of the Strait DF slowed down, taking some rudimentary bearings on his compass with a ruler.

“Definitely on our side I reckon, so let’s set um up,” he said.

The tide was slack and they decided that due to the proximity of the US line they wouldn’t anchor.

Stopping the engine the two men rigged their rods with the traditional halibut spreader bar, lead weight and herring and sent the baits to the bottom. As they fished the old wooden boat rocked gently. It was a good set. The lines stayed almost vertical and the boat drifted slowly to the south. Floyd and DF fished for an hour without anything and the conversation turned to fishing and why the big halibut seemed to hang out more on the US side.

“Maybe it’s the bait them Americans use. You reckon they got better bait DF?” Floyd asked

“Naw we’s using the same herring, probably from the same school,”

DF assured his mate, “They probably just give it a good squirt of that old WD-40”

Some commercial fishermen claimed that a good dousing with the marine lubricant was irresistible to the halibut. Suddenly Floyd's rod twitched slightly and then more violently.

“Hey DF got something here I reckon, oh oh yep I got him for sure,” he shouted excitedly.

Striking upwards with the stout rod, it came up solid with heavy resistance.

“Yep, got a good one I reckon,” he said a little more calmly

“I’ll reel mine in and get the harpoon ready,” DF replied already cranking his reel.

Floyd played the big fish carefully. Every time he got 50 feet of line in he’d lose 40 back as the fish peeled line from the screaming reel. He new rod groaned in protest as it bent to the breaking point but it held.

“Still got him?” DF asked

“Yep still there,” Floyd replied cranking the Penn reel a few more times.

DF stood by with the big harpoon ready to dart the flatfish when it came into range. Suddenly Floyd looked over his shoulder to the south and gasped.

“Oh shit DF here comes them dam Coast Guard boys again.”

Sure enough as DF looked to the south he saw a boat approaching. There was no mistaking the red stripe on the white hull of the US Coast Guard launch and it was speeding directly toward them leaving a white wake as it came. As it got closer the launch gradually slowed down before finally stopping about 30 feet away and two young uniformed officers emerged from the pilothouse. Floyd looked dumbstruck as he struggled to hold his violently twitching rod while DF meanwhile had dropped the harpoon and started the big Chevy engine.

“Ahoy Canadian fishing boat this is the US Coast Guard we’re coming alongside.

“Not if I have any thing to say about it,” DF muttered and before anyone could say smoked herring he rammed the engine controls full forward and the big 453 roared to life.

The old Chris-Craft leapt forward throwing Floyd to the cockpit floor where he struggled to keep hold of his rod and as the boat sped northward the line peeled off his reel in a desperate scream.

“Hold onto that rod Floyd I’m going to get us back onto our side,” DF shouted.

“I’m holdin,” Floyd yelled gripping the rod with both hands.

As the Flounder sped northward the US Coast Guard turned to give chase.

When there were only a few yards of line left on Floyd’s reel DF throttled back and stopped.

The Coast Guard launch had throttled up too and they arrived a few moments later coming up close alongside the Flounder.

“Ahoy Canadian fishing craft. Heave too! You’re fishing in US waters and we going to board you.”

The young officer sounded angry but DF smiled calmly before replying.

“We was son, we was in US waters but if you check your GPS you’ll see that we is now in Canadian waters.”

Floyd stood up shakily still holding his rod. It was still attached to the fish and it pointed due south.

“This halibut sure ain’t,” He said, “I got about 300 odd-yard of that new tough line on here and that fish is still over on the US side.”

DF glared at his mate.

The two US Coast Guard officers seemed a little perplexed. Maybe they were back on the Canadian side but whatever was on the end of the Canadian’s fishing rod was still on the American side.

“That fish is an American fish,” the young officer announced authoritatively, “And you need to surrender it to us.”

“Well now, how you gonna tell if he’s a Canadian or an American fish?” DF asked slyly. “Maybe we should just pull him in an check his passport shall we?

“You could check the size of his mouth,” Floyd offered.

“What would that prove?” asked the Coast Guard officer looking puzzled.

“They say your American fish got bigger mouths,” Floyd said.

“Belt up Floyd I’ll handle this,” DF snapped and he turned again to the US Coast Guard launch, which had drifted even closer.

“Now boys lets face it, my GPS says that I’m on the Canadian side an that means the fish is a Canadian, so how about we just call this a draw and we’ll be on our way,” he suggested

The impasse took only a moment. The Flounder was still moving slowly northward towards Vancouver Island and was clearly back in Canadian waters. The US Coast Guard realized they couldn’t force DF and Floyd to cough up the fish unless it was at gunpoint. After a few moments of indecision the two officers gave in.

“We'll be watching you,” They said waving the Canadians away.

“And we’ll be watching out fer you too lads, but now we’ll just bid you a good day while we attend to our Canadian halibut here,”

Turning, the Coast Guard launch powered away to the south and soon was only a speck on the horizon. The fish was tired by then and even as DF nudged the Flounder ever northward Floyd reeled the big fish in. A few minutes later they brought the halibut aboard. DF did the honors with the billy club and the big fish lay silently in the Flounder’s stern.

DF and Floyd decided they’d had enough excitement for the day and the Chris-Craft turned towards home.

“Just one question DF, how did you know where we was, we ain’t got any GSP?’

“Yup but them young Coast Guard fellers sure didn’t know that,” DF replied with a wink.

Capt. Lou Boudreau is the author of nautical books including The Man Who Loved Schooners and Where The Trade Winds Blow They are available at http://caribbeebooks.com/

 

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