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Gone Fishin’: Kayhi students learn commercial fishing first-hand
Jack Cotant captain Jim Castle, left, shows Ketchikan High School freshman Collin Workman how to dress a coho salmon for processing Oct. 7. Staff photos by Taylor Balkom

Daily News Staff Writer

A cluster of dark clouds opened and made way for a luminous moon to shine through and provide one of the only sources of light at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday at Bar Harbor — which was nearly empty of people.

A few fisherman with headlamps strapped around their heads could be seen cleaning their boats, as a group of people, mostly high school students, strolled past them down Float 8. The group stopped at slip 31 and boarded the Jack Cotant — the educational vessel owned by the Ketchikan Gateway Borough — for their day-long commercial fishing expedition.

In August, Superintendent Robert Boyle announced Ketchikan High School had obtained an educational permit to fish commercially. Jim Castle, a commercial fisherman, was recently chosen to be the captain of the Jack Cotant and instructor for the after-school commercial fishing program.

For three weeks now, students have been able to go out on Saturdays to apply what they’ve learned during the week. The program is from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday, Thursday and Friday, and students learn about boat safety, how to run the power trolling gear and more.

“They’re really eager to be here,” Castle said on Saturday as the boat made its way towards Caamano Point on the southern tip of the Cleveland Peninsula. “Everyone that’s come has had such a good time and they’re all glad to go out and work the gear.”

Even though they’re licensed to fish commercially, Boyle said that’s not necessarily what the license is intended for. He said it’s more of a learning opportunity for students that are interested in turning commercial fishing into their career, or students who are interested in learning more about it.

On Saturday, the students were able to steer the boat, keep an eye on the depth of water and run the gear, which led to them catching five coho, or silver salmon. The group did nab a few “shaker” fish — like rockfish and king salmon, which they had to “shake” back into the water, as the permit does not allow for them.

It was an unlucky day for the coho reeled onto the Jack Cotant — but a lucky day for the students and an opportunity for them to learn how to dress, or prepare, the fish to be processed at Cedars Lodge afterwards.

Dual-sided boning knife and spoon in hand, Castle grabbed the first salmon brought aboard at about 9 a.m. and laid it on a piece of burlap fabric on a cleaning table. He ran the knife along the fish and explained the dressing procedure one last time, before Collin Workman, a freshman, was able to give it a try.

“You go in, get a hold of all the gills, then you come clear up in the corner here and you cut loose the throat latch in the skinniest part, where this cartilage attaches under the chin,” Castle said, explaining the beginning of the process.

One after the other, for the next four hours, the silver salmon were reeled in. After the first hour, the group noticed they lost a cannon ball weight. About an hour later, they lost another one, and the group was down to running half of the gear.

“The fishing is pretty decent, for us, but we lost a couple of cannon balls,” Castle said. “We didn’t have big enough breakaway straps on those, you should have something that breaks away if you get too close to the beach, or a reef, or shallow spot. … The kids didn’t do anything wrong, we’re just kind of learning.”

Unfortunately, the students — including Axel Hugo, a sophomore, Matthew Wilhelm, a senior, LaShawn Garrett, a junior, and Caden Thomas, a sophomore — learned about losing cannon balls the hard way.

Fritz Peters, who helps with the maintenance of the boat, was also on the trip, guiding the students and steering the boat when they all flocked towards their catch.

Since it was their third week out, the students have two weeks left this fall to perfect their use of the cannon balls, until the program picks back up again for five weeks in the spring.

“This is kind of a treat for them,” Castle said. “It’s educational, but it’s a good time. We were afraid that we might need to require them all to put their cellphones away and they might all be sitting inside with their face in their phone. That hasn’t even been an issue.”