Kings of Sole is a funny short story about brothers Mike and Tom and their fun adventure under a fish cannery in Cordova, Alaska.
By Michael R Dougherty
How do you make money "under" a fish cannery?
During the summer of 1963, our family was living in the picturesque town of Cordova, Alaska. Cordova is set on Prince William Sound, and one of it's main sources of income is commercial fishing.
I was 16 years old and my brother was 14. One afternoon we were looking for something to do on a lazy Summer day. We were just two teens looking for adventure. So, along with a friend, we rented a small row boat and decided to go under a fish cannery.
The tide was just coming in as we sat there in our boat, bobbing around under the cannery. Below our boat, in the water, was a pile of crab shells. Looking up at the cannery above us, we were right under a trap door.
The cannery was canning King Crab and were disposing of the crab shells by throwing them out through the trap door where they fell into the water below.
Then we noticed that some fish appeared to be swimming around the crab shells. A closer look told us that the fish were Sole.
We had brought our fishing tackle box with us and so we decided to drop a bare hook into the water to see if we could catch a Sole.
Guess what? It worked. The sole grabbed the hook and we caught the Sole.
Suddenly we had a "what if" moment.
What if we came back the next day, tied our boat off to a cannery pole, caught some Sole and then sold our fresh catch to the restaurant located right on the bay near the docks?
We didn't bother asking the restaurant owner if he would purchase our catch -
Instead, we got our gear together, rented another row boat and headed back under the cannery where we tied our boat to a pole and started fishing.
We were having so much fun catching Sole that we didn't notice the tide was coming in and because we had tied our boat off too tight to the pole, our boat was seriously leaning to one side and we were close to taking on water. So I quickly pulled out my trusty knife and cut the line.
Whoosh - our boat sprang up out of the water, nearly throwing the three of us out of our boat. After a few minutes, we were all "ship shape" again and went back to fishing for Sole.
As we stopped to enjoy a lunch of peanut butter sandwiches, we heard a noise above us and looked up to see a couple of cannery workers who had opened the hatch. The two looked down on us and started talking about something.
Suddenly, the two cannery workers started throwing buckets of King Crab shells and assorted garbage on us. They were laughing and having a grand time bombarding us and watching three teens trying not to get pelted with the horrid mess they were happily sending our way.
After a minute or two, the cannery workers disappeared and closed the hatch.
But since we were fishing for Sole, we had to stay near the crab shells because that's were the fish were. We began fishing again, but from time-to-time we looked up to make sure we were not about to get anointed with more King Crab slop as we continued our hopeful money making adventure.
Then suddenly, the entire bottom of the water went black -
The three of us watched to see what was happening, then as if we all got the message at once, we pulled our hooks out of the water because we realized that a large Halibut had just swam over the crab shells. In our imaginations, we could all three see the Halibut take one of our hooks, get really upset, and then start pulling us out into the bay in our small row boat.
With all our hooks out of the water, we decided we had caught enough Sole and that it was time to get them ready to sell.
Have you ever had to skin a fish?
With knives and pliers in hand, we began the difficult task of turning our catch into a small mountain of skinned and sliced Sole.
After what seemed like for ever, we bagged up our "product" and headed for the restaurant -
The owner liked what we had to sell, gave us an offer and we happily took it.
Later that evening, we went by the restaurant and saw a sandwich board advertising "fresh fillet of Sole." We felt happy and like we had accomplished something.
We rewarded ourselves with a movie at the North Star Theater on Main Street in Cordova. Happily, the movie had nothing to do with fish.
While our little adventure under the cannery had rewarded us with a small amount of money, we decided that we did not want to continue as the "Kings of Sole". So we bid good bye to our row boat, the underwater pile of King Crab shells and the two cannery worker scoundrels who had anointed us with crab garbage during our otherwise peaceful lunch of peanut butter sandwiches.
And we all wondered what kind of adventure it might have been if that huge Halibut had taken one of our hooks and drug us and our little boat out to sea. We would have been the first ever "Halibut boogie boarders."
Yes, for a brief time we were the "Kings of Sole" sloppy crab shells and all.
Have fun and keep laughing
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