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Like a (Howard the) Duck to water

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Like a (Howard the) Duck to water

Howard Walcott sits on the bow of his boat hours before leaving dock for a commercial fishing open.

Photo by JEFF LUND/


POSTED July 21, 2010 1:57 a.m.
Howard Walcott plucked the ball from an opponent and took off down court.

“Go for it Duck!” a teammate yelled, prompting Howard to attempt a dunk.

He missed. Off the back of the rim.

If one were so inclined, one could look at the Howard’s black Carhartt overalls stained with paint, grease and a weeks worth of filth and say Howard is just another fisherman. Another case of someone that learned a trade out of necessity, his life a bit like that failed jam.

But that’s just if you are in to applying stereotypes.  

At 6-foot 1, he was the starting forward for the school basketball team, and a state tournament qualifying wrestler. But he wasn’t just a jock. He tried to graduate from Klawock High School early to get it over with, move on, but blames a teacher for making him stay.

Howard and a collection of classmate brainiacs twice were runners-up at the state small-schools Academic Decathlon competition.

He finished his four years, took a six-month course at a culinary arts school in Washington, then earned a degree in English from Ohio State, and then earned his welding certificate at Hobart College.

When considering those three pieces of paper that certify one thing or another, the “jack of all trades, master of none” adage might not apply so much to Howard.

He smiles from behind a cup of coffee and leans on the bow of his seine boat just hours before a nine-hour open in which he and his crew will set nets, attempting to catch as much as they can. (Commercial fishing is down during “opens” windows in which boats can catch fish. Sometimes the opens are 24 hours, sometimes six and are once or twice a week).

He smiles because a life cannot be articulated by a single act such as a dunk — make or miss.

Plus, a slam dunk might be grossly understating the time a few years ago when the boat on which he was first mate caught 127,000 pounds of fish — in one set. That’s in the neighborhood of $52,000 for a few minutes of work.

His boat, the 58-foot Valerie J holds only 70,000 pounds. For some perspective, the Cornelia Marie from the “Deadliest Catch” is 128 feet.

“We were in the right place.”

He seems to be now, too.
He owns the Valerie J, and though it might not be the million dollar boats just down the dock, the Valerie J is his, and he is confident it’s just a start.

Despite tough fishing to start the season (only 3,000 pounds last open) he’s eying expansion, after all his boat was built when the Ford Model A sold for $460 and Calvin Coolidge was president.

Preparing the 83-year old wooden vessel has cost the price of a three-bedroom home, the salmon permit alone almost topping $100,000.

Fishing isn’t for the faint of heart, and we’re not even talking waves.

Howard hopes to gross nearly half a million dollars fishing between now and the end of September. That would make it all worth it.

Given the restrictions and fish prices that work out to a couple dollars per, (as of Monday, he could sell his chum salmon for 82 cents and pink salmon for 30 cents per pound) you have to be good and smart to be a captain.

Howard is both.

He quotes the Old Testament when he speaks of knowledge, citing Solomon asking God for a discerning heart, knowledge; not riches. So if he doesn’t really use his English degree, or culinary concoctions, it doesn’t matter, the fish don’t care.

The fact that he could write a literary analysis of Melville’s Moby Dick while forking a delicately prepared filet of salmon, matters only because he’s always known that he wanted to be a fish boat captain and there’s more to life than knowing how to fish.

He may have felt a little Ahab after a pod of Killer Whales took off with his fish during the first open of the season.

It’s still early though.

The “Duck” will still go for it.

To contact Jeff Lund, e-mail aklund21@gmail.com.

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