A flock of seagulls squawked excitedly the other day in San Juan Channel off the tip of the Fisherman Bay peninsula, probably around a school of baitfish brought to the surface by feeding salmon or a seal. Maybe it’s just my rose-colored recollection of the past but it seems to me that there used to be more times when I’d see those flocks of sea birds feeding.
I never have seen the herring or baitfish below the surface forced up by a predator into protecting themselves by forming a ball, the idea being that those on the outside would be eaten before those on the inside. The “ball” would wind to the surface where the sea birds would dive from above, screeching and squawking in their frenzy.
When fishing, that’s when your heart starts to thumpin’, your feet start to jumpin’-- and you want to get as close to the action and move your plug bait or killer lure around the frenzy.
Maybe there aren’t as many herring these days or maybe there aren’t as many salmon or maybe I don’t spend as much time looking across the water. The last time I was out fishing, the daybreak on the water was spectacular, the fish finder gear fascinated me, and it didn’t matter that we didn’t catch anything.
It’s been quite a while since I’ve baited a double-hook array just right so that the herring looks like the live bait it’s supposed to be when it’s dropped over the side and slowly trailed at the proper depth behind the boat. The last time I did that maybe the salmon weren’t there that day or maybe the hooks just weren’t baited right; I took the herring home and fried them up.
Getting a fish meal that way was simpler and a lot less trouble— but surely not as much fun.
A bit more elaborate but certainly festive is a whole different kind of herring ball made of herring, potatoes, onions, pepper, and olives and garnished with all kinds of good stuff. Enjoy.