Cordova Chronicles: It’s all in the letters

PAF - pay after fishing - isn’t around any more

From left, Freddie Lantz, Harry Curran, and Kenny Van Brocklin behind the counter of the old Cordova Commercial Company.They loved topull pranks on customers and office manager Edith Date.”Photo courtesy of Dick Shellhorn

A couple weeks ago my fishing partner Randy Bruce and I headed out to Strawberry in search of halibut.  The big flat fish have been somewhat elusive so far this season.

An early report that someone had caught six led to an armada of bowpickers loaded with subsistence long lines racing out the following day.  Most had pairs of gear that totaled 60 hooks per boat, yet incredibly eight vessels with a combined set of 480 hooks came up mostly empty.

Those dang halibut.  They must not have Facebook or attend the early morning fisherman’s coffee klatch at the Reluctant.

A week later I was at the Front Door checkout counter. My groceries included three packs of frozen herring – which go for almost as much per pound as halibut.  A fisherman behind me noticed, and casually asked “going fishing”?

When I said “yes”, he paused, and then replied “you might want to wait a bit.  We were down there yesterday, and didn’t get a bite.  Nor did any of the other six boats we saw.  I think the water temperature is still too cold.”

Hmm.  So we had waited, listened to erratic reports of spotty fishing, and finally decided to go for it.

We anchored at Secret Hot Spot #1, and came up empty in an hour and a half.  Moved to Secret Hot Sport #2, and the same.  Wind came up; we rolled in the trough in my 19 foot Hewes Craft until it was difficult to tell if we even had a bite.

Randy Bruce on a day when the seas were calm, the halibut were biting, and the motor was not making funny sounds. Photo by Dick Shellhorn

The weather deteriorated to the point that we decided to head back.  Oops.  My faithful Yamaha outboard had other plans.  We ended up limping to town at seven knots, which made for a long trip.  Randy said it reminded him of his early days in Cordova when he was the deckhand on the ADF&G research vessel Shad, which was skippered by Harry Curran.  The small flat-bottomed steel power scow had twin gas engines and tunnels.

“It was great for delivering supplies to stream guards”, said Randy.  “We could pull right up into the shallow water and drop things off.  But it also made only six knots, and depending on the tides, it could take us day just to cross the Sound.  There was no auto pilot or GPS, so we had to take turns steering by hand.”

Most folks probably don’t remember the days of Fish and Game Protection stakeouts to prevent  “creek robbing” on major streams around Prince William Sound. That had to be a fun way to spend a summer.   Many were newcomers to Alaska.  Ah, bears, bugs, binoculars, and boredom – most of the time.  But Randy said they never had one jump on board the Shad and say get me out of here.

Finally, we made it to town.  Took the boat down to Cordova Outboard the next day.  Randy worked there for many years; he and Al Jardinski were the back room outboard pros.  So I let him do the talking to Mike Galambush at the counter.

What’s the problem, Randy?  MFS.  Both Mike and I looked at Randy.  What did you say?  MFS.  OK, we give up.   Makes Funny Sound.   Jardinski and I used to listen to fishermen give lengthy descriptions of the problem, and then would write MFS on the work order.

The rest of the employees at the counter howled.

So did I, a couple days later, when resident outboard expert Ryan McManus told me the Yamaha was basically shot.  I was surprised to realize it was 16 years old.  Time flies when you’re having fun.

So now I’m looking for a new engine.

Ah, for the good old days.  Back in the 1950’s, fishermen would walk into the hardware side of the Cordova Commercial Company, and run their hands down a line of Johnsons mounted on a rack to pick out the one they wanted.

One time, someone complained about how hard they were to start, so Freddie Lantz walked out from behind the counter, hooked up a gas can, and cranked on the starter cord. It roared to life on the first pull.

Harry Curran and Kenny Van Brocklin worked for Freddie, and howled in laughter as Edith Date, a co-owner with Lantz and my Dad, screamed from her upper level office overlooking the main floor.

Trusted fishermen would walk out of the store with their new motors after signing a bill at the counter that was initialed PAF.

Which stands for Pay After Fishing.

Well, PAF isn’t around any more.

I know my credit is good at the Cordova Outboard.  I’m one of their favorite customers. Duck hunting is tough on jet units.  For years, when I would peek my head in the backroom, a grease-besmeared Jardinski would look up and say.  “What is it this time, Shellhorn?”

The OB shop is on the ball, and a new Honda is on its way.

The Internet is full of acronyms to speed up communications that often are sent too hastily to begin with.   MFS and PAF are not among them.  Nor is CPPF.

Randy and I will soon be back chasing halibut, and later ducks.  Because you Can’t Put a Price on Fun.

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Dick Shellhorn, author, reporter, ref and grandpa, can be reached at Shellhorn was born and raised in Cordova, Alaska, and has lived there his entire life. He has been writing sports stories for the Cordova Times for over 40 years. In his Cordova Chronicles features, he writes about the history and characters of this Alaska town. Alaska Press Club awarded Shellhorn first place for Best Humor column in 2016 and third place in 2017.