Friday, February 23 , 2018, 1:11 pm | Fair 58º


Captain’s Log: Gaff and Inflatable Boats Don’t Mix Well at Sea

Here's a fishing tale to help illustrate the point

I cringe and shake my head at some of the things I see at sea. One that never ceases to amaze me is a sharp-pointed gaff (for boating very large fish and sharks) stowed aboard an inflatable boat. Sure, it’s fun to launch a blow-up dinghy and do a little fishing around the harbor or in a cove at the Channel Islands, but please keep the opportunity for calamity to a minimum.

Even fish hooks worry me aboard an inflatable boat. They are sharp and can puncture rubber or vinyl easily. Circle hooks are better because they tend not to invite trouble quite so readily as “J” hooks. Lures worry me because they typically have large, multipronged hooks that seem to actively seek things to get caught on.

But a gaff?! C’mon, now. That’s like engaging in a rock-throwing fight inside a glass house. Here’s what I saw happen awhile back in an inflatable dinghy.

A young feller was fishing from his small inflatable inside the mouth of the harbor because there are some very nice halibut (among other delectable fish) that are known to cruise in and out of our harbor to hunt small fishes. Sure enough, the young feller was lucky enough to hook a hefty halibut that I estimated to weigh 20 pounds. Nice fish! Anyone who has caught and handled many halibut knows that a 20-pounder is a powerful animal capable of inflicting considerable damage.

That halibut came up to the surface in a docile manner, which is somewhat of a surprise. I doubt it had yet figured out there was a problem. When it came alongside the inflatable boat, it suddenly decided it didn’t want to be there. That fish splashed and sounded just as the foolish feller swung at the fish with his big, sharp gaff. (The hook of that gaff was about the same size as Captain Hook’s hook.) I suspect that the tail of the halibut hit the gaff and drove it deep into the side of the inflatable boat, which began hissing loudly.

The young feller knew he had a serious problem but was unwilling to cut his losses. He tucked the rod between his legs to keep from losing the halibut while grabbing his paddle and stroking fast toward the nearest shore. Of course, that wasn’t the direction the halibut wanted to go, and don’t ya know that the big halibut could swim just as hard as that feller could paddle.

The standoff didn’t end well. The rapidly deflating boat couldn’t support the feller’s weight, and he had to abandon it. The halibut was pulling him down, so he also abandoned the rod. He swam to shore and thereby saved himself. Hmmm.

I wasn’t too sure the feller was doing our gene pool any long-term good, but I was still glad to see he made it alive. The halibut was the one I felt sorry for because it had to drag around a rod and reel until he might break or bite through the line. Yeah, I’m afraid my sentiment went with the fish this time.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit to learn more about the organization and how you can help.

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