Women who Fish: A Love Story

This Is A Love Story

by Debbie Kay

I suspect that many women imagine that they will be immaculately dressed and made up when they catch the eye of the man that they will someday marry.  For me, and I suppose other women who fish, it was the opposite.  During the first three months of getting to know my husband-to-be, I was covered in blood, slime and scales on a daily basis.  This was not a way to show off my “one of the guys” side, it women who fishwas simply my job.  As a marine biologist working as a Fisheries Observer in the Bering Sea, I handled (literal) tons of bycatch pulled up in large processing nets, and became intimately familiar with skull and stomach dissections of different species.  I was still girly in my own ways:beneath my orange Grundens and Xtra Tuff boots, my toes were blue sometimes, or silver, depending on my mood, but I was hardly the Hollywood picture of boy meets girl.  None of that seemed to matter, though, as he managed to see me through the curtain of fish guts.  Thirteen years later, our marriage may not be the most conventional, but I believe that our love of fishing has created a template that makes for some strong stuff.  We don’t love all the same things by any means—I prefer a quiet hike where he would rather dirt bike, and though I find his love of muscle cars fun, I would rather be driving our two young children around in a safe, new vehicle with air bags. But that joint love of fishing has given us a great basis on which to build this life together, and create something that I, at least, find extraordinary.


The hardest thing in the world is waiting when it feels like nothing might ever happen.  Yet in fishing, this is what we have to do, all the time.  Wait for the opening, wait for the time off work to make the trip, wait for a nibble.  Easy to do when there’s a chance at a ten pound Chinook, but not so much when it comes to finding common ground on life decisions.  Lucky for us, the early years of our relationship had us bring things up, then put them on hold while he went out to fish another season in Alaska for a few months.  Things look different four months later, and we are usually able to see one another’s side much more clearly.

Ride the Storms

There are countless times on the Bering Sea when winds come up so quickly, and with such force, that there is no way to find safe harbor.  In those times, your only choice is to ride it out.  Point yourself in the safest direction possible regarding waves, keep communication open with others in case you need help, and hold on.  There is a rule that you get big waves in threes–  you will feel three large swells and then get a break.  The hits of life, as a married couple, work much the same.  Job changes, family’s ill health, surprise financial costs, all of this follows a similar track.  Point yourself in a safe direction, hold on (to each other), and ride it out.

Get Dirty

There are many things for which the solution is just to plunge into the dirtiest part of it and get done.  A fish becomes nourishment by cutting into it.  A problem becomes a solution by not tiptoeing around the most unpleasant part of it but plunging in, dealing directly with it, and getting it done.  It’s not about being tough or brave, it’s about seeing through the muck to where the answer lies, beyond hurt feelings or pride, and heading that way through the grime.

Do What You Love.  Together.

Most people meet and fall for one another because they have a common love.  This is an important tie, because it can always bring you back to the place where you began, and where you fell in love.  For us, a disagreement about bills and priorities will dissipate when we are out on the water, pulling pots and catching crab.  It becomes a reminder that we are not only a good team at sea, well-practiced and streamlined, but in life.  This, of all lessons, is one that we have been able to share directly with our children.  Even in the grumpy teen years, a day of fishing together will do wonders to remind us of all our important parts within a family.  Our four boys have been able to watch and participate, and learn the way to have a successful partnership, and hopefully one day, a great fishing partner of their own.

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