Updated: Mar 20, 2020
Based on a true story of Gig Harbor fishermen in 1942, SO MANY FISH! will take you on a journey to a time when fishermen were paid by the fish and the run was so heavy, it was hard know how many fish your boat could really hold. The Avalon was the wooden purse seiner owned and operated by the Skansie brothers, Antone and Vince. For nearly 60 years, the boat was a fixture on the Gig Harbor waterfront by Jerisich Dock and the Skansie Netshed.
Sadly, the boat was deconstructed in 2015, but artifacts from her can be found at the Harbor History Museum, the Gig Harbor BoatShop, and Skansie Netshed. Antone Skansie shared his recollection of the sinking of the Phyllis T in the newspaper article that inspired this story.
“No such thing as too many fish...” said Nick.
"Unless you lose them all," said Antone.
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So Many Fish! PREVIEW
Story retold by Stephanie Lile
Illustrations by Jesse Joshua Watson
All of Antone’s life, his family had fished. In the fall, when the salmon swam up the streams to lay their eggs, he could practically walk across their backs and never get his feet wet.
Antone loved to fish. But even more than fishing, Antone loved his boat. It was a purse seiner named Avalon.
Every summer, Antone and his brother Vince would fire up the Avalon’s Atlas engine and go to the fishing grounds surrounding the San Juan Islands. Using a skiff to haul the net, Vince would circle a school of salmon. Then Antone and the rest of the crew would pull the bottom of the net closed to trap the fish and haul them into the boat’s hold.
In the summer of 1942, Antone and Vince dropped anchor in Friday Harbor, just as they had done so many seasons before. Other fishing boats had arrived too, eager for a good year. “Looks like it’s going to be a fine season,” shouted Antone’s friend Nick from his boat the Phyllis T.
Antone nodded. He wasn’t a big talker.
“If you run out of room in your hold,” said Nick. “You can just put them in mine. These new hatches can hold thousands of fish.” Nick waved a hand toward the back deck of the Phyllis T.
Antone shook his head. “But can that old tub haul them?” he shouted back.
Antone knew it was one thing to catch fish and quite another to carry them back to the cannery.
The next day, as the fishing fleet left the harbor, the fishermen watched for birds. They looked for water ruffled by fins.
Every boat had its favorite spot on the fishing grounds. Sometimes they even fought one another for the perfect place to set their nets. But that day, there were so many fish everywhere that the fishermen couldn’t set their nets fast enough.
“Too bad!” Yelled Nick as Antone steered the Avalon past where the Phyllis T had already begun to set her net. “This spot is the best, and it’s all mine.”
Antone touched the brim of his captain’s hat and shook his head. He had another favorite spot in mind.
There were fishing boats all around the southern shore of San Juan Island and every one of them was eager for fish. Some boats set their nets far off shore, while others played the salmon runs closer in. “Lotsa fish,” said Vince to Antone. “Gonna be a good run.”
Antone nodded and lowered the skiff.
All day, the fishermen fished. They set their nets in big, wide circles and piled them back on deck. Fish slapped the water with wriggling tails. The nearby Veteran almost flipped because her net was so heavy with fish.
“Never seen so many fish,” said Vince.
“Might be too many,” said Antone as he peered at the overflowing fish hold.
“At more than a dollar a fish, I say go one more set,” said Vince. “I’ll even fill my bunk and give up sleeping.”
Antone smiled and climbed up the to flybridge to scan the water. He shifted the Avalon and signaled to Vince to start setting the net.
Across the water, the Veteran tooted its air horn and set off toward the cannery.
The Avalon’s crew cheered as they hauled in another full net.
“Money in the bank,” said Vince, securing their hatches. Salmon filled the Avalon’s deck.
As darkness fell and the Avalon’s Atlas engine chug-a-chugged past where they had seen Nick and the Phyllis T that morning, the boat was gone. “Must have headed in early,” said Vince. “So many fish.”
Then, they both heard the distress call come over the radio. “This is the Phyllis T. We’ve run aground at Cattle Point. Mayday!”
Antone looked at Vince. “We’re an hour away. Could be too late.”
The radio crackled, and the captain of the Veteran came over the speaker. “We see them. She’s down on the rocks. We’re going in to pick up the crew.”
“Tough way to end such a good day,” said Vince.
Antone nodded. No fisherman ever accused another of greed. Everyone knew
the fish could be gone in a flash. But as they turned past Cattle Point, Antone spotted the light on the tip top of the Phyllis T’s mast. The entire boat was under water and the net trailed toward shore.
FIND OUT HOW THE PHYLLIS T was saved by four boats from the Gig Harbor fleet. Send for your copy today or SPONSOR the video story by donating $92 cover our costs of a video account (we're operating this site on a "no budget" budget due to the museum's Corona Virus shut down).