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Ron Rau’s is the story of so many fishermen – so many Alaskans, for that matter – who came here from someplace else, and never found an excuse to leave.
The difference is, Rau writes about it.
Rau – A lot of my writing is a learning experience I went through that I want to share. Usually with someone a little smarter than I am.
KCAW – The idea being, These are lessons I’ve learned that you should probably not be repeating?
Rau – There are lots of those, yeah. But the lessons I’ve learned are some I’d like to share with you. About new country, new lifestyles, and one of the things that most impressed me about Alaska when I came up here: The diversity of people.
Rau had already been living in Alaska for a few years when he made it to Wrangell in 1977 and decided to become a salmon troller. He had a 16-foot aluminum skiff tied to the top of a pickup truck. As the Gurdy Turns starts on that fateful day. As you might imagine, Rau did not catch many fish that first season. But he nevertheless found a way to cash in on his hard luck. The Alaska Fisherman’s Journal was just starting up. The magazine took Rau’s essay about that first season, and many more pieces over its twenty-seven year life.
“And this book wouldn’t even be here were it not for the publisher John Pappenheimer. He gave (his writers) quite a bit of leeway. You just had to relate it to commercial fishing a bit. So, I owe this book to him.”
The book is equal parts memoir and history, plus Rau’s attempt to guide non-fishermen through the mysteries of the fishing lifestyle. Why people leave the beach to contend with weather, prices, regulations, and boat cats that – for reasons known only to the cats – will not stay off the cap rail, even after they’ve fallen overboard two or three times.
As the Gurdy Turns refers to the hydraulic wheel that raises and lowers trolling gear. Rau says you’re best to steer clear of the gurdy.
“If you get caught in a gurdy, in troller lingo, you’re the subject of gossip. Which usually has to do with divorces, male-female relationships – or else you’re dead. I much prefer the former.”
Rau has published a previous collections: The History of the One-Fingered Fastball (1950-2010) covers his childhood in Michigan, playing baseball before television was common, and later, when he organized a fisherman’s baseball team to compete with local kids before the high school baseball program got going.
His third book will be a catch-all.
“I consider myself a nature writer with a shotgun and a fishing pole. And I’ve got one more big book to put together before I start writing fresh stuff. This will be The Big Fat Hunting and Fishing Book. All the stories that didn’t fish into the other two.”
As the Gurdy Turns is self-published. Rau plans to distribute it through bookstores in Alaska.
Ron Rau will be signing his book this Saturday (12-15-12) from 3-5 PM at Old Harbor Books.