It started when J.J. poked his big, bearded grin around the corner and into my view inside the cabin. He'd tucked his hands behind his back, concealing something.
That something was the spark to perhaps the greatest prank I've ever pulled.
J.J. was the captain of the SeaVenture docked in Seward and I was the deckhand aboard the Grande Alaska. He was a seasoned prankster with a laundry list of devilish delights and I was but a simple-minded kid from Colorado.
He had planned to slip into the boat's cabin unnoticed and place two slime-covered walleye pollock into my captain's boots, but now he had to offer me amnesty and a favor in return for my silence.
I accepted these terms and watched in delight the next morning as Captain Mike slipped into his fishy boots with a squish and a squash. Needless to say he didn't find it as funny as I did and I had to spill the beans on J.J. so he wouldn't put the blame on me.
A few days later J.J. retaliated at my treason by throwing bait herring guts and row at me and my boat's windows knowing I'd have to clean up the mess that night.
So I'd gotten the raw end in both cases. I was fuming mad.
You'll get yours, J.J.," I shouted through the rain as we fished Caines Head. J.J. simply drifted off laughing the whole way.
A few days later the clouds cleared and I cemented my plan. After catching a limit of black rockfish -- also known as black beauties or bowling balls among deck hand circles -- I filleted them for the clients and kept the heads.
I waited until the sun had set before I lugged them to J.J.'s boat.
While he was likely off drinking beer and carrying on, I snuck into his boat and placed the 13 fish heads in strategic locations -- one in the captain's chair, one in the head, one in the glove box, one in the tackle box, two or so in the anchor box, a few in the customers' chairs and several in the fish hold. For good measure, I left a little baggie of three week-old, warm, stanky bait octopus open under his chair.
Laughing with delight, I made my escape and went to bed with a smile.
The next day as we headed out of Resurrection Bay to the Nuka Bay fishing grounds Mike slowed the boat and came out on the deck -- something he'd never done before.
"Dude, what'dyah do to J.J.'s boat?" he asked me peering over the top of his sunglasses.
"Why, what'd he say?" I stammered.
He just looked at me and I followed him into the cabin. We got started again and at this point J.J. had taken to the radio to tell all those listening on the common radio channel about the condition of his boat:
* One seagull trapped in the bow.
* Seagull poop from at least four birds all over the inside of the cabin.
* Fish heads all over the boat, many of which he would find later throughout the day.
* A group of horrified clients who were delayed an hour and a half on their fishing trip.
I could hardly breathe I was laughing so hard.
Here's how I pieced together what happened -- after I placed the fish heads, I accidentally left his cabin door open all night and the harbor's resident seagull population had a grand old time in his cabin plucking out the eyeballs of fresh rockfish.
About 7:30 p.m., J.J. and the SeaVenture pulled into their slip and off-loaded the nicest load of halibut, ling cod and silvers I'd seen all week. Afterwards he walked up to me and extended a hand.
"Truce," he said with a smile. He added that his clients had tipped him extra for having to clean the cabin and it turned into one of the more memorable trips he'd had all summer.
A month or so later as I was getting ready to leave Seward and the Kenai Peninsula for college, I caught up with J.J. at the fuel dock. We had a good laugh and he told me he had told all of his clients about that prank since.
But, he also said he was still having a hard time getting the smell of seagull poop out of his boat. I thought for a minute and smiled again.
"You found the octopus under your seat, right?" I said.
He just looked at me, flashed that big, bearded grin and shook his head disapprovingly.
Brian Smith is city editor for the Peninsula Clarion, an avid fisherman and a former charter boat deckhand. Share your fishing pranks with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.