Highliners are the elite of the fishing world, the skippers and crews who make the biggest catches—salmon, king crab, halibut, shrimp—and deliver them first to the bustling canneries of Kodiak and Dutch Harbor. For these men—and for their women—the safe eight-hour day does not exist. It never will. Some fishermen get rich, many die broke. But they find a special joy in their work that can never be matched by the easier world of the landsman. No matter how great the hardship or how bad the storm, the highliners put out to sea in their primitive battle against the elements.
The protagonist of the novel is Hank Crawford, a young greenhorn who first comes to Alaska to work in a cannery to earn money while on summer vacation from college. He is quickly hooked by the fisherman’s life, and this novel re-creates how a young man becomes a highliner. He succeeds because he is young enough, strong enough, and brave enough. He learns the brutal business from hard-fisted skippers, penny-pinching cannery managers, and the pirates of the fishing world. Hank also meets the tough women who endure the hardships of Alaska alongside their men.
Journey with him as he learns to survive the elements (100-mile-an-hour winds, ice storms, tidal waves, and fire at sea) and attempts to become a highliner.
First published in 1979, McCloskey's regional bestseller portrays the lives of Alaska's expert fishermen, the highliners; a Pacific Northwest cult classic.
This story is a window into the highly skilled, arduous and dangerous, world of Alaskan commercial fishing for shrimp, halibut, salmon, and crabs. The human story gets a bit overshadowed by the detailed history and depictions of fishing procedures for each type of fish. However, we experience the amazing passion and bravery of the fishermen as they endure violent weather and seas, injuries, and often 2 or 3 consecutive days without sleep when the fish are in. The commitment to their trade verges on fanaticism, often at the expense of family and relationships. The central character, Hank, became smitten with boat fishing at age 19 while working in a cannery in Kodiak, Alaska, during summer vacation from college. While at port he becomes enamored with the thrill of high seas fishing and soon is completely obsessed to the extent that nothing else matters but getting hired onto a boat. He meets three girls during his stays in Kodiak but they always are second fiddle to fishing. The book builds to a stirring conclusion, that is always a plus for me. All in all, a good and interesting read, and well written and researched. I give it 5 stars.