The Ballad of Billy's Man

(c) 2005 Jon Broderick

        Jon is from Cannon Beach, Oregon, and every year he goes to Alaska’s Bristol Bay to fish (set-netting in an open-boat, a potentially dangerous in-shore fishery). As I write this, he and his family are probably gill netting sockeye salmon. Jon is “the one who made the first telephone call” that started the FisherPoets Gathering. Nushagak is one of the three major rivers that feed into Bristol Bay.

The tide is never slack out on the Nushugak; it races high, it races low
When the days grow long the Sockeye run so strong that fishers to their set nets go
To Combine Flats in early June Billy and his crew did run
So he could show his new deckhand just how set-netting’s done

They shoved off from the mud, pushed hard into the flood, and off the stern the net did race
And though the boat did roll, they let the outside anchor go; his man stood ready in his place
He’d braced himself at the weather rail, but his foot stood in a bight—
Billy leapt into the bow and he saved his deckhand’s life

Though his deckhand’s life he saved, with his own life he soon paid, for the same bight wrapped around his feet
As it pulled him from the boat, his man grabbed him by the coat, too late to save him from the sea.
Don’t let me go, poor Billy cried; you’ve got to save my life!
What will I tell my children three, what will I tell my wife?

Hard his deckhand tried against that rushing tide; hard that tide pulled Billy down
Hard the wind did blow, and when his coat let go, hard it was to see him drown
The Tide is never slack out on the Nushugak, it races up it races down.
As long as I set-net, I never will forget the night I let poor Billy drown.

The Ballad of Billy's Man is recorded on the CD Then and Now