Hooked for life: A coming-of-age story of a halibut fisherman

Photo: F/V Grant at Aialik Bay, Alaska, photo courtesy of Dean Adams

For those who love the adventure of “Deadliest Catch” and the romance of the sea, there is a new story to add to your to-read list. “Four Thousand Hooks” is the coming-of-age story of Dean Adams, who became a greenhorn deckhand on his uncle’s fishing schooner at the age of 16, a decision that would change the trajectory of his career and life. With its authentic voice and adventurous spirit, “Four Thousand Hooks” is an important story shared by so many in the Norwegian-American experience.

By Christy Olsen Field

Managing Editor

Dean Adams grew up with a single mom and brother outside of Seattle, Wash., and his uncles were in the long-line halibut fishing business. At the age of 16, his mother allowed him to join his uncle Jack for a seven-week halibut season off the coast of Alaska. The schooner, F/V Grant, was Adams’ Norwegian grandfather’s boat.

“I can’t tell you how many times people told me I needed to write my stories down. Fishermen need to tell their story, to show the human side of fishing, and to have it down on paper. People need to know their stories as well. I wrote this book for these two groups: Fishermen and everyone else,” said Adams.After his greenhorn season at 16, Adams was hooked on fishing. He went on to become the captain of his own fishing boat in his early 20s and a consistent highliner – a captain with a reputation for catching large quantities of fish – in his 35-year career. Adams holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the School of Aquatic and Fisheries at the University of Washington.

Adams started writing his story in 2000, capturing scenes in vivid detail instead of writing a linear plot. After selling his business five years ago, Adams dedicated his time to constructing the story, working with a writing coach to make him a better writer. The story, though written more like a thriller with its opening scene of a sinking ship, is an ethnography of fishermen’s culture. Adams decided to focus his story on his first seven-week season, drawing on his journals and letters he wrote home to his mother and girlfriend at the time.

Photo: Four Thousand Hooks

His first-hand accounts come alive on the pages, where the reader is swept into the story with the narrator. The reader struggles along with Adam as he gets his sea legs, the feeling of absolute exhaustion at the end of the 18-hour work day, getting the hang of the learning curve, the sting of harsh words from the crew. The foreshadowing and timing of the story makes it difficult to stop at the end of each chapter.

“I wanted to write a good book in the tradition of other sea stories. There is a romantic tone with stories about the sea, and I wanted this book to be like that,” said Adams.

Adams told the story of a long-time fisherman he knows who is dying of brain cancer who read the book. “He thanked me for writing down this story,” recalled Adams softly. “I am just so happy to share these stories and write them down for history’s sake.”

Sig Hansen, Norwegian-American captain of the F/V Northwestern and the popular reality series “Deadliest Catch,” said, “I relived my own past reading ‘Four Thousand Hooks.’ The way Adams describes seeing things for the first time through the eyes of a greenhorn crew member – the sights and smells, what it’s like to really feel work and exhaustion, being on your own as a young man in Alaska – brought back memories I didn’t know I had.”

Adams is connected with strong roots to Norway. Adams’ grandfather was born in 1889 as the 11th child of Norwegian farmers in northern Norway. With no hope of working or inheriting the family farm, he took a job as a seaman on a British ship and sailed away from Norway just before World War I. He settled first in British Columbia, starting his fishing career delivering halibut. He eventually moved to Seattle, where he spent the rest of his life.

“I remember how his voice deepened to a growl when he talked about Norway,” said Adams. “He called it ‘The Rock.”

Adams is also connected to the rich fishing heritage of Haugesund, on Norway’s southern coast.

Dean Adams, author of "Four Thousand Hooks." Photo courtesy of the University of Washington Press.

Norwegian heritage has been a constant in Adams’ life. He attended Sons of Norway’s Camp Nidaros in Gearheart, Ore., for a few summers as a kid, learning Norwegian traditions through music, food, language, dancing, hikes and soccer, which was not common in the U.S. in the early 1970s. His family knows the prayers and attends Syttende Mai in Ballard every May, and he thanks his son Connor in the acknowledgements for “insisting that more emphasis be placed on our family’s Norwegian heritage. For that I am proud – Ja, vi elsker dette landet.”

The authenticity of Adams’ voice is found in every paragraph and on every page. In seven weeks, the reader sees Adams transform to an independent, worldly man who learns the value of hard work. The book’s appeal crosses generational boundaries, and it’s a highly recommended read for those who want to learn the true story

“Four Thousand Hooks” is published by the University of Washington Press. For more information and to purchase, visit fourthousandhooks.com or order at your local bookstore. ISBN: 978-0-295-99197-9.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 26, 2012 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.