Not many people can say that their job is also their favorite activity, especially high school students, but senior Willie Norton is getting paid to do what he loves.
Norton has spent the past six summers as a deckhand on a fishing boat in Bolinas.
“I commercial fish for salmon, halibut, and tuna occasionally, and I pretty much do everything [on the boat],” Norton said. “I rig bait, I reel fish in, I clean the fish, I store the fish in ice, I do maintenance on the boat with the captain when it’s needed, and that includes cleaning and oil changes and everything of that sort.”
Norton began fishing when he was four years old, working on the boat during summers, and occasional weekends of the school year six years ago.
“My friend used to work for my current boss, and I went fishing with them, and then my friend moved away and I took over the job.” he said. Norton works for Jeremy Dierks, one of the last individual commercial fishermen in Bolinas. “I catch fish for him, and then he sells at either local markets or distributors in San Francisco, at a fish warehouse called Ports Seafood,” Norton said.
Norton fishes both for leisure and in competitions. “My best moment was probably three years ago in the Bolinas Fishing Derby. I caught a 28-pound salmon in the last 10 minutes of the Derby and won overall biggest fish,” said Norton, a regular at the Bolinas Annual Rod and Boat Club Fishing Derby. “In 2013 I won first overall, and then in 2014 I won first place in my division, which was teens. And then the year after that, I won third place in my division.”
A day on the job can vary in hours, but is always a big commitment. “Sometimes we go out there for four hours, sometimes we go out from 5:30 to 9 [am],” he said.
Despite all of the time spent on the boat as a worker, Norton still finds time to fish on his own time, and makes use of what he catches. “I fish because it’s fun…and I bring food to my family. I eat most of the fish that I catch, because when I’m fishing on my own boat, I can’t sell it. So I have to keep all of that fish to myself.”
No matter the commitment, whether it’s in a competition, commercially, or just for fun, fishing is always worth it to Norton. “The moment of catching the fish is the best. It’s hard to describe, but it’s just the craziest rush ever,” he said. “You’re battling it until it’s in the boat, and that’s the only time that you know you have it. It can be on the edge and be fighting for its life on the side of the boat and then it can come off and swim away. So you never know.”