It was an annual ritual; my father and I flew west every August for a week of fishing and camping with my cousin Troy. We floated the famed Deschutes river for rainbows, waded the Salmon River for steelhead and fished for sturgeon in the Columbia. After several years of cramming a smorgasbord of adventures in one week, the three of us decided the most enjoyable and productive of our outings was casting from the north jetty at the mouth of the Columbia for a variety of fish, depending on the tide. From one rock, we could catch greenling, copper rock fish, ling cod, black sea bass (our favorite to eat), and both chinook and silver salmon (our favorite to catch). It was a relaxing fishing trip… we kept a supply of snacks on hand, drinks cooling in the frigid Pacific, a backgammon board to while away the slow periods and more than a few rocks big and flat enough to catch some z’s.
There was some unpleasantness. The Pacific northwest is notorious for cool, wet weather and we could either fish through it or go back to the camper. I usually fished through it, particularly if the tide was right for salmon. Even during short sleeve weather, a fisherman was wise to keep one eye trained up jetty for rogue waves that were as dangerous as they were cold. I’ve seen those rogue waves from the bilge of a twenty foot dory, hanging on tight and thanking Mr. George Calkins for designing such a seaworthy vessel. I endured just enough boat trips in an angry Pacific ocean to be quite satisfied with dodging waves on the rocks for all my future west coast fishing adventures.
Evening was almost as good as day fishing. More often than not we sauteed/grilled/fried a portion of our sea bass, played board games, sat around a fire…. all the usual camping stuff enjoyed world wide. And we talked fishing.
“How’d you catch that silver?”
“Made a quartering cast up current, worked it fast through the rip.”
“I had one hookup just jigging a spoon in up and down in an eddy. Might’ve been a king but I never saw it.”
“Hate you missed that one… it put a pretty bend in your rod. But you did hook that nice ling. Were you bouncing your spoon in the rocks or swimming it up the face of the jetty.”
“Bouncing. That’s what I do.”
So on and so on.
The last year we fished, my cousin brought along an Outdoor Life magazine and pointed out an article stating erroneously, in his opinion, that the east coast had better saltwater fly fishing opportunities that the west. “How could he think such a thing? We’ve got salmonids of every ilk, sturgeon, rock fish, flat fish, lings… what’s he thinking?”
I really loved fishing the west coast and on first pass my tendency was to agree with my cousin. Like, there’s little to compare with the shoulder-jarring hookup of a twenty-five pound king salmon. And where else can you stand on dry rocks (conditionally… if you’re good a dodging those rogue waves) and catch decent sized lings and succulent sea bass. But the man said ‘fly fishing,’ as the discussion progressed Troy and I agreed there were limited places on the northwest coast conducive to fly fishing.
Our trips ended several years ago and that conversation has stuck with me. I think about it every trip to the coast where I have an abundance of shallow estuaries easily wadable for speckled trout, puppy drum, ladyfish and blues and don’t have to dodge dangerous logs and wild frigid water.
And it’s not just coastal fishing that’s better. I think about it every time I make the short drive to my flow, hop in the warm water in shorts and sneakers for a couple hours relaxation. Every time I release a three or four pound wild smallmouth I think about an eleven or twelve inch hatchery rainbow that barely stretched my line (trust me folks… a wild fish is a rare catch even in famed trout waters). And I remember all the preparation required to float that cold desolate Deschutes and the hundred dollar bill severely damaged for the required fees (yeah, there are other rivers, but not a lot less expensive; and if you’re going all the way out there, the Deschutes is the Deschutes).
Don’t get me wrong. If Troy called me tomorrow and said “Let’s plan another trip in August” I’d be there. The scenery is unbelievable, the wildlife equally so, and I dearly miss getting nearly spooled by a chinook salmon hightailing it to sea with the outgoing tide. The fact is, though, the southeast is a wonderful place to enjoy the outdoors and holds much to be envied. Let’s keep taking care of it.