Yesterday, Captain Nate took Barrett, Greg and I offshore out of Charleston, Coos Bay. We had decent ocean conditions, so we headed out in Nate’s 20-foot Boston Whaler. As soon as we crossed the bar, we started looking for slicks — areas on the ocean surface where the oil from salmon dismembering baitfish causes flat and shiny patches. We started trolling the slicks just outside the jaws of the jetties with both divers and flies, and quickly hooked up with a wild coho, which we released in the water. Hatchery coho salmon are fair game, and there are a huge number of coho coming back this year, but we didn’t find any other players right away and decided to skip salmon fishing and start the trip offshore for our real quarry — sharks on the fly rod.
I’d spent the week tying a bunch of shark flies with 8/0 Gamakatsu saltwater hooks, oversized eyes and red Icelandic Sheep wool — basically my northern pike pattern on steroids. We also had 12-14wt rods and heavy wire leaders. We wanted to be prepared, after some 200lb-plus salmon sharks kicked Nate and Cody’s ass last week out of Newport.
We headed out due-west from Coos Bay, looking for bait balls and surface commotion that would indicate predators nearby. We were about 12 miles out when we started seeing huge surface commotion — a large pod of Risso’s Dolphin Grampus griseus were headed straight for the boat. It was amazing to see such a huge pod of these cetaceans.
After the pod of dolphins had passed, we started to see large flocks of birds working bait at the surface nearby. There were multiple places on the horizon where the surface commotion and bird action indicated baitfish being corralled and devoured.
Smaller than the salmon sharks Nate had run into the week before, these blue sharks were closer to 65lbs. They swam lazily by on top, serpentine fins breaking the water’s surface. I quickly got up on the bow of the boat and got ready to make a cast to one of these beautiful, spooky-looking fish.
Adrenaline pumping, I flailed a bit before making a decent cast with the heavy rod and 8/0 fly, but eventually landed one in front of the cruising shark, and it was immediately interested. It followed my fly, coming right up behind it and then… nothing. The fish skulked off, turned away. We tried a few more times, and the fish turned, interested, and then I couldn’t seal the deal.
Barrett was up next, and the next shark was also interested in the red fly, and it looked like it had even taken it when the fly disappeared, but it never stuck. We had another dozen opportunities to cast to sharks that day, and I’m pretty sure I figured out the problem. The sharks were not aggressively feeding or running down bait. They were picking off the injured and scraps on the surface. These flies were sinking too fast. We needed a fly with more neutral buoyancy that would twitch near the surface. Back to the vise.
All of the action was on a temperature break — water temps had been steadily increasing as we went offshore and we were nearing that special 60-degree point where the pelagic predators like albacore hang out. We decided to push on, into a fogbank and warmer waters to see if we could run into more bait, sharks or even albacore. We ran to about 15 miles through a fog bank that cut visibility down to 100 yards. We found some sharks finning in the water, but no major bait action, and the waves had kicked up — swells looked like rising hills on the horizon through the fog. We decided to turn back to shore to spend the rest of the day on bottom fish.
On the way back, Striped Dolphins ran alongside the boat.
We headed to Simpson’s Reef where the bottom fishing was really hot. We caught loads of large black rockfish and I landed my first lingcod on the fly. We fished with clousers and high density shooting heads, as well as a special “Agressive Taper” sinking tip that Barrett had made specifically for fly fishing bottomfish 30-50 feet down.
While we were fishing the reef, we saw a gray whale surface 20 yards from the boat. We finished up for the afternoon with a few fillets for home and left as the waves near shore were kicking up.
I’ll be making some rockfish cutlets, based on Rob Russell’s fish cutlet recipe.
If you’re interested in checking out the saltwater fly fishing opportunities on the Oregon Coast, call the shop and book a trip with Captain Nate.