Last week, as the first significant fall storm approached the Pacific Northwest, salmon anglers lost their minds. There was little doubt that “Fall Storm 2009″ would bring enough rain to liberate coho and chinook salmon from their tidewater hideouts. By Friday morning, the weather service laid down the final prediction: one to two inches in the lowlands, up to five inches in the hills. Now, that’s a tricky one, because one inch of rain would probably not be enough to blow out the rivers, but an inch and a half or two inches would be a game-changer. And five inches in the mountains would send us all home with our tails between our legs.
I finished my work as early as possible Friday, and thanks to an understanding boss, was on the road to Tillamook County by 3pm. The western horizon was tall and gray as I zoomed through Salem, and by the Valley Junction I was under heavy dark skies. The air was so warm and pregnant with moisture, it looked like the coast had been smoked out by a massive forest fire. But when I shot out onto Highway 101, the air cleared, the clouds were breaking slightly, and the sky no longer looked forbidding. It was then that I suspected this “storm” would prove impotent.
That evening I scouted all the rivers from Lincoln City to Tillamook. As expected, wakes could be seen zooming through tailouts as the light faded. Fish were on the move following the douse of rain we’d received the day before. Some were undoubtedly running in anticipation of the looming low pressure system, too. With only a speck of light remaining, I drove to tidewater. Surely, the coho that had been holding in the estuary for the last several weeks must have cleared out. I came to a good pool and watched. No surface activity, they must be gone. Then, as if on cue, a fish rolled, then another. The activity built for a few minutes, then the fish went into their nightly “grand finale,” jumping like mad for a short spell, then stopping suddenly.
So, not only was the storm a bust, but there were still a ton of silvers in tidewater! That meant that there should be plenty of kings in tidewater, too. In other words, nothing had changed as far as I was concerned. Just a changing of the guard. Classic fall fire-drill.
Saturday morning I met Dave Moscowitz at the boat ramp. He’d been prepped for nasty weather, so the light, warm rain was welcome. We launched and found a good place to fish the last of the outgoing tide. Of course, just as things were clicking for Dave, it was time to set up for the incoming. I rowed down to a nearby slot that I knew would be perfect, though I had yet to land a fish there. As we worked out our lines, the wind came on strong, thankfully at our backs. It took some repositioning to keep the anchors holding, but after a few minutes, we were in the zone.
We persisted, even as the other boats and bankies headed for cover from the storm. Our Patagucci jackets were earning their money, and the drift boat was holding a lot of rainwater. Then the front anchor slipped for the umpteenth time and the boat swung around wildly. I cursed the wind, as I’m known to do, grumbling to myself as I prepared to pull and re-set the anchors. Then, out of nowhere, Dave let out a “Holy Sh*t!” His rod jerked down and a chrome king boiled on the surface.
“That was the GREATEST grab!” Dave exclaimed as his reel screamed. He kept laughing and hollering as the fish tore off in various directions. I yanked in both anchors and pulled to the beach. Dave hopped out on shore, smiling and fighting his fish as if it were a sunny day. For a mid-sized fish, this guy was kicking some ass. And Dave was getting a big kick out of it. Before long he was cradling his fish in the shallows. I snapped a quick photo, the rain and wind driving straight into my face.
Every salmon on the fly is a big deal, but this one meant more than usual. Dave spends most of his days in Salem, lobbying on behalf of wild fish. He’s the guy on the ground, meeting with stakeholders, hammering out the details. I often think how great it would be to get Dave out for a day on the water, to pay him back in some small way for his efforts. So it was with exceptional joy that I shook his hand in congratulations, wind and rain roiling all around, and looked deep into his eyes. “Great job, Dave!”