The following story is from Rob Russell, who had the time of his life on the Oregon Coast, fly fishing for lingcod and rockfish with Captain Nate. The photos are from the following day, where Jeff Hickman and Rob Elam experienced calm seas and seabass on topwater poppers.
Reef Running with Captain Nate
Nate lives for the ocean. More specifically, he lives for the intense, adrenalized focus that the ocean requires. He’s the only Northwest fly-fishing guide I’ve ever known with his specific illness, and it’s contagious. Lately he’s been talking about a series of near-shore reefs that line a rocky section of the Oregon coastline. “If I can get us in behind those reefs, Rob, we are going to crush!” The problem has been finding a day, or even a few hours, when wind and water would allow safe passage across the bar.
Last Tuesday Nate was bouncing off the walls. “Dude, it is going to go OFF!” Everything was coming together. He had planned three straight days of ocean fishing and he had a seat open Saturday. I grabbed it, my excitement tempered by the knowledge that I would be puking all day long. Nausea is a powerful deterrent, and that morning I seriously considered pussing out. There were so many less sickening ways to spend the day, so many comfortable little fisheries I could escape to. But I also knew that if Nate did get offshore, someone was going to catch a ton of fish. I pulled myself together and in a couple of hours I stood on the edge of a choppy bay with Nate, Clay, Dave and Sage. Dave and I popped two Dramamine and chugged a couple ginger ales.
When we nosed into the bay, there were already 18″ wind waves coming at us. When we crossed the bar and hit the open ocean, the troughs were four to six feet. Nate took it easy, fighting his way south into a wind-aided swell, catching air a few times. Occasionally we hit current seams and big waves coming in from several directions. I was mildly terrified, clenching the padded seats for dear life. At one point a wave came over the top and landed on my head. I sat in a pool of saltwater for a couple of seconds until the water was thrown to the other end of the boat. We were laughing hard, howling at the wind and waves, in the grip of life!
After 30 minutes of intense travel we edged toward a long stone reef with lots of wide gaps in it–like a ring of teeth, about 1/4 mile off shore. The waves around these were intense, but inside the ring the water was relatively calm. I realized Nate was going to run us through one of the wider gaps in the reef, and my terror peaked. We got closer and closer, and Nate got edgy. He was ready, but he knew it wasn’t time yet. I secretly prayed that he would change his mind and take us somewhere else. Nate gently swung the bow with perfect timing, and we surfed in smoothly behind the rocks.
Suddenly we were surrounded by spectacular sandstone formations, waves crashing on all sides, cracks spouting water twenty or more feet into the wind. Nate announced, “Let’s fish!” No time to marvel at the sea lions frolicking in the whitewater. But I watched for a second anyway. Then a rockfish rolled in front of me.
I cast a white jig about 30 feet toward the nearest rocks. One one-thousand, two one-thousand…thud. Bottom! Twitch, twitch, SLAM! Line peeled. Nate laughed, “Nice work, sir!” After a decent run, the fish turned and hesitated. It felt heavy. Then came the classic boat-charge. Reeeeeeel, reeeel, okay, there he is, “Rockfish!” It was a nice black rockfish, probably 18″ and approaching four pounds. Big mouth, big eyes, cool markings, fat, with a white belly. Goofy little tail. The mouth was definitely the dominant feature, then the large, decorative pecs and dorsal. Those fins gotta be good for something, but what? Who knows? I applied my trusty Pakistani needle-nose pliers and quickly cast again. WHAM! Okay, this is ridiculous. We went on to hook fish constantly for the next two hours. At some point Nate handed me a fly rod and the fish just kept hammering. Dave caught a beautiful little ling, and we got one small kelp greenling.
During this whole slamfest, Nate was working his ass off. Amidst total chaos onboard and off, Nate was focused on his primary goal: keeping the boat as close to the rocks as he could without killing us. Once he pulled us out of the action, deep into a quiet pocket, just so he could rest his body and mind for a few minutes. The fish did not appear to like this area, but we were grateful for the break, and for a hastily prepared sandwich. Somehow none of us were feeling sick. I figured it was the sheer terror that had saved me.
As the tide raised around us, big portions of reef disappeared. Without the break, the waves grew taller. The city-block sized “boulders” underneath created massive turbulence. The wind picked up a little, and the ocean outside looked big and burly. All at once we knew it was time to get out of there. Nate expertly skirted a few waves on his way back out, then hit a nice stride, cruising northward with the swell. The puny man-made jaws of the bay approached, and soon we were tossing flies and jigs just inside the welcome shelter. Very fishy, green water. And very snaggy. We lost all of Nate’s jigs, and a few choice flies. Then Dave hooked something huge. It steadily pulled against a cranked drag, peeling 50-pound Tuff-line toward the jetty. No mere human could have stopped it. The fish lodged itself in a hole, sawing through the line in the process. Bink! Game over.
By mid-afternoon the sun’s angle, combined with our exhaustion, told us it was time. We turned tail and let the wind blow us back to our landing. Nate had that glow that guides get when they’ve had a great day of fishing. He knew better than any of us what we had experienced. He’d been planning that day for a long time. I was soaked from head to foot. Everything in the boat was drenched and salty. My glasses were diamond-crusted and opaque. My fly had a chunk of fish lip hanging off of it.
As I stepped onto the dock, I caught my breath.
In a perfect reversal of the old refrain, “You should have been here yesterday,” Nate finally got a wind-free day on Sunday. He slept in, then prepped his gear while a couple of tourists made the long trek to his port town. These guys could fish, Nate assured me. Judging from the photos, they had a good time!
To try your hand fly fishing Oregon’s saltwater gamefish, book a trip through the shop 541-342-7005.