Had I known Saturday would be the end of the regular tidewater season, I might have pushed it a little harder. Pelting rain and steady wind chewed away at my will, while cold beer and chowder pulled at me. The day had been a spectacular success, at least by our modest standards. Clemens had hooked and landed his first chinook, under extremely taxing and unlikely circumstances. We miraculously teased his 30-plus-pound buck from the grip of a submerged tree after what had already been an arduous battle. There has never been a happier angler, or one more deserving. Like most of my guests this season, Clemens had out-fished me quite handily, hooking three fish to my one. His third and final hook-up of the day ended in an exhilarating rush as a harbor seal nabbed the fish under the boat and headed for the ocean. Thankfully, the leader snapped, or things could have gotten very expensive.
We looked up the bay and noticed Rick’s boat going to shore. “They got one!” cheered Clemens. That was my exit. I pulled anchors and let the wind push us toward our landing. We blew a quarter mile in less than a minute, allowing us to arrive just as Charlie’s fish was hoisted into Rick’s pimped-out Koffler drift boat, the Emelia J.
“I’ve had enough!” I yelled. “We’re heading for chowder.”
Rick turned a gaze into the storm, then squinted back at us. “We’re going to finish the flood tide,” Rick yelled back. “It’s just getting good!”
That night I booked my first motel room of the season. The rain was intense, dangerous. I called a few friends hoping to get the latest hydrological prediction, but everyone was busy doing what normal people do on a Saturday night–having dinner with friends and family. I walked over to the Bistro for a brew and a little company. Geoff Williams, the proprietor of the Delicate Palate, was just opening up. He poured a pale Hoegaarden in a frosty pint glass and asked about the fishing.
“Incredible!” I said with a smile, relating the big battle of the day and showing off the photo. “What’ve you been up to?”
Geoff smiled. “Hold on, I’ll show you.”
He disappeared for a few seconds and returned with his two best mushrooms of the day. “Porcini and chanterelles,” he offered. “Jenn is making wild mushroom soup if you can hang around.”
Yeah, where was I going? I had a book to read, boletus soup was being prepared by one of the Oregon coast’s best chefs, and I was a block away from a warm motel room. Rain or no, the evening was going well. The soup was excellent, put off only by the last chapter of the book I was reading. If you’ve never read the Grapes of Wrath, take my advice and skip the last chapter. Steinbeck is my guy, always has been. But for the love of Pete! I had to walk that one off. And I called my Dad to voice my displeasure, since he was the one who gave me the book.
The morning broke in a light mist. I drove up a steep hill and let the boat drain. For about 15 minutes! Based on the volume of water in my drift boat, I guessed there had been well over an inch of rain in the night. All bets were off. I met up with John Larison for our annual chinook trip, crossing my fingers that our fish were still in town. As our boat cut into the calm bay, reality hit. “She’s out,” I sighed. Murky, tannic water carried leaves and debris downstream. I kicked on the fish-finder and scanned the area. At first there was nothing, but then the usual marks of big salmon popped up on the screen. I drifted aimlessly, hoping my internal computer would offer an answer. Then it came to me…
“Jay would fish this,” I said.
John laughed. “Yep, Jay would fish it!”
We anchored in a favorite tidal tailout and started casting. The fish-finder showed a ton of fish holding in our zone. Our first several casts came out clean. No leaves or other debris. So we were only fighting turbidity. I selected the biggest, brightest flies in my box and we got serious. On queue, fish started rolling furiously. A few minutes later I hooked up to something big. We were totally pumped until it ran straight into the wood pile and came undone. As fate would have it, that was the only grab of the day for either rod. Another half-dozen boats soaked roe under bobbers, and not one had a bite all day. Finally, and I mean finally, as the outgoing tide kicked in, the entire estuary cleared out. Where there had been hundreds of salmon cruising and splashing, there were none. I graphed a half-mile of estuary to make sure. They were gone.
John and I parted ways and I drove up the valley to see the migration. At reach-of-tide the water was alive with moving fish. I pulled off my waders and headed for the barn. From here on out, it was the post-season.