I spent some time with Captain Nate over the holidays reminiscing about his time on the Oregon Coast over a bottle of Captain Morgan Reserve. Here are some excerpts:
So what do you miss most about fishing the Oregon Coast?
What I miss most is the variety and diversity of fish. There are 200 species of rockfish alone, and then there are the fish that eat those fish! I miss the whales and dolphins, catching salmon in open water on flies. There’s an offshore scene for sharks and tuna, and a deep water fishery where you can get into 500 feet of water and catch God-knows-what. The diversity and amount of fish are unlike anywhere else.
While a lot of it has been fished for before, there aren’t many people doing it. Nobody is going to be out there with you. That’s good and bad. From a guide’s perspective it’s hard, because there aren’t any supporting industries around a recreational fishery. But fly fishing is one of the best ways to catch these fish. I’ve out-fished people with gear rods, and have been out days when fish won’t bite anything else.
So why isn’t anybody guiding the Oregon ocean?
It’s the most underutilized light tackle fishery I’ve come across. When you fish in Florida, there are people everywhere. Montauk, people everywhere. Great lakes, people everywhere. No one is fishing off the Oregon Coast and they’re not coming
Guides can’t charge enough to offset the costs, and there is a limited amount of times you can go out. Let’s say you charge the same rates as a drift boat, around $400. I’d spend $100 minimum in fuel, $100 for a mate, $50 in gas for the truck, $100 in gear and food. That leaves me $50 for 15-hours work.
People have done it, and people will do it again. But it’s physically demanding. Big water, scary conditions, brutal. Most clients aren’t ready for a 12 hour day of getting their asses beat.
What was your best guide trip?
The first time I took the boat out 45 miles offshore for tuna. I’d never really tried to catch tuna, never been offshore. It’s so scary in a 19 foot boat with a 60 gallon tank. I took the seats out of the boat to cut down on weight, and kept the RPMs between 3500-4000 or we’d run out of gas before we could get back.
About an hour after we came out of the near shore fog bank, we see the commercial boats doing small turns. Fish are jumping. I daisy-chained hoochies and put them on salmon trolling rods. We put all the rods out, had the handlines out, and the fish broke every rod, shot everything back at us. I’d just driven an hour and a half into the chop with paying clients, and the fish broke all of the gear.
So we just got out the fly rods and started skipping bugs. We eventually caught a bunch of tuna. We had half a dozen fish — for a couple guys in a small boat with fly rods, that was nothing to sneeze at. So we drive back in at the end of the day and the motherfuckers had me fish the jetties on the way back. Bumping the jetty with the boat. Pulling rockbass off the rocks.
What was the worst trip?
I had a friend and his wife out and I really wanted it to happen for them. We were rockfishing inside the jetties. It was a nasty day and the Coast Guard wouldn’t let us offshore. Then the bar opened, so we ran to a reef ten miles south, and the swells were so big they looked like walls falling down on top of us. I had a hard time keeping the boat pointed into the waves. A wave broke the windshield out. I’m running back in, talking to the Coasties, screaming “Don’t close they bar!” and they’re like “We’re closing it.”
I was pretty sure we were going to die. I had the EPIRB in my hand. There were killer whales running around the mouth of Coos Bay, and my clients are laughing and taking pictures of them. That was a hard $300.
Speaking of that crazy boat, what’s the deal?
It was a 2000 Boston Whaler Ventura. We bought it for a ski boat. Our uncle had had a good experience with his Boston Whaler, and they never sink. We were into wakeboarding back then. Do you remember the Fake Wake? We had these bags we’d fill with water, doing our best to sink the boat. It was like a bilge pump that pumped water into the boat, into a silicone sock.
I knew exactly how to handle that boat. I’d still take the Whaler offshore. My best times wakeboarding were going out in the middle of the night and outrunning the Park Rangers on the lake in Ohio. They tried to arrest me all the time.
Wasn’t there a bunch of crazy shit that happened with the motor malfunctioning when we first had it? How did you ever manage to go forty miles offshore, remembering that the engine used to crap out all the time?
Yeah, back when we bought the boat, that direct-inject two stroke engine was brand new. It monitored how to mix the oil and gas. They’d released the engine, but hadn’t worked out the kinks. There were two fuel pumps and the problem was that the fuel injectors were flexing when they heated up. They weren’t tempered. As a result, that would change the fuel pressure and they couldn’t be consistent in terms of fuel delivery.
A couple years later, the engine manufacturers eventually got it right. That was a long time ago, but I was scared out of my mind. I used to tell Clay that if the motor ever died, to shoot me with a flare.
We wouldn’t have gone down but we’d have ended up in Japan.
So, I’ve always thought you’d make a good fly fishing celebrity. I imagine something like Jersey Shore meets Dahlberg’s Hunt for Big Fish. What’s holding you back?
I don’t know if the reward outweighs the bullshit. I’ve never known anybody who got laid or rich from fishing. And that’s how most people keep score. I own my dream boat and more fly rods than I want to tell anybody about. What else do I need?
You get your picture on a magazine cover and then you’ve got three people saying “We did that better, before you.” And do you really want some weird bromance with the three other people who give a shit? Who would do this?
I don’t think there’s a real advantage to it. It’s not going to open many doors for you. It’s not friend or family friendly. It’s like being the best heavy metal band. Nobody gives a shit. Larry Dahlberg is the man and everybody else looks like Jeremy Wade. Here I am, being a hater.
Still… it’s never too late, if we got the right deal. I’d like to do a fishing movie where I’m mostly drunk, wandering around Tijuana.
-MS and NS