Jay Nicholas’ salmon fishers journal: South Coast Kings

Day 4. Load- 4-Runner . Drive. Walk down beach in dark with Gordon. Difficult keeping up. Wade across river mouth. Start casting. Keep positive. Hope. High anticipation. Poor catch yesterday translates to fewer fishers today. Same guy fishing Skagit Compact line on east side of lagoon. Acts like he knows something I don’t. He’s probably right. Very slow retrieve. Red/white Clouser. Go figure.

A good fish grabs me a hundred yards into lagoon. Head shakes, boils, hook pulls free. Drat. Gordon gets rubbed. Then nothing. Bob shows up around mid-morning, wades around bluff to west bank and observes. No fish rolling. No fish caught. Only one fish fouled by a spinner guy.

Rain pelts us. Wind drives rain into faces and down necks. Waterproof GoreTex? Bah.

Bob and I wade across shallows exploring. Water is too deep to cast well. Prototype Burkheimer two-hander helps. Seal corners fish against bank, gets one. Seal drifts around lagoon for two hours, showing off fish. Anglers mutter bad thoughts about seal. I agree. We fish on anyway.

Only a few fish are showing now. Surf seems rough. Too rough? Who knows? Probably. Mid afternoon. Bob and I are soaked through our coats. Cold. “Let’s go,” we agree.

Back at Motel. Depression. Doubt. Despair. I call Ed. He is landing one of many fish on the River Styx. I call Rob. He’s fighting a fish somewhere, not here. Ed and Rob question my sanity, then remain silent, as true friends would. “OK,” I say, “I’ll drive up tonight”. I go over to Bob’s room. “The fish could come in tomorrow,” he reminds me. “Yeah,” I say. He’s right. What if I’ve invested all these days only to leave one day too soon? “Let’s go check out another river,” I say. “OK. Give me fifteen minutes to get ready,” Bob says. I’m focused. My quest for South Coast kings is on again.

We run on over to the usual place and find three guys packing fish to their trucks. “How’s fishin’?” we ask. “Great,” they reply. “Should-a seen the twenty other fish we hooked.” One look at their gear, combined with what we knew about the river’s low flow, and we knew what they’d been up to. We walked a hundred yards across the field to the river before saying anything. “Snaggers,” Bob says. “Jerkwads” I say. “Yep,” Bob says.

We find three bait and spoon guys camped at the hole where the shameful event had transpired. We watch them fish. It’s clearly impossible to fish our flies where the fish are holding. We talk a little. They lament the shoddy behavior of the three goons. We all shake our heads. Bob and I eye the holding water and wonder – wonder what might happen if we could hang a fly in that hole. But we say our goodbyes and wade off downstream along a river almost bereft of water. Salmon are there, but un-fishable. This day is ending; we hike back to the rig. No point coming back here tomorrow. A guy might catch a fish or two, before the goons move in. But the low water makes for the most unappealing conditions, so we decide to pass.

Day 5. up at 5 AM. Mess with tackle. Emails on blackberry. Coffee at quickie mart. Small pack of Hostess doughnuts – only a small departure from diet. Rendezvous with Bob. Load his rig. I worry that his chew cup might spill, but it doesn’t.

Jay Nicholas Salmon Journal

Bob drives his big diesel pickup down the beach. His chew-cup is nestled in the coffee cup slot between our seats. We begin fishing. Despite our leisurely arrival, the crowd still isn’t large. A few fish are showing around the lagoon. No rain today. Surf is calm. The sun comes out.

We fish into the morning and the day grows more and more unlike the previous. Only the rare fish is showing. I shed my still soggy raincoat and one stinky layer. A seal cruises around the lagoon from the river mouth to the shallows above. I wonder what it would be like to foul a seal, and loosen my drag a little, just in case. I get grabbed on a small Clouser near the upper end of the bucket. Bob sees the fish, but the hook soon pulls out.

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Up the beach comes Matt, my dear old (young) friend. Long time no see, we say. Hugs. Casting and chatting side by side. Bob gets grabbed on one of his new Rogue River flies. I get a photo of Bob with rod in punishment position. Again, as has been the case so often lately, the fish is gone. He gets grabbed twice in four casts, but all escape. One boiled to surface to head-shake. Big and bright. More so than any I have hooked so far. We gather and grouse about the joys and anguish of fishing size 8 hooks for big kings. Still, we tie on yet another small fly and resume casting.

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Matt, bob, and I fish together. Change lines, change flies, change angle of cast. Matt hooks a big stick and plays it expertly to the beach, where he gently releases it. His dog barks and plays with driftwood. We all watch a newcomer fight a fish. His spinner is hooked in the leader – attached to a side-hooked Chinook of twenty five pounds.

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Jay Nicholas Salmon Journal 5

Four or five guys coach the newcomer, and soon the fish is hand-lined unceremoniously onto the beach. A crowd gathers around the fish on the sand. “Its snagged, so you’ll have to let it go,” one finally says. Someone hauls the fish to the water and holds it to make sure it will swim off. Not the best way to treat a fish. Three guys fishing near us drink beer and munch chips – having a great time watching all the activity. They razz each other about work, women, fishing talent, and life.

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Resuming my fishing, I connect but decide the fish is fouled (no head shake), so I hold tight and the fly pulls free before leader breaks. I cast again and get grabbed. Matt sees the head shake. Good take, we agree. The fish isn’t large, fifteen pounds or so, but is bright. The fish surges close to the beach and we can all see the hook in its mouth. Soon, though, out pops the fly and I’m empty again.

Note to self: That was a Rob Russell fly – must tie two hundred dozen of that pattern this winter; meanwhile, make best use of the five flies I have left. We can see schools of kings cruising around the lagoon. Up they go – down they go. They can see our flies but don’t want anything to do with them. Is the seal driving them around? Maybe. They’re not eating – just driving us crazyier and crazier – as if that was possible.

Matt is late getting back to his family in Port Orford, but our little flurry of action entices him to make twenty more casts. “Just twenty,” he says, resolutely. Thirty or so casts later, we hug and he rushes off the beach.

Bob and I fish around the lagoon. “Ready to go?” I ask, sensing the answer. “Yeah,” bob answers, plastic shopping bag in hand. I reel in and shoulder my messenger bag. We march to Bob’s truck and I wonder how my gear bag could be so heavy. Could I possibly be over-prepared? Nah.

We are back at the motel shortly and I muse over the hour we could still be fishing if we were on the beach. Ryan, Jeff, and Paul will be arriving soon. Bob and I dine at the Crazy Norwegian. Good food. A gathering place for Port Orford’s citizens. We talk over the day’s events and plans for tomorrow. Return to motel and once again gear up for morning. Make reports to Ryan, Jeff, and Paul. Return to my room. Lights out. Will tomorrow be the day? Sure hope so. Dreams of Clousers and solid hook-sets.


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