Reflections and Revelations from the Oregon Coast

Rob Russell Salmon Photos

As the foxgloves fade and the salmonberries ripen, our coastal rivers are settling into summer. The rainforest has grown into a full-blown jungle, almost impenetrable. Spring chinook have found refuge in cool canyon pools. Summer steelhead are tucked into comfortable bubble curtains, reverting to trouty habits, tempted by summer hatches. Sea-run cutthroat are making their way up the estuaries, blasting schools of small anchovies and candlefish, as well as baby salmon and steelhead. Meanwhile, coho and chinook rip voraciously through our offshore waters, putting on weight and counting down the weeks before the big autumn dance. For the handful of anglers who fished hard through the spring and early summer, it’s time to sleep in, catch up with friends, and stock up on flies for September. It’s a fine time to reflect a little on a season full of excitement and pseudo-revelations…

Rob Russell Salmon Photos

Tidewater Steelhead

During a particularly grungy incoming tide, my line tightened to the steady thumping of a fish. The jolts were hard and quick, and my first thought was that I had foul-hooked a salmon by the tail. Seconds later, an aquamarine summer steelhead leaped and thrashed, and a long-standing dream of mine finally came true. Hopefully it won’t take another 20 years to find the next one!

Rob Russell Salmon Photos

Caught in the Act

Ever trained your lens on the water’s surface, determined to get a photo of a salmon or steelhead mid-jump? I’ve done it plenty, as have my pro-photographer buddies. The Law of Jumping Salmon, section 4, line 11, states: “Salmon will stop jumping when cameras appear, and resume when cameras are stowed.” So imagine my surprise when I clicked the shutter JUST AS a spring salmon blasted the surface! I’ll admit it was a little anti-climactic, as the picture is only moderately compelling. But it still qualifies as a first in my book.

Rob Russell Salmon Photos

Oysters on the Campfire

There is no better camp food than fresh oysters. Grilled spring chinook is a nice side dish. Beer is the vegetable.

Rob Russell Salmon Photos

Cracking the Crab Code?

After cutting the day’s fish, Miguel and I stood on the camp dock, sipping micro brews and watching the algae bloom. Our neighbor in camp, now referred to as “Random Camper Guy,” wanders over and exclaims when he sees the fillets:

“Holy cow, where did you get those beauties?” he asked.

“Just down river,” we replied.

Then RCG sees the fly rods.

“Good Lord, you got those on flies?”

We suspected by the way RCG phrased it, that he knew a thing or two. He walked over to the rods and inspected our flies.

“Oh, you’re using crab larva flies!”

Miguel and I looked at each other sideways. We had no idea what he was talking about.

“Uh…what’s that again?” I offered.

“These flies,” he pointed at a #8 Zebra Tail, “are yellow and red, just like late-stage crab larvae. That’s one of the primary foods of chinook in the ocean.”


He shared a few more factoids, then shuffled off to his RV. Miguel and I stared at each other, gears turning, communicating without words.

“Let’s tie up some crab flies for tomorrow!” I said. And with that we cranked out 13 new flies and split them up among our crew.

Rob Russell Salmon Photos

The next day we rocked the chinooks, and every time someone hooked up, the refrain echoed, “Crab fly!”

Pink Zebra Tail Magic

Last year’s unqualified ‘nook killer, the Pink Zebra Tail, drove the spring season right out of the gate. The flashy little critter brought multiple limits to the net, and lead to speculation as to the secrets of its success. As it happened, Random Camper Guy nudged us in another direction, and over the following two weeks, my buddies and I developed tighter and tighter facsimiles of megalops Dungeness crab larvae. Those flies performed well, and led to other innovations. But some of our crab larvae experimentation failed. For instance, we all tied itty bitty versions of our crab flies, attempting to better match the naturals. The small flies didn’t pan out, primarily because the smolts would not leave them alone. As the season wound down, the magic of the crab flies seemed to wane. But the Zebra Tail proved itself time and again, up to the last grab.

Rob Russell Salmon Photos

That final hookup came after 14 hours of swinging–almost perfectly in line with the season average of 13.8 hours per fish landed.

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14 Responses to Reflections and Revelations from the Oregon Coast

  1. Rich Youngers says:

    Mr. Russell, Most excellent read my friend. Those oysters over the campfire, YUM! Steelhead in tidewater, that doesn’t happen much except for my wife as she has pulled them out of tidewater on more than one occassion while we were fishing for Sea-Runs. Fall salmon not far away 🙂


  2. Paul says:

    So awesome.

  3. Rob R says:

    Of course, Kathy could charm any fish to the fly. Can’t wait to cast with you this autumn, Rich!

  4. Jay nicholas says:

    Crab larvae flies were banned this year. Ha ha. Just kidding. Now tell me, that wasn’t REALLY the fly you used, was it Mr. Elusive? jN

  5. Rob R says:

    I wrote this before my Clouser weekend. Thanks again for that, Jay!

  6. miguel says:

    springers on the fly made for a very memorable spring to say the least. you just have to believe, and pay your dues. blind faith? sorta. makes a guy slow down and enjoy the scenery. it was all good with great company and not so great company, the latter who were shunning the “fly guys”. however, as the season progressed, many of them seemed to give us some respect for our seemly “silly” endeavours. thanks RR, zebra tails rule!

  7. Jim Terborg says:

    I’ve never seen a purple cow and I never hope to see one, but I did find a picture of a crab larvae and it looks very similar to the fly. Go to and look at the larvae that is 1 to 10 days old.

    Does ProCure sell a crab larvae UV scent?

  8. bacon_to_fry says:

    sirachna hot sauce oysters, lemon pepper springer, a beer and bedtime.

    good times, man. stoke times.

    but the real story of the season involved you, three ‘lost’ French surfer chicks and a bottle of Glenlivet, didn’t it?

  9. Nuchal rouge says:

    I think as adults they eat mostly fish. As juveniles they eat more crab larvae and such. Those flies more resemble sand lances then anything being long and narrow. Same with a clouser. As you know most of those strikes you get are aggression as you invade their personal space with the fly. You are drifting it into there face or pulling it past there nose. If you have the right depth then its your day. Those soft strikes are the fish picking up the fly and moving it out of there space. So I’ve been told. Those fish see 100’s of spinners, baits (and flies now) a day in that spot. Why they look at it for hours and don’t bite is a mystery. It’s always amazing when they go on the bite boiling and grabbing. This is not based on any dogmatic opinion but you didn’t know a redneck could spell that well did you. 🙂

  10. Rob R says:

    Well, Francois, I’ll give your spelling and punctuation a B-minus (then instead of than, there instead of their, it’s deserves an apostophe), but I’ll give your chinook know-how a much better grade! Your “moving it out of their space” assertion sounds…speculative. But hey, what else can we do but speculate on such mysteries?

  11. Nuchal rouge says:

    Dang. Never did that well in english class anyway. Nice story. Thanks

  12. Rob R says:

    Just flippin’ you some lip, man. Hope to see you out there…

  13. Nuchal rouge says:

    All in good fun. No worries

  14. brandon rapp says:

    im from columbus ohio but am interested in going salmon fishing. I dont know that id be going to oregon, id probably go to northern michigan, but i was wondering if i had any chance of catching salmon wading into rivers without a fly rod or if a fly rod is necessary to catch salmon. any advice you have would be apreciated. thanks

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