Return to North County

Coming home to the big Nehalem brought back a flood of memories. Poor Spencer had to hear all of them.

“Oh, man. See that little spot over there?” I’d point to a shadowed cove or overhanging tree. “Some years the kings would stack in there so thick…”

I rattled on like that all day–didn’t even try to hold back. It seemed imperative to recount everything–to bring myself back to a time and place, back to the Grand Old River that had taught me how to be a salmon angler. And maybe, I thought, by invoking such numerous and powerful memories, I could coax the fish gods into a benevolent mood.


We started our day at the Bunk House, just south of Manzanita. The coffee shop opened at six, just as the eastern sky began to glow. We scarfed our food, slammed some weak coffee, and coasted down the hill to the tiny town of Nehalem. I parked near the Floating Motel and walked to the water’s edge. A couple dozen boats trolled quietly along the island in front of town. I pointed to the pilings, recounting a great day of bobber fishing, and wondering aloud how the spot would swing. We sat for 10 or 15 minutes, but nothing rolled, and no nets came out.

Next stop was the Barn Hole, where I suspected most of the fresher fish would be holding. Two small boats sat on anchor along the west edge of the pool, bobbers up. The bubbas looked bored. We rolled to the Mohler bridge and scanned the water for a few minutes. Ghost town. No boats, no seals. But a bumper crop of juvenile salmon flicking like rain as far as we could see. The fatherly voice of Jay Nicholas hummed in my ears, “These rivers are salmon factories, Rob. Juvenile production is not a limiting factor.” The scene before us made his point brilliantly. But try explaining that to a bunch of greedy hatch-box evangelists.


At Hen Rock we stopped again, walking to the precipice and listening for rollers below, gazing south at the Sunken Bridge and Foley Creek. Deadsville.

Finally, we pulled off at the viewpoint overlooking Winslow pool. Delicious, beckoning reach of tide. Two campers on the gravel beach, but no boats. Given the fact that ODFW was actively netting the pool most nights, tagging and releasing wild chinook for a population study, expectations were low. But memories were strong.

My flawed little chinook calculator did the math, but the numbers didn’t matter. I should have driven south. I should have bombed for better prospects. But I wanted to see my old haunts, to reconnect.

The sand and gravel company was wide open. The owner was fishing off shore, and his teenage son was running wild with the neighbor kids, tearing up the bottomland with mountain bikes, being kids. We took advantage of the opportunity and launched the old drifter. Bob Leighton met me at Roy Creek and shuttled me back to the boat. Then we were off…

My first cast of the day had been a long time coming. Back in 2008, the Nehalem’s king run had hit an all-time low, and the forecast for 2009 was slightly worse. ODFW closed the river in 2009, and closed tidewater again in 2010. During those years I had sold my bobber rods and taken up flyfishing for kings. The Nehalem had been torn from me, and I cried over it like someone died. Stepping into one of my favorite pools with fly rod in hand seemed a major culmination. I stripped line off the reel and laid a cast over the pool. After a ten-second countdown, I started a fast retrieve. As the fly entered the sweet spot, where so many bobbers had plunged under the weight of big chinook, my line went tight.


“Shit…fish on!” I said, not quite believing it.

“Chinook?” Spencer asked.

The zinging reel answered his question, and a strong, bright jack fought remarkably hard before coming to hand. Spencer snapped a picture, and I released the little buck into the inky blackness. I was fully adrenalized, but more importantly, I knew I had crossed a threshold. My relationship with this lovely, generous river had changed forever. If my last two years of flyfishing were any indication, I figured there would be some pretty amazing days ahead. The run was surging back to health, and the good old days would be coming soon.

Spencer and I floated from Winslow’s to Mohler, riding an outgoing tide. The river was silent, seemingly empty. Everywhere we went, we heard the same thing, “Still early. Come back in a couple of weeks.”


At day’s end, I headed south on Miami-Foley road. I took it slow, soaking it all in, mulling over my dinner options. I wondered how the Nehalem salmon crowd would react to seeing me flyfishing in the weeks ahead. They had accepted me for a time, back when I played by the rules. But I knew there would be some kind of trouble. Then, in my rear-view mirror, I saw the answer. Someone had etched a message in the dust that covered my rear window: FLYFISHERMEN ARE SNAGGERS!


Okay. See you soon, fellas…


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13 Responses to Return to North County

  1. A. Moore says:

    That almost rhymes with what I was called on the Klickitat for having a flyrod in me mitts

  2. Rob R says:

    As Jerry Swanson likes to say, “There are two things everybody knows about flyfishermen: 1) They are all gay; 2) They are all snaggers.”

  3. Horatio says:

    Hold on. Those words are spelled correctly, and all uppercase letters too. Smells like friendly fire to me.

  4. Rob R says:

    Are you fessing up, Roberto?

  5. tim says:

    the truth shall set you free……

    btw, you always look happy to me….

  6. Matt Siegmund says:

    How did you manage to snag that fish dead center in the top of the lip, I’m impressed!

  7. Stevie says:

    Yep, my old man heard all this from the guide in Alaska. They go all the way back to Jim Teeny…and therefore, salmon won’t bite a fly, ergo, they must be snagged.

    It kinda makes sense, why would a fresh salmon bite a fly when they can have a sardine soaked in WD=40?

  8. Rich Youngers says:

    I’m thinking the same thing, Spelling is good and who ever it is can print. :):)


  9. Hey Rob,

    Great read! Don’t let the “bubba’s” get you down. Some of them will learn to fish someday too…maybe. Over time, they’ll figure it out, but I hope not! : )

  10. Steve P. says:

    I see you were wearing chest waders, not hip boots – the fly fishing costume is a surefire giveaway

  11. Capt. Nate says:

    My favorite salmon flies have trebles and bank sinkers… and rattles!

  12. Fishhamp says:

    Did they write that backwards on the window so you could read it from the inside? Crazy!

  13. Chris C says:

    I will have bumper stickers made. Good story Rob.

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