Thursday, September 24, 2009

Soap Box next to the Washing Machine.

Fishing priorities.

The Pacific Ocean off of the coast of Oregon is a mighty thing. Full of tides, waves, water, and fish. You know, ocean stuff.

Anyway, Triton/Neptune/Pacifica/Mami Wata has been building up on the anger recently. Or, going back to how the Pacific Ocean behaves off of the Oregon coast. Cold water. Big waves. Lots of wind. Not inviting in the least for little old me on my 11 foot long plastic boat. Even wearing a drysuit. Nope, things are a little rough out there. It doesn’t help that the long range forecasts will regularly throw a patch of hope in the mix – a day with small swells, long periods and low winds. And then, three days before, change its mind and bring out the 12 foot swells with 4 foot wind waves at 10 seconds apart with 20-30 mile an hour winds. With means that the shorebreak is basically just a continuous washing machine. And not at all conducive to fishing from a very, very small boat.

The good part of all of this is that, as there is a change in attitude/weather on the ocean, the salmon runs in the bays and tidewater areas are picking up. Autumn is when the seas get rough again, and the Fall runs of Chinook and Coho (as well as some Pink and Chum) Salmon start running up the bays and then rivers of Oregon.

Salmon are sort of the iconic fish here in the Pacific Northwest. When Lewis and Clark came out here, the tribes that they encountered weren’t bottom jigging for cabezon and rockfish. No, they were netting Salmon as they made their spawning migrations upriver. There are tales of schools of migrating salmon so thick that one could cross a river without getting their feet wet. Of fish larger than 100 lbs.

Like most everything else, those are tales of yesteryear. Believe it or not, Johnson Creek in SE Portland used to be home to an annual run of Steelhead and other salmonids. Humans change the landscape, and what was once a rushing, cold stream became a lazy, warm, slightly septic body of water. Same goes for the Tualatin river, Gale’s Creek, Dairy Creek, etc., etc. The Mighty Columbia was a completely different river before the dams went in.

Most of what is gone is gone for good. But we can turn back the clock sometimes. The Sandy river is home to a pretty good run of native Chinook, as well as hatchery Coho and Steelhead. The Marmot Dam was breached a couple of years ago, and streams and creeks that no longer had spawning runs were open to them again. And just days after the Dam removal, salmon were spotted in the waters above where it once stood. Recovery can happen. We can’t bring back the past, but we can improve our future.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Big FIsh

August was an awesome fishing month for me. Several beach launches from Pacific City, a couple of them solo, a couple of them with friends. I landed my first keeper ling cod (and only keeper so far), Quillback and China Rockfish in addition to the Blacks and Blues, and loads of Cabezon.

One of my most recent trips out had me hooking up with my NWKA bud Yaknitup. I had launched into Netarts bay early in the A.M. to catch the slack high tide for some crabbing action, which put me in the water at PC about an hour after Yaknitup had launched. He has scoped out most of the area around the haystack at PC, and so once I was on the water I basically just followed him around. We were fishing a nice steep dropoff – were the water went from 80ish feet to over 100 in the course of a couple of yards. I had a basic rig on – two shrimp flies and a 3 oz. jighead/swimbait body, bumping the bottom and not targeting anything specifically. Yaknitup was out for Lingzilla, and so he had a heavy rod and reel combo with him loaded with a pretty large jighead. I bumped around on the bottom for a bit, and brought up a double – a black and a quillback. That was pretty cool. I got the fish put away, and turned my head to spot Yaknitup with a bent over rod, pumping and reeling.

I turn my boat to get a little closer – it looks like he is dealing with a big fish. I ask him what he has on the line. He said that he nearly got the fish to “color” (where the fish is close enough to the surface that you can make out the color and general shape of the fish), and then it had sounded on him. You can generally see the fish when it is within six or so feet of the surface, depending on water clarity. A lot of the folks out there who fish from kayaks are using spectra or other braided nylon lines as the mainline on their reels, and then a “topshot” made out of monofilament or fluorocarbon line. Modern braided fishing lines offer very little mechanical stretch. When a fish strikes a lure hard, or when the fisherman goes to make a hookset, the lack of stretch in a braided line can sometimes mean that the hook or lure gets ripped out of the fish’s mouth. No stretch means you only need to move the rod tip a few inches to set a hook – but most of us who learned to fish using monofilament make a hookset that is like we are swinging for the fences. Monofilament has a tremendous amount of stretchiness available, and requires much more movement to set a hook. Because of this stretch, mono absorbs shock better, and so allows for really hard hits. Putting a short, say, 10 foot monofilament “topshot” on the end of a spectra line adds a small amount of stretch to the rig. The mono acts as a shock absorber, as well as a safety break-away. 20lb test Spectra braid is about a quarter the diameter of 20lb monofilament, and you end up splicing the lines with an Albright or Bimini twist knot. You can feel it when the knot hits the rod tip, and if you are watching your line, you will see braid and then mono. This gives you and idea of how much more you have to reel in before getting ready to actually land the fish. 10 feet of topshot, and then maybe another 2-8 feet of leader. So, seeing the line splice allows you to know you almost have the fish to color.

Yaknitup’s fish had sounded before he managed a glimpse of it. So he really had no idea of what he had on the line. Only that it was big and strong. I got out of his way, and started bumping my rig around again on the bottom to see if I could come up with some more fish.

The fish that can get big enough to fight that hard, within a mile of shore, are Ling Cod, Cabezon, Salmon, Pacific Halibut, and some Rockfish.

A thought crossed my mind – wouldn’t it be a shame if Yak’s fish ended up being a halibut? Pacific Halibut can grow to be enormous, they fight hard, and they are some of the most dangerous fish that you can bring on a boat, short of a shark or a really big pelagic fish. Pacific Halibut are mostly muscle, and the business end of them is loaded with very large, very sharp teeth. Landing them in a powerboat takes some planning, and on a yak a lot of planning and some nerves. People who have caught them from kayaks let the fish wear itself (and them) out before they attempt to land it. Which means they let the fish run against drag a few times, and fight the fish back to the boat a couple of time. And then they gaff the fish, and kill it in the water by bleeding it out. Most of the guys that I have talked to who have landed halibut on their kayaks had a helping hand. I have caught Pacific Halibut from a charter boat, and so I know how much of a fight they put up, and how much they thrash. Kayak fishermen kill the big fish in the water for safety sake.

I was thinking that it would be a shame if it was a halibut, because the season had been closed for a week, as the quota had been filled. I was going to make a snarky comment to Yaknitup about that, along the lines of “wouldn’t it be a shame if it were a ‘butt?” Instead, I kept my mouth shut.

Yaknitup got the fish to color. And wouldn’t you know it – it was a Pacific Halibut. Evidently this is one of the fish that Yaknitup has been wanting to catch from his kayak since moving to the PNW. I am also excited by the prospect. Catching one less than a mile from shore is unusual. Catching one a week after the season close absolutely sucks. I pulled my line in and pedaled over to see if I could help. The fish was still fighting, and Yaknitup was trying to figure out how to unhook the fish, as the hook had penetrated pretty deeply into the fish’s mouth, and jigs as large as the one he was using aren’t cheap. If it had been in season, the fish would get gaffed, bled, and then tied up. But this fish had to be released. While trying to figure out what to do, the Halibut got impatient and decided to go back to the bottom. This happened at least three, maybe four times. Which meant that Yaknitup spent at least 30 minutes fighting this fish. Finally he gets it up to the boat, and gaffs it through lip. This allows him to pull the fish into his lap. Which allows him to unhook the fish, have me snap a couple of pics, measure it, and then slide it over the side. As its face hit the water, it smacked its tail against Yaknitup’s boat a few times, and was gone.

Here is a link to the video that Yaknitup recorded. That's me in the green and yellow.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

And Yet more fish!

In case you were wondering, the trip out with Yaknitup was pretty good for me as well.

Six black rockfish, a Quillback, and a Ling Cod.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

So Much Fish. Something about time.

So it has been a little while since I last made an entry. Ah, the well known joy of trying to keep up with yet another thing in your life. When I last left, dear reader, we were going to talk about a Sunday afternoon trip on the 8th of August. My second semi-solo, off of Pacific City (PC).

We will pick up where we left off.
Steelheadr, another member of the ever growing NWKA flotilla and I met up at PC around 8am. The tentative plan was that steelheadr would be going after lingzilla, and I would follow him around. We launched into some choppy water, and it was choppy for most of the morning.

We got everything unstowed, and I discovered that my basically brand new Shimano Cardiff wasn't working - very little drag resistance and it wouldn't retrieve properly. I was not going to catch a fish with that, so I switched over to the spinning reel/rod that I used on Wednesday.

My goop job on my transducer puck worked, and so I could read bottom and pickup fishy signals. That was cool. Not truly helpful, but cool none the less.

We started out on the NE edge of the haystack, and worked our way a little towards the buoy. We both hooked up at about the same time, and I reeled in a double of blacks - first double, wooohooo, and one of them was the biggest rockfish that I ended up catching today.

We scooted over to the west side of the haystack, and promptly got blown southbound by the wind. Between the wind and the current it was difficult to accurately target anything, drifting too fast.

After a couple of minutes, I snagged up something fierce. I think I spent about ten minutes (maybe more) trying to get unsnagged. I finally did after getting southbound of the snag, and building up a head of steam going northbound. Which snapped the line. And I had just put on a fresh swimbait body. Oh well.

I think steelheadr hooked up a couple of rockies while I was losing my gear, and then he snagged as well, and ended up breaking off. There is something about 500 yards westbound of the haystack that didn't appear as structure on the sonar, and was 90 feet down. Whatever it was, it now has at least two shrimp flies and a 3 oz. jighead as part of it.

We futzed around a little more, and then started north in the general direction of the buoy. I had a couple of hits, but everything shook off. Then I got a solid hookup, and it turned out to be an underling. Back in the water it went.

Steelheadr packed it in around noon, and I decided that 2 fish wasn't going to cut it, so I stayed out. I drifted over to the zone in between the buoy and the haystack, and about 5 minutes after steelheadr headed in, I hooked up a third black rockfish. Kinda on the small side, but I ain't complaining. The next one that came up was a bit bigger. And then I snagged, and started driving northbound to see if I could unsnag. I felt the jig unsnag, and then it felt like I snagged again, but this time there was a headshake. Reeled in another underling, and this one was only just (21 1/2"). So close.

I picked up two more rockfish before I decided I should probably head in. Packed everything up, and got about 100 yards offshore. Solid wall of breakers - the northerly end of the beach included. And the breakers where 20-30 yards off shore. Crap. Surfer I am not.

I picked a line that would take me near my car, and into what looked like smaller water. Well, it wasn't. I tried to follow a wave in, as is the general advice on surf landings, but since the Outback tracks like a pig while under paddle, I decided to go in with the rudder down to help with some control. It helped me track, but having to adjust the tiller meant I wasn't paddling as hard as I should have to stay on the back of the wave. I lost momentum, and then heard the crash behind me.

I got flipped somewhere between 15 and 20 yards offshore. I held onto the yak for a split second, and then thought better of it. The wave took the yak towards the beach, and I got stuck in the breaker zone - my PFD was doing its job, which meant my feet couldn't stay on the bottom, and I suck at swimming in waves. So I did my best to keep my cool, and duck under the breakers. When I was about 30 feet from the shore I tried to flip my kayak over. No dice, and I was still in the impact zone. So I let it go again. everything that wasn't bungeed or tied down had taken off. I had spotted my gaff right as I popped up the first time, and no way was I going to let that go. So I grabbed that and the paddle. The DFW checker who was waiting for me on the beach grabbed my yak and flipped it over. When I got up to her, the only things missing were my hat and net. My hat was on the next wave in, and the net came in about 10 minutes later. I was very, very happy that the mirage drive was still attached by its bungee when I got up on the beach. The last 30 or so feet, that was all I could think about.

And then I realized that I purchased my drysuit yesterday. If I had been wearing the wader/mountaineering jacket combo, this report would probably be very different.

All in all, a pretty rocking day. I caught fish, I had fun, and I huli'd with no loss. Unfortunately, no one on the beach was taking photos or videos, so we cannot see what exactly happened to me. Which was probably pretty funny to watch.Next time.

More soon,