On October 9th, 2014, I made my way North up the coast to Pacific City, Oregon for the sixth annual Lumpy Waters Symposium hosted by Alder Creek Kayak & Canoe. This was my fifth year coaching at the event, which is the largest sea kayak symposium on the West Coast. I was honored for the return invite, and planned to lead handline fishing classes targeting lingcod, cabezon, rockfish, and greenling.
Mother nature had other plans apparently. I arrived just before dark to a windless, 3-5ft long period swell. The forecast for Friday picked up a little to 4-6ft but it still looked promising. The forecast for my class days on Saturday & Sunday, however, did not.
Students arrived late morning on Friday, and after a short paddle inside the cape, I decided to shoot some photos on the beach during the "Fear to Fun in the Surf", "Beginning Long Boat Surfing", and "Short Boat Surfing" classes, knowing this would likely be my only chance to capture the scene. I typically have little opportunity to snap photos while I'm leading a class. Here are a few from Friday:
Overnight Friday the roar of the surf grew louder. I woke before dawn to scout the cape, knowing by the sound of the breaking waves that there was no way we were getting offshore and out to Haystack Rock to jig for bottom fish. The ocean and the forecast aligned, and I was staring a 9-14ft long period swell with a huge shore break right in the face. Those conditions are challenging for paddling no doubt, and one hundred percent miserable for holding position and jigging from our sea kayaks. I resorted to plan B, again, with a little bit of disappointment at the uncooperative conditions for yet another Lumpy. The only option for running my classes would be crabbing in protected areas such as inside Cascade Head at the mouth of the Salmon River, or in Tillamook, Netarts, or Nestucca Bay. On Saturday I chose Cascade Head.
At Cascade Head we didn't find as much protection as we were hoping for. We immediately paddled down about 3/4 of a mile to the mouth and found ten powerboats trolling in 8-10ft waves and a strong flood tide pushing upriver at 4-6kts. We quickly retreated upriver and soon took shelter at the last bend before the surf zone. We found an eddy I had crabbed many times before in a sheltered spot and began fishing for dungeness. After my students had gotten the hang of it and caught a few keepers, I decided to drop my full size crab trap. My students use Crab Hawks and handlines, which are much more conducive to sea kayak transport on multiday trips than a traditional trap. Since Crab Hawks are not legal in California, I've had to look at other options. Although the full size trap is difficult to manage from a sea kayak, I got the hang of it and caught a few keepers in about an hour of fishing.
Satisfied my class had a meal caught already, I drifted upriver one hundred yards to get out on the beach and relieve myself in an area up from two bends in the river, where I had never seen a breaking wave in the dozens of times I had been to this spot. I pulled both feet out of the cockpit and was just about to get out of my boat when I heard the roar of a breaking wave fast approaching. "Ah sh*t." I thought to myself, "I'm going for a ride." Instantly I looked to my right to see a three to four foot foam pile wrapping around the bend with less than a second or two to scramble safely from my boat and secure it on the beach. I decided riding it out would be the better option. I braced and back paddled and got tossed around. The river surged skyward beneath me up four feet from where I was a second earlier. Suddenly the fallen tree high on the bank was at water level, and I was headed right for it. I back paddled hard out into the river narrowly escaping the tree and pulled my feet back in the cockpit. One of my students asked; "Did you see that 10ft log in that wave? It was headed right for you." As the words were leaving his mouth, another surge came through and smashed the huge log into the fallen tree I managed to dodge just seconds before, sending woody debris flying everywhere.
The huge surf carried a massive storm surge with it. When we paddled back to the boat launch just after high tide, the parking lot was inundated with water. A few two foot curling waves broke up river from the launch, nearly 3/4 of a mile upriver from the mouth. It was impressive. Even the power boaters retreated and gave up trolling the mouth. It was just to gnarly.
Our efforts were rewarded with a half dozen keepers to enjoy during happy hour that evening. The frenzy ensued, and only bits of evidence the crabs ever existed remained.
On Sunday I chose Nestucca Bay as our crabbing and salmon fishing destination as Cascade Head was a lot to deal with. I had only fished Nestucca once, so I had avoided it the day before due to my lack of beta. With a little internet research we were able to paddle directly to prime crabbing grounds, and everyone was landing keeper dungeness within minutes of our arrival. After we'd caught enough for a group meal, we unhooked our crab hawks and attached leaders and lures for salmon trolling. We managed one taker who spit the hook quick, but no salmon boated. That's typical river salmon fishing if you ask me. That kind of salmon fishing is a war of attrition, won by the angler who puts in the most time. As we trolled for only an hour on the way back to the launch, I didn't feel too bad about the salmon shut out. I stuck around Sunday night to hang out with the other coaches, play Foosball, have a few beers, and relax. It's always a pleasure spending time with my sea kayak family.
I made my way back to Northern California on Monday October 13th, washed my clothes, and headed to Texas for my twenty year high school reunion.
Normally I would not report on that here, but on the way home, I ran into Les Stroud and crew from the Discovery Channel TV series "Survivorman". I've learned a lot from his show over the years, and being an outdoorsman and wilderness guide, I was excited to meet one of my heroes. It turned out he was booked on my flight and headed to my area to shoot a new episode of the show. Our flight was delayed, then cancelled, and I found myself standing in line at customer service next to Les. I introduced myself, told him I was a guide and sea kayak coach, worked for an outfitter in the area, and could help with gear, location scouting, and local beta. We swapped numbers, got our hotel vouchers, then went our separate ways. I didn't expect anything to come of it. An hour later I received a text invite to meet for beers at the hotel. We had drinks, chatted, and hit it off. Today I'm working for the show, rounding up camera equipment, camping gear, and general info for the crew. Life is a freaking trip that's for sure.
This morning my partner Shay and I were chosen for the Bomber Gear photo shoot in Trinidad. It appears the craziness is going to continue for a while. I'm grateful for every second of this Hollywood stuff. I have to make hay while the sun shines, because it never lasts! I'll be sure and give a full report in two weeks of my shenanigans working with Survivorman for the next week or so.
Until next time,