It’s been about two months since I’ve spent any measureable time on the water here in Oregon. Can’t say I felt I was missing much, when late-run Chinook catches were grim, the rivers were high, and the rain cold and ample. Even the drive down from Portland to the coast tonight seemed unusually long. Been a while since I’ve been on Highway 6, when I used to travel it so much.
I often tell folks that I don’t mind the rain here in Oregon. I guess that makes me a true Oregonian, 6th generation, in fact. I don’t think it necessarily impresses anyone, but it makes them glad they live somewhere else in the country: mission achieved.
I drove down to spend some time with Al Noraker, a sportfishing icon who has worked for several different outdoor companies, including a two-decade stint in my home state. Can’t say when we planned this trip that I was all that excited. The rainy season was here with a vengeance, and surely it was only going to be colder and wetter come early December. Al was here to field test a new line of fishing rods. He has an incredible background in designing rods, a passion for salmon and steelhead and a great respect for our outdoor opportunities here in Oregon. OK, my enthusiasm was building, but it wasn’t just about field-testing a batch of nice, new rods.
I left Portland noticing a stiff east wind. I likely wouldn’t have paid such attention if it hadn’t been raining for the last two months straight, and moreover, I wasn’t going fishing on the coast the next day. Just as I was entering the no cell coverage zone, I felt it was necessary to check the ocean weather. After all, it is opportunity that gets one excited.
After I punched through the coast range, I dialed up the marine forecast and my anticipation jumped a bit. East wind equals small swell, equals ocean fishing and crabbing. Well, crabbing anyway. First of all, it isn’t all that often that an east wind blows in December, laying the seas flat to the tune of a four-foot swell every 14 seconds. Yes, that’s a friendly sea. Couple that with an extended crab closure (remains closed to commercial crabbing due to low meat content in the shell, and it closed to recreational crabbing on October 15th) and an unmolested crab population for the last seven weeks and things get exciting! I know, it doesn’t take much.
I don’t even gorge on crab like many of my family members. My dad particularly LOVES crab. No matter how much I bring to the house for him, he doesn’t seem to tire of it. I can’t seem to get him to say, “No, I’m good for now.” The last set of the season yielded 96 keeper crab from just four pots. It’s been ridiculous. And for whatever reason, there’s no better sight than hauling up a pot full of crustaceans that fetches $8.00/lb. in the supermarket.
There will be something oddly out of place however. Despite super friendly seas, we won’t get to wet a line for fish, as in any fish. Salmon season is closed and the salmon and albacore fishing during peak season was slow enough that most anglers justified targeting bottomfish (not to mention it was great fishing all summer long).
This story is all too familiar, however. Bottomfish limits used to be nil. In other words, there was no limit. When ocean salmon fishing went belly up in the 70’s and 80’s, anglers turned to bottomfish and found the flesh to be quite delectable, fantastic as a matter of fact. So too did the lingcod stocks and groundfish stocks soon plummet.
Time and time again, we’ve proven what just a few generations ago we could not believe. “There were so many salmon, we pitchforked them out of the river!” Or, “We just tossed those trash fish sea bass as we couldn’t keep them off our hook while fishing for salmon!” Our fish stocks are vulnerable, they can be fished out, and without proper management in place such as the Magnuson-Stevens Act, they will disappear.
So, the crab pots are loaded up, sandwiches in the cooler, and maybe we’ll even soak a herring for an unlikely Chinook and see what Mother Nature brings us in the 57-degree afternoon tomorrow. Wait, WHAT? It may be tough for me to convince Al that it really DOES rain here all the time in Oregon.