Photo: Bob Rees with Chris Sessions on the Wilson River near Tillamook, OR. (Photo by Buzz Ramsey)
It isn’t every day that you get a call from the legendary Buzz Ramsey to go fishing one of “his” two rivers, in which he made a name for himself. There aren’t many anglers in the Pacific Northwest that don’t know the name, haven’t seen a snap of Buzz with a fish, or haven’t sat through an engaging seminar that Buzz has conducted, in hopes of hooking you on a technique he has perfected. Buzz Ramsey is as iconic to anglers as salmon are to Oregonians.
“Sure, I’ll take a sick day!” After a quick calendar check, I didn’t think twice about accepting Buzz’s invitation to spend the day on the river with him and Chris Sessions, another well-known guide with a long history in Tillamook and Alaska. My excitement grew even larger when I heard Buzz was contemplating putting in at Milepost 10, a reach of river on the Wilson that I had never drifted before. Not even the 6:00 a.m. start time frightened me, and that says a lot for a guy that’s more of a night owl than an early bird. I had to hold back my burning question however, “What time does it actually get light out, Buzz?” You just don’t question Buzz Ramsey’s motives.
I’ve fished with Buzz before, both in my boat and in his. He suffers no fools so you do your best to ensure a smooth running experience. The put-in alone at Milepost 10 would offer me ample opportunity as an inferior angler. We managed, but it became pretty clear as to why we were the only boat up there. It’s not a boat ramp that the common angler would use, but consider who I was fishing with.
After the rigs were shuttled, the oars were placed and the rods rigged, we headed out, hitting water that I had only dreamed of seeing. Buzz started off by telling us the first hole is where Wilson River angler Roger McCann took his largest steelhead, a 30-pounder, many moons ago. A 30-pounder, surely a benchmark I’ll never see. I am still after my first Oregon 20-pounder, not sure I’ve ever been close. And yes, of course Buzz has a 30-pounder notched in his belt. It’s just not like it was in the old days, however.
Despite my lack of sleep, I felt more awake than ever before. The river was in great shape, I was learning a new stretch of river and I was certainly in good company. To boot, I wasn’t the guy rowing the boat, Buzz was! I hadn’t taken home a fresh steelhead for my family this season, but I had high hopes that the day would end with such a prize.
It wasn’t long before we were into fish. With no other boats in our reach, we had plenty of virgin water to work. Rowing the boat in fast water didn’t deter Buzz from getting his gear out. We were working one of Buzz’s many innovative lures, the fluorescent red MapLip 3.5, when a nice 8 or 9-pound buck hit his plug. After about 6 or 7 minutes, Buzz subdued the brute and kept it for the home-pack, a dandy hatchery fish. Despite its deep body and only slightly faded silvery color, Buzz didn’t think it photogenic enough to take any shots. I think in reality, his wife Maggi might have just told him, “Just bring home the fish, Buzz, we have enough fish pictures.” The skunk was off, and I didn’t have to take the oars since I didn’t catch the fish!
It wasn’t much longer before Buzz put me into another fish. This time on the gold/red top 3.5 MagLip in water just out of the main current, where steelhead are likely to lie in swifter flows. After about 4 minutes, we netted a nice 6-pound hatchery hen, which would later go to feeding my family and our new friends back in Gladstone, where I have just relocated after leaving this Tillamook Country after the last 20 years. (What was I thinking?)
My mission was accomplished. Fish in the box, pictures taken and still 2 bags of cookies to consume for the rest of the morning. It was going to be a great day!
It’s not the fact I’m fishing with a legend, or that we’re on one of my favorite north coast rivers under ideal conditions, but that I get to fish with two honorable anglers that take the time to educate themselves on the issues that affect our natural resources and understand our responsibilities as consumptive users of this resource. Buzz and Chris have fished all over this country, and given their skillsets, they can live and work anywhere they want to, likely making a much better living than they do in the rural areas they live in.
Buzz has not only used his status as one of the elite to draw crowds in, teaching them how to be better anglers but also spreading the message that we’re the ones responsible for recovery of these species. Without the rally cries for responsible management of our aquatic ecosystems, our children won’t have the same opportunities we’ve had over our lifetimes. Responsible fisheries management of our ocean resources plays a huge role in that conversation. Protecting our forage fish prey base, reducing bycatch and approaching species management through ecosystem-based management are all components that are encapsulated in the Magnuson-Stevens Act, celebrating its 40th anniversary next month. These complex issues are often overlooked by us freshwater anglers, but this is the year to pay attention. Reauthorization is on the table in 2016, and we’ll want to be there to keep our heritage strong.
Now, if I can just get him to put on that hat of his, my day will be complete.