Bobcats, brine, and bananas

Gettin' Jiggy Wid It
Yesterday was one of those weird weather days where everything went right on the water. It was Friday August 1st, and I was awoken by lightning and thunder at 2:30 am. My alarm clock was set for 2:45 am, so I decided to get up right away and see what the heck was going on weather-wise.

A light rain was coming down on Bull Mountain, and an umbrella of lightning was streaking overhead while I hitched the kayak trailer to my car. I was thinking I must be insane... risking a lightning strike while hitching up the trailer to go salmon fishing is nuts. There was so much electricity in the air that I actually saw a blue spark jump from the trailer coupling to the ball hitch as I was hooking it up. With all the thunder and sheets of lightning around me, you can bet I was seriously moving to get things done. I don't think I've ever hooked up a trailer that fast.

The drive on Hwy 26 to the Oregon Coast was uneventful, and the rain had stopped by the time I passed North Plains. I was thinking about it being August 1st, the opening day for Fall Chinook at Nehalem Bay, and how cool it would be to land a King on the opener. This was going to be my first trip in saltwater in the kayak, and my first trip to Nehalem Bay. As such, my expectations for catching anything at all were pretty low, and I didn't even bring any ice in the ice chest. No ice in the ice chest, by the way, seems to be one of my new criteria for catching fish. Along with bringing a banana in the kayak on every single fishing trip. I use the “bad luck” banana for a scale if I catch a decent fish, then eat the banana in celebration. I suppose I'll have to hide a “bad luck” banana on my person if I ever go aboard anyone else's boat to fish.

After driving down the winding Hwy 53, I was just a couple of miles from the launch ramp when a bobcat sprinted across the road in front of me and I had to jam the brakes. Fortunately I didn't hit it, and considered the whole event a positive fishing omen. I'd never seen a bobcat before, so that was a bonus. It looked like a 40-pound, over-sized house cat with funny ears, leopard spots, and an 8-inch tail. you are saying when will I get to the fishing story. I had to preface it with all this because the fishing part of the story is very short-lived. But we are getting there.

I launched the kayak on Nehalem Bay at sunrise, about 5:55 a.m. Half a dozen other boats launched in the dark just before I did. I set up my herring rig, and got a perfect roll out of the herring on the very first try. I was moving down the tidewater toward the sea, trying to watch the depth finder and figure out how much lead to use to get me bouncing off the bottom occasionally. High tide was at 430 a.m., so there was now a gentle pull of outgoing tide, and the river bottom here fluctuated from 3 ft to 8 ft to 12 ft, back to 5 ft. It was like cruising over a washboard, and I couldn't find a consistent depth to fish.

I was about to put a 2 ounce dropper on the line when a pair of seagulls dive-bombed my trolled herring as it lay on the surface! I had to sweep the rod and curse the birds to get them to flare away, but then they came at my bait again! I flipped the bail on my reel and let the one ounce lead carry the herring down a foot or two below the surface, thinking that would do the trick...but alas! The most aggressive gull tried to dive down and get it. The gray-feathered devil barely grazed the herring with its paddle-claw feet. Fortunately the herring remained intact and continued its perfect roll. I said to myself, "Gulls dive bombing me? It's going to be one of those brutal days on the water with nothing to show for it, for sure." Gulls trying to steal bait = bad omen.

Now I had a two ounce dropper on...then I tried three ounces...and the river depth just kept changing and finally jumped to 17 feet deep. I said to heck with it and put on a 4 ounce cannonball and figured I would just troll 4 ounces with anywhere from 10 pulls to 35 pulls as needed depending on depth.

I had the herring trolled back at about 15 pulls under the 4 oz, and I was struggling to watch the depth finder when a mid-sized cabin cruiser pulled up in front of me and started slow-trolling about 2 mph right in my path. Why he had to pull up 100 ft in front of me and start slow-trolling right along my route in this massive, plenty-of-room-for-everyone bay, i'll never know, but it wasn't long before I passed him as I cruised along at 3.1 mph.

I still wasn't in my groove, struggling to watch this guy's boat as I passed him, watching the depth finder, trying to find the bottom with my lead. I pulled out 3 inches of line to check the drag on my reel and felt a sharp bump with nothing behind it. Figuring that was probably just the bottom, I pulled out another 16 inches of line and was getting ready to put the rod in the holder when I felt a long hard tug and the rod bent about a quarter of the way down. I said, "Oh crap! I'm hung-up on the bottom, and this guy in the boat behind me is going to drive right up my stern while i'm trying to clear this hang-up ."

That's when the rod started dancing and some line peeled off, then the rod danced again and bowed in half. I quickly trapped the line against the rod with my left hand while I set the hook in disbelief with a half-hearted sweep to the right. Like I said, I still wasn't in my “fishing groove” yet -- i'd been attacked by gulls, cut off by another boater, it was barely after sunrise, I was only half-awake, struggling to connect with the bottom, and I'd only been fishing about 15 minutes in saltwater for the first time ever, and I was absolutely ambushed and surprised by this FISH!

After the sweeping hook set, the king made a run upriver and struggled to peel off about of 5 feet of line. I quickly loosened the drag a tiny bit. The fish was only about 30 feet away from the kayak, and I wanted to give it the ability to make 10 to 20 foot drag-peeling runs so it wouldn't go nuts or feel panicked. I started reeling down on it and it didn't fight like a big fish...I thought I might have hooked into a 5 or 7 lb coho or steelhead. It just didn't feel like much. I felt I had a good hook-set, so I put the motor in neutral and started fighting the fish.

I waited for the big, line-peeling runs, but they never came. Instead the king kept diving to the bottom and hanging down there, and each time I reeled her and pulled up on the rod, she kicked her tail at the surface without clearing the water and made another dive to the bottom. This went on for a couple of minutes, and suddenly I could see my 5 foot leader and wondered why this fish felt tired already. The only thing i could think of was that maybe she was already tired from swimming against the outgoing tide for the past hour and a half, and maybe the warm August water was exhausting her as well. For the next five minutes the fish was literally 6 to 8 feet away from me directly downriver from the yak, occasionally running under the yak, but never really getting out of control. I just kept a good bow in the rod for tension and swept the rod left or right to bring the fish back in line.

When I finally caught a good glimpse of the fish, slowly rolling at the surface, I recognized it was a lot larger than expected, even larger than the springer I caught on the Willamette earlier this year. I estimated the king to be about 18 lbs, and I grabbed the net and stood up in the yak while I dipped the net almost vertical in the water in front of the slowing-swimming fish's nose. To my astonishment, she calmly swam forward right into the net. I pulled her into the kayak, and looked at my wristwatch – 6:25 a.m. I couldn't believe it.

After bleeding the fish, measuring it, weighing it, and writing it up on my salmon tag, I took a couple of pictures. She was 32” long and 15 lbs.

As I look at her laying in the yak at my feet, I thought, “So this is it? A two hour drive, 25 minutes of fishing, and I'm done?” For a moment, I considered whether to stick around and try to land another fish, but then I saw about 20 other boats on the water, each of them eager to land a king of their own. I looked at the fish at my feet, the mists surrounding the rising sun, the angry gulls overhead, the smiling faces of fishermen passing by in their boats, and I was elated, as high you can get on fishing at that very moment. And I thought to myself -- what a perfect ending to a strange and ominous morning! Launch the yak at sunrise, 15 minutes of fishing, fish on, an 8 minute fight without any grief, a decent king in the boat... It doesn't get any better than this. So I motored back upriver to the dock and made the two hour drive home with a grin on my face. And, oh yeah, I ate the banana in the picture on the drive home. :)

Tight Lines!

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Reactions: C_Run and rogerdodger
A heck of a great day or should I say morning. Congratulations!!
Excellent story and very inspiring since I've been gearing up lately. Way to go. What kind of kayak, by the way?
Never been in a kayak... Do they stay balanced well? I would be thinking a fish that size would tip you to the side... Lol
Gettin' Jiggy Wid It
Thanks everyone!
It's a NuCanoe, basically a sit-on-top kayak/canoe hybrid. Very stable and difficult to flip, which is one of the main reasons I bought it. You can actually stand up in it to fish without fear of flipping it. There are some great videos of its stability at the NuCanoe website. I'm not a white-water kayaking kind of guy, and stick to calm water mostly. I've had it out on more than 30 fishing trips in the past couple of years and haven't flipped it or fallen out of it...yet. :)
It braved the brutal waves at noon at Green Peter Lake last year, but I won't try that again. A two or three foot wave from a boat wake will toss it around but won't flip it.
That king on Friday actually pulled me sideways so I was perpendicular to my trolling lane, then it kept pulling me counter-clockwise until I had done a complete 180 degree turn.

Here's a couple more pictures:
That's an awesome day. Congrats.
Very nice!

Gettin' Jiggy Wid It said:
That king on Friday actually pulled me sideways so I was perpendicular to my trolling lane, then it kept pulling me counter-clockwise until I had done a complete 180 degree turn.

I've only fished for trout from my kayak because I was concerned about the lack of control with a big fish. Interesting to know that they do turn you around!
Those eggs look absolutely perfect! Oh, and the fish looks nice too.:thumb:
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