Up on the bridge, the captain fired the 350 horse diesel and the engine leaped to life. Below, the deck hand cast off mooring lines and we slid away from the dock, Newport’s bay front fading into the fog-shrouded morning. Before us, the mist parted, revealing the Yaquina Bay Bridge, spires and arches lifting high above us. We huddled into our sweatshirts and jackets to keep out the cool breeze. Across the bow we could see the open ocean and ten foot swells breaking in foamy spray on the rocks.
Our forty foot boat lifted high on a wave to slide into a trough, rising again on the next. The captain watched his instruments, making minor adjustments in course, monitoring radio traffic. The deck hand watched the fifteen fishermen on board and readied tackle, clipping jig heads to leaders, knotting flies to tandem rigs.
Land became barely a shadow in the low clouds. Above us the sky was clear blue and sunlight twinkled like diamonds on the water’s surface. The smell of bay front decay was forgotten riding the loafing salty swells of the open ocean.
As the captain watched the fish finder, the deck hand set out rods, instructing us in the usage of our equipment.
The deck hand does all the hard work. All that you have to remember is this simple technique: You open the bail and watch the lure drop out of sight, coils of 15 lb monofilament following it down. When the line goes slack, crank the reel a couple of turns and begin to jig (that’s lifting and lowering the rod tip, not dancing).
Our boat was equipped with a fish finder and a GPS system. When we found the fish and drifted, we could return to them.
Sometimes when we found fish, we’d see seals. And with reports of larger mammals in the area, we hoped we’d glimpse a whale.
From the stern came the awaited cry “Fish On” and we turned to watch a small rockfish being lifted into the boat. Next to me, on the bow, another was hooked and boated and the captain started the engine again to reposition us over the reef.
A man, his face pale, lurched along the deck, one hand gripping the rail, the other his stomach. Politely, we turned our heads and looked north along the coast. There was a rumble like thunder from the south. There with a group of friends, I don’t think he even touched a fishing rod. The only thing I saw him cast was a longing gaze shore-ward and a vain prayer that the trip would end soon.
Seasickness is a very real possibility on the open water. Those susceptible to motion sickness need to take some common sense precautions before they leave the dock. Eat and drink sensibly twenty-four hours before your trip. Seasickness medications such as Dramamine are good insurance though not 100% effective. Once underway, stay on deck and focus your gaze on the horizon.
Jigging, lifting the rod then letting the lures flutter back down, I felt something pull back and soon was cranking in a two pound rockfish. Before mine was out of the water, another in our party hooked a ling cod and we watched while the measuring tape was laid alongside. At ½ inch shy of 22 it was too short and she had to turn it back.
In our captain’s quest to keep fish at the end of our lines, we relocated several times and had a few minutes to spend sitting down or relaxing on the bow. It was a time to catch up on conversation with old friends or to make new ones. It was also a time to catch up on coffee and lunch.
With 65 bottom dwelling species to pursue, the fishing can be fast and furious. We were there on the heels of a big storm that left water visibility low, but we caught enough to keep it entertaining. And once, standing in the bow, watching the ocean I saw a barnacled beast roll, it’s great body lifting above the surface, foamy spray crashing out of a gentle swell.
The mouth of Yaquina Bay opened before us and soon we were motoring on smooth water below the bridge again. My four rockfish lay in a basket at our feet. The talk, as it sometimes does at this stage of a trip, turned to recipes. My mind was made up though, it would be beer batter and a frying pan for me. But a more immediate problem was how were these fish going to get cleaned? Dockside, in one of the last true bargains on this continent, (or at least on the edge of it) I paid $1.35 to have my four fish cleaned. I think I’ll remember to forget my filet knife next time too.
Sea Gull Charters is located on Newport’s bay front. You can reach them at 1-800-865-7441.