After several letters and phone calls we all agreed to meet on the docks in Ilwaco at five o'clock Saturday morning, the second week in July. During the sports fishing season this sleepy little coastal town, located near the mouth of the Columbia River, emerges from a quiet, dormant winter into a regular boom town.
After several letters and phone calls we all agreed to meet on the docks in Ilwaco at five o'clock Saturday morning, the second week in July. During the sports fishing season this sleepy little coastal town, located near the mouth of the Columbia River, emerges from a quiet, dormant winter into a regular boom town. The early morning hours are charged with excitement. Strange sounds and smells greet you as you walk out on the public docks. The screech of the seagulls harmonizes with the rattle of tackle boxes, the buzzing of many voices and the grinding of starters. The sour smell of diesel mingles with the tangy odor of the sea, cigar smoke and tide flat mud. Men, women and kids scurry over the docks and at five thirty in the morning, the fishing fleet pulls away from the docks and into the Columbia River Channel.
Going over the bar and into the Pacific is always an exciting event. The boats rock from side to side and the bow rises and falls with the swells, splashing spray over everything. One can almost hear the lids coming off the bottles of sea sick pills as everyone has an extra dose of one kind of medicine or another.
Doug O'Lague with a couple nice kings taken on the trip.
When our boat, '' Freya" passed over the bar into the ocean, the water looked like a big patch work quilt, smooth as glass, with billowy white fog banks dotting the area for miles. The sun, rising over the coast range spread its golden mantle of light through the purple shadows of the hills rising over Astoria and Ilwaco. The view alone was worth the trip.
At six-thirty, the captain cut the throttle, "This is it boys. Let's fish." In the background the radio crackled bits of fishing news, sometimes in English, quite often in code, especially if some charter hit a real hot spot and wanted to inform his business partners of the location of the schools of salmon.
These rich feeding grounds off the mouth of the Columbia River have supported huge runs of salmon since time began. The silver and king salmon feed in these salt water pastures, gaining weight, size and strength until some unknown factor starts them on their migration to the fresh water spawning grounds. From May through September the salmon are found off shore by the thousands with July and August being the best sports fishing months.
There are as many fishing techniques and devices as fishermen, however, the favorite seems to be motor mooching using a whole herring for bait. The herring, rigged on a double sliding hook is trolled about 25 to 50 yards behind the boat. As the bait trails through the water it dodges and darts about, acting very much like a crippled herring.
Some of the party did not have their lines wet when one of the fishermen got !1 wrist breaking strike. "Fish on! Fish on!" Everyone reeled in and gave the lucky angler room to catch his seven pound silver. For the next hour we spent more time dodging around the boat, keeping out of the way of other fishermen who were fighting their salmon. Many times there would be two and even three fishermen at a time with fish on.
My son Joe stood in the stern of the boat with two other teenagers. They had all caught fish, but at this particular moment, they were ferociously devouring a lunch of fried chicken and tuna fish sandwiches when Joe started getting strikes. He finally hooked the bait robber and it came out of the jade-green waters shaking furiously, its silver sides flashing in the sun. Hooked in the corner of its mouth, the fish was unhurt and full of fight. lt dove deep, peeling line off the Penn Deep Sea reel with an eerie humming sound.
No doubt about it, this was the best fish of the day and advice came from every corner, "Don't give him any slack Joe."
"Get the tip up Joe."
"Keep the line tight, follow him around the boat!''
Joe thumbed the reel and tightened the drag for a heavier fish, but was unable to slow the salmon down. It stripped out fifty yards of line in a few seconds and then dove deep into the black depth of the ocean.
Joe pumped the fish up a few feet, then reeled frantically. In a few minutes he retrieved most of the line taken out on the first run. The salmon was near the surface now and took a series of shallow leaps, just breaking out of the water. Joe continued pumping and reeling and worked the salmon to within a few feet of the boat. The captain reached down with the widemouthed landing net to scoop the fish out of the water. The big king saw the net, nosed down and dove right under the boat. "Watch it Joe, he'll fray your line on the keel. It's covered with barnacles!"
Joe, hair mussed and kind of wild eyed, looked helpless, "What do I do?"
''Stick the tip of your pole right in the water, that'll keep the line deep," the captain advised.
Joe chased the salmon around the boat twice more. On the third trip the salmon ran out of gas and rolled over on its side exhausted. "That's a dandy Joe, he'll go twenty pounds at least."
The captain scooped the salmon up, marked it with one of Joe's tags and slipped it into the fish box which was already filled with twenty silvers and kings.
Doug O'Lague and I stood next to the wheel house watching Joe land his fish and giving a lot of unwanted advice.
One of the teenagers on board dropped his lunch long enough to land a nice 8 pound silver.
As soon as the captain netted Joe's fish, we dropped our bait overboard, the two ounce sinkers drug the bait down. To my surprise, I got a tremendous strike that jerked the rod out of my hand. Fortunately it fell on the deck where I picked it up and set the hook. Doug started to reel in his line to give me room to play the fish when he got a dandy strike. To our amazement, the cry, "Fish on," was echoed by three other fishermen. Five on at one time. That ought to be some kind of a record.
My glass drifting rod nearly doubled as the fish sounded deep. We had hit a school of sea bass and in five minutes landed six, each one weighing between five and seven pounds.
The "Freya" drifted in and out of patches of fog, in and out of schools of fish, but by two o'clock it was all over. Everyone on the boat, including the captain, had a limit of salmon plus ling cod and sea bass. One of the exciting aspects of deep sea charter boat fishing is, you never know what you are going to catch next. Forty pound king salmon are not uncommon. One lucky fisherman in another boat caught an eighty pound halibut. Another boat caught a one-hundred and fifty pound shark. When you drop that herring over the side, you could be in for a surprise, and we're all waiting for the big salmon that could win us the local tournament.
Author's son feeds bait herring to seagulls on trip back.
We made ourselves comfortable for the hour long trip back to Ilwaco. Doug snuggled up next to the stack and the gently rocking of the boat soon put him to sleep. Some of the fishermen talked, others droused. The three teenagers, with their endless energy started throwing the bait herring out to the seagulls. We soon had fifty gulls swooping over the boat waiting for a handout. If you know about gulls, this can be a little dangerous.
If you want an economical vacation the whole family will enjoy, including dancing, movies and a carnival atmosphere for the kids, antique and gift shops for the ladies, clamming, surf fishing and swimming for the entire family, and add to that the thrill of catching the fighting monarch of the Pacific coast, . the king salmon, then visit Ilwaco. It's the friendliest place this side of Alaska.
If you plan on buying equipment of a major nature (rod, reel, etc.), buy the best and seek a sport shop that can give you good advice.