The day before, I had taken the dogs out for a walk on this beach, right after we spent an unsuccessful morning on the Columbia trolling for salmon. As we passed an angler sitting in his truck, I inquired about his luck. “I had to release my first two,” he related, shaking his head. “They were both native silvers, but I did limit the last two days.”
“Bull,” I whispered to my walking companions. “We get a skunking out in the boat all morning, and they get limits on the beach! What are the chances of that?” But when we passed the bed of the next pickup and saw the fat chinook lying in the bed, I started to believe. The fellow in the last truck in the line was just putting a newly cleaned silver into an ice chest as we passed. Right then and there I decided to change my plans for the next morning.
Parking my pickup between a couple of the rigs, I took my surf-casting rod out, baited up an anchovy and cast a few yards out into the river. During the ebb current, the salmon like to go upstream in the shallower, slower moving water, so it pays to stick close to the shore. As my bait flew over my head, I got a visit from an angler sitting on a lawn chair a few yards away.
“You have that rigged all wrong,” he advised. I laughed at his quick critique! “I’m looking to try some new techniques,” I responded. “But I’d be happy to take any free advice.”
One nice thing about having other fishermen around is that you can count on lots of free advice and a few good stories. That might bug you if you are looking forward to a little peace and quiet, but I enjoy a little conversation when the bite is slow.
After providing a little insight into the proper way to fish this beach adventure, my neighbor went back to his lawn chair, and pulled out a sketchpad. A few minutes later he came over and showed me a little sketch he had made of our beach. It was pencil and in outline form, but it was obvious that he had some nice skills. I started to ask him about it when his fishing rod started bouncing.
Running up the beach, he grabbed his rod and had a quick tussle with a feisty chinook. In a couple of minutes he had managed to beach a bright little buck. “I was hoping for something a little bigger,” he said in a matter of fact manner, and released it back into the Columbia. I had to admire his optimism; I think I might have chucked it into my ice chest!
A few minutes later another fish hit a rod a hundred yards upriver. A woman landed the bright silver fish and took it up to her pickup. Half an hour later a silver-haired angler downstream had his rod bounce, and he managed to land a nice hatchery coho. People were having some pretty good luck all around.
A few minutes later, while watching a flock of pelicans fly by, I caught a glimpse of something shiny in the surf. I could see something moving toward shore just under water. When it broke the surface it was only a few feet from the sand. Up came the whiskered mug of a chunky little harbor seal!
I looked around to see if he was chasing in a salmon, but nothing was happening with the rods. Casual as could be he pulled himself out of the water right between my pickup and the truck just downstream. With tail and flippers too short to reach the beach, the little butterball started bouncing on his tummy and worked his way up on the beach some 20 feet from the surf.
My new artist acquaintance was amazed. “I’ve fished here for decades and I’ve never seen one come up so close!” he chuckled, shaking his head in wonder. The lady downstream who had landed the fish earlier came up to see the seal with her daughter. When they were about 10 feet away, the seal looked up lazily, but was totally unconcerned by their approach.
Another angler offered it some bait herring, but the seal sniffed its nose at the offering. It was so full of salmon, it couldn’t be bothered! Finally, we all got used to each other and folks just left it alone—one more fisherman, just taking it easy on the beach!
A few minutes later a huge mat of seaweed drifted by, taking my rod tip down into a deep arc. Trying to haul it to shore, I heard a sharp snap right above my ear. My rod had exploded, a foot and a half below the tip! As I pulled in my line, hand over hand, the woman downstream pulled in the fish that finished off her limit.
Licking my wounds, I vowed to bring a backup rod next trip. I said goodbye to my neighbor, who gave me a sketch so I wouldn’t have to go home empty-handed, and waved to the fat little mammal sunning on the beach, who paid no notice at all. I headed back home, fishless but fulfilled.
Bob Ellsberg’s column, Fishin’, appears monthly in RV Life and rvlife.com