Surprise Halibut on the Jet Ski
With the halibut opening weekend weather on the Oregon coast having 10 foot swell with 8 foot wind waves, to say the fishing wasn't good would be an understatement. The following weekend however, proved to have a very favorable forecast, so after making some phone calls and clearing it with all the bosses, I decided to take a 4 day weekend to sample some of the Oregon coast fishing.
Thursday night after work I scrambled to get everything put together for the weekend, thankfully my wife does a much better job at keeping my head screwed on than I do and made sure I wasn't forgetting anything. The itinerary for the weekend was a bit of mixed bag fishing with Friday exploring a new area that I've never fished out of, Saturday meeting up with John and Matt for rock fishing, Sunday open to solo run anywhere, and Monday take the wife out on the ocean for her 1st trip on the salt.
With everything packed away I got my solid 5 hours of sleep (seriously, who sleeps well the day before a fishing trip) before it was time to head for the Nehalem River bay. I had never been out of the Nehalem, but was well aware of it's reputation. On the outgoing tide the bar develops standing waves, and just outside the tips of the jetty is only 15 feet of water and the swell stacks up steep against all the current running out of the bay. My timing for leaving the bay if everything went smooth should have put me crossing out during the incoming tide, and returning just after high tide.
The launch went smooth, and the bar on the Nehalem was nice and calm for the outbound trip. Once i cleared the shallow water, I turned north and headed for some rock structure that I had located on some bathometric maps that researchers at OSU developed.
The scenery north of Nehalem river is amazing, cliff faces with small waterfalls dumping into the ocean and tunnels that the ocean had carved into the hill side, all topped with towering ocean storm hardened green forest. A sight that not that many people get to experience.
Before I knew it was was rolling the jet ski to a halt over the rock structure. There were already about a half dozen sport boats working the area, and one fully packed charter, apparently I was late to the party. Set up my jig rod with a 6oz jig head wrapped with a glow in the dark squid skirt and a small shrimp fly tied about 2 feet above that. While I tied up my gear i made note of the drift direction and speed, then moved the jet ski to the top of the drift for my 1st pass at fishing the structure 150 feet below.
It didn't take much more than 5 minutes into the 1st pass and I had the 1st fish on...two actually. I pulled up what I thought for sure was going to be a large ling cod, ended up being two, one small one on the fly and a solid keeper on the jig. Against my better judgement i decided to release them both in hopes of bigger fish, it would take all the fun out of it to fill my ling limit on the 1st drop. Besides that it's always a fun fish rodeo trying to release two hooked fish in the jet ski as they work in tandem to flop around pulling the line and hook of the other fish. This took me long enough I had drifted off the structure and reset again. Next drop produced a yelloweye rock fish that let me test my new descender for the 1st time. With the yelloweye being endangered it's important to get them safely back down to depth as soon as possible.
My third pass on the structure produced one of my more pleasant surprises from the weekend trip. As I was coming to the end of the drift over the rock below, the rod pulls over slow and hard, followed by a short burst of hard tugs. It didn't take long fighting this fish to know this wasn't a typical rockfish or ling cod. The next few minutes was a balancing act between yarding this fish away from the bottom rock piles, and taking it easy on the 40lb mono leader that had already pulled in 3 fish. Soon after I was staring at a 25lb halibut off the side of my jetski.
This left me with some very quick decisions to make. Halibut was open for all depth, which meant that if I land this halibut, I couldn't have any other rockfish on board (I began to feel much better about the released ling cod from the 1st drop right about now). Keeping it would pretty much end my day fishing on my 3rd drop since that area really didn't have much opportunity to target salmon, which I can retain with a halibut. Or I could release the halibut and go back to targeting rockfish and ling cod. Luckily that choice wasn't a hard one to make, and the halibut quickly found itself being scooped up by my net.
Now the fun started. The halibut immediately started to do the halibut thrash the second I scooped him, so I quickly pulled the net in and held it by the rim firmly while this fish did it's thing. 1st break in the thrashing that I had, I quickly went after the gills with my dive knife...again, inducing the halibut thrash. Holding the rim of the net firmly stretched up and out I dipped it in the water a few times to flush the gills. Once he settled a bit, I pulled my dock rope out and fastened one end to my rear rack, and fed the carabiner through the gill plate and out his mouth clipping it back on the rope - he wasn't going anywhere now. Once i felt he was mostly settled, i grabbed the rope and carabiner and pulled him from the net...I was wrong, he wasn't settled yet. I now found myself with an outstretched arm timing the rhythm of a thrashing halibut as to not let go, or get my arm pulled out of socket.
Once i saw another break in the thrashing, I quickly stuffed him into the catch bag and zippered it shut. And just like that, I had my 1st halibut locked securely away in the kill bag. With plenty of time to spare, i decided to take a scenic tour of the coast line enjoying all the rock bluffs and inlets on my way back south to the port. Truly an amazing site to see from the ocean.
The bar crossing back in was most certainly not the same conditions that I had left in. It was an hour or so into the out going tide, and the 15 foot shallows were stacking up very close 4 foot swells. After a short time observing from the north side of the jetty, I picked my window and sucked up tight to the back of an inbound swell. The trough between the two swells was just slightly longer than my ski, and in the bottom the front swell blocked the view of the jetty tips. I sea-sawed up and down the back of the swell getting high enough to view the jetty tips then easing back down to not push over the top until there was an opening to throttle down and blow past the jetty mouth.
Back at the dock it was the usual gathering of on lookers asking questions about the jet ski and the catch, and in keeping true to centuries old nautical tradition, I leaned over and made a donation to the fish gods...my phone wasn't in it's case anymore...it was swimming...in salt water...glad I got that donation out of the way early this year. Hopefully that should cover me for the remainder of this season.