By G.I. WILSON
On The Wild Side

When I hear the excitement in Bob’s voice, I know it had to be about fishing.

“Going to be a one day season for keeper sturgeon in the Cascade Locks area of the Columbia, June 15,” he gushes without catching a breath. “How about you calling Koskela and see if we can book a trip. Maybe we can get the crew together we had for the Astoria trip.”

Donald Koskela, of Pastime Fishing Adventures, is a longtime guide we have fished with over the years. We had a trip scheduled for the Astoria area earlier, but it had to be cancelled. The Columbia was at flood stage at the time due to high snow melt.

Our initial crew was; Bob George, of Salem, Tom Jerold, of Keizer, and Paul Toole, of Canby.

We have all fished together before and are very compatible. They are excited about fishing in Koskela’s new 28-foot Alumnaweld boat.

We are eager to catch sturgeon we can eat. For a number of years we fished for “keepers” in the Columbia at Astoria.

Because of the decline in sturgeon numbers, due to heavy predation by sea lions, the season has been closed for a number of years. Now we have the possibility of, not only hooking into one of the most exciting fish in our rivers, but some excellent table fare.

We are lucky. Koskela isn’t booked for the day. All we have to do is wait for June 15.

Unfortunately, a few days before the trip, Bob has to cancel due to the death of a friend. This leaves three clients for Koskela. We need more anglers.

We try to recruit more friends. Koskela calls. He has two guys that fished halibut with him earlier this spring.

Then, came the word that typically brings negative reaction from Oregon anglers: Californians. Collectively, we groan and mutter under our breaths. Five anglers now, two from California.

“They are nice, hard-working guys,” Koskela assures us. “You will like them.”

June 15; Tom picks me up at 3:15 a.m.. We pick up Paul in Canby. Koskela wants us to be at the dock in Cascade Locks at Six.

“It will be a zoo at that small boat launch,” he explains over the phone. “When you turn off of I-84, drive under the bridge. I’ll meet you there.”

We are about to experience how directions may have different meanings to different people.

“Drive under the bridge. I’ll meet you there.” Sounds simple enough. Now, if you have ever been in Cascade Locks, you will remember “The Bridge.” The towering, massive, Bridge of The Gods.

We have a problem, no road under the bridge. Tom has been to the boat launch before. We go there. No Koskela. No one has his phone number. It’s 6:15. We are holding up fishing. Did I screw up directions?

I call home, startle Jo, get Koskela’s number, call his cell. “Back up the hill, turn right, go under the bridge.” There it is, a low railroad bridge that we had missed in the dark.

There sits Koskela and the two Californians-in the boat-hopefully, waiting patiently.

I keep thinking, he’s probably thinking, “The old man screwed up again.”

Quick greetings, hand shakes, and we are off to fish.Boats are racing off in all directions to anchor in their favorite “honey hole.”

Koskela and his friend Charlie, came up yesterday evening and Charlie showed  four spots where he has always had good luck. Charlie has guided this area for years.

First spot, taken. Now I feel more guilt. Did being late cause us to miss a hot spot? We drop anchor in the next spot. Koskela baits up four rods and casts them out. “Here is the plan,” he explains. “We will take turns. Oldest guy first.”

By now we have become comfortable with “The Californians.” Good guys. Working class, heavy equipment operators, same sense of values as we do. Equally important; they love to fish as much as we do. Have to, to drive all the way from the Bay area, fish, spend the night and drive back.

They have fished in Oregon before. Joe is the oldest. Kelly is on his quest to catch a keeper. On a trip last year with Koskela’s friend Charlie, Kelly was the only one in the boat that did not land a keeper.

By the time Koskela has finished his routine, one rod begins that slow rhythmic tug of a sturgeon bite.

“You’re up G.I.,” Koskela almost whispers. I ease the rod out of the holder and feel the heavy tugs as the rod loads up.

I set the rod as hard as I can and feel the power of a wild fish rip off 80-pound test line in heavy current. “Fish on.”

After an exciting battle, Koskela nets a beautiful 40-inch keeper. My fishing is over for the day at 7:30. I can sit back in the shade and watch the “younger guys” fight fish.

Bites come fast. Paul is up next. Two small by 1/4 inch. It is fun to watch. Joe releases another one 1/4 inch too short. The window for keepers is 38-54.

Gets a little hectic, two fish on at a time. Lines become tangled and fish are lost.

Lots of laughing, teasing, yelling encouragement.

Another boat has anchored about 100 yards from us. They have to be frustrated. No bites, and we have two or three on at a time, whooping, laughing, high fives, tossing fish back in the river.

Paul eventually lands a twin to my fish. Now he and I can sit back, eat lunch–at 9:00 a.m.–and offer advice.

Tom is the lucky/unlucky guy. His time up, obviously a heavy fish and a keeper. Half way through the battle the fish comes loose. Happened to him three times.

Smaller fish are being caught. Time to move. Quite a difference. We had been anchored in 60 feet of water. Now we are at 26 feet. We are close to an osprey’s nest. We watch the adult bring a small fish to the babies.

Charlie says the spot is always good for two fish. We hook two, loose one and Joe has a keeper.

Now the three of us can razz Tom and Kelly. “What’s wrong, you’re fishing four rods and can’t catch a keeper?”

We move into a heavy current spot that could become dangerous. Koskela has to run the motor to hold steady. Lines can become tangled easily.

Tom hooks into another heavy fish. He has caught sturgeon for years, but cannot gain line on this one. He is convinced it is an “oversize.”

Tom’s battle continues as Kelly lands and releases several that are close.

Finally, Tom somehow brings his fish to the net. It has managed to wrap around the line. He had to bring it in sideways against the current. A keeper, largest fish of the day.

Now, pressure is on Kelly, the only guy that didn’t catch a keeper last year.

He has to listen to; “You’re fishing four rods, what’s wrong?”

Two heavy fish on at the same time. Three boats are hovering around watching us hook fish, probably hoping we limit out and leave.

Kelly has a nice keeper. He has fulfilled a year-long dream. We are tagged out by 11:00 a.m.. We have lost count of how many fish we released.

Back at the dock, Koskela fillets out the fish. We each have a bag of beautiful fillets of one of the finest eating fish in the river.

As we watch Koskela make short work of the fish, we reflect back on the day. It has been so much more than just a day of catching fish. We have spent time on one of the most beautiful rivers in the world. We watched bald eagles and osprey dive for fish.

We have enjoyed this special day with old friends and new friends. The memories will last forever. One day for keepers has been good for us.