Veterans day and lingcod

“Friday is Veterans Day. Want to go for lunch, or go bottom fishing?” A familiar voice poses.

Son Donald is so sure of my response he has already lined up two other guys for a fun trip to Depoe Bay. Donald Koskela, of Pastime Fishing Adventures, has fished out of Newport since March but is home in Silverton through the winter. He is ready for a fun trip with “the guys.”

Donald is familiar with the challenge of getting a 90-year-old disabled guy 100 yards from the truck to the boat ramp, down a floating dock, to the boat.

He has a plan. My aluminum walker I use around the house. While he is launching the boat, Rick can supervise my 100-yard journey.

Works great. At the ramp, tide is out so the dock is at a steep angle. Rick backs down slowly in front in case my brakes are not capable of handling the pressure. Perfect.

Another wonder of Mother Nature. Donald has not fished here since early March. A seal recognizes his boat and swims in close. Donald grabs a piece of bait, and the seal takes it from his hand.

Over several years Donald has developed a trust with a harbor seal at the dock. He fillets his catch at the dock. A mother seal keeps coming closer hoping for a morsel, eventually taking them from his hand.  His clients enjoy the photo op.

Donald and his friend Del pick me up at my home in Keizer. We stop for another friend, Rick, in West Salem.

We arrive to an empty parking lot and boat ramp in Depoe Bay. Hard to believe–a holiday and we are the only boat fishing.

Clouds are dark and menacing. First mistake, while the others are donning rain gear, I have a cup of hot tea. I have my trusty raincoat on. I’m eager to fish.

A few hours later, I pay a soggy price. As the weatherman said, “A tropical river makes a direct hit on the Oregon Coast.” I wind up with what feels like a gallon of ice water inside my Duluth Trading Post insulated pants and longjohns. But, as the ad on TV says, “I was safe from a beaver attack.”

Donald always has me sit in a comfortable seat located partially outside the boat cover because I can sit there and fish. It is too dangerous for me to stand with the roll and chop of the ocean. Him having to stop fishing and take me to ER two different times seems to have a way of killing “the bite” for the day.

This is my first trip in almost a year. Donald knows how eager I am so hands me the first rod with baited hook. “Let out line until you hit bottom, reel in two cranks and stop.”

I feel bottom, two cranks and hook a fish. After a hearty struggle, Donald lifts the first ling into the boat. Too small. They have to be 24 inches to keep.

“Fish on,” Del hisses. It’s a heavy fish. “Bites on,” Donald yells with glee as he grabs the net and lands a 10-12-pound ling. Turns out to be the largest ling of the day.

Our routine becomes: Donald has productive reefs in the area marked on electronics. We cruise over a reef, spot a large school of fish, set up and make a slow drift over the reef. Hook fish, reel in, circle around and make the same drift.

A reef doesn’t produce, we move to another. We land assorted rockfish.

Rain and wind continues to build. My insulated pants are slowly getting wet. But I’m hooked into a heavy ling. Donald recognizes my plight, nets my fish and gets me under the cover to add rain pants.

A good bite is on. Donald helps me back to my seat. I have the hot rod going. I hook and land two rockfish at the same time. Both are protected species and must be released.  Hook-ups come fast. Ling and rockfish keep Donald busy trying to net fish and work in some fishing time himself.

Drift across a reef, reel in, run back up for another drift. On top of the reef the finder lights up with huge schools of fish.

At times we have hook-ups on all rods.

We land a variety of rockfish. Most exciting beauty is a six-pound Vermillion. Most beautiful bottom fish I have ever landed.

“I have literally landed hundreds of rockfish since March,” Donald explains. “That is the first Vermillion.” A few minutes later we land another.

Wind and rain continue to increase. Waves and wind chop build. On one run into the surf a wave sends a sheet of water over the top of the boat. Feels like about a gallon bounces off my raincoat and down the rear of my waist high rain pants.

Maybe nothing quite as exhilarating as a quart of 45º water to sit in.

Just in case there were a few dry threads left untouched, on the next round I get slammed two more times.

No way I’m going to stop fishing. We need two more lings. It becomes obvious we will not be able to tough it out for the rest of our rockfish limits.

A three ling hookup. Race is on. Younger arms win out. Boat is limited. I have a beauty to release.

Surf is building fast, and we have miles to go heading into an angry surf.

Back at the dock, Donald fires up the truck to get the heater roaring for me. Rick supervises my wet struggle up the boat ramp to the warm truck.

Getting my 90-year-old, waterlogged body into the Ram truck is a challenge.

Rick is a big strong guy. He does most of the heavy lifting.

By the time Donald and Del have the fish filleted and bagged, I have wolfed down half a sandwich, energy bar and an apple. Insulated pants, body heat and long-johns inside rain pants have become comfortable and warm.

Conversations ebb and flow on the ride back to Salem. After climbing out of bed at 3:30 AM I’m surprised I stay awake. Guess it was thinking of warm/dry clothes and some Bourbon therapy.

One of the basic rules in writings like this is: Be careful using first person.

Well, I was the only veteran (Korea) on board, and it was “my treat.” Great fishing with special guys. A Veterans Day to remember.