No, It's Not Fly Fishing
But it is fishing! And more than once in the past year I
have encouraged folks to take advantage of the fish they have. But
there is more to this story.
Sturgeon are an amazing looking fish. With all that armor, I
wonder who they evolved to avoid! It was an interesting
adventure, and I would not have missed it. They are fighters.
JC and I celebrated our 25th Wedding Anniversary last week.
Since it was the "Silver Anniversary" JC decided we should go
fishing for Silver Salmon. Those who have had the pleasure of
either reading his columns or have met him in person would not
find that surprising. Others, however, might find it a bit
odd. The background is we met fly fishing, were married on the
troutstream where we met. So fishing on our anniversary
really fits the pattern.
We headed for the Oregon coast - at least they are supposed
to have some salmon - ours in Washington are pretty pathetic
at this point, between total mismanagement (that is an
oxymoron if I ever heard one) and commercial over-harvest.
JC decides if we really want to catch salmon, and not just
fish for them, the direction should be to book a charter on
a real boat. Hey, I'm game, why not? This becomes a comedy
routine. Most charters are already booked, but after five
phone calls we find one.
"Show up at 7:00 a.m. at the boat basin in Warrenton OR"
says the booking office. I give the gal a credit card
number and we are booked! Once in our room in Seaside
OR (lovely, right on the promanade looking out at the sea)
I call to confirm the charter reservation. But in the rush
to get away, I can't remember which of the phone numbers the
charter is. And to make it worse, I can't remember the name
of it either.
Four phone calls later I've got the right one. But in the
meantime, JC is doubled up laughing at my phone conversations.
Example: "Hi, this is Deanna Birkholm, do you have a reservation
for 2 people tomorrow morning?" Geeze. Did finally get the
right one, and double-checked on the departure time.
We ask for a wake-up call for 5:00am. and set our little
travel alarm for the same time. JC insists on breakfast - I
frankly don't want to look at food at that hour.
Off to the boat basin in Warrenton. Pass a local cafe, and
of course, go back for breakfast. Lots of local fellows in
Arnies having breakfast or morning coffee,
and even some other fisherman. It was good food.
That out of the way, find the boat basin, and the
little building where we are to meet our captain. Again, lots
of people, and we stand in line for a while. Once at the
counter, the gal asks my name, I tell her and she says, "gee,
I don't have you on my list."
My mind is racing! Did I screw up? Are we at the wrong place?
Then the gal asks, "which bait did you want?" Seems she is working
a pre-order list for folks who put their requests in for bait -
not anything to do with charters. Big relief. But not for long.
The charter has left. We were supposed to be there at 6:00 not
7:00. Not by what I was told, twice I explained. Well, there
might be a fix. She gets on the marine radio, explains the
problem to the captain. After some grumbling and muttering -
both on the captains part and ours, he agrees to put in at the
marina downstream at Hammond. Directions given, and we are off
The marina isn't hard to find, just follow all boats on trailers.
This place is huge. So huge there is a guy directing traffic,
one way roads...it looks like the parking lot at the state fair -
without the ferris wheel. JC finds a parking space, not easy, and
we grab our gear and head for the docks. A young man comes up
a ramp off the floating docks and asks if we are looking for
the Thunderbird! Hurrah, that's our boat. A personal escort
yet. That was the nice part. The not so nice part is the rest
of the people on the charter are not too thrilled at having to
come back into port to pick us up. We apologize for the
inconvenience and find out no one has caught anything anyway.
Probably not a big deal.
The Captain, Leo Bushnell greets us, the young man who had met us
casts off and we are finally underway. Salmon, here we come!
Well, not exactly. The boat runs out to between two sand bars,
a slot according to Capt. Leo, and we drop anchor. Hmmmm, not
like any salmon fishing we have ever done. The short, ugly-stick
type boat rods are rigged. With 16 to 20 ounces of lead, heavy
30 pound leaders, and cut anchovies for bait, half-hitched onto
the barbless single hook. This is bottom fishing! And we
are fishing for Sturgeon.
Capt. Leo had been monitoring the marine band radio. No one
was catching any salmon. We had no idea how many boats were
out fishing for salmon until several hours later. Turns out
there were boats from the upstream side of the Astoria Bridge
all the way to Buoy 10. Several miles, and several thousand
So Sturgeon fishing it is. The how-to instructions included
keep your bait steady, sturgeon don't like moving things. Keep
a tight line, but make sure the sinker is on the bottom. If you
see the line and tip of the rod move, feed out a little line. If
it moves again, come up hard until the rod is pointing straight up.
JC gets the first hit. A dandy fish, 58 inches in length, which
makes it a keeper. Sturgeon are fished within a 'slot limit'
have to be over a certain length and under a larger length. One
fish on board. I get a hit - which is much more gentle than I
would have imagined for such a horrendous looking fish. My fish
was undersized and was gently returned to the water.
A young man, grandson of a couple on board gets one. Too small.
His grandmother gets one. She can't get it in, the Captain comes
to her rescue and lands it. Too small. Another of the group
gets one - a keeper. JC gets another, too small. I get one -
hey a keeper.
Finally, the bite is over. The tide has changed and no more
sturgeon are taking our bait, we ran out of cut anchovies and
changed to squid. We see sturgeon basking and breaching the
surface. Cool! Gear brought in, the Captain heads for
infamous Buoy 10. Buoy 10 is the beginning of the area open
to salmon fishing. Salmon headed for the Columbia River pass
through the Buoy 10 region.
Other than on Lake Michigan in the late 1950's when Coho Fever
hit, we have not seen so many boats gathered in one place. Some
were just too small to be on the ocean. But the weather was calm,
'tho a bit overcast and no one was in danger - except maybe by being
run over by another boat.
This is a professional Captain's nightmare. People who are not really
trained for running boats on the ocean, trolling, crossing other boat's
lines and in general doing dumb stuff. Captain Leo muttered something
about the original amateur hour and changed direction.
The charter boat we were on was a 48 footer, rigged for 6 people. There
was an ample cabin with a microwave for a hot cup of coffee or a lunch.
Plenty of room, and a fine, attentive Captain. You can reach
Captain Leo for reservations on the Thunderbird at 503-861-7460.
We did not see a salmon caught. After trolling an hour or so we picked
up the gear and headed for the Hammond Marina.
What do you do with two very large sturgeon? Broiled with lemon
butter is one suggestion. Deep fried if you like that, or dipped
in egg batter and sauteed. Or you could smoke some. Or pickle some.
We do smoke fish occasionally, and decided to do some of the fish that
way. The 'pickle some' was also an interesting idea. The Captain has
a well-tested recipe he offered to share. Said he uses it for salmon,
sturgeon, smelt, herring and anything generally that swims.
I have a jug in process now, and if it comes out nearly as good as it
looks it will indeed be a treat. If you have ever had pickled herring
either plain or with sour cream and thought it was good, you might
give this one a try.
Captain Leo's Pickled Fish
You will need a glass gallon jar. (Plastic doesn't work. Trust me,
did that one years ago, plastic buckled in the middle of the night and
pickles running off the cupboard onto the floor was the sight that
greeted me in the morning.)
Cut fish into bite-sized pieces. Start by putting a layer of thinly
sliced onions in bottom of jar. Cover with a layer of cut-up raw fish.
Repeat with layer of onion and layer of fish until almost full.
Mix 2 1/2 to 3 cups sugar (depending on how sweet you want the finished
product), and 12 Tablespoons salt. Pour in jar over fish and onions.
Make a small cheesecloth bag and put 8 Teaspoons of pickling spices in
the bag and tie up. Put bag in jar.
Fill with cold white vinegar. Cover with lid.
Let set 5 days, but shake the jar once a day. Eat!
I altered the recipe slightly. I put a couple of cups of white
vinegar in a pan on the stove, heated it and added the sugar and
salt, stirred until it was dissolved. Let that cool completely and
poured it, now cold, over the fish and onions. And then filled the
jar with enough white vinegar to cover the fish and onions.
I made the bag for the spices from a clean discared toe
section of panty hose. I'll let you know how the pickled
fish turned out.
*Update! The picked sturgeon is wonderful! Do give the recipe a try.
There are people out there who think "real" fly fishermen never
fish for anything but trout. Or who certainly wouldn't stoop to
fish any way but with flies. Wrong. That is an elitist
attitude, way outside the real world. If you find yourself
in a position or place (like the Columbia River) and have an
opportunity to fish for sturgeon go for it!
What a neat way to spend a 25th Anniversary!