by Mike Jespersen
While there are many adjectives that can be used to describe the offshore waters of the Northwest, nothing seems more fitting in my opinion than the word magical. It doesn't always seem that way. There are times, more often than not in reality, that the waters off the Oregon Coast are a cruel mistress. Try as we might to head westward, we are turned back for days or weeks on end. Tides, bar conditions, swell, wind waves, and more must be considered and contended with just to get to the start of the trip. Many days that we do get out, rough, cold water finds its way through gear designed to keep it out, and hands go numb as knots are tied and crab lines put into blocks. At the end of the day, there's no quick departure from boat and gear as salt finds its way into everything and without a thorough cleaning gear corrodes and breaks down. To be a confident, competent mariner and angler means a lot of work and a lot of effort, but the rewards are incredible.
Those of us in the Northwest are fortunate beyond measure to live in an area where just offshore are pristine reefs that are teeming with life. Within five minutes of my home port of Depoe Bay is the Government Point Reef where various rockfish and lingcod abound. During the summer salmon season, small boats make a parade out the hole to just past the Whistle Buoy and drop downriggers and divers to hook up on coho and kings that are a barely more than a stones throw from Highway 101. Those who spend more time on the water eventually find themselves dropping their crab pots first thing in the morning while they go try their luck for the already mentioned species, or perhaps halibut either close in, or in depths up to 800 feet miles from shore. Returning to the dock with halibut or, "white gold", and a box full of Dungeness crab it is hard not to feel an accomplishment that is unique to the Northwest. Then there is the tuna. TUNA! The Northwest has one of the premiere albacore tuna fisheries in the world, with heavy concentrations moving within small boat distances for anglers to fill pantries for the year in short order. This fishery in particular has exploded in popularity as anglers come to realize the opportunity that presents itself.
The fishing off the Coast of Oregon is incredible, but what makes our offshore waters magical is when it is combined with everything else. It starts for me with the Port of Depoe Bay, the Worlds Smallest Harbor. Seven acres of natural safe haven with a 50 foot wide winding rock cleft "hole" that provides access to and from the Pacific. From there it is the great unknown of what you will find each day as you head west, with throttles down, and the first shimmers of sunrise reflecting off the low clouds to the east. It is impossible not to feel eager with anticipation as your boat rises and falls with the swells on the path that only you have plotted. North, South, West, and after heading offshore for awhile, even back East, in search of your goal for the day. Some days as you head to your destination all of a sudden there is spray a short distance from the boat. Porpoise! There may be 5 or 10 or even more, and they often change direction and come to you so they can play in the bow wake until their curiosity is done. Later it might be a plume of spray in the air as whales are spotted… Is it one of the "resident" Gray Whales that feed off our coast from May until October, or perhaps a Humpback, Pilot, Orca, or even a Blue Whale. It is hard not to feel small when surrounded by seemingly endless miles of water and coming face to face with the largest creatures that have ever lived on earth. Out of sight of land the water warms and turns blue as the chlorophyll dissapates. Frigates and albatross soar through the sky and bait balls appear with boils of fish pushing them to the surface. Kelp paddies are sought out for the mysteries they keep- Yellowtail? Dorado? Pomfret? This is no longer the Northwest, it's OZ, and the skipper is the Wizard.
In future posts I'll do my best to share some of what I have found to be so magical about the Northwest Offshore as well as tips and information to help others explore offshore in a safe and productive manner. For now, look Westward and use your imagination.