Join Date: Oct 2007
Location: Portland Or
Snag hole story
“Is this a good lure?”
“Yeah, that’s a good lure.”
“Do you think it would work on this river?”
“Well maybe, if it were a different size, and a different shape, and a different color. But, it’s a fine lure.”
-wise words from the side of a river
I’ll agree the folks I meet in Oregon are good, honest, and genuinely down to earth people. However, I have meet a group of individuals who are so tight, and controlling, and sometimes nasty with their ways, that I might have to include an astrix on my agreement with the sediment.
I wasn’t expecting anything great, in fact I didn’t know what to expect at all, but one early winter morning, I finally took the chance and drove down the unmarked dirt road off Or. 30 East, 10 miles down the Columbia River from Portland. The road was surprisingly worn for such an small overgrown unmarked exit. I wound around a few bends, my fishing poles rocked from side to side, bobbers, blue foxes and spin-n-glows bounced in excitement as my truck rolled though a few rained out ruts from the weekend storms.
After a short straight-a-way, and a slight rise of a hill, I felt the familiar tinge, as the river exposed herself in front of me. The excitement was unfortunately interrupted by the hood of a red GMC with its tailgate down and a bed of fishing gear ready for war. Then I saw the blue Toyota sedan on its right, and the White ford on its left. As I got closer to the river front, I could see the line of cars and an assortment of Plunker rigs, up and down the beach.
I knew I was not exploring some headwater in a remote wood, but I felt the same nervous tension as I did not want to step on a branch or molest the hunt in progress. I was nowhere new in the world, but it was all new to me and I was ignorantly entering the world of the Plunker fishermen. I was immediately challenged with an extremely important decision which I knew would have profound impact not only on the day, but on my future progress as a fisherman in the PNW. Do I go upriver, or down river? Down river would have a better chance at first crack of the Salmon run charging up stream. But, you don’t just go put in, in front of someone who has arrived on the river earlier than you did. I apparently was late for this session, it was already 5:45am.
I looked up river to see if there were any trees or jetties, that might show a obvious channel for the fish to follow. I noticed I had attracted attention, as several heads were turning to see who was taking so long. Obviously indecision is unfamiliarity, unfamiliarity means whoever it is, is new to the protected spot, and therefore competition. I gave a nod, which was not returned, so I immediately felt the aire of solidarity. Knowing I would have to prove myself and wanting to show I would not back down from anything, I took a left, down river.
I knew this would draw attention, as people would expand their spots with a few chairs or tents, to secure their claim. I did not fret I was more concerned with understanding the situation before I would pick my domain. Driving past endless cars and trucks, beach chairs, pole holders, tailgaters, camper trucks, minivans full of nets and lures and quik-fish, I noticed I was running out of road ahead of me. And worse, on the beach, every 10 feet, was a pole holder, an ocean rod, and a cow bell. This spot was not only known, it was saturated.
Finding the last wide spot in the road, I made a u-turn and headed back upriver. All the frowns and looks of “concerned questioning” I received on my way down, were backed up with looks of “there ya go” and “you can have my spot when I die”, nods.
Pretending to be unaware of any attitude, I drove back past half point and continued up river. This time the nods were more excepting and understanding, as our chances might be less, but we are fishing none-the-less. I found a n opening down a stretch where only 4 x 4’s could go, which I felt increased my odds by a percent or two, for inaccessibility, which could be the 1 or 2 percent I needed, to turn the tide of my battles.
Now don’t be fooled by the upriver krewe, there are still boundary’s and rules, which have never been spoken, but are well understood. As I sat in my truck and observed a few casts and resets from some of the fishermen on the beach, I reaching in my fishing bag, I pulled a set of liters I had made the night before. I carefully chose one, based on what I saw hanging from the fishing poles during my drive. It was time to get a line in the water.
I retrieved my pole stand and my Fin Chaser rod with the Old Skoll Penn 360 reel. I liked the open faced reels. I learned my open faced reel cast while fishing catfish in the Bayou. There’s a whole different set of consequences for messing up a open faced reel cast in the Bayou, but that’s a different story. The open faced reels are very easy to rat’s nest, no matter how many times you have fished, no matter how many times you have cast, there is always an embarrassing possibility of a snag, a rat’s nest, or a mis-fire. A proper cast, to the right hole, is learned behavior, and everyone on the beach will watch your first cast.
I made my way down to the water’s edge, nodding to the guys on my left and right. They had spaced themselves far enough apart that I could cast out between them without disrupting their lines, that is, if everything goes right with the cast. I choose a 10oz sinker. Depending on the current, you might have to add a 8-12 oz on your line, to get your rig to the bottom and have it stay, without getting carrying down river, taking out other fishing lines and causing unacceptable downtime, possibly missing “the bite.”.
Asking the guys if they mind if I cast in between them, they shrugged no problem. I then asked about the flow and asked them what oz sinker they were using. One was on a 6 with a pretty light line one was on an 8oz. I choose a 10oz as I had 30lb test and I wanted to be sure not to be “that guy” or be labeled a “dough ball” on my first cast with the Plunker Fishermen. From legend and rumor, I knew some of these guys had fished this spot for 30+years. Each individual retiree and WWII veteran had a bucket of stories to tell, and a line of fishing tales as long as the beach.
A “missed cast” or “screw up”, could result in seasons of banishment, until the fishing fundamentals were displayed in proper order. Success, on the other hand, could open conversation, an exchange of information, or even create a new bond resulting in a fishing buddy. There was a lot riding on the first cast.
Sizing up the river, I steadied the huge lead weight, and calmed the twisting spreader and dangling spin-an-glow. I pressed my thumb firmly on the reeled line and unlocked the free spool. Covering my checklist for open reel casting, I realized I didn’t check the reeled line to make sure there were no overlaps from the last retrieve. This could be fatal. One overlap and all the force of a 10oz weight being flung in and arching radius, gaining momentum as it sails through the sky dragging line behind it, only to be stopped suddenly by a looped snag. The results can be anything from loss of rig, line, and pride, to disruption of 1-20 anglers downstream, and depending where your cannonball lands, destruction of boat, truck, or worse, bodily injury, either on yourself or God forbid, someone else.
With this running through my mind, I ran my thumb over the line, and gave myself the green light. With an exaggerated looping heave, I hit straight in front of me 30yrds out, and secured the reel from nesting. I waited patiently with the line gently taught, till I felt the small bump of the bottom. Tightening the line, I sunk my pole holder in the sand and locked my rig in place. I didn’t have a bell, but it didn’t matter, I was fishing.
After setting my chair and organizing a couple of snacks, I said hello to my neighbors and sat back and watched the river and all of its activity. Over the next few days, by way of varying my time of arrival and my place within the upriver krewe, I learned a few more tricks and theories, but never landed the prize. I saw a handful of Salmon caught down river, and few hook ups close by, but it didn’t matter, I was content. I made a few friends on the outside of the core, and like a poker player at a new game, I was studying the efforts around me, learning pieces of conversations preparing to make my move smack dab in the middle of the fight.
One day, I arrived just before 3am, prepared for anything and everything. The night before, I had carefully gone over each and every knot along my line. I individually selected the days spin-an-glow, based on the clarity of the water, and the glare of the expected sun. I had mentally prepared the order in which I would set up my section: Bait, scent, pole holder, license, chair, rain gear, check, check..
“They” had seen me and been watching me for the last couple weeks, so they were not surprised when I parked next to their cars in the darkness. As I pulled into what seemed like an opening in the formation. I could tell they recognized my Black Truck with the covered bed. I had earned some respect as I had switched up from plunker fishing, then when the bite was off, I would spinner fish, and then go back to plunker fishing as the tides changed. Nobody else was spinner fishing, but everyone knew it could be effective. If the bite was off, I would walk the ends of the beaches hoping for a random strike. I could tell they liked watching in anticipation, as I was increasing my odds with each cast, and my dedication is tireless.
That morning, I nervously, but confidently entered their grounds, and secured my spot. I felt it was acceptable position on the beach, as it was directly down from my truck, and they seemed to give me space. As I went to work on my area, everyone quietly set their pole stands, in the sand, waiting for the hour before sunrise bell. Everyone stood around sipping coffee, comparing the previous days’ fish counts. I kept myself busy, very aware of all the eyes on my movements. Nobody in the group would make eye contact with me or even say good morning. I understood, they weren’t going to accept anyone into the group. For all they knew, I could be a “1 dayer’ and really screw up their livelihoods. I didn’t mind though, I have always liked earning my stripes.
As the alarms crowed the beginning of the fishing day, one by one casts were launched into the Columbia River. After a few minutes, rods were set in their stands and days fishing had begun. After a few hours and a couple of bait checks and recasts, a few fish had been caught up and down the river. Each time a fish was caught, dozens of binoculars were focused on the how’s and what’s and who’s of the catch.
At one point, around mid-morning, after several casts and one snag, that I released thankfully, because there were a lot of eyes watching to see how I would handle my situation. After gently walking my snagged line up and down river, I increased my drag, until I felt the relaxed retrieve of my line with all it riggings.
Shortly after this small success, I noticed one of the men making his way down directly down the beach toward me and my pole stand. Not knowing his intentions, but open to anything, I smiled and set my pole in the holder, and I braced myself.
About 10 feet away he announced in a fun crackly Oregon drawl, “I see your fishing in the snag hole!” All his buddies were watching, clearly this had been the topic of discussion for the past few hours. Seeing the humor, and understanding why it had been so easy to fit right into the early morning line up, I responded “Yeah, I like to challenge myself.” The old salty kinda looked at me and chuckled. “Yeah that spots been bad for a couple of years, you seem to do alright though, maybe it got blown out with the winter storm.” “Maybe” I agreed, “I can feel a cable or something out there” motioning to my left, “but up here seems ok”. He turned before I finished, “It would be good to fish this hole again, well ok. Just thought I’d let you know” he said as he worked his way back up the sand, to his awaiting krewe.”
I fished for a couple more hours that day, but still no luck. However, as one of my mentors from my past once told me, “If you’re fishing to catch fish, you’re fishing for the wrong reason.” I truly appreciated this saying, and not just as an excuse. The numerous Osprey and Eagles and Falcons combined with the River Beaver and Otter and Deer and Elk, that accompany my fishing trips, almost equal the trophies of my past. This day however, I was happy to be right in the middle of one of the oldest traditions in Oregon. A tradition my father, my grandfather and his grandfather before him, all enjoyed. The truth I found that day, I had just received some advice, a tip if you will, from an old skool Plunker fisherman on where not to throw my line. Maybe next time, that tip will be my 1 or 2 percent I have been waiting for.