The rising sun broke over Cape Kiwanda along the Oregon coast, casting amber light across a steely blue ocean. My family was vacationing near Pacific City, and on that particular morning, my three sons and I were fishing with Mark Lytle of Pacific City Fishing Charters. The dory boat rocked in the rolling sea as we jigged for rockfish. My two oldest sons, William (17) and Matt (15), stood in the bow, dropping their jigs 30 feet down then retrieving them at a moderate clip.
“Fish on!” shouted William, landing the first fish of the trip. We had only been on the water for about 20 minutes.
My youngest son, Owen (9), sat in the stern near me, jigging his rod as well.
“I got one!” exclaimed Owen, landing the next fish. Matt followed shortly afterwards with his own rockfish. Admittedly, I was a little chagrined that all my sons had caught fish before me, with William landing his second before I finally reeled in my own. The action was fast and furious. The deckhand, Marcus, was running fore and aft, netting fish while Mark coached all of us on the finer points of catching rockfish on the ocean. Truly, this was very different from catching mountain trout on a fly rod.
My rod took a bend and Mark came over with his net. The fish felt to be about the same size as the other rockfish I had caught, but as the fish surfaced, I found myself staring at a crimson, bug-eyed fish covered in spines.
“Whoa, you got an Irish Lord!” Mark exclaimed.
“Really?” I asked, ignorant of the rarity of such a catch.
“Yeah, these guys are hard to catch. We have guys that pay a lot of money to travel out here to catch one, and then never catch it,” Mark explained. “This is a true trophy. Good job!”
Mark held the fish in front of me and snapped a quick photo on his camera, then quickly returned to helping boat more fish. In no time, we reached our limit of rockfish. In the process, we had even found a few small ling cod and cabezons which we returned.
“Let’s get some crabs,” Mark said. “Reel up!”
We stowed our reels then motored over to the crab pots. We could each keep a dozen Dungeness crabs, making 48 our collective limit. The first pot was a disappointment. The crabs had managed to cut a hole in the wires allowing many to escape. The next few pots were stuffed with crabs. All the females were released while the males were tossed into the icebox. At $10 per pound for fresh crabs, with each weighing at least 2 lbs, the cost of our trip was nearly covered by the crabs alone.
As we finished at the crab pots, Mark got a tip that a halibut had been hooked over in a muddy bottomed area, so we motored over there and began fishing for ling cod and halibut. To catch these fish, we attached weighted jigs and dropped them on the bottom, letting the jig hit the bottom then raising it up quickly as we drifted with the current. The drift was light and the seas were calm. Owen eventually succumbed to the Dramamine and nodded off in his seat. Mark changed out Owen’s pole with one rigged with herring bait. This way, we could still fish while Owen slept.
Time passed. The bite was slower than with the rockfish. As Mark explained, we were fishing now, not catching. Will and Matt both caught some impressive ling cod. Owen e
ven awoke a couple of times to land some nice ling cods, one measuring almost as long and Owen was tall. I managed to land some ling cods as well, though some needed to return to grow some more. I also seemed to have a knack for catching cabezons, good fighters, but not what we were hoping for. The halibut remained aloof.
As I jigged, looking out to the sea, a movement to my left caught my eye. I turned and saw a large black eye attached to an 8 foot blue torpedo shaped body.
“Mark, there’s a shark here!” I said, point off the port stern. Everyone became quite excited. The blue shark circled, exploring the boat. It had been attracted to some of the bait being used and the fish scent leaking out of the ice box. Mark reeled in Owen’s herring rig.
“Let’s try and catch it,” he said. Meanwhile, William started his GoPro to capture the action.
“Owen, wake up!” I said as I shook his shoulder. His eyes fluttered open. “Look!” I pointed to his right.
“Whoa, a shark!” he exclaimed in excitement.
The shark took the first pass at the herring and managed to get hooked on its fin. Mark held the reel, and once the shark felt the hook, it ran. Line screamed off the reel as the shark headed out towards Chief Kiwanda Rock. Suddenly, to the relief of Mark, the line went slack as the hook slipped off the shark.
“That shark could have easily taken all the line,” he said. As he reeled in the rig, he could feel the resistance created by the herring bait. As the rig came close to the boat, I saw that the shark was still following. William plunged his GoPro underwater and captured the moment the shark took the bait in its mouth. Once it felt the hook, the shark shook its head and swirled at the surface before shooting off to the south again for its next run, though this run would be short lived. The shark’s teeth cut the line and the rod straightened. There was a brief moment of silence as we all absorbed what had just happened. Then we erupted in whoops and laughter.
“How often do you see sharks?” I asked Mark.
“We probably get a blue shark like that about once a year,” he said. The rarity of this charter was not lost on me. We had limited out on rockfish and Dungeness crabs, caught an Irish Lord and had now fought an 8-foot blue shark. We were also close to limiting out ling cod.
After the shark left, we had about 30 minutes before he needed to head back to shore. The sun was nearly overhead at this point, making the hoody and rain jacket I was wearing feel like overkill. As the time to leave drew closer, my rod took a deep bend. The fish on the other end was large, making my aching hands ache some more. Mark’s eyes glimmered, hoping for a halibut. As the fish surfaced, it turned out to be another ling cod, but this one was bigger than average. Marcus netted the fish and flopped in onto the deck.
“That’s no halibut, but that is a huge ling cod, a real trophy!” Mark smiled.
On that note, we motored back to the beach. Landing a dory in the surf is fun experience, one every fisherman should experience at some point. We drove to Mark’s shop, where he and Marcus steamed the crabs, cleaned the fish and vacuumed sealed the filets. As we finished, I gripped Mark’s firm handshake, hoping we will be able to fish together again. As we drove back to the beach house, my boys slumped into their seats, content with their first ocean fishing experience, reveling in the rarity of everything they had just experienced.