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A Harrowing Experience

June 23rd, 2011 · 3 Comments


Last weekend, at the premier PacNW kayak fishing tournament, the Oregon Rockfish Classic (ORC), I made a mistake. Actually, I made many mistakes. I headed out to fish untested water. I left behind biting fish. I wrote the article of how to fish Depoe Bay and ignored my own advice (the top 5, at least, followed it).

More importantly, I ignored myself.

Fishing unproven miles was going to put some mileage on the kayak. Just going from A to B to C and back to A was going to put a minimum of 12 miles on the GPS odometer. This alone is a lot of travel on the Ocean Kayak Trident 15. Yes, I had done it before, several times. I’ve even done the miles on a little Trident 11. I can do it again. No Problem.

The conditions were a bit rough for the ORC, but do-able. We had 5.5’ swells at 9 seconds, with contrasting winds at 5-10mph. My first waypoint was 3 miles out from the launch at Depoe Bay. Just a half mile into it, near the first buoy, I marked some fish and jigged up my first black rockfish of the day. There was a ton of fish in the area, and last year’s winning fish came from the vicinity. I just wanted the one fish to call the skunk gone, and continued on.

Just about an hour later I found myself and the first waypoint – surrounded by crab pots. I knew I was in some bad fishing. Crab inhabit VERY different water than rockfish and lingcod. I dropped my jig 200’ down to the bottom anyways and took a moment to make some decisions.

It was time for me to check out the other, again untested, spot to the north. I had do rely on the compass due to only about 1 mile of visibility. This wasn’t a problem to me and I was quite comfortable with it. It was a 4 mile paddle up, and I was planning on a 2 hour trip with weather and surf conditions the way they were. I enjoyed the conditions. While rough, I get a bit of excitement every time my bow dips into the water.

I only made it about half way. I kept looking at the sonar and thinking that I would never get out of the flat rock bottom and into the rocky structure the target fish preferred. I dropped my like back down to the bottom and re-assessed the situation again. Time was running slim. I still didn’t have a tournament worthy fish to the boat. I was heading to untested water. This wasn’t a good idea.

I changed course and headed to Government Point. I knew this area pretty well, and I knew there would be fish to be found. I was still looking at another hour of paddling the rough conditions to get there. And eventually I did.

Surprisingly, upon my arrival, Black Rockfish were rolling at the surface. They were everywhere, and there I was, without my fly rod. Damn. I threw a few subsurface lures, but couldn’t talk them into it. I dropped my conventional jig and dropper down to fish like normal. It wasn’t long before I had a good hit. It turned out to be just an 18” rockfish. It had to have been in a frenzy, as it peeled drag off my line… Course, I may have had a second fish on the line that I lost. Hard to say. But it did fight hard, and I was happy to have a decent fish to the boat, and put it on the stringer.

I continued fishing along the reef. With my Seattle Sports drogue, I was slowly working my way parallel to the reef. Fishing was setting up to be good.

Then I felt a tinge in my back.

I tried to ignore it. As I drifted off the reef, I worked my way back to the head of the reef. My back argued a bit, and I continued to pass it off. I picked up a couple undersized lingcod as the winds started to pick up. Coming from the south, I was looking at a decent headwind for 2 miles back to port. As I stowed my gear behind me, my back was was getting angry.

I plotted my course back to Depoe Bay. Just 2 miles away, and it should only take me an hour. The wind had shifted a bit, and now I was fighting swell and wind pretty much head on. I’d still be fine, and I’d be back at Depoe Bay in time for weigh in if it weren’t for one thing. My Back.

I was in some pretty serious pain. I couldn’t paddle properly. I could get about 3 good paddle strokes in before I had to stop, only to loose any bit of ground I had made. My body had rebelled, and my mind was trying to fight back. I had to keep going. Even if I couldn’t keep the kayak moving but a half mile per hour, I had to keep going. But I knew I could not. I debated deep in my brain, fighting my ego, fighting my pride.

At what point to I call a Pan-Pan and seek a ride back to port?

There were plenty of power boats and charters out on the water. I knew I could get help if I needed it. I did need it. But I couldn’t swallow my pride and make the call. I worked myself to exhaustion. I got the point that I was making a stroke, resting, loosing ground, and then taking another stroke.

I sat there, thinking over my Pan-Pan call. Maybe I should just call over to the nearest boat. I hated to interrupt their day on the water at the same time. Especially thanks to some guy on a kayak out on the ocean.

At that time Rory O’Connor came peddling up to me on his Hobie. He kinda snuck up on me, I wasn’t really keeping up on things coming up from behind me. Fortunately he was able to give me a tow back to Depoe Bay. He had his rescue throw rope, which made for an easy tie-up, with safety release, for towing kayaks. I helped the best I could, cause I knew towing wouldn’t be easy. Fortunately, in his Hobie, he made towing very easy. I just did my best keeping bow-to-stern to keep it easy. Even that was tough.

Rory got me back to Depoe in quick time, and headed right back out to continue fishing. I spent a good amount of time hobbling around, bent over, unable to stand straight for a few minutes. I waited around in the car for awhile; hoping for the ibuprophen I took on the way back to port would kick in. It never did, so I called it a night and headed home before things were over.

I’m hoping I learned my lessons. I’m working hard with a chiropractor to get my back into shape, and taking the kayaking easy until I know I’m good to go…. Whenever that may be.

Whenever in navigable waters, you should have a VHF. I always have mine. I need to actually make use of it. Had Rory not rolled up behind me, what would have happened? Would I have actually gotten around to making the call? Would I have risked the trip back to port? I don’t know. But I need to change my priorities.

Tags: Safety

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jess // Jun 23, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    That was a really unlucky break for you… but so great that Rory came along to save the day! I hope that your back heals up quickly and you’re back out on the water in no time!

  • 2 ZachYak // Jun 24, 2011 at 10:17 am

    That’s a crazy story dude. A great lesson to learn and luckily you were able to get a tow back. Rory has some great fishing karma coming his way for sure!

  • 3 I didn’t think it was gonna be so tough // Jun 26, 2012 at 10:09 am

    […] fish came from. I figured it could produce again. I certainly wasn’t going to make any back breaking, 14 mile trips to nowhere like I did last […]

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