Once in a Lifetime
Saturday, July 15th, 2017 - 4:21 PM
I answered the phone Wednesday to hear a practically hysterical report that the wind and waves were perfect for a trip on Thursday. “There’s no wind at all, the water is as flat as a mirror! I can’t understand why I’m calling you and not out there fishing! Get up here first thing in the morning!”
It was foggy the next morning, and as we set up the kayaks I felt a stiff but manageable wind in my face and I could hear surf breaking on the rocks. “I hear surf out there…” “You can always hear surf!” No you can’t. I live on the coast and I know a flat-ass calm ocean doesn’t make waves-crashing-on-rocks noises, but trusting my mentor’s superior knowledge of the area, I carried on.
We left the bay, turned right, and I stopped. Waves were crashing over and wrapping around the rock to my left and smashing onto and bouncing back from the reef to my right. Not those one-footers I’d been promised, but genuine five-footers rising to seven feet as they broke.
“That doesn’t look like fun. I don’t want to fish in that.” “Don’t worry, it’s just fifty yards across to the lighthouse cove. Unless you want to go back…” I didn’t mind crossing it, I just didn’t want to fish in it, so we pressed on.
It was not fifty yards across. It was a quarter mile crossing. Halfway across, I remembered that I hadn’t used the Hobie since September when my legs started to burn. Chop – tall chop – was coming from all directions and my legs were cramping and I was slowing down… but apparently, I made it. And I didn’t soil my dry suit. Not even a little.
Fishing was slow for a while, so I entertained myself by nearly tossing myself out of the kayak with my first cast – it had been nine months since I’d used long, heavy sink-tips, too. Then I had a moment of sheer panic when a glob of kelp popped to the surface next to me before my brain engaged and I recognized what it was. Then I hooked a plump greenling that promptly dove back into the kelp, but I pulled it out. I cast back to the same area and I believe I hooked another greenling because it, too, ran for the kelp.
I pulled it out, too, and was bringing it in when the line stopped. “Great, it’s in the kelp again!” and pedaled away to coax it out again – and it pulled back. Then it moved, heading for the middle of the cove, dragging me behind it.
“Hey!” I yelled, “Are there sea lions back here?” A hundred yards later, it stopped and I started pumping back some line. Got to the leader, looked down and saw a lingcod t-h-i-s big. BIG. Then it headed for the bottom, bending my rod down to the cork, and we headed off on another sleigh ride, shorter this time, but when it stopped, I couldn’t bring in any line. We played tug of war for a few minutes, and then it was gone, my leader was cut as cleanly as if cut with a knife.
Never let a lingcod get back to its rock because if it does, you aren’t getting your fly back. Or your greenling.
“Wow! Did you see that! I thought you were snagged in the kelp again, then I saw your rod tip jumping and knew you had a fish on. Then it stopped again and I thought you really were snagged until you took off across the water! That had to be a lingcod. Had to be sixty pounds! Wow!”
Yep, I saw it. I was there the whole time.
A short time later, I heard a ruckus and looked back to see another fly rod doubled over. Another lingcod! But this one came off the hook quickly, followed by language that would make a sailor blush. Deciding on discretion in the face of such heartbreak, I didn’t pedal over – but I hollered out my condolences.
We caught some rockfish and when the swells started crashing against the back of the cove, we bailed. The crossing back to the launch was, as I suspected, worse than it had been earlier, and once again, my legs tried to betray me. Rounding the reef back into the glass-flat water of the inner bay I tried to convince them that we were almost home, but they mutinied and I had to paddle the last hundred yards to the beach.
Standing there on rubbery legs, I thought about it as a once in a lifetime day because there wasn’t any chance I was doing that again in this or any future lifetime.
That thought lasted all of twenty minutes because I’m already exercising my legs for the next trip. I know where the lingcod play, and there’s a big one that owes me a fly…