NEWPORT — Sixteen: the number of times I’ve caught more than 100 fish in aggregate in a day.
Ten: the number of times I’ve caught more than 100 fish of a single species in a day.
Four: the number of freshwater species I’ve caught more than 100 of in a day: bluegill (five times), black crappie (twice), Chinook salmon (once) and largemouth bass (once).
Four: the number of times I have fished for herring.
Seventeen: the number of minutes I had to fish before catching my first herring on the third trip.
Five: the most herring I caught at one time.
One hundred thirty: the number of herring I caught fishing the high and outgoing tides by myself.
Nine: the number herring three of us caught fishing the low tide.
Three: The number of times a sea lion stole a hooked herring and broke my line.
Twenty-six: the number vacuum-sealed packages of herring packed three-to-five per pack I froze for sturgeon bait.
When my friend Eric Elenfeldt first took me sturgeon fishing, we used store-bought herring. Each package of five cost about eight dollars, and we’d go through two or three on a day where the sturgeon were feeding actively.
It wasn’t cheap.
About six months later, I got a text from Eric showing a sink full of herring and learned he’d “gotten into the herring” from one of the public docks in Newport, landing more than 100 fish in a few hours’ time.
I was instantly motivated.
I love fishing of all kinds, but fast-and-furious action is hard to beat, especially in a new setting for a new species and especially when that sort of success could save hundreds of dollars in bait costs.
That next weekend, I drove up to Newport and struck out; the herring had already moved out of the bay.
A year passed, and the second time I tried on the exact date he had the year before.
It was too early, apparently, because I struck out again.
A month later, Eric told me he’d stocked his freezer with a year’s supply of bait in afternoon, so I drove up again a week or two after that.
After missing out three times, I did a lot of research and learned Pacific herring move into bays up and down the west coast during February and March to spawn. Though the exact timing varies, they’re usually there in force for two weeks in great numbers with a week or so on either side of the peak spawn where a few stragglers hang around.
But unlike so many other species, the window opens and closes quickly enough that you have to be ready and waiting, or you’ll miss out.
Boat or float?
Many anglers target herring from a boat, roving around the Yaquina Bay looking for fish or just following other boats. While a boat gives you mobility and helps you locate the schools more easily, it is not a necessity.
This year, I considered bringing my boat up, but Eric convinced me to try it from the docks and piers like he did, and I found fish.
Any of the public docks and piers can hold fish, as well as commercial docks, piers and pilings all around the Bay that may or may not allow recreational fishing.
Just be careful wherever you go and make sure your line is light enough that a wayward sea lion will snap it if it gets snagged rather than drag you off balance and into the roiling water.
I used 15-pound braided line tied to my herring jig with a one-ounce weight at the bottom. Braid helps with bite detection because it doesn’t stretch.
If fish are there, you’ll know it. I saw a group of more than 100 sea lions and thousands of gulls feeding voraciously as the school moved around. When the sea lions and gulls were close, so was the school.
Success will mean contending with sea lions, gulls and vultures.
Once I started catching fish, the latter flocked to me on boats and on shore.
After an hour of striking out, both of the two boats fishing nearby decided to spot-jack me. One boat with six guys parked and started fishing from the dock I’d been casting to. The other boat, a six-figure boat with two 120-horse outboards and more accessories than most charter outfits, decided to park in the slip right next to me and fish practically on top of me.
There were hundreds of slips in our vicinity, and they decided to pull a stunt like this.
I was livid.
In case you don’t see the problem, boaters have unlimited access while shorebound anglers have nothing of the sort. Boaters should give shore anglers a wide berth because the former can go anywhere. Clearly, these men never learned boater etiquette.
After it was clear they didn’t intend to leave, I told the guys fishing on top of me to move. He cussed under his breath but just moved further down the dock while the others continued to harsh my mellow from the next dock over.
The funny thing is, the eight of them combined picked up maybe 20 fish in the three or four hours they crowded me while I caught five times as many — by myself.
We were using the same gear, but they were dropping straight down and jigging while I was casting out and then slow-reeling while continuously shaking my rod to get the hooks to dance in the water.
The vultures didn’t pick up on it and finally got mad watching me outperform them and their parked, fancy boats, so they left.
My brother Gabe and our friend Trent Moore joined me just as low tide hit.
Though it was a lot slower, they each picked up a few fish.
Eventually, the wind became too much.
We put the fish on ice and then packaged them up, filleting a few out of curiosity to see how they tasted.
We froze the fillets, so I’ll have to get back to you on that.
We called it a day and headed to Local Ocean Seafood — the best restaurant on the Oregon coast — as we traded stories, jokes and calories in the violet glow of sunset.