Many years ago in a land not too far away, a white-collar worker in a tie and a small yellow kayak caught a spring Chinook beneath the Sellwood Bridge on his lunch hour.
I was still a relatively new arrival at The Oregonian (July 1981) and immediately chased down the details of a man they called “The Bass Plug” because of his yellow kayak.
Kayak fishing? That was new, even for a “sport that spawns innovation,” to quote my own words.
Fast forward a couple of decades to a second kayak column, this one acknowledging the growth of the fledgling kayak industry.
By the turn of the century, kayakers were fishing-for-and-catching bass, trout, salmon, steelhead, sturgeon (including one who took its kayak-maestro on a “Nantucket sleigh ride,” ibid on the quote), crabs, rockfish, halibut and lingcod.
One trio even hooked a ride on a charter boat that dropped them off in albacore tuna country 60 miles off the coast.
Fast-forward again to today.
Sometimes what’s left of the Sellwood fleet consists of nearly half kayaks.
Few, if any paddle these days. Instead they use high-tech foot pedals and – in essence – can tell their spouses they just had “my workout” while presenting her/him with salmon for dinner.
No fish goes un-angled.
Crabbing is much more fun without a gas bill – as long as the tide doesn’t give them more of a workout than the spouse is told about.
Clamming on a kayak? Not technically, but kayaks can sure get a soul to some pretty good clam beds boats can’t reach.
There are clubs, tips for beginners and experts, and fast developing technology.
Many have exchanged boat dogs for kayak canines.
And the crafts?
…Armed to the teeth with fish finders, net holsters, rod holders, fish storage boxes (built in, usually) and insulated bins for lunches.
Two-rod endorsement? No problem; just add a second rod holder.
Have a buddy who wants to share a seat? No problem; there are tandem kayaks.
So is innovation no longer needed?
Two weeks ago, Buzz Ramsey hosted a boatload of us (myself, Bill Monroe Jr., Tony Amato and Yas Suzuki) in “The Toilet Bowl,” aka Drano Lake at the outlet of the Little White Salmon River.
It’s a Washington fishery, not regulated with the Columbia, and offers a good shot at surplus salmon returning to a tribal hatchery on the lower river.
The lake itself is large, but the outlet is small – more of an inlet between a highway/railroad tracks and a shoreline.
It’s barely wide enough for clustered boats to troll in a tight circle; thus the name “Toilet Bowl,” because the boats “eddy,” like a well, you know, tu.. being flushed.
Buzz doesn’t much care for the crowd and concentrates instead on the much larger lake.
…Which is where we joined a sparse crowd that included:
- A pair of kayakers (with dogs) who hoisted sails whenever a light breeze came up (kind of like cheating-by-coasting on an exercise bike at the gym).
- A tandem kayak with outriggers on each side. We couldn’t tell whether there was an electric motor or both were pedaling.
- A paddle board, complete with a net and rod holder and an angler who was actually paddling.
“Some guys are starting to experiment with propellers and cordless drills,” said John Shmilenko, the “Sultan of Sellwood” (ibid again; I named him years ago in a column), who owns both a Hobie kayak and a jet sled and prefers his kayak when he fishes alone.
“I love my Hobie way more,” he said. “It’s so much smoother and you can go with the flow of the current…make it (the lure/bait) work when it’s down to nothing.
“It’s stealth trolling.”
Oh, and instead of paying $40,000 to $100,000 for a sled, the Sultan suggests instead spending $3,000 to $4,000 on a kayak – economic exercise indeed.
“I’m still in my 60s and in good enough shape to keep going, saideth the Sultan. “As long as I’m healthy enough or in denial enough.”