Beasley At Large: Fast boat to Nelscott Reef

Negotiating the breakers like an old seal, Forse steered the Zodiak back into Siletz bay on a wave shared by a surfer. (Photo by Rick Beasley)

SILETZ BAY — The monster wave at Nelscott Reef, known to break at 40 feet during the acme of the winter surfing season, was nowhere in sight Wednesday as we motored aimlessly under the blistering sun in John Forse’s 19-ft. Zodiak.

We had already done the unthinkable by crossing the Siletz River bar, and now we were doing the improbable by trying to find a submerged volcanic boil in the middle of the ocean reputed to be swarming with prehistoric rockfish.

Reading the old-fashioned depth finder was like watching water boil until the needle began to bounce and climb slowly from 60 feet to 40 before shooting to 20 feet, indicating that by great fortune we had found the apex of the reef about a mile west of the oceanfront hotels of Lincoln City.

I was anxious to get to business and test the new “Uni-Knot” recommended by a helpful tackle clerk at Englund Marine who nodded sympathetically at my story of losing an unidentified lunker to a to surgeon’s knot, which I now believe is at the root of the medical malpractice industry.

There was no reason to fret, however. Time and again the knots held as we circled round the reef’s summit, decking the royal flush of colorfully camouflaged bottom dwellers: greenling, cabezon, ling cod, canary and black rockfish. We used the big, wiggly plastics from Berkely on a lead-head jig or two-hook leaders with 6 oz. sinkers.

After two hours, we didn’t have our limits but we’d had enough. The cooler was stuffed with a week’s worth of fine meals, and we had to reach the bar before low tide, which would make the passage even more exciting.

Forse, a world-class surfer who knows the back of a wave like an old seal, worked around the ends of undeveloped breakers to deliver us to our crab pot in the bay, which had been stuffed with chicken legs but now crawled with Dungeness.

Deep-sea fishing trips are always an adventure where the unexpected is routine. A still sea can suddenly erupt in a frenzied boil of black rockfish, or be brightened by the frisky appearance of whales, friendly dolphins and chattering gulls — good omens for anglers. A trophy, reeled from the green shadows into net range, can suddenly be cleaved by a shark, and the weather can always turn on a dime.

But this trip was outside the box, a joy ride that flaunted a ship’s graveyard, skirted an isolated beach full of startled sea lions, found the needle in the haystack and returned on a wave shared by a surfer. I’m ready to do it again.

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