Species: Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides) Location: Hoover Ponds, OR Date: July 31, 2004
Bass fishing is the closest thing the fishing community has to professional sports. A handful of the top competitors even make a living off of it. The millions of dollars spent on endorsements, the fact that people actually watch it on television, and the sponsors lining up to put their stickers all over bass boats make it unlike the rest of the fishing world.
My first bass was so unglamorous that Kevin VanDam will probable never give me a second look. I caught it a seven-inch fish on a gold crappie jig.
It was about eight feet below me, and it was hot enough that it didn’t fight hard.
That’s it. My first bass. I wish it had been more romantic, but it was hot and dirty, and I wondered why it was so highly praised.
The mind is a funny thing. How we can remember the subtle differences between the radio-edited song and the original, but draw a blank on the name of a childhood friend, I will never understand.
While I don’t understand, I do remember.
I remember loading into a red van, sitting with my freshman classmates — only a few of whom had discovered the miraculous properties of deodorant — and waiting, sweat forcefully introducing my shorts to my unmentionables, as we drove through blistering heat without functional air conditioning.
I remember setting up camp and getting filthy in the process. As the sweat and dirt formed a grainy paste on my body, I remember learning that the ocean was calm enough to take a trip out that afternoon.
I remember the salty air slapping my face and opening my mouth at just the wrong moment. I remember seeing Black Brants and Long-Tailed Ducks (still listed as Oldsquaw in my dated National Audubon Society Pocket Guide) flying in formation low over the water. I remember the rubbery little fish we used (Wildeye Swim Shad) that really worked.
But mostly, I remember the blood.
Only a handful of us wanted to try fishing that afternoon (Ben Blanchard, Christopher Puckett, Cody Toschik, and I), and we boarded the Bayliner very pensively. It was a bit intimidating, even if Brookings did have “the safest bar on the Oregon Coast.” But in a miracle of Mosaic proportions, somehow, the sea calmed, and we made it across. While we didn’t die, the lap, lap, lapping of the water against the side of the boat, the shifting horizon, and the smell of the fish we’d already caught sent several of us into a despondent state of seasickness — something I’d never before experienced.
As I stared into the gray waves, suddenly, the soprano song of a reel saved me from losing my lunch. Behind me, I watched intently as Perry Fields, one of our chaperons, hooked up.
He was making progress, inching the fish towards the surface, pump-reel, pump-reel, when the theme from Jaws began to play in my head. The fish he was fighting seemed to get a second wind, becoming exponentially stronger than it had been just moments before.
The intense minutes watching the fight culminated with a fleeting glimpse at this beast of the depths, a hulking behemoth of a fish that looked a little like the catfish I’d caught still-fishing at Crystal Springs Bridge on the Lost River, but maybe 20 times larger and clearly birthed by a demon.
Then I noticed. There were two of them. The first fish, which had hit the swimbait, was maybe 16 inches long. Not big enough to keep, but just big enough to make a tempting dinner for the fish attached to it, which was approaching three times as long.
Just as the fish got within distance of the gaff, the larger predator realized the peril it was in and released its meal, remaining stationary for just a moment too long.
It was at this moment that our biology teacher, Mr. Dean, performed what is, to this day, the greatest landing of any fish. Ever.
Just as the fish shook its head and started to dive, he leaned over the boat, drove his gaff into the water, hooked the fish, and lifted all forty-plus pounds of it over the gunwale, dropping it onto the floor of the little boat.
There wasn’t room for both of us, and this fish knew it. Many fish flop towards freedom, but this fish, this hellion, WAS TRYING TO BITE US.
As it flopped, our final chaperon, Mr. Wehr, kicked it hard in the head, before grabbing a knife and cutting its gills to put it out of its misery and sending its tormented soul back to the depths of Hell.
In its death throes, it turned into a bloody sprinkler, spraying the whole boat with its dark, syrupy blood.
As I looked at my brand-new Levi’s, I saw a spot of blood that I knew would become a stain. (It did, but those became my “fishing pants” for most of high school).
I can’t remember the exact dimensions of the fish, but I do remember that I could fit my head inside its mouth. I do remember posing for a picture (which I couldn’t track down) of four of us, standing side-by-side, all behind the fish.
It was, of course, a Lingcod.
Along with about a dozen Black Rockfish and Blue Rockfish, I caught my own Lingcod the next day, but at 23 1/4 inches, it was just shy of 24-inch minimum length (which has since been lowered to 22 inches), and I had to let it go.
To this day, I’ve never seen an Oregon ling that size. Not in pictures, not online, nowhere. They often reach that size in Alaska and British Columbia, but not down here.
That Lingcod was the first “Fish of a Lifetime” I ever saw, and I’ve been on a quest to catch my own ever since.
I didn’t know it yet, but my life was about to change forever.
As I loaded fishing gear into the car with my dad, my brother Jake, and our family friends, the Wogans, I had no idea that an afternoon of fishing at Spencer Creek, the southernmost Oregon tributary to the Klamath River, would impact my life so profoundly that I’d develop a lifelong passion — some call it an obsession — with fishing.
For it was on this trip that Judge Cameron Wogan, one of my dad’s closest friends since college, told me he had begun to keep a journal detailing his hunts and fishing trips.
He recorded the date, location, weather conditions, and other information relevant to why he did (or didn’t) catch fish on a given outing.
I wasn’t quite 14, but I saw the wisdom in it, and on that day I began keeping records. I faithfully poured every trip into that journal. Then it filled up, so I got another. And another. For seven and a half years.
After filling six paper journals of about 150 pages each, I decided to enter the digital age, instead recording trips on what I titled Trip Log in the form of an Excel spreadsheet. It listed the date, location, unit/zone, and a list of notes about the trip that replaced my journaling altogether.
At the time, I was also equally into hunting, and prior to purchasing a new license each year, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) required hunters to complete a survey saying how many birds they’d killed in the prior season. So, rather than guess like most people, I decided to keep a log of how many of each species I got fishing, hunting, or trapping.
One for each season, which I called the Season Bag and one continually-used one, which I called the Lifetime Bag.
My final spreadsheet kept track of my largest fish for each species and a list of all trips where I caught more than 5 fish in a day (as of the time of writing, my best ever was 319 fish in one day). I called this one the Fishing Hall of Fame.
Now, more than 10 years later, I can look back and see where the fish were biting at a certain time of year, what I caught them on, what my largest fish were, and how many fish I’ve caught in my lifetime.
If you’re serious about fishing, or just think you’d like to start keeping records of your own, you can. Feel free to use my templates as an example if you want to. If you’re not familiar with Excel, consider buying the relatively inexpensive >Excel for Dummies by clicking here: Excel for Dummies.