Caught Ovgard: 'The Silver Surfer'
Readers who take time to email me tend to repeat a few themes: funny, entertaining and interesting are the single adjectives of choice, but I also get a lot of "I don't fish, but I like your column," as well as "you taught me something" and my personal favorite "How do you end up in these situations?"
Usually, my stories involve me overcoming a struggle and leaving the reader with a happy ending, even if the happiness comes from a laugh at my expense. Okay, usually if the happiness comes from a laugh at my expense. Today, I can promise you laughs at my expense, but some stories don't have a happy ending. And others haven't ended yet. I'll let you decide which this is.
This story, the story of the silver surfperch, is one of those.
It was 2011, and I was fishing at the Oregon coast with my best friend, Ben Blanchard.
Framed by the distant monolith, Ben struck an imposing figure. He was wearing waders and bracing himself against the raging surf while holding one of two identical surf fishing setups I could put together on a student budget. Well, my best impersonation of a surf fishing setup.
We were fishing the mouth of Myers Creek, a stream spewing into the ocean at a popular beach roughly equidistant between Brookings and Gold Beach. Most of the folks sharing the beach with us were walking dogs, collecting shells or sharing a lover's embrace. We, misguided youths that we were, were trying to catch surfperch.
I'm not really sure how Ben and I got into surf fishing, just that we did. Unfortunately, even after a dozen years of mainstream usage, the Internet had not yet evolved to the point where niche experts had lined its digital shelves with their collective knowledge. So, you could find some information about most topics, but in-depth knowledge for most topics was still a few years away, and niche knowledge about niche pursuits — like surfperch fishing — just wasn't there yet.
Cobbling together what magazines, books and elusive Internet sources I found, I had a basic understanding of the pastime, and I filled in the blanks with confidence. This is how Ben and I ended up repeatedly chasing fish that don't really justify the effort required to catch them with their flesh, their fight or their prevalence. Yet there we were on our third trip to the Oregon coast since graduating high school.
We'd figured out the rockfish, the camping and how to survive on just lunchmeat, eggs, foraged blackberries and the fish we caught, but on days we relied on surfperch, our diet was lean.
Though I didn't track Ben's surfperch harvest over the years, I did track my own, beginning with the walleye surfperch I caught from a pier in Southern California during our senior trip. Ben and a few other friends including Jon Howard and Shawn Elliott fished with me for a while, but they realized the futility long before I did. I spent four to six hours on that pier every night and what did I have to show for it? One white croaker and one surfperch.
In 2008, that was my only surfperch.
In 2009, four.
In 2010, one.
In 2011, the year Ben and I tried Myers Creek for the first time, I caught four total. That year.
Oregon's four most common surfperch catches are redtail, striped, calico and shiner. Let's call them "The Fantastic Four," but be careful not to go the way of television's Arrested Development and turn them into a terrible musical. It ends poorly.
Other sea- and surfperch species occasionally get caught, with the odd walleye, pile and white perch turning up now and then in Oregon, but typically it's the Fantastic Four. For the lucky angler fishing sandy surf, the silver surfperch shows up on occasion, too. We'll call it the Silver Surfer for the sake of the comparison.
That day at Myers Creek, I caught a tiny flatfish called a speckled sanddab at the creek mouth while Ben had opted to fish down the beach just a little way. We worked hard to find fish that day, overtaxing our too-light line, breaking off weights, battling the raging winds and questioning our life choices. Ben did catch one surfperch, though, and as he held it in his hands, I got my first look at the Silver Surfer.
In exactly 10 years since that fateful fall trip, I've never seen another silver surfperch in person. Not one. I've found them all over Instagram and Fishbrain (follow me @LukeOvgard). I've had friends catch them without me. But in maybe two dozen trips to the coast since, I've soaked bait and repeatedly found members of the Fantastic Four, just no Silver Surfer.
I've also been soaked by half a dozen sneaker waves (most recently, yesterday), been knocked off my feet and dragged down a steep beach by a rogue wave and even had to rush to the emergency room for stitches after slamming my thumb in the door of my car at Myers Creek last year, all in pursuit of silver surfperch.
Other nemefish have finally succumbed, but not the Silver Surfer.
Maybe I can't do it alone. Maybe I need help.
If you're reading this, Chris Evans and Jessica Alba and the two other people from that movie, I could use your help defeating a foe you tackled on screen in 2007, the year before I even knew my Silver Surfer even existed.
If Chris and the other two are busy, and Jessica has to come help by herself, I'm okay with that, too. Maybe that would give this story the feel-good ending you've come to expect instead of whatever nebulous mental position you're in right now. Well, welcome to dealings with the Silver Surfer.
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