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Luke Ovgard and his friend go fishing for rockfish near Pacific City on a dory boat

PACIFIC CITY, Ore.—The coffee lost identity in my nostrils amidst the pungent miasma of ocean scents.

All kingdoms were represented in the damp air: animal, vegetable and mineral. Gasoline fumes punctuated the otherwise natural scentscape as my friend Dom Porcelli and I met up with our captain, Josh Putman, in the wan light of almost daybreak.

We loaded our gear into a wooden boat painted a cherry red — presumably just for the aesthetic value and high visibility. The vessel was saddled with two large outboards and sat resting its haunches on a trailer in the public parking lot rather than idling at a slip in the harbor like most charter boats on the Oregon Coast. It was the first signal of the unique fishery we'd stepped into. COURTESY PHOTO: LUKE OVGARD - Dom

As gray light began brushing the black sky into a textured gray watercolor, we towed the boat down to the sandy beach. As we descended the small dunes framing Pacific City Beach and the coastline unfolded before us, we saw half a dozen other trucks and SUVs parked on the sand with empty trailers behind them.

Captain Josh backed his trailer into the pounding surf and a man in waders untied the boat and began pulling. He slid it off the struts and turned the bow out to the open ocean.

Once chest-deep in the roiling waves, the captain boarded with impressive spryness, took command of his ship and fired up the engines. We braced and charged into the surf.



Normally, Captain Josh is booked year-round, but a last-minute cancellation enabled Dom to get a trip in, and he generously invited me along presumably for my razor-sharp wit and local knowledge.

Dom is on track to become the fourth person in history to catch 1000 species of fish on hook and line, which should happen in the next month or two if all goes as planned.

The two of us had done quite well the days before, fishing area jetties, tidepools, rivers and streams from Corvallis to Barview, but he was hoping to find two fish on that dory: cabezon and China rockfish. I'd put him on some small cabezon the night before in the sea lettuce beds of my favorite intertidal zone, but the appeal of the world's largest sculpin is lost with hand-sized fish, and we both knew that. COURTESY PHOTO: LUKE OVGARD - Copper Rockfish

Due to a lack of traditional boat ramp or harbor, relative isolation, small population size, marine protected areas to the north and south and distance from Highway 101, the Pacific City fishery is one of the healthiest bottom fisheries not only in Oregon but in the world.

As a result, you can fish shallower than you would anywhere else from Astoria to Brookings and still catch fish, but if you fish deeper, each angler will catch a party boat's worth of large fish. Another advantage of the deeper, colder water is a reduced parasite load and firmer meat in the fish you'll catch, so they taste better, too.

I quickly traded my medium spinning-jigging setup for the even lighter rods on the boat, and it paid dividends.

We plowed through large black, blue, canary, copper, deacon, quillback and yellowtail rockfish fishing three- to five-inch swimbaits on remarkably light half- and one-ounce jigheads.

It felt like cheating fishing with such light gear, but you could feel every take, the fight was superior. I managed my largest-ever yellowtail and copper rockfish — both topping five pounds. Dom caught some huge black rockfish. We added a few lingcod, Dom got his larger cabezon, and I even caught a new species when we drifted over a deeper reef: a yelloweye rockfish. COURTESY PHOTO: LUKE OVGARD - Yelloweye Rockfish

Like many deepwater fish, rockfish have what is called a swim bladder. The large fleshy sac inflates or deflates accordingly to help a fish's body deal with varying pressures at depth. When a fish is brought up rapidly, the sac inflates and prevents the fish from swimming down.

Oregon angling regulations require the use of a descending device for fish with barotrauma, which the protected yelloweye had. While Captain Josh dug his out and prepared it, Dom snapped a few quick pictures of me and the vibrant orange fish with those striking namesake yellow eyes.

When we called it a day, we surfed the waves in. Captain Josh planted us squarely on top of a big wave, killed and raised his outboards in a fluid motion, and let the momentum of the surf plant us on the beach. Though I had nothing to do with it, I felt proud by association.

We unloaded our gear and chased other quarry while the captain cleaned our catch. Dom was living in a motel and planned to return to Florida in two days' time, so he graciously added his catch to my own, giving me a solid portion of clean white fillets to take home. COURTESY PHOTO: LUKE OVGARD - Beached

Dom finished his trip to Oregon with more than 15 new species, including those he found on the dory.

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