Yesterday, July 23, 2015, Curt Smitch invited me to fish with him in the ocean. At O-dark thirty we headed out for the one and a half hour drive to Westport, Washington. When we launched, the weather was as good as it gets with a light breeze and gentle swell from the west. The bar at the entrance to Gray’s Harbor can be a stinker, but yesterday we motored across with a mild flood tide and no heart-thumping events. Curt hit the throttle and we bounced our way out away from the chop and headed north to where we had heard the King Salmon were biting.
About eighteen miles from the bar, near the big yellow research buoy we found the fishing fleet of charter boats and private skiffs and others. The fish were near the bottom at 250 feet and deeper and we worked all day trying to bring a legal fish into the boat. I brought up an undersized King and a thirty pound Blue Shark and both were successfully released. Curt managed to land a small hatchery origin Coho Salmon, but for a full day of fishing, that was our total catch.
The day turned out well. We were surrounded at times by a hundred or more Short Nosed Common Dolphins. Although they are known to be off the Washington Coast, they are not common here. Curt has fished these grounds for many years and had never seen these animals in such numbers. They frolicked around us, diving under the boat in small groups that traveled in diagonal lines and frequently splashed out of the water. Some would race alongside as we motored along and shoot across our bow in an obvious show of their phenomenal swimming ability. There was splashing in all directions for as far as we could see.
There appeared, on Curt’s “fish finder,” to be large amounts of small fish which may have been the attraction for the dolphins. While the feed couldn’t entice the salmon off the bottom, it was probably the attraction for the dolphins and their bigger cousins who were also in the vicinity.
We spotted a tail fluke first. A Humpback Whale was slapping his tale on the water. I’ve often seen them doing that in Alaska and wondered whether they were slapping off barnacles or just having a good time like kids in a swimming pool. Then we saw a big white sided pectoral flipper come out and slap the water as well. These big animals can be as long as fifty four feet and the flippers are a fourth to a third the length of the whale. A slap from one of these would be your last slap. After the slapping was over, one of the two whales we were watching leaped out of the water and created a big splash.
Ocean conditions are changing rapidly. Some changes are for the worse. Some seem to go in the opposite direction. The amount of krill and small fish that feed these critters must have been big. We observed thousands of sea birds gathered for feeding in and off shore of the bay entrance. Murres and Sooty Shearwaters were most common, but Storm Petrels were in abundance, and we spotted a Tufted Puffin as well as many other sea birds I am having to look up in my books.
I am so thankful that I live here and that I get a chance to experience a day like yesterday. The fishing may have been disappointing but the day certainly wasn’t.