Surf, salmon, sunsets, and smiles
a couple of beautiful October days boating with Jeff and Cate

After teaching at the Lumpy Waters Symposium in early October,  my friends Jeff and Cate stopped by the Cape Falcon barn for a visit.   I checked the swell,  the weather,  and the river levels,  none optimal,  but all doable.   I think we could have some fun.   We loaded up the boats and the fishing and crabbing gear before settling in for an evening of beer and good cheer.    Owners of Liquid Fusion Kayaking in Mendocino,  California,   Jeff and Cate are among my favorite people.   Jeff is an expert kayaker in every sense,  whether it's Class V whitewater in a creekboat,   twenty-foot waves in a surf kayak,   or threading the cliffs and caves of the Pacific coast in a sea kayak,  Jeff can definately throw down.    In fact, when I need to improve my whitewater game,   Jeff is the guy I go to.    Affable yet firm,  Jeff instantly zeros in on what you are doing wrong and corrects it.   Cate is the other half of the Liquid Fusion team.    Teacher,  psychologist,  athlete,  avid naturalist,  mushroom expert,  whitewater/sea/surf kayaker,  and heck of a nice person.

We sucked down some french roast at dawn and checked the swell report.   Reports said 6ft @ 11 seconds and falling,  consistent with the trend of the last few days.   6@11 is no joke on an unprotected beach break.  It means taking a 10 foot wall of cold water in the face if you get hit by a set wave.  A beating like that is on the upper end of what you can safely take without risking possible injury.   Doable, but not fun.    I glanced at the actual buoy reports which were reading 8.6 feet at 12.9 seconds offshore,  and 6 @10  on the columbia bar.   That should have been a flag for me but I assumed the outer reading was a buoy glitch because it was inconsistent with the overall trend.

Cate and Leann decided to go salmon fishing in the Adirondack Guide Boat on the bay,   and Jeff and I would brave the Pacific in search of the mighty Dungeness crab.    The only problem,  Jeff's truck was dead!   and Leanns jumper cables were broken!   So after a perplexing and extremely frustrating 3 hours,  we finally got rolling down to the beach.

Jeff and I rolled up to see set waves rolling in that looked less than inviting.    These looked a lot bigger than the report.   We'd find a line,  pretend to follow it,  only to watch a twelve-foot clean up set sweep through in an avalanche of thundering foam.    "It's like this,"  I said absently as we stared down at the ocean  "we absolutely need to not get hit by one of those."   Jeff nodded.   We finally decided we could hit certain line,  and carried the boats down to the water.

The shorebreak was pretty burly,  but aside from that,  punching out was surprisingly merciful and we snuck out through a rip that thankfully held.    I baited the traps and we dropped them just outside of the surf zone on a rising tide.    We were a little busy paddling to get photos of the surf.

We headed North to kill some time,  exploring the stunning coastline off Neah-Kah-Nie mountain from a greater distance than I would have liked.     Some of the best sea caves and slots on the Pacific coast of the United States are cut into the rock here,  and when the swell is down,  it is one of the coolest playgrounds for experienced sea kayakers.

We crossed over and tucked in behind Cape Falcon which knocked down the swell....

...relatively speaking.

We played around this blowhole...

...and made an inadvisable pass through the tip of Cape Falcon before heading back to check the crab traps.

Rounding the corner of Neah-Kah-Nie headland we paddled over to the trap buoys,  I commented on how it still seemed pretty big.   Assuming that we were moving through some set waves we paddled over to the traps which should have been well outside of the surf zone on a rising tide and a falling swell...

  ... when Jeff yelled  "OUTSIDE!"   and we saw an actual set loading up on the horizon.    Not wasting the time to turn his boat Jeff backpaddled and I paddled forward as we crested three of fifteen foot set waves and then stopped paddling to look back and see the monster set sweep one buoy and then detonate on top of the other.  

"We were just sitting right there."  Jeff said.

My mistake was immediately clear to me.   I'd made an assumption that the offshore buoy report was wrong given the overall swell trend,  and hadn't considered the possiblility that a short,  but powerful secondary swell might be moving through.   Nothing in any of the reports indicated that.   Yet here it was,  and thinking about the speed of the swell and the distance to the offshore buoy, that 8.6 @ 12.9  should be on top of us right about...  NOW.

This was not what I was hoping for.   I lost my need to be a big water hero a long time ago,   and I'd much rather Jeff and I were exploring sea caves and surfing seven foot peelers.   Instead we sat well offshore and I started a clock which revealed the sets pulsing at an almost exact five minute interval.   "I'll wait out here as long as it takes."  I said (even though we'd run out of water and I was dying of thirst)   "I'm not taking that on the head."   Meanwhile we both marveled at the beauty,  the perfect curve and sweep of those terrible set waves.

We watched that for a good half hour before sprinting in to grab our first trap.   Pulling it to the surface,  and then paddling like mad to get outside,  with the crab trap loaded with crabs on the foredeck,  buoy trailing behind.   It was ackward,  but I didn't want to spend one second longer than I had to in the impact zone.    We sorted out the trap,  and collected our single big crab,  throwing the small ones back.    We'd left the traps down too long and the crabs had eaten all the bait and headed out.    Our next trap was further in,  and we didn't waste a moment in it's retrieval.    Even more dismally,  the salmon carcass in this trap had been stripped to a skeleton and it contained no big crabs at all.   We thought long and hard before going for the final trap.    I convinced myself that it must be full of big crabs and we went for it,  going deep and just squeaking back out in time.    This was the saddest trap of all,  no salmon carcass at all and one door of the trap hanging open in a crime scene that bespoke of sea lion involvement.

Six hours,  one crab.

Dehydrated and demoralized, we had the unenviable task of heading back in through the surf.    I borrowed this photo from Jeffs camera (taken a day earlier).    Take this photo,  double the size of the wave,  and instead of a gentle spiller,  picture a nice big hollow tube.    This is what the set waves looked like.     A direct hit from one of those would feel like a car accident and the resulting foamball would take your paddle,  twist your spine into positions it was never meant to be in,  all the while doing it's best to force feed you salt water.   Not my idea of a good time.

 We sprinted in on the back of a set and escaped the bombs firing off on the outer sand bars,  surfing as much as we could to make ground quickly.   Jeff was ahead of me and made it free and clear,  I'd missed the wave he surfed in and the reform from the first wave of the next big set was now bearing down on me.    With an 'oh shit'  feeling in my stomach,   I felt myself lifting up the face of a ten-foot curling shorebreak that was about to go nuclear in about a foot and a half of water.   Praying for a miracle (while fully expecting to be pasted onto the seafloor)  I leaned all the way back,  the F1 plunged down the wave,  pearled,  skipped off the sand,  and breached back up to the surface!  I shot forward at mach speed just as the whole massive foampile exploded behind me with a boom!  Jeff later said,  "I looked back and saw you grinning like crazy as you surfed at me in front of this big wall of whitewater."    You bet I was.

Back on the beach.

The girls came down to meet us and we showed them our one crab.   

Skunked on salmon fishing,  they'd headed out to the park and found this king bolete.

They also picked a bunch of fresh wild huckleberries.

We lit the woodstove,  cooked up the crab,  sauteed the mushroom,  and broiled some salmon I pulled from the freezer.   Not quite the day we were hoping for,  but there were good spirits all around,  we had a great dinner.

...and an even better sunset.

The next morning we decided to head out for some less life-threatening adventure,  scraping down the North Fork Nehalem at low flows,  running rapids and fishing for salmon.    I opened up the toy shed and invited everyone to grab whatever fit their fancy.   Leann got the inflatable,  I took my Jefe,  Cate grabbed the CFS,  and Jeff grabbed the Jackson Rocker,  which upon inverting issued forth a clattering of beer bottles from the stern.   "Um,  yeah,"  I said,  "I've been meaning to clean that out".      Then we noticed on beer was still full.   The day was already off to a good start.

We loaded up the boats and the poles...

...and stuffed four people in the front of my monsterous blue chevy.

A couple miles later we launched at the fish hatchery.    A lot of people lose spinners into the trees here,  and I'm all too happy to collect them while I ignore sour looks from the fishermen.

Despite the nearly un-boatable flows,  the North Fork is gorgeous this time of year.

This section of the river contains a fun gorge of five tightly spaced class III rapids.   

Adding fishing poles to the mix increases the difficulty and adds some spice to what would otherwise just be a pretty but scrape-y run.

Cate styles the gorge section.

Leann,  (the river ninja)  represents in the Aire Lynx.

Past the bouncy section we stopped at the deep holes to flip spinners,  hoping to entice a strike from a salmon.

Who needs a boat?

I'll occasionally throw a cast from the boat,  which often results in a snag on the bottom,  though sometimes results in a fish.   Then things get really exciting.

After six hours on the water we finally caught a couple fish.   One native coho,  which we released,  and this nice hatchery fish.    Unfortunately,  I caught both fish,  which is not what I was hoping for.    

Too soon the day was over and they had to head back to Mendocino.

I filleted the fish and sent it on the long drive home with Jeff and Cate.

...and put the carcass in the freezer for crab bait.

Thier visit was great but I couldn't help feeling cheated by the lack of crustaceans,   so the next day I headed out alone in much smaller,  but much nastier seas.   In the rain,  intermittent whiteout fog,  and 25 knot crosswind I collected a bounty of dungeness crabs,  went to the park and found two big king bolete mushrooms,  and drove home.

"This is for humiliating me in front of my friends!"   I said as I dropped the creepy-crawlies into boiling salt water.   Then we ate them.

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