Boats… Like cars, I seem to go through a few of them. When I moved back to Washington, I went up to my parents’ place in Olympia and pulled out the 1969 13′ Boston Whaler, the boat I grew up with, and started using it for fishing. After getting water over the sides a few times in rough water, I realized that I needed something bigger. I took out my first ever bank loan and bought a 1989 16′ aluminum Valco Bayrunner, with late model Yamaha engines on it.

For variety of reasons, not the least of which was some stupid decisions on the part of the previous owner, this boat was not destined to last long. It cracked open a few years ago while out at sea, and had to be welded back up. While it was laid up, I bought a 19′ fiberglass Bell Boy with a Chevy/Mercruiser I/O drive. I loved this hull; it handled rough water so well, but I wasn’t too crazy about the I/O setup. My decision about this boat was made for me when I struck a submerged rock near A Jetty and tore the outdrive right off the back of the boat. Sigh…

After many months of not being able to find affordable parts to repair the Bell Boy, I put the Valco back in service and sold the Bell Boy. But last summer the Valco started cracking apart again. Aluminum doesn’t hold up too well when it gets stressed repeatedly, and the numerous rough water trips and bar crossings added up to a lot of stress for this thin-gauged, consumer grade hull, running with its maximum rated horsepower.

After the last trip in from the ocean in 2009, when we could hear things cracking and shifting around under the floor, I made a promise to the boat that I would not take her across the bar again. So I was back in the market for another “new” boat again.

New Boat

I wanted to be able to do this as cheaply as possible, and I also wanted a hull that could use the Yamaha engines that I already have. I loved the way the old Bell Boy hull had handled rough water, so I started looking around for another one of those. After some searching for a few weeks on Craigslist, I found a 1974 17′ Bell Boy hull, made to take an outboard, on a trailer, for $500, and I drove up to Blaine, WA and hauled it home.

New Boat

The basic hull was in good shape, but there was a lot of rotten interior and corroded old wiring that needed removing.

Boat Project 1

I pulled the rotten plywood seat boxes out and cut out the rotten plywood sideboards off of the inside of the hull, and basically stripped the boat down to a bare hull, windshield and floor.

Boat Project 2

There turned out to be a couple of soft spots in the floor, where water had leaked in through the screw holes that held the seats down, so I cut out the worst spots, filled the holes with polyurethane foam and marine plywood and fiberglassed over the plywood patches. This was the first time I had ever used fiberglass and epoxy, and it wasn’t as bad as I had feared.

Boat Project 3

This project went on for way more days, and made way more of a mess of my shop and driveway than I had anticipated.

Boat Project 4

After I had the hull cleaned up, I wire brushed all the loose stuff off, swept up, scrubbed the floor with acetone, and then painted the floor with Kel-Kote textured floor coating. This stuff was thick and stinky and it took over a gallon to cover the floor.

Boat Project 5

It took a long time to decide where to mount the electronics and to route the new steering cable and yards and yards of expensive marine grade wiring. More than anything else, this project turned into a serious investment in semi-precious metals: stainless steel fasteners and copper wiring.

Luckily, I still had a nearly new ICOM VHF radio and a color Garmin chartplotter/GPS/depth sounder that I had bought for the older Bell Boy. All this stuff had been sitting in the shop on a shelf for years. I did buy a new antenna for the radio, and new seats and steering gear. I was able to use the batteries from the Valco as well as the gas tanks from the Boston Whaler. This boat has a 12 gallon tank built in, but I wanted to pull it out and clean and inspect it before using it. For now, I decided to run the boat off of three 6 gallon plastic tanks. All the pole holders and a fair number of fittings and even some wiring was also salvaged from the old Bell Boy.

Boat Project 6

I cut out a piece of black locust to use as a mounting pad for the battery switch and grounding post, and epoxied it to the hull. I also ended up doing the same thing for mounting bilge pumps to the hull.

Boat Project 7

What to do about seats was another sticky problem. I ended up going with just two seats for now, since I rarely have more than one other person on board anyway. It left a lot of nice floor space which I’ve already been glad to have. I built a couple of quick plywood boxes to mount the seats on, and painted them with marine paint, which is still pretty smelly, over a month later.

Boat Project 8

Decisions about wiring and the associated connectors and wiring harness mounts took up an amazing number of hours, but in the end, I ended up with a pretty clean electrical setup all the way around. I did an awful lot of soldering…

Boat Project 9

Finally I was ready to mount the engines. This also took a lot more time than I expected, since I had to be very careful about where the kicker went, so that it would clear the transom well when steering. I ended up making a big spacer block/mount out of 2″ thick black locust for this. This is also the point where I realized that the transom near where previous kickers had been mounted had gotten some water inside. Eventually, this transom should probably get replaced, but I figure I should get at least three or four years of use before I need to undertake that project.

Boat Project 10

I finally got to put the boat in the water in late August, and everything worked as expected, on the first try!

coming home from Brookfield

There are still some things to fine tune, that’s for sure. For one thing, this boat tends to point away from the wind, and if you have to get up and go to the stern to do something like fiddle with the trolling motor, it leecocks even faster than normal. So I need a separate remote control for the kicker. And I think I will mount a fuel tank in the bow, too, to help with weight distribution and trim. It’s also a bit of a trick to carry out anchoring procedures with a closed bow. I did finally figure out a pretty clean way to do this, but it took some practice. And the trailer that this boat came on is something of an abomination. It has coil springs, and it sways back and forth and bounces around a lot. Also, the previous owner shortened the tongue to get rid of a bent part, throwing off the tongue weight and balance. So whenever I tow it, I have to disconnect the gas tanks and move them and the cooler full of ice as far forward as possible to keep the trailer from acting weird. A new trailer is in order at some point.

Overall, though, I’m pretty pleased with what I got. It’s comfortable, deep and stable and having a windshield to hide behind from spray and wind is pretty nice!


Buoy Ten

Every summer, staring in July, coho and chinook salmon start gathering up in the ocean offshore of the mouth of the Columbia River. They are getting ready to start their migration upriver, to the stream that they were born in, to lay eggs and start the cycle over again. And every August 1st, the summer river fishing season starts at Buoy Ten, near Ilwaco and the ocean.

fish face

Buoy Ten is the western boundary of the river fishery. Beyond Buoy Ten is the legendary Columbia River bar, and then the Pacific Ocean. To fish in the ocean, you have to go out past Buoy Four, which gets you out past the jetty tips and out of the worst of the turbulent waters of the bar.

underway on the ocean

I started fishing at Buoy Ten in 2004, a few months after buying my aluminum Valco Bayrunner skiff, which was the first craft I owned that was capable of handling the waters at the mouth of the Columbia River. My brother James and I caught several fish that year, fishing inside the river, behind Buoy Ten. The following year was a very good year for Columbia River salmon. Every fishing trip I took that summer was a success, bringing home at least one salmon, including several kings, or chinook. Many days I kept two, which is the limit. The fishing has not been that good since!

coho limit

crossing the bar

That summer was also the first time I decided to brave a bar crossing on my own. I had been fishing inside all day and was getting nothing, while the radio was crackling with awesome fishing reports from the vicinity of the CR Buoy, several miles outside in the ocean. The weather was mild and the waters seemed pretty flat where I was. The radio reports were saying that the bar crossing was easy, so I finally decided to give it a try. I had read several articles about bar crossing, including this one at, and so with that in mind, I headed outside, following the “red line”, or the row of red, even numbered buoys that mark the Oregon side of the shipping channel. The last one in the row of numbered buoys is number two and then it is about two and a half nautical miles to the “CR” buoy, where all the fish were supposedly being caught, about eight nm from the beach in Oregon.

CR buoy

It took just a short time that day to catch my limit of salmon, and ever since I have fished in the ocean if it is possible to get outside safely.

I have had a lot of adventures at the Buoy Ten fishery in the intervening years. My brother caught a 30 pound king one year at the CR buoy, on the same day we discovered a rather large leak in the Valco. Our desire to get back inside safely pushed us to a poorly timed bar crossing, which we survived unscathed. However, I will never forget what that water looked like as we came back across in a 16′ skiff with a bilge full of water, while the tide was still ebbing pretty hard. I have never seen water doing so many contradictory things in such a short distance!

King Salmon, August 06

The following year, in a larger fiberglass boat, I cut too close to the “A” jetty near the Ilwaco entrance and hit a submerged rock, which tore the outdrive right off the back of the boat. I started sinking immediately and fortunately was able to radio the US Coast Guard who came and towed me in to the boat ramp and helped me trailer the crippled boat. That one is still sitting in the driveway awaiting repairs, two years later. It is not easy to find old Mercruiser parts, and when you do find them, they are not cheap!


We have broken fishing poles with fish still on the line, inadvertently caught flounder when trolling too close to the bottom, and had many, many crab traps stolen by local scumbags. I took Alice out across the bar for her 13th birthday and she caught her first salmon ever, in the ocean near the CR. That day we hooked the first fish as I was letting the line out on the first pole. It literally took about eight seconds! We had two fish in less than 45 minutes.

Alice and salmon


This year, though, with my ultra-busy schedule and the extraordinary cost of gasoline and diesel, I did not fish nearly as many days down there as I have in the past. I went out in the ocean by myself for a couple of days near the middle of August and kept one nice silver, and then my brother came down near the end of August and we fished for two days, but inside the river, as the ocean was closed by then. He kept two silvers on the second day and that was it for our 2008 Buoy Ten experience. It was closed the next day, due to higher than expected catch rates on a smaller than expected run of fish.

salmon and herring

The second day I was fishing down there by myself, I took some video with the little Pentax. It was getting late in the afternoon and the northwest wind was really starting to kick up. This is the first time I’ve tried posting a video clip here. Check it out:

Now, I have gotten a lot of teasing from friends and family about the cost of my salmon habit, when measured in gallons of diesel and gasoline at $4 each. And admittedly, I have brought home some very expensive salmon over the years. But two years ago, I finally bought one of those “Little Chief” smokers from the sporting goods store, and the equation looks a lot better now. If you have to buy smoked salmon at the store, you will pay about $25/pound for it in a year when there is not a shortage of salmon. So one good sized silver, when filleted and put through the smoking process, can easily become “worth” about $200 or better. That buys a lot of gasoline!

And my salmon, smoked with alder twigs off of the land here, tastes way better than any smoked salmon you will ever find in a store! The recipe is here.

smoked salmon


The calendar says that it’s June 6th, but when I look outside, I see March, or maybe early April. Last night it rained bucketloads, and when I got up this morning, I had all kinds of new drips and leaks around the woodstove chimney. The other thing this means is that my open skiff, tied up at the dock in Skamokawa, would need to be pumped out.

When I went down to the dock, the skiff was more full of water than I had ever seen it, so I switched on the batteries, which should start the bilge pump. But today, nothing. So I went and got a bucket and started bailing out. Part way through, I realized that someone had been in my boat. The stern line was untied, and my flare box had been moved and opened. Further inspection revealed that a bunch of circuit breakers had been flipped on or off, which is why the bilge pump hadn’t come on. Someone had tried to steal my boat! The only thing that stopped them was that I had padlocked and chained it to the dock, something that I had sometimes thought was overkill for such a quiet rural area.

This is the second time in a week I have found evidence that someone has either ripped me off or tried to. About a week ago, on one of my walks up to the back of the land, I found that someone had come and stolen all of my no trespassing signs. Not just torn them down, as the slob hunters will sometimes do, but stolen them outright, leaving no trace. I also found that someone had stolen the transmission, radiator and hood off of an old pickup truck that was parked on the log landing up in back. Metal thievery has been a growing problem out here. About a month ago, someone chopped down and stole about 1200 feet of the phone line that feeds Skamokawa, leaving the whole area with no phone service for a day. A couple of weeks later, thieves stole about 1000 feet of power line that supplied a pumping station nearby. An aluminum skiff with expensive engines hanging off the back is apparently also a tempting target.

So, when I realized how close I had come to losing the skiff, I decided it was time to pull it out of the water and put it back on the trailer at home again. This sure makes it less convenient to use on short notice, but if the would-be thieves had carried bolt cutters with them, I would have no skiff at all now. So I decided to go for a little spin before I hauled it out.

This has been a cold and rainy spring, and the water level in the river shows it. The beaches have been covered with flotsam and jetsam for a couple of weeks now, and the water is fast moving and high. This channel marker has a piece of wood jammed in it at a level that is almost two feet higher than the high tide was supposed to have been lately.

Number 35 again

Normally on an incoming tide in this part of the river, the water flows upstream, backwards from normal river flow. Today, I was out in the middle of an incoming tide, yet the river was still flowing strongly out. I measured over 2 knots of current with the GPS. This pile jetty or wing dam is choked with logs and debris.

pile jetty clogged with logs

On the way home, I decided not to buck the wind chop and I took the quiet passage inside of Price Island, called Steamboat Slough. No matter how choppy it is on the main river, it is always flat and smooth in the slough.

Yamaha P60

The skiff is safely on the trailer at home now, where I can clean the algae off of the bottom, do some repairs and get the boat ready to go ocean salmon fishing when the weather gets nice. This year’s season has been sharply curtailed and moved around on the calendar, but if I’m lucky, I might be able to pick up a few fish before the season closes.

Well, it’s that time of year again, when the first big salmon fishing event of the calendar year happens, and right at my proverbial doorstep. Columbia River spring Chinook is what I’m talking about. Starting in early March, the first few spring Chinook start making their way into the river. In a “good year”, by mid-April there will be more than a thousand a day crossing the fish ladders at Bonneville Dam.

The first year I started fishing for springers was a “good year”, and I learned enough to be able to hook a dozen of these amazing fish that season, but I only landed one, a native, on the last day. The natives cannot be kept in the springer fishery, so that one went back in the river. That was in 2004. The next year, I managed to catch and keep this one. I think it was the most beautiful fish I’ve ever seen.

This was the only springer I’ve ever managed to keep. I lost two last year, one to a crafty harbor seal.

spring chinook

Springer fishing is famous for consuming one’s life, gobbling up hours of river time, gasoline and tackle and rarely producing a fish. My friend Brian at Cape Falcon Kayak told me he doesn’t believe springers actually exist.

Still, this has got to be my favorite fishery, for a lot of good reasons. The easiest to understand is that it is literally in my backyard. I live 3 miles from the river, at one of the most popular springer fishing areas, between Cathlamet and Skamokawa. So it is really easy and cheap for me to fish here. I can tie up my boat at the kayak center dock and leave it there all season, avoiding the hassle of launching and retrieving the boat every day. I can get out and fish for a couple hours whenever I can spare the time. It is a wonderful time to be on the river, as the weather is unpredictable and can provide anything from snow to rain, frost to sunshine, with a liberal helping of rain. I love it. And of course, if you ever do catch a springer, it will make all those hours worthwhile. They really are the best eating salmon.

rod and reel

There are two primary techniques for springer fishing: trolling and anchoring. When I was first starting out, I preferred to anchor up, since there was less hassle with changing depths and dodging other river traffic. Nowadays, I like trolling better, as it at least feels like I am doing something by moving around over different territory, and you can see more of the rest of the fleet and see how others are doing. It’s a little more social.


Both techniques involve a spreader and a cannonball weight of 3-6 ounces on a 2-3 foot dropper. For trolling, you add a rotating flasher of some kind, and a mooching rigged herring on a 40# leader. Use a shorter leader, maybe just a couple of feet, for cloudy water, and a longer leader for clearer water. Tweak the herring so that it spins in circles as you tow it through the water. The tricky part is keeping this rig moving along just off the bottom. The depth is constantly changing and if you aren’t near the bottom, you aren’t really fishing. If you are too close to the bottom, the weight starts bouncing and tangles your gear, and again, you aren’t really fishing. This takes constant checking and adjustment and it helps to have a good depth sounder so that you know where the bottom is. Generally, you want to be in 15-30 feet of water.

at anchor

For anchoring up, you also want to be in that 15-30 feet deep water, preferably right next to an underwater drop off, so that your gear is fishing right near an underwater “wall” on one side. The fish will tend to travel next to these walls. This technique is utilized mostly on the ebb tide, so that the outgoing water holds your gear right in the path of the fish as they are travelling upriver. You can use the herring rig for this, but most folks use a wobbling lure or spinner of some kind. Luhr Jensen’s Kwikfish is a popular choice, or a Brad’s Wobbler, or you can make your own spinners.

Either method you use, you will do a lot of waiting for something to happen.


This year, the season in this part of the river was very short, only ten days. I was working for part of it, so I only went out six times, for a few hours each. I didn’t get so much as a bite, and even when surrounded by as many as 40-50 other boats, I only saw a few fish get caught all season. No matter what the DFW says, the fishing down here was absolutely terrible, even by spring chinook standards. But even if there are only a few fish being caught, that still means somebody is going to get lucky. Today, on the last day of the season, these guys managed to catch a keeper right as I trolled past them, and I managed to get quick picture as they hauled it aboard.

And that was as close as I got to a spring Chinook in 2008.

somebody caught one!