Bottom Fish For The Palate

Some of the finest eating fish in the Pacific Ocean can be found feeding on rugged reefs/piles of rocks, jutting up from the bottom of the ocean. These fish are loosely classified as “bottom fish.”

The 6-ounce lead-head jig bounces twice on the rocky bottom, some 70 feet below the choppy surface of the Pacific Ocean. I lift the tip of the 9-foot, 4-inch Castaway rod and feel the heavy tug of a fish. I come back hard, and the rod arches half-way to the surface. This is a heavy lingcod. “Fish on.”

Dennis Koskela with 22-pound lingcod.

We are fishing about five miles out of Newport, Oregon. Donald Koskela, of Pastime Fishing Adventures, Sublimity, Ore., has fished this reef many times.

Koskela has invited me and Wayne Parker, of Good Day Fishing, Salem, Ore., to join him and his daughter, Quin, for a day of bottom fishing. It is mid-March, and we are hoping to find lingcod spawning on one of the reefs in the area.

We had heard of lingcod and sea bass limits being caught recently. Koskela has studied reports from NOAA and SailFlow on weather/water conditions for today.

“Conditions should be OK this morning,” he explains. “Wind is expected to build by afternoon. We get out at first light and should have limits by noon.”

Winds Come Early
We cross over the Yaquina Bay bar and a biting southwest wind hits us in the face. We head south for one of Koskela’s favorite reefs, some five miles away.

We hunker close behind the windshield as the 20-foot Alumnaweld knifes through a heavy 3- to 4-foot windchop. The trusty GPS guides us to this “mountain of rock” 70- to 100 feet below the surface, surrounded by depths of 200- to 300 feet.

Koskela points to the GPS screen. “These are waypoints where I have hooked fish before,” he explains. “The key is to start on one side of the reef and bounce these jigs along the bottom as the current/drift pushes us across the rocks. The wind is going to push us pretty fast today.”

An assortment of bottom fishing lead-head jigs.

An Ill Wind Blows
With the stern into the wind, we quickly spool out line to make contact with the bottom. Six ounces of lead touches the bottom one or two times then nothing. Wind chop is pushing us too fast. We reel in, Koskela fires up the 9.9 Honda kicker and runs it in reverse to slow us down. We are able to make better contact with the bottom.

Koskela lands a ling just under the legal limit of 22 inches. Parker misses one, I hook and lose one. Koskela marks a waypoint each time we hook a fish. Then we are off the reef into deep water.

Do It Over And Over
We reel in, run back to the “top side” of the reef and start over again. We continue these drifts over the next hour. Wind continues to build making fishing more difficult. We are bouncing so much it is not safe for Parker and I to stand. As Koskela jokingly puts it, “We don’t need two 200-plus-pound, human bowling balls crashing around on deck.” It is too rough for tiny little Quin to fish.

Moving so fast results in numerous hook-ups on rocks and ledges resulting in lost jigs. Koskela struggles to make our drift over waypoints, where we have hooked fish. We hook two or three larger fish that immediately bury themselves behind a ledge and break off. We release five or six undersize lings, and have four keepers and two seabass in the box by 9:30.

A couple of wind waves crash over the stern of the boat. We begin to see waves break around us, like pinnacles of white tipped mountains.

“One more drift and time to go,” Koskela almost yells, above the din of the wind and waves.

A Big Lingcod
Last drift, and I’m hooked up with this heavy fish. Fighting a fish, with the wind and current pushing us, strains gear and weary arms. Finally, to the net, and Koskela scoops up a 30-plus-inch, 14-pound ling. We exchange high fives as Koskela bounces around the deck like a drunken sailor. We will eat well tonight.

The author with a 14-pound lingcod.

Time to run for cover of the bay. There are fish here to be caught, but the water has become too rough. It is rapidly becoming dangerous.

Rough seas can become a major factor in bottom fishing. Studying reports from NOAA and Sailflow are crucial.

Halibut Fishing
Halibut also live on the bottom of the ocean. Fishing for them is basically doing the same type of drifting and bouncing along the bottom. Here are some basic differences:

1. You will be fishing in deeper water — 300- to 400 feet.

2. You will need heavier gear, up to two pounds of lead. Bouncing two pounds of lead at 400 feet becomes work. Reeling a 40- to 50-pound fish from 400 feet is a major challenge!

3. Bringing a 30-plus-pound halibut on board can be dangerous. Wildly bouncing flat fish in a boat have been known to break various items on board, including legs of anglers. Halibut should be “dispatched” by a gun or harpoon before bringing one on board.

Donald Koskela with jig-caught halibut.

Seasons
Halibut seasons vary and quotas are strictly controlled. Regulations may change at any time. Anglers should keep abreast of current regulations.

Where To Find Halibut
Popular halibut grounds are common knowledge at any port along the Pacific. Areas such as: Chicken Ranch, Stonewall Banks and Rock Pile are well known spots along the central Oregon coast. Most marinas or tackle shops will have this information.

Bottom fishing can be enjoyed year-round, weather permitting, when seasons for other species such as salmon are closed. It’s a matter of having the right gear, studying the regulations, and putting in the effort.

Making The Trip
For more information contact:
Donald Koskela
Pastime Fishing Adventures
503-767-2792
www.pastimefishingadventures.com

Bob Buckman, ODFW Biologist
2040 Se Marine Science Drive
Newport, OR 97365
971-673-6081

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