Sunday — May 22, 2016 — 8-9 a.m.
My son, Jamie, and I secured Wilbert, our 12’ skiff, to a piling at the north side of Coos Bay across from the Charleston boat harbor entrance. We intended to fish the incoming and then slack tide and were hoping to catch surf perch, kelp greenlings (sea trout), rockfish, and perhaps, if lucky, a lingcod. It was a beautiful, calm morning and the rain forecasted had moved north instead.
Almost immediately, we noticed a harbor seal milling about, sometimes as close as 20 feet. We knew our chances of catching fish would be minimized by this guy hanging around. So we talked to him. We don’t know that it was a “him,” but it sufficed. “Hey Buddy,” Jamie would say. “What are you doing?” Having this close encounter with nature made up for (sort of) the lack of fish. And we did catch one surf perch in about 15 minutes despite “his” presence. If things didn’t change, it was going to be a slow morning fishing an area we knew from scuba diving was loaded with fish.
Then we heard the “Whoosh!” of a whale’s blowhole across the bay and turned our heads to see whales surfacing just northeast of the Charleston harbor entrance. The sound was quickly followed by hoots of excitement by the two small boats in close proximity. Three whales were intermittently surfacing on their swim into Coos Bay. Jamie thought they were killer whales, but I wasn’t sure. They didn’t surface again after a minute or two, so we assumed they were continuing into the bay.
Back to fishing. The seal had disappeared and the fish started biting. One after another we reeled in surf perch and kelp greenling until another “Whoosh!” sounded close by. This time we turned our heads towards the northeast where we had set two crab pots about 75 feet away. The whales seemed to be checking them out. There was a mom and baby killer whale, followed by a male a short distance behind them. After checking out the crab pots, they skirted around us on their way back out of the bay, coming as close as 50 feet and surfacing often. With our motor off and not moving, they seemed to want to check us out as much as we wanted to get to know them. Unfortunately, another boat in the area decided to come investigate. My shouts of “stay back, you can’t get near them” seem to fall on deaf ears. His arrival made them duck down for good.
By that time the tide had started to go out. With the current picking up, still elated by seeing the whales, we decided to call it a morning. Our crab pots were fine. The whales had just taken a look. And they yielded five nice Dungeness crabs and two huge red rock crabs (my favorite) in an hour’s time. Not only had we just had an incredible close up encounter with a small family of killer whales, but we were going back with a bounty.
The Sunday before I was out of town for Mother’s Day, a big mistake on my part. But Mother’s Day can be any day of the year and as Jamie and I gorged on fresh crab and Empire Bakery sourdough bread later that night, we officially called Sunday, May 22, Mother’s Day for this year. It couldn’t have been a better day. And I couldn’t have a better son.
And our catch for the day: