“Any other place, and this day would be a bust,” says Roy Marcum, organizer of the Angler of the Day Challenge kayak fishing tournament. “But this place is special.” He’s talking about the unique geography of Sunset Bay State Park on the southern Oregon Coast. And he’s right.
I was up early one summer morning with 40 other kayak anglers launching from a calm corner of the bay for the tournament. More experienced kayakers had already tested the waters offshore and were returning with reports of big seas. My pulse raced as I pounded into the first small rollers — foretellers of the larger ones ahead.
Luckily, Sunset Bay is a haven of sorts. It’s a bay inside a bay with layers of transitional water just a short distance from the open ocean. My confidence grew as I eased westward, and I found plenty of fishy water behind the protection of Qochyax Island. Occasionally, I felt bold enough to push myself out into open waters where some of the more experienced kayakers were shouting “Yee haw!” on the radio and calling out about a kayak fishing rodeo. I soon retreated back to more protected waters, and Sunset Bay didn’t mind at all. It’s just that kind of place.
Kayak fishing in Oregon is enjoying a surge in popularity. Beginners and families can find a friendly learning curve with a slow troll for trout or casting for bass on one of Oregon’s scenic lakes. Others follow salmon runs or sturgeon migrations along Oregon’s rivers (and some might experience the unique kayak fishing “sleigh” ride — hooking a fish so big that it actually drags your boat around). A growing number of adept kayak anglers head offshore into the ocean in search of cabezon, lingcod and the highly prized halibut.
And while a well-designed fishing kayak and specialized gear is available and encouraged, it certainly isn’t required. Armed with the proper fishing license and invasive species permit, any old ’yak can do the job. Kayak modifications and creative equipment are all part of the fun. The one constant of the kayak fishing community, however, is a deep dedication to safety. Proper safety gear and training is a common theme across the kayak angling spectrum.
If you’re trying out kayak fishing on the South Coast, you can rent gear at Waxer’s Surf Shop in Coos Bay. For offshore fishing, beginners will find a relatively easy launch behind the protection of the sandstone cliffs of Sunset Bay State Park. Slow trolling for chinook salmon can be a rewarding workout on the Umpqua, Coos or Coquille rivers. And if a calm lake calls your name, head to nearby Woahink, Siltcoos or Ten Mile lakes for bass, trout and perch.
The Angler of the Day tournament takes place in late August at Sunset Bay State Park. In July, the Oregon Rockfish Classic, a Hobie Fishing World’s Tournament, occurs out of Depoe Bay with more than 100 of the best kayak anglers in the Northwest. And the yearlong Angler of the Year tournament lets you fish anywhere you choose in the northwest giving you points for your biggest fish in 10 different categories. Find out more about these tournaments and other tips on kayak angling at NorthwestKayakAnglers.com.
My single black rockfish did not make me the angler of the day that day. But Sunset Bay made me feel like a winner. I ventured out and challenged myself on a day that would have been a bust anywhere else. This place is special indeed.