I wrote a column back in 1981 after watching a spectacle unfold beneath Southeast Portland's Sellwood Bridge during the Willamette River's spring chinook season. At about 11 a.m. on a weekday, a man in a white shirt and tie (his lunch break, he said later) got out of his car, parked on the old ferry ramp on the east end of the bridge. He lifted a small yellow kayak off the roof and, within a few minutes, launched himself into the river with a fishing rod and a net.
Sellwood fleet regulars knew him as "the bass plug," and, sure enough, about 20 minutes later he netted a salmon and made the paper.
At the time it was one of the quirkiest seat-of-the-pants' techniques I'd witnessed in a sport that spawns innovation.
Fast-forward three decades.
Over the past year, I've seen — or heard of — kayaks used to catch trout, bass, halibut, Dungeness crabs, lingcod, rockfish, salmon, steelhead and sturgeon (I heard of one over-sized sturgeon that took its angler on a Nantucket sleigh ride).
When the albacore tuna arrived in July, they were met by, among others, a charter boat that ferried three kayakers among its other customers, more than 60 miles offshore.
Only one of the three, Mark Veary of Hillsboro, missed his target.
"It's still on my list," he said. "All I caught was a shark."
Kayaks have turned fishing into a potential extreme sport.
But while it's often challenging (Veary, 46, has soloed several miles over the Columbia River bar for salmon), kayak fishing can also be safe. Veary spends much of his time with twin 13-year-old sons fishing Henry Hagg Lake for trout and smallmouth bass.
The trio recently fished for (catch-and-release) sturgeon in the Willamette River near Oregon City and an oversized fish towed one of the boys "half a mile downriver," Veary said. "Fortunately, it then turned and towed him halfway back. He landed and released the fish. I was very proud."
Kayaks made for fishing have seats built to sit on top, rather than inside the kayak. A special-sized space in the rear accommodates a milk crate for storage, including the catch.
Veary said he crabs with a simple light wire cage that folds and also stores the crabs in the crate. It gets a little tricky to maintain one's balance in a kayak while pulling up the pot, he said.
Rods, nets, lunch, gear, few things are tethered to the kayak, Veary said.
"If I dump, I would rather lose the rod or some gear than get tangled up in a bunch of tethers," he said.
Veary said he's confident he'll connect with a kayak-caught tuna in 2012, but is far less certain about his nemesis — a Pacific halibut, which he's been after for several years.
"It's my devil fish," Veary said.
Veary, a process engineer in the computer industry, is a member and frequent contributor to a kayak-fishing website (www.northwestkayakanglers.com) that provides a wealth of information about the basics of fishing from a kayak, as well as fishing stories and ideas about where and when to try.
He is also in demand as a speaker.
His recently gave a seminar in Hillsboro on bottomfishing and crabbing, including ocean and weather forecasts, immersion suits, communications and knowing your range.
"It's kind of a 101 class," he said. "There are some risks involved with kayak fishing, and I want everyone to realize what they are so they can be safe."