Angler embarks on 'Big Fishing Year'
VANCOUVER, Wash. — At midnight on New Year's Day, Tyler Hicks was drifting lures that glow in the dark for steelhead on the North Fork of the Lewis River. He was a man starting an unusual quest.
Hicks, 32, a Ridgefield resident, is making 2014 his "Big Fishing Year." He's trying to see how many species of fish and shellfish he can harvest in Washington and Oregon in the 12-month period.
His tally so far: 78 species.
And he's doing most of his angling from a kayak.
"I decided I wanted to do an adventure after slaving away in grad school for several years staring at a computer and being in the office all the time," said Hicks, who works for himself as a consultant on issues involving endangered plants and insects.
"One of the things I learned in grad school is I can live on $30,000 really comfortably."
Hicks did not catch a steelhead in the pre-dawn of New Year's Day. But around daylight, he moved upstream to Speelyai Bay Recreation Area, launched his kayak and had species No. 1 — a kokanee — before 9 a.m.
A Kansas native, Hicks has fished more than 85 days and put 9,700 miles on his Subaru Outback so far this year on his mission.
"Gas has been the biggest expense of the year without a doubt," he said.
He's been a birdwatcher since the age of 10. Birders are no strangers to the "big year" concept of spotting a bundle of species in a given time frame.
Hicks started mulling the "big year" possibilities in September 2013. When he bought a pedal-driven fishing kayak in October he was committed to the adventure.
In November, he spent time researching where, when, and how to catch species and developed a plan, including a Top 10 list of targets.
"The only gear I really had was salmon and steelhead gear, lures and tackle," he said. "I started looking at ways to minimize my cost by trying to see what lures I could use to target a diverse number of species."
Yakima Bait Co. helped Hicks.
"They heard about my big fishing year and they sponsored me and donated a lot of lures, which really helped a lot," he said.
Three recent additions to his list are canary, widow and yellowtail rockfish caught out of Garbaldi on a boat owned by a friend.
One of the rules he established was no use of guides on his quest. Hicks documents each species with a photograph.
He has a website chronicling his year at www.bigfishingyear.net.
His immediate goal is to mop up some warm-water species he's missed before the temperatures drop.
He caught species No. 78 — a channel catfish — recently on the lower John Day River.
Particularly with warm-water species, there often has been a lot of sorting through fish to get the target species, he said. He sorted through more than 200 bullhead in pursuit of a channel catfish.
Hicks has made a couple of excellent catches, including a 3-pound, 6-ounce redtail surf perch from the Pacific Ocean at Long Beach and a sea-run cutthroat trout exceeding 24 inches from the North Fork of the Lewis River.
The surf perch is only a few ounces short of the state record.
He'll also soon be off to Puget Sound to catch a chum salmon, octopus and some bottomfish species. He plans a trip to Lake Cle Elum, a Yakima River reservoir, for burbot.
Hicks has accepted that he's unlikely to catch a tiger musky or an arctic grayling.
In July, he bushwhacked with his wife on an overgrown, old, all-terrain-vehicle trail for 8 miles including a dangerous stream crossing to get to Upper Granite Lake to fish for grayling.
"All the lakes that we passed on the way up were wide open," he said. "We got to Upper Granite, and it was 100 percent iced over. It was pretty brutal. It was utterly disappointing."
Hicks' kayak goes atop his Subaru, in which he has slept in the back many nights.
"There's no way I could afford to own a power boat and trailer it around with a Subaru Outback," he said.
However, the kayak is vulnerable to weather.
He turned the kayak over in a dangerous episode in the Columbia River near St. Helens. He has lost two rods and reels in his adventure.
Hicks is toying with another quest, this one entitled "The King and I."
It will involve trying to catch chinook salmon using as many different techniques and tactics as possible.
He often gets two or three emails a day from anglers who learn of his quest and want to help, often by providing a boat.
"I've met a lot of really great guys that I would have never met if not for the big fishing year," Hicks said. "It's been a really great experience."