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Last weekend’s Oregon Rockfish Classic was one of my toughest tournament fishing days ever. Even more so than the Lake Harding event in Georgia a couple years ago. I planned on fishing right out front of Depoe Bay on the north reef. This is where the previous two ORC winning fish came from. I figured it could produce again. I certainly wasn’t going to make any back breaking, 14 mile trips to nowhere like I did last year.

I woke up at the ORC headquarters at Chinook Bend Resort around 3:45am. It was about the same time as I had woken up the last two years. I was surprised to find that half campground was already awake. In years past, it had just been me. I changed quickly into what I was going to be needing under my dry suit and headed off to Depoe. While I wasn’t the first awake, I hadn’t noticed anyone else had left yet. I could still be the first one the water.

No such luck. At the boat launch in Depoe Bay were several others getting their kayaks rigged up. Once I had my Cuda loaded and ready to go, I think I was the fourth out on the water. That’s still not too bad. I don’t understand my desire to be the first on the water, but it’s something I always seem to try and do.

I paddled the Cuda through The Hole at Depoe and started fishing as soon as I cleared the kelp beds. I had a few marks on the sonar and I knew it would be good to put the first fish on the boat right away to take the skunk off. I did the same thing last year and it ended up being the only fish I caught. It didn’t take long for me to get a shake on the line and I pulled up a small sculpin. Again. The skunk is off, it was likely the first fish caught in the tournament (again), now to get a bit more serious. I released the fish and kept on fishing. I had a good drift going. I was heading out, parallel but avoiding the main navigation channel. I just kept my eye on the North Reef and continued on the drift.

There was some fishy water here. Great rocks and structure. But no bites. I didn’t know what what going on. I certainly should have had something worth holding onto by now. I brought my line in and decided to make a move. It was time to head out a bit and fish the outside of the North Reef. The fog was moving in, and I decided it would be best to keep close, just as I had planned. I watched the reef rise and then fall again under my sonar. I could see there were a lot more folks fishing this same area. There was certainly a lot more pressure here, and the fog was making it fun too.

But then I noticed something that I didn’t when I was paddling. I know I would have felt this in other kayaks, but my Jackson Cuda had me cruising right along against a pretty stiff current. It didn’t take long once I stopped paddling, though, to find my myself moving backwards about nearly two miles per hour. That is not good. Others around me had the same problem. We all did. This was definitely one of the worst days for ocean currents that I had experienced.

I spent a couple hours wasting my time outside of the North Reef. It went something like this: paddle up, drop down the PK Panic jig, drift way back, snag, fight to free snag, free snag, drop down the jig, drift way back, snag, fight to free snag, retrieve jig, paddle up, repeat. It was horrible. After what was probably less than 10 minutes of effective fishing, but a couple hours on the clock, I moved back inside the North Reef to continue fishing.

Things on the inside changed as well. The current had picked up here too, and changed direction. Instead of an easterly drift, I was now running a southerly drift. The direction wasn’t too difficult to deal with, but the speed was. Granted, things were moving slower, but was enough to still cause snags. Fortunately they weren’t as inevitable as they were outside in the faster stuff. I decided this was the place for me to stay. I now had to really focus on my gear. The Cuda was getting me around just fine, actually, awesomely. My sonar was working, and I knew where I was fishing. It was time to address how I was fishing. I had picked up a couple small lingcod but nothing of substantial size. Barely legal just wasn’t going to cut it. I kept passing over schools of rockfish, but I couldn’t get any of them to commit.

I’ve been running the exact same jig and double-dropper loop setup for the last year, with the exact same red-dot-glow PK Panic and the exact same small squid hootchies on the droppers. Yes, the same setup has been on that rod for a year. I guess it was time to switch it up a bit. I turned around in my seat and reached for my big saltwater box inside my NRS Tailwater crate. I continued to use a double-dropper right, but this time went with the standard shrimp flies. I traded out my red-dot-glow jig for a Firetiger.

On the first drop. Bam! Finally, another fish on again. I was in just about 20 feet of water–the shallowest I’ve been all day. This fish finally had enough tug on it that I knew it’d be worth keeping for the weigh in. Finally to the surface, an 8 pound cabezon. Awesome. It’s not the biggest cabezon I’ve seen but fishing is tough, I thought it would compete.

Eventually I grew tired of fighting the growing current. I was spending more time paddling and less time fishing. I decided to pull the plug and head in. Just as I was thinking I was the first to return, I found that a few others had called it quits too. There were several kayaks on top of cars and on trailers. At the Kayak Shed weigh in, I learned my lil 8 pound cab wasn’t going to be enough. A gentleman from Texas had a 15 pounder. Ug. That 15 pound fish would make it most of the day until Michael came up with just minutes left with a nearly 20 pound lingcod. A bruiser for sure and well worth winning.

A lot of folks got their chance to check out the Jackson Kayak Cuda for the first time. Many were quite impressed. While they thought I had it rigged up pretty well, I had to keep pointing out that all I had done was install a single rod holder and a fish finder. The rest of the kayak was just as it came from the factory. Drew Gregory at Jackson had already thought up most of the rigging and included it in the kayak.

In the end, I didn’t even make it to the top 10. A lot of 10-11 pound lings and cabbies were checked in. Old buddy of mine that I used to fish with, Michael Rischer, pulled off the 11th-hour win with a 19 pound ling. Back at HQ, the food (fish fry) was great as was all the other great food to be had.