Hooked on Salmon

| April 07, 2005

Bill Hobbs says this salmon – which weighed more than 50 pounds – ran his reel out of line three times and completely wore him out.

Just how much does trucker Bill Hobbs love fishing for heavyweight wild salmon in some of America’s trickiest, potentially dangerous ocean waters?

“When I get back from weeks on the road, I kiss the boat, then I kiss the wife,” he says.
Sherry Hobbs confirms her husband’s story: “When he comes home after four weeks out and gets out of the truck, the first thing he does is go see the boat. He pats it and pets and climbs over it. I’m standing there calling him, ‘C’mon, get in here and kiss me instead of that boat.’ I’m not jealous of her, though,” she says, laughing.

Hobbs, 45, who lives “in the sticks” outside of Portland, Ore., runs the lower 48 for Sammons Trucking of Missoula, Mont. His favorite salmon fishing grounds are offshore from the Oregon coast. And he’s getting set to go right now because late September is the peak time for him when it comes to salmon.

“The Pacific off the mouth of the Columbia is my prime place,” he says, “but I don’t go out very far. I keep land in sight, and I have a marine radio and a GPS system on board.

Growing up on the Yellowstone River in Montana, Hobbs fished mostly for trout before he discovered salmon. “After supper we’d all go down to the river to fish,” he says. “But once I started salmon fishing I left the trout behind. Salmon are really very exciting, great fighting fish, and they get the adrenaline going. It’s a rush when they hit and run, when a 30-, 40- or 50-pound fish hits the line, screams and the reel is smoking. They’re hard to hold.

“I hooked a 52-pounder one time and fought him for over an hour. He ran all of my line full out three times, and I had to chase him with the boat to get line back on the reel. I was a wore out bad boy, and my arms felt like they were on fire when I finally got him on board.”
Hobbs says he carries poles, reels and everything necessary for fishing with him in the truck, and he’ll fish for anything when he’s on the road. Back home, if the salmon aren’t there he’ll fish for sturgeon in late July or early August or go looking for steelheads. Every so often he’ll take the boat up into lake country and look for trout.

Hobbs’ offshore boat is a 17-foot wide bottom Smoker Craft, the Osprey DLX model, well suited for the rigors of the waters he fishes. “Stevens Marina in Milwaukie, Ore., that’s out where I put the boat into the water, set it up especially for me. They put what we call up here a Columbia River prop on her. The motor is a 50 horsepower Force, but they changed the pitch of the blades and added an extra blade. It gives me an extra 12 miles an hour, but it also gives me a lot more torque in high currents. I can get up and plane and skim across the water very quickly. She planes so well I can run her in 18 inches of water.”

The bow is considered ideal for handling the current and swells offshore and the live well, at 26 gallons, can handle the big fish. In fact the well holds two more gallons than the gas tank. The boat has a 91-inch beam, and she’s built to hold six people.

“People have gotten into trouble offshore in powerful currents because they can’t get up on plane and sort of wallow in the current, and that takes away a lot of their maneuverability and power,” Hobbs says. “I had a smaller boat and motor, but it really wasn’t the boat for these conditions. It wasn’t that it was uncomfortable; I needed more size for safety out there. Fishing Tillamook Bay, the mouth of the Columbia or Nehalem Bay, I thought I was a goner a couple of times out there. You need the horses when you fish the mouth of the Columbia or anywhere on the Oregon coast.”

Hobbs has been a trucker for 24 years and today drives a 99 Volvo VN 610 pulling a flatbed. He says the main reason he works for Sammons is that “it gives me the ability to do what I want to do when I want to do it.”

“When the salmon come in, you’ve got about a 10-day window. When my friends call me and say the salmon are coming, I call Sammons and I’m home in five days. There are a bunch of us crazy fisherman who are with Sammons for that reason, and when the season starts you’ll see four or five of our tractors parked at the marina.”

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