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.”

Sherry Hobbs says she’s ‘not jealous’ of husband Bill’s 17-foot fishing boat, even though he runs to see the boat before her when he comes off the road.

Hobbs had owned his own trucks, but today says he’s a 100 percent dedicated company driver and loving it. “I don’t have to worry anywhere near as much as I did. In this business, it pays to know what you want to be, and I know I want to be a company driver. I don’t have to worry about forced dispatch with Sammons, and I don’t go where I don’t want to go. Like New York City. Well, sometimes they need me to go and I’ll go, but they return the favor. No more owning a truck for me.”

This year, the peak offshore salmon season is expected to hit in the third week of September. Another run will come in late March or early April.

Hobbs’ salmon fishing is a success these days largely because of his close friendship with fishing guide Russ Morrow, who runs Wild West Fishing Adventures in Portland.

“I fished for two years and got pretty much nothing,” says Hobbs. “Then I spent a year fishing with Russ. Different story these days. I’m catching them now.”

Hobbs fishes mainly with bait, especially herring, spinners and various lures. He’s using medium to heavy test on his lines, usually a 70-pound test that will handle 100 pounds, he says.

He gets most of his lures from the Fisherman’s Marina in Oregon City. “Those guys are great, they know these waters, set up poles; they’re top of the line,” he says. “My rods and reels are not the top of the line; that’s way too expensive. I don’t have $500 to spend on a rod. But as a guide, Russ has the best of everything. He lets me use his stuff. It’s like going from a Volkswagen to a Cadillac. I go fishing with him as often as I can.”

Hobbs and his wife Sherry moved to Portland from Montana when Sherry’s brother and sister moved ahead of them.

“I wasn’t crazy about it at first; it rains a lot, but you adapt,” he says. “When I came here, I had a boat without a top. Now my boat has a top. Now I don’t mind the rain at all. No matter how hard it’s coming down, I’ll go fishing in it.”

Despite his caution, Hobbs has been caught offshore in dangerous situations.
“The weather can change so quickly. If you don’t keep an eye on it all the time you can be caught in a heartbeat. You turn around, and there’s fog and you’re in it, or rain so hard you can’t see through it, or waves that can swamp you.”

On Father’s Day this year nine people died, two are still missing and eight survived when a charter fishing boat was sunk by a huge wave as it tried to cross the sand bar at the entrance to Tillamook Bay, a regular haunt of Hobbs.

Offshore, one huge wave nearly did it for Hobbs.

“I was out there and suddenly there was a 20-foot wave coming at me, and it was coming over me. I couldn’t get out of the way,” he says. “I tell you, it damned near took the boat and me. It came over the bow and was going over the top of the boat, and I was going under it and probably going under for good.

“So I just punched the throttle and slammed it hard down. It’s a two-stroke engine, and it has instantaneous power, so the boat jumped forward and crashed straight through the wave, and I came out the other side over 20 feet of nothingness. She shot out and then just fell.”
When Hobbs’ boat slammed back into the water, he was, amazingly, unharmed and afloat.
“The Coast Guard sits out there when there are people fishing because they know how quickly things can happen. And they came flying up to me in a Zodiac [inflatable boat], and they were shaking their heads, wondering how I managed to stay afloat.”

When Hobbs comes back from the Pacific on his last fishing day before he heads out on the road again and docks in the fresh water of the marina on the Columbia, he backs the boat down the ramp until the outboard is in the water and runs the motor until it is out of gas.
“That way I can store it clean and without any fuel in, and she’s ready to go when I get home.”

Bill Hobbs finds some time off from ‘honey-dos’ and fishing to get the Volvo cleaned-up for another run.

And, says Sherry, “he’ll also scrub and wax it until it looks new. It’s his pride and joy.” Sherry doesn’t share her husband’s passion for the Pacific. She got caught in rip tides growing up in Virginia Beach, Va., and doesn’t go out on the ocean anymore, but she’ll fish with Bill on lakes.

Hobbs will fish anywhere, she says. “It’s important to him, and when he comes off the road I think he just needs to do it. If he’s back two days, it’s a day for me and a day for fishing,” she says. “But after he’s been fishing I can see a change in him; he’s more relaxed, more mellow, and I think it does him the world of good to be out there.

“I drove with him for a year, and I know how much it takes out of a driver’s body and how mentally draining it is. It’s a hard life. Fishing is his relaxation; it’s the way he gets rid of everything that built up on the road trip. It’s healthy for him.

“I do get scared when he’s out there sometimes, though. I tell him to wear his life jacket, but I don’t think he does.”

This month when he goes fishing, Bill Hobbs is making it a company and family affair. He’s going fishing after the big salmon with another Sammons driver. They’re taking their wives, and they’ll enjoy all their mornings and evenings together. But during the day the truckers and just one trucker’s wife will head out into the Pacific.

“He’ll love every minute of his fishing, and I’ll go exploring,” Sherry says. “In the evening we’ll swap stories.”


Off-Duty Destinations
Dallas-Area State Parks

So many of you are heading to the Great American Trucking Show later this month we figured there well might be one or two of you with nothing to do a day or so either side of the event. Why not go fishing, Texas style? Around Dallas (in places where overnighting is easier and cheaper than in Big D) are some state parks loaded with game fish and one attraction an angler shouldn’t miss, the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center.

The TFFC is an innovative aquatic nature center and hatchery operated by the Texas Wildlife and Parks Department. The center calls itself “an outdoor classroom bursting with information on the diversity and beauty of the aquatic ecosystems” of Texas. There’s all kinds of fish, a dive show auditorium, more than 300,000 gallons of aquariums and a fishing museum. It also has a stocked pond where you can catch and release, and the center supplies rods, reels and bait for free. The center is on FM 2495, four miles east of Athens, southeast of Dallas, or call ahead at (903) 676-BASS.

There’s five miles of shoreline for bank fishing, especially for catfish and bass, at Lake Tawakoni State Park, 50 miles east of Dallas, which opened just last year. From I-20 take State Highway 47 north through Wills Point to FM 2475 and continue for about four miles. Or call (903) 560-7123.

The Governor Hogg Shrine is in Quitman, near Tyler. Named for the state’s first Texas-born governor (1891-5) it is the only state park with three museums: the Stinson Home, where Hogg was married; the Honeymoon Cottage, the Hogg’s first home; and the Miss Ima Hogg museum (yes, that’s what they named her). Take U.S. 69 north from Tyler to Mineola, then State Highway 37 north for about eight miles to Quitman or call (903) 763-0405.

Cedar Hill State Park is 15 miles southwest of Sulphur Springs, so close to Dallas the city’s nighttime skyline reflects in the park’s lake. Cedar Hill features Penn Farm, a look at farm life and agricultural machinery in the days when horses and mules were being left behind. The park is 10 miles southwest of Dallas, four miles southeast of Grand Prairie and three miles west of Cedar Hill on FM 1382, or call (972) 291-5940.

Cooper Lake State Park in northeast Texas offers shoreline fishing for a variety of fish including largemouth bass, catfish (channel, blue and flathead), crappie, bluegill and white and hybrid striped bass. There are actually two parks, so call ahead at (903) 945-5256 to find the one for you and directions.

A Texas fishing license will run you about $20, and there are additional stamp fees for some species. License information is at (800) 792-1112. To find out more about state parks around Dallas, call (800) 792-1112 or go to www.tpwd.state.tx.us/park.

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