Have you ever considered the influences that helped you discover the great outdoors? Maybe it was a singular event like a memorable family camping trip or an exciting backpacking adventure with good friends.
Perhaps there was a significant mentor who influenced and introduced you to the wonders of fishing --- a friend, a parent or maybe a grand-parent who showed you the way and which end of a fishing rod catches the big ones.
Wise fishermen like Bob Toman and Bill Monroe know the value of introducing youngsters to the pleasures of the outdoors. They also know that the hour before daylight is precious and not to be wasted.
“We’ll be trollin’ in the shallow water of the upper bay at first light,” noted Toman as he and Monroe prepped the tackle and gear in pre-dawn shadows on Tillamook Bay. ”So, we want to be ready because many of these areas hold salmon that are eager to bite right out of the chute.”
Toman, a legendary Oregon fishing guide and Monroe, a respected outdoor writer, recently invited me to join a salmon fishing trip on Tillamook Bay – but not with clients or cronies.
Instead, our lucky crew consisted of their teenaged grandkids: Toman’s 14 year old grandson, Cobey Pentecost and Monroe’s 15-year old granddaughter, Kayla Grant, filled out the seating chart for a full day of fishing aboard Toman’s boat.
Bob sported a broad grin and said, “Nothing better than playin’ a little hooky from school when it’s okay and approved by mom and dad!”
“Alrighty, we’re ready to go,” noted an eager Toman, as brilliant daylight squeezed from the top of the Coast Range Mountains.
“Now, be ready!” coached Toman. “We are only a couple feet deep and it’s amazing how aggressive the salmon will hit these spinners.”
Toman’s enthusiasm for catching husky fall Chinook has not flagged one bit – even after sixty-plus years of fishing across the Tillamook estuary.
Cobey and Kayla smiled too! They clearly relished the idea of a fishing trip with their Granddads. In fact, each of the elders has long been a lead guide for each of their respective youngsters during the critical “growing up years.”
“Older guys like Bill and I get to train a younger generation,” said Toman. “It’s a hoot for us because it’s so obvious that they have the same passion we had when we were young. We nudge it along a bit whenever we can.”
In fact, Monroe and Toman made certain that their grandkids started out on the right foot when they were small fry: the two kids caught little fish and then bigger fish and then bigger stringers of fish.
The two teens can boast more fishing and hunting adventures with their Granddads than many adults could dream about.
“I started them out at a half hour and then 45 minutes or until they got bored and then it was back to the ramp,” noted Toman. “The next time it would be a little longer and now we’re to the point that they know what to expect. They can handle a rod and fight a fish. Really, it’s no longer entirely new to them.”
As the morning’s outgoing tide slowed to full ebb, Toman’s forecast of eager biters was spot-on too. Within 30 minutes, Kayla had her hands full with a 18-pound salmon.
“Kayla, come back here by me and hold that rod just a little higher,” coached Toman. “That’s cool – you’re doing great!”
The strong salmon made several hard charging runs away from the boat, but Kayla stood her spot and confidently handled the rod, reel and fish. Soon, the gleaming salmon was ready to net.
Toman did the honors – smoothly sliding the large mesh bag under the fish, pulling the handle back and lifting the fish into the boat - all in one effortless motion.
“She was right on it, never gave it any slack and it was perfect,” said Toman.
Her admiring grandfather watched the entire scene and offered: “Women (who fish) are every bit and maybe more important to the outdoor sports these days…because they’re the mothers of tomorrow. We need to teach more girls that this is fun and valuable, so they remember it for their own children someday.”
“When you teach a kid to fish,” added Toman, “they are gaining confidence because they’re doing it properly and can be rewarded for the effort. So, their enthusiasm goes way up too.”
Cobey Pentecost’s enthusiasm was impossible to mistake – he sported a mile-wide grin as he held tightly to his bouncing fishing rod that held a gleaming and powerful 20-pound salmon on the end of the line.
“Oh, grandpa – he’s way, way out there – look – his tail fin is on the surface. He looks like a shark swimming around out there.”
Bob reached for the net – and then paused: ”Kayla, do you want to net it,” he asked.
Bob showed her just how to guide the large net under the fish and close it up just right. She watched his demonstration carefully and then smiled confidently as she took hold of the long handled net.
“Parents who don’t do this sort of thing regularly but would like to try it actually have lots of options,” said Monroe. “For example, the Oregon Dept of Fish and Wildlife offers classes for all sort of outdoor recreation activities – including fishing and crabbing and clamming. There are clubs and organizations like the NW Steelheaders and the Oregon Bass and Panfish Club that offer field trips for beginners – both adults and their children. There are many ways that parents can get their children involved in the outdoors.”
After half a dozen runs away from the boat, Cobey’s salmon tired and then began to come his way.
“There you go Kayla,” said Monroe. “Underneath the fish – just like that. Now, lift and pull back. Good job!”
It was a great job! Not just the netting of the fish, but watching two Grandfathers show a commitment to share their love of the Oregon outdoors with the next generation.
Kayla was quick to offer appreciation for her Grandfather’s guidance: “He’s made me the person that I am. I mean, if he wasn’t in my life I wouldn’t be an outdoorsy girl. Every time I go with him, he teaches me and I just have to cherish that because he’s not going to be here forever.”
But the lessons weren’t complete yet! We dropped anchor and Bob moved his “class” to the bow area of his boat where he prepared a batch of his favorite recipe called “Salmon Cakes.”
“I don’t like wasting things. It’s that simple. I grew up in a world where we used what we harvested,” noted the longtime fisherman as he reached into a cooler and pulled out a salmon carcass that had already been filleted.
Toman smoothly pulled an ordinary teaspoon the length of the salmon carcass and scraped the salmon meat off the entire frame. It was amazing how much salmon he was able to collect.
“There’s a lot of meat here that the filet knife misses and this provides a tremendous amount of protein. I don’t think most fishermen even think about it, but I sure do.”
In a large bowl, Toman cracked four eggs and mixed in all-purpose batter mix and a half cup of diced onion. He added approximately 6 cups of salmon and then spooned the mixture (approx. two inches in diameter) into a hot oiled fry pan. He cooked the cakes for approximately 3-4 minutes per side until golden brown.
As he served each of us a delicious “breakfast on the bay,” his admiring grandson offered: “My grandfather has spent his whole life out here doing this kind of stuff and I always learn something new. He teaches me every time we go outdoors and I consider myself pretty lucky to have this time with him – to have a Grandpa who likes to share time with me is pretty special.”
Bob Toman’s "Salmon Cakes"
Scrape the remaining meat from a salmon/steelhead carcass for approximately 4-6 cups of salmon.
Pride of the West Batter Mix
4 eggs, one half cup diced sweet onion and ½ cup diced jalapeno pepper (optional)
In a large mixing bowl crack the 4 eggs, then stir in enough batter mix for the consistency of thick pancake batter.
Add the salmon and stir thoroughly.
Spoon the mixture in a hot oiled frying pan (about two inches in diameter) and fry until golden brown.
Optional Fish Dipping Sauce
In a bowl mix one cup of mayonnaise, enough ketchup to make the mixture the color of Thousand Island dressing and then add one teaspoon of mustard.
Mix thoroughly and serve with salmon cakes.