ASTORIA, Ore. — This week, we travel to the famous salmon fishing mecca on the Lower Columbia River called “Buoy 10” to see a unique floating art gallery and meet the artist who makes fishing dreams come true.
The Buoy 10 salmon fishery is the Pacific Northwest region’s biggest angling show. Each day, hundreds of boats carry thousands of anglers to catch salmon, but not everyone comes here to fish.
Brad Baker, of Coho Design, is an artist and angler who enjoys the best of both worlds: He travels the west — from Baja to Alaska — casting lines for fun and helping boat owners build a brand.
“Buoy 10 has always been my art gallery or my showroom," Baker said. "This time of year, there are so many guides and customers here whose boats I’ve wrapped so it’s kind of neat running into them.”
Baker is the wrapper who designs and installs creative boat-boards that make a statement about the owner.
For more than two decades, Baker has created colorful backgrounds, imaginative overlays and super-sized fonts to satisfy the growing fish guiding business. He's a wrapper who really knows his beat,
“I don’t always remember the names, but I remember the wraps," he said. "Sometimes I’ll forget how long ago I did the wrap. I’ll think it’s been 10 years and it’s been 15 years. I mean, some of these wraps have been on from 20 years ago, believe it or not.”
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PHOTOS | Colorful boat designs
“It protects the boat for one and advertisement for the guide service too,” said guide Evan Lafky. “I get phone calls off of it and when you’re catching fish, people see that, and I think it’s good for the business.”
The transition from computer design to a giant printer uses a special 3M vinyl that protects against sunlight and salt air and puncture.
“There are micro beads of adhesion that rupture when I press down with my squeegee," Baker said. "That releases the adhesive and it seals a bond with the boat. It is fantastic material that really revolutionized the wrapping industry.”
Baker is a Portland kid whose love affair with fishing opened the outdoors. Plus, his mom was an artist so drawing and painting came easy.
“I went to art school in New York City with a major in fine arts graphic design and illustration," he said. "I’ve done some landscape painting, still life art and done some sculptures over the years — do a little bit of everything.”
Baker said each wrap means hours — even days — filled with design, printing and application. Everything is done from scratch.
“When I was getting started, it was trial and error and I learned the hard way. I remember one of my first wraps I did outside and had the whole thing on the boat and started to squeegee it down when a big gust of wind blew the whole thing right off the boat.”
Baker has wrapped more than 2,000 boats, so he’s a well-known figure at the Buoy 10 mecca.
“They want the boat to look great," he said. "They want to be on the water and have people notice and say, ‘Wow, look at that wrap. That guy must know what they’re doing and must have their A-Game on the water.'”
So, do wraps catch more fish?
“Oh yeah,” said the longtime artist with a sly smile. “I always tell my customers that each wrap comes with fishing mojo and they can expect to catch way more fish. Sometimes it works, but it’s my selling point. The wrap is free, but the fishing mojo is expensive. That’s what you pay for.”
Be sure to follow my Oregon adventures via the Grant’s Getaways podcast. Each segment is a story-telling session where I relate behind the scenes stories from four decades of travel and television reporting.
You can also learn more about many of my favorite Oregon travels and adventures in the Grant’s Getaways book series, including:
"Grants Getaways I," Photography by Steve Terrill
"Grant's Getaways II," Photography by Steve Terrill
“Grant’s Getaways: 101 Oregon Adventures,” Photography by Jeff Kastner
“Grant’s Getaways: Guide to Wildlife Watching in Oregon,” Photography by Jeff Kastner
“Grant’s Getaways: Oregon Adventures with the Kids,” Photography by Jeff Kastner
The collection offers hundreds of outdoor activities across Oregon and promises to engage a kid of any age.
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