In 1977 when he was just 13, Terry Evers began commercial fishing for salmon in a 22-foot dory.
That fishery is gone now, but Evers brings it back to life in “Fifteen Seasons,” a memoir of the 15 summers he spent with his father, Bruce, in both harsh weather and good times, fishing for salmon out of Yaquina Bay. Terry and his dad lived at home in Salem with their family during the school year but spent the summers in South Beach.
Realizing there was more to the industry than just fishing, Terry chronicled their adventures from the late ‘70s to the early ’90s in his newly published book.
“Something that was important to me was preserving the small-boat commercial fishing scene in Newport that seems to be vanishing from memory as the town has changed so much in the last 20-plus years,” Terry said.
Contributing to the sense of times past, when dory fishing was a major part of the Newport Bayfront, each chapter of Evers’ “Fifteen Seasons” starts with a playlist of songs popular at the time, beginning in the summer of 1977.
By 1979, Evers was totally immersed in dory fishing. He wrote, “The challenge ahead was to figure out to what extent I wanted it to be part of my life, and how I could make that happen.”
Evers would eventually turn down the idea of college and instead enlist in the Coast Guard, literally keeping close to the water even when he could not be fishing. But just as the salmon fishery changed, Evers’ plans did as well, and after the Coast Guard, he enrolled in college to become an elementary school teacher — albeit remaining a dory fisherman in the summers.
Bruce Evers had been a teacher and was selling textbooks when he decided to buy a dory to fish out of Newport. He invited Terry to fish with him, and that purchase changed both of their lives.
“We had a special bond that developed over that special experience,” Terry said. “I owe the world to him — he changed my life, and I’m glad he did.”
The dory fishery has disappeared in Yaquina Bay, although a dory fleet still braves the waves from the beach in Pacific City. But strict limits on commercial salmon fishing, harsh weather, and growing older have consigned Yaquina Bay’s dory fleet to memory.
Today, Terry has 33 years under his belt as a teacher. He currently teaches STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classes in Sherwood and lives in Keizer.
And while he rarely fishes, he has a trove of fond memories of the days when dory fishermen commercial fished for salmon out of Yaquina Bay.
Before his father bought the dory, he had taken Terry charter fishing a couple of times. “Dad took me trout fishing in the mountains and jetty fishing too, and we would go to the Embarcadero fishing dock with crab pots before he ever bought the boat,” Terry recalled. But he never planned a fishing career.
Terry said fishing became quite restrictive as the years passed. He said that catching coho from small boats like dories was the bread and butter for the fishermen in the early years but became harder as time passed and the catch got smaller. Catching chinook was difficult, he said, noting that catch could vary greatly from year to year.
He married in 1987, and after his first daughter was born and the coho season was cut, Terry found it did not make sense financially to continue fishing. “Every year we would have to evaluate it,” he said. “The fishery was a shell of what it was after 1991.
“There used to be a big fleet of day fishing boats in Newport in the summer in the ‘70s — roughly 100 dories at the peak,” Terry said, noting they would go out about 14 miles. “It had dwindled greatly by 1984, when the seasons were restricted. It would pick up and then trickle down. Since about 1992 it became really hard for the smaller boats to make money.”
As he wrote in a 1992 chapter, “the small-boat fishing industry was at a low point. Coho were officially deemed a sport fish.”
Terry also writes about what he terms the “Bayfront vibe” and said, “it’s a lot different there now. There’s a whole generation that will never know what it was like. I wanted to write about that fishing culture and the people who made that up.”
Terry said most of the people and boats he mentions in the book are real. “I got in touch with almost everybody,” he said. “Dad would be thrilled to know I had found them.
“People from all walks of life were fishing,” he added. “It was the latter era of the hippies and a lot of people from all over were converging on the Bayfront. It was much less touristy — Undersea Gardens was really the only tourist attraction.
“Newport was really a fishing town — sport and commercial salmon ruled,” he said. “The small boats would come back each summer and then the fishermen would go back to their other lives each fall.”
Terry said he was probably the youngest dory fisherman in Newport. By the time he graduated from high school, he was fishing alone on occasion, and by the mid ‘80s, did so quite a bit.
“I got used to it,” he explained. “You just went out and did it. I had the confidence that it would work out — and I always came back!” But he acknowledges that once he had children, he realized how his mother must have felt with him on the dory in all kinds of weather.
As much as it is a tribute to a way of life that won’t be returning, “Fifteen Seasons” is also a tribute to Terry’s father, who died in 2016.
“A big part of the book is my relationship with my dad,” Terry said. “And it’s also about keeping the knowledge of the heritage of the dory culture alive.”
He rarely fishes now, but enjoys kayaking. “I had the intent to fish but right now I’ve moved on to other things,” he said. He has never taken his two daughters, now grown, commercial fishing.
But he misses the camaraderie and the culture of the dory fishing years. “It may have been the greatest job I ever had,” he said. “It was just a fantastic experience. And it’s come and gone and we’ll never see it again.”
He added, “It’s all because of my dad that we did this. He took a leap of faith.”
“Fifteen Seasons” is published by Dancing Moon Press and was a four-year project. “I know my dad would be thrilled,” Terry said. “It’s a nice piece of family history.“
He hopes to schedule readings in coastal bookstores and possibly libraries, and said his book is currently available on Amazon in paperback for $16.95 at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1945587822.
“Dad always said I ought to put all the fishing log entries and records I kept together, so I hope this brings a smile on his face from above,” Terry concluded.