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Lured by the sea

Posted: Tuesday, Apr 23rd, 2013

The Otter, 100 years old today, sits in pristine condition. Local fisherman Walt Fossek, below, fished commercially from the Otter for almost 40 years. The Port of Siuslaw is planning a recognition ceremony for the boat on July 4.

Wood and fish. Both essential to the economy of early Florence, they captured the heart of Walt Fossek from a young age. Now 84 years old, the pull of both has never let him go.

When asked about the Otter, the 100-year-old commercial fishing boat he has owned for 60 years, Fossek, a natural storyteller, starts at the beginning, with the travels of his immigrant father, who tried his hand at gold mining in Alaska before eventually ending up in Oregon to search for the perfect place to settle.

The elder Fossek had heard folks bandying about the name of Springdale. He searched for it, didn’t find it, and settled in the next best place, Springfield, Ore., where he bought a 10-acre farm and orchard. One day he visited a farm in nearby Goshen. There, a young woman was shooting crows to scare them away from her family’s corn patch.

“He thought, ‘There is the kind of woman I want,’” said Fossek. Soon the new farmer and the strong-minded young woman married and had two sons, first Walter, followed two years later by Ernest.

A Depression-era child, Fossek remembers the long hours and drudgery of farm work. He and Ernie would escape with visits to the McKenzie River.

“We were told to stay away, but as soon as we were old enough and could get away, we were there. I got to see salmon spawn. The chubs and the graylings would eat up every egg. As a little kid I didn’t quite understand that, but many years later I realized I was watching a wonderful thing. It was the survival of the fittest. The more aggressive salmon would keep the predators away. Their offspring would survive.”

For the complete article see the 04-24-2013 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 04-24-2013 paper.

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