Updrift Adventures: Featuring Joe Hay

By Charlotte Austin

On a rugged coastline nestled deep in the remote Pacific coast, it happens almost every morning between May and September: out of the blue pre-dawn glow, a battered and well-loved pickup truck appears around the corner toward the beach at Cape Kiwanda, Oregon. Inside the truck’s cab sits 67-year-old Joe Hay, slugging coffee out of a Coleman thermos; on a trailer behind his rig is NAME, his legendary dory boat. He glides to a halt in front of Pelican Brewing, the beloved community meeting place in Pacific City, Oregon, and hops out of the truck to greet his customers for the day. Joe is usually dressed in sun-bleached pastel shorts, and you can immediately tell that — while he’s smiling — he’s not here to mess around.

Joe is the owner and operator of Haystack Fishing, a family-owned and operated business that’s been running these waters for almost 25 years. He and his family escort their lucky guests on chartered fishing excursions in the untamed saltwater around Pacific City, where they catch crab, salmon, ling cod, seabass, and cabezon. When Joe’s customers — some brand new, others that have fished with him for generations — meet in the flickering lights of the Pelican Brewing parking lot, they’re blinking, still waking up; sometimes even shivering in the cool ocean breeze. Joe doesn’t miss a beat. The day’s logistics are quickly sorted out, lifejackets are donned, and the day’s fisherpeople climb aboard. Guests drink scalding coffee out of paper cups while perched on the boat, still loaded on the trailer, as the pickup heads straight for the nearby beach. That’s when the fun really starts.

Dory boats are uniquely flat-bottomed: designed to launch right off the beach, into the teeth of the surf. Joe, driving pickup truck that’s towing the vessel, swings a wide arc on the flat sand, and swiftly backs straight into the waves. Joe hops in the boat with his customers. His assistant strips to his shorts, sprints unflinchingly into the ocean, and helps the boat maneuver swiftly off the trailer before jogging back to move the truck out of the surf. In instants, Joe and his guests are motoring boldly away from shore, angling deftly through the incoming breakers. The outboard motor roars, and as soon as he navigates through the surf they head directly toward wherever the fish are biting. Joe doesn’t wave, or even look back at the beach, as his dory boat cuts through the chop. He’s utterly, intimately, whole-heartedly focused on the sea. “Every day on the ocean is different,” he says. “The tides, the currents, the wind — it’s an ever-changing beast, and it demands your full attention every single time.”

Later, when his boatload of guests have caught their limit or exhausted their energy, Joe deftly guides the boat back to shore. It’s incredible to watch: he maneuvers onto the crest of a swell, and — mimicking the smooth entrance of the nearby surfers on their boards — he rides the crest of the wave, pulling the outboard up as the beach nears so it won’t foul in the sand. When he gets it right, the boat ends up high on the beach and almost dry, ready to be disembarked and loaded into the nearby trailer.

After the team unloads, high-fives, and snaps photos of the day’s haul, there are two things left to do: process the day’s catch and crack a cold beer. They’re equally as important, and each have their own ritual.

First, the catch. “We take great pride in processing the day’s fish and crab in our own backyard,” says Joe. “It’s a family operation. We process, clean, and cook the crab, so it’s ready to eat, and we handle each fish to our own high standards. Most people haven’t had good, clean, ocean fish, unfortunately — many charter boats toss fish into a bucket that sits out for the day, so their guests go home with a bloody bag of meat. But we handle each fish carefully, so the meat is fresh, tender, and unlike anything else. We keep it very, very cold. I’ve never had a guest who didn’t love it.” Wendy, Joe’s wife, does the fine work of filleting, and the family sends each guest home with a bag of ice and a carefully-compiled photocopied set of their own favorite recipes.

Then — sometimes with the guests, and sometimes after they’ve hit the road — it’s time to crack a beer. “I don’t know if there’s a single day that goes by that we don’t gather together as a team to discuss the day and debrief,” says Joe. “Cracking open that first cold brew marks the end of the day’s work, and it creates a sense of camaraderie. It’s an important ritual, and it’s easily one of my favorite parts of our day.”

He smiles as he reflects on this, flicking the ash from his cigar. “More often than not, it’s Pelican beer that we’re drinking. I love their brews, but the tradition is much more than that — it’s a matter of community. When I drink Pelican beer, I’m always reminded of how much living on this coastline has taught me. When I first moved here, I’d never lived in a small community, much less one as special as Pacific City. I didn’t realize how important it is: the cohesiveness, the inter-connectedness, the support. It’s so much more important than most people realize. That ethic affects the way I fish, the way I live, and the way I drink beer. It’s what I want. The power of community is one of the most important things I’ve learned in my time on this coast — and in my life.”

Joe’s eyes crinkle as he smiles, recounting his tales, and his eyes scan the horizon. He’s counting the hours to twilight, remembering that he’ll be pulling his truck into the parking lot at Pelican Brewing before the next day’s dawn. He chuckles, raising his can of Updrift. “The folks who run the brewery are my people,” he says. “But it’s also the best citrus beer I’ve ever had.”


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