Beachcomber's Bounty
By Gary Hayes
Published: 09/25/2014  Updated: 08/16/2019
Vintage blown-glass fishing net float found near Cannon Beach.
Vintage blown-glass fishing net float found near Cannon Beach.  Photo by Gary Hayes

The higher tides, bigger waves and stronger winds in autumn result in a bounty of new treasures waiting to be discovered.

Beachcombing is a popular activity year-round on the Northwest coast. The low tides of summer leave sand dollars and other seashells scattered at the edge of the water, but for discovering real surprises, nothing matches beachcombing during the quieter seasons of the year. Higher tides, bigger waves and stronger winds result in new treasures – and old – being left behind, ready for discovery by the next alert beachcomber.

The beachcomber's bounty can include seashells, agates, driftwood or the highly-prized blown glass fishing floats that still appear from time-to-time on Pacific Coast beaches. Sometimes there are mysteries from the deep. You might encounter a leathery skate egg case known as a "Mermaids Purse" or seldom seen deep-sea fish such as the prehistoric-looking Lancetfish or disk-shaped Sunfish that occasionally wash ashore. Sometimes a low tide will leave hundreds of crab shells piled on the beach, appearing to be a crabpocalypse, but is really just the result of the seasonal molting of the delicious Dungeness.

With summer crowds gone, beachcombers face less competition for the prized discoveries and as fall and winter's high tides scour the embankments and pull sand off the beaches, glassy agates or ancient fossils become a more frequent find.

Floating debris, or flotsam, can include natural or man made materials and the 2011 Japanese tsunami has added to the massive gyre of flotsam that can circle in the ocean for years between continents before just the right combination of onshore winds and tides pushes it to the shore. Often, this can occur in early spring. Last year, a large volume of flotsam including bottles and plastic fishing floats began appearing on Northwest beaches. Venturing out to survey the event, I found my first ever vintage blown-glass fishing net float. The next day, I found my second. Within just a few days, the flotsam event was over and thanks to beachcombers who hauled many bags of debris off the beach, the shoreline was soon back to its normal spectacular natural beauty.

There's nothing quite like the experience of beachcombing, where you can find a perfect little natural treasure or discover a fascinating marine mystery while the sound of the surf and rhythm of the ocean soothes your soul.

Beachcomber's Bounty