If there’s a more exciting fishing moment than hooking and fighting a chrome bright chinook salmon that's fresh from the sea, I surely don’t know what it would be.
That’s especially true on Tillamook Bay where an early May morning brings a rush of spring salmon on the flooding tide.
The big fish – fresh from the ocean – are swimming through the estuary as anglers troll baited hooks across the smooth water in comfortable motor boats.
The fish are special; they are what many call Oregon’s ‘premier’ salmon for they are prized for high oil content and a rich, buttery taste.
In Tillamook County, a dedicated group of Oregonians helps deliver the promise of catching spring salmon.
Hundreds of people recently gathered, rolled up their sleeves and participated in a labor of love at Netarts Bay.
Over 400 volunteers showed huge heart and commitment to help Oregon’s all volunteer fish hatchery called “Whiskey Creek.”
Hugging the shoreline at Netarts Bay in southern Tillamook County, the Whiskey Creek Salmon Hatchery raises nearly a quarter million Spring and Fall Chinook salmon each year.
“We’re all volunteer and always have been and always will be,” noted Jerry Dove, a longtime hatchery supporter who has been at the helm of the operation since it began in 1987.
The Tillamook Anglers Association has owned and managed the hatchery since the late 1980’s.
Memberships and donations keep the operation afloat while the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife supplies the fish.
“It’s a great partnership!” said ODFW Biologist Rick Klumph. “We provide the technical oversight and they do all the physical manpower of raising the fish. It’s a productive partnership with our agency.”
Each spring, Dove guides hundreds of people who roll up their sleeves, put on gloves and carefully grab a fistful of slippery, wiggly baby salmon.
In one day, they must carefully clip the adipose fin from each of 105,000 spring salmon.
The fin clip distinguishes the fish so anglers can tell the difference between hatchery and wild salmon.
“The fish are asleep,"added Dove. "Each one of them rests in an anesthetic bath before we clip the adipose. The scissor clip is quick and easy."
The adipose fin is a small half moon shaped fin that’s just behind the dorsal fin and just in front of the tail fin. It’s a fin that the fish don’t need to survive.
“There’s a lot of mentoring and we try to hook up a newcomer with a veteran,” added Klumph. “It’s not difficult but there’s a definitely a technique to it.”
Volunteer Alvin Saul has been helping the Whiskey Creek Hatchery from the start and he said he likes the chance to catch up with longtime friends who feel like they’re making a difference for other anglers.
“They need the support and if I stayed home and nobody showed up, we’d end up with thousands of fish that wouldn’t get clipped. So, we make a difference.”
Whiskey Creek Hatchery is two miles from one of Oregon’s finest parklands: Cape Lookout State Park, where there is always something new to do.
You may enjoy a beachside stroll or an overnight campout in a yurt or take a hike to the end of Cape Lookout where – this time of year - the gray whale migration north to the Bering Sea is at its peak.
“We are a tourist attraction,” said Dove. “We draw more that 125,000 visitors each year and it's because we’re so close to so many activities.”
“It gives folks a good feeling to lend a hand to the hatchery operation,” added Klumph. “Plus, in a couple of years they can go out and try to catch an adult salmon from Tillamook Bay, so it’s a great program all the way around.”
Whiskey Creek Hatchery is on Netarts Bay. Drive to Tillamook and follow the signs to Cape Lookout State Park. The hatchery is two miles north of the park. More information is available from Jerry Dove at 503-812-1572.