BE SURE TO CHECK OUT THE NEW Grant McOmie Getaway Contest.
VISITOR FRIENDLY HATCHERY
The wonderful thing about travel in Oregon is that the opportunities to learn more about the northwest environment wait for the visitor at every turn.
That’s certainly true at this week’s Grant’s Getaway location that may also be one of the most overlooked sites in the area, yet provides varied and interesting environmental lessons about salmon and steelhead.
Certainly the price is right when Grant McOmie shows us the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s North Fork Nehalem Salmon Hatchery in Clatsop County.
The site is open daily, no reservations are required and a visit is absolutely free to the public.
Just ninety minutes from Portland, the hatchery offers activities that teach much about the fish and their ties with the aquatic environment.
You can stroll past rearing ponds that are brim full of baby salmon or trout; perhaps you will time your visit on “spawning day” when you can watch how the next generation of salmon is produced.
In addition, stroll down to the banks of North Fork of the Nehalem River and check out the unique Disabled Angler Platform where big fish are always on the bite for anglers who need a break.
Keep your eyes on the sky as well – bald eagles are known to soar overhead – and closer to ground, Roosevelt elk are often seen in the nearby forests.
Make tracks for the Trail to Umbrella Falls and enjoy a short, easy and scenic stroll to reach the namesake falls that offers a stunning moment along the river.
It’s a place that’s never twice the same and will provide lasting memories that may teach you something new about Oregon.
LEWIS AND CLARK SLEPT HERE
If your family yearns for a holiday getaway that teaches unique Oregon history, Grant McOmie found a perfect fit for this time of year.
It’s a Grant’s Getaway puts you face to face with a winter survival story that’s two hundred years old when a group of explorers found themselves stranded in Oregon.
It’s the story of survival that is alive and well at Fort Clatsop National Historic Park.
In winter, if you travel the lower Columbia River near Astoria, you must slow down and savor the season at a place where Oregon history comes to life.
Chances are you will spy retired schoolteacher, Tom Wilson, covered head to toe in buckskins and history. He relishes the role of Capt William Clark – one of the co-leaders of the famous Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery – and is on duty this time of year at Fort Clatsop.
He explained to nearby visitors – “This fort wasn’t really in their plans – they had hoped to get downriver, see a ship, get re-provisioned, get back over the mountains before winter and home – Well, it is winter so things didn’t go as planned.”
Wilson is part of a small group of volunteers who bring the Lewis and Clark story to life through living history experiences that you can enjoy on your visit.
“Oh, it was a miserable, cold, wet winter. They were low on provisions, their clothes had rotted, military uniforms had rotted away and so the ship was going to re-provision them – Unfortunately, they arrived much later than they thought – the trading season was over.”
So, they were forced to stay – and the chose a small area on the Oregon side of the river to built a log fort – when you visit at this time of year, you get a feel for what the explorers experienced in December, 1805.
The Corps also stayed in Oregon because abundant deer and elk made the hunting easier – especially for the elk.
“Yes,” added Wilson – “The reason this fort is here is because of more word of elk and deer than anywhere else and so they were out hunting the entire time.”
Elk provided the explorers with many things: food, hides for clothing, elk fat for tallow candles and antlers could be made into buttons. Nothing was wasted.
Indoors – at the nearby Fort Clatsop Museum, you can learn more about the Corp of Discovery’s remarkable journey across America through exhibits, drawings and equipment that also put you in touch with history.
You can also do the same on the recently completed “Fort to Sea Trail” that stretches from Fort Clatsop nearly seven miles to the ocean. And it can be joined at many locations along the way.
If you travel this way, you may also consider a longer stay at nearby Ft Steven’s State Park. The trails and campgrounds at Ft Steven’s are quiet at this time of year.
The summer crowds have disappeared and the beaches, Coffenbury Lake and the wetland areas are all yours to explore.
Ft Steven’s Park Manager, Mike Stein, explained: “People are looking to get away from the larger crowds and we specialize in that at this time of year. We’ve got over 4,000 acres to spread across, plus miles of beachfront and 9 miles of paved trail, plus another 7 miles of nature trail.”
If you lack a trailer or an RV, no need to worry, Ft Steven’s boasts 15 YURTS that make the camping easy: “Yurts are wonderful camping opportunities,” explained Stein. “They offer a domed platform with canvas sides and top. They have furniture in them: a futon sofa and a bunk bed. They’ve proven to be very popular because they reach out to the visiting public that’s unable or lacks the time to invest in a tent or RV.”
Back at Fort Clatsop, Superintendent David Szymanski said that folks should consider Fort Clatsop a launching point to make their own trail of discovery in the region:
“It is a way to give a lot of people the experience of what the expedition would have faced. It’s a place where you can spend a day or two exploring and get to know more about our national history."
Tom Wilson agreed – and for the next couple of weeks, he will be on hand to help you understand how important a place Fort Clatsop – the place where Lewis and Clark slept – meant to Oregon and the shaping of America.
“What they endured and how they persevered to make this place their temporary home for nearly four months – and the story behind it – it wasn’t just a camping trip – this wasn’t just a bunch of guys looking for an adventure – this had so many purposes and was well laid out and executed. It truly was the best of any expedition ever.”
TIP OF THE WEEK - KARLA’S SMOKEHOUSE
It’s always a challenge to catch a big salmon, but on a recent trip with John Krauthoefer (Firefighter’s Guide Service/503-812-1414) I landed a dandy, twenty-pound chrome bright salmon.
So, what to do with the catch?
I didn’t have to travel far to discover one delicious idea!
Karla Steinhauser likes to say she hasn’t met a salmon that she doesn’t like – to smoke - the old fashioned way.
Nearly half a century of experience in the Tillamook County village of Rockaway, Oregon has led her to use alder and vine maple in a smoky fire.
Through the years, she has prepared tons of “sushi grade” salmon, sturgeon, cod and albacore tuna with a simple cure of two parts kosher salt and one part of brown sugar.
She cuts the fish into numerous small chunks and places each on racks inside her famous wood smoker.
I joined her in the smoking room as she pulled a fresh batch of golden hued salmon and tuna from the mammoth wood smoker that once had a life as a stainless steel crab cooker.
But Karla had a better idea for the piece and thought that if the cooker was turned on end it would make a better smoker.
She was right!
“I basically taught myself – the fish has to be done in the thickest part of the fish - I pick up each piece and look for color and feel for firmness. It’s a touchy sort of thing but 46 years of experience lets me know when time is right to take it out.”
She learned her way around a kitchen from her Norwegian grandmother and her business savvy father - “Karla’s Smokehouse” has been a fixture on the north coast since 1964.
“My dad always said that during the depression there were two businesses that never go broke – the beer joints and the banks – so I thought, I don’t drink, so food is the way to go because people have to eat. I wanted a business that I controlled and one where I wasn’t likely to lose my job.”
So, the college graduate (she attended Portland’s Washington High School and Lewis and Clark College) who double majored in Art and Biology, created a “beachy” life for herself – one that offered independence and self-reliance.
This year, she decided time had come for a change! She wanted to slow down a bit and thought it would be good to share her secrets in a new book:“I Am Karla’s Smokehouse.”
“I always wanted to pass on what I knew to the public, which is ironic because when I was young, customers scared the dickens out of me. I was so scared of people that I asked the hired help to wait on the people. I was so shy and I had to overcome that. It took a lot of time, but eventually I did and writing a book was much the same for me; a big challenge!”
“I Am Karla’s Smokehouse” is an enjoyable and easy to read text that offers practical how to techniques in every phase of fish smoking.
The many photographs are by local photographer Don Best and show detailed pictures of filleting varied fish species, the proper application of the cure and fish appearance at the end of the smoking time.
he is best known for outstanding coastal landscape photographs but says in Karla’s new book, he shot each knife stroke – more than 800 different photos – that capture her technique and tell her Oregon story.
What sets the book apart?
“Oh that’s easy!” noted Best. “Karla sets it apart – she’s a character and a lovely character – she’s awesome. All of her recipes are self-taught, she learned it all herself. She didn’t get it out of some other place; it’s all work that she learned through experience.”
The book also offers Karla’s own colorful art of whimsical moments that make you smile.
“I make myself look ridiculous with a long spiked nose and a great big belly and skinny legs. I am really a satirist and make fun of myself. It is expressing the real me to people and giving them the proper techniques. I want to be a teacher!”
So stop in and say “Hello!” Chances are good that Karla will be there with her friendly smile and easygoing manner as she tends the smoky fires. It’s a warm and welcome place where “class” is always in session.
GONE, NEVER FORGOTTEN AT TILLAMOOK AIR MUSEUM
From many miles away, the gargantuan size draws visitors near.
Is it the eleven acres of arched roof? Perhaps the hundred-foot-tall letters boldly printed on its side?
Or maybe it’s the a-4 jet perched on a pole to signal that they’ve arrived?
Regardless of how they find it, size is: Massive! Enormous! Colossal!
Those exclamations and more are on everyone’s lips when they are face to face with the Tillamook Air Museum just off U.S Highway 101.
The museum is housed in the largest freestanding wooden structure in the world, a former blimp hangar.
The hangar continues to inspire visitors by its sheer scale.
Imagine: three Titanics (yes, the famous cruise liner) or six football fields lined up sideline to sideline could fit inside this mammoth building.
Also amazing is the fact that nine other structures like this were built along the coastal perimeter of the United States in the early days of World War II.
The west coast was vulnerable to enemy attack, especially from submarines, so a series of defense plans was quickly drafted as the nation mobilized.
In the sleepy coastal town of Tillamook, Oregon, located just six miles from the Pacific Ocean, the flat landscape surrounded by a semicircle of gently rolling hills offered the perfect terrain for the US Navy’s vision for lighter-than-air blimps.
Eight 252-foot-long, helium-filled k-class airships were based inside the hangar (a total of 138 airships were built during the war).
The crew of eight shared a forty-two-foot-long gondola mounted to the underside of the blimp’s envelope. This cabin was roughly the size of a greyhound bus, and a pilot, two copilots, and a crew of seven manned it
Patrol duty took crews on the lookout for enemy submarines from northern California across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Vancouver Island.
As Christian Gurling, the Tillamook Air Museum’s curator, described, “Everything was prefabricated, so the guys just had to get up and bolt everything together – bit working under those conditions it’s mind boggling – and I explain that nothing of this size or materials had ever been built before in human history.”
As you stand inside this hulk of a hangar (more than seven acres of land enclosed within), gaze up nearly two hundred feet to the arched roof and six-inch by fourteen-inch beam support system and realize that about three million board feet of lumber (enough to build 350 three-bedroom homes) were required for this construction.
This level of service to country is recalled in the impressive exhibits of old photos, written accounts, and other artifacts of the officers and crew who served here. They provide a well-researched, detailed account of a unique chapter in U.S. history.
Another patriotic salute to military service inhabits the giant museum, for the Tillamook Air Museum also whisks visitors back to an era when air battles were waged over the skies of Europe and the Pacific, the time of Spitfires, Messerschmitts, Mustangs, Corsairs, and the like--powerful prop-driven aircraft.
Inside the museum, that era lives on, more than fifty years later, as the museum staff strives to teach visitors the history of military aviation.
Gurling added, “To see this magnificent facility, to see these aircraft here – it’s a little bit jaw dropping at first…and then tell folks these aircraft fly, their eyes really light up.”
He’s right - during summer months the museum frequently flies their planes. But anytime it is a thrill for visitors who can watch, touch and explore one of the most astounding places in the state.
SANDY RIVER STEELHEAD
A fishing trip on the Sandy River with longtime guide Jack Glass starts with a boat ride that is fast and certain.
As we sped upriver from Jack’s river front home – not far from Lewis and Clark State Park boat ramp that’s located a stone’s throw upstream from its confluence with the mighty Columbia River – Jack told me that he had been prowling the Sandy River since a boy.
Now, some forty-plus years later, he knows the water well, especially the nooks and crannies where the steelhead swim:
“I think we’re in for a really good return of fish this year – especially in late January and February – all the signs point to it.”
The “signs” that Jack regards so well include a “bumper crop” of younger steelhead that appeared a year ago and often herald a much larger run the following season – plus, a huge return of Coho salmon had appeared in the Sandy River this past fall fishing season.
I joined Jack and state fishery biologist Todd Alsbury on a recent bone-chilling morning.
Daylight found us motoring through a dense fog bank that loomed over the water and reduced visibility to little more than a few hundred feet.
Alsbury had taken a rare morning off from his normal duties to join our crew for a morning of casting and exploring the lower reaches of the Sandy River.
As we rounded a bend in the river, Jack slowed the boat: “Ah, this spot here is what we call ‘Powerline Drift,’ noted Glass. “A real sweet steelhead spot – kind of shallow with a little bit of an island, but an all gravel bottom – perfect spot to intercept a steelhead.”
Steelhead are ocean-going rainbow trout that can reach twenty pounds or more!
Anglers prize them for strength, stamina and endurance – there’s simply no finer fish on hook and line.
Many devotees call them the “Street fighters” of the anadromous fish world because they often travel the furthest and endure the harshest environmental conditions in order to reach their spawning areas that are located high in the watershed.
We cast small egg clusters matched with small, colorful and buoyant lures called “cheaters” and also four-inch long pink worms on four-foot leaders with a small amount of lead weight.
Glass likes to employ a fishing technique called “side-drifting.”
“We use a spinning rod and reel, cast close to shore and then drift along the bank in the boat. We really use the boat to present our baits. The more water you cover the more chances you have of presenting it to more fish, so this method of moving downstream presents your gear to more and more fish. That adds up to more catching!
I asked Jack how I ‘d know if I hooked up with a steelhead.
“Oh, don’t worry about that, Grant,” noted Glass with a chuckle. “These fish give you little choice – a steelhead will grab that bait pretty hard – you just need to remember to hang on to that rod.”
There are few fish species that drive sport fishermen wilder than the pursuit of winter steelhead. The ocean-going trout can be hard to catch and anglers will often go the extra mile to catch one.
Our challenge was a bit of an endurance test as the morning’s temperature hovered near freezing and the raindrops grew larger and louder, sometimes seeming to “pop” when they hit the river.
Suddenly, I heard the unmistakable sound of Todd’s spinning reel drag. It "zippp-zippp-zipped" the drag as monofilament line played out - he had hooked a feisty steelhead.
“There he is! Good job Todd,” exclaimed Glass.
The fish rushed up and down the stretch of river that Glass had chosen for us. Todd held the rod tip high as the reel's drag applied just the right amount of pressure and the fifteen-pound test line held tight.
He soon had the fish under control and near the boat. Jack slipped the net under the fish and brought it aboard. It was a dandy eight-pound hatchery steelhead.
How could Alsbury tell the fish was born in a hatchery?
"All of the hatchery fish have their adipose fins (a smallish, half-moon shaped fin located between the dorsal fin and the tail) clipped before they're released from the hatchery as babies,” explained Alsbury. “So look back by the tail and you can see this fish doesn’t have one – so it’s a hatchery male steelhead and it's absolutely gorgeous."
At about that time, Jack’s son, Brandon Glass, arrived on the scene in his look-alike jet boat with a crew of three fishermen on-board. Each of the anglers wore mile-wide smiles. It was obvious that they had already experienced a great morning of fishing.
Brandon reached into an on board aerated tank and lifted up what seemed a giant silvery fish – it was a fresh and wild winter steelhead that looked to be nearly 20 pounds.
“Oh boy,” cried Jack “You guys have been busy.”
In fact, Brandon had two wild fish in his boat. Normally, anglers are allowed to keep only the hatchery steelhead, but the father-son team participate in a unique program that allows them to keep wild fish alive in a huge aerated holding tank on the family homestead’s property.
The Sandy River Broodstock Program is now eight fishing seasons old and offers participants a true “hands-on” experience to catch wild fish so to build a fishery future.
The “hands-on” opportunity means to capture and spawn 18 pairs of steelhead; a small percentage of the wild fish that will replenish the genetics of the hatchery run salmon.
That’s where Brandon and his dad come in – you see, they’re out on the river each day, often with their angling clients trying to catch “broodstock” wild steelhead so to keep a steelhead sport fishing future alive.
It’s a “hook and line” capture program that supports the genetics of the hatchery fish.
Biologist Alsbury explained: “At one time, the Sandy River had huge runs of steelhead because it was heavily planted with fish from other river basins. Well, that was wrong!
We’re correcting that mistake now by using only native Sandy River steelhead for all future runs – we just need to get our hands on the fish.”
The wild fish will be the broodstock parents for a new generation of baby fish.
When an angler hooks a wild steelhead, Jack or Brandon carefully scoops the fish out of the river with a net and places it into a specially designed aerated holding tank on-board his boat.
Then it’s a quick boat trip to the family homestead that’s perched about the river.
From there they quickly carry each wild steelhead across a mooring dock, up a forty-foot wooden ramp and deposit the fish into the large tank.
Jack Glass added, “We really can have a harvestable fish run and still protect the protected wild stocks which we all recognize as very important.”
Brandon noted that the program is important because it will keep sport fishermen casting on the Sandy River.
“Anglers understand the importance of this and what it’s going to give to our future.They love it and I think it’s great – we can take a nice picture of the fish and we know we’re doing something good for the river system.”
As we continued our fishing trip, Jack told me that the Sandy River offers good bank access for anglers too. That’s especially true at parklands like Dabney State Recreation Area and Oxbow Regional Park – and even further upriver.
Jack insisted that boaters should practice good sportsmanship and allow bank fishermen plenty of elbowroom.
I wondered aloud how an angler knows when the river is prime to cast and catch fish.
“I watch the freezing level at Mt Hood,” said Glass. “If it’s 4,000 feet and higher, say 5 to 7 thousand feet and raining all day, the river’s going to blow out – but if it’s 4,000 feet or lower, it can rain all day and the river will hold it’s color. For the anglers that want to come out here, I always tell them to look at that – then you’ll know if the river’s going to be in shape.”
The Sandy River is born high in the glaciers of Mt Hood and it is a river that keeps boaters on their toes because river safety is critical.
“Quite often there are trees that come down because of wind storms or freezing weather conditions,” explained Glass. “They can even block entire channels, so you’ve got to be aware all of the time whether you drift or jet boat the river.”
He added that folks who choose to ride with him play it safe by wearing inflatable PFD’s throughout their trip. The PFD’s are so lightweight; you hardly know you’re even wearing one.
Alsbury added that the best of the winter steelhead season is yet to come; up to four thousand hatchery steelhead and 2,000 wild steelhead return to the Sandy River. The run peaks in late February and early March and it continues into early May.
Most of all, the Sandy River, like the nearby Clackamas River, are urban streams that seem a million miles away from city noise and hubbub. Yet, each stream is just thirty minutes from downtown Portland.
“Quite often, you’re going through heavy traffic to get out to these rivers and then you get out here and you forget all about that,” confided Todd. “It’s so nice to live close to Portland, but then you’re able to access some of the best steelhead fishing in the state.”
Within moments of Todd’s comments, Jack’s rod doubled over and throbbed with the pulsing fight of an eight-pound, nickel-plated steelhead.
“Ohhhh, nice fish...man oh man it’s gorgeous,” Jack yelled, as monofilament screamed off his reel. “I’ve got a real barn-burner on my hands.”
Todd smiled, I laughed and Jack seemed a bit nervous. He did not want to lose this fish.
“Boy Jack, that rod tip just buried,” I said. “I watched that fish hit it once and then hit it again - and BOOM: – fish on.”
And within moments, Jack played his fish well and it was within Todd’s reach with the net.
Sensing his excitement and with my tongue firmly planted in my right cheek, I asked Jack, “Do you ever get tired of catching steelhead?”
“Ohhhh – are you kidding?” he bellowed. “Nooooo – I get excited everytime – can’t you see my knees shaking. That’s why we’re out here winter steelhead fishing – you just never know – that next one could be a really big one or a great fighter. It’s such a neat thing to enjoy this. I love it!”
Local licensed anglers also have a chance to assist in “hook and line” steelhead capture program during an upcoming “Fish-A-Long” trips sponsored by the Sandy River Chapter of the Northwest Steelheaders.