Oregon’s beaches are popular destinations for all sorts of recreation activities.
This spring, one of the most popular sandy stretches is along 18 miles of shoreline in Clatsop County.
That’s where thousands of razor clam diggers have discovered one of the best clam seasons in years.
As springtime moves into high gear, the best low tides of the season bring a bounty of seafood close at hand.
Local resident, Steve Fick, likes to say, “when the tide goes out, his dinner table is set --- with razor clams.”
Fick grew up in Astoria and he really digs this recreation:
“Oh, Grant, there are clams galore this season – one of the best, most plentiful clam “sets” in recent history. The biologists say the harvest could exceed one million clams. Wow, huh?”
That much is certain, but if you’ve never dug this sport – how do you get started?
Fick handed me a “clam gun.” – it’s the tool of choice for beginners learning the ropes of clam digging.
It’s a hard plastic tube, with a covered top that has handle built into it, plus there is a small hole on the top so that the tube act like a siphon.
You press the tube or “gun” down into the soft sand up to three feet deep, and then place your thumb over the hole, lift and pull the tube full of sand – and hopefully, the razor clam – back up to the surface.
“Try that clam hole right there, Grant,” noted Fick.
He pointed to a small, quarter-sized dimple in the sandy surface.
“The clam’s neck is just under that dimple. It’s a giveaway sign that there’s a clam down there. Go for it!”
And so I did – the tube easily slid down its length, I covered the hole and lifted the tube full of sand that held a dandy four-inch long razor clam. It was slick and it was easy!
So easy that anyone can do it! In fact, it’s hard to call the activity “work” because the clams are so plentiful this spring. Flick added that over a million clams might be harvested this year from the 18 miles of Catsup County beaches between Seaside and the Columbia River.
“That’s where 95 percent of all the clams in Oregon are dug – the beaches right here,” added Flick. Flick is an old hand at the clam game – he can even spot the critters in the surf:
“Well, sometimes when they’re feeding, they stick their neck up and out right in the shallow surf line – it makes a little v and we call those ‘knickers.’ Once you get the knack for spotting them, it’s easy.”
Fick relies on a short-handled shovel with a long steel blade – a clam shovel that’s specially designed to quickly dig deep enough to get hands on the speedy razor clam.
Speed is critical because the razor clam moves through soft sand like a hot knife through soft butter. “You go about two inches to the side of the dimple and then you pull the shovel toward the hole,” explained Steve. “You pull the sand up and reach your hand in underneath. Feel for the neck and pull the clam up – but not too hard or you pull the neck off.”
It’s a technique that takes practice, so first-timers usually stick to the clam gun technique for a successful clam digging adventure.
But be cautious – Fick noted that the clam gun technique has drawbacks, as there’s greater potential to break the clam shell with the gun rather than shovel.
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife manages the clam resource and there are important rules and regulations to note: A state shellfish license is required for clam diggers fourteen and older. Each clam digger must dig their own limit of 15 razor clams and you cannot put any back. Remember: even if you break a shell or dig a small clam, the first 15 that you dig you must keep.
It wasn’t long before each of us had dug our limits when Steve smiled and said, “I never met a clam I didn’t like --- to eat. Let’s go!” With that, we were off to his kitchen for a quick lesson on how to prepare our clams.
“First, I like to rinse them off – get as much sand off the clams as possible.”
Fick is as skilled in the kitchen as he is on the beach and makes quick work of our 30 clams. He offered a tip – he gives the clams a quick dousing of hot water – enough to open the clams but not cook the clams and he quickly followed the hot water with a cold-water shower. The icy-cold water stopped any cooking of the clam.
A few quick flicks of his small sharp knife and he cleaned each clam of its stomach contents. Then he doused each in an egg bath; that was followed coating each side of the clam in soda cracker meal. The combination provided a nice coating to both sides of the clam.
The preheated (medium high) frying pan contains a generous amount of vegetable oil. Flick cooked the clams less than two minutes a side (golden brown on each side) and he cautiously advised that overcooked clams taste “like rubber and are too chewy.”
The meal of cooked clams provided a satisfying reward; the sort of activity that builds strong memories of the Oregon outdoors:
“It’s the whole process – to me, said Flick. “It’s a lot of enjoyment to come down here to the beach early in the morning, dig clams, walk around – take the whole family down. “You feel like you’ve really accomplished something at the end of the day…I enjoy that.”
For more details on how to dig razor clams. For more on alternative seafood cooking methods.
Paddling Across Klamath Lake Wildlife Refuge
While Klamath Lake feels huge at first glance, you’ll feel comfortable and right at home inside the cozy confines of a canoe or kayak as we paddle across the Upper Klamath Wildlife Refuge’s designated “Canoe Trail” where hundreds of bird species make their seasonal home.
In the vast Klamath basin, summer mornings arrive on brilliant sunshine and a soft, cool high desert breeze. A place where wide timeless vistas allow your mind and imagination to wander among mountains, grassy meadows, broad lakes and ponds into rich mysterious marshlands.
You don’t need to be an experienced birder to enjoy Klamath Marsh music when you join Darren Roe of ROE Outfitters. We recently joined Darren, his wife Jen and their friend Melody Warner on the Upper Klamath Wildlife Refuge.
As we loaded our gear into dry bags and prepped for a morning of paddling, Darren noted: “It is amazing to folks that come here for the first time and they always want to know – why aren’t there more people here?”
It was an intriguing question as we left the pavement far behind to discover an enchanting world that was all ours to explore. The Upper Klamath Wildlife Refuge Canoe Trail extends more than nine miles and that takes you into the heart of a freshwater marsh on the north end of Klamath Lake.
“It is splendid and scenic with just a ton of wildlife species,” said Roe. “This waterway is mostly fed by freshwater springs that help to create these waterways – they actually well up out of the ground.”
“And it’s a friendly place to paddle too,” added Jenifer Roe. “There aren’t a ton of tough turns, you don’t need to be an expert paddler. It’s really friendly to someone that’s just beginning to paddle a canoe.”
The braid work of channels that make up the Canoe Trail are defined by bulrushes and cattails and plants called “Wocus” that are always at your side.
The marsh is home to hundreds of wildlife species – especially bird life – from small red wing blackbirds that flit from branch to branch in an endless parade of feeding activity to the large and dramatic White Pelicans.
The big birds arrive at Klamath Lake on 9-foot wingspans from as far away as Baja and will summer in the Klamath Basin’s nesting and brooding wetlands.
“Typically we see them flying across the lake and occasionally you’ll see a group actually fishing for the perch.”
Unlike the more common California Brown Pelicans that spend summer months in the Pacific Northwest, White Pelicans actually “tip” to feed and do not dive to capture their prey.
They also work as a unit, a group that will circle the fish and then tip over to feed.
Over 4,000 square miles of south-central Oregon and northern California’s water natural drainage is stored across the Klamath Wildlife Refuge. While only a fraction of historic wetlands remain today, Darren Roe noted that the Canoe Trail allows the visitor a close-up view into a wonderfully rich and diverse world that is also soothing and peaceful:
“There are so many different mini-eco-systems in the basin; you will go from crystal clear spring creeks out in the lake where the water bubbles up out of the ground. It is very unique – hard to find all of those things wrapped up in one place.”
It is a place where ducks, geese and shorebirds rest and probe muck of the marshes. The abundance of varied bird life includes Oregon’s largest concentration of nesting bald eagles.
Diverse habitats, varied wildlife within a refuge system where 80 percent of all Pacific waterfowl are funneled.
Jenifer Roe added that the Upper Klamath Lake’s protected Canoe Trail allows a closer visit that’s filled with surprises!
“Make sure you take enough time off so that you can really enjoy it. Once you get here and experience the canoeing, kayaking and fishing, the disappointment is going to be that they couldn’t get it all done in one trip.”
Klamath River Redband Rainbows
Who does not love to cast into rivers or streams for big, hungry trout? Mark me down as one who cannot resist the allure of magical places that hold big-finned secrets in the riffles and runs.
So it is this week as we travel to a designated Wild and Scenic section of the broad-shouldered Klamath River in Southern Oregon.
We joined a couple of pros that know just the right flies to cast into the river and provide us a chance to catch the Klamath’s red-band rainbow trout.
The adventure begins south of Klamath Falls on a roadway that demands your attention! A rough roadway with bumps and jumps and a jarring ride down a single track dirt road that leaves you wondering: where is this adventure headed?
And then you arrive – riverside! Where scenery softens and the world is reborn along Oregon’s remote wild and scenic Klamth River.
Our hosts, Darren and Jen Roe of ROE Outfitters, told me that the Klamath Canyon is known mostly for its rafting, but wanted to impress me with why it needs to known for its fishing too.
That began with preparation – so a rod, reel and waders are required. Plus, a collection of imitations of nature’s creations that promise to catch fish.
Darren noted his preferences: “Stone files and red headed prince nymphs and a salmon fly and a golden stone. You want to unhook your fly, not walk up too close and just plop it in closely – then pick it up and go a few feet further.”
High buttes crown the canyon rims as the Klamath River carves its way through Oregon’s volcanic cascade mountain range for 11 miles to the border with California.
You can easily watch the canyon come to life: vegetation cools the riverbanks and shade covers the boulders and provides a home for insects:“The biggest passion here is the fly fishing,” noted Jen. “It’s a great large population of red-band rainbow trout and the food source is really incredible as well as the aquatic life.”
The Klamath River is managed as summertime catch and release fishery and that means flies or lures only – no bait allowed. Once I got the hang of the technique: casting and then stripping line, I was into fat rainbow trout too.
The fish are all wild red band rainbow trout and it is prolific fishery – fish range from 9 to 16 inches and average 11-13 inches. The river has been protected as wild and scenic since 1994 - a special place that’s a distant world away from city hubbub and noise and aren’t we lucky it’s that way!
Jen offered: “It’s really just about getting off the main highway and getting out and exploring all of these great things like the Klamath Lake Wetlands and the river and lake fishing – too many people pass it by. They don’t think it has anything to offer and that’s really wrong.”
“It’s so peaceful, it’s so quiet, added Darren. “It so beautiful too - I think it’s just a well-kept secret – I think people just honestly don’t know it exists.”
Valley of the Giants
The Valley of the Giants makes you feel small in a secret place that lets your heart soar as tall as the giants that live there. I recently joined a small troop of travelers led by retired BLM Forester, Walt Kastner.
We traveled for hours deep into the Oregon Coast Range to explore a unique 51-acre grove of old growth Doug fir trees.
Kastner pulled a the metal tape from its spring-loaded container to measure the circumference of a nearby giant – he stretched his arms and pulled the tape all the way around the huge tree and after a few minutes: “Finally, “27 feet! Wow!” noted Kastner. “By my formula that’s a nine foot diameter – and perhaps 450 years old – at the least – probably older.”
The giant tree was but one of scores that you will see along the 1.5 mile long forest trail that meanders through the Valley of the Giants.
Kastner advised us to pause often and admire the valley’s diversity of trees – not just their size but also their placement in the valley.
“If you stop and look around, you can see you’ve got some very large trees that are deep and complex. Look at how variable the spacing is between the trees – some are clumped up, others far apart, plus there are standing dead trees and downed trees. There’s just so much diversity and complexity in here.”
The Valley of the Giants is a small snapshot of what much of Western Oregon’s fir forests may have looked like – perhaps 150 years ago. It is so special a place the BLM has protected the public parcel since 1976 as an Outstanding Natural Area for study and research.
“Forest scientists can come here to study and learn how these types of stands developed and by knowing that, you can incorporate what they find into the management plan for some of our younger stands where you might want to manage for older forest characteristics…it’s kind of a living laboratory,” said Kastner.
The North Fork of the Siletz River bisects the valley in classic “pool and drop fashion,” noted BLM staff member Trish Hogervorst.
A hiking bridge allows you to access the trail and gain entry into a lush forestland that receives nearly 200 inches of rain each year.
“The music of the water is such a wonderful secret in some ways,” added Trish. “Not many people make it out here and you’ll often be the only one out here. It’s just beautiful!”
The Valley of the Giants is remote and access is limited because private timberland surrounds this public island of old growth trees. The BLM offers a free brochure with a map and mileage directions. Still, BLM Recreation Planner, Traci Meredith, noted that it’s a challenging route – even under the best of conditions.
“You can make a wrong turn pretty easily if you’re looking the other way, so stay alert and follow directions on the map.”
There is no camping in the Valley of the Giants – no campfires are allowed and you must stay on the moderately graded trail. There is a picnic table along the route, so you are able to stop for a time and enjoy the experience with friends or family.
Still, given its remote location, you should plan on a full day to reach and hike through the valley. Traci added, “I love it out here, it’s big, open, quiet. It’s not considered a wilderness but people sure feel like they’re in a wilderness out here.”
Dan Wood and Mari Kasamoto were enjoying the giants for the first time and agreed they’d never seen anything like the grove of ancient trees before. They didn’t know that Doug fir trees lived so long.
“These big trees are amazing when they’re up in the air,” noted Wood. “But you can’t tell how tall they are until the fall – and in here you have soaring trees but also the fallen ones and you can actually see how big and wide and tall they are at the same time.”
”It’s very peaceful and relaxing,” added Kasamoto. “I would definitely come here again. It’s so special a place.”
Call the BLM (503-375-5646) to receive a copy of the recommended driving directions.
The map directions begin at Falls City, five miles southwest of Dallas. The driving route is 30 miles but it will take you 90 minutes to reach the valley. Follow the directions closely and carefully. Caution: much of the route is in large rock or gravel and the logging roads are notorious for puncturing car tires. I discourage taking the family car or van – if you choose to do so, take along a second spare tire.
Wildness rules Whalen Island! Clay Myers Natural Area includes nearly two hundred acres of forest, sand and estuary and it’s a place meant for the quiet times.
The state park property at Whalen Island is prized because there are few folks around. “We don’t get huge amounts of use here,” noted Oregon State Parks and Recreation Manager, Pete Marvin. “You often have the place pretty much to yourself and that makes it nice.”
The waterway surrounding Whalen Island is called Sandlake and it is shallow throughout; it averages just 2 feet deep at flood tide.
The estuary wraps around the island on the high tide and that is the time you will find paddlers like Marc Hinz launching kayak excursions to explore the parkland.
“I like to bring folks here to enjoy the quiet, serene and secluded nature of the waterway,” said Hinz. Marc Hinz is a co-owner of Kayak Tillamook and he leads tours for a company that specializes in coastal estuary trips: “You don’t see many people here because it’s too shallow for motorized boats.”
Hinz adds that Sandlake’s isolation means paddlers should be prepared to handle any issue that might arise on the water.
“Even though it is a shallow waterway, there are deeper parts and the tide does recede out into the ocean. So it’s important to wear your PFD, bring an extra paddle, basic first aid and a communication device in case you get into trouble.”
Whalen Island is tucked between two landmark coastal features: Cape Lookout to the north, a massive forested headland that juts more than two-miles out to sea.
Cape Kiwanda is to the south and where are you’re face to face with an offshore island called Haystack Rock. There is also a giant sandy hillside that is perfect playground for the young at heart. Don’t miss the popular destination that satisfies both thirst and appetite called the Pelican Pub and Brewery.
Tillamook County manages Whalen Island Campground’s eight acres that offers 30 sites for tents or trailer. There are no water or electricity hooks ups, so your rig must be self-contained.
Back in 2000, when Oregon State Parks acquired Whalen Island, they built a trail to provide visitors access across the property. The looped trail is two and a half miles long and winds through a forest setting that – every now and then –opens to reveal stunning views to a sprawling sandy beach with breakers just beyond.
“The park is unusual for sure, added Marvin. “It’s an island in the middle of one of the most pristine estuaries along the entire Oregon coast. It is special, unique and should be prized by those who come to visit. It’s Oregon!”