Willamette River Sturgeon
Steve Williams says his fishing doesn’t slow despite what the calendar shows.
He and fishing partner, Rick Hargrave, are hearty anglers who don’t mind winter’s bone chilling cold as long as there’s promise of a fishing hole all their own.
“I had some friends who invited me out,” said Williams who guided his 22-foot long boat downriver from the popular Willamette River put-in, Cedaroak Boat Ramp near West Linn, Oregon.
“I got pretty excited about it after the first trip ten years ago because it offers a simple approach that’s right here in our backyard. Plus, you can catch a big fish and I like that opportunity.”
Despite winter morning air that hovered near freezing, I joined Williams to check out the opportunity and cast into the Willamette River to catch the dinosaur of Oregon’s fish species called “sturgeon.”
I’ve enjoyed sturgeon fishing action before, but usually in summer’s warm glow and nearly a hundred miles away in the Columbia River estuary near Astoria.
Williams said sturgeon fishing has caught on for anglers the past two decades.
“We had several down years for salmon and that really got people to look at sturgeon as a substitute. It’s the low-tech nature of it and ease of catching sturgeon throughout the year that makes them popular.”
Williams and Hargrave swear by “smelt” for bait (they stretch their investment by cutting each of the small fish in half) and then spear them each on a 5-0 barbless hook followed by a series of half hitches to secure each piece.
“I use heavy gear too,” added Williams. “After all, you can get into 7 or 8 foot long fish, so you want to be able to handle them.”
Each of the anglers employed four ounces of lead that slid up and down the line – just above the leader line and brass swivel.
“Sturgeon can be fairly sensitive to feeling anything along the bottom, so he should be able to pick up the bait, move off and not feel that weight,” said Williams.
Here’s a tip: add a scent to your bait – Williams swears by garlic scent bait products for sturgeon, but be careful how much you use.
“You don’t want to do is spill it in your boat though,” he said with a chuckle. “Otherwise it’ll be with you for the whole season.”
Williams knows these fish first hand! Not just fishing for them on his days off, but as the ODFW Fish Division’s Administrative Assistant.
He said that anyone is able to go eyeball to eyeball with Oregon’s dinosaur fish anytime at Bonneville Fish Hatchery in the Columbia River Gorge.
Hargrave is ODFW’S Public Information Director and said that the Oregon Wildlife Heritage Foundation partnered with the state to build an intriguing sturgeon exhibit at the hatchery.
In fact, an exhibit area sports an acre-sized pond that has massive plate glass windows positioned below water level so to allow visitors a way to peer into the sturgeon’s underwater world.
“It’s a place to see sturgeon in their environment, ask questions and gain new information about an amazing fish,” said Hargrave.
Back on the Willamette River – as wintertime boaters motored past our anchored position, I was reminded of a new marine tool that will enhance Oregon boater’s experiences in 2012.
The Oregon State Marine Board offers a new Interactive Boating Access Map that is downloadable and details over 1,000 Oregon boat launches, ramps and marinas.
Trey Carskadon is the former chairman of the OSMB and said that the new site and mobile app answers any question an Oregon mariner might have about boating in the state:
“Is there a fee associated with the launch site? What’s the launch construction: gravel, concrete, asphalt? Are there restroom facilities? Is there fuel nearby? Food supplies, picnic areas, campground? It’s a tremendous amount of information and you can get it anytime, anywhere. I don’t know of too many states that have this kind of tool available to boaters.”
Carskadon also pointed out another piece of advice that is critical in winter: should the worst happen and you end up in the river, time is critical in water that is frigid cold.
“Most water bodies are 41 degrees or lower at this time of year and that means you have about a minute and a half before hypothermia sets in,” said Carskadon. “You will cramp up and more than likely you will drown if you do not wear a PFD; a life jacket. That is the single most important message: year in and year out, decade after decade: wear your PFD, wear your life vest.”
Back on William’s boat, Hargrave’s rod tip bobbed slightly up and down and he quickly picked up the rod from its holder, reared back and set the hook.
He gave me no choice and stuck the rod and reel in my chest and said – “it’s yours!”
The fish felt heavy and pulled back against the stiff rod tip and I wondered aloud, “So the secret on this is hold on for dear life?”
I suddenly felt helpless as the 80-pound test line easily sped out of the large reel.
“This is the fun part, Grant,” shouted Williams. “Try to smile!”
He was right – I needed to relax a bit. After all, it’s the part of the adventure that everyone is supposed to enjoy the most. There simply aren’t many places you can go in Oregon to catch fish that can reach gigantic proportions.
“That’s a big fish right there,” noted Hargrave.
That much was certain as the line played out from a sturgeon that seemed to have one thing on its mind – get back to the ocean – and fast!
I held my ground for twenty minutes as the fish scooted away from the boat several times on runs that reached forty, thirty and then twenty yards – each time I slowly worked the sturgeon back toward the boat.
Williams said, “Right here in the Willamette and Columbia River Basins are the largest populations of white sturgeon on the planet. Biologists figure that the population is about one million fish below Bonneville Dam.”
It was a huge fish too – easily four feet long – perhaps much longer – and reached fifty or sixty pounds.
No net would be used for this fish – Hargrave gently reached out and pulled in the mainline as the fish reached the surface.
The Willamette River is largely a catch and release sturgeon fishery (there is a short catch and keep Willamette River sturgeon fishery season each February) so there was no need to stress the fish further by hauling it aboard the boat.
“Good fish!” noted Williams. “ It’s remarkable to see and consider a species that’s been swimming across the planet for 200 million years. This fish is about 50 inches long and could be 20 years old.”
Williams pointed to the underside of the sturgeon’s head and the spaghetti-like “barbels’ that extended from the underside of the fish’s snout.
“These are the fish’s sense of smell here, as they swim along the bottom,” added Williams. “Glance down the fish’s side and check out the diamond-like patches. Those are called “scuts” and are made of cartilage. They are considered the sturgeon’s armor plating and a real indication of the fish’s prehistoric biology.”
And with that, Williams unhooked the big fish and we watched it slide back down into the river’s dark depths. Williams said that he preferred to leave the sturgeon in the water; there’s less damage to the fish that way and a bit of respect due an ancient species.
“They are a very long lived species, a very productive species and an amazing critter. The Willamette River provides a close to home opportunity for a catch and release sturgeon fishery that folks can enjoy anytime.”
While the weather outside often turns frightful this time of year, there is a remarkable dedication to recreational cycling each winter in Oregon.
Grant shows us how wintertime cycling demands preparation for the worst that Mother Nature serves up, but the rewards make the effort worthwhile.
Sally Miller and Hanna Vaandering never let the winter-time weather get in the way of their training rides --- it’s all about mileage rain or shine.
In fact, the cold and wet rarely slows them down at places like the Banks-Vernonia State Trail in Washington County.
Miller – a longtime cyclist - is in training for her annual ride on behalf of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Her event, called Team in Training – raises money to support cancer research.
She said that she will put in 150 to 200 miles of cycling each week: “On days when the sun’s out, that’s easy to do – but it does get chilly this time of year so you just have to dress a little bit warmer.”
Each rider wears lightweight, waterproof-windproof clothing in layers on the days when temperatures dip below freezing.
“Gloves are a must so you stay somewhat dry and keep your hands a bit warmer,” said Miller. “Plus, a rain jacket is a must too and long pants that have water resistant characteristics because the longer you stay dry, the better the ride.”
“Better” riding experiences come from better preparation, according to bicycle shop owner, Mike Olson, of Olson’s Bicycles in Forest Grove.
He says ‘being seen’ is critical on winter’s darker days - - in fact, in Oregon it’s mandatory:“A bike is considered a vehicle in Oregon. That is, you have to go with traffic so we highly recommend you have a flashing red light on the rear – as well as a reflector on your bike.”
You can also wear the lighting – portable flashing lights on your arms or legs and Olson also advises, “the brighter the clothing the better your safety.”
“Make yourself more visible with lighting or clothing – most cycling clothiers have models with reflective surfaces built into the fabric – there is also reflective tape that you can apply to pants or jackets. You should ride more defensively in the winter – and if it gets too bad with snow or ice, there are places than offer indoor cycling.”
He’s right! For example, mountain bike enthusiasts have discovered that’s certainly true at NE Portland’s newest indoor site that’s unlike any ever you’ve ever visited before.
It’s called “The Lumberyard” and it is huge and offers endless challenges that are lots of fun.
Will Heiberg opened the indoor riding arena in May, 2012 following more than a converting an old bowling alley into the most unique indoor mountain bike destination west of the Rockies.
The Lumberyard is 42,000 square feet of riding opportunities that provide the cyclist with everything he or she might find on outdoor trails.
“You’ve got rocks and logs to go over – plus skinny bridges and changes in elevation with lots of quick ups and downs,” said Heiberg. “We wanted to bring all those elements normally found outdoors - indoors. We people an opportunity to really experience technical features. Once you’ve mastered them here, you can take those skills outside and really rock the trail.”
The Lumberyard scene is perfectly suited to newcomers who can rent a bike or bring their own and gradually take on progressively harder trail runs.
During our visit, the place was packed with mountain bikers and BMX riders ewho flocked to the place on a day when the outdoor trail conditions would have been a muddy mess. The riders’ styles were states of constant motion.
Back out in Washington County, along the Banks-Vernonia State Trail, the style is slow and easy and made for cruising thru a forested setting.
Oregon State Parks and Recreation Trail Manager, Steve Kruger, said that the trail opened in 1992 with only short sections of the trail paved. Now, the entire 21 miles is paved pathway with a gentle 2 to 5 percent uphill grade.
The B-V Trail is Oregon’s first and rails to trails conversion and it was a rail line that hauled logs and timber between Vernonia and Portland for decades.
Kruger said that there are 13 wooden or steel trestles along its length that give you a feel for the line’s history.
“It’s wonderful with Mendenhall Creek down below the trestle – it’s 85 feet to the ground. You can even see spawning salmon in the creek in the Fall months. This trestle also has a wonderful curve to it’s 110 feet length and we put decking and hand rails on it so pedestrians can enjoy it too.”
Kruger added there are 6 trailheads along the trail and cyclists or pedestrians can use the trailheads with buying a day pass at park headquarters.
Visitors to the B-V Trail also enjoy easy access to Stub Stewart State Park. In fact, you can’t miss it because the trail runs right through it. In addition to campgrounds, there is are rental cabins available (they are heated) that make a winter time campout and trail riding a super combo idea for a weekend getaway.
“Even if you’ve never bicycled before,” added Kruger. “You can bring the entire family out here and know that you’re biking safely along our trail because there isn’t any vehicle traffic allowed on the trail. It’s a great experience for people.”
A cold winter chill may dampen, but never drown my spirit for adventure along Oregon roadways that are less traveled; especially when I’ve so much wild company to show the way and then drop in at Sauvie Island Wildlife Area just off State Highway 30.
It’s an Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife site that caters to visitors, according to Asst Mgr., Dan Marvin – both those with feathers and those without:
“We have become very popular and the largest part of our visitor-use is non-hunting: people who just come out and look for wildlife. This is quite the resource for that.”
The route between Portland and Astoria may not be the fastest but that’s all right with me because I can pull off and watch the “B-52’s of the waterfowl world” at Trojan Pond, near Rainier, Oregon.
The pond and adjacent nature park is owned by Portland General Electric and is open to visitors seasonally. The pull-off at the pond is open anytime.
It’s where Tundra Swans seem to fill the sky on six-foot-wingspans and then glide in for a well-deserved break.
Tundra Swans have wintered at this pond for decades and their stark white feathers are an impressive contrast against the otherwise drab backdrop of water and surrounding forest. The big birds really do light up the scene!
Swans mate for life and each winter they arrive from sub-Arctic homes in Oregon with their families including young-of-the-year birds called “signets” that are mottled in black and gray feathers as though covered in soot.
A little more than four miles past Rainier, just after you cross over Beaver Creek, dive off State Highway 30 onto Beaver Falls Road where waterfall wanderings take over along a lane that provides two falls for the price of one stop.
‘Upper’ Beaver Falls is easy enough to find; it’s mere steps from your car on the left side of this drive. Note the swift flowing cascading rapid just above the main falls that drop 11 feet over basalt rock.
There’s a deep pool below the falls that is no doubt a popular swimming hole on warmer days – but that on a January afternoon where snowflakes mingle under a grey shaded sky.
When you make this short jaunt on Beaver Falls Road keep this in mind: the narrow, winding roadway was once the main state highway that was built more than a century ago.
It is one of the last remaining sections of the Old Columbia River Hwy and has 5 originally restored old bridges and two beautiful waterfalls.
Realignment of Highway 30 occurred decades ago and now Beaver Falls Road is a quiet, out of the way and barely noted lane---but perhaps that’s not so bad.
Continue your drive less than two miles further and watch for a chain link fence on the left hand side of the roadway.
Lower Beaver Falls is spectacular at nearly 50 feet tall and it drops like a curtain across rugged basalt rock. A word about safety is important: a tall chain link fence separates the roadway from the steep-walled cliff and the creek flows far below.
There‘s a narrow pathway that skirts the fence for one hundred yards. This is not for young children or folks afraid of heights and clearly, caution is critical. Trek at your own risk.
Soon, we’re back to the highway where the best is yet to come:
11 miles east of Astoria, Burnside Road is on your right and soon the Twilight Eagle Sanctuary offers more than 100 acres of protected wetlands and forest that spread – like an apron – in front of the roadway.
Local photographer Neal Maine loves this place and he has the photos to prove it. He told me that “Paradise isn’t a place, but a place you decide to know about.” He admitted that he has certainly learned all about this corner of Oregon.
“There isn’t anything out there that I don’t enjoy! If it flies or tweets or makes a sound – everything’s in there – from elk to hummingbirds.”
Maine was instrumental in securing the Twilight Sanctuary more than twenty years ago – he called it a “community-based effort” to buy and protect habitat that provides important nesting site for bald eagles as well as wetlands for other birds.
“The vista here is outstanding – maybe one of the best in the lower river. There’s always something going on with lots of ducks and geese, egrets and blue herons are always cruising by. You can kind of count on owning it at least for a few minutes when you come here – doesn’t draw a crowd.”
Highway 30 – The Lower Columbia River byway - requires you slow down so to savor places that are off the beaten path and offer so much so close to Portland.
Hot Lake Springs
Oregonians are proud of the pioneering past when families faced terrible hardships, endured long journeys and risked it all with no guarantees.
Grant takes us to northeast Oregon in this week’s “Grant’s Getaway” and visits a family who risked it all for the promise of a new start at a place you can visit called ‘Hot Lake Springs.’
Outdoor moments in Northeast Oregon’s Grande Ronde Valley are stunning and spacious with scenery that takes your breath away –
When you step inside David Manuel’s art studio, it’s clear that it’s the little things that keep the past alive.
Manuel is an artist who owns a love affair with Oregon’s past – like his latest sculpture of the ‘William Price Hunt Expedition.’
Hunt led a group of rugged explorers through this part of Oregon 200 years ago. They were on assignment for John Astor and determined to bring an American presence to the British-dominated region at the mouth of the Columbia River.
“I want to make sure everything that I do tells a story – it’s so important that way – that’s what keeps me interested.”
For Manuel, the journey’s truth is etched in short strokes with a sharp blade across soft clay.
“I spend a lot of time on each buffalo hair too. I don’t like the sharp edges because you can cut your hand on some bronzes with sharp edges. So I create them to overlap and it’ll really shine that way too.”
You may have seen Manuel’s work before – at Portland’s Chapman Square where “The Promised Land” shines as a monumental bronze statue.
Now, his new gallery and studio provide a glimpse to his genius as one of America’s finest artists.
“I love history and that’s what keeps me going! That is why it’s so hard to go home at night too because I get so involved in these pieces.”
But Manuel doesn’t have to go far when he goes home. That’s because he works where he and his family have lived for nearly a decade: Hot Lake Springs.
It is a 60,000 square foot hospital turned hotel that rose above the Grande Ronde Valley floor more than a century ago.
In fact, at one time Hot Lake was center of a ‘good health movement’ that drew people from across the country.
They came by train seeking cures for what ailed them in the mineral hot springs that bubbled up from deep in the earth.
But the place hit hard times - capped by a devastating fire in 1934.
By turn of the last century, the building was ready to fall: holes in ceilings reached to where there should have been a roof, all but two of the 350 windows were broken out and floors falling down and the locals thought it was only a matter of time:
“Everybody thought it was dead,” said John Lamoreau, a former Union County Commissioner. “There was no hope, no chance and some people were skeptical because so many had tried to restore it before and failed. To me, the Manuel family looked like the best hope.”
It wasn’t just a mess, it was dangerous and bulldozers waited in the wings to tear it all down.
It was against this dramatic backdrop that the Manuel family bought Hot Lake in 2003.
Despite a personal cost that would rise to more than $10 million, the Manuel family was ‘all in’ for the enterprise.
David’s wife, Lee Manuel, explained that they risked everything because ‘holding on to Oregon history’ was something they could not let go.
“It was as though this ol’ lady, this ol’ building, this history rose from the ground and spoke to us and then it took on a life of its own. We were drawn into that.”
Today – the transformation is nothing short of magnificent!
The successful Hot Lake Springs Bed and Breakfast boasts 22 stunning rooms, a restaurant and the new Restore Spa that is sure to please any woman interested in rest and relaxation.
Plus, there’s David’s gallery and the bronze foundry where you can watch artisans transform his work into lasting bronze art. Plus, David’s uniquely impressive collection of American Indian artifacts and US Military memorabilia that date to the war of 1812.
Still – for many people it is the promise of rest and relaxation in the “Valley of Peace” while enjoying the mineral hot springs. It is all so hard to resist.
Lamoreau observed that it is a place to soak up one of the most remarkable Oregon pioneering stories of the 21st century.
“Not only do we in Union County give thanks to Dave and Lee, but I think the whole state needs to give thanks for what they did here. They brought this place back to life.”
Stillness at daybreak accompanies the arctic air that plummets the early-morning to sub-freezing.
It’s a lonely time as the only headlamps for miles--ours--pierce the darkness on a back road in Oregon’s Klamath Basin.
Despite the bone-chilling cold, wildlife expert, Dave Hewitt says there is no better time to tally the dawn fly-out of the largest gathering of bald eagles in America.
We have come to Bear Valley Wildlife Refuge (part of the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges Complex), a large forest of old-growth timber that provides the eagles with protection from the wind and cold.
It is the staging area for the eagles’ daily fly-out as the birds take wing and search for food.
“There’s one,” said Hewitt. “Right over your head Grant! It’s coming right over the road.”
Hewitt said there is no better time to tally the dawn fly out of bald eagles.
“Yeah, it’s fantastic!” Hewitt enthusiastically answered. “As the sun is coming up, just starting to get light, you can see 40, 50, 60 eagles get up, swoop and soar and glide right over the top of you. It’s pretty impressive to watch when you have several hundred eagles and you just can’t count fast enough.”
I could not--twenty, thirty, forty--soon I was dazzled and dizzied by the birds appearing in front of us, then disappearing across a distant ridgeline.
I simply could not keep track of them all.
Finally I gave up my count and enjoyed the show with the small group of birders who had joined us. We gazed across to the eastern horizon, toward a soft shade of rose that marked the approaching sunrise.
Darryl Samuels noted, “It’s the thrill of the hunt without the gun – you have your binoculars and you might see 60 bald eagles and you might see 10 – it varies and one may just fly right over our heads.”
Diana Samuels eagerly agreed and added, “It’s just great to come out here early and watch them as they go out to feed at the refuge.”
Over a thousand eagles arrive at Klamath Basin each winter from Canada and Alaska, following their food supply of ducks, geese, and other birds.
Despite the frigid conditions during much of the winter, large bodies of water such as Upper Klamath Lake often remain unfrozen, and large flocks of ducks help prevent some of the smaller ponds from freezing over as they paddle about.
David Menke, staff member at the US Fish and Wildlife’s Klamath Refuge Headquarters, guided us across miles of intersecting roadways that checkerboard the Lower Klamath Refuge.
Menke suddenly stopped, brought his binoculars up and gazed across an otherwise flat, drab-brown grain field (wheat harvest had occurred months earlier) with scores of black dots with white heads on the distant horizon.
“Is this a buffet table for the eagles,” I asked with a chuckle.
“Absolutely! A real smorgasbord – or whatever – and this field – I guarantee you – will not be this way a week from now – the birds will be another field. You see, they are hunting field mice and other rodents. It’s really something to sit and watch the birds hunt here.”
Menke said there are many awesome sights to see across nearly 170,000 acres of both state and federal wildlife refuges in the Klamath Basin.
Multiple auto tour routes make the travel easy, so be sure to stop in at the Klamath Refuge Headquarters where free maps and brochures will set you on the right trail to enjoy the show.
While each season offers some new species to see, Dave added that winter is the best time to see the most raptors, including the largest concentrations of eagles.
“We may get a period when it freezes in December and then we might get open water in January and February and the eagles – respond accordingly:
They’ll stand on the ice and feed on waterfowl. Eagles on telephone poles, eagles on irrigation equipment, eagles on farm fields – mostly they just stand around a lot, so there’s endless opportunities to observe wildlife.”
Visitors to Klamath Wildlife Refuge or wish to explore the Klamath Birding Trail have a wonderful educational opportunity just around the corner at the annual “Winter Wings Festival” on February 12, 13, 14.
Diana Samuels is the Director of the upcoming event. She said that it draws hundreds of people from across the country who have a real passion for birding – and especially for bald eagles.
The “Winter Wings Festival” celebrates the return of all the migratory birds to the Klamath Basin in the wintertime. Bird watching is a hobby and pastime that’s growing and our festival has really benefited from the increased interest. We are one of the premier destinations for bird watching on the west coast.”