When you’re lucky enough to go fishing with a good friend who knows the water well, you’re sure to learn something new.
That’s especially true when the Columbia River is under your keel to carry you toward new adventure.
Steve Fick first explored the Columbia River estuary as a kid, so he knows his way around the vast waterway where the river meets the sea.
We left the snug harbor of Hammond, Oregon near Astoria and slowly motored the short distance downriver to an area just off Clatsop Beach.
Fick had prepared five large crab pots or traps with varied baits – a strategy he often uses so to “see what the crabs prefer.”
Sometimes he’ll use turkey legs, chicken wings, shad or salmon carcasses – even a can of tuna for crab bait. Anyone say, lunchtime?”
“Oh yes, a can of tuna fish is perfect bait," exclaimed Fick. “All you do is perforate the can so that the scent comes out – you can also buy canned sardines or mackerel too – both work well. As long as they have a high oil content, it seems to fish well – the scent is what draws the crab into the pot.”
Each Oregon crabber must carry an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Shellfish License. Each crabber is allowed to use up to three crab pots.
We timed our trip to fish our traps during the last hour of the incoming tide and then through the high slack tide period, (that’s often the best crabbing time.)
Steve said it’s the safest time to crab in the estuary: “There is no reason to be out here on the ebb tide – that’s the out-going tide and things can go from bad to worse in a heartbeat. It can be the most dangerous part of the tide cycle and this river can change so fast. You just don’t take chances out here.”
Fick said that each trap should “soak” for 15-20 minutes – that allows enough time for the crabs to locate the bait and enter the pot.
Each crabber is allowed a dozen male crabs apiece and in Oregon they must be five and three-quarters (5¾) inches across the back.
Females are protected to preserve the breeding population of crabs. A crab gauge or other measuring device is essential gear since some crabs miss the mark by only a fraction of an inch.
Steve and I soon had our hands full of fresh crabs, but truth was the trap made the catching easy - and it turns out, the crab pot is “All Oregon!”
At the Airport Crab Company in Warrenton, they have rolled the steel into rings, welded the weights in place, wrapped the rings in rubber and woven the steel mesh into crab pots since 1948.
“Building a crab pot – one that will fish well – is a science,” said company owner Verne Lamping.
His wife, Lisa Lamping, added, “”They really got it right way back then – there are little things you can do but for the most part there isn’t a better way to catch crab.”
Lisa is right! Dungeness crabbing dates to the earliest days of commercial fishing in Oregon’s off shore waters.
It was a profitable way to make a living for many commercial fishermen during the slack times between salmon runs.
Inside Oregon’s only sport and commercial crab pot manufacturing company, you soon see that the heritage of the business is alive and well.
Gene Elliott, Paul Shaw and Mike Gill collectively own more than a century of experience building pots the old fashioned way – with their hands!
They "hand knit" each pot using stainless steel wire to make each pot’s top, bottom and sides.
“Get ready to bleed,” noted Gill with a chuckle. “It is really hard on the hands.”
The 18-guage stainless steel wire requires tough, quick hands and a sharp eye to knit the mesh just right.
“You have to hold the meshes at exactly the same size,” said Shaw. “So, you really must stay focused on the work all of the time.”
Gene Elliot’s hands worked at a blurry pace – swiftly wrapping the mesh weave, seamless and smooth.
“I’ve been at this for more than 37 years – just like these fellas, but I was also a fisherman so I made and repaired my own gill nets. I was already familiar with the knitting techniques before I started working on crab pots.”
Lisa Lamping has long admired the weavers’ efforts – she explained that it’s all "piece work" so each weaver must be accurate and speedy if they wish to make money.
“Each of these men is able to consistently weave the mesh accurately; the meshes must be about two inches wide. It’s very old school and it hasn’t changed much in a hundred years.”
Down at the dock is where the work pays off!Oregon’s Dungeness crab harvest is the state’s most valuable seafood.Last year, the coast-wide catch was worth nearly 50-million dollars.
“It’s an economic component that fills a big void from December to March for many fishermen,” said Fick, who owns Fishhawk Fisheries in Astoria.
“Families live here and the infrastructure of support - like the crab pot businesses or the marine supply stores – all of that business stays in our community and it is key to the viability of rural life along the Oregon coast.”
It is also a lot of fun to catch your own crabs and then head to the kitchen where Steve shared a favorite recipe called a “Stuffed Crab Sandwich.”
“You can do a lot of different things with crab meat,” said Fick. “You can make a chowder, fritters, salads – sandwiches – so many different things. You can mix it with fettuccine, other seafood, so it’s very versatile.”
Steve mixed one cup of grated swiss cheese with two cups of crab and added one teaspoon each of Worcestershire sauce and lemon pepper before he mixed in on cup of mayo and half a cup of sliced olives.
The mixture was then stuffed into each half of a hollowed-out sandwich roll.
Steve then spread a generous amount of grated Parmesan cheese across the top of each roll and slid the tray of sandwiches into a 375-degree oven for seven to ten minutes.
“This is a filling dinner,” he noted. “You need to be in the mood for something rich and robust – it works well on a cold winter’s night.”
It was a perfect way to round out our crabbing adventure and bring the day’s activity full circle: from the estuary to the dining table.
Interestingly, Steve added that 80-percent of the crab is caught in the first month of the season – it’s also the time when prices for the seafood are at their lowest.
Plus, even if you don’t sport fish for crab, the annual commercial crabbing season provides fresh Oregon Dungeness in your local grocery.
As we enjoyed a very filling seafood dinner, I asked Fick what he liked most about the adventure that’s just off his front door step:
“Oh, it’s simple to do and everyone can be involved in it. It’s easy to catch a dozen crabs per person with lots of action for kids. And – you never really know until you pull the pot up what you got and that is fun!”
Hike to See Niagara Falls
Back-road adventures with a sneak peek at nature are the best! And it pays to go with someone who really knows the way – like George Buckingham of the Siuslaw National Forest.
“It’s a little more out of the way and characterized as more difficult with some steeper portions, but it’s also only a mile down and a mile out.”
Our small hiking party sported cameras in hand and each had a mission in mind as we trekked high in the coast range hills on a trail you’ve likely missed.
This is a place where the wet is measured in feet not inches and we were determined to reach a namesake falls that will surprise you:
“We get a lot of questions about that and they wonder – ‘did you name it after Niagara Falls in New York?’ – No, it’s named after Niagara Creek…which is a tributary of the Nestucca River.”
It's a little known fact that Oregon owns it's own Niagara Falls.... It's not been borrowed from a distant state…and after a mile long hike and around a rocky bend, see that the signs fooled you: for here are two waterfalls for the price of one hike!
“Yes, it’s amazing!” noted Buckingham with a wide smile. “We’re looking at Niagara Falls and Niagara creek down below us – but around the corner is the other part of the waterfall pair – Pheasant Creek Falls. So, two waterfalls that you can see at the same time.”
The first is - Pheasant Creek tops out at 112 feet, while Niagara is a close second at 107 feet tall.
Both falls were born in the heart of these mtns, and their waters have cut and worn and shaped the 40 million year old basalt into a giant amphitheatre.
Don Nest was drawn by the power of Niagara Falls – a true plunge pool waterfall that shimmers and whirls as it plows down from a cleft in the ancient basalt.
“I shoot a lot of different kinds of shots,” noted the longtime photographer. “Because it takes a long while to get in here, I shoot every angle: down by the creek, up high and down low. That way I’ll catch something which ’re will turn out.”
Nearby, at Pheasant Creek Falls, photographers Michael Hordyski and Charlie Lonsford were pulled in by that waterfall’s closeness - so close each could reach out and touch it and by its rich depth of character as a true cascade type waterfall.
“Today’s light is perfect because it’s overcast,” noted Horodyski. “And this is a great time of year because there’s not a lot of foliage on the trees – so you really center your shots on the waterfalls.”
Charlie Lonsford added, “There are a lot of falls in Oregon that you can take pictures of but these are the types of falls that I like to shoot.”
If you determine to travel this way, be sure to follow USFS Trail Technician, JW Cleveland, who offered: “Watch your step! It is slick and wet and steep. So, wear proper footwear and rain gear because you never know when something could blow in.”
A foot of rain has drenched the heart of the Oregon coast range the past four weeks so the forest, the creek and the falls are wringing wet. Get here soon.
Directions: Drive Hwy 101 south from Tillamook to Beaver, Oregon. Then travel east on Blaine Road for 6 miles. At Blaine Junction travel east on Upper Nestucca River Road for 5.8 miles to Forest Service Road 8533. Go south 4.3 miles to Forest Service Road 8533-131. Turn right at the junction and travel 0.7 miles to trailhead parking.
Paddling Across History
Oregon’s fastest growing water based recreation called “Flat Water Kayaking” enjoys popularity because it is simple to get involved: all you need is a paddle, a PFD (Personal Flotation Device) and a 16-foot kayak to explore the great Oregon outdoors on the water.
But what we call “recreation” is actually based upon tried and true tradition and skills learned through generations over thousands of years.
Grant joins two Portland area men who connect the past with the present by “Paddling Across History.”
Oregon is blessed with so many different places to enjoy an afternoon paddle adventure; perhaps a favorite pond, lake, estuary or a quiet stretch of slow moving river.
Don Beale and his partner, Joanne Barta, agreed that a paddle is perfect cure for what ails anyone during winter’s short days - especially on a rare, sunny December morning.
“Normally at this time of year, it’s 70% chance of rain,” said Beale as he slid into the comfy confines of his home built kayak. “But today, it’s 70% chance of sunshine! I love it.”
Beale is a longtime kayaker who builds his own kayaks; historic boats that are built upon traditional lines and from favored woods like fir, spruce or cedar. He said that the designs are centuries old.
“I took it up because it was inexpensive, but more than anything I see more critters. I am closer to the water and closer to the wildlife so what’s not to like - no limits that way.”
But his real passion is what that which moves him – really! The paddle!
“The paddle is your connection to the water,” said Beale. “Every stroke you take, you feel the water. There’s a unique connection to the place you’re visiting through the paddle and I think that is special and I like that.”
Beale can turn a cedar 2-by-4 into something truly special in just a couple hours.
In Beale’s Forest Grove workshop, his cuts are square and even but it isn’t long before you see the secret in Beale’s Paddles: the shape is long and skinny.
I have always been into wood working and I got interested in paddles when I realized I could make one better than I could buy it. That’s what really set me on this path.”
He said that his “skinny” paddles mean less “bite” in the water when you stroke them and that means less pressure on the paddler’s wrists, arms and shoulders.
While the idea may seem new and innovative, Beale noted that Native Americans knew this fact hundreds of years ago – and it’s reflected in their designs and that was the source for his own ideas about kayaking paddles.
“We’ve overlooked a lot of the history of kayaking and that’s a shame because the ancient people were very observant. They had to be. They were also very skilled and I think it’s important to acknowledge that fact. Plus, it’s fun to create something you can use.”
Flat-water kayaking is fun! It’s easy to see why it is Oregon’s fastest growing water based recreation.
Not only affordable, but flat water kayaking is relatively easy to master and with proper safety equipment, a kayak can take you into places that larger boats can’t get into.
Harvey Golden is betting more people will have fun ‘paddling across history’ at his new “Lincoln Street Kayak and Canoe Museum” in SE Portland.
It’s a good place to drop in and get grounded in the past.
“There are hundreds of boats in museums,” said Golden. “But only about 15 percent of them are on exhibit. It’s really hard to visit a museum and see kayaks, so I wanted to provide that opportunity to the public.”
Golden spent years traveling the world, visiting museums and researching the oldest original kayak designs on record. Then he built them – 70 of them to date. 40 of those are on display in his new museum.
So is his book, “Kayaks of Greenland;” an amazing text that provides photos and drawings of historic kayak designs and describes the history of kayaking. A history that reaches back 500 years.
Golden even ‘paddles the talk’ too. Once summer, he paddled 800 miles of the Columbia River – in - one of his hand built historic kayaks.
Beale and Golden agreed that flat-water kayaking opens the door to new adventure that’s right at home on Oregon’s diverse waterways.
“There’s something special about being the captain for your own boat,” said Golden. “The paddler can go wherever on Oregon’s rivers or bays and lakes and explore. That feeling is incredible!”
It is easy to find incredible places to explore through the Oregon State Marine Board’s remarkable Oregon Boating Access Map. The interactive map provides detailed facts and directions and critical boating information to hundreds of ramps, launches and marinas. It is a tool that every boater – no matter the level of marine experience – will find useful.
Winter Storm Watch
As winter surf floods and ebbs, beachcombers wander...seeking secrets from the tides. Along the beach near Cape Meares, Don Best uses his camera to find the secrets that many of the beach strollers miss.
The longtime local has a passion for pulling out the best in a winter scene and his Best Impressions prove it.
“Sometimes it takes quite a few pictures to get the right one,” said Best. “There’s a lot of dynamic action; wave movement, breakers hitting the rocks or logs. Shooting the wind and the waves with a camera is exciting.”
That much is true on a day when sparkling sunshine clears away the gloomy gray as a powerful east wind stirs up a show on the ocean. Best says those are the days to watch for “Spindrift” or “King Neptune’s Horses:”
“The wind blows the tops of the breakers back out to sea,” said Best. “It is stunning and the spray is like a white sheet that even has rainbows if you get the right angle.”
His photo collection of stormy coastal moments provides a unique angle to Oregon coastal life that many people never get a chance to see.
Many shots from Best’s collection of coastal photographs date back nearly a century and show that winter storms weren’t always so nice. In fact, they were terrible.
Like the winter of 1915, shortly after the Tillamook North Jetty was built and the Barview community was flooded by giant ocean waves.
Best’s album shows off images of railroad wreckage and homes that were lost as people watched helplessly when sweeping waves wiped out the town during a disastrous storm.
What were folks thinking about at the time?
“An escape route, where to run!” noted Best with a chuckle. “That’s what I would do too.”
Robert Smith, Oregon State Park’s Beach Safety Manager, said that when you head to the beach in winter it’s critical to stay alert because huge logs are often washed ashore. He said that just 5 inches of water can move a five-ton log.
“It’s such a big powerful ocean and we enjoy looking at that power, but people have to recognize that power can also prove dangerous and turn a log into a weapon.”
Smith added that rocky jetties might seem inviting because they offer a front row seat to the ocean’s action, but people should stay in their cars to enjoy the show and not walk out on the jetty rocks.
“The jetties are designed to protect the channels for safe shipping traffic and not designed for pedestrian use. The rocks – as large as they are – shift and can have caverns and sinkholes that you never see. Plus, you’ve got poor footing because it’s slippery. It’s just a recipe for disaster.”
Smith added that even the popular coastal hiking trails require caution: “The amount of water and rain that we get here – coupled with the amount of sea spray - adds up to increased erosion on our trails.”
But there’s no shortage of Oregon State Park Beach Waysides to enjoy winter storms, and Smith noted that some of his state park favorites include overlooks like Cape Meares or Heceta Head State Parks because both are fine vantage points that have lighthouses too.
“These sites are a little higher up, a little further away and definitely safer,” noted Smith. “You get a bird’s eye view of the power of the ocean. Perhaps the premier location for storm watching along the entire coast is Shore Acres State Park. It’s simply amazing when the surf crashes along that shoreline.”
There are many amazing places to watch nature’s drama play out along the northern Oregon coastline too – and if you’d like to enjoy a guided tour with a knowledgeable guide to show the way, check out Oregon Storm Tours in Seaside.
Darren Gooch and Patricia Murphy joined an ‘Oregon Storm Tour’ because it’s a safe and educational option and importantly; they “weren’t sure where to go.”
OST’s David Posalski said that his driving tours stop at many north coast sites, but the Columbia River South Jetty viewing tower at Ft Stevens State Park is a favorite among the visitors who join him each winter.
“Usually it’ll be a single couple, like Darren and Patricia, and we decide what they want to see, what they want to do depending on their time and how active they want to be.
The wonderful thing about the tour is that David can present varied location options and you can tailor the trip to suit your time and budget and interests.
“We are the least touristy tour anyone has ever been on,” noted David.
“I really like to put people in new situations – outdoors in the elements, but in a safe way. Storms can be dangerous when you’re down by the water but there are safe ways to enjoy it - like the tower - and still feel the power of the wind and the elements during storm events.”
Posalski added with a laugh that there is one certainty about the Oregon coast during the winter months: “Whether it’s cold, whether it’s hot, there will be weather, whether or not. It is always exciting!”
Back on the beach at Cape Meares, Don Beast agreed that winter weather is exciting – and he advised visitors to bring a camera when they come to the coast so to “capture the drama:”
“It’s fun to catch just the right moment when a big wave crashes – it’s what I call the ‘ooo-ahhh shot.’ You may have to shoot a hundred pictures to get that oooo-ahhhh shot, but it’s sure worth it.”
Klamath Bald Eagles
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” each February.
Diana Samuels 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.”
Audubon member Dave Hewitt said that the Klamath Basin Audubon Society produces the three-day event with more than 100 volunteers from the local community who give thousands of hours to help people learn and understand more about Oregon’s wildlife heritage.
There are many activities designed for families and kids and you don’t really have to know anything about birds, just have a passing interest in nature and we’ll show you some pretty exciting things.”