Pocket Water Steelhead
When you tag along with Mark Anderson for some ‘Pocket Water Steelheading,’ be ready to put in your time scrambling and rambling down and then back up steep sloped river canyons. Anderson loves to explore places that make you feel more mountain goat than two footed angler.
“Now, this is the kind of day you like to be on the water: sun is shining, no rain in sight – wow! Leave the rain gear at home,” noted the longtime angler.
And we kept moving –along a small Oregon coast range river – looking for the small pockets of whitewater where the “eager biters” like to hold.
It was a day marked by brilliant sunshine during an unusually extended dry period.
“Pocket water is the very head of a river’s run where it riffles before it levels off and smoothes out,” noted the longtime angler.
Anderson likes to cast into a river’s hidden places where water narrows and races so to reach deep holes that hold big fish.
“Fish will tuck in at the head of that hole because it provides cover for them and they feel safe.”
He entices fish to bite colorful hand-tied feather covered “jigs” that ride the river under a simple bobber.
It is easy to admire the simplicity of his rigging for it is back to basics fishing: a lure, some leader, a bobber and then a cast and you’re fishing. It’s so simple anyone can try. Even me!
I reach for one of Anderson’s offerings: a bright red feathered jig that is wrapped around a “twin barbell” weighted jig. Anderson called the jig one of his “Sure fire, can’t miss lures.”
I cast the entire affair and it splashed into milk white foam to ride the downriver current – this was pocket water steelhead fishing at its finest.
“Hey, hey, hey – there we go!” I shout as Anderson’s bobber disappears into the cloudy foam.
“A big buck native steelhead,” he cried. “It was resting right there in that current and grabbed the jig as it rushed past. Wow!”
The big, ten pound steelhead, marked by a red crimson bar the length of its lateral line, charged deep toward the river bottom and then twisted and shook the hook as it swam away to even deeper water.
“Oh no, it’s off! Oh well, it happens – and sometimes just like that,” noted Anderson.
The big fish was down and then gone in a heartbeat, but Anderson said true anglers are never ‘down n out’ when it comes to pocket water steelhead.
“I love it too,” he said with a grin. “Because all of this – the lures, the bobbers, the other gear – all made in Oregon and it’s important to support the local angling shops.”
Mark’s the owner of his favorite “local shop” called “First Bite Jigs.” It’s his Oregon-grown business and he has created thousands of feathered jigs based upon a lifetime of experience that often has him, “thinking like a fish.”
“The first thing a fish sees is the color. The color is critical in attracting them and then it’s the action and the presentation. So, shrimp-pink is just an all-time favorite color for salmon, steelhead and trout. It’s akin to something they have seen before.”
For the past 12 years, Anderson’s ‘First Bite Jigs’ has been out in front and successful in an increasingly competitive fishing lure business. He insisted that spreading the word about jig fishing for steelhead and salmon is his ultimate goal – no matter how many competitors he faces each year.
He loves to spread the word about how much fun it is to go jig fishing and he has even produced a program, “The Art of the Jig” that shows others how it’s done.
“That is probably the biggest project I’ve ever done. How to spot fish, casting to the fish and hooking a fish - it’s demonstrated and tied all together.”
These days, his customers range across the planet and they are tied together by common appreciation for the native Oregonian’s work.
Anderson owns scores of worldwide photos that his customers have sent from South America through Europe, Alaska to the Great Lakes. It seems that no matter the water and location, the fish that live there are crazy eager to try a First Bite Jig and. The photos are marked by grinning anglers and usually a colorful jig hanging in a trophy fish’s jaws.
“The old saying, ‘a picture’s worth a thousand words,’ is so true,” said Anderson. “You can tell the story but if you have one picture it completes it.” He added with a grin, “Plus, the bigger the fish, the bigger the story so it’s all pretty neat.”
Back on the river, local angler Steven Randolph told us that pocket water steelheading is “pretty neat” too. We watched as he landed and carefully released a gorgeous ten pound wild steelhead.
“Awesome and epic,” said the young angler with a mile-wide smile. “My second steelhead ever and that was my first native fish. This is just fantastic!”
Anderson likes to move – a lot - and you need to be in tip top shape to keep up with him. It’s the way he was taught for he was a young “tag along” with his Dad, a dedicated fisherman who fished for salmon and steelhead “every month of the year.”
Anderson has learned that it is important to be on the move. He rarely spends more than thirty minutes at each spot because more pocket water steelhead wait around each bend.
“I never really quit steelhead fishing. It’s my year round passion and I always seem to have a rod that has a jig on it for steelhead in April and May for the winter run – and then the summer runs take over. Oregon is blessed with opportunities and I so love that about my home state.”
At a favorite location, high in the river-shed, Anderson cast across a small pocket of whitewater where he thought a fish might hold. In a matter of seconds, his bobber disappeared.
“There he is!” noted the confidant angler who had experienced this routine many times before.
It was a wild steelhead – about 8 pounds – somewhat dark and sporting the tell-tale crimson bar across the length of its jaw - he quickly landed and released the fish.
He quickly began casting his jig into the foamy water again and said, “That was great – maybe we’ll get another one!”
It was a promise that made the day long hiking adventure that included hours of bouncing from spot to spot, so worthwhile. Anglers should spend a day and get to know a river well by exploring for Oregon’s pocket water steelhead.
In addition, check out the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s new guide to Summer Steelhead fishing. It will help you take advantage of a forecast run size of more than 400,000 summer fish returning to the Willamette and Columbia Rivers beginning in May.
Rugged Edge of Oregon
Some call it the ‘rugged edge of the Oregon coast’ where the sun and surf meet to leave you spellbound and breathless.
Grant McOmie takes us to Cape Perpetua Scenic Area where in winter – except for surf and wind, the coast slows down – that’s easy to understand – few distractions, few folks around…especially along Oregon’s rugged edge of life.
It’s more than forty miles of central Oregon coastline beginning at Waldport and continuing along a southerly stretch of Coastal Highway 101 marked by steep headlands, jagged volcanic outcrops and jaw-dropping scenic drama:
Oregon State Parks Ranger, David Weisenback, said that the sheer beauty of the place surprises many first timers:
“It is such a beautiful and unique area – you can hike to the overlooks, the viewpoints, across the rocky shorelines. No matter where you travel in the world, this is still one of the most scenic areas.”
In fact, it is so significant and prized a place that 2700 acres of massive Cape Perpetua is designated a National Scenic Area.
Two miles south of Yachats, Oregon you will find the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center and it is open daily.
USFS Manager, David Thompson, noted that atop Cape Perpetua you can turn in any direction for views that surprise and amaze:“Certainly the coast is the most dramatic the part that captures your attention first,” noted Thompson. “And yet if you turn and look the other way, you’ve got this unbelievably green sitka spruce forest with a wealth of moss and ferns and giant trees – it’s all special.”
The Visitor Center provides a wealth of hiking choices too: over 11 different trails for a total of 27 miles and the wonderful thing is that at one point or another many of the trails inter-connect with one another.
The Captain Cook Trail is wheelchair accessible, leads you from the Visitor Center to skirt the shoreline. At low tide, the trail puts on quite a show as waves crash into rocky crevices and cracks at a place called “Spouting Horn.”
If you wish to wander longer consider the astounding collection of Oregon State Park Waysides with names like Neptune, Ponsler or Strawberry Hill where tide pools invite closer inspection during the ebbing tide.
Nearby, Washburne State Park Campground invites you for an overnight stay where winter campers are welcome in a tent, trailer or r-v.
For those who love to camp, but lack the right gear, Park Ranger Deborah Edwards said to consider renting a yurt:“Camping in winter can be just as exciting as the summertime, you just have to deal with a bit more rain and a yurt is perfect. You get a bunk bed which sleeps two on the bottom and one on the top, a futon, table and a couple of chairs, plus heat and light.”
Little more than five miles away, another site requires you to take a short stroll on a paved trail and then a quick ride down the face of a cliff for 208 feet in an elevator to reach Sea Lion Caves.
Sea Lion Caves has been an Oregon coastal icon as far back as most folks remember; more than 100 acres of the adjacent land has been in private ownership since 1887.
It’s been a drawing card for the curious,” said Manager Boomer Wright. He explained that the massive cave is largest along west coast and where 250 stellar sea lions are a raucous, rowdy crowd.
“They are very social animals with their barking, crawling over each other and even nipping one another. They are very social animals.”
Wright added that up to 1,000 stellar sea lions use the cave from November through late summer: They are often seen lounging, loafing or just plain sacked out on the rocky interior cliffs or boulders.
Of course, there is the large center rock that we call ‘King of the Hill,’ noted Wright and there is usually quite of a bit of fighting between sea lions to see who gets to rest atop it.”
The stellar sea lions are not the only wildlife species that are easy to spy at Sea Lion Caves. Back atop, keep eyes out for soaring raptors like hawks and eagles that are often seen on the hunt – or flocks of shore birds that dance and dazzle and skirt the surf.
David Thompson said that it is a remarkable scene and one that is often overlooked in winter: “Without a doubt, it’s the most gorgeous stretch of the Oregon coast with the collection of rocky shores, so the geology, the geography and certainly the forest add up to a wonderful place to relax and wonder and wander if you want a place to decompress.”
Sage Grouse Romance
When daylight cracks the horizon, Oregon’s Malheur Wildlife Refuge is a marvel!
That’s especially true along Foster Flats Road when a bit of sagebrush romance is underway.
It is a stunning strutting show as more than two-dozen sage grouse meet on a communal breeding ground called a “lek.”
Ecologist and wildlife guide Steve Shunk joined me as we sat alongside a not-so-camouflaged lineup of vehicles filled with folks who similar ideas oh how best to begin their day.
We were drawn to an intriguing show as male sage grouse puffed up their chests and strutted in quick-step back and forth displays with tail feathers fanned out in impressive display.
Nearby, Shunk pointed to a group of smaller, drabber females or “hens” that watched the male or “rooster” grouse go to such great lengths to win over their favors.
Shunk noted, “ We have our own mating rituals – we get all primped up and wear fancy clothes and go out on dates – but to do what these birds do; distend their bodies and make the odd sounds is just something that most people don’t have any perspective on. There’s just nothing like coming to see it in person.”
Every now and then a real battle royal would break out between two male sage grouse – Shunk offered that dominance is the key word in order to understand the bird’s behavior.
“If you’re a younger male and you want to challenge the older male, you have to go right up to him – stare him down and wait to see what happens.”
What most often happened was a flurry of feathers and dust as the birds went round and round across the sage covered flat.
And within seconds it was over – and usually the older, larger male assumed his victorious position near the females.
Sage Grouse were once common species in the high desert, but today half has reduced their habitat. So refuges and protected wildlife areas are critical to the bird’s survival.
“There are at least a dozen leks scattered around the refuge,” noted Shunk. “Not just upland but even higher because the birds need the open sage flats. Also, the sage has to be very low and on an open flat.”
That’s because the grouse need to be able to see predators that might be approaching the lek – coyotes and bobcats and foxes are common species that hunt the grouse.
Shunk added, the sage grouse strutting is an incredible way to start a day’s adventure at Malheur Refuge: “If people are willing to get up early, yes we’ll start here – I love being up at sunrise. To come up here and see this and then travel thru the wetlands, it’s a nice diverse nature experience.”
In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt established the Lake Malheur Reservation, an 81,786-acre preserve and breeding ground for native birds.
This designation followed decades of neglect and misuse that included draining and diking historic marshes and heavy cattle grazing that denuded stream banks and eroded soils.
Unrestricted bird hunting--not only by settlers for food but by market hunters who killed egrets, swans, and terns for feathers to adorn women’s finery--decimated the local bird population.
Protection for wildlife continued to expand, and by 1940 Malheur National Wildlife Refuge stretched thirty-nine miles in width and extended forty miles in length.
At 187,540 acres, today’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is an oasis in the middle of Oregon’s arid high desert country. It consists of marshes, ponds, meadows, uplands, and alkali flats, diverse habitats that attract a wide variety of bird species that arrive at peak numbers each April through June.
During the spring migration, more than 250,000 ducks--mallards, pintails, teals, redheads, canvasbacks, and ruddy ducks, among others--join more than 100,000 geese and 6,000 sandhill cranes. In the deeper marshes, gulls, terns, ibises, herons, egrets, and cormorants find ideal nesting habitat.
The refuge is primarily located in the lush Blitzen River valley, the surrounding sage uplands and basalt rimrocks, and the immense bodies of water that collect the Blitzen’s outflow.
I like to begin each visit at the refuge’s visitor center, with its interpretive exhibits and bookshop. The visitor center overlooks Malheur Lake, and the trees and shrubs offer homey habitats to many migrating songbirds each spring.
The adjacent Benson Memorial Museum contains nearly two hundred mounted specimens of local birds in one of the buildings constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s and 1940s. CCC workers constructed the buildings with volcanic rock that was mined from a quarry on the refuge.
Head south from the visitor center on the forty-one-mile-long automobile tour route. In about twenty miles, you’ll come to the Buena Vista Overlook, where you’ll find an outstanding view of the Blitzen River valley with towering Steens Mountain as the backdrop.
You’ll appreciate the short, easy hiking trail around the overlook, as well as the restroom. This viewing area also offers wheelchair accessibility. In addition, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife offers a wealth of wildlife viewing opportunities – many are located in Eastern Oregon including 25 different state managed areas.
Water is a magnet to wildlife, and along this route you’ll need to slow down to savor the spring season that’s bursting with birds. You’ll be rewarded with views of migratory waterfowl.
Sandhill cranes and shorebird species, as well as songbirds such as warblers, vireos, and tanagers, use the many wetland areas, including Krumbo Reservoir and Benson Point.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson Carey Goss said the birds are waiting for you to enjoy: “You’ll see a lot of large flocks, like snow geese, sandhill cranes and that’s why people get excited about this place when they see those large numbers of birds in one little area – being able to drive for miles on a tour and see those opportunities is very unique.”
This area is remote and rugged. Plan on traveling long distances on gravel roads, and make sure your transportation is reliable and your spare tire is in good shape.
In fact, this area is so remote I suggest carrying two spare tires if you’re planning to travel the back roads much. It’s also a good idea to carry plenty of food and water (it can get pretty hot during summer months).
That said, some areas are wheelchair accessible. The refuge is heavily signed and restrictions are plentiful, so heed where you’re going and tread lightly.
Remember that the refuge is full of marshy areas that are ideal breeding grounds for hungry mosquitoes. If you go between April and November, take plenty of insect repellent.
And remember that hiking is restricted only to designated and signed areas. In fact, a good rule of thumb is to hike only on roads that are open to automobiles.
The John Scharff Migratory Bird Festival is held during the first full weekend in April following Easter and offers non-stop birding activities as well as historical and cultural information sure to entertain you and your family. So whether you're a beginner or a life-long wildlife enthusiast, the Burn’s based festival has something for everyone.
Spend an amazing weekend witnessing the spectacular spring migration in the Harney Basin of Southeast Oregon. View thousands of migratory birds as they rest and feed in the wide-open spaces of Oregon's high desert. From waterfowl to shorebirds, cranes to raptors, wading birds to songbirds, you'll see it all!
A Bald Eagle Convocation
I think I know much about Oregon’s varied wildlife species, but I have to admit, when it comes to the names we give “collections” of wildlife I am often stumped.
How about you?
Did you know that many deer are called a “herd,” but they can also be called a “bevy?”
A collection of elk is not a herd but a “gang?”
Collections of birds can be called flocks or flights – but geese can also be called a gaggle or a skein.
And that brings us to our nation’s symbol – the center piece of this week’s getaway: bald eagles never gather in flocks but something far more regal called a “convocation.”
One of the most amazing Oregon wildlife moments is found atop four story tall cottonwood trees near Tangent where an eagle “convocation” draws up to 100 eagles in the Linn County tree tops each evening.
Even more remarkable, according to Jeff Fleischer, a retired US Fish and Wildlife Refuge Manager, is that this convocation of eagles didn’t exist five years ago.
Fleischer has tallied a rapid rise in the wintertime Willamette Valley eagle population.
“We have seen a wholesale increase; a doubling and then tripling of bald eagles in the southern end of the Willamette Valley.”
Fleischer is a member of the East Cascades Audubon Society and he leads a statewide “Raptor Survey Project” and he will drive more than 2400 miles across Willamette Valley main lines and back roads to count eagles in trees, on poles, in fields or in flight.
Over the last several years, a typical high count for a winter’s day was 50.
Fleisher said last year that number “skyrocketed!”
“We had 217 in one day!”
Fleischer said he thinks more eagles have arrived in the Willamette Valley because the dining is so good.
“During the winter, a lot of sheep …will die for various reasons and the carcasses are left in the fields. That’s what eagles key on without question!”
Fleischer said the winter sheep population has grown because farmers have changed the types of grass they grow for Oregon’s grass seed market.
New grasses tolerate winter grazing and allow farmers to make more money by grazing more flocks of sheep.
“The increase in sheep brought the increase in eagles,” noted Fleischer. “It’s an easily accessed food source and eagles don’t have to expend a lot of energy to eat.”
Joel Geier is a member of Oregon’s Field Ornithologists and his organization recently partnered with other groups, including Oregon’s Division of Tourism, to identify 130 “Birding Trails” in the Willamette Valley. He said eagle viewing opportunities are spectacular and could bring even more visitors to rural towns in the valley.
“You may see eagles standing on the ground, perched in trees are flying across the fields - they are distinct and hard to miss.”
Geier said visitors can follow the “Willamette Valley Birding Trail” that goes past the eagle convocation in Linn County.
“You don’t need fancy optics to see eagles because they are so big. Some may be seen just a hundred yards off the roadway.”
Visitor Steve Seibel said he enjoys taking photos of eagles and he has documented their feeding behavior.
“Typically, the birds displace each other – that is, one will feed for awhile and then another will come in and move the first bird away. The food seems to be so abundant that they don’t fight to hold their position – seems like they’re living in the land of plenty here.”
Geier reminds visitors that etiquette demands you should pull to the side of the road and not block private roads or driveways.
“Be aware that almost everything ten feet off the road is private land,” said Geier.”So stay on the shoulder of the roadway and don’t wander across fields.”
You can also visit wildlife refuges and see eagles in the Willamette Valley.
Molly Monroe, US Fish and Wildlife Biologist at William Finley National Refuge near Corvallis said that there are three wildlife refuges – W Finley, Ankeny and Baskett Slough that are easily accessed public settings to see bald eagles and other birds, including thousands of waterfowl.
“As long as you find open bodies of water where there are ducks and geese it’s a given you’ll see one or two eagles – they are always on watch – either perched or actively hunting. It’s a treat for everyone to see an eagle.”
For information about Oregon’s birding trails and to get the weekly wildlife report about birds and other wildlife activity, visit the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife bird watching page.