Downtown Salmon Fishing
There’s a unique fishery on the Southern Oregon coastline at Coos Bay where a community’s determined effort and strong commitment has made a difference in restoring a nearly extinct salmon run.
Coos Bay’s waterfront streetlights sparkle when you join longtime guide, Rick Howard, on a first light fishing trip in September.
It takes only a few minutes of travel across the smooth estuary in Howard’s comfortable 25-foot boat to reach the salmon rich water that is marked by fog-shrouded silhouettes.
They are fishermen and with their fishing rods bent over double and their nets flying high and they are a sure sign that eager salmon are on the bite.
If you want to catch one, noted the longtime fishing guide, you must prepare a “plug cut” herring for bait, thread it onto hooks that are tied to a five foot leader that’s secured to a brass swivel with a four ounce lead sinker. The tackle and terminal gear must be trolled just off the estuary bottom with the falling tide.
Or – if you lack the skill and experience - sign up to join Howard for a day on the bay. Then you can watch in awe and admiration as he scans the waterway for safe passage, deftly handles his boat through watercraft traffic and prepare the baited rods for you and your fishing partners.
“Fishing at the right speed and at the right depth are key points,” noted Howard with a knowing smile. “You must also make sure the baits are clean and don’t have human scent on them.”
This is Fall fishing on Coos Bay, where the downtown salmon run has begun and Rick Howard is quick, efficient at catching them relying on skills born of a lifetime of guiding fishermen across these waters.
“Basically, this is where Coos River starts,” said Howard. “These fall Chinook salmon are fresh from the sea and they are coming right here – across the 10,000 acre estuary in front of town. They linger here a bit to make sure this is their home water and it is probably the most productive spot to be fishing at this time of year.”
Oregon Dept of Fish and Wildlife Biologist – Tom Rumreich – agreed that the downtown Coos Bay salmon fishery is one of the most productive in the state.
But then, for the past thirty years, he has helped to build it that way.
Rumreich helps guide the local ODFW “STEP” or “Salmon, Trout Enhancement Program” that has uniquely brought together thousands of local volunteers, businesses and even school children to raise money, build hatcheries and do the heavy lifting to bring back a basin-wide fall Chinook salmon run.
“Our STEP project for fall salmon is unique from the standpoint of how many people work for the common goal of putting more fish here for everyone,” noted the fishery biologist. “There’s great pride in that fact.”
There’s good reason to be proud when you consider the Coos River watershed’s legacy of poor salmon habitat – habitat that was stripped from the streams by old logging practices called “splash damming.”
In a splash dam operation, temporary wooden dams collected the logs and then in a heartbeat, the dams were broken open to quickly move the big wood downstream to reach Coos Bay’s lumber mills.
The splash dam era began in the late 1800’s and didn’t end until 1958. Nearly a century later, Rumreich said the damage to salmon runs was devastating.
“Biologists prior to me said you could walk up these rivers and not find a five gallon bucket of gravel in any of them. In fact, some biologists back then reported that the Coos River Fall Chinook went from 100,000 fish strong to extinction.”
But today it’s a different story – More than 3,000 STEP volunteers raise and more than 2 million baby salmon each year. The adult volunteers work with school children to help capture the adult fish, spawn them and then each spring, volunteers remove the adipose fin that marks each fish’s hatchery origin.
The Coos Bay STEP project is not only a hatchery program, but funds and provides manpower for river habitat restoration projects too. The varied projects help restore the rivers so that wild salmon get a boost to increase natural salmon spawning production too.
Eric Farm, former Director of the Coos Bay Chamber of Commerce, added that the projects help further environmental education for local students:
“Our kids hold the big chinook in their hands, they spawn the fish, clip the adipose fins off the smolt and send them down the raceway. Those experiences will stick with them the rest of their lives. Our community put their hands into this project and now – after thirty years – we are reaping the rewards of that effort.”
Rick Howard said the rewards are shared with thousands of sports anglers each Fall. He said the last year more than 11,000 fall Chinook were caught by anglers who spent nearly $3.5 million in the local community.
Rumreich added it’s no surprise that the project’s community support has been wide-spread and remarkable.
“People in our community benefit - not only by catching the fish but the economic boost that comes from fishing gear sales, motel rooms, restaurant meals and so much more. “It’s so amazing to see all of these people out here enjoying themselves in a great place, a great community – it’s a uniquely Oregon experience.”
Explore the Oregon Trail
History runs deep across Oregon’s varied landscapes that seem to offer a treasure trove of places and activities that reveal much about our past.
In fact, one region in particular offers plenty of hands-on lessons in history that – with a little imagination – can transport you to a very different Oregon.
Join Grant this week as he heads into a region that holds on to Oregon early days – exploring the Oregon Trail.
Hells Canyon of the Snake River offers you thrills, chills and maybe a spill along Oregon’s most challenging whitewater river. But rugged and remote adventure is but one entree from a remarkable menu of Eastern Oregon adventures.
But upriver from Hells Canyon at Farewell Bend State Park (at Brownlee Reservoir) you’ll enjoy an oasis of green – where acres of spreading locust trees provide cool shady relief from the summer sun.
Joe Kenick, Oregon State Park Manager, said that the historic site earned its name from the earliest pioneers who passed through the area on their westward treks:
“This is where they had to say ‘farewell’ to the Snake River and move up toward the northwest and Baker Valley. You must remember that walking down Hells Canyon was not an option, so this place stood out and was a draw because it’s the only green around.”
The Farewell Bend State Park Campground offers plenty of elbow room across its 74 lakeshore acres with more than 120 sites for tents or trailers. There are also two rental cabins that offer all of the comforts of home, so it’s a good place to spend some time, cast a fishing line and enjoy a break.
“An archeologist once told me,” added Kenick, “that a good place to camp is a good place to camp whether it’s 150 years ago or today. That’s why this was a gathering spot on the Oregon Trail.”
Less than an hour away - near Baker City – the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center is a fine gathering site for your family. The site provides you with a perspective and context to better understand the region’s early days.
The OTIC opened in 1993 and shows - through tours and exhibits – how the westward migration that began in the 1840’s changed Oregon forever.
“We tend to think about coming across the Oregon Trail as this great big adventure – hurrah, let’s go!” said Jeremy Martin, BLM Park Ranger. “But the fact is there was a sense of desperation that moved most people west. People who came this way in the 1840’s and 50’s needed a better life!”
Outside the OTIC you can explore replicas of covered wagons that give you a feel for the pioneering experience, but Martin is quick to point out that you won’t need to travel far to see the real thing. That’s because the actual trail – deep wagon ruts and all – is adjacent to the OTIC.
“It’s important to remember that there wasn’t just one trail,” noted Martin with a chuckle. “There were many Oregon Trails and the reason for many trails is because no one liked eating dust for long. So, often-times the wagons would spread out across the valley floor. We are a place that holds on to Oregon history and we tell the story of the largest non-forced human migration in human history. “
In nearby Baker City – just four miles away – make time to visit the grandest site of all – In fact, the Geiser Grand Hotel is in the center of what was once called the “Queen City” of Oregon’s gold country. There’s no finer place to rest your head!
“Baker City is the next historic chapter that followed the Oregon Trail,” said Barbara Sidway, the owner and General Manager of the Geiser Grand Hotel. “The trail blew through this area and brought hundreds of thousands of pioneers into the Willamette Valley, but settlement in this area didn’t really happen until later – after gold was discovered.”
The Geiser Grand Hotel offers a certain elegance that may spoil you with fine crystal chandeliers, rich mahogany millwork and a spectacular stained glass atrium that collectively - take the breath away.
Thirty guest rooms invite you to linger longer, “We are big on comfort here,” said Sidway. “The scale of everything, including decorations and furnishings - you won’t see anything petite here.”
It is also comfort and elegance that traveled a long road to recovery. You see, the Geiser Grand Hotel’s story began in 1889 during the rough and tumble days of Oregon’s gold rush.
Albert Geiser made a “statement” when he built his namesake hotel that said Eastern Oregon could rival any of the big city offerings that travelers might encounter between Seattle and San Francisco.
The hotel thrived for nearly half a century before the gold played out and harder times arrived. In fact, the hotel was boarded up and abandoned when Barbara Sidway and her husband arrived in the early 1990’s.
They found a tremendous mess with damage throughout a building that didn’t have a roof: “Oh, it was horrible,” said Sidway. “Pigeons flying in and out of the open roof and the walls were so wet you could grab the plaster and feel the water.”
But Sidway also saw something remarkable in the building’s details and it’s bones: the promise for a new life!
“There was so much of the original millwork still intact and it was done with a lot of care and money and artisanship – it was all just extraordinary,” said Sidway.
So, an 8-million dollar restoration followed and the investment in the hotel and in Baker City’s future was completed when the hotel reopened in 1998.
Denny Grosse, the official tour guide at the Geiser Grand Hotel, (she is also Barbara Sidway’s mother) has a passion for history and noted that, “the hotel offers elegance – which is what Albert Geiser originally wanted to bring to town more than 120 years ago. This was elegance in the wilderness.”
Denny can tell you much about the hotel, its place in history and why the family thought it was all worth saving: “Because once it’s gone, history has disappeared – you can’t retrieve it if you tear it down.”
Barbara agreed and offered: “When you stay at the Geiser Grand Hotel you are really stepping back in time and connecting with what Eastern Oregon is about now. If you just show up we will get you pointed in the right direction for history and adventure.”
Afoot and Afloat on the Tualatin River
Fall colors are a sure sign of the fast-changing seasons and Grant McOmie explores a fine place to enjoy the show. He takes us afoot and afloat to explore the wonder of nature along the Tualatin River.
Brian Wegener, the Watershed Watch co-ordinator for Tualatin RiverKeepepers, said that canoe paddling “puts him in touch with his neighborhood.”
“The Tualatin is a great place for beginners,” noted the longtime conservationist, because most of the year there is little or no current. There’s not much traffic on the river either and as you can see, at this time of year, it is carpeted with the golden leaves of the ash trees that fall on the river.”
The Tualatin River is born high in the Oregon coast range and it flows nearly a hundred miles through the heart of fast-growing Washington County on the western edge of the Portland Metro area.
“The river drops a foot and a half over a thirty mile reach,” added Wegener.“So, there’s no gradient to speak of – and it’s a great place for blue herons, green herons, bald eagles and ospreys.”
Wegner and the small party of friends who joined our paddle trip near Sherwood, Oregon are all members of the Tualatin Riverkeepers.
It is a grass roots conservation organization that puts the paddles of their members into action to help the river.
For example, on a recent fall afternoon, scores of volunteers gathered and walked the talk of caring for the stream. They gave up their time to pickup up boatloads of trash from the river’s shoreline.
“Garbage of all kinds,” noted Wegener. “Lawnmowers, garbage bags, plastic, all sorts of stuff - even a 30-year-old car chassis.”
Tarri Christopher, a longtime TRK member, added “This is the source of our drinking water, so it’s important for us to keep it clean. We take a recreational aspect and we turn it into an educational component too.”
Paul Whitney, another longtime Riverkeeper, agreed with the conservation aspect of their group and added that paddling puts his mind at ease as the fall colors come into their own.
“My blood pressure drops and I can feel the calmness with each paddle stroke. I consider it undiscovered wilderness that most people in the Portland area aren’t aware of…maybe you don’t get the diversity of colors that you do in New England – but it’s certainly a show of yellows and oranges.”
The most common tree along the river is Oregon Ash and when they drop their leaves, it’s as if a bright yellow carpet had been laid down across the water’s surface. It is really beautiful!
Not only on the river, but ashore at the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge where many people stop in at this time of year to gaze across more than a thousand acres of protected landscape near Sherwood, Oregon.
“It’s a gem and it’s an unusual situation where people can take a bus and go to a wildlife refuge, noted longtime paddler, Carl Hosticka. “When you get out on this river, you see you’re out in nature, but you go only a mile in any direction and there’s the city and people and development.”
It’s a remarkable contrast and the sort of place that may leave you wondering, ‘Why haven’t I been here before?’
The refuge was established in 1992 and it opened to the public in 2007. It is vast for an urban wildlife refuge at more than a thousand acres.
The site is best enjoyed on the “Refuge Trail:” a mile long, wheelchair accessible ribbon of wonders that skirts the wetland’s perimeter and follows the river too.
There are plenty of stops along the way including a river overlook where you may spy waterfowl during the fall and winter seasons.
It is a fine place to escape the city rush for the rush of wings.
Christopher noted that most people who live in Washington County, one of the state’s most populous counties, don’t even know about the river that they live near.
“And that’s okay because we love to introduce folks to it. The refuge offers that opportunity and the Riverkeepers really encourage people to visit it.”
Wegener added that he and other members (there are nearly 1,000 Tualatin Riverkeeper members) are pushing hard for more river access closer to the refuge so more people can explore – mile by mile – the river’s beauty and adventure.
“When you’re out on a day like this and it is so quiet, you can’t really see much human influence – it sure feels like what it must have been 200 years ago.”
Hood River Harvest Express
It’s harvest time in Oregon’s Hood River Valley and you don‘t want to be late for the Mt Hood Railroad “Harvest Express.”
The train rolls in to the Hood River city depot at 10am sharp each Friday and Saturday to take on passengers for the valley run.
According to Ron Kaufman, the Hood River Railroad’s General Manager, the ride gives a glimpse into Hood River history and dates back more than a century:
“The rail service is how people got to this town back in 1906 and we’ve been in continual operation ever since. We haul freight year round and we take passenger excursions too. It’s a blast to feel the jostle of the rail cars as you travel a line that’s pretty much the way it was back then.”
Local resident, Roman Fey, is the Mt Hood Railroad conductor who noted that passengers love to step aboard and touch the past:
“There’s something really old fashioned about this that folks can’t find anywhere else. So, I feel pretty lucky to do this and it’s great to do it in my hometown.”
The train rolls out and immediately offers spectacular views to the river and valley that you cannot see from the paved highway – and Kaufman added, there’s a bonus to the pace of the ride:
“It’s a bit slower and that takes folks back to kind of a bygone era when life wasn’t quite so fast. I tell folks to just look out the window and enjoy the scenery and unique views.
Soon the views include scores of family owned farms and orchards where the fruit trees are heavy with the fall bounty.
Kiyokawa Family Orchards near Parkdale, entices shoppers with many apple favorites grown on their fertile land. Popular apples like ‘Gala’ and ‘Fuji’ are available alongside lesser known varieties like ‘Ginger Gold.’
Randy Kiyokawa said they offer more than 80 varieties including the dinner plate sized giants called “Hanner’s Jumbo;” it’s an apple variety that can weigh up to 4 pounds.
He also held up a stunner of an apple with an incredible surprise called “Mountain Rose.” With a quick flick of his pocket knife blade, Randy showed off the gorgeous inside of an apple that looked more like a crimson red watermelon.
“This has become one of my favorites,” noted the longtime apple farmer. “It maintains this brilliant color and it doesn’t brown quickly – people love its sweet taste and it really is absolutely delicious.”
Be sure to check out the many U-Pick rows of fruit trees too. More than three acres of apples and pears are grown adjacent to the family store and Randy said picking the fruit is so easy anyone can try
“The fruit is within easy reach and no ladders are required. It’s really a lot of fun whether you’re a youngster or an oldster, there will be an apple there for you to pick.”
Ingi Song brought his family to the valley from Beaverton and they were having a blast loading up boxes of beautiful apples. He said the activity was perfect daylong getaway for his family: “It’s away from the city and gets us out to do something different together. The scenery is gorgeous up here in the Hood River Valley too.”
You’ll love hearing the Mt Hood Railroad call you back so to ramble along the Hood River Valley. It’s a chance to leave the driving to someone else on a scenic ride that’ll leave you wide-eyed and slack-jawed for Oregon’s abundant beauty.