Crazy For Crabs
Each October, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife offers a unique Outdoor Skills class that teaches folks how to catch their supper from the sea.
It’s the sort of experience that draws lots of beginners to Yaquina Bay at Newport, noted instructor Mark Newell. He said that the class is perfectly suited to folks who want to learn the ropes of Dungeness crabbing.
“We want people to care about the environment and the best way to do that is to get them out enjoying it. Crabbing is a great family activity that they can do together, boating, pulling pots and all of that. There are lots of places to do it.”
One of those places is along Newport’s Bayfront Avenue where Steven De-Mars demonstrated his new gear and technique that catches crabs called the “CrabHawk.”
“I made this for the recreational crabber and the people who don’t own a boat.”
DeMars said that “CrabHawk” (the name comes from a South American raptor that actually eats crab) allows anyone with a rod and reel to cast the trap from a dock or shoreline to reach the big crabs.
“You bait it, cast it out, let it hit bottom and take up your slack just like you’re fishing for trout or catfish.”
De-Mars explained that he came up with the idea after years of frustration with traditional traps and pots that were big, heavy, messy and limited him to one spot on the dock. The CrabHawk gives the fisher lightweight portability and flexibility to move to a new spot.
Initially, Demars used coat hangers and old fishing net to create different prototypes. It took a couple of years to perfect the all stainless steel folding trap that opens like a book on the bottom. The crabs walk onto the trap to feast on the chicken drumstick that’s used for bait. Why chicken?
“The crabs love chicken and sea lions don’t! That’s why it works so well. I’ve had three keepers in one pull and when the crabs are really running, it’s nothing to get doubles every other pull.”
DeMars recommends a ten-eleven foot rod that holds a spinning reel loaded with 50 pound test line. He can easily cast the CrabHawk 150 feet into Yaquina Bay and then props up the rod and watches the rod tip for a bite.
“That’s the key to this; the fact that you can see the bite. If you’re a fisherman and a crabber you get the best of both worlds.”
Nearby, his fishing partner - Gary Bowman - cast his CrabHawk into the bay. He said that he used traditional crab pots for years, but after getting skunked as DeMars limited out, he gave in and bought a couple Crabhawks to try.
“For me, I like the ability to really fish – to cast, watch for the bite and then reel in the catch. It’s more interesting and fun than just watching a rope.”
Demars added that the release of small crabs is easier than traps too – simply unfold the trap and the small crabs fall right back into the bay. “No muss, no fuss and that’s what the CrabHawk is all about,” noted the smiling DeMars. “It doesn’t harm the animal at all.”
It’s new and innovative and recently DeMars has become a part of the ODFW Crabbing classes – demonstrating how they work and catching lots of new customers along the way.
“It works so well and it’s just so simple. Give it a try!”
As we chilled our catch on ice, I asked fisherman Steve Fick what he enjoyed most about the adventure:
“Oh, it’s simple 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…you know and that is fun!”
It is a lot of fun and continues in the kitchen where Steve Fick shares three of his favorite Dungeness crab recipes.
“You can do a lot of different things with crab meat – 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.”
Recipe number one was new to me and called a “Stuffed Crab Sandwich”
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.”
While we waited on the sandwiches, it was time for recipe number two that Steve called the “Fick Crab Cakes.”
Steve began with a pound of crab meat – he added one egg, one cup of Panko, one cup of mayo and a couple of teaspoons of mustard – a generous cup of diced onions and a tablespoon of seafood seasoning followed and the ingredients were mixed and formed into small cakes.
The cakes were placed in a fry pan with a quarter inch of hot peanut oil with Steve’s words of caution:
“You don’t want to overcook these or you’ll get pieces of crab cardboard and that doesn’t taste too great.”
Fick’s recipe number three is called “Crab Louie Salad” and it is one of his favorite because he can make it as elaborate or as simple as he likes.
He insisted, never ever hold back on the crab. He used it atop a bed of sliced lettuce and then again atop all of the ingredients.
Salad fixings include onions, cucumbers, celery, sliced olives, tomatoes, a sliced egg and a cup of shredded cheddar cheese.
“It’s a light meal,” he noted. “But it can be a heavier meal if you want it to be with the ingredients – especially the cheese.”
Our seafood feast was topped off too – with a glass of Oregon white wine (Fick prefers Pinot Grigio) and a local microbrew. The table was set for a couple of kings who volunteered as official “Getaway Food Tasters:” Jim Shores and Birt Hansen.
Each was eager to sample our efforts and offered their reviews:
“Excellent, excellent, excellent and what surprised me was so many ways to fix it,” said Shores. “The taste is something you don’t get in upper Minnesota where I come from, so let me say that and I love Oregon crab.”
Hansen nodded in agreement and then with a chuckle he offered, “This all looks outstanding for Jim and me, but what are you guys going to eat? There won’t be any left over for you.”
It was a perfect way to round out a Dungeness crabbing adventure and then bring the day’s activity full circle: from the estuary to the dining table.
Ft Rock State Park
Oregon’s high desert is vast, timeless and remote – where distances are great and people are few and where the only outpost for miles is unlike any state park you’ve ever seen.
At Fort Rock State Park, you won’t find many people, phones, radios or TV’s and many of the people who visit the distant site like it that way.
“I saw it through the forest from a distance and thought, ‘Is that it? Is that it?” said Eugene resident David Foster. He traveled to Fort Rock – camera in hand – to explore a unique chapter in Oregon geologic history far away from the city’s hub-bub and noise.
“Is there anything better than this,” he asked with a chuckle. “I don’t think so! I mean – with imagination, you can see the waves breaking and weathering the rocks over tens of thousands of years. This was a very different place back then!”
Foster is right! Fort Rock isn’t an old military outpost but an ancient volcanic eruption. Fort Rock was a small basaltic vent that formed a tuff ring when it first exploded to the surface - and under the water - 100,000 years ago.
You see, the surrounding landscape was once an expansive inland freshwater sea – up to three hundred feet deep - that resulted from melting glaciers that reached into the area.
“It’s a landmark,” said Joe Wanamaker, Oregon State Park Manager. ”You can see for miles around and it’s very distinct; almost a perfect circle with one side missing.”
Over thousands of years, wave action of the lake eroded the tuff ring's southwest wall away and left terraces along the front and insides of Fort Rock.
Most park visitors enjoy exploring the expansive caldera, searching for petroglyphs and the towering the rock walls are intriguing places to scramble on or try some easy rock climbing.
“There is a short – 1.2 mile long - loop trail that goes through the entire caldera,” said Wanamaker. There are pretty spectacular formations where you can actually see the magma’s gas pockets, plus the lake sediment under your feet is quite sandy and offers easy walking - it’s all pretty neat.”
Be prepared for wildlife viewing opportunities of all sorts too – from soaring prairie falcons to perching eagles – or down low to the ground: speedy lizards that zigzag across the rock formations. Plus, there are many varied and colorful desert wildflowers skirt the hiking trail.
Wanamaker added that the summer temperatures can soar to a hundred degrees, so be prepared with water, sunscreen and solid boots.
“No flip flops!” advised Wanamaker. “This rock is abrasive and if you wish to do some rock scrambling, you’ll want to wear good boots.”
If you want to ramble for a longer stay, check in at LaPine State Park that’s 45 minutes away - along State Highway 97. The huge parkland offers rustic cabins for rent, plus full hook ups for trailers or RV’s.
“The LaPine SP location is central to so many recreation activities,” said Wanamaker. “The High Desert Museum is nearby; there are countless cascade lakes for fishing, plus the Deschutes River winds through our parkland.”
David Foster said that Fort Rock calls him back and may do the same for you – so bring a camera to capture intriguing scenery and to let your imagination travel back to a distant time on Oregon.
“The geology of Oregon is amazing,” said Foster. “And a lot Oregonians have no idea of what’s out here. There’s so much to Oregon. It’s amazing!”
Salmon For All
Each fall, big salmon overcome huge barriers to continue their cycle of life in Oregon’s coastal rivers, including the dramatic leaping for life at Nehalem Falls on the S Fork of the Nehalem River.
But at nearby Waterhouse Falls on the N Fork of the Nehelam River, the salmon’s upriver journey is briefly interrupted.
It happens inside a concrete fish ladder – built into the side of a cliff adjacent to the powerful surging falls – the ladder offers salmon an easier route for passage and it is a good spot to set a trap and where an ODFW crew intercepts the fish each Fall.
The big and brawny wild chinook are caught in the trap; the fish are tagged, measured and then released to swim to upriver spawning grounds.
But according to state fishery biologist, Derek Wiley, it’s a different story for the hatchery-born coho salmon.
“We kill them! It’s that simple. We don’t want their genetics mixing with the wild fish, so all hatchery fish that we catch are killed and they go into ice filled totes and then they are taken to the local food bank.”
The project owes thanks to the Oregon Dept of Fish and Wildlife who provides surplus hatchery coho salmon to Tillamook County volunteers to make sure that local children and others will have a meal.
Volunteer organizer for the project, Mike Ehlen, says ODFW makes it possible hundreds of local school kids: “It is all local fish and the best possible protein you can get. Plus, it’s our own salmon and that helps all the way across the community.”
The fish are transported by volunteers to Tillamook Bay Boat House in Garibaldi, Oregon where they are processed and canned. Owner, Darus Peake provides the labor force that cleans, cuts and cooks the raw salmon.
He said that canning the fresh salmon is preferred because it gives the product a longer shelf life and that’s important.
“We have so many children in Oregon who need food year round,” said Peake. “We have the ability and the opportunity to provide something lasting for our kids. That’s why we’re here!”
The kids who live in Tillamook County also lend a hand. Each of the 20 student’s enrolled in Steve Albrechtsen’s Basic Photography class at Neah-Kah-Nie High School in Tillamook County design a can label for the project.
The students then select the winner from all the entries. The students also glue the labels onto the cans – all 8,000 of the cans.
It’s not just salmon either. The project also includes sport caught tuna fish that’s been donated by local sport fishermen.
In rural Tillamook County, up to 70 percent of school enrollment are on free and reduced lunches – living at or below the poverty line – so the students know that their efforts help make a difference to people:
“We know that people living in our community do have problems, said junior Julia Baker. “Like buying their weekly groceries and providing for the family so it’s good for us to help them.”
Cade Hasenrhoe agreed with his classmate and said the program had really opened his eyes to the problem of hunger in his own town.
“It didn’t even occur to me or it was something that I looked over. But now, I see it it’s real and I feel better knowing how this is going to help so many people.”
Albrechtsen agreed that hunger is not a topic that many kids talk about, so the project is a good introduction to the real problems their communities face each day: “I think they’re all a bit shocked of how needy our community is and some of the students are quiet about it because many know their families are recipients. But they also learn that it’s their duty to step up and help other if they can.”
Local project coordinator, Bill Campbell added, “The students help provide hundreds of cases of canned fish that aren’t for sale, but are given away to schools and local food banks. It’s something they will remember the rest of their lives.”
The canned salmon and tuna provide critical protein for people who don’t have enough to eat and the project reflects a unique Oregon spirit that finds neighbors helping neighbors through tough times.
Sauvie Island Sandhills
Each fall, a feathery invasion drops in to Oregon’s fields and wetlands as a quarter million Canada geese arrive on fixed wings with a rowdy chorus.
On the Sauvie Island Wildlife Area, look closely and listen carefully for another bird species that stands head and shoulders above the crowd.
Sandhill cranes are hard to miss and it’s not just their 3-foot height and 6-foot wingspan, noted Asst Wildlife Area Manager, Dan Marvin.
“This is the spot! This is it as far as opportunities to view sandhill cranes goes in the Willamette Valley. The most popular places to look for them on the island are the agricultural fields.”
It’s not only their distinct size, but adult cranes also have a striking red color across their faces.
“Adults have a bright red crown – a bright red forehead really - and the chicks don’t have that. In fact, the chicks look a lot paler in the face.”
There’s an even more distinct feature according to Gary Ivey – Oregon’s sandhill crane expert. He said that the sandhill sounds are unlike anything you’ve ever heard:
“Well, it’s kind of a loud trumpet that has kind of a trill to it. You can hear it from a long way off and the flocks use it as a contact call. Often, when they are migrating you will hear that call – even when they’re almost invisible so high up. Once you hear the sound you never forget it.”
The big birds fly to Sauvie Island from as far away as SE Alaska and British Columbia and they spend the winter lounging across the refuge grounds.
The peak of their arrival is mid-October when up to 4,000 birds show up on Sauvie Island. Most continue flying further south, but approximately a quarter of theme stay here all winter long
The best time to see them is during the early morning or late afternoon when birds are actively feeding in harvested grain fields.
Be sure to bring good optics too – either binoculars or a spotting scope – each will make a big difference enjoying the view to the birds.
The “view” to all Oregon wildlife has recently improved according to Rick Hargrave – a spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
He said that a recent survey showed nearly two million people spend more than a billion dollars each year to travel and watch Oregon wildlife.
“We knew right then that we needed to get something out there that will make viewing a little easier for folks to enjoy and also highlight the wildlife that the department oversees and manages.”
The new interactive Oregon Wildlife Viewing Map will help you see more of Oregon’s fish and wildlife species. It is a Google-based map that details 235 great places to see wildlife in the state.
It will help you discover where to see bald eagles or sage grouse or migrating snow geese. It will point you to good sites to view Oregon’s largest mammals including migrating gray whales or high desert antelope or Rocky Mountain Elk. Hargrave said the map’s sites reach into each corner of the state.
“The state agency manages fish and wildlife for the people of Oregon and we want people to understand the connections between wildlife viewing, conservation and the habitat. Without an emphasis on all of those, you’re not going to see the variety of wildlife that we have in this great state.”
You’ve plenty of time to enjoy the sandhill show and hear their haunting calls. Sauvie Island Wildlife Area is their winter home through winter and the colorful birds will return north to their breeding and nesting grounds in April.
Cruisin For Color
If the roadway flanking the Nehalem River has a number, I surely cannot find it on a map. Perhaps that’s why I’ve such a love affair with this backdoor byway that takes a bit longer to get from this place to that.
It breezes along nearly 30 miles beginning at a small whistle stop village called “Elsie” (located on State Highway 26) and bounds down a narrow lane past limb-framed farms that cry “photo opp,” before it zips past softly rounded hillsides whose trees sport what calendars told us nearly a month ago: the seasons are changing!
The Nehalem River’s tributaries also show you the changing times: some start as tiny, spring fed trickles across spongy moss that later grow giant and creek-sized and where husky salmon have muscled their way back from salty sea to find their birth home in time to spawn.
“It is so exciting, you just don’t want to leave, can’t stop watching them,” said local photographer Don Best who was perched above popular Nehalem Falls at the Oregon Dept of Forestry’s Nehalem Falls Campground.
(Note: the campground has closed for the fall-winter season, but the trail to the falls remains open.)
Nehalem Falls does so in a short, 30 yard-long series of churning drops that give salmon little choice but a gang- up approach to leaping for their lives.
Best is an avid fan of the site and tries to capture the salmon show each fall.
“I’ll be here for hours trying to get that ‘oooh-ahhh’ shot,” said the longtime outdoor photographer. “They jump high and they jump low and you never know where they’ll show up. Plus, they’re only in the air for half a second so you don’t always get them in the perfect shot. Some people take pictures underwater and they turn out really great – but to get them flying thru the air is a different story – that’s fun for me.”
The water hand springs over unseen rocks through the falls while other river spots show off a distinct river’s rhythm that provides a source of restoration for the life that grows here.
The Nehalem River is always by your side on this scenic drive but you can enjoy a chance to break off from the roadway at Spruce Run Campground.
Abundant picnic tables compliment a perfect riverside stop and rest and breathe in relaxation before you continue on your way.
It is the colorful, wonderful show along this back road that I cherish most where the big leaf maple leaves, already mottled brown or gray, sometimes fall gently, gliding by the way.
While other times, a breeze kicks up a blizzard and the leaves drop and stop on placid pools where barely a ripple to marks the moment or the giant leaves collect and build in piles along the road providing a ‘drive through’ too inviting to refuse.
So, hurry here soon and then slow down on a back road without numbers that is one of the very best around!
Please consider the Oregon Fall Foliage Hotline (operates Sept-Nov) for it offers weekly reports on the status of the fall colors across Oregon.