When you try something new, it pays to go with the pros!
That’s what more than thirty newcomers recently discovered when they signed up for the ODFW’S “Crab Class,” a course from the agency’s menu of adventures called Outdoor Skills.
Instructors, biologists and volunteers teach and assist students in the varied Outdoor Skills courses.
Crabbing is a popular recreation that requires some skill and knowledge, so the agency developed the daylong course to encourage participation.
ODFW spokesperson and instructor, Mark Newell, said that the students get all of the gear and assistance that they might need for a day of fun and excitement at Yaquina Bay in Newport.
“We want people to care about the environment and the only way to get them to do that is to get them out enjoying it. That’s what ‘Crab Class’ does for many students.”
Mike Hoge and his son, Jerrad Hoge, came all the way from Silverton to pick up pointers on the crabbing recreation.
“I did it a little bit as a kid,” noted Mike. “But I didn’t really have any instruction, so I thought some good lessons would help and I’m glad we came today.”
The students kick off the affair at the South Beach State Park Activity Center, just south of Newport.
Instructor Brandon Ford presented the basics of crab biology and explained the trapping techniques, the rules and regulations of the sport.
The session was followed by a short drive to Yaquina Bay Marina where the hands on action began.
The first order of business was how to place the bait inside the crab trap or rings. The bait of choice for the day’s adventure: chicken!
Jennifer Erickson said that she didn’t mind the tradeoff of chicken for crab.
In fact, she her husband, Steve Erickson, traveled from Portland for the chance to learn something new about a seafood they really enjoy eating for dinner.
“It’s really fun to go out with experts,” shed noted. “To be coached and helped along the way before doing it on our own just seemed to make a lot of sense to us. Plus, crab is so tasty – that’s a bonus.”
Once the students were comfortable with the gear, it was time to toss the traps from atop Yaquina Bay Pier that juts hundreds of yards into the bay.
The pier is open to fishing and crabbing anytime.
Students learned how to measure a crab to make certain it’s legal (only 12 male Dungeness crabs are allowed and they must be 5 ¾ inches across the back) and how to tell the difference between the two species of crab that are present in Yaquina Bay: Dungeness Crabs and Red Rock Crabs.
“We show them how to crab from the pier,” said Ford. “But we also take them out on the bay in boats to drop traps in several places that our biologists have scouted. We try to take folks to the best places in the whole bay.”
The traps are checked, the crabs were counted and then it was time to cook.
It was a fine way to round out the day’s adventure.
Each student in the class must purchase an ODFW Shellfish License.
The course costs $40 for adults, $10 for kids under 18. Students are provided with instruction, plus all of the gear including bait, traps and pfd’s.
“It’s a real good deal, added Ford. “Especially at lunchtime because no one goes away hungry from the class.”
Great drama is easy to find in the great Oregon outdoors – if – you know where to look. In fact, there’s a compelling three-act drama right off Portland’s front step and each offers intrigue, romance and fascinating characters.
Oregon’s greatest stories have larger than life characters, plus colorful and compelling settings and above all, Oregon stories that endure and connect with a passion that’s strong as ever.
Start your history hike at a US National Park in Oregon City where Dr John McLoughlin’s home provides a commanding view.
If you’re fortunate, you’ll arrive when McLoughlin Memorial Association’s Tracy Hill is leading a tour of the home and the property.
With imagination Hill can take you back to a time before statehood in 1845. She noted that no single person was more influential in the state’s development than John McLoughlin.
“He is often called ‘Father of the Oregon Country’ for good reason,” said the longtime docent who is fascinated by the McLoughlin story. “The significant role that he played in our early history cannot be overstated. He was a courageous man, a man of principles and he lived by his principles.”
McLoughlin was the Superintendent of the Hudson’s Bay Company and
helped new emigrants settle in with food, tools and seeds to start a new life – despite orders to the contrary from his British bosses.
Hill added, “He couldn’t in good conscience turn Americans away to die.”
Park Ranger, Heidi Pierson, added, “He facilitated American settlement by giving people goods and services that they really needed at a time when there wasn’t another place to get it.”
The tour of the McLoughlin home – built in 1845 – is compelling and made more so by the original furnishings and details – more than one third of the furniture in the home belonged to the family.
Let it be but the start of a daylong history adventure as you continue to History Hike number two, 20 miles to the southwest, where the past will fill your senses.
At Champoeg State Heritage Site near Wilsonville, Oregon State Park Ranger Mike Niss, said that many visitors initially drop in for fun:
“We have a year round campground, group and individual picnic areas, a boat and picnic dock on the Willamette River; even a disc golf course. We also offer one of the best bike trails in the state park system that families can enjoy because it is paved, flat and off the roadway, so easy for children.”
Visitors soon discover that Champoeg left a lasting political mark on Oregon history when the first provisional government was formed in 1843.
Niss added that it is also where pioneer businessman Robert Newell’s home still stands:
“Newell was one of the voters who formed the first government at a time when emigrants needed leadership and need to decide whether to follow or Britain or become part of America.”
Newell was one of the wealthiest men in the area. He had accumulated enough wealth to build a home on high ground overlooking the town site that he was developing in the early 1850’s. The home is one of the few original Champoeg structures standing today.”
The Newell House is a private museum – owned and managed by the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution.)
Niss noted that like McLoughlin, Newell made a statement by the size and quality of his home.
“You see the wealth in the formal layout of the rooms, the clothing, the bedding – everything was a little better quality than the average citizen would have had at that time.”
History Hike number three is within easy reach following a short twenty mile drive from Champoeg to Pacific University in the Washington County town of Forest Grove.
That is where Old College Hall rises across the beautiful university grounds and it is where Alvin Smith, Harvey Clark and Tabitha Brown brought education and culture to the wilderness.
The grand building was erected in 1849 and holds historic artifacts, artwork and antique furniture.
Local historian, Mary Jo Morelli, (she co-authored a new book that includes the building’s story: (“Images of Forest Grove,”) explained that the greatest value of the building may be in how the pioneers and education changed the Oregon Country.
“Those pioneer leaders were making a big statement by building something like this in those times… call it an act of faith that they really could bring culture and education and permanence to this far out little community. They really believed they could make a difference.”
She added that understanding how Oregon developed can have lasting influences on each of us today:
“There’s something back there for us all to learn about; where we came from and the sort of people who led the early pioneers. I think we all can learn something from those people and then seek our own heritage and find personal meaning in the past.”
OREGON BIRDING TRAIL
There’s a new way to explore Oregon and this one is really for the birds!
But it’s designed for people – especially folks who like to explore new destinations where half the fun is in the getting there.
The first “Willamette Valley Birding Trail” is a new partnership between varied birding groups and Travel Oregon.
It offers people a chance to explore 130 legitimate birding sites in a region that is home to 70 percent of the state’s population.
Joel Geier and I recently met at W Finley Refuge where he told me that variety is the spice of his birding life along the new Willamette Birding Trail.
“They’re such fascinating creatures; they’re feathered and for me, they have a little more variety than mammals.”
Geier knows his birding game well! After all, he’s a longtime member of the Oregon Field Ornithologists. His organization along with several others including Travel Oregon joined to identify 130 birding trails in the Willamette Valley.
“We’ve set it up as 12 different loops in the valley so that if you live in one of the communities in the valley, you can go out on a weekend and visit a loop that includes 10 or 12 different sites.”
It’s easy to locate a trail online. A click of your mouse takes you inside one of the dozen different loops where you’ll find directions to the sites plus photos of the species that you’ll see along the way.
“On each of those loops,” noted Geier, “There will be sites that you never thought about visiting before and you’ll be surprised that they are pretty special places.”
Sallie Gentry and Molly Monroe agree that the new Homer Campbell Memorial Boardwalk at William Finley Wildlife Refuge near Corvallis is one of those special places where you can go birding.
“The boardwalk is on pretty level, even terrain and there are two benches along that they can rest if they get tired,” said Gentry.
It’s an astonishing trail that is wheelchair accessible along 1700 feet of elevated boardwalk that leads to an observation blind that overlooks a small pond that attracts many different birds.
“It is a magnet for wildlife,” noted Monroe. “We’ll have thousands upon thousands of ducks and geese and swans here within the next few months.”
Gentry added, “We’re kind of a little known secret right now, but I think we’re going to become more well known because there are such excellent wildlife viewing opportunities here and you can get relatively close without disturbing the wildlife.”
Not only wintering waterfowl, but also raptor species like bald eagles make the Finley Refuge their winter homes.
“It’s one of the easiest birds for most people to identify so it’s fun for them.
Often, you just look out on a tree line of snags and say, ‘Oh, there’s an eagle perched right there.’ Eagles are good because they’re well known by most people and they’re recovery from near extinction is such a success story.”
If you’re eager to learn more about birding, but you’re not sure how to get started, Gentry said that there is good news for the casual first time visitor this Fall season.
“Many people come here and don’t realize the wealth of birds that they may find on the refuge and so lack some basic tools. We’ve developed “family kits” that include everything one would need here. Check out binoculars or a field guide, take it with them out on the hike or drive the auto-route and just bring them back at the end of the day. It’s really a great deal!
All agree that wildlife viewing along the new Willamette Birding Trail is just the ticket to see Oregon from a different point of view.
“Oh, I think it’s a huge deal,” exclaimed Monroe. “Birding is a growing pastime – and it is one that brings a lot of enjoyment to a large variety of people of all ages.”
SAUVIE ISLAND SANDHILL CRANES
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.
CASTING FOR SILVER
Mark Anderson says the time is right to catch a salmon and he loves to cast lures from shore – especially the lures that he’s designed.
His Dad taught him much of what he practices today. It’s a technique called “jig fishing” that relies upon a weighted feathered jig that is fished below a floating bobber… and it works!
“When you can put it all together and your bobber slips under,” noted Anderson. “Then you come back and feel the weight of a heavy fish on there – that’s alright. It’s a great feeling.”
I recently caught up with Anderson along the Wilson River in the Tillamook State Forest where he told me that twenty years ago, he bought his first jig off a store rack.
Now, he makes the jigs and they are some of the finest around and in huge demand.
What do they look like to the fish?
Anderson said – try squid!
“When you see a squid moving in the water, it pulses,” noted Anderson. “That’s really how this looks. It pulses like a squid. Fish react to it like it’s something really tasty and they eat it.”
Anderson added that crafting the colorful jigs is an “addictive passion” and his love for the craft evolved by simply making them for friends.
“I’d give buddies 3 or 4 jigs and say, ‘Here, try these out.’ They’d come back and say, ‘Boy that one worked out, but this one here with this color, this tail or flange color, that really seems to out produce the others.’ That feedback has really made the difference.”
Now, after ten years at the helm of “First Bite Jigs,” Anderson said that he has more “friends” than ever --- across England, Switzerland, New Zealand and Chile – anglers who keep coming back for more.
He boasts that the jig making parts – from hooks to feathers and beads --- all come from Oregon. He even made a “how to” video on an Oregon stream:
“It’s called “The Art of the Jig,” he noted. “Probably the biggest project I’ve ever done: spotting a fish, casting to it and hooking it and showing people how it’s all tied together.”
“First Bite” has hooked thousands of anglers to a new technique for catching salmon and steelhead, but Anderson said a successful business is not enough for him.
He believes that he and the angling community can do more by giving back.
“Mainly it’s just the everyday trash that people leave behind.
Tires, diapers, household plastics…everyday garbage that litters our rivers.”
Anderson leads by example and teaches an ethic of responsibility caring for Oregon’s outdoors. In fact, he has spearheaded an Oregon Adopt-a-River campaign the past 16 years and encourages anglers to clean the rivers they like to fish.
That often means getting his hands dirty too.
”Trash isn’t going away,” he acknowledged. “There’s a certain number of people that just don’t care… but my approach is a win-win because the trash is picked up, the landowner is happy and fishermen can walk down and fish the property. So, I pick up the trash so others can recreate because I love the outdoors.”
Mark Anderson believes most anglers love the outdoors too or they wouldn’t be out there. He also thinks anglers could do more to bring their sport full circle and he’s pleased that he can help point the way.
“Especially at this time of year,” he added. “We get those cool nights, the first rains that bring in those fresh fish. The cycle continues and it is my favorite time of year.”