Early morning light, when the air is cool and clear, high cascade peaks like Mt Jefferson are a marvel.
That’s especially true near Camp Sherman where the Metolius River bubbles from the ground to curl and wind along an 8600-acre river corridor.
It is so special a place that it’s been protected as one of America’s Wild and Scenic Rivers since 1988.
In nearby Sisters, Oregon, the folks who live and work in Central Oregon like it that way.
That includes Jeff Perin, local fishing guide and owner of The Fly Fishers Place.
Perin is often found creating hand tied imitations of nature’s creations and said “artistry and utility go hand in hand” for one of the hottest recreation activities around:
“What I think is really cool about fly fishing is that regardless of where you are in the sport, how much gear you have or don’t have – it’s still the same sport and everybody can do it. Plus, it’s so beautiful here and we have so much great water – at any given time in Central Oregon, there’s always some place to go fishing.”
Jeff often goes to the Metolius River near Wizard Falls, a rough and tumble stretch broken by moments of calm water.
Perin has cast into the Metolius for more than 26 seasons and he loves to cast flies to tempt wild trout to bite.
It is so special a place that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has operated the nearby Wizard Falls Hatchery since 1947.
Manager Steve Hamburger says 45-degree water is the reason; it’s the perfect water for raising trout.
More than 4 million baby trout are raised at Wizard Falls Hatchery for release into scores of lakes and ponds across Oregon.
Visitors come from all over the state too and stroll the 35-acre hatchery grounds that are more akin to a park land than a fish hatchery.
“They came here when they were kids and now they have kids so bringing their youngsters out and it carries on from generation to generation. They really do enjoy that and the kids love it.”
As Jeff Perin said, “ This belongs to everybody in Oregon and they should all come see it, enjoy it and be proud of it – it’s that special a place.”
The Metolius River may runs through the heart of Central Oregon, but it also builds lasting outdoor memories in the hearts of the people who visit each year.
HIGH CASCADE CANOE PADDLE
Central Oregon’s Cascade Lakes Highway is a path once taken, you’ll never want to leave, but ---you might try a summer detour!
We did just that at Sparks Lake, 25 miles west of Bend and we found adventure on the water with Wanderlust Tours.
Jeff Gartzke was our guide for an afternoon canoe paddle across Sparks Lake.
We joined an enthusiastic group of folks who were sporting PFD’s and - with paddles in hand - each was eager and ready to go aboard canoes to see the lake from a different point of view.
Gartzke noted that flat-water paddling is an easy activity that requires a short amount of practice time, especially on Sparks Lake:
“Sparks Lake is one of about 12 lakes in this region that we have to choose from for our afternoon paddle trips. It is well over a mile in length from north to south and people are impressed by the scenery – it’s as photo-friendly as Central Oregon’s high lakes can get.”
At 5400 feet in elevation, Sparks Lake is perfectly suited to a canoe adventure with awesome views of South Sister, Broken Top and Mount Bachelor.
Sparks Lake was formed more than ten thousand years ago when lava blocked the Deschutes River.
In fact, a narrow channel -- defined by volcanic rock shorelines -- connects two halves of Sparks Lake.
The lake covers approximately 400 acres and it is no more than ten feet deep.
We paddled, we smiled and we laughed as we toured the lake as a slight breeze eased our down wind paddle.
It was a stunning setting not lost on our fellow paddlers, including local resident Mike Sawyer:
“Oh – love it” he noted. “This lake is one of the reasons I live in nearby Bend and I enjoy coming out here as often as I can. I hike, ski and boat – it’s a wonderful place to live, work and play.”
Gargzka smiled and agreed – he offered that the contrast of the rugged rock, broken by the soft, colorful beauty of the shoreline’s wildflowers draws him back to Sparks Lake each week.
“It’s a true testament – a true trial – to find something in central Oregon that isn’t volcanic in origin; it’s volcanic all around you. Any rise in the landscape, any hill around you is volcanic in one form or another and the scale of it all makes my work a dream job. This is my office right here. Can’t beat it!”
RADIO TAG SALMON
Willamette Falls roars and bellows as the river pounds its way down steep rock cliffs on its way toward Portland.
In a nearby concrete bunker near the base of the falls, ODFW fish counter, Debbbie Ames, quietly counts salmon.
As she counts each fish that passes her viewing window that’s notched in the side of the Willamette Falls fish ladder, she noted, “It is amazing and quite shocking to see so many fish. I get single digits and then by mid-morning I start getting double digits and even triple digits of fish – each minute.”
The coho salmon run caught scientists by surprise, and according to ODFW biologist, Tom Murtagh, they are now playing catch-up.
“We pretty much jumped on it on the fly – got the word that there was interest in doing some monitoring a year ago, made some phone calls last August and got a great staff together here in October - now our system’s really dialed in and we’re working smoothly.”
The team’s work is more like a relay race as the fish are scooped out of a section of the ladder, lifted and then sprinted down ladders and stairways into a waiting tub full of technology.
The Eugene Watershed Board and the Grande Rhonde Tribes donated 130 radio telemetry tags that are inserted in the fish to help the science team figure out where the salmon are going.
Murtagh explained: “The shape of it holds the tag in place and the long radio antenna sticks out the fish’s mouth. You can get a clear transmission of sound and we can search for that sound upstream as the fish continues its journey.”
Todd Alsbury, ODFW fishery biologist explained that the run is a complete mystery and the tags may help determine where the fish were born.
“It really is a mystery but that’s partly why we’re out here to do this tracking is to find out a little bit more out about how and where these fish are going.”
The sport caught Coho largely came from rivers with working hatcheries.
But on the Willamette River, there hasn’t been an operating Coho salmon hatchery in over a decade.
“That’s right,” noted Alsbury. “ These are essentially naturally produced fish – they’re wild. They’re not born from hatchery fish directly and they’ve taken off on their own and reproduced without any influence from us.”
It is all rather amazing – just like the technology used to track down 130 Coho salmon – each “tag” has its own distinct radio frequency and will be followed by team members in boats or on the bank and maybe even in the air.
They can pick up each signal – up to a half mile away – and they will continue to do so – tracking the fish to their home waters.
“It’s remarkable and it’s exciting! It’s really exciting,” said Murtagh. “To monitor something new that we don’t have very good information on and look at a population of fish that is a bit of a mystery. It’s also going to be a big piece of the salmon conversation in coming years.”
It could be years before they solve the mystery of the Coho salmon that seemed to arrive out of nowhere, but for now there’s a promise of a wild salmon future in the Willamette River.
As far back as anyone can remember, Bennett Dam, on the North Fork of the Santiam River, has harmed more salmon that it has ever helped.
Steve Mamoyac, a biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, told KGW how the poor condition of the dam’s adjacent fish ladder hampered the fish:
“We’d come in each day, get down in the fish ladder next to the dam with our nets and muscle power. Basically, we’d identify them by species and then chase them around and catch them. It was labor intensive, hard on the fish and left a whole lot to be desired.”
The Bennett Dam fish ladder was old, the concrete was crumbling and in 2006 it was time for it to go.
Today, it is a much different, and a much easier system on the adult fish that swim around Bennett Dam.
The City of Salem and ODFW paid $2.2 million for the new fish passage system.
Today, Mamoyac calls it a “freeway for fish” by comparison to the old:
“This type of structure is absolutely critical to the health and welfare of the fish that use the upper Santiam River basin.”
But, until recently, the new ladder had a serious drawback!
Since the Santiam River’s spring Chinook and winter steelhead runs are protected under the Endangered Species Act, each fish of each species must be counted and identified.
Steve’s solution to the problem sounded simple enough – but it required planning, money and no small amount of ingenuity.
He put the fish on TV!
It’s a high tech solution to an age-old fish management problem of how to count the fish without handling and stressing them with too much physical contact.
His plan required a camera, lights and a digital recorder.
The equipment that Mamoyac assembled at the fish ladder provided a unique installation challenge last spring.
After all, the watertight steel chamber weighed 5,000 pounds and required a crane and a crew to hoist and push into position inside the fish ladder.
It is all powered by deep-cell marine type batteries that are charged by a propane generator – a perfect combination of gear for use in a remote location in the middle of nowhere.
Now, Mamoyac can count and identify the salmon on site or in his office, 80 miles away in Salem, with a simple keystroke.
“The digital recorder is special. It eliminates all of the dead space, so what we’re left with are just images of fish and each one with its own unique time stamp too.”
Consider it a salmon mug shot – but these fish are free to go and there’s more:
“Ideally, if we could make it available to the public through the Internet,” noted Mamoyac, “and offer it to people to watch in real time. Wow! That would be the ultimate!”
TREE TO TREE ADVENTURE PARK
A new 57-acre forested parkland is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced off the ground.
In fact, you might consider it a playground in the trees.
Marissa Doyle, co-manager of the of the new "Tree to Tree Adventure Park," said, “You will feel like a kid again when going through this course. We have tunnels and bridges and Tarzan-like ropes…all sorts of fun stuff built for adults to play up in the trees.”
Instructor George Bidiman guides folks across the four different tree-to-tree courses – each course is progressively more challenging and he helps people find steady steps on a shaky trail or across a swinging, swaying wobbly way.
Bidiman said, “It is flat out freedom up in the air and probably the closest thing you can get to flying outside of an airplane.”
Each climber must wear a safety harness that connects with two lanyards that sport lobster-claw type clips that link you to thick wire cables.
Each cable can hold up to 10,000 pounds, so once you’re clipped in - you’re not going anywhere except across the aerial trail.
The new Tree-to-Tree Park is a family-owned business that is brainchild of Co-Owners and Managers, Doyle and Molly Beres.
Molly hopes that the park’s location (a short drive from Scoggins Valley Park and Henry Hagg Lake) will attract a following once they have discovered the park’s unique features.
“Portland is the best place for this sort of thing because there are so many outdoorsy people here. Everyone likes to be outside doing active things and extreme sports and this will fit in just fine.”
TROUTING WITH KIDS
If you’re casting about for a large lake to wet a line, Henry Hagg Lake and Scoggins Valley Park, is a delightful destination where trout fishing along the shore or from a boat is most popular pastime.
“Perfect activity for kids,” noted longtime angler Trey Carskadon. “When you’re trolling along and a trout comes up and grabs it, they (the kids) get hooked. They reel fish in with a smile and it’s so easy to deal with – Hagg Lake is heavily stocked with trout and it’s got some whoppers in here too.”
More than a hundred thousand rainbow trout are planted in Hagg Lake each year according to Carskadon who favors a simple, but effective technique to catch them.
He called it “flat-line trolling.”
“On the end of my line is a snap swivel and I attach the lure to it – either a black rooster tail, a panther martin with a dark body and a bright blade or a crushed orange crippler. Many people like to go out to the middle of the lake and troll for fish, but the trout really congregate and feed along the break lines (drop offs between shallow water and deep water) that are close to shore. I simply let out about 60-feet of line behind the boat and slowly motor along– maybe twenty yards off shore.
Carskadon carried a small crew of anglers on a recent spring day; Ashley Massey and her daughters, Maddy, aged 5, and Sophia Massey, aged 11. Each enjoyed the chance to catch rainbow trout from a boat.
Ashley Massey is a life vest expert with the Oregon State Marine Board who leads her kids by example: she always wears a PFD (Personal Flotation Device) and she reminded parents that kids 12 and under must wear a PFD whenever they’re on the water.
“Conditions can change in an instant,” said Massey. “So, the key is to wear a life vest or jacket at all times. You never know when something’s going to change and there really isn’t time to put one on in an emergency, so find a life jacket that’s comfortable and wear it.”
Massey advised that parents should “read the label” when they shop for life vests and make certain that the ones they choose are marked “US Coast Guard Approved” and that they are suitable for the activities that they choose to do.
Finally, if you choose to visit Henry Hagg Lake, be ready to fall in love with a sprawling parkland where recreation waits at every turns – a place that makes you feel right at home since it’s less than an hour’s drive from Portland.
“We have a number of picnic areas,” noted Chris Wayland, Scoggins Valley Park Manager. He added, “We’ve some covered shelters which are available by reservation for group picnics and get-togethers. We also have 15 miles of master level hiking trail that is multi-use for both hiking and mountain bike use. So, we have a lot of things to here besides fish, although fishing is he number one activity here.”
There are two outstanding resource guides that are published by the Oregon Dept of Fish and Wildlife for folks who want to learn more about trout fishing that’s close to the Portland area:
ODFW’s “Outdoor Calendar” lists all of the youth angling events by dates and locations – plus, the “50 Places to Go Fishing 60 Minutes From Portland” is a superb resource that provides directions to all of the local lakes and ponds where trout fishing is available. You can pick up a free copy of each at any ODFW District Office or visitor center or online too.
In addition, be sure to go to Boat Oregon for all of the details and information about boating resources across Oregon.