Spring salmon run nearing its peak on McKenzie, Middle Fork

The Lane County crabbing dock is on the south jetty of the Siuslaw River. A 30-mph wind had thinned the crowd on this day but the crabbing was good for the people who endured. Shad and other fish parts are always effective as is out-of-date chicken.

Let me start at the eastern edge of Lane County, high in the Cascades where late-season precipitation filled lakes and ponds all over northwest Oregon. 

It’s also where the early-summer fishing has really kicked in. Trout, kokanee, mackinaw and even bass have been on the bit and anglers boating the lake waters or fishing from the bank have been collecting their share. Upping the ante, the ODFW has also had its hatchery trucks on the road, scattering thousands of fish reared in its facilities across the region. 

In most cases the hatchery trucks back up to the lake, the driver opens a valve and in a rush of water the fish are flushed from the tank and into the lake or pond. In some cases hatchery-raised fish are loaded into small barrels, hoisted onto the back of able volunteers, who then hike sometimes for several miles to deliver those fish to remote lakes and ponds high in the Cascades – locations that are often along popular hiking trails and favored by people seeking a wilderness-style fishing experience. Entirely within the boundaries of Lane County and in many cases only a short driver from most places in the southern Willamette Valley. 

Some of the remote ponds and lakes also make for a wonderful weekend of fishing, backpacking and overnight camping. Others are easy to reach on a single day’s hike, popular among float tube anglers and just about any rod, reel and lure combination can be effective to catch fish.

Traveling a bit west … the spring run of salmon on the McKenzie and Middle Fork of the Willamette is nearing its peak. Although the numbers are lagging a bit behind previous years, salmon are still climbing the Willamette Falls at Oregon City and making their way to the southern valley. As I prepare this week’s report the number of migrating salmon was approaching 21,000 fish, at a rate of about 200-400 per day. Real good news is a good number of summer steelhead are also making their way toward us too. At last check, the number was approaching 5,000 steelhead as counted at the Willamette Falls. Which is well above last year’s dismissal run and on par with some of the best runs of years past. Meaning that after the salmon season winds up in late July we should still have good numbers of summer steelhead and a big game opportunity far into the fall this season. Will we get the predicted 10,000 summers into the Willamette system? Hard to say, but we have the best chance in years, stay tuned. Before continuing west … I’ll add that the McKenzie River now has the best condition for trout fishing to date. From Hendricks Wayside up to Forest Glen Park in Blue River, the river has been planted with thousands and thousands of rainbow trout and has been yielding plenty of limits for both boating and bank fishing anglers. 

At mid-valley, with wonderful water quality this season, our urban fisheries are as productive as ever. In dry years, the ODFW hatchery managers become more selective as to where they place hatchery fish. Not wanting the fish to be wasted they will sometimes deviate from their scheduled delivery once a waterbody warms beyond the limits of trout survival. That has not been a problem this season and hatchery trout delivery to these mostly small water bodies has gone on as planned and should continue into July. As always, the ODFW trout stocking schedule and an interactive map to the locations where hatchery trout are planted in the Willamette Valley and also in the “high lakes” is at myodfw.com.

West of the Willamette Valley, in the rainforests of the coastal mountains, late spring precipitation has left the landscape lush and green. I wrote in some detail about small stream trout fishing in my last report and very little has changed. The streams of the coastal mountains remain in good shape for trout fishing. With ample amounts of recent rainfall, good small-stream fishing in all of western Oregon should remain productive well into the summer months this year. There are most wild trout in the coast range, the limit is two per day. 

In the far west portions of Lane County ocean fishing for salmon has been good and should only get better as the summer progresses. 

Remember that this season the Siuslaw River is completely closed to all salmon fishing until Jan. 1, 2023. I’ll have more in-depth information about fall salmon bay season and I’ll share my personal plans to fish around the Siuslaw closure, in my August reports.

I often mention crabbing as part of a larger experience and also that it is our good fortune to live along a coastline where one of the best eating crabs in the world actually lives. Fresh Dungeness crabmeat is sweet, tender, melts in your mouth and is prized by seafood lovers around the world. 

My routine is to put out a couple of baited crab pots before beginning to fish for salmon. Allowing the pots to “soak” for several hours while we fish, then retrieving them at the end of the day. But you don’t need a boat to go crabbing, most of our nearby harbors have public crabbing docks, including Newport, Winchester and on the Siuslaw there are two docks.

In the lower Siuslaw River Bay you will find a crabbing dock at the end of South Jetty Road. Lane County Parks maintains a public facility, complete with parking and a restroom. There is no pay kiosk at the south jetty dock so be prepared to secure a Lane County park pass in advance of arriving at the dock.  

The second public crabbing dock is directly behind Moe’s Restaurant in Old Town Florence and is owned and maintained by the Port of Siuslaw. Free parking is at the port lot located at the end of Bay Street and there is no charge to access the dock.

You will need a “shellfish collection license” that can be bought online at myodfw.com or at many retail sporting goods outlets. Only male crabs can be harvested and the crab must measure 5¾ inches across the back. 

A simple crab-measuring device is also available at most fishing tackle retailers. Personally, I like larger crabs and there are always plenty to sort through so I toss any crab less than 6.5” back into the bay to grow a little larger. 

You will find more information about collecting, handling and preparing crab and other shellfish on the ODFW website, too. It is a wonderful resource for anyone who fishes or collects any type of shellfish. 

The crabbing has already been good this season and will only get better as the summer progresses. And lastly, the best crabbing is on an incoming tide.

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