Casting about for the right licenses

I do have some positive winter steelhead news and I will get to that a little further down the column. With the winter solstice upon us, we have entered a season of renewal and it’s time to renew those soon to be outdated fishing licenses and other game retention tags. Many of us still remember when getting ready for the new season was a pretty straightforward process. You would head for your local angling shop or the sporting goods department at the big box store. A  few minutes later, with license in hand, you were heading to the river or lake and regardless of whether you were a boater or a bank fisherman, you were good to go. Add your salmon and steelhead tag and the tab would come in at about $47.

For bank anglers, it is still pretty easy to get a basic fishing license, plus a salmon/steelhead tag and you can purchase both over the counter at the pro shop or in the sporting department of the big box store. It is more than $47 but still a great value. There is also an online purchase option that you can reach at the ODFW’s website, myodfw.com. Where you can purchase every permit that the ODFW has available on the department’s website, apply for a special tag or even a big game hunt. There is also an option where you can purchase a sporting license to fish or hunt to give as a gift, year-end bonus or some other gratuity for a third party.

Beyond that it gets a bit more complicated and expensive. If you plan to fish for salmon or steelhead on the Snake River or any tributary of the Columbia River – including all the forks of the Willamette, the McKenzie and in all the other west slop Cascade rivers that make up the Willamette River watershed – you will need a Columbia River endorsement. If you own a human powered fishing craft, drift boat, canoe, pontoon or kayak you also need a “waterway access permit”…. About 90% of my fishing is done in Lane County and you will always find my Lane County park pass firmly attached to the inside of my windshield.

Also, because I love to fish the dune lakes south of Florence, I carry an Oregon State Park and U.S. Forest Service parking pass. So that in addition to the county parks and boat landings, I also have access to all Oregon State and Federal Government’s lakeside parking and boat landings on the central coast. Yeah, that all adds up. … Fortunately, I’m of the age to take advantage of a few discounts offered by some of the permit issuers and never mind asking for the availability of a price reduction. Seniors, veterans, some disabilities qualify and young people are all priced on the lower end of many resource fee schedules. Again, always ask.

Now, let’s say you like seafood, you’re not so excited about fishing and you still enjoy being in the outdoors with the family. A “Shellfish License” is likely the best value among the ODFW’s menu options. It allows you to harvest Dungeness crab and a number of shellfish species from our bays and beaches – unlike fishing, where everyone holding a rod will need a license. Shellfish limits tend to be so generous that a family working together, staying within the limits only needs a single license among them. I’ll tell you that last season, Dungeness sold for about $25 per crab at the market. If you only harvest a single crab, you will more than cover the $10 annual resident license fee. But from any of the public crabbing docks on the central coast, at Winchester Bay, on the lower Siuslaw estuary and at Newport Harbor, you will more than likely catch dozens of crabs, and the investment in the gear is so low that it is often covered from a single pot pull. Making your cost per crab incredibly low and one of the best values for fresh food from the sea. 

In recent editions of The Chronicle, I shared my experience floating on the Rogue River here in Oregon and on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho. Both rivers are included in our nation’s inventory of wild and scenic rivers. The Middle Fork of the Salmon is also encompassed by the Frank Church Wilderness, which is the largest wilderness in the lower 48 states. Without hesitation, they are also a couple of the best trout and steelhead fishing rivers in the western hemisphere. The rogue river is literally in our backyard and on a long day’s drive you can find yourself on the banks of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River near Stanley, Idaho by sunset.

If you plan to take your own river boat, both rivers require you to apply for a launch permit, which are issued by lottery. On both rivers the application season began at the beginning of Dec. 2022 and runs to Jan. 31, 2023, for the 2023 float season. Both permits can be applied for online and successful applicants are generally notified around mid-February, giving them plenty of time to plan. The fishing is fantastic but the boating is also very challenging, both rivers have plenty of Class 3 and 4 whitewater. That is no place for people without advanced whitewater boating skills. If you are up to it, search for Rogue River permit and application information online at “Rogue National Wild and Scenic River Permits.” For the Middle Fork of the Salmon, search recreation.gov and enter “Middle Fork of the Salmon 4 Rivers” into your internet browser. There are also several very qualified outfitters that offer fully guided experiences on both rivers. You do need to bring your toothbrush, some other personal items and possibly a sleeping bag but the trips are “all inclusive.” If you contact me, I would be glad to give you a referral to a highly reputable outfitter.

Last week’s rain storms bumped up coastal river flows from the Columbia River south to the California border, and like a red carpet at a gala, ushered in the first of the season’s winter steelhead to several far north coast and lower Columbia streams. A handful of hatchery steelhead also made their annual appearance in the hatchery traps on the Nehalem, Trask and Alsea rivers. Here locally on Whittaker Creek, a Siuslaw River tributary, when the local STEP volunteers went to check a trap they manage for the ODFW. In addition to several coho that they were expecting to find for their Florence hatchery program, proving that the fish will always defy what you think you know, there was a big, beautiful, bright wild steelhead hen fresh from the ocean. They gently moved above the trap, the fish swimming freely into the spawning habitat of upper creek, which has some of the best spawning habitat in the Siuslaw River drainage. Whittaker is managed entirely as a wild salmon and steelhead sanctuary and along with all its tributaries, is closed to all fishing. Hatchery steelhead that enter the trap, some will be taken to the Alsea hatchery to spawn. The offspring returned to the Siuslaw in late April for release. Most will be gill-marked, then recycled down river for anglers to get a second chance to catch them. The news is that there were no hatchery steelhead in the trap. You should still expect the bulk of the run to start showing up in January. But for lack of not much else to do you will likely find me on a winter steelhead river around Christmas … maybe I’ll see you there.

As always you will find much more about fishing and boating in Oregon on my Facebook page “Sunrise in the Outdoors.” Lastly, Happy Holidays and a Merry Christmas to all. 



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