TILLAMOOK —

Ican think of only one good reason to float an Oregon coastal river on a cold, rainy, windy day in November: to catch a large fish.

When I set out on the tiny Trask River with a friend from Portland and a fishing guide, the only thing on my mind — besides staying somewhat warm and dry — was hooking a salmon.

My friend, Amber Dennis, had suggested the visit to Tillamook County. This section of the northern Oregon coast, a four-hour drive (206 miles) northwest from Bend and about 75 miles west of Portland, is known not so much for its traditional tourist attractions as for its wealth of outdoor adventure opportunities.

The five rivers that feed shallow Tillamook Bay — nowhere more than 40 feet deep, yet the second-largest inlet (after Coos Bay) on the Oregon Coast — have made this well-protected estuary, locked between coastal mountains and a long sandbar, a sanctuary for anglers and birdwatchers, shellfishers and kayakers.

The Tillamook Estuaries Partnership has produced detailed maps of the 597-square-mile watershed fed by the Tillamook, Trask, Wilson, Kilchis and Miami rivers, from their sources in the Coast Range, through forests of precious timber and lowlands rich with dairy farms, to 6-mile-long, 2-mile-wide Tillamook Bay.

The late-afternoon sun silhouettes a crab fisher on the Bayview Jetty, the point at which Tillamook Bay enters the Pacific Ocean. With few major resort areas, the Tillamook County coast is better known as a destination for soft adventure than for beach relaxation.

John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin

We intended to go salmon fishing the first day, crabbing and clamming at the mouth of Nehalem Bay on the second, with perhaps a little kayaking tossed in for relaxation. We would stay at the Wilson River Lodge to get an early start on angling, then base ourselves on the north end of the bay at Garibaldi, the coast’s largest fishing port between Newport and Astoria.

The weather, the tides and our fatigue contributed to some minor changes of plan. But the weekend yielded only rewards, and already I can “hear” the coastal rivers calling me for a return visit.

Nasty weather

As dawn broke on the first morning of our visit, the weather was blowing sideways.

Ted Teufel, head honcho of ProFishGuide.com in Tillamook and co-owner of the Wilson River Lodge, stood beside the kitchen coffeepot with his poncho dripping. He had been assaulted by sheets of cold rain on the short dash from his truck to the door.

“Best to dress in layers today,” he advised, making it clear that he was prepared to venture into the storm if his clients were equally prepared.

We had already planned for the worst. After a short but restful sleep in the luxurious bed-and-breakfast lodge beside the Wilson River — longest of the five local streams — Dennis and I had awakened in our respective rooms to don turtlenecks and long underwear, sweaters and rainproof jackets, wool hats and jeans covered by canvas pants, gear perhaps equally suitable for winter treks into the Cascades.

Teufel’s lodge partner, “Big Dave” Manners, also the proprietor of a seasonal fishing lodge in Alaska, made certain that we had a bit of breakfast before we departed. He was taking another group out the backdoor of the lodge and down the Wilson, but Teufel had a hunch about the nearby Trask River.

After stopping at Tillamook Sporting Goods for one-day salmon licenses and additional weather-appropriate clothing (my gloves needed an upgrade), we headed out the Trask River Road, southeast of Tillamook, and put Teufel’s drift boat in at Cedar Creek, five miles upriver.

Fishing guide Ted Teufel navigates his drift boat down the Trask River, one of five short rivers that flow from the Coast Range into Tillamook Bay. Only 18 miles long from the confluence of its north and south forks, the river is buttressed by foliage-covered banks and trees.

John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin

Teufel determined that bobber fishing might be the most productive method of attracting salmon. He hung a scoop of roe to hide the hook that dangled beneath a sliding float, then demonstrated how to cast the 10-foot spinning rod to which it was attached.

The Trask is neither broad (often no wider than a two-lane street) nor long (18 miles from the point at which its north and south forks join to the bay). I worried that my casts could carry across the water and hook a cottonwood branch or rocky outcropping on the far side. That was not the case. In these blustery winds, our challenge was to get the weighted lines far enough upstream to allow the bait to dangle over the deepest holes, where large salmon were most likely to hide.

I don’t know many of the fine points of river fishing. Teufel is the expert. For much of the early morning, I merely shivered beneath my water-resistant poncho and flexed my fingers to keep their tips warm when a fishing line wasn’t running between them.

Setting the hook

A Tillamook native who has been angling these waters since he was a child, Teufel coached us in techniques to hook and reel in the monsters he knew to be in the river. He warned that our bobber would be pulled underwater before we felt a tug from any fish that might strike.

Dennis caught on quickly. When her bobber disappeared beneath a copse of overhanging foliage about two hours into our excursion, she set the hook and began reeling. Ten minutes later, with an assist from Teufel’s net, she had landed a plump, 4-pound chinook.

I had one good strike, but I couldn’t keep the fish on the line. After four hours afloat in the cold rain and wind (the weather had improved to intermittent showers with occasional gusts), I was almost ready to quit.

Then it happened. My bobber disappeared — quickly — and it didn’t look as though it would reappear any time soon. “Set the hook and reel!” exclaimed Teufel.

For what seemed like an eternity, the guide coached me through the process of landing a big fish. The way this creature was pulling, he said, it clearly wasn’t of the 3- to-5-pound variety. Indeed, every time I would reel a few feet of line toward the boat, the lunker dived deeply and stripped the line away. “Lift your rod tip!” Teufel commanded. “Now pull back and reel as fast as you can!”

Eventually, the monster began to tire of the battle. By the time it did, I had set the handle of the spinning rod into my belly to relieve some of the strain on my right arm and shoulder. My left hand and forearm ached as I continued to reel. But when the fish jumped, I knew for certain this salmon was worth a month of dinners.

Twice, as I got it near the boat, the fish summoned its remaining strength and dived deep toward the bottom of the river. I kept the line taut, and Teufel finally got it in the net. He gave it a stern knock on the head to end its life, lifted the salmon and assessed its weight. “I’d say it’s about 25 pounds,” he said. “Nice fish!”

Clad in a poncho for rainy weather, the writer (left) displays a 25-pound chinook salmon he caught with the assistance of guide Ted Teufel. To catch the monster, he used a 10-foot spinning rod with a scoop of salmon roe dangling beneath a bobber.

Amber Dennis / Submitted photo

Less than an hour later, when we left the stream, Teufel cleaned the fish by the side of the river and kept the roe for future bait. The chinook weighed in at just less than 25 pounds when, soon thereafter, it was put on the scale at Debbie Ds Jerky & Sausage Factory in Tillamook.

Owner Debbie Downey processes fish and game for anglers and hunters, and she gladly accepted an overnight assignment of freeze-packing our fish in portions suitable for dinners for two. Dennis and I shared the bounty.

Food and drink

Cold, wet, but delighted with the bounty of our fishing trip, we returned to the Wilson River Lodge to shower and change before driving into Tillamook. The community of about 5,000 is best known as the home of the Tillamook Cheese Factory, whose quality cheeses from local dairies are distributed nationwide.

We stopped for a beer at the new Pelican Brewery & Tap Room, an expansion of the original beside Cape Kiwanda in Pacific City. Most of the company’s ales are now brewed here; unlike the first brewpub, which is mainly a restaurant, this facility is dominated by production facilities on its ground floor.

The tap room occupies an upper-level loft where, for $7, we enjoyed a flight of eight 3-ounce tasters. These included Kiwanda Cream Ale, MacPelican’s Scottish Style Ale, Sea Hops, Silverspot IPA, Imperial Pelican Ale, Doryman’s Dark and Tsunami Stout. Our favorite might have been Bad Santa, a hoppy black winter ale.

Dinner was a few miles down the road in Netarts, a tiny coastal community on the Three Capes Scenic Loop. The view was invisible on a rainy November evening, but our meal at The Schooner Restaurant was memorable. Tom Flood, the chef and co-owner, is a former Bendite who crafted a wonderful meal of oysters fresh from the bay, green salad with beet-tarragon-fennel vinaigrette; wild mushroom gnocchi; cauliflower gratin with pork belly; and fettuccine with crab.

Wild mushroom gnocchi is one of the menu highlights at The Schooner Restaurant in Netarts, a scenic coastal town about five miles from Tillamook. Chef-owner Tom Flood, a former Bendite, makes the most of his community's two most famous products: oysters and sea salt.

John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin

Netarts has two culinary claims to fame. One of them is its oysters, carefully farmed on this estuarine bay, its waters considered among the purest on the Oregon Coast. The other is the Jacobsen Salt Co., whose product is on the tables of leading restaurants throughout the country. Hand-harvested from the waters of Netarts Bay, the sea salt is filtered twice a day — and it put the right finishing touch on our meal at The Schooner.

Gracious Garibaldi

We spent two nights at the handsome Garibaldi House Inn, whose proprietor, Eugene Tish, a retired corporate lawyer from Portland, invested here five years ago with a particular interest in boosting the local economy of this 1880s fishing port.

Located nine miles north of Tillamook near the mouth of Tillamook Bay, Garibaldi is known for its 200-foot-tall smokestack, built in 1928 and the only remnant of the abandoned Whitney Mill.

Garibaldi’s iconic smokestack, 200 feet tall, was built in 1928 and remains standing as the only remnant of the abandoned Whitney Mill. Garibaldi still has a Weyerhaeuser lumber mill, but most of its 800 residents are involved with the fishing industry.

John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin

There is a small Weyerhaeuser lumber mill here, but most of the 800 people who live in Garibaldi are involved with the fishing industry. The small-boat harbor is packed with fishing and crabbing vessels, while processing plants and family-owned seafood restaurants draw a steady patronage to the wharves.

The biggest champion of the industry is an organization called Community Supported Fishery. This consortium of local fishermen has established its own licensed and inspected processing facility, assuring quality for consumers while maintaining a reasonable profit standard for the boats. CSF members — including Bend’s 5 Fusion and Sushi Bar and Powell Butte’s Brasada Ranch — in essence buy their seafood directly off the boats as they support sustainable harvest and other environmental practices.

Small, privately owned fishing boats dominate Garibaldi harbor, 9 miles north of Tillamook near the mouth of Tillamook Bay. A consortium of local commercial fishermen, Community Supported Fishery (CSF), has established its own licensed processing facility here.

John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin

Tish spoke with pride about CSF as he offered us a sample of his original cioppino recipe, a peppery blend of rockfish, bay shrimp and clams (removed from their shells) in a tomato-based broth, served with a glass of Eola Hills pinot noir. “It’s even better when the albacore tuna are running in July, August and September,” he said.

So delicious and filling was breakfast at the Garibaldi House Inn — although Tish doesn’t have formal training as a chef, he enjoys every opportunity to share his gourmet hobby with appreciative guests — that we didn’t rush off to go kayaking the next morning.

Keeping clam

But we did make our way north up the coast about 10 miles, past Rockaway Beach, to the Jetty Fishery. Located opposite Nehalem Bay State Park near the broad, gently flowing mouth of the Nehalem River — where, historical rumor would have it, Sir Francis Drake once anchored — this little resort (including an RV park) is a fine base for crabbing and clamming expeditions.

Indeed, one of the first things one sees upon arrival is a giant crab pot where freshly caught Dungeness crab are cooked, adjacent to a wash tank in which clams are purged for 24 to 48 hours to cleanse them of sand before they are thrown into a chowder.

Jetty Fishery employee Josh Rebello holds a mature Dungeness crab that he has just lifted from a crab pot. This one is male; were it a breeding female, with a more distinctive hourglass-shaped figure on its abdomen, it would have to be returned to the water.

John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin

We arrived just as the tide was turning on these brackish waters. Crabbers were dropping traps off the docks; others rented boats and hung their crab rings from personally marked buoys. The people to whom we spoke were having limited success, returning far more crabs to the brine (breeding females or too small) than they kept.

Fishery employee Josh Rebello was delighted to take us across the bay in a small motor boat to teach us a bit about clamming, even though tides weren’t optimum for digging. “It’s always best to dig in minus tides,” Rebello explained. This week, even the low tides were well above the average.

Even though we weren’t going to find any of the estuary’s purple varnish clams today, our host demonstrated the method we should follow on a future visit.

Standing just at the edge of the wash from gentle incoming waves, Rebello shoveled down about a foot, a level at which he said he might often first find the small shellfish along with tiny (inedible) mud shrimp. Then he began scooping with his bare hands. The daily individual limit for clams, he said, was 72.

Amber Dennis, of Portland, digs for clams near the mouth of Nehalem Bay, as a herd of harbor seals lounges on the nearby beach. In the background is the Jetty Fishery, where clam diggers may leave their harvest overnight to have it purged of sand that collects in the shells.

John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin

We thanked Rebello for the lesson, then spent the rest of the afternoon exploring this section of the Tillamook County coast. We talked to people crabbing from the Barview Jetty, took in the northerly view up Rockaway Beach toward Neahkahnie Mountain and observed that the picturesque Three Graces Rocks, at the neck of Tillamook Bay’s outlet, could be an element in an ancient Chinese scroll painting. At Pacific Oyster, its pier extending into the inlet at tiny Bay City, stacks of newly harvested shells signal the entrance to the in-house restaurant, The Fish Peddler.

There’s too much to see and do on the Tillamook coast for a single weekend. And salmon fishing is only part of the adventure.

— Reporter: janderson@bendbulletin.com

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