Sunday, September 1, 2013

Fishing for salmon and catching happiness

August 18-24, 2013
Astoria, Oregon
Lewis and Clark Golf and RV Resort

Last year when we visited my son Brooks in Astoria, he and I went salmon fishing in our Hobie kayaks on the Klaskanine River, a tributary of Young’s River which flows into the mighty Columbia River.  I really like to fish, yet it is something I don’t do nearly enough!  I made a pact with him last summer that this year we would plan our trip to Astoria to coincide with the famous fall chinook salmon run that draws thousands of fishermen (and women, I hope) to get lucky on the Columbia River and its tributaries.

Brooks (appropriately named huh?) works for Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife  so he is quite in tune with the fishing scene in Astoria and is an avid fisherman himself.  Just for added inspiration, he sent me this photo of himself with a prize catch he made a few weeks before our arrival.

summer chinook

Most of the tourists who flock here for the fall run, go out on power boats to the area that is known as Buoy 10, where the Columbia meets the Pacific Ocean and sixteen miles upstrea. This stretch of water
can be treacherous even on what looks like a mild late summer day. Brooks offered to take me out there with a friend who is a guide, but I was way more interested in trying my hand at catching salmon on the smaller rivers as they travel upstream.

When we were here last August, we stayed at the relatively popular Fort Stevens State Park and I was not a fan— our site was dark even on a sunny day, too many low tree branches,  mosquitoes due to standing water, and loads of screaming children. I did some firsthand research when I visited here in March and discovered a small family-owned park, Lewis and Clark Golf and RV Resort, just a few miles from downtown Astoria. What a lovely place this turned out to be!

The park has pull-in sites that face the golf course giving you a very green landscape to look out onto each day. Behind this row of pull-ins, the park has about twenty more traditional sites that don't offer such a pretty view but are spacious and comfortable. Because of the fishing season, the park was full while were there and many came with boat trailers. We even saw some motorhomes towing the boats with friends following in a car or truck.

lewis and clark rv site2

You can see little touches of autumn starting to color the landscape and the cool temperatures with daytimes highs in the 60s seemed just right.

lewis and clark rv view

I had a long conversation with the owner the first day we arrived and learned that he used to farm this land before turning it into a golf course and RV resort about seven years ago. The place is quite thoughtfully designed and very laid-back. The 9-hole golf  is self-serve, set-up on the honor system including checking out your own electric cart. They have cabins as well as about 40 RV spaces. One large cabin has a premium RV pad with a hot tub and fire pit. This site would be great for a small family gathering.

lewis and clark premium cabin

Interestingly, the whole place is for sale ($2.5 million) as the owner is now 78 and figures he would like to go full-timing in his 43’ Monaco motorhome before he gets too old to enjoy it.  Cute. He says if I find a buyer, he will give me a finder’s fee, so please check it out!

Back to fishing. First of all, I need to say that I chose not to bring my Nikon on the kayak with all the other gear, so any photos were going to be from my phone. Day one of fishing on the Klaskanine turned out to be a bit unexpected as my son suggested we go in his inflatable Zodiak-type boat which has both an electric and gas motor. I loved the kayaking experience last year but was open to doing whatever he suggested. It was definitely easier to troll against the current with a motor. Because we had a gas motor, we were able to be good samaritans early on our adventure. Two elderly gentlemen apparently had been fishing way too long and ran their electric motor dry. They did not even have a paddle!  When we saw them, we thought they were washing their net. It turned out they had placed a large garbage bag over their net and were using it first as a sail, then when the wind died, as a paddle. Funny.

brooks towing fishermen

With a bit of trepidation about the weight of pulling them with our small motor, we agreed to try. The smiles on their faces were certainly priceless. The guy in the back of the boat reminded me of the man in the American Gothic painting. This little episode took about 45 minutes out of our precious fishing time, but the good karma we earned was worth it.

brooks catching coho

We spent about another three hours on the river and Brooks caught a beautiful coho salmon—much rarer than a chinook at this time of year. I love the delicate taste of a coho as it reminds me of the Lake Superior trout we used to eat when I lived in the UP of Michigan. Brooks offered to let me bring the fish in but I wanted to watch him land it and learn from his expertise. Well, he made it look quite easy.


I have to say that I always feel a little sad to witness the death of such a beautiful fish, but a long time ago I resolved that if I was going to eat meat or fish I should be able to kill it myself. (Ask me sometime about butchering one of my turkeys!)  I do always say a little prayer of thanksgiving at the moment of sacrifice. 

moon rise on klaskanine1

We fished that evening until the sun set and the blue moon had risen. What a beautiful experience to be on the water during this time of transition.  I regretted not having my "real" camera to capture the beauty but it remains indelible in my mind. Brooks felt bad that I did not catch a fish, but the time with him was perfect in every way—nothing was missing from my happiness quotient.

The next day our plan was the same—to fish the Klaskanine in his boat during the ebb tide from 4 p.m. on. This day turned out to be less successful as hitting the low tide caused us (mostly me) to get my spinner snagged on several occasions.  Here’s where the motor came in handy as we could easily backtrack and get the tackle free without losing it. No fish on this occasion, but another precious gift of time on the water with my son.

kayaking klaskanine

Eager to get in another day of fishing, I convinced Vic to go with me on the same stretch of water in the kayaks. When we arrived about 11:00 in the morning, there were several boats coming in with their limit. Seems like getting out earlier in the morning would be the best fishing (isn't it always?).  We had thought that low tide in the morning would be bad but not according to these guys. Anyway, we enjoyed about three hours of kayaking with me trolling most of the way.

klaskanine river scene1

There were lots of huge salmon rolling on the river—pretty frustrating that they weren't biting. Vic was such a patient companion! As a reward for his patience, we stopped at the Big O, a colorful country bar, for a cold beer on the way home.

big o saloon

I took a break from fishing the next day and we enjoyed a day of exploring this historic sea town which included a long walk along the Columbia with the dogs. Astoria has a colorful history which gives it a lot of character. At one time, it was a bigger city than Portland because of its importance as a major Oregon port.

Aside from hundreds of small boats going out to salmon fish on Buoy 10, there were several freighters anchored out waiting to load or unload their goods.

We enjoyed looking at the sailboats in the harbor, seeing a few sea lions, and then discovering some geese and gulls among the pilings.

The last time we were here, we did not take the time to visit the Columbia River Maritime Museum. We made it a point to do so this year and it was a good decision. I learned quite a bit more about Astoria’s history, especially in terms of the commercial fishing industry and shipbuilding.

The museum entrance fee also included a tour of a restored lightship. We had never heard of  lightships before so we found this part of the day quite interesting. The Lightship Columbia was in service for 29 years, from the 1950-1979 where it sat anchored out six miles beyond the bar in 200 feet of water.  In the early 1900s, there were 46 lightships on the east coast and five on the Pacific coast, and a few on the Great Lake, but the Columbia was one of the last ones in service in the country.

The next salmon fishing plan was to go out to the Columbia River for bank fishing by Fort Stevens. For this adventure, Brooks picked me up at 6 a.m. Setting the alarm for 5:30 seemed unreasonable until fishing became attached to it. I was ready to go before he arrived.

The river bank fishing gave me my first chance to wear waders. Brooks brought me an extra pair of his, a size 9 but they kept me dry. It was a pretty chilly morning too, hence the many layers of clothing.

When we arrived, there were at least a dozen other fishermen and we watched at least three of them land good-sized chinooks while we were there.

bank fishing

After about two hours of casting, Brooks got into a large chinook and handed the rod to me. He told me to tire him out. After about five minutes, he took the rod to show me how to work it and, oops, he slipped off.  Apparently, it is not so easy to land a salmon with the restriction of barbless hooks. I was bummed but it happens.  A few minutes later, he caught another coho but it also slipped away. Just as we were about to go, he had another fish on and it turned out to be a small flounder. Something I would have been happy to catch in Florida, but it was too small to keep.  By now, my arm was getting tired from almost four hours of casting and Brooks had to be at work by 10 a.m.  Oh, darn.

brooks banking fishing 2

Well, I was already scheming to return later that day after high tide to the same place. I borrowed the waders and Brooks’ lucky spinner for a return trip. Vic kindly brought me back and settled in to his Kindle reading in a chair while I fished. My only catch was snagging a large red rock crab and it fell off before I could even get a photo of it.

Brooks offered to take me bobber fishing for a chinook later that same day, but I was pooped.  Seven hours of casting in waders in one day was enough to wear this girl out. 

The bank fishing day was our last one here. We ended our visit with an amazing meal at the Bridgewater Bistro where my son’s roommate is the head chef.  (This photo was orange because of the lighting in the restaurant, so I changed it to black and white.)

When it comes to saying goodbye to my kids, it helps to take a few deep breaths. Having lived far away from my mom most of my adult life, I think of the many times I watched her go through this and conjure up her strength in these moments. When I feel the tears welling up, I shift to gratitude rather than loss and center myself there. Brooks whispers in my ear that this was a “good visit” and compliments me for “getting after it” with the fishing.  I am grateful to Vic in supporting my desire to spend a week here and take off every day in search of the elusive chinook. When he sees the sadness in my eyes at leaving, he says, “Maybe we should plan to stay here a month next summer.” I am blessed in oh so many ways. Namaste.


  1. Awesome header photo

    You are one persistent fisherlady!

    Glad you had such a wonderful visit. I, too, hate saying goodbye to our girls. You made some great memories that you can enjoy each day.

    1. I can get a little obsessive about fishing. Good thing the expense of out-of-state licenses keeps me in check.

  2. Beautiful header!!

    I love salmon! So glad you got the opportunity to fish for some of these beauties. Sorry it wasn't very easy.

    What a fantastic time with your son! Those simple times alone together are truly priceless. A month next year sounds like a good idea:)

  3. I agree...go for a month! Sure sounds like a lot of fun! And oh how good some fresh caught salmon would taste.

    Beautiful photos of the campground. The colors of fall are my favorite!

    1. In spite of not catching a salmon of my own, we left with plenty.

  4. After seeing the pic of Brook's catch I am never going to post a pic of the bass I catch!

  5. We fell in love with Astoria when our son was stationed there in the Coast Guard. We spent many happy days there visiting. Now that he's transferred, we look back and realize how much we miss the area.

  6. That is a HUGE fish your son caught. Could he eat that much salmon in a year? I probably could. Great fishing stories. Sounds like a wonderful week. I love that Vic sits in his chair while you fish. Wonderful role reversal. I find it harder to say goodbye to my daughter than to anyone else in my life. A month in Astoria might be just the thing.


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