By Jon Bell
It started on a breezy, sunny afternoon on the docks of the Charleston Marina with a red rock crab named Steve and came to a close just over 24 hours later with a late-night pint at 7 Devil’s Brewing Co. in downtown Coos Bay. In between, there was surfperch fishing on a scenic stretch of the Pacific, a leisurely paddle for bass around Lower Empire Lake – a stunning and surprisingly remote lake tucked into the towering evergreens not five minutes from the city center – and an epic session of clam digging on the tidal flats of South Slough.
Add in a few gray whales, a bold bald eagle, some of the best clam chowder on the Oregon Coast, and a glimpse of jaw-dropping coastline that hides just off the beaten path, and you’ve got everything that made for an unforgettable family excursion to “Oregon’s Adventure Coast” – North Bend, Coos Bay, and Charleston – earlier this spring.
The plan was to explore the region and the fishing opportunities that abound in the area year-round. And there are many.
According to Michael Gray, a fish biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Charleston District, anglers come to the area in spring to fish in nearby lakes that ODFW stocks with trout . Spring also finds fishing folk heading to the beach to cast for surfperch, which congregate in schools not far offshore. Summer brings cutthroat trout to area rivers, and warm-water species like largemouth bass, yellow perch, croppy, and bluegill have lived in the lakes since they were introduced back in the early 1900s. Later in the year, the Chinook and Coho salmon return, and the winter steelhead follow them.
The three-city stretch is also ripe with opportunities for charter boat fishing, jetty fishing , clamming , and crabbing .
As a family – my wife, Amy, and kids Madeline and Spencer – we have done our fair share of crabbing along the Oregon Coast, but this was our first time getting some rings in the water in Charleston. Our first afternoon in town, we met up with Rob Gensorek, former owner of Basin Tackle Charleston , who set the kids up with a baited crab ring. They knew just what to do, tossing it into the water, patiently waiting for 10 minutes or so, and then pulling up fast. No Dungeness keepers, but they did nab a rotund red rock crab – a first for us – that Gensorek christened Steve. We sampled him later. Delicious.
The next day, we started out with some surfperch fishing right off the beach at Horsefall, an amazing beach just north of Coos Bay in North Bend. The fish weren’t biting, but the sun was out and the ocean was beautiful, so there was nothing to complain about. At all.
That afternoon, Gensorek and I piled into his kayaks and glided around Lower Empire Lake, an amazingly remote-feeling lake inside the city limits of Coos Bay. It was quiet and sunny and felt more like a wilderness alpine lake than a city park. We cast for bass – Gensorek caught two – and watched osprey, blue heron, and even a great white egret go about their business.
To cap off our fishing weekend, Gensorek and his significant other, Kayla, walked us over to the muddy tidal flats of the South Slough in Charleston. Our mission: to find the telltale holes in the sand that indicate a gaper clam is buried below. We used clam guns, which work like siphons to pump water into the muddy sand so it clears away and exposes the clam. It’s rewarding, fun, and scenic – made more so when a giant bald eagle swooped in for a peek at what’s going on.
Full from a late lunch from Vinny’s Smokin’ Good Burgers & Sandwiches , we chilled at our hotel for a bit before that late-night pint at 7 Devils. We all slept soundly that night, fading off with the thoughts of all we’d done on Oregon’s Adventure Coast in just a short weekend getaway.