It may be chilly, wet and wild on the boat, but David Johnson loves nothing more than helping people catch their first fish — or their hundredth — on the Oregon Coast. “I love seeing people catch fish; I love to teach,” says Johnson, a native Oregonian who’s run a charter fishing service in Tillamook for the past 10 years.
Johnson is one of dozens of licensed fishing outfitters and guides who work year-round on the Oregon Coast, offering visitors a way to experience the thrill of angling without the hassle of securing your own fishing gear — including a boat, which provides access to more of the river, bay or ocean.
Like other guides, David Johnson’s Guide Service caters to everyone from newbies to experienced anglers. Every season is something new. On each boat, the licensed guide brings his or her own personality, stories and expertise to the small group on board. They share their techniques as well as well as knowledge of how to read a particular fishing location, which is why even experienced fishers hire a guide if they’re new to the area.
“I love the puzzle of it,” Johnson says. “I get to a spot and look at it and say, ‘OK, the way the current is, the fish should be at that spot, and this technique should work. When it all comes together and you catch a fish, that’s the satisfaction.”
Some guides have begun to offer special trips throughout the year to target a certain audience. For instance, Johnson’s wife, Tesha, offers about half a dozen Fish Like a Girl Adventure “glampout” trips for women only throughout the year, which she hosts along with other women fishers; guides focus on instruction and spending time on the boat in a comfortable, non-intimidating environment. NW Girls Gone Fishing is another women-led group that organizes ladies-only trips with instruction and equipment as well as camaraderie.
Perhaps the best part of any guided trip is to have your catch processed and vacuum packed at the dock for a small additional charge — ready to pack in a cooler for the freezer or that night’s dinner.
Here are several more guides on the Coast to check out:
Oregon’s South Coast is famous for its hard-fighting king (chinook) salmon on the ocean between May and early September as well as two weeks in October at the mouth of the Chetco River. In the spring, tasty lingcod and rockfish (think fish n’ chips) swim minutes from the harbor at both Brookings Fishing Charters and Sharky’s Charters out of Coos Bay.
The busy ports along the Central Coast also love to cater to visitors. Yaquina Bay Charters trips leave from the marina at Newport’s Embarcadero Resort, headed for the best tuna, salmon, halibut or rockfish of the day. Hunting Fishing Charters trips leave from the Siuslaw River in Florence, known for some of the best chinook and steelhead fishing around.
On the North Coast, Skookum Fishing Charters out of Astoria works with the lower Columbia River as its playground, with giant sturgeon and crab pots at their fingertips. Eagle Charters in Pacific City is a licensed dory boat fisherman out of Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area, where boats launch into the surf in its unique conditions. Trips can focus on sea bass, lingcod, rockfish, crab, halibut or salmon, depending on the season.
Before you go:
Pick your season. Guides follow the fish calendar as they lead trips year-round: steelhead January through April; spring salmon April through June; fall salmon in August on the Columbia River and September through December elsewhere; and sturgeon June and July on the Columbia.
Book in advance. While it’s possible to book a winter trip on short notice, peak-season trips often fill up six months in advance. Plan ahead. Explore trip inspiration for inspiration and the list of licensed outfitters and guides by the Oregon State Marine Board.
Come prepared. Check with your guide about what’s provided. Some may purchase a one-day fishing license for you; others will ask you to buy it in advance. Some may provide meals, such as a fresh-caught dinner of that day’s catch. Waterproof clothing is essential — boots and layers to protect from wind and cold, in summer as well as winter. In the winter, waders may be a good idea. Guides will work with you to make sure you’re ready for the trip. Just don’t forget your sense of adventure.