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The Restorative Power of Fishing in Oregon

May 18, 2021

I recall being bothered by something that morning. But for the life of me, I don’t remember what it was now. That morning on the McKenzie River was unseasonably warm and bright. With our rods cast, we were enjoying the sunshine and the water. Then my rod arched like a candy cane. My eyes saucered and I began the process of bringing the fish closer and closer to our drift boat. With an uncontainable, almost aching smile, I eventually reeled in my first spring Chinook salmon — a dream come true. I called my roommate at the time and told her to clear out the freezer as well as her calendar for next weekend. And while she was at it, I said, call all of our friends and tell them to do the same. I had some bounty to share.

At its core, fishing is a restorative activity — a water-based form of meditation set in nature. Oregon has an abundance of world-class waterways for fishing, from the calm, reflective lakes of the Cascades to the swift-moving waters of the high desert and valley lowlands. The act of fishing lets us enjoy moments of quiet contemplation, when the mind can wander and stress melts away — until the explosive moment of reward when a fish bites and is hopefully reeled in. In my experience, the worst-case scenario in fishing is that you’ve spent some quality time communing with nature.

Whether you’ve grown up fishing or have never cast a line, you can get out on the water in Oregon looking like a pro in no time. As an avid hiker, it’s easy to carry a rod in my backpack when I know I’ll be near a lake or river. Hiking, backpacking, camping, paddling — whatever the activity happens to be, if you’re by or in the water, you can also fish it. Here’s how.

A hand grasps a trout fish above the water
You don't need to travel far to find the perfect lake for trout fishing in Oregon. See ODFW's ready-made list of top spots nearby Portland, Bend, Eugene and other cities. (Photo by Shawn O'Connell)

Trout Fishing

Easy for beginners and kids; easy to catch; available year-round

Trout fishing is perhaps the perfect gateway experience for the novice angler. It’s family-friendly and can be done year-round, and trout are relatively easy to catch. And because you’re in Oregon, you’re not going to be far from a prime spot to find trout. Portland? Yep. Eugene? Absolutely. And of course, Bend, Medford and beyond — there are dozens of fishing holes to explore during your outdoor adventures, a time-tested builder of memories for the family. While it’s easy to get started, fishing is a discipline that can be as easy or advanced as you’d like it to be. From line-dropping relaxation to river-wading seekers of fly-casting inner peace, fishing accepts all comers.

A young person holds a razor clam
Like trout fishing and crabbing, digging for razor clams is easy for families and beginners and accessible year-round. (Photo by Ryan Cross)

Crabbing and Clamming

Great for beginners and kids; accessible to all; check for closures

Another great category for beginners is shellfish. Just as delicious and accessible as trout or bass, Oregon’s famous Dungeness crab as well as razor and bay clams are there for the taking along Oregon’s coastal waters — and don’t require a boat. Procuring the coveted Dungeness crab is a mostly passive endeavor, bookended by the tossing and retrieving of your traps. Those looking to get a little more interactive and perhaps a little dirty will love clamming, where you and your group will all but be required to get down onto the wet sand or mud to capture the elusive mollusks. Watching a friend’s hunter-gatherer instincts trigger as they dive arm-first into a hole in the sand provides hours of joy and amusement. Find excellent resources to help you start clamming and crabbing, and for the best experience, check for closures before you go. 

Two people hold a large chinook fish
Spring chinook are a favorite on the Rogue River as well as other inland rivers and along the Oregon Coast.

Steelhead and Chinook Salmon 

Highly sought after; boat required; good for seasoned fishers

Once you’ve honed your skills a little, you might want to give steelhead and salmon fishing a try. While both fish are great eating and a ubiquitous part of Oregon’s culture and landscape, spring and fall Chinook salmon are arguably the brass ring of seasonal Oregon angling. Because these fish occupy both fresh and saltwater depending on where they are in their life cycle and the time of year, you’ll find potential success up and down the Coast and throughout the inland rivers. It also means that you can fish from the land, or if you have access to a boat, you can enjoy casting out on the open water. Fishing for, catching and preparing your own salmon for family or friends feeds the mind, body and soul in one of the best ways possible — and it might just be the most Oregonian thing you can do. Chinook salmon (Oregon’s state fish) represents and sustains life in the Pacific Northwest. For time immemorial, Native tribes, birds and mammals of all sorts have been nourished by this fish. Even the forest soils and trees possess their DNA. Without salmon, Oregon as we know it would not exist. Just make sure you get that party across the goal line by pairing it with an Oregon wine.

A woman crouching on a dock holding a crab
Crabbing is as easy as bait, toss and wait — and a sweet Oregon Dungeness crab dinner is the prize. ODFW has numerous resources on how to get crabbing. (Photo by Bobby Vilas)

If You Go:

How to start: If you haven’t fished before or it’s been quite some time, not to worry. Getting started is easy, particularly in Oregon. It doesn’t require much of an investment, either. A basic spinning rod, a few lures and some tackle are all you need for a basic, all-purpose kit. You’ll have to acquire the proper permit or license. Obtaining one is easy and inexpensive, and can be done online the night before you go.

Mark your calendar: It just so happens that another weekend of Free Fishing Days in Oregon is scheduled for June 5-6, 2021. That means that there will be no license needed to clam, crab or fish anywhere in the state — just in case you need another reason to bring fishing into your outdoor repertoire. 


About The

Adam Sawyer
Adam Sawyer is an outdoor and travel writer, photographer, published author, guide, and public speaker based in the Northwest. He is the author of numerous guidebooks, including Hiking Waterfalls in Oregon, Urban Hikes Oregon, and 25 Hikes on Oregon’s Tillamook Coast. His weekly Substack newsletter, Collecting Sunsets, covers a broad set of topics including grief, addiction and recovery, travel, and the healing powers of nature.

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