Oregon - Coos Bay Considered

by Leah Straight

The ocean off the Oregon coast often kicks up, so Coos Bay's sheltered waters offer a delightful alternative. With, depending on closures and current regulations, salmon, striped bass, halibut, steelhead, trout, bottom fish and more, the bay suits both shore and boat anglers. Add some of the best clamming on the Oregon coast, superb berry picking, two of the finest camper's parks in America and quick access to the Oregon Dunes, and it's easy to see why Coos Bay is a favorite.

A wide range of accommodations in Coos Bay or North Bend, and decent restaurants specializing in seafood at reasonable prices take care of creature comforts. If you camp, Sunset Beach State Park offers excellent shaded sites next to a golf course overlooking a mini-bay. If this fine park is full, and it often is in the summer, Bastendorff Beach County Park a mile or so closer to Charleston is highly recommended. This park also overlooks the ocean and has a particularly fine children's play area. Both parks feature special fish cleaning stations to let you clean your catch in comfort, too. Stop in Charleston and you can buy some dandy local jam. The drive past the above-mentioned parks to Shore Acres and Cape Arago State Parks deserves an afternoon.

From motel or camp it's only a couple of miles to the Small Boat Basin or Harmon's ramps. Both offer easy access to offshore fishing when the river bar waves are flat enough for easy crossing. Boaters traditionally found superb silver salmon in summer and good king salmon in the fall. These days the regulations radically restrict fishing. So check before you leave. However, ling cod, snapper, yellow cod and halibut bite in the ocean around rocky reefs and kelp just minutes from the ramp.

When the wind's up angling inside Coos Bay works for those who launch from the ramp near the airport. You can plug the seawall near the airport for striped bass or consider bait in the channel. There's dandy light tackle action off both the harbor breakwaters, a confusion of sloughs and local piers and rocks for steelhead, smelt, perch and an assortment of rockfish.

Clams & Crabs

Do check your tide tables. Good minus tides mean limits of shoveled up Gaspers and soft shells from the flats. You can fork up butter, cockle and other clams on the bay's islands and North Spit sandbars. Again, check regulations for sizes and limits. Don't leave fishing gear home either. As the rising tides flood the flats, perch, rays, stripers and other species follow the rising water to easy meals. Do consider mussels. You can pull these off the rocks at low tides most days. Just make sure mussels are tightly shut.

You might consider a crab trap too. Crabs are commonly netted between Empire and Barview in the main bay behind North Beach. Do check species, size and other limits.

Freshwater Options

If the main bay's too windy, or the steelhead, salmon, shad or stripers have run up into the rivers it's easy to launch at Shingle House Slough and fish the Isthmus Slough, Coos River or aptly named Catching Inlet. Guided steelhead days upstream on the Coos River offer solid winter options as well. Smaller lakes and tributary streams in the Cascades deserve a look.

However, the best freshwater fishing in the area's in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area where perch, trout and Oregon's best black bass fishing waits in several dozen lakes. There's little pressure on panfish and catfish here. So it's easy to manage dinner.

Unique to the dunes area is the overlay of dunes eating into thick forest. Dunes march inland and bury trees. The combination of wind and sand from wave action banks up dunes more than 300 feet high. These deserve a visit any day they're not infested with various "buzz bug" vehicles. Good rainfall also means a long, clear series of lakes running many miles to the north of Coos Bay. Don't overlook the creeks and rivers that drain this area either. For example, Tenmile Creek near Reedsport clears fast after rains, and Tioga Creek offers steelhead action. So do Larsen and Palouse Sloughs. Unfortunately, the one drift in the system on the Millicoma's West Fork that runs from Stonehouse Bridge to Allegheny is both modestly difficult and a haul up a steep bank at the takeout. Do watch public and private access.

Most lakes have ramps, many have resorts and their sheltered waters suit canoes or float tubes as well. Ten Mile Lakes -- ten miles north, naturally -- has decent water skiing. So we usually fish other lakes during warmer months. There's more good fishing east of Coos Bay on the Millicoma, Coos and Coquille Rivers.

Activities For The Piscatorially Impaired

There's lots to do here. Boaters can watch logging tugs move boomed logs, and bird watching along the marsh, flats and shore areas is quite outstanding. There's agate hunting off -- what else? -- Agate Beach, Whiskey Run or South Bay. You can also pan gold in the Whiskey Run area. Tours of local dairy farms -- try the Mayflower Farms Cheese Factory -- offer tasty treats and you can't escape the artisans' shops that sell myrtle wood "everythings."

Ants At The Picnic

So what's the downside of Coos Bay? It's rather a long drive either 209 miles south of Portland or 517 miles north of San Francisco. Interstate 5 is the boring, if quickest route to a dash to the coast. Highway 101's so scenic that you may never get to Coos Bay.

The second problem's the weather. A full set of foul-weather gear, decent waterproof boots and either a motel, a dry tent or the nifty rental yurts in campgrounds make sense. Fortunately, Oregon has what many feel are the best campgrounds in America. Paths are graveled or otherwise weatherproof, and warm showers always seem to work.

Aside from the weather, and the drive, Coos Bay offers so many attractions that it's well worth a week, or longer stay, most of the year. In fact, we prefer winter with killer clamming tides and few tourists.

Coos Bay, North Bend, Charleston Information Centers - (800) 824-8466